The Cassini Conundrum emerged on the day the Cassini mission ended with the probe plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere.  Chuck Wendig’s prompt that weekend was “You have to break something before it can be mended” (or something like that).  I wrote this title down, together with the first few lines. I was so busy, I missed that week and did an excerpt instead.  Then it was Flashback Friday.  So for 6th October, in honour of the launch of Cassini-Huyghens mission on October 15th 1997 and its completion on 15th September 2017, I give you…

Cassini dark side of Saturn last pic

The Cassini Conundrum

“What is it?”

“The collective has been tracking it for several eons. It is not a natural object.  Here is the analysis.”

Transfer of data between the stratified mind layers was sufficiently unusual for ripple effects to spread through the ether.

Level alpha 5 reported shortly afterwards: “I have found evidence of logical pathways.”

“It uses different radiation frequencies for several purposes,” reported Level beta 17.

“I have spectral analysis,” gamma 2 announced.  The collective absorbed the analysis and set its hive mind working.

“The metal elements are arranged in several subsets of connectedness,” gamma 21 contributed.

“It is on a collision course.”

The announcement caused several frenzied ripples to layers of consciousness that dealt with conformity, well-being and sustained pathways.

“Save it!”

The collective order prompted several layers to work together. One cocooned the object in a magnetron wave bubble, to save it from both impact heat and corrosive possibilities on its fragile metal shell. Tractive force from the densest of the rings supported the magnetron wave to slow the object’s descent through the planet’s atmosphere. The storm layer sent out an eddy to buoy the object up, slowing it further, and guiding it towards the southern pole.

After one eon, the object was secured in a stasis field above the pole, where the collective could work on it undisturbed.

Five eons later, the analysis was relayed through all layers for consideration.

The object consists of a collection of metal strands, encased in a series of polymers of various shapes and sizes, themselves contained in connected metal shells. Some non-metallic elements are arranged in particular ways suggesting an ordered sequence. One appears to have been a power source.

A directional transmitting capability within the object was broken on first entry. A small nuclear device appears to have a non-aggressive function. The analysis is undecided whether this was for propulsion or for reproduction. The latter seems to be more likely, since we could detect no other reproductive capability. Layers alpha 7 through beta 12 object to that conclusion, arguing that its occurrence here was directed, and would need a propulsion unit to accurately direct it at our home.

As you may gather from this statement, our conclusion is that the object is evidence of alien intelligence. It appears to have been directed at us.  Whatever message it carried has not yet been deciphered.

A cacophony of sound rippled across the layers as representatives reacted. Discord provoked several layers of turbulence, sending tsunamis of sound energy out through the vacuum of space. After half an eon, the collective debated with layers and the plan was made: recreate the energy source, reprogramme the logical circuits, and direct the object back towards its point of origin.

“But how do we know its point of origin?”

“Its path is recorded in its memory. Its memory gives us little else, other than graphic representations of our own planet and its moons, compositional analysis, and some co-ordinates for the receiver of its data, which we cannot interpret.”

“Why can we not interpret its origin?”

“We lack the necessary reference point.”

“What if the aliens come hunting us?”

“What if they are dangerous?”

Many questions of the same nature merged into a dissonance of objection.

Eventually the collective responded.

“We have determined that if an alien mind sent an object to study us, it was intelligent enough to do so. It would not have directed the object to destroy itself in the process unless it was ignorant of our presence. Unless it thought any intelligent life would do as we have, and return the object to it in safety. Therefore any intelligence with these goals in mind would not be dangerous, either to itself or to other life forms.”

The waves subsided and further cogitation through the rest of the eon enabled the collective to win its point.  The object was set back on a return path, the way it had come, adjusting for perturbation of planetary alignment.

After nearly one complete orbital rotation around the system’s star, the collective watched the object enter the atmosphere of the blue planet, the third from the star.  Now it would discover whether strange markings on it represented the intelligent life on the planet, and whether the collective’s message would be translated.

Two eons on, the collective is still waiting.

Cassini Conundrum © J M Pett 2017

Picture credits: ‘Cassini’s Last Ring Portrait at Saturn’ Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Space Science Institute, Mindaugas Macijauskas. Available at

#FridayFlash Fiction | The Cassini Conundrum

4 thoughts on “#FridayFlash Fiction | The Cassini Conundrum

  • 6 October, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Thanks for sharing! Great piece of flash fiction, and a nice way to honor the conclusion of the Cassini project. About how long did it take you to write the story? I’ve never tried my hand at flash fiction, though I know I should.

    • 6 October, 2017 at 9:51 pm

      Rebecca’s nailed it below. I only did that one yesterday evening, although I’d been thinking about it for weeks. Mostly we only get a weekend to get the idea. I put a bunch of prompts in a page up on the menu bar above, in case you need something to get you started.

      Some great works come out of flash fiction characters… Rebecca’s Gorg the Troll, and Xavier Xanthum; my Pete & the Swede, and Sir Woebegone. They get their own little universes developed before you ever get around to thinking of making them into a full blown novel 😀

  • 6 October, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    Nice! Probably futile to search for intelligent life down here (beam me up, Scotty…) 😀 I punted on the fiction this week, and went with a photo trip report.

    I’ll answer Kathy’s question for myself, which is that assuming I get hold of a decent idea (so there might be some significant cogitation time before I start writing), it takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to draft a 1000-word flash, and another hour or so it edit it.

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