The Magnitude of It All

Edited by Yanni Kuznia

Copyedited by Chelle Parker

September 2021

862 words — Reading time: around 4 minutes

The data’s so fine; my readings are so delicate. At the quantum level, the most miniscule alterations change everything. What I’m seeing can’t be there…. It defies belief. But each replication shows me the same result, until I can no longer doubt it. The particles contain a nanomessage.

But I have no idea what it says.

Some of your things are still here, in the house we once shared. A few bits you left behind that I keep meaning to throw out. I’m not clinging to them. I know we’re through. But your wall-sized map of the Milky Way reminds me there’s a macrouniverse too. You looked outward while I looked inward. Perhaps we should have known it could never work between us.

My lab partner has left a newspaper on my desk with a Post-it Note attached. She knows I never read the paper.

“Look who’s in the news, Carly,” it says.

It’s open to the science pages, and there’s your face looking out at me.

“Professor Brian Marx, whose astronomical discovery is making cosmic waves” declares the caption.

I read the article, and my breath catches. It describes a new theory you’ve uncovered, controversial yet seemingly undeniable, requiring further observation though apparently everywhere you’ve looked: that patterns of stars and galaxies contain a code. A repeating pattern of information that you have yet to decipher, but which is unquestionably there.

A gigamessage in the stars.

My hand hovers over my phone. We haven’t spoken in months. But I’m about to publish my research, and the similarities are too great. The coincidence is eerie…. Not just our colliding ideas, but the fact that it’s you and I who encountered them. Though of course the similarities that attracted us never left. Emotionally, we faltered, but our approaches to science always aligned.

I hold my breath and call you.

“Carlotta.” You sound surprised but not unhappy.

“Hi, Brian. I saw your article. It’s astounding.”

You laugh in your self-deprecating way. “They’re already calling it pseudo-scientific. I’d keep a distance if I were you.”

“Can’t do that, I’m afraid. Can…. Can we meet? I’ve got something to show you.”

You’re caught off guard but, after a moment, you agree. We arrange a time.

You don’t ask how I am. I haven’t asked it of you either.

We meet at my lab after hours. It’s good to see you, but I don’t know whether you feel the same, so I don’t say it. I bring up my data and leave you to peruse it for half an hour. Your face is pale with astonishment when I return. You remove your glasses and look at me.

“This pattern…. It’s the same. I mean, the numbers are different, but the ratios. They’re complex as hell, but they match. Exactly.”

“I know.” I’ve read all the research you’ve made public. “But on its own, it makes no sense. Not this, and not yours. Right?”

“Right.” You look back at my screen. “This is nuts. You can’t be suggesting what I think you are.”

“We need to compare. If there’s nothing to it, then we’ll go our separate ways and leave it at that. But what if there is?”

We spend the next three days holed up at my lab, comparing my data with yours, analysing every last mote, recalculating both our numbers until there is no doubt.

My quarks and electrons. Your stars and galaxy clusters. Their patterns aren’t random — they’re talking to one another.

They’re talking to us.

Separately, the patterns were clear but still meaningless. But combined, the codes slot together like a lock and key. It’s not the sort of message that requires deciphering; the mere fact of the interlocking patterns is enough. Their mind-blowing connection to each other. Proof of something deliberately coded so intelligent life would see it when we developed the ability to look in the right places at the same time.

I can’t help feeling how much sooner you and I would have known if we’d still been talking to each other the way our sciences are. If our connection was as intimately entwined as theirs.

We sit back, mentally drained, elated, on fire as we haven’t been in years.

“What does it mean?” You ask the question at last.

“The infinitesimally small and the incomprehensibly large — the universe in all directions,” I say. “It’s one. And it’s been waiting billions of years for us to see this.”

A message etched upon the universe, by the universe. Waiting for our awareness to catch up to its own.

It could be argued as proof of intelligent design, but I think it’s more than that. We look at each other. I say what you can’t.

“This could mean the universe is sentient.”

I see you try to argue and fail. “I have to republish. Release my findings alongside yours. They’re one, after all.”

“And then we can test that hypothesis. Together.”

There’s so much more to uncover. I smile at you, and as you take my hand, I know. The things that need to work perfectly between us do.

The universe nudged us together to reveal its secrets.

© 2021 Eleanor R. Wood

About the author

Eleanor R. Wood

Eleanor R. Wood’s stories have appeared in Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, Diabolical Plots, PodCastle, Nature Futures, The Best of British Fantasy 2019, and various anthologies, among other places. She writes and eats liquorice from the south coast of England, where she lives with her husband, two marvellous dogs, and enough tropical fish tanks to charge an entry fee. She blogs at and tweets at @erwrites.