Started last night in a misguided attempt to catch up. Unfortunately, that whole idea revolved around me coming up with a MacGuffin sometime tonight, which didn't happen until late-on. Hence, probably kinda disjointed. Also likely to be lots of crap grammar. Fly, my editing fiends, fly!
Requiem of the Stars
by Stewart Wilson
Johnny was eight years old when the stars started to go out. He was sat eating his tea with his mum and dad when the man on the news said that some stars had just disappeared. His dad had said a lot of things about it being impossible for the stars to go out but Johnny didn't see why it was. They were just big balls of fire and fire had to go out, didn't it?
Mad Father Jack insisted that this was Satan blocking out the view of Heaven from the sight of the Righteous, but Mad Father Jack always said that kind of thing after more than one bottle of his whisky, usually before trying to take one of the Sunday School buys away for “special lessons,” but they found that these lessons involved watching Mad Father Jack sleep off the booze.
Ten years later, Johnny thought back to those days. He lay in bed wondering what the sky must really have looked like with points of light all over it, instead of the ever-decreasing number he'd grown up with. He'd inherited his dad's old telescope when his old man had hanged himself, saying that the universe was falling apart. The attic had been a mystery to the rest of the family, but inside they found a big telescope, well looked after, and all manner of star-charts and diagrams. All of them were now useless.
What scared him more than anything was the lack of concern. People, apart from a few scientists who couldn't get funding to find out, didn't care. Not any more. The sky was dark, but behind the fog of pollution and glare from city-lights most people hadn't seen the stars in the first place, not properly. What did they care if the lights far away had gone out?
It kept him awake for many nights. He found himself unable to sleep, pale and dark-eyed every morning, drifting through his classes. Two of his teachers tried to counsel him for being on drugs. His physics teacher offered him some cheap speed to keep him awake through fundamental electrodynamics. None of it worked. None of them saw the problem, not the way Johnny did.
He dropped out, in the end. Just stopped going, threw their letters in the bin and slept until gone noon. He got a job in a video rental place, being snide to people for less than the minimum wage then going home and staring at the sky or a computer screen, chatting with a group of disenfranchised astronomers from Jodrell Bank who were trying to build a radiotelescope out of hundreds of old wire coathangers and a car battery or ten. Every lead they had, every idea for what could have happened, was first proved, then thrown out. Nobody knew what was going on.
The first transmission was received three months later. None of the finely-tuned detection devices picked it up. Instead it interrupted Terry Wogan on Radio 2, his morning show interrupted by three minutes and thirty seconds of sadness and loss in audio form, even the cheapest speakers generating enough subsonics to put a definite downer on Middle Britain's day. The record companies bought the recording from the BBC and released it almost straight away. They called it the Requiem of the Stars. It was a big hit in certain clubs and among people who wore way too much white makeup. It hit the target demographic and little more was heard of it.
Johnny bought the CD the day it was released. He knew what he had heard, even if nobody else did. He spent a lot of time playing with sound editing and recording software, but he couldn't make any sense of the message. Nor could the people he was working with. It was a mystery that many of them were getting too tired to solve. There was talk of re-training, going back to the real world as accountants and traffic wardens, giving up the world outside the world.
On Johnny's nineteenth birthday, the visitors arrived. One morning, egg-shaped lumps of strange matter just hung in high orbit, well away from satellites. People took notice then. Funds were mobilised, special projects were put into place. His effort so thoroughly vindicated, Johnny found himself doling out copies of Independence Day and Close Encounters to a public finally aware of space again.
The radio was a mess of alien music when he got home. His mum was listening to it as he walked through the door. She went to him before he could get his boots off, and hugged him..
“I'm sorry,” she said. “I'm sorry I didn't listen to you earlier.” Tears welled in her eyes. “Your dad would have been so proud. You proved us all wrong.”
“It's okay, mum. It's okay.”
She just shook her head. “There's people waiting for you, on the computer.”
He nodded, and left.
The net was ablaze with rumours and suppositions. People were being interviewed and nobody really knew what was going on. But even so, he was vindicated. People were thinking outside their planet again, thinking about where they could go and what they could do when they got there. Johnny didn't have the heart to tell them that they weren't going anywhere.
The visitors had stopped by for a purpose. They were coming to save a very select slice of mankind, the people who hadn't stopped thinking and hadn't stopped caring. People like Johnny. This new music was a tonal key for the earlier transmission, collapsing the music to an monologue in English. The visitors pointed out the human race was too insular to be worth uplifting. The darkening of the stars proved that, nobody gave a toss. Nobody but a few, the few worth saving. The others could go live their little lives somewhere where they wouldn't get in the way of more advanced civilisations.
Johnny walked outside slowly, with his mum. She didn't deserve to lose her only son, not having lost her husband as well. Both of them vanished in a flash of light, along with everyone else who had been watching the skies.
Three months later, the Requiem of the Stars was featured on a VH1 special. People were more interested in the latest celebrity drug scandal. But not Johnny. Johnny had a whole future ahead of him.