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Waiting for the End

This is the beginning of a short story.

Chapter 1

Daniel was one of the first people to have a glimpse of the Great Collapse; coincidentally, it occurred on the same day his father died.

Doctors had recommended he waste no time coming down to London as they worried about his father’s rapidly deteriorating health, but he couldn’t just leave his responsibilities like that. Despite being in his late thirties, Daniel was already the principal investigator for one of the imaging instruments on Hipparchus, the latest and grandest space telescope sent into space, and the following day was to be a significant milestone in the mission; a long-lasting snapshot of a particular region of the sky, known within the field as a deep field image.

Knowing that he would have to be absent for a few days, he wanted to make sure that there would be no snags. Not that Daniel didn’t trust his team; they were a very talented group of engineers and scientists, the best the twenty-first century could produce. You just didn’t become one of the leaders in your field without a strong sense of dedication and acute attention to detail.

He finally left in the latter part of the morning, and after driving for a few hours towards the south, he parked at the Gretna service station, switched off the engine and called his sister Michelle. Their father was in a stable condition, although doubt lingered in her voice. Alone in the car battered by the Scottish wind and rain, he closed his eyes and fought the emotions within.

After a few minutes of being still, Daniel took off his circular glasses, wiped the few dissident tears that had rolled down his cheeks and looked at himself in the rear-view mirror; he was a tall man with a prominent nose and dark hair. His well-trimmed beard speckled with white hair provided him with a sense of gravitas.

Daniel stepped out of the car, a brown coat clutched in his left hand. At the service station that had seen better days, he ordered an overpriced latte served in a thin paper cup and sat down absent-minded at a corner table covered with fresh crumbs and mug stains; signs of its previous occupants and the cheap labour that was often used in such establishments.

He observed raindrops trickling down the windowpane, his face displaying the countenance of a drowning man. Grief descended upon him in waves, a slow-motion tsunami that encroached deeper in every laboured breath. He willed himself to brace each wave with every rush of emotion. Breathing in and out. In and out.

Suddenly, a ringtone from a nearby table took him out of his thoughts, and a loud conversation ensued. His latte had gone cold. It was time to go. The rain had stopped now, and once outside, he looked up and saw a timid patch of blue sky nestled between heavy clouds. His reverie brought him to the space telescope. His team should have received the image by now.

Daniel sat back in his car and called James, the assistant project scientist. The answer he received was not what he had expected.

“Daniel. Something’s gone wrong with the deep field image. You won’t believe this, but we do not see some of the early galaxies, and I have no idea why.” James then sent him a low-resolution picture of a section of the deep field. Something was indeed not right. According to their calculations, the deep field image should have captured numerous red-tinged galaxies indicative that they were as old as nine billion years old, if not more, and yet, he saw none.

This was terrible news. Weeks of reviewing and testing would be required, delaying an already busy schedule. And then there was the media. He would have to brace himself for the storm they would unleash.

He could already see the headlines now.

‘The Blind Telescope.’

‘Hipparchus in Trouble’

‘Billions wasted in space.’

As if those fools only learned now about the risks of such a mission. This was cutting-edge science, after all. As Daniel was mulling around with the potential causes for the missing galaxies, his phone rang. It was his sister. A cold fist formed in his stomach as he knew what it meant. He was too late.


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