The initial goal of the Voyager program was to study the outer planets of the solar system. Originally conceived in the late 1960s as part of the Mariner program, the two robot probes were moved into their own separate program, “Mariner Jupiter-Saturn,” which was later renamed Voyager. Due to an ideal planetary alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, Voyager 1 launched on September 5, 1977. Voyager 2 launched on August 20 of the same year. Yeah, you heard that right. Voyager 2 launched before Voyager 1. And before you ask why they did that or didn’t just switch the names around, I have an answer for you: Voyager 2 had a longer, more circular planned trajectory to Voyager 1 and was going to take longer to get to Jupiter and Saturn. Voyager 1 would reach these Jovian giants first, therefore received the honorary title of number one.
Originally both probes were planned to explore the two largest planets in our solar system in detail. Voyager 1 reached and began photographing Jupiter in January of 1979. It encountered Saturn in November 1980. After a brief flyby with the moon of Titan, Voyager 1 continued on its way to the distant edge of the heliosphere. Voyager 2 made its closest approach to Saturn on August 26, 1981. Because of its particular trajectory, Voyager 2 was also able to make flybys of Uranus in January 1986, and Neptune in August of 1989. Voyager 2 then began its own journey headed beyond the heliosphere.
In 2013, Voyager 1 passed beyond the boundaries of our solar system. In 300 years it will reach the Oort cloud, taking 30,000 years to pass through it. In roughly 40,000 years it will pass within 1.6 light-years of the star Gliese 445.
In 2020, Voyager 2 passed beyond the boundaries of our solar system. In about 40,000 years it will pass within 1.7 light-years of the star Ross 248. If undisturbed for 296,000 years, it will pass within 4.3 light-years of the star Sirius.
On each of these space probes is a gold-plated audio-visual disc containing information about Earth, its people, cultures and history, in case either of these probes should one day encounter an advanced, intelligent alien life form.
~ ~ ~
I stand before door 42 with some trepidation, but then on the other side of this door should be the answer to life, the universe, and everything, right? Monica is by my side and we’re ready to go in; through another door and into another world. I’m somewhat anxious because without the internet I feel completely disconnected from my own world, a planet I used to call home. It sounds insane to say it like that, but from where I’m standing I can see that swirling blackness encompassing Ostium and know confidently that there’s nothing Earthly about it. And I very much haven’t forgotten about those devastating catastrophes wreaking death and havoc on the planet. I’ve also done my best to ignore and disbelieve in the minute possibility that Ostium caused each of those catastrophes, and the logical extrapolation from that would be, if – a big if, the biggest of ifs – if opening doors in time and space caused those terrible things to happen on my world . . . I would be more than responsible. And if that was, somehow, horrifically, the case, what has opening more doors done?
I’m not going to talk to Monica about this, at least not yet anyway. It all feels too fragmented and random and she’d probably just call me a conspiracy nut against Ostium, or just making a big deal out of nothing.
But Ebola, earthquakes, tsunamis, and giant radioactive clouds of death are far from nothing.
“Are we going to wait here all day? Or are you gonna open the damn thing?”
I suck in a breath and we step through.
~ ~ ~
My eyes are closed.
There is a humming sound and an airy sound, like air conditioning doing it’s job. Everything feels mechanical. Artificial.
I open my eyes.
My first thought is we’re in another space station. But it couldn’t be Mars again, could it? A different time maybe? But as my eyes take in more details I realize this is different. No. This is much cooler.
We’re on a spaceship.
Cue the . . . 2001 theme?
~ ~ ~
Monica walks ahead and over to the large window in the side of the ship, looking out at deep space. It’s wide enough for both of us to stand side by side, and I join her. Touching my hand to the glass or Perspex or whatever material it is – future plastic for all I know – I cup my hands around the outside of my face to block out the lighting in the hallway. Outside it’s all black, but one by one, and then by the hundreds and thousands and beyond, the stars make themselves known in the verse. My eyes start telescoping around, trying to take in as much detail from this view as possible. I make a big circumference with my optical receptors and when I get to the six o’clock position I see something that causes my jaw to fall open.
It’s a massive planet – of course from my context a small moon would seem massive – with a vertical and horizontal set of rings rotating around it, so sort of like Saturn times two. I can physically see those rings made of who knows what: rock, ice, and space dust? Satellites and orbiting mechanical parts? Alien pods? It could be anything, but it’s magnificent and mesmerizing. The planet below is a swirling miasma of purples and blues and oranges mixing together like planet-encompassing taffy. Does that indicate it’s a gaseous planet? Could there be anything living on it? An alien civilization? Do they have some rocky terra firma to exist on? Or do they reside in incredible floating fortresses and cities? Cloud City anyone? Perhaps beneath these mixing colors is a habitable atmosphere for these alien beings? The possibilities and complexities are endless. I want to take a scout ship or a survey vessel – if this spaceship has such a thing – but know I don’t have the time.
The blackness is next to invisible, even looking through the window, with all this space around us. But I can feel it. There. Far away and distant. But waiting. Waiting for me to weaken, to succumb, and let it overpower. To begin its inevitable approach and onslaught. It’s why I will always have a limited time when I pass through a door in Ostium. Why I will never be able to fully explore the world on the other side as much as I want to. There’s a literal ticking clock . . . Actually, no, sorry, that’s not true. There’s a metaphorical ticking clock when I pass through a door in Ostium and only have so much time to enjoy the view and do what needs to be done.
And if the blackness gets you? What then? Do you wink out of existence like one of these millions of stars? Are you disassembled one molecule, one atom at a time, flinging off electrons into the deep dark cosmos . . . who knows. Monica doesn’t have a clue. I certainly don’t. It’s a zero sum game, or is that a fait accompli, or neither . . . Or both? But the point is: the only way I will ever know what the blackness will truly do to me is by letting it envelop me.
Yeah, I’m not going to do that. Don’t worry.
I’ve got to get moving. Find out what I can about the ship. Find the artifact. And move on. The more I meditate on everything we’re doing here: this passing through doors and creating a bloated rift in time that probably shouldn’t exist . . . No wonder there’s never anybody here when we come through. The sheer energy dissipation to create this tear in space time be equivalent to . . . A gravitational wave, which is only created when two black holes collide. Yeah, we’re talking about a grande-burrito-butt-load of energy. Trust me. It makes sense.
I guess being on a spaceship millennia or perhaps tens of millennia in the future has delivered an Ostium-level existential crisis upon my frail mortal coil . . God, what am I even saying.
Find the artifact.
Monica is still glued to the window, and I can totally relate, but I grab her hand and drag her away, heading down the corridor toward I don’t know what.
The humming, with occasional beeps and squeaks from future-spaceship tech, is the only noise that accompanies us. We reach the end and approach a metal door that whooshes open with that patented Star Trek sound. There’s a small box-like room on the other side. Can it be what I think it is? Dare I dream?
I drag Monica inside and turn around. The door whooshes closed. The look on her face isn’t a happy one.
“Watch this,” I say: “Computer, Deck 1: Bridge.”
I wait for a friendly voice to reply: hopefully female, possibly male, perchance in English? Instead, there are a series of squawks. Then the turbolift, or whatever distant future spaceship elevator this is, starts moving first sideways for some time, and then ascending. The speed feels impressively fast, but the g-forces are under control and we don’t lose our footing. We reach our destination and with a whoosh the doors open.
I can barely contain my excitement as I step out onto the bridge of this possible galaxy-class starship. Does the outside look like the Enterprise NCC-1701-D . . . almost certainly and undeniably not. But there’s always a chance. And regardless, here I am, standing on the main command center of a ship of the future that can travel through space.
The beeps and squeaks and humming continue here. Before us is a giant oval window or screen showing us what’s in front of the ship. I can’t see any of the ship on the outside to give an idea of what it looks like, so either this is a camera view at the front of the ship, or the bridge is located at the very bow. So many questions and there’s no way to get outside and check. In space, no one can hear you . . . Wonder. What I can see from this oval view are stars and some distant planets, each with their own individuality, their own uniqueness and colors. It’s . . . gorgeous and mesmerizing. And I think I see a comet there, shooting by with its tail of ice and rock stretching out behind it like a giant arrowhead. Incredible.
There are around 20 to 30 stations each with their own individual raised platforms, making their individual space clear. From each of these platforms extends a sleek white metal-looking tube-slash-stand curving around and opening out into an oval shape that looks about the size of a 40-inch TV. It’s all completely white, even the face of what I’m assuming to be a computer screen. Looks like a cross between stuff from the Wall-E movie and a product developed by Apple. It’s really sleek and cool looking. And that’s it. No apparent buttons or toggles or switches. Looks like everything’s touch-screen here, I assume. Of course, it could also be some cool telepathic mind-meld thing between the spaceship computer and the crew. Your mind to my harddrive. But without a member of said crew we can’t know . . . And then I see something slumped over one of the stations, kind of hanging over it, like a tossed piece of clothing or a blanket.
Monica’s eyes have been roving the bridge like mine, and then she sees the unidentified form and starts running. I quickly follow. It’s a big bridge, even by Trekkie standards, so it takes us a few seconds to reach it. Once there it’s obviously a body slung over the workstation console. We slowly walk around it, trying to recognize who it is, not wanting to touch or disturb it. Eventually Monica crouches down and then curves herself to bend underneath the console and see the man’s face.
“Private Tanaka,” she says. “I don’t see any blood. Any obvious cause of death.”
I take a breath. “Monica. We need to get going.”
She looks at me.
“The blackness is getting stronger, starting to overpower me. We don’t have a ton of time.”
“Not here. Not on . . . him. We need to take the turbolift again.”
“Well, thank fucking god for small favors.”
She leads the way to the turbolift. The doors whoosh open and we step inside, letting them close behind us.
I think about what to say, what to ask for? Where do we need to go on the ship?
I close my eyes and try to spread my thoughts to encompass the entire ship . . . Somehow. I don’t really know how to describe it; it’s weird, but it works. I feel it in one small spot on the ship. Sort of like our Ostium infrared maps, but with . . . Er . . . Touch-thoughts, you know?
“Cargo bay 42,” I finally say.
The galactic space-elevator or whatever you want to call it – if I keep saying turbolift, I might get Gene Roddenberry’s foundation or trust coming after me, and when it comes to a bunch of high-paid lawyers, I’m sure they’d be able to find me in Ostium, even if Ostium isn’t attached to a specific point in space and time anymore – begins moving down first at an impressive speed, then zipping to the left for some time, finally to the right for a few seconds and stopping. Again, even though we had to be moving at an incredible speed, neither Monica or I are on the floor or even slightly shaken up; both perfectly still like we’re on one of those horizontal escalators that seem to move you just that little bit faster at airports, though I’m not sure if the physics actually proves it. I swear I’ve had slow walkers not just match my pace, but actually pass me when I’m on those things. Still, beats walking.
The doors open to a large hanger, as kind of expected.
“Is it in here?”
I give Monica a nod and step out. It’s dimly lit. I ask the computer for lights, and suddenly the entire hangar is bathed in bright floodlights that are quite blinding at first. After some time for retinal recovery, I’m able to see what’s in this cargo bay: two strange-looking contraptions about twenty feet away looking like a binary pile of scrap metal. There are pieces of metal sticking out at old angles, some thick and short, others thin and long. Along the arms of metal are chunks of more metal that could be anything: instrumentation, sensors, weapons. At the heart of each contraption is a big white-looking dish with a central node pointing out from it. Huh, it kind of looks like an old school satellite dish, from the eighties or something. I remember watching this cheesy horror movie as a kid called Terrorvision about some alien monster that was somehow summoned from space and was able to pass through the television screen and attack and kill people. I remember it mostly being a big brown, slimy thing with tentacles, like a giant octopus. Anyway, the thing I remember most about it was outside the house of the family that was getting “visited” and murdered by this alien creature, there was this hella big-ass satellite dish on a swiveling box, and they could control it with this cheap-looking giant remote control. Looked more like a giant remote for a radio-controlled car. And I think the idea was you could turn the satellite dish in any direction and get like a hundred or more channels from Russia and China and wherever. Turn it another, and get channels from Europe and the UK. Not exactly how it works, but it was a crappy eighties horror movie after all.
But the important detail from this random memory is the satellite dish. These look the same. About the same size in face. Oh, and there’s that giant radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Again, but these are much, much smaller.
These are the thoughts running through my brain as study these things.
I can see from the look on Monica’s face, she’s wondering what the hell exactly I’m doing. Why am I taking so long? Just find the damn artifact and lets get the heck out of here. And I get that. Really I do, but there’s something else going on here. Something that I’m not catching, and I don’t have time to explain it to Monica.
“Hang on a sec. There’s something . . . holy shit!”
And then I have it.
“This is Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.”
This stops Monica. She knows about the Voyager exploration program, or at least she’s heard about it in some shape or form.
And then I launch into my spiel. You got the intro at the beginning of this recording. And here I am somehow standing before these two seemingly simple contraptions launched about 50 years ago that are the only inventions by humankind to have left the solar system and pass into interstellar space. At least in my lifetime. I know it’s not over yet, but it doesn’t seem too likely there’ll be a whole armada of either manned or unmanned probes shooting beyond the heliosphere and deep into outer space within the next sixty or seventy years.
And that’s when I realize the monumental precedent that is being set here: these two robotic probes have been found by someone, or something; an alien being, an alien race. They’ve been traveling through the cosmos for who knows how long and an intelligent extraterrestrial being found them and took them in to study. To learn about them, and in so doing, learn about the human race and Planet Earth.
On both of these probes is a golden disc containing a wealth of information about who we are. A committee was convened to decide what to put on the record, headed by one Carl Sagan. It contains a variety of pieces of music, 115 images, and a collection of sounds from nature and our world. Greetings spoken in 55 ancient and modern languages, as well as some other humans sounds like laughter and footsteps. There’s also a message from then President Jimmy Carter and U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim.
These golden discs were placed just in case an intelligent alien race found them and wanted to know where these probes came from. And here’s the actual proof that they’ve been found. To call it a historic – yes, a historic, never “an historic” – moment doesn’t do it justice. It’s one of those moments you imagine and dream about, and here it is, in the flesh so to speak.
~ ~ ~
And that’s when alarm bells, air raid sirens and klaxons start going off. Or whatever this spaceship uses for an emergency sound is now making itself known. From somewhere deep in the ship is the sound of wrenching and destruction. Something has gone terribly wrong. What?!
“It’s the blackness. We need to get the fuck outta here, right now!”
I give Monica my combined no-shit-sherlock-and-now-I’m-fucking-terrified look.
I drop to my knees, looking beneath one probe, then switching to the next. I find a tiny golden disc about the size of a silver dollar. Bingo!
Then we charge for the turbolift.
Inside the door closes and the computer awaits direction and instruction, and I have no idea what to say. What hallway was it that had the Ostium door? It didn’t seem like any particularly important one, so . . .?
Monica is panicking right along with me now and just yells at the ceiling:
“Take us to the fucking Ostium door.”
The space elevator (or is that spacevator) starts moving. Where will it take us?
We go a number of directions and then stop. The door whooshes open and there’s the Ostium door staring at us, patiently awaiting our return.
We start running and about ten feet down the hallway the artificial gravity on the spaceship fails. The blackness got to whatever part of the ship controlled it; I’m guessing the bridge is long gone.
I’m as helpless as a toddler in water for the first time. I watch Monica and soon copy her, as she looks for handholds on the ceiling, the walls, the floors, whatever piece of surface she can find to grab on to, and pulls herself along. It’s not as fast as running, but she makes it look pretty close, like some skilled marine animal flitting along through the water with ease. She makes it look like no big deal, and I’m instantly both impressed and envious. I flail my way along behind her and we make it through the Ostium door.
I don’t bother looking back, not wanting to know how close the blackness actually is.
It feels great to be on solid ground and submitting to the awesome powers of gravity once again.
We go through the motions, offering up our tiny golden sacrifice to the map table god, which it takes and consumes heartily and without question.
After some food, it’s time to crash.
~ ~ ~
Another day. Another door. Another fucking body. One of these days it’s going to be Steve, I can almost feel it. I’ll see his corpse displayed in some lavish way for my eyes only, I’m sure. Thanks to Ostium. And I’ll have one of two reactions: either I’ll just completely lose my shit and collapse into a pile of leftover nothingness that doesn’t want to live, or I won’t give a damn. As the corpses keep piling up, I know it’s pretty sick to admit, but I’m becoming . . . Not just numb, but acclimatized. It’s becoming no biggie. And that’s pretty fucked up. But I see it in Jake too, in his eyes. Inured.
Eventually, the body count’s going to reach saturation. The squad will be extinguished. Rendered fucking extinct. And if bodies keep turning up . . . It’s going to really fuck with me. Where the hell will they be coming from? Fuck knows. And if it’s just one more. Well, we’ll know exactly who that is, won’t we. And it’ll all be for nothing. One big fucking waste of time and space.
It was trippy seeing the Voyager probes. Both of them. I know a little about them. Did some recon on them . . . For fun. I know Jake was losing his fucking mind over seeing them. There. On that spaceship. But he loses his fucking mind pretty easily in Ostium. With the crazy shit that’s on offer here. Still. It was pretty trippy. Knowing what the universe can actually do. Getting those itty bitty pieces of metal and electronics way out there. Finding them a home with an alien race.
Kinda tells you anything can happen.
Sky’s the fucking limit.
And there’s you’re tagline for the great town of Ostium. Put it on a bumper sticker. Slap it on a T-shirt. Hell, if we were still connected with the real world, I’d mosey on down to the road to that old Ostium sign. Paint the fucking endearment on it myself.
Sky’s the fucking limit.