Silence of the Stars
By Kassandra Alvarado
Published by Kassandra Alvarado at Shakespir
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The distant planet glimpsed by a wayward satellite, its light glowed a faint red through the quartz glass window encrusted with traces of metallic dust from a recent meteor shower. He raised his fist and lightly tapped the glass detachedly. The probe turned end over end, its onboard computer system had malfunctioned during the bombardment. A kind of primitive terror forgotten by man’s soul had assaulted the cosmonaut, awakening from the stupor of hyper-sleep.
Had there been such a time as this?
Space seemed an endless glow fueled by the fiery corona of Kepler-452. The probe bathed in the light of the G2 star, its multi-layer of panels activating and firing futilely with a final burst, desperate from some endless loop of programming to deliver its single occupant to the planet below. Instead….he was continuously falling, but not quite reaching Kepler-452 b. The same gravitational effect the earth held, kept the probe locked in a tight vise. They circled 452 b, the probe and he, unable to break free with a propulsion blast to either retreat from the gravitational resonance or…descend into its forbidding atmosphere.
“What has happened in these past years?” He asked aloud, voice, a thin rasping croak. The probe had kept him alive as part of its secondary programming. It had kept his body alive in a semi-nutrient rich state with injected nanobytes replenishing the lack of real food and water that would otherwise have been impossible to carry on such a mission into deep, interstellar space.
Gazing out now at the darkened exosphere reflecting the light of its host star, he thought of the far off day when the universe had seemed at mankind’s fingertips. Nothing had seemed out of reach and everyone had embraced the idea of reaching for the stars. Everyone. He thought of her smile with bitterness. No one had thought of the darkness, the terror, the pull of gravity as the probe hurtled through the nebulous gas of a parent Jovian sheltering its four moons. The collision of asteroids, the cold graze of a comet with its streaking gas and dust tails leaving sparkling traces of debris its wake.
Space was beautiful.
It was unlike anything on earth, anything he had known. Away from its constant wars and crime. Nothing had seemed as beautiful than the death of a star, exploding with great shockwaves of vibrant crimson, splashes of violent methane for it had been a cold star dying from the inside out. The computer had analyzed these things for him, feeding them into his dreams. The dying star had been 10×4ly away.
No. No one thought of the loneliness with only the computer’s voice repeating its directives into his brainwaves. The beauty of the pale blue planets shining coldly from the darkness of the solar system faded to the rocky fields of the Kuiper Belt with its frozen volatiles of methane, ammonia and water. Beyond that the nebulous strains of the Oort cloud stretched far and wide half the distance to faraway Alpha Centauri.
The light years seemed days and days that stretched into a long slumber. The silence itself was cold comfort, unbreachable by the interior confines of the probe designed to withstand the temperatures of a Neptunian winter, the scorching heat of the Venusian desert. The probe recorded its transit when it had long disappeared from the range of backyard telescopes, glimpsable by the aging James Webb telescope tucked away in one of the Langrangrian points. With its eye breaming spectrometers across the universe, he never doubted that Explorer’s path was known even as it slowly became a tiny refractive light amongst the glow of other wavelengths.
Silence. Even the slight crackle of the stars was silent.
“Houston…target reached. I….I am…,” and he thought to laugh aloud at the absurdity of it. “I am 1,400 light years away from earth. That is…8.2301 e+15 miles away from…her.” Explorer couldn’t take that from him. That memory, the one he cherished the most. Explorer was made up of circuits and thin filaments. Explorer’s body was reflective padding designed to absorb light and glide through the exosolar system of a distant star. Explorer had been his constant companion for the entire journey and he…listened to the silence.
There was nothing, no frequencies, no radio waves, no sign of life in the vast regions of space.
For an entire moment, he shuddered deeply and hunched over with the fright that he might be truly alone. Explorer stirred with a ratcheting clank of circuits overcoming their damage. “Last transmission…captured one billion seconds ago.” The mechanical voice slurred out to a string of binary code. Most of it unreadable but he still caught a word or two.
…world will end in ruin.
“How long?!” He choked, blindly enraged at the foolhardiness of the world for annihilating itself. There was nothing to strike out against, nothing to scream out or throw punches in the face of.
“Why? Why, Explorer, why?!”
“It was detrimental to the mission.”
He slammed his fist into the polymer, into the screen futzing to a dull blue.
Fuck the mission.
“And that…,” he couldn’t bring himself to give it a name. “What is that?” Kepler 452. b was said to be the most earth-like exoplanet capable of supporting life. Explorer detected the emotion patterns in his voice, crackling as its voice came the speaker. “That is a planet overtaken by greenhouse gases. The process began five hundred years ago before our arrival as Kepler 452 b moved closer on its retrograde orbit. It couldn’t be previously estimated the state of the planet as seen from the distant planet known as earth.”
He hung his head, eyes swiveling to the side almost resentfully. “Because of the distance lying between my blue marble and this chunk of rock. We were seeing it as it were over a thousand years ago.” He laughed to himself, mirthless. “So, that’s it then…there’s no more mission…there’s no more nothing.” The probe was silent, struggling between internal dictates and its secondary mission to keep the cosmonaut alive at all costs. Its delicate circuitry overheated; the shadow of 452 b’s scarred moon fell over the probe shading it from the glare of the star.
He listened the soft whirring as the probe went into sleep mode, temporally saving power for when the next revolution brought light back onto its panels. The cosmonaut stared through the leeward side window at the thick cloud bands obscuring the rocky continents of the dying planet. Earth. A faint, sad smile traced the careworn lines of his mouth. He had aged slowly in the strange warp of time dilation to be found in the outer reaches of the galaxy.
No…what was the name she had dreamed of?
The cloud bands gave way to a vague shimmery haze of blue, barren brown continents linked massive landmasses together shaping supercontinents. Somehow, it didn’t matter much anymore when he could barely remember her face.
“Explorer, prepare for descent.”
AN: My design project for Solar Systems Astronomy. Inspired specifically by week 7. Dedicated to Professor Timmes and University of Zurich for their course on imagination and space books. Thanks for reading :)
Submitted as my Design Project, thank you!