The sun simmered red as it slunk towards the jagged horizon. Herman Pope and Krista Hubbard stood watching it from the parking lot at the Houston Space Center anticipating their last day on Earth.
“When will the Object reach perihelion?” The twenty-eight year old systems engineer grasped the older gentleman’s hand without taking her gaze off of the sunset.
The fifty-five year old senior operations manager looked at his watch, which had been his father’s before his. “Less than thirty minutes.”
“That’s how long we have?”
“Maybe. Are you sure you don’t want to go back inside? The Argonaut is transmitting continual status updates.”
“Round trip communications between here and Mercury’s orbit is something like 13 minutes.”
“If it happens, we won’t feel the effects for a while.”
“Yeah, but my brother in Hawaii won’t be having a good day. He’s supposed to graduate from college there next month.”
“Come on, Krista.” He gently tugged on her arm.
“No.” She pulled back harder than she had to. “I want to stay out here.”
“Then I’ll stay with you.”
She leaned into him, laying her head on his shoulder.
“You do know I’m old enough to be your father.”
“That doesn’t stop you from being a good man.”
“Fortunately for you, a divorced good man.”
“We probably won’t have that much time.”
“Depends. Maybe Elio and Oriana will figure it out before it’s too late.”
“You mean whether the interstellar object is here to stop the solar flares or start them.”
“That’s why they stayed on board when the rest of the Argonaut crew left.”
“If it triggers the flares, the Argonaut won’t have a chance.”
“If the flares are as catastrophic as Soleil predicts, neither will we. The radiation and expelled solar plasma cause Earth’s next extinction event.”
“Why would an alien race send a massive automated spacecraft hundreds of light years just to destroy us?”
“Why would they send a probe to save us, or even know about the sun’s tremendous buildup of magnetic energy?”
“I guess we’ll never know.”
“We might, if the two people stranded inside the probe figure out what the Object’s suppose to do…”
“…and either stop it or trigger it.”
“We’ve got to have faith.”
“Do you?” Krista looked up at Herman.
“At my age, I’m prepared to, yes.”
Herman’s cell phone rang.
He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the caller ID. “Can’t. It’s the director.” He pushed accept with his thumb and held the phone to his ear. “What’s up, Frank? Uh huh. That’s confirmed? Thanks. That’s terrific. Thanks. I’ll be right in.”
Ending the call, he slipped the phone back in his pocket and took Krista by both shoulders. “They did it! The probe.”
“What happened?” She was laughing without knowing why.
“Oriana finished the translation, or enough of it to figure out that the probe was supposed to stop the flare event. It was malfunctioning, but Elio triggered it manually. They stopped it. We’re going to live.”
The pair hopped up and down, swung each other around, laughing and crying. They could hear the cheering of other people outside as they got the news, and hand-in-hand, the two of them walked back toward the operation center’s main doors. Then Krista pulled at Herman’s hand and stopped him.
“But what about Elio and Oriana? With the Argonaut just inside of Mercury’s orbit and heading back toward Earth, there’s no way they can do another intercept with the Object. The two astronauts are stuck inside the probe.”
“I know. That’s why we call them heroes. They sacrificed their lives to save eight billion human beings, literally the whole planet. The cost is that they’ll be inside the probe forever.”
“Where? I mean, where will the probe go?”
“Back to interstellar space, maybe to the beings that sent it here to save us.”
“But it travelled hundreds of thousands of years just to get here.”
“I know that, too. Elio and Oriana Hudson are two of the finest people I’ve ever met. It breaks my heart to have to lose them, but today, they’re more than my friends. Today, for me, for everyone on Earth, they’ve become legends.”
I wrote this for First Line Friday hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. As the name suggests, anyone participating in the challenge uses the posted sentence as the first line in a poem, short story, or some other creative work.
This is a variation of a short story I’m currently writing for an anthology (which rather gives away the climax) about the Sun. Hopefully, I was able to create a complete tale from Herman’s and Krista’s point of view.