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by Cheryl Wood Ruggiero

“Gramma! The shortwave’s doing that weird stuff again!” It’s nearly midnight, and Liss should be asleep, but Gramma says discovery is better than sleep. That’s why there’s that big antenna in her backyard.

Grace, whom Liss calls “Gramma,” walks in, carrying a computer hard drive.

The shortwave transceiver puts out bursts and swoops of tones that are graphed on Grace’s laptop. The signals are single-sideband, and she’s tuned the beat-frequency oscillator for audibility. Now she wants to apply a natural-language processor that she has modified for this purpose. She loads it, feeds in shortwave output, and watches it produce text.

Shaman shaman shaman go oasis.

“What’s that mean, Gramma?”

“Shoot... for all I know, ‘A priest, a minister, and a rabbi go into a bar’?”

“Ha-ha, Gramma. Space aliens wouldn’t tell dumb jokes! They’d say — ” Liss’s voice goes deep and strange — ‘People of Earth, we are your Overlords’.”

The tones change. Text scrolls...


Liss grins. “Maybe that’s ‘knock-knock’.”

“Hmmm.” Just for fun, Grace types and transmits: “Who’s there?”

Tree tissue foot case

“Tree tissue foot case who?”

Tree tissue foot case like to hear more hit-hit ha-ha?

Liss shrieks a laugh. “That’s ‘Wooden shoe’ and ‘Wooden shoe like to hear another knock-knock joke?’ The space aliens are telling knock-knock jokes! Let me tell one!”

Liss types, “Hit-hit”

Identification there?


Boo identification?

“Don’t cry. It’s just me.”

A complex cascade of tones emerges from the shortwave.

Please verify translation net. Boo identification = cry?

Grace, a retired language arts teacher, tries some instruction:

Hit-hit = knock-knock.
Identification = who.
“Who” sounds like “Hoo.” Boo hoo = cry. Cry = vocalization of fear or sadness.

Sustained 440hz tone. Then...


Hours and much translation-net verification later, just as Liss wakes up and yawns, Grace asks: “Are you here to conquer Earth?”

You joking? You guys dance like insane (203.6-hz-to-415.30-hz). You fight like herds of baby green (55-hz + 793.99-hz). You kiss like... we know no other kinds who do kissing, but it looks like fun and it’s so funny.

“How do you know how we dance, fight, and kiss?”

Television. Internet. Nanoscale image devices planetwide — ours.

“So why are you here?”

Don’t cry. It’s just us. Not here for conquest. Here for live comedy. Say good-night, Gracie.

Copyright © 2020 by Cheryl Wood Ruggiero

Proceed to Challenge 850...

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