We had plenty of warning. Day after day the astro-forecasters provided detailed diagrams. Scales of luminosity versus apparent brightness, time and distance scattered across meaningless graphs. Their faces were ashen and their mouths turned down in perpetual frowns but we grew accustomed to their gloom, integrated it into our daily routine as we had always done with news such as that. Billions of years of evolution and still we could only hold so much in the forefront of our minds.
It was the small specks first, so far-flung and tiny that those of us closer to the center couldn’t see any change. Despite the measures to reduce light pollution, our cities were still wildly aglow with bioluminescence and an unrelenting, inexplicable obsession with neon. So the backwater extrasolar rim folk were the first to feel it. A slight darkening of the night sky, to a degree that should have been imperceptible had it not stirred in them something primeval. It was all rumors and whispers for months, spread across our internal servers, setting us abuzz as we tried to go about our business. The exos had always been strange, more often than not they shunned modern conveniences, convinced that our electric flesh spelled our doom. But they grew stranger still. Bonfires burning higher and higher, causing raging forest fires that blazed without end, blackening their skies and filling our view screens with gritty soot that foreshadowed the darkness to come.
We laughed nervously at their superstitions, but the stories of rudimentary prefrontal cortex surgery and ecstatic bestial rutting at the galactic edge lingered in the deepest parts of us. They were preparing for something we weren’t even ready to admit.
The reporters tried to lull us. It won’t affect our local supercluster, they said, the pull of our gravity is too strong. For many weeks we believed it, choosing to walk to work instead of porting so we could feel the gravity for ourselves. The warm curve of spacetime keeping us on solid ground. But the oppositions’ voices pierced the reassuring din. Gravity is the weakest fundamental force, the dark energy will rip our supercluster to shreds. The acceleration is accelerating exponentially.
When we finally saw the first star go out from our vantage point in the center we abandoned our walking routes and returned to porting instead, each one of us secretly hoping for a quantum mechanical error that would allow us improbable entry to a static universe. For the first time in our species’ existence, we all felt the planet spinning beneath us. We were moving too fast. The panic was palpable, the nights darker, the days a welcome respite of bland blue and white. But the sun continued to sink relentlessly, leaving a primordial terror behind. We had looked upon those same skies for millennia, they were our ancestral inheritance, our only connection to a distant past that we had all but forgotten. We packed up our telescopes and hid in our houses at night. We lit fires in purely decorative hearths hoping to chase away the encroaching desolation of the emptying night sky.
Our brightest minds worked day and night because the problem was conspicuous now, a reality we could no longer ignore. We fired probes into deep space, racing after the receding cosmos, hoping to catch a glimpse of the stars we had always taken for granted. We revved up our production of spectrometers and colliders, working overtime to try to crack the code of the dark energy that was stealing our boundless potential for cosmic connectedness. And while we worked feverishly the rumors of the exos grew more perverse. They were devolving. Ripping their centers for executive function straight from their foreheads with crude precision. Future consequences and short-term memories dissolving into an orgiastic fervor. In the center, we both feared and envied the stories of the ritualistic annihilation of their humanity. We avoided each others’ gaze in the faltering starlight and kept to ourselves more and more.
We all knew where it was heading. Some of us slipped off into the night, drawn to the exos’ bonfires, excited by the undulating shadows and the promise of a simpler life. Those of us who stayed volunteered for the mass sterilization. As the sky emptied out, so did our hearts, and we came to believe wholeheartedly in the meaninglessness of our continued existence. The cities powered down, functioning at minimum output. We banded together in tighter and tighter living quarters, subconsciously arranging ourselves in the formation of distant constellations that had faded beyond recognition. The unused parts of the city were left for nature to reclaim. The exos bred without reservation and soon the wild reek of them spread into our solar system. We retired permanently to our homes to wait for the end we knew was near.
Those of us with children held them tight and whispered stories of the stars into their ears. We filled their small minds with wonder and light, sang cosmic songs, and made them commit star maps to memory. We told them tales of quasars and pulsars and stellar nurseries, burned into their brains fond remembrances of supernovas and swirling spiral galaxies. Then, when they were full of our knowledge, all that we had, we pushed them out into space where they were quickly claimed by the exos.
We had plenty of warning. And now when our children look up at the skies and see nothing but dark emptiness at least they will recall, somewhere in the recesses of their simian minds, a brighter time. A time before the stars went out.
Star Spider is a writer from Toronto, Canada, where she lives and works with her awesome husband Ben Badger. Star is represented by Carrie Plitt of Conville & Walsh and she’s hoping to have her first novel published soon. In her spare time, Star is pursuing an education in astrophysics and writing short stories which can be found in many places including A cappella Zoo, The James Franco Review, Maudlin House, Flyleaf Journal, Gone Lawn, Bitterzoet, Apeiron Review, and Klipspringer Magazine.
Lead image: “Star Trails” (via Flickr user Javier Morales)