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The story is quite simple: humanity has been sending out communications via radio waves (possibly) into the depths of space, and after some time of searching, they eventually receive a response from alien life.

The response is along the lines of:

Be quiet. They are listening

After that revelation the story ends.

It is from quite a while ago. I am not sure of the date of publication, but it's definitely a story from the 70s to even the 90s. I thought it could possibly be Asimov, but can't find it under the Wikipedia list of science fiction short stories.

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  • Uh… why are you using the quiz-fora format where part of the text appears only when it's moused over, please? How is that helpful? Aug 27 '20 at 20:15
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    @RobbieGoodwin that's a spoiler tag, I did not want the last part of the story I remembered to be spoiled for people who were reading the question and wanted to read it.
    – fez
    Aug 27 '20 at 22:03
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Thanks to Jenayah's edit on my spelling of 'quiet' I had a second try at Googling and found this creepypasta called 'Radio Silence'. Unfortunately not a story from a famous author like I had thought, but still very good and creepy story nonetheless.

The first paragraph tells of humanity and sending out signals (all signals) in to the abyss of space:

36,400,000.

That is the expected number of intelligent civilizations in our galaxy, according to Drake’s famous equation. For the last 78 years, we had been broadcasting everything about us – our radio, our television, our history, our greatest discoveries – to the rest of the galaxy. We had been shouting our existence at the top of our lungs to the rest of the universe, wondering if we were alone. Thirty-six million civilizations, yet in almost a century of listening, we hadn’t heard a thing. We were alone.

That was, until about five minutes ago.

The message received is decoded and it is finally translated:

As I finish piecing together the message, my stomach sinks like an anchor. The words before me answer everything.

"BE QUIET OR THEY WILL HEAR YOU"

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  • 6
    Somebody needs to write a sequel.
    – user21820
    Aug 25 '20 at 6:59
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    @user21820 the Dark Forest trilogy starting with the novel The Three Body Problem en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Three-Body_Problem_(novel) is an interesting exploration of this concept.
    – Peteris
    Aug 25 '20 at 9:12
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    @user21820: Arguably, the aspect of the unstable 3-star system serves more as an initial way to call attention to something, is totally independent from the radio silence concept discussed here, and doesn't play much of a role anymore as the story unfolds. Aug 25 '20 at 13:45
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    If you google "BE QUIET OR THEY WILL HEAR YOU reddit" (without quotes), you will find quite a few writing prompts with the exact premise, some are quite good and one even has a hell of a twist. Aug 25 '20 at 13:45
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    36,400,000. That is the expected number of intelligent civilizations in our galaxy, according to Drake’s famous equation. This is kind of dumb. The Drake equation is one of the roughest order-of-magnitude estimates ever in science.
    – user2490
    Aug 25 '20 at 19:44
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Probably not the one you're looking for because it's not a short story, but the novel The Three-Body Problem by Chinese author Liu Cixin has a similar premise. It has an excellent translation into English by Chinese-American author Ken Liu.

The novel does primarily revolve around the consequences of a radio message that was sent into space; and the response to that message is a warning and an injunction to stay quiet, by fear of the exact location of Earth being discovered by hostile aliens if a second message was sent from Earth.

Most of the novel is a police investigation about weird events happening on Earth in present day. The radio message was sent during the cultural revolution in China, towards which the novel is highly critical. Finally, part of the novel is about an alien civilisation attempting to solve the "three-body problem" over the course of many generations.

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    Great books. They left me feeling depressed, angsty and alone. Aug 26 '20 at 10:47
  • I thought about the same books upon reading the headline, but after reading the entire question, it is clear this isn't it.
    – Tom
    Aug 27 '20 at 4:48
  • @StianYttervik So does Twitter Apr 14 at 12:02
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There are probably a lot of stories like this because this idea was floating basically immediately when we were first considering the idea of opening up lines of communication with extraterrestrials.

I couldn't find a good reference going back to the early 1970s, when we sent the Pioneer plaques out, but in A Brief History of Time (1988), Stephen Hawking draws an analogy with the horrific abuses of colonialism in the Age of Exploration.

One well-known take on this is https://xkcd.com/1377/

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    It's also the underlying thread of the entire Heechee saga Aug 26 '20 at 9:09

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