The Last Stars

This is my entry for the 3rd Writers Carnival on Wednesday 30th June, the theme is ‘And then there were none’. Not sure why all the stuff I’m writing at the moment is so dark – I promise to try and do something more light-hearted soon!

The Last Stars

Althrop removed his glasses to pinch the bridge of nose before looking back out through the steel-glass at the darkness beyond. If he squinted hard enough he could just make out two tiny specks in sector 49GH and a couple more in 91KR and 92KR but that was all that was left. The computer panel before him confirmed it – four lonely stars were all that remained.

It had started about five years ago, Althrop remembered seeing it in the same news feed as the story about the Io colonist that strangled all those children. The first star had gone out, ‘Jeeves Pegasus’, a remote binary star in the Hadron system. The entire scientific community had puzzled over how such an event could occur – probes confirmed that the star itself was still there, still burning, just no longer emitting any light. But what had initially been a mere curiosity, something for the academics to ponder, became far more pressing when ‘Lucious 9’ and ‘Singh-Koli Magnus’ went out as well. All across the universe, points of light were just flickering out, one after another and no one could understand why. When the Memses system had to be abandoned after its sun went dark, displacing thousands of settlers, the Coalition starting throwing everything they had into finding a solution – every scientific mind was rostered into an array of new research facilities. Facilities like the LROO Centre where Althrop sat now, hanging in the sky above Neptune.

He had spent the past three years here and had seen so much change in that time. In the beginning they had all been so full of hope – so many great minds striving together for a common purpose, with the latest, most powerful technologies made available to them – how could they not succeed? But as more and more lights in the sky disappeared and not even the slightest progress was made to understanding why, spirits began to fall. And when they hit rock bottom, so did the morals. Althrop watched as the well educated, reasonable men and women around turned to brawling and sniffing fairy dust. He’d even heard of orgies and domination parlours down on the lower levels. He shuddered to think what could be happening down on the colonies.

The gentle hush of the lab door opening and closing brought him back to the present. He turned to see Mildred returning from her lunch break. She wore her hair in a tight knot today, a cheeky pencil sticking out the top. She gave him a polite smile of acknowledgement as she passed. Oh how he longed for her to give him a real smile, to grin and expose those dimples with joy at seeing him. To let that lab coat slip from her shoulders as he undid that knot and let her golden hair fall freely around her. But that was all just fantasy – she barely noticed him. He was merely a man that happened to work in the same room as her every day.

Turning back to his terminal Althrop almost blurted out in horror. Another two stars had vanished. He scanned again to be sure but both 91KR and 92KR were now completely vacant. That meant there were just two stars left in the entire universe. Two measly stars. He could almost sympathise with those religious nuts – the ones who went on all the marches and rallies, claiming that God was putting out the stars as punishment for the sins of men. For every great sin, He extinguished another light. Their reasoning being the time that light took to travel.

Light took so long to travel from these distant stars that the light you were seeing today probably left its source about ten thousand years earlier which would have meant that the stars actually started going out ten thousand years ago and we were only seeing the results now. But that wasn’t the case. About the only thing the scientists had been able to discover resolutely was that that stars were going out at the source at the same time as they appeared to in the sky. It was as if the light itself, travelling all those thousand billions of miles was disappearing, rather than the star. And that just didn’t make any sense, no matter how you looked at that you couldn’t explain it with science. So religion had taken over. Some had turned to suicide pacts, others were born again and embarked on great pilgrimages in the hope of last minute redemption.

The more organised though – they started collating data. They built up detailed timelines showing the point that every star had gone out and then alongside listed major crimes and wars – the Tokyo Slasher, the massacre on New Tuscon and so on. For the most part you could see a pattern emerging, usually each star going out was proceeded by some terrible event, a murder, a paedophile being released early from jail but there were just as many stars that couldn’t be as obviously connected to any ‘sin’. The zealots’ explanation for this of course was that it didn’t have to be a famous sin, it didn’t have to be something that everyone knew about – perhaps on some long haul cruiser a deranged father had slept with his daughter. Surely in the eyes of almighty God that would be crime enough to turn off another star? The only real hope for man, the preachers cited, was for all men to renounce all sin. Althrop was almost tempted to agree with this thinking but he was a man of science and reason – if he surrendered to that sort of thinking then they were all doomed. No he put all his faith in technology, in himself.

And then ‘Woodrow Smith V’ went out. The second last star in the entire universe disappeared. Every computer in the room began to ping warnings, like evangelists announcing the coming apocalypse. Althrop jumped to his feet, pressed his hands against the glass and stared outwards, hoping desperately to see something different. But the scanner was was right – there was only one, faint star sitting alone in the darkness beyond.

He felt sick. How they could hope to discover a solution, to save mankind from eternal darkness with only one star left in the sky. They were too late. If that star went out then they would plunged, literally, into another dark age. Since the first terraforming ships had blasted off from Earth all those centuries ago, everything had been solar powered. Everything. And why not – the light of the stars was free and abundant, infinite even. Till now. Now the planets would sit as black spheres in space, they would have to revert make energy themselves, digging up oil like cavemen. The plants would shrivel and blacken. What sort of a world would that be to live in?

Mildred had joined him now, staring out into the abyss. Her eyes were shimmering with tears and, illuminated by the green glow of the computer terminals below, Althrop couldn’t help but appreciate just how beautiful she was. He wanted her to turn to him now, to say something comforting. To admit her hidden love for him even. He needed her to do something. They were the only ones in this lab, probably on the deck now – watching the universe descend into darkness. They should be comforting each other but she was practically ignoring him, just as she always did. Well if this was going to be the end then he was going to make the most of it he decided. He’d given that stupid cow every opportunity to be nice to him, he’d brought her countless cups of coffee, offered her biscuits, tried to start conversation. When she had dropped her pile of notes he’d leapt down to help her gather them back up yet she had barely said thank you for that, doing her best to avoid eye contact at such close proximity. Not even a smile. They should have been together. And now they would be. If the universe was going to end, or as good as, then he was at least going to have one moment of physical pleasure with her. Even if she would not agree to it. He turned to her, tried to take her hand but she pulled away. He snatched it now, seizing on tightly so she couldn’t pull away. Mildred turned to look at him with fear and confusion. He forced a rough kiss onto those soft, warm, innocent lips and she squeeled in protest. Yes, he would have her, here on the floor of the laboratory. Such sweet sin.

Behind them the last star in the sky vanished. And then there were none.

Title image courtesy cptspock

Published in: on June 27, 2010 at 4:19 PM  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Shivers and chills! Even though city lights block them from view most of the time, I can’t imagine all the stars blinking out like that.

    Was it really crime that made them go out, or the loss of hope? Nicely layered and open to interpretation.

    Well done. I’m totally creeped out right now. 🙂

  2. Well done. I love how you combine the universal with the specific. And it’s dark indeed.

  3. I liked how you tied the ending of the universe with the MC’s final big sin. I noticed a few typos and the physical idea of people surviving in the universe until the final star went out didn’t make sense to me. I kept expecting to find it was a dream or Hell or something. Did you cut out the explanation? That would make an interesting tie-in story.

    The psychological aspects of this were really well done. Cool writing!

  4. You used the theme very well, and you had me guessing the entire time how it would end. Dark, but very intriguing.

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