This was sent to me the other day from an anonymous email address without any explanation or even so much as a “Hey Joel, you’re a purveyor of fucked up stuff and I’m assuming well-hung in the junk drawer. I thought you might find the attached PDF interesting.”
Despite the classless nature of its anonymous sender, I read the attached document anyway and I’ve been losing sleep over it ever since. So here, you know what? Now it’s your problem…
I knew I could count on you to find this and I’m sure you will know who to give it to. Also, sorry this had to fall on your shoulders but then again, my bullshit always seemed to have a way of doing that.
For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you more. I’m sorry I let my work push you away from me like I let it push away everything else. But there’s not much I can do about any of that now, except maybe explain how it all went so utterly wrong.
I once read an article that compared trying to imagine your own insignificance to the universe as being like autoerotic asphyxiation. “If you do it wrong, you could end up a vegetable.”
With that in mind, I’ll try to spare you the more technical details. If you’re reading this, then chances are you know who I am and what it is that I do… or did since most of NASA’s funding was cut last year and my whole division got the boot. I guess long-range communication that could potentially span the length of an entire galaxy wasn’t much of a priority in a recession, but I digress.
After that was when I took the job at the observatory and first became acquainted with Dr. Neils. Most of my colleagues thought he was insane and they weren’t wrong. Neils was fucking nuts. But he was also about the most brilliant man I had ever met. If he hadn’t been so obsessed with that goddamn laser, who knows what he could’ve accomplished.
See, most modern earthbound telescopes use lasers to simulate what is known as a “guide star”, which allows astronomers to negate our sodium-rich upper atmosphere and view space even clearer from the ground than some orbiting telescopes. And for those of you who haven’t nodded off yet, here’s where it gets crazy.
Neils believed that, with a powerful enough laser acting as his guide star and the right cosmic line of sight, he could build a telescope capable of seeing to the very “edge” of our universe; the theoretical point at which our reality literally ceases to be.
Neils was a believer in the “Two Worlds” theory about how the Big Bang was actually caused by two prior universes colliding. And Neils hypothesized that he would be able to validate this theory if he could only locate a finite edge to our own universe, because if there were any traces of these supposed prior realities, that’s where they were going to be.
Despite what I and others on our team may have initially thought of Neils’ theories, I still helped him design the “Deep Guide Star” laser, because that’s what I do. Neils had planned to finally test the thing the same week I was going to be out of town, having been scheduled as a guest speaker at my alma mater.
Though, Neils made sure to keep me updated on the project while I was gone, which was the least he could do (I had helped him build the damn thing.) The night of my speech, I returned to my hotel room afterward and found that Neils had been requesting to Skype with me for the past hour.
I was exhausted from an evening of endless pleasantries and forced smiles and honestly the last thing I had wanted to do at that point was talk to anyone but I accepted his next invite because I figured I might as well get it over with. Neils was grinning as his face filled my laptop screen but there was something not quite right about it.
His lips were too far apart and the way he was bearing his teeth resembled an expression more suited to a primate than a person. It was the grin of a man who shouldn’t be grinning. After a moment, I said, “Can you see me?”
He let out a dry chuckle and replied, “You have no idea how well.”
“Everything okay, Neils? You seem a bit…”
Neils shook his head and cut me off as he said, “It SPOKE! It spoke to ME!”
“Who spoke to you?”
“See for yourself.”
My laptop emitted a chime as Neils sent me a link. I recognized the URL as the same ones we used to set up remote viewing feeds for the telescope. I was just about to click on the link but then something… I’m not quite sure what… but something stopped me. That something saved my life.
“Can I talk to Derrick,” I asked him, trying to sound as casual as possible.
“He is indisposed,” Neils replied and then momentarily leaned out of sight of his webcam, giving me a view of Derrick… or what was left of him… nailed to the back wall of Neils’ office.
Derrick’s eyes and jaw had been removed and his tongue was hanging from the gaping wound were the bottom of his face used to be. Most of Derrick’s upper teeth were missing and the ones that remained looked as if they had been yanked crooked. And the rise and fall of his chest indicated that he was still breathing.
Neils leaned back into view, still grinning, though I was so busy vomiting that I hardly noticed. To me, Neil’s voice sounded like an announcement on a distant P.A. system…
“For eons, it has been searching for us. Longer! Long before time was a constant, something hid us here on this planet and it has been looking for us ever since. And to think, it’s using our laser to finally find us… Why are you throwing up?”
I tried to choke out the words as I gestured behind him and said, “Derrick … What did you…”
“I have prepared him for its return! He’ll thank me. You’ll see. You will ALL thank me.”
Neils ended the Skype session, leaving me dumbfounded and hoping what I had just witnessed was some sort of elaborate prank, though it all looked and felt too real. I tried to call the observatory and when no one picked up, I started dialing cell phones. Not a single one of my coworkers answered and that’s when I called 9-1-1.
After a lot of explaining and waiting to be transferred, I finally talked to an operator for the Tucson PD who told me they would send someone out to the observatory to investigate. Then I called the airline and had them switch my return-flight to the redeye. It was while I was flying back that I had the dream.
It was somewhere in deep space. A nearby star illuminated the thing drifting toward me. Round but far from a perfect sphere. I mistook it for an asteroid until I stared at it long enough to see that it was actually a face. The ugliest face I had ever seen. It was so hideous that I tried to look away but I couldn’t. It wouldn’t let me.
As the face got closer, I saw that it was merely an illusion. The one giant face that I had been seeing was actually a mosaic made up of the billion or so tiny identical copies of that same hideous mug. As the thing reached Earth’s outer orbit, it suddenly stopped and seemed to shatter as each tiny face sprouted insect-like wings and began to descend upon the planet.
Those of us who died during the initial invasion were the lucky ones. The rest were transformed into hideous monsters, golems composed of rotting limbs and exposed bone, which were used to round up the last of the human resistance.
I woke up drenched in sweat with a worried-looking flight attendant standing over me. When I was done convincing the stewardess that I wasn’t on the verge of a psychotic meltdown and she finally left me be, the man sitting beside me muttered.
“Must be some laser.”
I squinted at the man and replied, “Excuse me?”
“You kept screaming to turn off the laser, turn off the laser… I figured if it was giving you nightmares like that, it’s gotta be a big deal.”
I had a lot of time to wonder just exactly what I would find when I reached the observatory on that long dark winding drive up the mountain at 3AM. Surely, the police had arrived by now but then what?
Had Neils resisted their attempts to enter the premises or had he quietly led them to the scene of the carnage? What if the detectives had already taped off the area by the time I got there and I wasn’t able to get inside to cut off the telescope’s power supply?
But mainly, my train of thought kept circling back to just how much I felt like Chicken Little that night. The sky was certainly falling. Luckily, I knew how to stop it. I just needed to get to that goddamn telescope.
The first thing I noticed as I approached the large cylindrical building was the empty park ranger’s jeep idling outside. As I grew closer, I spotted the actual park ranger slowly crawling away from the observatory. Blood was pouring from his mouth and his legs looked mangled.
One of the interns, Ryan, was naked and gripping a ball peen hammer as he followed behind the serpentine park ranger. Ryan was screaming gibberish down at the bleeding man and repeatedly striking him with the hammer. So I ran Ryan the Intern over.
I did it in such a way that my SUV sailed straight over the crippled park ranger without touching him while at the same time slamming into Ryan and pulling him beneath the front left tire. I had seen Ryan aiming the hammer at the ranger’s head and accelerated into him out of pure reflex.
It all happened so fast, I didn’t even realize I was doing it until I felt the car rolling over him and heard Ryan’s scream suddenly cut short as something was crushed beneath the weight of my automobile. I slammed on the brakes once I was clear of the ranger and hopped out of the car to check on him.
“My radio…” the ranger muttered as I knelt down beside him. He was looking back at his jeep as he said it and then the ranger, no longer being beaten with a hammer, finally succumbed to the pain from his injuries and passed out.
I attempted to use the radio in the ranger’s jeep to call for backup but someone (I assumed it was Ryan) had yanked out the cord to the receiver. Having resigned myself to doing this alone, I made my way to the entrance and glimpsed a preview of the carnage that awaited me inside through the observatory’s glass front doors.
There was blood smeared everywhere and I could hear movement inside the lobby. I remembered the fire-escape and made my way around back to a flight of stairs leading up to the second floor. From there, I started to make my way down the hallway leading to a walkway that overlooked the observatory proper when I suddenly felt a pair of hands pulling me inside a nearby maintenance closet.
It was Gale, one of my team members. She looked terrified as she examined me and said, “Thank god you’re okay! Neils conducted his DGS test and everybody started going nuts and hurting each other! I wanted to leave but I don’t have a car! I came here with Cam and I didn’t know what to do, so I hid in here…”
“Gale? Gale! It’s okay. I know what we have to do to fix everything,” I said as I exited the closet and started into the observatory.
“No, you don’t understand…” she started to say but I turned around and by then, I did understand.
The telescope was covered in the mutilated corpses of my dead coworkers. Their bodies were arranged in an intricate network that seemed to be pulsating with energy. Energy that was apparently feeding into the Deep Guide Star because the yellow laser it was emitting glowed with a strange ethereal light. It was that moment when I realized there was no turning this thing off.
As if he had read the realization on my face, Neils began to emit a sinister laugh as he emerged from the opposite end of the second-floor walkway, holding a rope that ended in a noose around his neck.
“They were the lucky ones,” he said and then launched himself over the railing of the walkway. A moment later, I heard his neck snapping as the noose caught around Neils’ throat.
I remembered the canister of gasoline that I had seen hooked to the back of the ranger’s jeep and Gale followed me outside to fetch it. She waited in my car as I went back inside the observatory and doused the area around the telescope in gasoline. I led a trail of it back outside where I then used a road flare to light her up.
We stayed long enough to make sure that the fire took out the Guide Star and as soon that yellow laser vanished from the predawn sky, I shifted into drive and we sped out of there. That’s why I burned down the observatory. I know what they think Gale and I did and I’m writing this to set the record straight.
You might not believe me and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. You might even judge me for my actions or the way that I’ve chosen to deal with them. But I also saved the world, so I don’t really give a fuck what you think.