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A slow cascade of music ran through Elios's head and, as soon as the last note died, it began again. He'd heard it so many times that, like a word written over and over, it was losing what little meaning it had for him. The first time he'd understood any part of it, his hands had gone cold.
"We are coming...fear many."
Elios was only translating a single measure of the message at a time. He was certain that what he'd first deciphered wasn't the whole of that tiny piece of music he heard even his sleep. There were nuances in the Pandoran language that had nothing to do with the specific meaning of a chord and everything to do with where that sequence of notes fit into the whole.
Still, after five years of top-secret work, all the few linguistic experts on the project had managed to do was work out that the monolithic vessel stalled on the outer reaches of human-explored space had been headed their way for a reason and that itprobablydidn't mean the human race any harm. The piece Elios was working on was holding up plans for a mission to investigate the Pandora, on the grounds that it sounded ominous. Elios closed his eyes and listened to it play through again.
"We're going for lunch now." A touch on Elios's shoulder nearly brought him out of his chair. "Did you want anything?"
Don't ever touch me again. Elios bit back the words and took a moment to compose himself as he pulled off his headset.
"No, thanks, Maeve."
"Senator Darlington left a message for you earlier. I didn't want to interrupt you while you were working." Maeve gestured to Elios's datapad, which was blinking with a message signal. And yet she was fine with interrupting him to say she was going to lunch with Aric. "You shouldn't keep him waiting too long."
"I won't." Elios didn't need a lesson in how to handle his old mentor. Doc knew what life in the lab was like and wouldn't be offended if Elios put finishing a sequence ahead of calling back. When the door slid shut behind Maeve, only the prospect of filling out an expense form kept Elios from throwing the datapad after her.
Working in close quarters with Aric was hard enough. The year that had passed since their breakup hadn't made life any easier. That Aric had married Maeve instead of starting a family with him made everything exponentially worse. Now, the happy couple was raising the baby Maeve had offered to bear for Aric and Elios, and Elios was stranded in the underworld of their happiness.
The lab was silent now save for the pounding in Elios's head and the tinny, distant sound of the music still playing through his discarded headset. It sounded almost nothing like the message Elios thought he'd deciphered so far. Some of the meanings were intactjourney, fear, webut the subtext had changed. Elios slumped in his chair and stared at the headset. If he hadn't listened to it all the way through so many times, he might not have noticed.
Doc had been the first one to clean up the message, accounting for distortions caused by sending the message all the way to Earth. Elios picked up his datapad and looked for the initial filter values. If a few centimeters and speakers designed to play directly into an ear could change the nuance of a single sequence, maybe they'd lost something in the initial clarification. Maybe some of what their early equipment had parsed as static was necessary to the whole.