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by Jonathan Pinnock

The new constellation was first spotted by a farmer in China’s Xinjiang province, but word soon spread and as that night fell across the globe, skywatchers turned out in their billions to gaze at it in wonder. Priests and cosmologists alike worked themselves into a frenzy speculating on what agency might have caused it, what it meant and — above all — how come they had been the last to find out about it.

And then a 12-year-old schoolboy in Newport Pagnell noticed that the shape of the cluster was oddly familiar, and once the observation had been made, it could not be unmade. Very soon, the entire population of the world was in on the joke. However, when several more stars began to appear, arranged in a gentle arc so it seemed as if the celestial object was ejaculating, the universal feeling was that this had all gone quite far enough.

After a while, a collective, unspoken decision was made to ignore it and hope it would go away. The theological implications were too horrible to contemplate, and for those of a more scientific disposition, the idea that this was the best that intelligent extraterrestrial life could come up with was irredeemably disappointing.

Jonathan Pinnock is the author of the novel Mrs Darcy Versus the Aliens (Proxima, 2011), the Scott Prize–winning short story collection Dot, Dash (Salt, 2012) and the bio-historico-musicological-memoir thing Take It Cool (Two Ravens Press, 2014). He also writes poetry from time to time. He blogs at www.jonathanpinnock.com and tweets as @jonpinnock.