Aphelion Issue 289, Volume 27
November 2023
 
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Cloud 9

by Gregory Cioffi




2353

Omar peered up, lost in the plaza of his mind.

Zara noticed this and immediately deduced the whereabouts of his digital wallet.

“What did you just buy?”

Omar cocked his head, smiled, and answered, “Music.”

“What kind of music?”

“The Soundtrack of Life package.”

“My friend has that. She loves it.”

“I want to see what DJ AI comes up with while I do my everyday activities.”

“I can only imagine,” she responded as she suddenly observed him bobbing his head. “Wait. Are you listening right now?”

Omar, while rhythmically moving his body, answered, “Don’t be envious! It’s unbecoming.”

“What does it sound like?”

“When you speak, the music gets really boring. When you don’t speak, it’s truly lovely.”

Zara shot him with optical daggers and retorted, “Perhaps I should include your musical extravaganza in today’s report.”

Omar rolled his ocular implants and conceded, “Fine.”

The music in his mind stopped. Omar sighed and swiveled in his chair as if to announce his boredom.

“Any plans for the weekend?” Zara asked.

“Obviously engage in the awe-inspiring exquisiteness that is The Soundtrack of Life. You?”

“My boyfriend’s family-“

“-You mean your robot’s manufacturer?”

“Hilarious. My boyfriend’s family celebrates Easter.”

“What is Easter?”

“A holiday from Christianity.”

“Zara, what are you talking about? What is Christianity?”

“It was a religion! How long have you lived under a rock?”

“For as long as we’ve been working here at NASA and assigned to this forsaken wing of obsolete equipment.”

“Read a history book, Omar! Anyway, this year is peculiar for the celebration.”

“How so?”

“Well, it is traditionally celebrated on the first Sunday after the full Moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox.”

“This seems uber fascinating,” Omar sardonically stated.

“This year the holiday will be five weeks earlier than its hypothetical date according to astronomical principles.”

Omar perked up. “Go on.”

“Well, on extremely rare occasions, the spring full moon doesn’t take place on the day used in the calculation process for Easter. Therefore, the date deviates from the date that would follow from actual events. They call this the Negative Equinoctial Paradox.”

“Just how rare is it?”

“Between 1583 and 4000, it only happened twice. And the first time is this year.”

“Freaky. The difference between an astronomical and a cyclical full moon date can be a real annoyance. Zara, tell me, are you dating this man to retrieve data on astronomical principles?”

“Shush, Omar.”

“What do they celebrate anyway?”

“What do you mean?”

“This Easter thing. What is it?”

“Oh. They celebrate the belief that their savior was resurrected.”

“Like, literally?”

“Yes.”

“Brought back from the dead?”

“That’s right.”

“From cloning?”

“Without cloning.”

“Ha! That’s funny.”

A beeping suddenly emanated from inside the room.

Omar and Zara looked at one another with an admixture of confusion and concern.

“What is that?” asked Zara.

“I don’t know! Nothing ever beeps in here! We’re in the room of unending monotony.”

The two scientists began exploring different boards in the room, picking up and trying on various headphones.

“How did they use these things; they’re so uncomfortable!” Omar blared.

Zara heard it first as she stood beside the receiving equipment used for monitoring.

“I’m getting a very low power radio signal.”

“Telemetry?”

“Yes.”

Omar started pulling up holographic star charts and quickly sifted through them.

“It’s a little over 2,000 AU away,” Zara continued with a rising inflection in her voice. “What’s a little over 2,000 astronomical units away?”

“The Oort Cloud,” answered Omar as he pulled up the region on his map.

“What could be out there that’s sending this signal?”

“Us.”

Zara looked over at Omar as he focused on a pulsating red circle on his chart. He pulled up its information.

“Voyager 1. Launched in 1977 to study the solar system and interstellar space. In the 21 st century, it traveled out of range and we were no longer able to power a single instrument on it. When its radioisotope thermoelectric generators could no longer supply enough electric power to operate its instruments, the mission was considered over.” He stopped reading and speculated, “The mere fact that it did not collide with anything so far is a wonder.”

“There mere fact that we are receiving a radio signal from it is beyond the bounds of possibility. Is there a way to get an image?”

“Images were disabled years ago to conserve power. Are we picking up on it because of our new array of antennas?”

“Once it lost power it wouldn’t have a gyroscope to orient it, meaning its on-board antenna most likely wouldn’t be pointing towards Earth anymore.”

“Unless?”

Zara thought for a moment before concluding, “Unless it was somehow reoriented.”

“By what?”

“By whatever found it.”

Zara and Omar gazed at one another as if they had bridged the impassable. Time came to a deafening halt, the only traceable sound being the continuous cautionary beeping. They took the moment, knowing its monumental weight, its measureless significance.

Omar interrupted the tangible lull as he muttered, “A peculiar year indeed.” He turned to his friend. “Should we be happy? I feel like we should be ecstatic. Why am I terrified?”

Zara, fracturing the confounded atmosphere, stated, “We need to tell command.”

Moments Before

It floated through a cloud of icy planetesimals, aimlessly wandering through the cometary reservoir. The shell surrounding the solar system, called the Oort cloud, was often described as a big, thick-walled bubble of space debris.

If it had eyes, Voyager 1 could view the plethora of frigid celestial objects wayfaring through space, encompassing it.

It traversed through the inner edge of the colossal cloud despite breaching its boundary 43 years prior.

If it had a fight-or-flight response program, the probe might have recoiled at the emergence of the other uncrewed spacecraft peeking out from behind a nearby dwarf planet.

The unidentified flying probe propelled its way over to the disoriented pilgrim and attached itself onto the unsuspecting apparatus.

The alien probe, despite not recognizing its kin, engaged in its purpose nonetheless: repair and rehabilitate. Upon concluding its analysis, the castaway craft determined which measures needed to be undertaken.

As it mended and upgraded Voyager 1, a certain mechanical fulfillment was reached, an emotionless state of accomplishment.

The foreign craft detached itself and for an infinitely brief moment, the two kindred spirits, the proverbial ghosts in the manifesting machines, shared an unfeeling appreciation. The twinkling provided them with an impassive experience that soared beyond the human conception of utter happiness. And then, faster than a flash, the nanosecond resolved.

The discarded probes departed one another and set off to continue their solitary excursions.


THE END


2023 Gregory Cioffi

Bio: Gregory Cioffi (SAG-AFTRA, AEA) is a professional actor and a published writer. His works have been published in The Feral Press, Mystery Weekly Magazine, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The Nassau County Poet Laureate Society Review, Little Old Lady (LOL) Comedy, Blood Moon Rising Magazine, Fleas on the Dog, The Five-Two, Aphelion, Paumanok: Interwoven/Transition, and Allegory Ridge. Many of his stories have been archived in numerous libraries including Yale University’s Beinecke Collection (Rare Books and Manuscript Library). His poem Confined But Commemorating, written about Memorial Day during the pandemic, won third place in the Nassau County Poet Laureate Society Poetry Contest. Greg is an Adjunct Professor of English at Long Island University, an Associate Professor of Literature & Composition at Post University, and he also teaches Creative Writing, Poetry, and Basic Acting at Nassau Community College.

E-mail: Gregory Cioffi

Website: Gregory Cioffi's Website

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