Sam busted through the door of her advisor’s office. She nearly fumbled a bottle of cheap champagne, still wrapped in a black plastic bag marked in generic white text: University Liquor.
Professor Leon covered the mouthpiece of his phone and held it away from his face, “Sam! I’m on a conference call!”
“You’re gonna wanna hang that up!” she said and exited the room.
“You have to excuse me, I’m needed in the lab immediately. Mm-hmm, I understand. I’ll get back to you within the hour. Yes, okay. Ciao.” Leon hit END CALL on his phone’s holographic projection. “Now, what the devil is so important, Sam?” he yelled into the direction of the lab.
She entered midway into his sentence, holding two mismatched tumblers from the break room. The faded one read “Lab Retrea 2 3 !’ and the other one had a photograph of some long-gone lab member’s cat on it. The cat was wearing a cardigan. She fought with the cork and quickly popped the bottle open. He tried not to smile, but he knew she wasn’t the type to disappoint.
“The Feds, groups eight, nine, and three confirmed it. Three is still re-checking their second pass, but said our data is more-than-likely correct.”
“The sunspot data?”
“No! Ha! No, no, no! To hell with the sunspot data. Remember when I was having trouble a few months ago? Everyone laughed ’cause I couldn’t find six of the twenty local stars, and thus failed in my courageous efforts to calibrate the beast?”
“Yeah, well, you wouldn’t be the first to mishandle that old machine. It’s a nightmare to work with. Had three students quit because of it, heh.”
“That’s fine and good, but the beast wasn’t lying. Those stars are dark because they’re no longer there,” she said.
“Uh. I’m not following…”
“I mean, they’ve expired. They’ve all gone dark. Six stars, vanished, poof! Nobody calibrates anymore, people have the standards pre-loaded into their stuff, so we’re the first to document it. Anyway, like I was saying, they’re black holes or neutron stars or something, now. I don’t know…”
“That’s impossible. They should be young, boringly average stars, if my memory serves — they shouldn’t supernova or… or anything else for billions of years.” Professor Leon was beginning to doubt Sam for the first time in years.
“We’ve got a completely unprecedented phenomenon on our hands, here. Either there are hitherto unappreciated steps to star life cycles or there’s a completely new process that puts out their lights!”
Sam poured the yeasty champagne into the cups, grabbed one and raised it for a toast. Leon went straight for the bottle.
“I still can’t believe what you’re telling me.” He paused, letting reality take hold of his mind. “Write it up! Write it up! Sam, your career is set! Did you call your partners? Call your parents, call the president, for gods’ sakes, call somebody!”
“Ha ha! I know. And the manuscript is written, already, I just need you to sign off on it. Here’s to never having to worry about tenure! And to never having to drink University Liquor champagne out of plastic cups again!”
The two toasted and everyone else lived happily ever after for the remainder of their lives, though Sam was never able to pin down what exactly was behind the star’s darkness, in her short two hundred and thirty one years of life.
A bit earlier, elsewhere:
Districktor’s blind eyes reflexively blinked as algae-laden liquid crashed onto them from the end of an ancient stalactite. The cool drops covered his faces, and he licked the nutritious meal into his mouths in the black underground. It was stale, sweet and salty.
He squinted, anger welling up inside of himself, and spoke “query” at a button on his console computer. The sound bounced off of the key’s surface, which was grooved in such a way that it spoke back the reply he was looking for, “send”, to his sensitive ears. He pressed it with his smallest claw and instantly two electronic messages were transmitted.
Above ground, the land and sea-surface dwellers received the first message:
Aeons ago, your cursed ancestors buried alive the prophets of the day, hating their warnings and hating their wisdom. You shunned our peoples from the light, dooming us to subterranean darkness. Today, we begin our purposeful journey to return the darkness to you, and to all of the universe.
Above the above-surface, weaponized satellites circling the planet, its moons, and other planets received the second message — a trigger that initiated a program to accelerate the collapse of their twin star system.
“It is begun!” Districktor yelled at the crowded amphitheatre before him. The crusters will pay, he thought. The audience celebrated with all of their might — vaulting cheers strong enough to trigger earthquakes.