Half Past Midnight

4.92/5 (3)

The decommissioned maglift convulses during its thousand kilometer climb, but the fear of plummeting does not dissuade my haste. Above the dark, ice-sheathed oceans, a stranger awaits.

Centuries had passed since my ark colony had rediscovered evidence of life beyond our rogue planet’s sky. The proof was little more than a flux in the void’s diminishing hum, yet our ageing sires swore the twelve seconds of static was our deceased Emperor’s roar of return. Each Old-Terran year, they played the recording to remind us of Him and glory.

Humanity’s former glory. Old-Terran years inevitably turned into Old-Terran days as faith in legacy and lore began to fade. 

Even before the suicides, I think I knew better than to believe the bravado. I would listen to the squalls lauded over the voxnet, but never heard the pitches as a heartbeat. To me, they were always the galaxy’s last, rattling gasp. Nonetheless, I persevered to listen, even as my brethren began to collapse like the stars during our Midnight Crusade.

Over the years, I grew accustomed to the broadcasted distortions and the sudden pop and splatter within the hab-bloc hallways, but never the silence these horrors left behind. When the planet’s core showed projections of cooling, prompting my last two companions to jointly end their lives, I kept the interstellar-feeds running to ward off the quiet that encouraged my own demise. 

I knew not what drove me on. Maybe it was hope. Or maybe it was fear: I did not want to die nor disappoint the last of humankind.

A year into my stubborn cling to life, the dead spoke again. A blip, weak yet undeniable, drew closer upon the scanner’s digital horizons. 

For weeks I sang and raged and wailed against this singular form, convincing myself I had gone mad. None could traverse the Materium without His Light nor the stars to guide them.

No human, at least…

The stranger pierced the planet’s atmosphere, and though the barrel of my laspistol often trembled between my lips, I forced away the round meant to burn through the back of my head. I rose and dressed, desiring nothing more than to end this mystery with my own eyes. 

Indomitus is humanity’s lust for knowing.

The lift makes another terrible shudder that throws me to the floor. Ice sheets buckle around the passage of metal, plastek and glass. Upon my knees, I stay until surface-break warnings yell, and for the first time in over a year I utter a prayer. Who were they? Was it the static of our dead God made manifest? 

Or was it someone else’s?

The lift’s floor-to-ceiling doors open and I bite my tongue to keep from screaming. Vantablack paints the world beyond my stablight’s rays – a galaxy scourged of light. I barely make out the frozen ground beneath my booted feet or my gloved hands before my visored eyes. Even with the suit’s insulation, icy death creeps along.

It takes me forever to will my legs into motion. Each step is a leap of faith – a stretch forward into the suffocating dark. Beneath my steps, the ice, made soft by the visitor’s flash-fire entry, trembles in tandem with my heart. It is a short trek towards the wreck. Still, I edge nervously forward. The anomaly mirrors back my light like a judgmental glare.

Yet nothing alive or once-living exists upon the craft. It was a drone – little more than an antenna thrust into space. Relief washes but disappointment floods. Again, I am left so utterly alone. 

Unwittingly, I find myself embracing this foreign bulk like one would a long-lost brother. My hands cross over the drone’s hard angles, seeking holds or cogitators mounted into its systems. My fingers brush over an archive, a copper disk sealed in gold

It begs me to listen. Without thought, I do.

‘Greetings – ‘

My heart begs to cry. Never had there been a word as beautiful as that singular, fleeting salutation.

So stunned am I to hear another voice, that my index hits replay just so I can hear the cherished word again.

‘Greetings to you – ‘

‘Hello,’ I cry. A small laugh plays on the ends of my vox-filtered voice as sheets of ice thunder beneath me.

The man’s transmissions in High Gothic continue, bracketed by others who seem to speak in strange, smattered Low, but I rewind the recording again to him. I cannot translate any more than a few words beyond his greeting. But a voice, I argue, is better than my ancestor’s revered static howls. It gave hope to the darkness, and gave me the strength to dream.

‘Greetings to you, whoever you are;’ the lord’s gentle voice croons, “we have good will towards you, and bring peace across space.’

My head tilts towards the cosmos. Somewhere out there, lost within the starless void we helped create through our burning hatred, fear and pride, humanity persisted. And though we had been humbled, we had learned to better our ways.
A smile widens upon my face just like the chasms of ice splitting below. If only we had learned sooner, I lament as I allow the various remaining voices – man, woman and cherished child – to wash over my soul. 

No one would ever see the gesture, yet I cross the winged blessing across my chest, my heart, before letting the symbol soar towards the sky. The planet’s surface, in turn, shatters beneath me, yet I do not complain as the ice finally swallows the beacon and myself whole.


‘Salvete quicumque estis; bonam ergo vos voluntatem habemus, et pacem per astra ferimus.’ – One of fifty-five greetings and well wishes imprinted upon the Voyager I’s Golden Record, launched from Cape Canaveral in 1977 C.E., as a show of good will and humility to the vast universe beyond Earth’s atmospheric shores. Barring catastrophe, the record and the message upon it is projected to outlast us all.

About the Author

 S.S. Jahani is but a casual fan, who plays with shapes and colours for a living and with words for fun.