I was the one who found them. I kind of tripped over them as I was doing a scan of the Heliosphere
, to see if Mercury
was stirring anything up. We call them The Gypsies
, the strangers that come and go in the night. It's always night in space. The government clamped down hard on us after that. No leaks to the public
, as they could cause anarchy
in the streets. The evidence of life not of this Earth
is a classified National Crisis Scenario
. They wrote a big chunk of it in the 1960s when Kennedy shot his voice into the stars. It became a Roswell
of our own making.
Not long after the Armstrong
Base disaster, we started paying closer attention to the Sun. No magnetic security blanket out in orbit to keep the solar flares from flash cooking you made us turn to forecasting. A kind of Solar weather service, without the blondes on the 6 o'clock news
. Partial inferno with a slight chance of deadly radiation today, don't forget your lead umbrella. Bit too late for all those miners with cancer
, but nobody that goes to the Moon lives within the lines. I think America was like that once.
I started working at the Quarkic Squall Observatory Array
in Antarctica about 3 years after it opened. Turns out the Ozone hole
is actually useful for something. The science was all very cutting edge when it opened, but now it has a well-chewed feel to it, like the summer camp at Arecibo
. They used to rotate us out of here every 2 months, to keep worst effects of ice shelf isolation
from scarring our valuable minds. I never really found anywhere else to go. They do little to discourage workaholism
. After I found them, they stopped asking me if I wanted to leave. I'm not sure if I am allowed anymore.
74 hours, 18 minutes, 23 seconds.
They bisect the solar plane
, coming in at obscene speeds from the polar north of the Sun
. We lose them in the solar echo
, but after the magic time limit, we track them leaving to the south. Only ever one at a time, and they never go off-course. They visit Mercury time and time again. We could never have seen them before, if only because we never stared at the Sun
. They don't cast a shadow in the light we can see. We are blind to most of the spectrum.
I cried the day I found them. Nobody knew what to do. It was religious. 14% less active quarkic collision ratio when they leave. We don't know why. Ghosts in the ether.
We can't see what they are doing on the planet, as it is a tiny speck in the fiery eye
of the Sun. We all assume they are doing something on Mercury, but we have no answers. Our tools can't see planetary detail
, but somebody else on the payroll can. The other team has been hushed up. Must have raised some red flags
. Something is going on, nobody wants to say.
We got word a week ago that they are readying a probe
. I took the trip back to Houston
for the conference on the sub-orbital out of McMurdo
. When they picked my brain clean, they sent me to the Navy
psychologists. They recommended a week off, and made me sign lots of papers meant to seal my lips. Nobody would believe me anyway.
My rented car and I found ourselves way out on the Panhandle
. On a lonely road, I found a church that was busy dying. I stopped and tried the sun blistered door. The preacher was sitting on a pew
, polishing his shoes. It was like he was waiting for me
I told him everything. Breached a million security protocols. Technically, I committed high treason
. I asked all the questions that kept me up at night. Should we talk to them? Are they God's creations? What are they doing? How does this all fit? A confession
rolled from me. The old white-haired man clutched his chin in thought. Finally, he spoke:
"Sounds like an Elephant's Graveyard
"Where the elephants go to die. Long ago, when white men first came to Africa
, they were hungry for ivory
. As they roamed the wild, they noticed that of all the animals, they never found the bones of the elephant. Rumors of a great graveyard, a vast plain of dried bones, a place of the dead began to reach their ears
. It was the Elephant's Graveyard. Where all elephants went to die. The men that searched for it thought of only the ivory
that could be bleaching in the sun. They missed the point, and they never found it."
"You think it's a graveyard?"
They are leaving their dead?
"I never thought of that."
It had never occurred to me. We assumed a threat.
"You said they always stay for the same period of time?"
74 hours, 18 minutes, 23 seconds. I have a timer
on my watch
set for it.
"Sounds rather ceremonial to me."
"And they are lighter when they leave?"
"That's one way of looking at it, but yes."
"So, could they be leaving something behind?"
What else haven't we thought of?
We both sat in the dusty sunlight
for a long time, thinking on the subject.