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Feast For the Star

By Glenn Winkelmann Jr. All Rights Reserved ©

Horror / Scifi

Channels Open

The arm is extending outward and... it's in place. The translator is functioning correctly. 1, 2, 3 – yes, all clear. Activate the microphone signal... easy does it, people! We want a blinking red light. Good. We only have one crack at this. Are temperatures holding? Yes, yes. Excellent. Reroute cooling fluids to the exterior hull of the studio. The first sign of metal warping and we're out of here. The translator is now online, we're ready to activate the conversation phase.

You ready in the 'studio', Frost? We've practiced this a thousand times. You'll do fine, chief. Keep calm and only answer when you're spoken to. Let it introduce itself first. … Alright, Frost, you're live.”

Frost stared at the instrument panel ahead of him. A wide spectrum of colorful redundancy checks from red to green were lit up. An amber beacon shone in the center, indicating that the coolant circulating the capsule was loud and disrupting the audio sensory. “I think we have a problem here,” he began, vacantly staring at the light. The spherical button resonating in the pitch black room was strikingly comparable to the pale, red celestial body only a few thousand miles from the craft. After some nuanced conversation, his superiors fixed the problem and the light faded from view. The problem was rectified, and the room returned to hues of green and red. This had to go perfectly. There was no room for failure.

“Are the speakers on?” Frost asked into his collar microphone.

After a silent period, the speaker system began to crackle with the static of a dim reception. The speakers inside the capsule were connected to the translator/microphone hybrid on the actuating arm, located outside of the ship facing the star. It was incapable of recording human voices, and could sustain the tremendous heat and radiation indefinitely. The view portal to the direct center of the room was tinted, but the looming presence of that celestial red object was visibly silhouetted against an ocean of inky black. A knot formed in his stomach.

“Easy does it, Frost” he thought out loud. The dim reassuring comments from high command in his ear-piece sounded no different than his tinnitus.

Relaxation was all he could focus on. Relaxation... in a warm home. Frost leaned backward upon his reclining chair and pondered the situation more clearly, a meditation technique he often had to remind himself to use. Dwindling resources and a need for geographical space to house the ever-increasing population had sparked creative ingenuity in a team of scientists who, in desperate need for funding, turned to selling their own homes and lives in exchange for the required resources needed to construct the last space faring vessel that humanity would ever see. Equipped with the latest in communication studies equipment, the goal of the expedition was essentially to discover the intentions of the withering star and whether anything could be done to save it, a high-branching concept delightfully entertained by a series of boards across the globe. Thermonuclear payloads were theorized to be able to jump start the dying celestial body back into life, or so Frost had theorized... and dearly hoped.

Another fruitless day in the Clearsight's studio passed; its mission was still incomplete. Outfitted to partake on this mission, led by Alexander Frost, which was vested in achieving the continued existence of the human race. After solitary hours of bitter contention he finally released his frustrations upon the machinery, smacking the microphone out of the way and plunging his feet into the auxiliary equipment. The stress compounded into a bitter migraine and he left, whitewashed with frustrated defeat, to his private lodgings.

The engineers entered the studio a number of hours later and prepared the equipment for the next attempt at communication with that interstellar sphere. When the synchronization was complete with the audio panels, microphone adjustment and more tinkering on the “Translation Computer” to add in more frequencies and wavelengths to interpret, Frost was ushered back in. Sitting down at the terminal Frost beckoned the usual tests into the microphone to placate high command. The speaker system began to hum with the faintest of buzzing as of a locust trapped.

“That isn't us,” an authoritative voice informed him over his headset.

Frost was startled and leaned forward excitedly. The audio panel equalizer had climbed up from a flat line into a rippling chorus of increasing shapes as the hissing mounted. The atmosphere in the room began to supplicate the fear birthed inside his mind. His hands trembled, clasped to the microphone stand as he pulled it closer in anticipation to reply to whatever was coming. The decoding machines whirred into a flurry of activity, and finally, the playback speakers blinked green. An utterance of dismal clarity reverberated the room, translated from the star itself:

...”Easy.... does... it... Frost”.

Frost's eyes widened. The speakers were now screaming at him, so he opened his headset and requested for an equipment test. There was no reply. His eyes darted up and down the displays. He must have mistaken it. “A malfunction. I think there's something wrong wit--”

You... are malfunctioning.”

He had become so uncomfortable that he readjusted his chair and positioned himself, grasping deep for a level of stoic attitude that was required of him. He ignored the flurry of cheers and excited howls from his headset until, finally, their distracting pandemonium forced him to throw it off his head entirely.

I... am malfunctioning too.”

The voice was a grating, hollow tone that had a timbre of a mechanical device, as of a translator, rather than from organic methods of communication. Still, the slightly gelatinous tone, and the subtle connotation of the sinister haunted Frost so that he took more than a few moments to settle his unease. Looking out the portal, he leaned forward for his rebuttal:

“My name is Alexander Frost and... we are here because of that.” He tackled the point rather poorly, he couldn't articulate his point well.

Where... is here? You are not here yet... you are... there...”

He was unassuming, and looked nervously at the star, as crimson and malignant as it had ever been, floating in dormant space. Around him he could hear the rupturing cracks and pops of overloaded audio panels. He made swift adjustments.

“What do you mean by that?”

On that... sphere... Breathing cold air, starving... the desire for... light...”

The scientific pep talks, the learned research papers, the practiced monologues and anticipated replies did nothing for him. Trial and error with the translation equipment, stupendous bonuses and monetary rewards: none of this had prepared him for the actual experience. The metallic, dim room began to become dark with the implications of the void. The chill air began to condense his breath; his shivers were more like tremors and the electronic equipment resonated with dull idioms and chirps, assaulting his ears with laughter and mockery from the darkest corners of the studio. The star leered hideously through that inches wide window. Then there were thoughts of home. He pressed again,

“We want to fix that,” Frost replied in a refreshingly cooler and more practiced voice. He had come into his own he thought. “We, as a species, we want to save you,” he continued in a confident tone. “There are some methods we want to ask you about, means to rejuvenate the energy supplies that burn in your core. You are dwindling... passing on. Our objective is to... give you more life. How can we?”

All things... end... I do not... wish to...”

“What can we do to help you restore you? Can anything be done?”

Alexander Frost sat for hours in disbelief. The hissing had died down to a suffocating silence which lingered for days on end. They turned to weeks, which bled into months, with numerous attempts at repeated communication ignored by the celestial body. Eventually the fuel supplies were on emergency rations, and the only room kept in active function was the studio itself which housed Frost, the surviving member of high command, and a sparse number of technicians. Eventually it was solely occupied by the apprehensive and starving Frost who grasped tightly at the arms of the freezing leather chair which, for many long weeks, he had lived in exclusively. Multitudes of corpses bounced between the hallways and rooms, the lack of gravity transporting their cadavers from end to end of the lightless ship. The blinking microphone was slower going and the instrument panels began to dim, their back light's fading. The arches of the audio panel began to spiral upward as the shapes of vocalization took hold. A faint mechanical whirring began to echo the spacious, cool room as a green receptacle blinked on the speaker system. Frost, idly drifting towards the window pane, was starved. There was a loud pop – a hiss – and strained stammering of the speakers. The soliloquy rang unheard through the sound system,

You are 'malfunctioning'.. because you must save me. You... pass on. Your energy... escapes your... your bodies. Where do you think it goes....? It goes here... to me. Your energy will... restore me. It is why you... need to die. I know you are cold, but... you shall be warm here.”

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