THE RETURN OF FAT BOY
We couldn’t believe it: earth would finally have a visitor from outer space; but it might have been God. We astronomers have known of its existence for over a decade now; our best guess says it could have been around at the big bang and that makes sense in a way: we’ve likened it to a primordial black hole, those dark space monsters that are as old as the universe but it actually looks more like luminous, swirling, cotton candy. How exactly does one describe the likes of which he has never seen? That’s the problem with labeling this thing: it exhibits such unique character. It doesn’t so much control its own gravity as it does finger the spatial fabric of the universe like a harpist—and then ride the ripples. It tends to drift over smaller objects, like those in an asteroid field, and crush them to nothingness but we’ve also seen it engorge whole planets and moons; and sometimes it’ll do nothing but ooze through, like a ghost. It moves without trajectory and seems to ‘play with its food’. The more we’ve studied its behavior, the more it’s reflected sentience . . . and that has really freaked the entire world out.
It’s been dubbed ‘Fat Boy’, inspired by its devouring of planets only to occasionally leave one on table, like a ten-year-old rotund would do to broccoli after eating a half dozen cupcakes. Fat Boy is not from our own backyard in the Milky Way galaxy, or at least no one thinks he is, which begs the question “How the hell did he get here in the first place?” considering he was first spotted thousands of light years from Earth. So it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine the kind of hysteria generated when, last week, he suddenly appeared inside Jupiter’s orbit, and moved into the asteroid belt.
Since then, authorities haven’t been happy dealing with the early stages of mayhem: it’s hard to keep a lid on a global threat such as this, especially when it’s literally within the scope of the amateur astronomer community. With hope for continued societal order, the best defense has been people like me: Theoretical Cosmologists, the “Historians of the Cosmos” as some like to say. They’ve been putting us noted scientists in front of TV cameras and then we’re supposed to say stuff like, “According to special relativity it is impossible for an object to traverse thousand-light year distances in mere days.” People trust us for good reason—and it has helped prevent total societal breakdown—but in the green rooms we talk amongst ourselves about the fact that Fat Boy has somehow sidestepped Albert Einstein and the light speed barrier, and that, for some strange reason, he loves toying with space rocks. Unfortunately, we could say with little doubt that he would find a very large red one—Mars—pretty soon, followed by our precious blue Earth. And I am starting to get a little worried at this point. I mean, I was excited last week, but I went from like “ninety-five percent excited, five-percent scared” before last week’s space-time jump, to “fifty-percent excited, fifty-percent scared” the day of the space-time jump. And then there’s today, where my emotional poles have finished reversing completely and Fat Boy… Well, he’s right here.
Word is, most governments have been in communication since last week. None of them knew how to prepare or knew if it was a multi-national issue (which I thought was hilarious) and, as a result, a select research group of astro-heads and military personnel here in the US had been hastily put together in order to aid the spread of ‘correct’ information among the public at its soonest availability. I’m part of the team, currently stationed here at a high-tech observatory/lab facility in California, called “A.L.A.R.M” (Advanced Lab for Astrophysics Research Meta-Knowledge center). We want to be a real help (and learn more for our sanity’s sake) but, from our project leader’s viewpoint, ‘Reassurance is Key’ regardless of what is actually happening. We report back often in the case of needed ‘minute adjustments’ of appearances.
I heard someone around the group talking nuclear option; I didn’t exactly hear “nuke”, but we caught word from my project leader and his high-ranking military associate that the president is considering bombing Fat Boy—a Nobel prize-winning idea in my not-at-all-sincere opinion. Of course it’s ideal to chuck bombs at a thing that eats moons for lunch and coughs up their crumbs! We don’t know if he can actually “think” or not—the very idea of that is sort of surreal. We don’t really know what else he can do or why he even does what he already has up until today and we’re just standing here watching him drift up to us. If he does “think”, though, what will he think about a giant, shiny, blue rock, the one thing he looooves to eat, welcoming him with fireworks? I tell you, I never thought I was going to die this way, but the thought of being eaten by the universe’s most bored and hungry fat kid… would be just plain hilarious if I were watching this from a chair in an observatory on Mars. But I’m not. I’m sitting right here, watching as my leaders rush to introduce the end of the world.
And actually I’m done sitting in this chair now, because I feel as though I’ve just got to say something to these people, because I think they’re more dense than Fat Boy’s core and I still want to live. Little is known about our curious visitor from deep space but I’m one of the few people directly responsible for figuring out what we do actually know, and I’m smart enough to know that what they are proposing is, again, highly dense matter. So I’m going to get up now...
A soldier, standing nearby and at attention, sees me.
I nod my head to let him know I’m not trying to do anything I shouldn’t—even though I am—and start walking up to the room where my project leader and the high-ranking suit are meeting. I act as if I’m going to the bathroom but I quickly slip my way up the stairs and into the room where the two are talking, right before the two soldiers standing outside the room at the bottom of the steps take notice. This isn’t a military facility; I just open the door and walk in.
And there they are, talking. They notice me as soon as I walk in but don’t say anything, sure that whatever it is I want couldn’t be more important than what they are talking about. Oh, but it is....
“Excuse me, general…” I lead off.
The general looks at my boss, and my boss looks at me, just knowing that I have something smart to say. I do, actually.
“I know this might be below my pay-grade or… well, I’m not sure if I’m being paid by you people at all but I caught wind of some things that might be happening soon...”
The general responds, “And these things pertain to what, exactly?”
My boss cuts me off, seeing where I was going with it and the general walks out of the room and into the main computer hub, where the rest of the astro-heads are. My boss tells me to not say anything, and I understand why he’s saying it, and I agree not to say anything. But then as soon as I see the general at the bottom of the steps I take off out of the room and my boss yells for me to stop.
“Victor!” he shouts my name.
“Nope. Can’t let him do it.” I don’t bother turning around.
I was headed to say something to him when I see one of my fellow researchers get up out of her chair and yell into the general’s face,
“You’re making a big mistake and you’re going to get us all killed!”
She does know what she’s talking about. While yelling in his face, she’s restrained by a few soldiers and taken out of the room. I feel bad for her because she did the right thing and yet I’m appreciative because she set the stage for my re-entry into the conversation. I look behind me at my boss, who just knows I’m prepped to irritate this guy.
I don’t care.
I re-engage him, without hesitating: “Excuse me general, but I think I can clarify what my colleague meant before she was....”
“I’m under direct order from the president. I don’t have time to reason with you, son.” He tries to stop me.
“General, sir, if you want to make a well-reasoned decision, you’ll listen to me.”
The general pauses to look at me for a moment. I guess he wants to see if I was determined to say what I had to say or not.
“And just who might you be?”
“I’m one of the few people who.... well, if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t know anything about what you’re shooting your little firecracker—excuse me, bomb at.”
My boss put his palm on his forehead and dragged it down his face. I know I didn’t have to say that but I had already been thinking about it five minutes prior, and my boss was right that I really did feel the need to irritate this guy. He deserves it.
The general looks right back at me with a frown, and chose not to respond in kind.
“Among us are researchers that have been studying it for the last decade. We don’t know everything about it but we have looked closely at its behavior.”
“And?” he says, suggesting I had a short leash.
“If you do what you and the president have discussed, you have to understand that you flat out just don’t have the firepower to put a dent in something like this. I mean he’s as big or bigger than our entire planet and even then what will you target? The gravitating core that doubles as a black hole whenever it feels like it? Do you have any idea what kind of reaction it might have? I honestly don’t think you even believe you’ll hurt it in the slightest.”
He pauses. “It came on the advice of some our better scientific advisors.”
“Well I don’t know who advises you, sir, but I’m telling you that no one outside this facility knows what the hell they are talking about because we’ve done all the relevant work to figure this thing out...and we know we haven’t even begun to figure this thing out. And no one here would ever tell you to fire a nuke at something that may decide to eat our planet if its’ “not happy.”
“We were told that it shows patterns of intelligence, that it jumped into our solar system, and moved directly towards us until the present day…and now it’s staring us down. Also, it likes to eat rocks. What the hell do you propose we do?” he barks in my face, rightfully terrified.
“We’ve observed it pass by and even through objects in space, without consuming them. In fact, many of the planetary bodies we’ve seen it interact with have been left without disturbance. Something causes it not to affect larger bodies with more surface activity. It is possible—we think—that it could detect life on planetary surfaces and act accordingly...Which actually raises other questions when you think about it…” I said that last bit under my breath.
“So we bring out the welcome wagon, is that it?”
“No, general. If it is sentient, I’m sure there’s plenty enough activity going on in the world for Fat Boy to realize that we’re down here in awe of its terrifying gluttony.”
“So do nothing?”
“Well, we can also hope it has a heart. And that it likes MTV.”
We might have averted a potentially cataclysmic situation because the general gets back on the phone with who I think is probably the president. We’ve suggested a few options for him, one being that we could possibly send something into the upper atmosphere to interact with it, or at least attempt to track it if we happen to survive this ordeal. I think he liked both ideas, though we researchers know neither will work. We just need to buy time to keep presidential fingers off the big red button.
And suddenly, Fat Boy has grown restless.
All of us move to our computers to analyze activity in the upper atmosphere. As it has gotten very, very near Earth, it’s slowed to a stop. We surrender to what is happening above us: Its enormous gravitational energies begin to accrete its outer layers around itself, like giant cotton candy. The core has begun to pulsate.
“This is it”, one of my colleagues uttered. “He’s decided to eat us.”
One by one, at first slowly, and then almost instantaneously, he becomes dotted with light, and my only guess is the dots are the remains of previously consumed objects. It is like Christmas, or Vegas. We hope to be lucky but I don’t believe in luck.
As the core continues to pulsate, it whips up a powerful spatial vortex, as if opening its mouth. We know this because one researcher behind a monitor has gotten a frantic phone call from outside the facility: reports are pouring in about wind patterns with unusual, rhythmic vibration occurring at different parts of the planet; a team of soldiers has just run back inside to confirm this, speaking of a series of air pulses bouncing off of their clothes and gear with mild intensity. One of them says, “It’s snapping the air with its fingers”, like a hand submerged in a pool of water. Another one describes it as a musician, saying the series of air pulses vary like the vibrations of piano keys. Maybe half of the other researchers immediately abandon their chairs—and their jobs—running outside to feel for themselves.
I wonder again, does it have a heart?
Another colleague states, “He doesn’t have to eat Earth; if he catches the moon and gravitates, the gamma jet could destroy us.”
I sit back into my chair, as hopelessly mystified and terrified as everyone else. My whole life I would have dreamed for this moment: A frontier of knowledge and understanding, like human kind never could have imagined. But we are hopelessly unprepared. What we know can’t save us.
We thought Fat Boy was licking its chops, charging its vortex before engulfing the Earth, but something completely different has just happened: it has ejected its radiant dots. Scattering like shooting stars, they stream a brilliant spectrum above the atmosphere, blanketing the world in their canvas. The projectiles pop at the end of their high-speed orbit making nearly geometric figures with their light, which might be as recognizable as constellations or completely arbitrary, I have no idea. I do know it is the most brilliant, beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed.
For a while, no one talks. We know that even though Fat Boy is supposedly dark matter, the light show spectacular in our uppermost atmosphere is probably visible to a great deal of people who might be watching in various nighttime places around the globe. There is no getting around it. Its a safe bet that a televised excuse is probably already in the works.
As we continue to monitor the activity over the next few hours, Fat Boy begins to drift again; moving around us, he continues on towards the center of our solar system. Someone quickly proposes that he might have found a better meal in the sun and we honestly try to laugh—we don’t rule it out either—but not long after he finds our inner most planet he does another space-time jump, and we lose his trail completely.
This might have been humanity’s foremost “what just happened?” moment, but there is far too much that needs to be done and eventually, hopefully, understood, to gawk. We can’t believe it would leave us so suddenly—without a hint of where—and, for some of us, a decade of work has suddenly reached a climax. Well, sort of; it is still exciting because we know we’re not going to die anymore and that there is definitely “something else” out there, another presence deep in the cosmos. We just have to begin our process of trying to understand what exactly it is, and that is going to be the tricky part: It’s left no physical evidence behind—with the exception a few recordings confiscated by our new, rifle-toting co-workers. Honestly, the nerve of some of these military guys is just…well, I guess its still within the limits of my patience because I’m not quite bold enough to try and fight for the recordings, as I would undoubtedly get my ass handed to me and thrown in jail.
One more thing happens though, and it opens up a new chapter of exploration and excitement for all of us at A.L.A.R.M.: Someone on the team thinks they spotted a stream of light from one of Fat Boy’ core projectiles, possibly inside low Earth orbit: Maybe we can do more than just reporting after all. Even with this news, we know that our military friends will find out what we discovered and we’ll have to prepare to deal with being occupied again. Things have gotten a little more upbeat though, because the military is commissioning a new team to go out and investigate possible landing sites; they want to be the first to find it, and they need our help. In a real way too, this time, because they realize just how silly they looked farting around with their WMDs when it turns out Fat Boy merely wanted to come here and dance with us.
Me? Nah, I don’t want to be a part of the team. I’m doing just fine here on my high horse, rocking my chair and letting people bring me stuff that I eventually do have to attempt to figure out. But I’m sure it will be a blast. And we’re all under direct order to keep quiet about everything, as would be expected, while it is all explained on TV. The research team too will have to be very inconspicuous about the ordeal, and they’ve been told there’s already a near lock on a location: small town, southwestern U.S. Everything will be under wraps as we close in on the unknown.