Author : Tyra Tanner
It is the blue hour.
That space between twilight and full dark when night’s silhouettes press flat against the horizon. Pines stretch their jagged limbs blackly above eye level, like a claw-marked rip in the canvas of the coming night.
Sometimes, at this hour, I find myself wandering the forgotten roads near the observatory tower, its darkened windows and barred gates reminder of what was lost.
Sitting on the curb, I watch the stars emerge. One. Two. Three. Ten. The blue hour descends into darkness, night consuming it in a giant swallow, so that all at once, the sky is full of stars.
I imagine them, then.
Pretend I can see their star out of the thousands, millions, billions in the sky.
It would be a little above the horizon, somewhere to the right, and my eyes would scan, scan, until I would find it, there, glowing slightly blue, because it was so large and hot and ready to burst at the seams.
600 lightyears away.
But it’s not there.
The star was how we found them, though. The others.
It was on the list of those ripe for supernova.
A small detour in my day’s agenda led me to tweak the VLT in the observatory tower to take note of the orbiting bodies that would be affected by the star’s demise.
Even as I jotted the planets down on a list, noting the predicted path of galactic destruction, I didn’t immediately recognize what I was seeing. It was only after multiple shots and comparisons that I knew what lay before my eyes.
The planet was smaller than Earth, farther from its star, and full of life.
From mighty trees that dwarfed the Redwoods to turbulent oceans that crashed against the shores, to sunbaked dunes that swallowed miles of land, the planet teemed with energy and movement.
And perhaps most interesting were the tall structures, sloping yet firm, that suggested a tool-making species walked the land.
357 days I had watched them.
That’s when the star exploded, taking the planet and all of its neighbors with it.
The clearest image we were able to retrieve before their demise suggested a six-limbed creature, tall and wide. I wish I could have seen its eyes, but the planet was too far, the telescope too weak.
What bothers me the most, when I wander outside of the closed observatory, the funding ceased after the others died and we lost hope of contact, was that they didn’t die recently. They died 600 years ago. That’s how long it took for the light to reach us and tell us their story.
But for 357 days, we weren’t alone in the universe. We were viewers from afar, witnesses of the limitless power of chemical composition to form intelligent life. They’ll never know I walk the blue hour and mourn them.
In the silence that pervades the night, I slip my old key from my pocket, enter the observatory grounds, and jog up the hill to the tower. On the balcony rim, I turn on my flashlight, my finger tapping against the switch, a simple morse code that brightens the metal dome behind me in flashes and spurts.
‘We wait for night,’ I tap. ‘From dawn to dusk, species to species. We are here. We are here. We are here.’
I can’t help but hope that someone is watching us right now.