In the Year of our Lord
The captain stared into the abyss through his cabin window pensively. So many stars. So many possible worlds, yet so empty. He took another swig of a drink. It's hard to get the good stuff in space, he mused, but captains rations were decent.
The chaplain opened the door. "You called for me Sir?", he said cautiously.
"Yes, Please come in." the captain responded curtly. "Relax, have a drink".
"Well sir, I suspect I'm here in an official capacity which means I'm on duty, so I must decline."
The captain turned around slowly. "Suit yourself. Though you may change your mind after you hear what I have to say". He paused and took another deep swallow.
"Tell me", the captain asked, "why did you take this commission?"
"To investigate the stars of course. As well all are."
"But as a man of God, not a scientist, right?"
"Both, actually. My undergrad was in astrochemistry before seminary. No gets to serve here without having multiple talents."
"Yes, I know. I've seen your profile. But with your credentials you could have had any number of posts. Positions with a far higher status than this lonely research station".
"Ah, so you want to know why I chose Station Alpha 1 specificially. I suppose I've never said it out loud before, but the universe is God's creation. The more we can learn about it the more learn of God's motives. We will probably never know exactly why he created the universe, but we can get closer to understanding. I suppose that's why we all came out here, in some sense. To understand."
The captain smiled briefly then started: "So you're probably wondering why I summoned you."
"I've only been on the station for a few days. I figured it was the usual post briefing."
"Quite true, quite true", the captain responded with a wry smile.
"However, given the rumors flying around I suspect it's something else."
The chaplain waited for a response. After a moment he dared his question: "So is it true?"
"That's quite a loaded question." the captain smiled with satisfaction. "But yes... it's true".
The chaplain quivered a moment then sank down into a bench.
"You know. I thought I knew how to respond to this news , but now that you say it out loud... well I believe I'd like to have that drink now."
"A wise choice."
As the captain fetched another glass from the shelf the chaplain continued "Intelligent life. Incredible! To think I'm alive in this year.. to be present when we first discover intelligent life.... I must know more. What happened? What is the signal like?"
"Confusing", the captain said amused, "We always assumed the signal would be self explanatory. Anything broadcast to intentionally reach other intelligent life should start with simple math then a description of how to decode the rest... but it wasn't."
"After extensive signals analysis we still think they are artificial but encrypted. And without the keys we can't know what they contain. But they did give us something important: a direction to look. And a frequency."
"Well, at least that's something".
"This station has only been in service for five years, scanning for signals at the edge of the solar system using the best technology we have to offer. However, we have records from earlier radio telescopes going back hundreds of years. They aren't consistent or strong, but they are at least something.
"Now that we knew what frequencies to look for we found more signals. Except these weren't encrypted. They were encoded, but the codings were simpler. Our team has as found signals going back through two hundred years before they stop, each one weaker than the last.
"Think that of. Only two hundred years. That must be shortly after they invented radio communication. Their civilization must be only a few thousand years old! They are younger than us, but still old enough to communicate through the stars. How lucky are we! Incredible!"
"Incredible." the chaplain quietly said again. They both stared out the window for a minute then the captain continued.
"We've been studying the signals for the past few months, which is why I requested you be posted to this station. I'm expecting some new results later today."
The chaplain looked confused. "I don't understand Sir. Why would this discovery require my services".
The captain replied calmly "I want to know why you believe in God".
"Is that really why you posted me here? I would assume the captain of a station of such importance would already have strong convictions".
"Quite true", the captain responded, "but no matter how strong my convictions they do not equal proof. I consider myself a man of science and reason. I want proof".
"Of course captain, but reason will only get you so far. Our theologians have been on the case for millennia, but we still have no proof of God. Not in the physical scientific sense anyway. Smarter men than me have argued the case and always come to the same conclusion: belief requires faith. It has always been this way and always will".
The captain spun around. "Yes, but we've been trapped on our planet for these same millennia, analyzing the same old stories. If God exists he contacted us in the distant past to guide our development but has not been seen since. We have no new information. If other life exists in the universe, intelligent life, then could this new information be proof we've been looking for?"
The chaplain thought for a moment. "I see your point. New information is a tantalizing proposition, but I don't think it will change the basic equation".
The captain seemed puzzled. "Why do you say that?" he asked.
The chaplain continued: "Suppose there are creatures on this distant planet who are in fact intelligent and can communicate with us and willingly do so. What question could we ask them that would give us proof? They would likely be in the same position as us; believers with faith and thousands of contradictory ancient stories. Their new information wouldn't really be new at all."
The captain thought for a moment. "But what if their stories match up with ours? What if they believe in a loving god and his holy messenger? The ressurrection and the whole bit... what then? Would that not be proof of God's existence as our mutual creator? And also that he visited us in the same manner? Would it not be proof that our stories are at least in some part true?"
"I agree Captain. It would be hard to ignore the coincidence; but it could also be that all intelligent creatures just naturally believe in God. Something in the fundamental patterns that make up intelligent behavior causes all sentient creatures to believe in a creator."
"Faced with the same awe inspiring view of the visible universe, perhaps anything with intelligence seeks a higher power.. a reason behind existence. We all would have faith, not proof."
A quiet came over the room and the captain stared into his drink for a while. "Perhaps you are right" he finally said.
"Of course I could be completely wrong as well. They are equally likely outcomes, especially with no new information."
It was the chaplain's turn to smile: "I find it amusing that I, the licensed and trained chaplain am arguing against proof of God's existence; and you the hardened station leader and scientist are arguing for it. I'm just playing devil's advocate, I suppose."
"Quite true indeed, Chaplain. I thank you for your counsel".
"Here's a more comforting thought", the chaplain continued. "Even if the discovery of intelligent life elsewhere in our universe provides no new answers about our creator, at least we will have new friends to help us explore these questions."
"That is indeed a comforting though", said the captain, brightening up.
The captain rose to his full height balanced on his large pillar foot, and held the drink aloft with is primary tentacle. "Then let us celebrate with another drink. To our mutual brothers seeking the same father. Kretal!'
"Kretal!!" followed the chaplain with all ten of his upper appendages raised in a celebratory manner; honoring their unknown future as his species had for over twenty thousand years.
They sat in silence studying the star charts, pondering the vastness of space that such tiny messages could cross. Later in the day the first stanza of a decoded message came through. It simply said: "In the year of the Lord 2093, we send this message of peace and and hope to our unknown brothers and sisters across the galaxy".