miercuri, martie 7

THE DARKNESS - Short story of the week by JMS (1)


6,000 before current date  (BCD)

A1 had built the first real telescope to observe the stars, and so had invented a whole new branch of science, astronomy. People had watched the sky before, but it had always been in a religious context, A1 was the first one who wanted to understand what was happening, what made the universe tick.
His telescope was a quantum leap forward, but as a telescope it was not really powerful at all. He did however notice something, the lights in the universe were vanishing. The night sky became visibly darker during his own lifetime, but why that was so he did not understand.

1,000 BCD.

A248 had studied the scientific books published by the great A1. He had been the first one to describe stars, and galaxies, which in itself was a great leap forward. But the question he never had been able to answer was, why did galaxies and stars simply disappear from one night to another.
A248 had studied his observations ever since she had decided to become an astronomer. Now she wanted to find those missing galaxies, to answer the question that A1 never had been able to.
She spent several years trying, but she failed. She would point her telescope at a single point in the sky, gathering light, taking pictures with a shutter speed in the weeks rather than in the seconds, and still she could not find the missing stars.
Her original theory was that the universe was expanding at such a rate that the light from the stars could not reach them any more. Her observation disproved that theory. Even if the galaxies moved with the speed of light, they should still have been visible to her observations. It seemed that the stars and galaxies just weren't there any more, they had simply vanished for some unknown reason. So  5,000 years later, she was just as baffled as A1 had been all those millennia before.

500 BCD

A275 was the last head astronomer, a profession that each year had less and less to observe. A1 had very poor equipment, but many stars to observe. A275 had a space telescope that would beat anything made before. So sensitive that it could catch the faintest light, with a resolution that could see a letter on the most distant planet in their solar system. But A275 had so few stars to observe, it was almost a waste to have this new instrument. He had hoped that his new instrument would discover the stars otherwise hidden by the vaste distance, but he saw nothing like what he had expected. With the naked eye the night sky was totally black, and had been so for several hundred years. With his telescope he could observe a few new galaxies, and those were growing fainter with each year.
A275 had read all the literature from A1 to A248, and all of them had noticed the same trend, the stars were dying, or rather disappearing. A261 had started measuring the background radiation of the universe, and it was cooling at a phenomenal rate, with a few hot spots, and that was all.
He leaned back and tried to grasp what was happening.
The universe was dying, and not only that, but their own sun had started to show signs of changing, like some new gravity was dragging on it, or maybe the fuel was being burned at an increased rate.
A275 thought that he knew what was happening, but a theory without irrefutable proof could never be put forward. The problem was that he had so few stars to observe that he could never hope to prove or disprove it.
His last note stated simply, “Nothing can turn it back.”

25 BCD

S1781, the greatest scientist of the day, had worked out a theory for travelling faster than light FTL. It was truly a quantum leap forward as he had found a way to circumvent the laws of physics. When he put forward a proposal to build a probe based on his theories, he only got a blank stare and the question “What would be the point?”
“Well, it is a wonderful way to explore our solar system. We can put telescopes several light-years away, observe what is happening in the universe. What can be more important than that?”
“Do you not have a telescope in space, a very expensive piece of equipment if I might add. If that can not find any stars, why would a probe infinitely more expensive find anything new?”
“Do we not explore to find out what we do not know? With knowledge we can form theories that might help us in the future.”
“Hogwash, if there is nothing to find, there is no reason to explore. That money can be used much better here on the planet we are living on.”
“The theory of A275...” said S1781.
“A theory with no proof, simply something to scare small children with. And I warn you to start spreading unfounded rumours!”G98643 looked sternly at  S1781 as he said that last sentence.
“This government will take a very dim view indeed if any such rumours start to circulate.”
S1781 had enough self-preservation to not challenge a government that was generally benign, but if cornered could take the most severe actions.

Year zero
S1781 sat in the control room of the small space probe. He had not got any government funding, but he had found enough wealthy people to finance the building of a scaled down version of his original proposal. People who were just as concerned as he was. Whereas S1781 wanted to find out what was happening, the rich people saw this new technology as a way to escape.
Their sun was dying and they knew it. Some great gravitational mass was dragging at the sun, at the same time the sun was burning its fuel at an ever increasing rate, with only one possible outcome, it would turn into a supernova, and it would happen soon.
Now this theory could only be proven by the destruction of the only remaining star, their own, and when that happened it would be too late. So they had poured money into the project, with the end goal of creating a gigantic spaceship that would roam the universe searching for other planets, populated with the investors and their families.
S1781 used the money, cut corners to save time. Instead of building a succession of unmanned probes, and then at some point a manned probe, which would have been the sensible thing to do,  he had simply skipped those intervening steps and built a manned probe directly.
Now he sat in the small control room, contained in the wasp like space craft waiting for the go-ahead. As soon as he got the all-clear, he would push the button that would send him to a point just outside their own solar system, or he would die in an antimatter explosion that would be truly astonishing.
“This is space probe 1. All is green and I am ready to proceed. Do I have a go-ahead?” he asked via the FTL device. The device worked in the same way as the FTL drive, it was instantaneous.
“You have a go ahead, proceed at your own discretion.”
As soon as he got the go-ahead he pressed the button, and he zapped out of existence, and reappeared directly, as expected, just outside their own solar system.
“This is space probe 1, I have successfully reached my destination,”  S1781 shouted both in relief and excitement, all mixed into one.
“Stand by Space probe 1, we have some interference,” he got as a reply.
While he waited he observed the universe before him, but he only saw blackness, no new stars could be seen.
“This is space probe 1. I will start turning the ship toward the sun, and start my observations.”
They had proposed several steps for this first journey. First they would observe space outside their own solar system, to see if they could see any new stars. The next step would be to observe their own sun, take photos and so prove that they had actually managed to build the FTL probe.
“This is space probe 1 to ground control,” but still he got no reply back.
“Switching over to radio communication,” and S1781 sent the same message via radio, knowing it would take 5 hours for the signal to reach the planet.
Something had gone wrong with the FTL communication, and that was not strange in itself, would have been a miracle if everything worked perfectly from the start. So he was not worried, and a 5 hour delay was nothing more than that, they could fix whatever had failed when this first test was completed.
He started slowly turning his space craft 180 degrees to let the sun come into view. No cameras could be placed on the backside of the probe, they would have interfered with the FTL sphere when it was created, but that was a small inconvenience.
As the sun came into view it looked bigger and brighter than he had expected. He relayed that back to the planet, but still got no reply via the FTL communication device.
As he watched the star he could see it growing, expanding. At first he could not understand what he was seeing, then it struck him, “We were to late, too late.”
The sun had reached its last but final stage. It had exploded, gone supernova, and what had been his planet and friends were now no more.
He watched the expanding gases and light coming ever closer with a morbid fascination. Soon that destructive force would reach him and he would join the rest of his race.
S1781 had almost given into that fate, when he, without thinking, added a new coordinate and pushed the button.
He reappeared 20 light-years away from his own solar system, and from here it looked just like it always had done. That was of course a mirage, the light from the explosion had simply not reached this point yet. He looked at the sun that looked alive but was in fact dead, and cried. He was left alone in a spaceship that could take him anywhere in the universe, and he had nowhere to go. He was marooned in an universe who had lost its final star.

The end