BY KIRA DORWARD
Copyright is held by the author.
THEY NAMED it Daedalus. Daedalus because it —no, he — had flown like no other with wings of marvellous construction.
Spotted by satellite caught in Mars’ eccentric orbital pull, scientists were dumbfounded. The rough images conveyed depicted a figure like a man but not like a man. A dull but glowing gray illuminated what humans might only call skin, if colour it was and not reflected light given shape and humanoid form. Only distorted blurs, the same shade as the skin, were visible on the area that would be a human face.
His arms were folded across his chest as if having just received last rites — his deathbed a great void, himself anointed by the gas of stars instead of the oil from a priest’s thumb. Instead of hands, great sails emerged from the ends of his crossed arms that alternatively conjoined together and spread apart to form billowing wings that then conjoined again seamlessly, as if he were a luminous bird of prey. Caught in Mars’ pull, like the captured asteroids named Panic and Terror in the language of a civilization long ago, Daedalus floated, buoyed gently by the rhythmic force of this process of unfold and seam, steady as breath.
Satellites registered a faint electronic signal, a pulse, faint but steady. The trouble was it did not appear to originate from him, but resonated throughout the solar system as if there had been a steady beat all along, and only for the first time were we listening. Communication, in the forms of radio waves, satellite projection imagery, television and radio in all the languages of Earth, including binary and Morse code, went unanswered, resonating in meaningless unison in an infinite abyss.
The race to define this form began. Scientists and astrophysicists from all nations strove to be the first to apply the label. The canonical term was “alien” by default, only defining the unknown as the strange.
A French physicist writing out the equations of its orbit obsessively concluded that, the electrical pulses taken into account, there was a very good possibility that Daedalus was a living being.
“If not in the way we understand life, with a heartbeat, then at least a pulse. He does not move, but is hibernating in much the same way that a bear sleeps the winter in a cave. Our technology is registering life force. He is dormant now but has not and will not always be in the same state. One day he will wake.”
The Chinese government released a statement citing the apparition as another example of Western Capitalist propaganda to disguise the launch of a spacecraft intended to compete with superior Chinese missile capabilities. Efforts to “undermine the efficacy of the People’s technology are laughable and will be met with ‘irrefute’ response.”
NASA began configuration of a probe satellite. It was hoped an expedient human expedition would both serve the Glory of Science and ensure quick resolution to the diverging points of view ravaging the nation. Across the United States, different theories had emerged. Many in the South proclaimed Judgment Day and the Second Coming and converged in masses to pray until the novelty wore off. Atheists and intellectuals, not necessarily synonymous, discussed all realms of possibility as well as impossibility, also until the novelty wore off. The fire and brimstone crowd, having evolved to more sophisticated fire and brimstone methods, began making their disagreement felt. For once declaring war on the religious extremists of their own nation, the American government proclaimed a state of emergency and martial law.
The launch of the Icarus probe was one of the most volatile moves in human history. Both sides of the argument balked at having illusions shattered, while hungering for questions answered. Icarus might soar too high, falling from his own hubris. The mythology of the gods, the myths of science — all designed to explain the universe. The two great Earthly religions were finally and unavoidably at odds.
Taking the better part of Earth’s orbit around the Sun, Icarus finally reached Mars. Strangest of all — stranger than the appearance of Daedalus himself —was his conspicuous physical absence. Human technology still registered the pulse and his image in the Martian orbit, but Icarus itself encountered only a vast nothing. Scientists scratched their heads and redid their calculations, but the fact remained that where Daedalus should be, he simply wasn’t. Now it seemed was an appropriate time to shift from the realm of science to science fiction.
In science, it is always these damn discrepancies that leave us unable to ever work out a “theory of everything” and truly be masters of the universe, as we should. Newton got the “how” of gravity, but not the “why”. Daedalus’ mysterious non-presence was just one of these pesky little foibles that prevented human beings from attaining that simple truth allowing them to discount complex questions.
“What’s to know?” a Midwestern farmer was quoted in a local paper, The Jacksonville Chronicle. “It makes about as much difference to me as my cows. It’s just chewin’ the same cud. Why do people always want to be knowing things is my question.”
In an effort to explain this new facet of the phenomena, all the radical theories sitting under the hats of theoretical physicists began to pour forth; the possibility of alternate universes millimetres away, if only we were aware of the direction; the four-dimensional space/time dimples that Einstein once mentioned into which matter falls. The question of whether Daedalus was living or dead became secondary to the discussion of whether he existed at all.
“He exists, all right,” said one educated scholar and avid ComicCon attendee. “He’s an apparition of alien technology that takes on different forms for different people. That’s why they can’t find him. He’s a hologram. They’re trying to communicate.”
Supporting this hypothesis, a Canadian science fiction writer and founder of a polygamous religious community in British Columbia remarked that “much as ants [and his followers incidentally] do not register the radio or television signals, we intuitively communicate by pheromones, by which humans can only painstakingly intuit meaning. Daedalus may be trying to communicate with us on a level we do not yet understand.” For more information you may purchase his various works of literature on the subject.
If satellite communications and probes failed to turn over stones, it was felt some more direct means of contact should be employed. To end once and for all the destructive anxiety felt worldwide- anxiety that was causing normal economic production to disintegrate in expectation of the end of times- the Western powers felt it was in their best interest to destroy Daedalus than allow him to destroy the fabric of civilization. Missiles or nuclear weapons, which if detonated in Earth’s atmosphere make the planet uninhabitable, would have no consequences if unleashed in Space. No significant atmospheres to destroy, no signs of life to eradicate, no celestial bodies of importance or concern. Any destruction would be contained within the vacuum of Space, eventually imploding on itself.
The American government undertook a program to eliminate Daedalus. Proving the Chinese government ultimately correct, a newly designed space craft, Solarum, was launched near enough to Daedalus’ orbit equipped with a ballistic missile rocket, and if necessary, a nuclear missile. If Daedalus’ coordinates were in fact correct, he should be destroyed in the projected path of the rocket. If there was nothing there, as had been established by probe, then the rocket would blaze into black nothing until it itself became nothing.
Simultaneously, China, making good on its threat, had prepared a nuclear strike on the farthest possible geographical target within its striking capability. Their government planned detonation for the same day as the detonation aboard Solarum.
Solarum never fired.