One by one, the stars are disappearing from the night sky. They are fading like candles being snuffed out in the darkness. The space scientists fraternity was clueless about the cause.
Urgent conferences and closed door meetings kept everyone on their toes. The ruckus was clearly visible at the space stations, research organisations and among government officials from each corner of the world. One such place was the CosmoTech Research Institute, where the team gathered to discuss the grave matter.
“Such an event is highly unlikely, but it is happening. The news has caused panic globally. We must get to the bottom of it.” Sarah, the youngest astrophysicist of the institute, was as restless as a willow in a windstorm.
“You’re right. The impossible has happened. But the question is How?” Davis, the head of their team wondered.
“Initially, the cause was thought to be light pollution or due to some change in the atmospheric conditions. But as the phenomenon persisted, it became clear, that something bizarre was happening. The night sky went starless, and even the JWST couldn’t spot one. Unbelievable.” Chen, the other associate joined in.
I have this eerie feeling that something sinister is happening out there. A cosmic accident? Changes in the interstellar medium or a change in the behaviour of dark matter? What in the world can make the stars vanish?
Back home, Sarah tried to sleep but her mind was bubbling with hypothetical ideas. If only they sent space probes, the experiment capsule could fetch some data for us. Wish I could connect to someone who could help me find the answers easily. But who…who… Hais, I better get some sleep now.
In a distant part of the universe, a young scientist, named Ari, was busy working on the Einstein- Rosen Bridge theory. He was determined to find a way to connect to the distant parts of the universe through Gaia BH1, the newly discovered wormhole.
And he did succeed.“Eureka! I located the entrance to the tunnel. Finally! I think the idea of gravitational waves worked. Now I’m one step ahead of fulfilling my mission.”
As Ari sat on the semi-transparent couch to rest for a while, it smoothly transformed its shape and changed its hues to suit his mood. The sensors detected his state and got into motion to revitalize him. He reclined in it.
Help me find the answers…I’m waiting for you…will you reach out…is anyone there…
Ari awoke with a start. What was that? A human voice? But where did it echo from? Did I imagine it?
In Stellar Nexus, a region in the universe, two minds connected unknowingly through quantum entanglement.
The morning welcomed Sarah with its usual warmth and brightness. Hope the day brings some good news.
In the lab, Sarah studied the sky and exclaimed, “It’s been two days, and still we can’t draw a conclusion. Even the Alpha Centauri isn’t visible anymore. And now, the biggest, brightest yellow star, Capella is missing too.”
“Absurd, but true.”
“I have a theory of my own. It’s not totally hypothetical, but I think the stars are falling into a black hole. You know, nothing escapes their extreme gravity, so…maybe…there’s a possibility, right?”
“You should’ve been a fictional writer.” He mocked jokingly.
“Whatever! Time will reveal the truth.” She was stuck to the telescope when she noticed a perturbation in the elliptical course of a celestial body. What in the world was that? She looked again to check if it was just an illusion and poof, everything was back to normal. Except that the object was nowhere to be seen.
“Davis…Chen…come, check this out. I’ve got something for you.” Sarah removed the photographic plates from the STIS and placed them on the table for all to see. “Didn’t I say there’s more to the mystery?”
At Chronos Rift, a region near the centre of the galaxy a habitable, futuristic world was taking shape. Ari, the only human resident, was once a part of a secret space mission sent by Earth. The craft and the mission went awry, but Ari was rescued by Garmin, who was left behind at the Rift by an UFO, right before the mission.
“To create a traversable wormhole, I need to alter the charge and mass of fermions. Roughly, it would take a second to travel from one side to the other but I must be careful of the odds. Moreso, it needs to be macroscopic, and I need to survive the tidal forces too. Phew! It’s not easy to defy the laws of Physics.”
Garmin, his associate was hardly paying attention to Ari’s words. He was engrossed with something more important- detection of exotic matters and level of radiation. He possessed a sleek metallic body, with skin that mimicked the appearance of human skin. His intelligent eye sensors and dexterous fingers were capable of handling complex machinery and solving space-time anomalies. Garmin was a valued asset to the Rift.
Ari called out again. “Garmin, are we all set? When can I start my journey?”
“Soon, Ari. Very soon. The vessel is fully geared to traverse safely through the hole. Its advanced shield and propulsion systems can withstand extreme forces inside the tunnel. The coordinates have been fed into the navigation system. I will control the geometry of the channel to ensure it remains open till you exit. At present, I’m studying the wormhole’s throat to set the speed for the ease of transit. Your vitals are steady though.”
“Oorah! Thanks Garmin! Please ensure that the gates remain traversable, and the communication channels stay seamless throughout the voyage.”
“Don’t worry, Ari. I’ll watch your back till you get back to Rift.” Garmin assured his partner.
“Where did it vanish?” Davis moved from the plates to the telescope. “I don’t see anything.”
“I think it is connected to Gaia BH1. The extreme tidal forces exerted by the black hole’s gravity are tearing the stars apart. Once they are within the tidal radius, the strong gravitational pull is decreasing their density. Eventually, after spaghettification, the stars are fading within a few hours. Believe it or not.”
“Good theory, Sarah.” Davis acknowledged. “But the question is, why didn’t the JWST record anything? It is impossible that the telescopes spanning the electromagnetic spectrum failed to capture this major astronomical event.”
“That mystery needs to be unravelled. If we start to research with the resources we have, hopefully, we will get the answers, sooner or later.” She looked at Davis who nodded in agreement. “Great! We’ll get to work now.”
Finally, Garmin showed the green flag. He briefed Ari on the mechanics and transmission before the takeoff.
Seated inside the specially designed spacecraft, Ari said, “I’m all set to take flight through the Stargate. Wish me luck, Garmin. May I be successful in my mission and return safely. Stay steady till I get back.”
“Galacti-fare, Ari!” Garmin bid him farewell as the craft took off with a soft zoosh.
“The usual, please,” Sarah ordered her favourite macchiato at the counter. While waiting, she was casually browsing the crowd inside the joint when her eyes spotted him. Sitting alone at a table by the window, he was cradling his coffee cup, while the streaming sun rays added sheen to his chestnut hair. His gaze was drifting between his coffee cup and the chaotic waltz outside. Sarah grabbed her order from the counter and was about to leave when she changed her mind. I’ll be late. See ya. She texted Chen and pretended to look for a place.
“Hey, can I sit here?” Sarah noticed his brown eyes, artistic fingers, broad, shoulders, and perfect jawline when, with a radiant smile, he gestured her to take a seat.
He didn’t even say Hello! Just forget it. Look at him. A Greek god, and you…totally unappealing. Don’t embarrass yourself. He didn’t look at you. Not even once. Stop trying. Go. Now.
“Hi! Umm…are you new here? I don’t remember seeing you before. By the way, I’m Sarah. Astrophysicist. So, where are you from and what do you do?” Pause. Get a hold, girl.
The man looked straight into her eyes, as he spoke.“Yes. I’m very much new to this world. My name is Ari. I’m a conservation biologist. I collect and preserve the endangered species.”
“Ari! Nice name. Short and sweet.” You’re a disaster. “Biologist! Interesting. You’re here for work? Sorry, I ask too many questions.” She grinned
“It’s fine. Yes, I’m here for work.” Ari checked her expression. “If you’re free today evening, would you like to accompany me to the Museum of Endangered Species? I could use some help, but ofcourse if you want to.”
Wow! That was fast. Stop blushing, Sarah. He’s not asking you to go on a date. “Ya, sure. I know the way. Let’s meet here at 6pm. They stay open till 8, so you’ll have enough time to look around.
“That’d be fine. Thank you.” With that, Sarah left for work, and Ari ordered another coffee.
Chen noticed Sarah as she walked in. “You can spill the beans.”
“Nothing much. I met this guy at the coffee shop…”
“Ah ha! And then…”
“He’s a biologist, and new to our town.” She blushed as she spoke. “We’re going to the museum, tonight.”
“Wow! Date, ha! Have fun and tell me all about it tomorrow.”
“Hehe! Can’t call it a date yet. I’ll let you know how it went. Any news of our missing stars?”
“Nothing yet. I was checking the reports of the last Supernova explosion. I think you’re right. Discovery of the wormhole followed by this event… There’s a connection but we need sufficient data to confirm it.”
“Let’s keep digging.” Sarah sat to work but her mind was stuck on Ari. Does he have a girlfriend? Wife…kids…
“Ari, she might cause distraction to your task. Watch your steps.”
“I will, Garmin. The mission is my priority. I won’t deviate from my path.”
She’s simple, yet pretty. Ari wondered as Sarah walked in, in a pretty floral dress.
“Hi! Have you been sitting here all day?” She smiled. “Just kidding. Shall we go now?”
“Yes!” Witty. Affable. Redolent.
They strolled along the main street, exchanging smiles only at the accidental brush of their arms. They stole quick, furtive glances at one another, but didn’t utter a word till they reached their destination.
“Ta-da!” Sarah pointed at a freshly painted building. “I haven’t been here since they renovated, but I heard they added some rare herbs to their collection, and a few animals; insects too.”
“I can’t wait to see them.” They went inside
As the museum guide toured them around, the photo and history of each exhibit got copied into a system, millions of miles away from the museum. One down. One more spot to go. Ari was beaming with pride.
They stopped for dinner on their way back home. As they were bidding each other goodnight, Ari noticed that Sarah was reluctant to leave. Emotions are infectious. I can’t take any chances. I can’t be selfish.“Thank you for your time, and for the dinner.” He extended his hand, invitingly. Sarah reciprocated with a faint smile.
Time stood still as her hand settled into his. Sarah heard the soft tinkling of bells and felt butterflies in her stomach. As their fingers entwined, her eyes sparkled with excitement. In that fleeting moment, a tacit bond formed between them. Perhaps it was the beginning of a romantic affair or the start of a tragedy to befall.
“Ari, each time you met your kin, I found some unusual abnormalities in your thought process. The reading has been recorded. I thought to inform you.” Garmin sounded concerned.
“Nothing important. Ignore it.”
“So you love the coffee here, ha!” Sarah told Ari playfully when she met him at the joint the next day.
“You can say so.” Ari smiled back. “To be honest, I’m here with a request if you allow.”
“Yes, tell me.”
“I wanted to visit the biological reserve this weekend. It’s near the border, and I’m bad with directions.” He studied her expressions. “I will drive. We’ll be back by evening.”
Long drive. Not bad. Say yes. “Umm, let me check.” She browsed her phone for a while. “Alright. I can make it.”
“Great! Thank you, Sarah.”
“No worries. Ok, I gotta go now. Since the stars went missing, the office is keeping us on our toes.”
“You must’ve seen the news. Several stars have been missing from the night sky. The search is on. Anyway, let’s talk about it some other time. I gotta rush.”
“Garmin, I think the wormhole destroyed some stars from the Earth’s atmosphere. It wasn’t visible to us, so I was unaware till Sarah told me about it a while ago. I think they got destroyed by the gravitational force.”
“Let me check. I will let you know if I find anything.”
Perhaps, the universe had a plan for Ari and Sarah. Despite his resistance, Ari’s natural human instincts drew him closer to Sarah. And Sarah the nerd, was lovestruck though she knew nothing about Ari.
During the trip to the reserve, she talked about her dreams and wishes; about her family and work. Ari was the patient listener. The more he saw her laugh and giggle, the more he got drawn towards her cheerful nature.
As they explored the reserve, every information, including the map of the trail, and photos of each endangered life got stored in a system millions of miles away from the reserve. My job is done. Over to the bug now.
While the sun’s last rays painted the sky in reddish orange, Ari hit the gas and headed towards the town.
Wish I could take her to Chronos Rift. She would love it there, and she can be a good assistant to Garmin.
Sarah was unusually quiet. I wish this journey never ends. As grey clouds rolled over the horizon, riding the summer winds, she inhaled a heartful of fresh air. I will cherish these moments forever. In a reflex, she held Ari’s hand and whispered, “Let’s make this journey last as long as we can.”
Ari acknowledged with a smile. I’m sorry, Sarah. I can’t raise your hopes and add to my guilt. Forgive me.
The moon was in mid-sky when they reached Sarah’s home. Halfheartedly, she walked to her porch and stood toying with the edge of her scarf.
Ari took a step closer. “Sarah, I…” He didn’t get to complete his line. As their heartbeats syncopated, hesitations were replaced by their burning desires. The soft glow of the streetlamps created a romantic ambience, adding fuel to their passion. Amidst the obscurities, love blossomed between them, defying the rules of space and time.
“Hope you are ready, Ari. It’s time for you to leave.” Garmin alerted him when they connected later that night. “But I have something for you. Check the files. It will be your return gift to Sarah. Precisely, a parting gift.”
“Thank you, Garmin. This is the least I can do for her.” Ari heaved a sigh. “I’m ready to go home.”
“Sarah, there’s a parcel for you. It’s from a guy named Ari.” One of the baristas from the coffee shop handed a small packet to Sarah.
“Thanks, Jeanette.” She sat with her coffee, fidgeting the unopened packet. Is it a ring? Of course not. Open the packet, silly. Sarah took a deep breath and tore the wrapping. Out came a small silver metal box and a letter. She chose to read it later and opened the box instead. Inside it, were two pen drives. Flash drives? Seriously? She unfolded the letter:
As you are reading this letter with a frown on your face, I’m watching you from a far-flung corner of the universe. Your smile will stay with me like a brilliant star amidst the cosmic darkness. You had the gravity to anchor my soul in this endless expanse. Yet, I had no choice but to return where I belong. If I had the choice, I would have invited you to come along, but our worlds are too diverse. I cannot say anything beyond this but do not take me as a traitor. The universe knows how true my words and feelings for you are. If our paths converge once more, I will tell you how beautiful a person you are, and how lucky I feel to have known you. I could not do much, but here’s a small token to express my gratitude for everything you’ve done for me in these two days.
Sarah called in sick and went home. She spent the whole day in bed and didn’t bother to check the USB’s. She switched her phone off, finished a whole tub of ice-cream, and cried her heart out till she dozed off reading Ari’s letter for the umpteenth time.
The next morning, she woke up unwillingly and sat staring at the strange gift. She inserted one USB into her laptop and double-clicked the file. Hastily, she copied the contents into her system and inserted the next one.
“If you can hear me, Ari, just know that I love you and I cannot thank you enough for this. Hope we meet again.”
She quickly got ready and ran to work. “Davis, Chen, check this out.” They got goosebumps as she opened the files one by one. There were images showing the movements and death of the stars at the mouth of Gaia BH1. There were twenty slides in all, with properly analyzed data from the observation. There were captured images of light from a star’s final gasp as the black hole cannibalized them; one at a time.
Sarah was so excited and overjoyed with the gift Ari left for her, that she missed the morning headlines.
Two incidents have been reported by the respective authorities this morning. The Strange disappearance of several exhibits from the Endangered Species Museum, and quite a number of species that were at risk of extinction, from a biological reserve located on the outskirts of the town.
Einstein Rosen Bridge – theory of general relativity to elaborate on the idea, proposing the existence of “bridges” through space-time.
Gaia BH1 – the closest known black hole as per recent discovery
STIS – The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph
Stellar Nexus/ Chronos Rift – imaginary names
Galacti-fare- an imaginary word for farewell.
Museum of the Endangered Species/ Biological Reserve- bears no resemblance to anything existing.
Author’s note: This is purely a work of fiction. Some references are from the space domains.
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