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78/52

Testament to the power and mastery of a movie that, nearly 60 years on, still feels as modern, complex and cutting-edge as any film released…

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Professor Marston & the Wonder Women

A timely affirmation of feminine power—of the ways in which female wisdom and strength can charge hearts and minds, influence culture and inspire others to…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Primary molecules illo jeff burton

The Thinking Molecules of Titan: Ending by Jeffrey Burton

Editor's note: This is a continuation of a story Roger was working on when he passed away. This ending is one of many we received. To read Roger's beginning to the story, from the end of which each entry picks up the thread, go here. Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi. This is one of four endings we're posting this week. Vote on this week's endings here.

Jeffrey Burton writes:

"A... failed Mozart?" Regan giggled, downing her final pinch of grilled cheese.

Everyone waited for the punch line.

Mason grinned but grew uneasy with the course their conversation was taking. He threw on his good-natured game face. "What on sunny Titan are you thinking, Regan?"

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Regan wiped ketchup off her lips with a napkin and sat up straight. "Well, you all know what I’m going to say."

Claire abruptly pushed her plate away, drawing the group’s attention. "You’re about to theorize that my meandering mention is true, right? That the noise is music?”

"Yes! Their groovily evolved peals of existence, Claire. Their sulfur-dream harmonies writ large and mathematical. I’ve found significant evidence to indicate this."

For the first time during their meal in the bustling restaurant, no one said a word.

Regan continued, "The harmonic partials form patterns along several contiguous wavelengths, indicating many voices. An atonal chorus, maybe, but it’s still a chorus. It’s no longer random."

"Super theory there, Beethoven, but even the idea of music is a human neurological creation," Alex chided. "Acoustic patterns strummed to smack grey matter into squirting out nice happy chemicals. It’s distinctly human."

Regan pushed her hands together and got serious.

"I know. And as professors and interns, we all know this. But what if…"

"Huh," Claire’s eyes narrowed suddenly. "What if… I mean, pure speculation, but what if they figured out what the lander was—i.e. something not them—and started singing? Started saying something? This could be why we’ve only recently heard Titan’s newest noise pattern."

Everyone turned toward Mason. He leaned back thoughtfully, cleared his throat, pointed his pale finger.

And laughed.

Moments later the table had joined him, raising their nearly finished beers in mock cheer. Claire handed Mason back his iPhone as everyone stood up and got ready to leave.

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"I know, I know!" Regan giggled to Alex as she defiantly grabbed her coat. "But don’t rule it out. There’s still the remote chance it’s music."

"Maybe we’ll hear Stevie Wonder sometime soon? Or The Bee Gees?” Alex guffawed.

"Don’t make fun of me, jerkwad!"

The group paid their bill, left the restaurant, and in the early evening light, headed home.

Mason found his beat-up SUV parked behind the Titan Listening Lab and hopped in. Streetlights edging the campus parking lot glowed with soft, sustaining light.

Like stars.

We have a pattern, he contemplated.

No way! blared his dismissive mind over and over, louder and harsher in his head. No fucking way!

Yet as he sat there in the silent vehicle, brooding deep, his fingers found his iPod and plugged it into the SUV’s stereo.

He started the engine, and agonizing that he’d finally, after so many years of well-funded listening, gone soft, pulled out onto the street as the music started.

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