Signal to Noise
It's been three years since the Incursion; three long years since Bastian and his twin brother Theo became the sole survivors on the planet Noise. Their distress calls have gone unanswered, and they are running out of supplies. They have no one but each other. And when the long-awaited rescue finally arrives, it brings with it complications that make being alone and forgotten look easy.
The liquid crystal display screen flickered with pale light as Bastian leaned over it, starting up the terminal and seating himself before it. He shifted close to the terminal as though it could provide warmth as well as light. He rubbed his hands together, lacing his fingers and regarding his black-tipped nails for a moment before cracking a few joints as a prelude to stretching and tapping his fingers nimbly over the terminal keyboard. All around him in the darkened room, rows of workstations turned blind terminal eyes on his hunched form.
Silence echoed; it wrapped around the room, it weighed down the air. It scraped at Bastian’s nerves, the silence ticking past like seconds on a clock, as he waited for the Pangalactic Corp logo on the screen to fade away, indicating a network connection had been achieved. It had been years since this room—once the communication hub of an entire planetary colony compound—had been anything but silent and now Bastian was tensed to react at the slightest hint of unexpected sound.
Every time Bastian waited on edge for the network connection to come through, he expected it to be the last. He was continuously amazed that it had kept working this long, three interminable years beyond the first attack. It wasn’t as though there was anyone left on the planet capable of doing maintenance.
The screen booted up the network browser home page, which was pre-set to exactly the entry that Bastian stole into the deserted command center to read as often as he dared. Bastian drummed his black-painted fingernails over the workstation console, breaking the silence even as he listened beyond it.
“Federated Planet Organization, colony NSE-856G,” he read aloud from the FPO’s official registry of planets. “Colloquially referred to by its colonists as Planet Noise. Rocky, with an oxygen-nitrous mix atmosphere capable of supporting human life without adaptation or breathing devices, but barely habitable.”
Bastian scanned down the encyclopedic entry, looking for something new. “…Colonized for its plentiful hydronium, a composite element used as a source of energy for everything from power grids to fissile weaponry. Noise was one of the first colonies in the sector to send out a distress signal before the Incursion was confirmed as a threat to human life.”
Frustrated, he shook his head. He kept hoping, but it was always the same. Noise had been one of the first, possibly the very first, to get hit by the alien life-forms in what was now known across the network bulletins as the Incursion. Yet even now, three years later, there wasn’t a breath of information on the response, or rather the lack of response, to Noise’s distress call—or any other colonies out on the further sectors of FPO space. There was no update on Noise’s status, because no one knew.
A breath of air whispered behind him, and Bastian was no longer alone.
Theo pressed a hand to his shoulder, leaning over Bastian and tickling his cheek with a sweep of fine golden-brown hair as he, too, peered at the terminal screen. “Still nothing?” Theo asked.
No one had a status update for Noise because Theo and Bastian were the only ones left alive.
“Nothing,” Bastian replied. “No rescue mission sent to Noise, or any of the other planets in the sector.”
Theo leaned harder on Bastian’s shoulder, making Bastian push back against him, sending an annoyed glance upward. “Any news bulletins from the Federated Planet Organization?”
“Was just checking,” Bastian said, queuing up the news feeds in his inbox. “I only got here a few minutes ago, you know.”
After the official distress call had gone out three years ago, the two of them had tried following up with various authorities from their own personal accounts, but they’d never received a response. Bastian theorized that they didn’t have the proper clearance, or that the FPO was flooded with claims for help both real and imagined and had trouble sorting them out. Theo had declared with brutal certainty that the FPO didn’t care about Noise or any of the outlying colonies anymore; the Incursion was hitting hard everywhere.
Noise had been written off as a total loss, ran Theo’s way of thinking. They were on their own.
“No,” Bastian sighed after scanning through headlines and his own meager inbox of alerts. He kept his hopes up, because one of them had to. There was no point to life on Noise without the hope of rescue. “No news, no missions in this sector. No progress on doing anything more than keeping the Incursion to a standstill. I don’t think they’ve taken a single planet back yet.”
“Better turn it off, then,” Theo said, squeezing his hand down on Bastian’s shoulder.
Bastian nodded, powering down the terminal with a swipe of his hand. The light winked out and he stood in the darkness that followed, turning around to look at the room full of empty workstations. Even in the middle of the day, this room was dark with the outer shutters lowered. Once, this place had thrived. His father had worked in this center.
“You shouldn’t come here alone,” Theo chided, reaching up to cup Bastian’s cheek with one hand. “You know? We should never go anywhere alone.”
Bastian shifted from one foot to the other, looking off to the side, to one shuttered window. “You don’t like it when I come here,” he said. “So I try to come when you’re asleep.”
“There’s never any news,” Theo said, and looked as though he might say more, but instead he pressed his lips together and shook his head.