By Stirling Edgewood
Chapter 8: Blank Space
He felt a little creeped out, sitting in Node 324 alone. The lights still blazed over the entire floor around him. But at this late hour, the big, empty office held an eerie aspect. The colors were wrong, the shadows dropping at odd angles. The lack of sounds other than his own digits whipping over the keyboard made it all seem surreal.
He had patched in a direct link to the telescope, so he could see what it was seeing, in real time. Even after rechecking it ten times, he was still anxious. He was deviating from the star charts. If it were discovered that he intentionally pointed the telescope in the wrong place, resulting in a failed observation, he would certainly be let go, and likely laughed out of the astronomical community. It would mean years of education wasted. Years of working his way into a position doing active observations using the few large, powerful telescopes available, would be squandered. The stars, his dream since childhood, lost to him.
He punched in the coordinates, and waited patiently. He imagined the huge machine that pointed the telescope stirring to life, swinging the huge metal tube across the sky, delicately adjusting the angles of the giant polished mirrors. If somehow the image were not targeted correctly, he might still be able to adjust the aim to get a good observation. He waited nervously, his digits tapping spastically against the desk in anticipation. Finally, his computer screen sparked to life, and an image slowly resolved itself.
“There it is!” he exclaimed. “A little off-center, but I can adjust the scope for that.” He pulled up a program on a second computer monitor, and began calculating the coordinates he would need to center the target in the image. He paused for a moment to glance back at the telescope feed. “Looks weird in real time,” he said. “It’s like the color is off or something.”
He shifted his attention back to his calculations, completed and checked them twice. Looking back at the real-time monitor, the image seemed odd, somehow dimmer than the last time he looked. “Must be the light in here,” he mused to himself.
He punched in the new coordinates. The image on the screen began to slowly shift toward the center. “All right, getting this thing on target now!” He sighed with relief. As he watched it track toward the center, it seemed to somehow change color. It’s reddish light was changing, blurring to orange, then yellow. “Some weird thing with the telescope angle?” he asked himself. “Maybe clouds? Definitely getting dimmer though,” he added worriedly. Then, just as it was about to reach the center of the screen, it disappeared.