Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Last Astronomer

The fuzzy glow of terminals filled the room. Charlie sat with his mouth gaping and his head thrown back, occasionally stirring. His chair creaked and whined in protest with Charlie’s every breath; its cracked features taught and stressed seemed to fit him like a glove. From the polidynium observation dome at the corner of the room, the sun emerged from the dark crescent surface of Earth. The electric hum buzzed calm and unending.
“It is now Seven AM, Charlie. It is time to wake up.” A smooth female voice spoke as the entire room began to slowly fill with light, becoming slightly brighter with each passing moment.
Charlie snorted and grimaced, rolling over to find another position as he brought his arms to his eyes.
“It is now Seven AM, Charlie. It is time to wake up.” The voice repeated with the exact same inflection, the words like warm butter.
The room became brighter and Charlie sharply grumbled something unintelligible and began to curl into a ball while covering his head even further.
“It is now Seven…”
“I know what bloody time it is you witch!” Charlie yelped from is chair, “I heard you the first damn time!”
“..AM. It is time to…” The voice paused as Charlie spoke. “ I have prepared your tea for this morning. A Darjeeling black blend without cream or sugar.” A compartment emerged near the bed to Charlie’s left, and there was a lit white mug, steaming.
Charlie sat up slowly and through wrinkled and squinted eyes, he glared at the tea and sighed. He rose from his chair with one hand on his lower back and the other gripping the armrest; a cacophony of cracks, snaps, and pops as he rose.
He hobbled and winced his way to the steaming tea and gripped it with two hands and then limped to the observation dome, making quite the effort. He stopped at the edge, unwilling to climb into the center and placed one arm on the rim. Breathless and staring out at the orbital sunrise, he took a sip and swallowed.
“Charlie, it appears your Arthritis symptoms are growing worse since your last visit to the surface. I have increased the dosage of Trimetridone in your tea by 16%.”
Charlie looked down at the steaming cup in his hands and frowned. “I can tell.”
“You have neglected your sleep cycles, this will only increase the rate of your deterioration. I recommend that we increa-…”
Charlie waved his hand and made some incomprehensible sounds interrupting the voice.
“That’s quite enough of that, please. Did I receive any communications while I slept?”
“Yes, you have a video log from your former colleague Vasili Lomonosov. Would you like me to play it?”
Charlie had been waiting for this. This was the news Vasili was going to tell him and it hurt before he even heard a word of it. He took a deep breath.
“Yes. Play.”
The main terminal displayed an image of a grayed man at a cluttered desk. His haves crossed as he rested on his elbows. His uniform was torn in several places.
“Hello Charlie, I hope you are well. I know it has been some time since we last spoke and I do apologize, but you know how things can get. Things haven’t been…ideal here recently. The global conservation effort has been tough on most of us, especially people at our age.” Vasili looked down, breaking eye contact.
“I… I regret to inform you that my lab has been officially decommissioned in the wake of the new Terra Conservation shutdowns to conserve power and resources. Unfortunately scientific endeavor has taken a backseat to survival in this case."
"My equipment and data will no longer be available for use in the scans. I can give you some of my latest extrapolations and a few unrefined coordinates before they take me offline, but I'm afraid that is it. I'm sorry.”
Vasili chuckled softly and stifled a cough, “Ah Charlie, if only we all were so lucky to have that fully self-sustaining research station of yours. Anyway, I wish you luck my old friend. We may not have much time left, so please, go easy on yourself. Goodbye for now.”
Charlie stared at the screen in pause and softly sighed into his cup, displacing the wisps of steam.
“Computer, are there any other quantum arrays resources that we can utilize?”
“Negative. The Randal Moore Array was the last functioning resource that could contribute to your search effort and it has been taken offline as of 14:00 GMT.”
Charlie turned to the Earth and began walking to the observation dome. He didn’t grimace as he walked this time, and his chest was raised. With one hand to support him on the edge of the dome, he stared over the Earth among the abyss. There were things to be found out there and he was going to find them. After all, no one else would - he was the last astronomer.
He sipped his tea and exhaled.
“Run the array at the new set of coordinates.”
“That data is incomplete. The population of systems is too broad to extrapolate a meaningful response.”
“That’s fine. Run them.”
“Dr. Lomonosov’s customary vocal greeting is included in the standard message. Due to his absence in this scan, would you like me to record a new vocal message?”
“I suppose.” Charlie barely replied, still transfixed on the view.
“I have Dr. Lomonosov’s script, would you like me to provide it for your own message?”
“No. No, I don’t think that would be appropriate,”
“What would you like to say?”
“Is anyone out there?” He muttered almost in a whisper.
“Very well, I’ll begin the transmission.”
Charlie fell asleep in his bed that night, an event that had become increasingly rare. He turned in fits, longing for the comfort of his chair. The electric hum was unending.
“Charlie, there has been an anomalous reading.”
Charlie woke, groggy and coughed. “I thought we discussed not waking me for another god damn satellite interference discovery.”
“The telemetry does not match any known human signatures.”
There was a still pause, the electric hum faded into a hot flush on Charlie’s face; a ringing in his ears. His stomach turned - this was it.
He stood and ran to the main console.
“Can we extrapolate the data? Where is it from?”
“The data is organized; I am referencing all known forms of data interpretation. Source is unknown.”
Charlie typed faster than he had in years examining the signal.
“There was almost an instant lock on the array. How is that possible?”
“The telemetry does not match any known human signatures.”
“Damn… this is big.”
Charlie stared at the stream of data as the computer identified patterns in the stream. First one, then three, then eleven, then thirty.
“Charlie, I have extrapolated the data. It is a response to your vocal message.”
Charlie opened his mouth but there were no words, only the electric hum. His quivering hand reached towards the console to support him.
“What… what does it say?”
“Displaying on main terminal…”
On the screen, before the last astronomer, before Earth and the abyss there was one word amidst a sea of data.