In a distant planet of a distant stellar system, under the dimming light of an orange star, a man stood silent, staring at his fallen ship. He didn’t know what had happened, he didn’t know how he had ended up in that alien planet, with his fate almost sealed, with his crew dead and buried.
“This is Captain Van Kelt. The Tero 4 has suffered a catastrophic accident. Its wreckage lays now on planet SE-8388. If anyone is out there, I ask only that you come back for our bodies, for I’ll be long dead before these radio waves reach you. Have a good journey, my friends. Over and out.”
He stood motionless before the twisted metal of his ship. Unsure of how to proceed, unsure of where to go. In all directions an endless yellow desert spread out beyond the horizon, in all but one. A mountainous region rose from the ground in the distance, in the middle of the empty plains.
A beeping sound rang in his helmet, alerting him of new information discovered by the sensors in his suit.
A message appeared in his hub. “Electromagnetic field detected.” And a virtual arrow pointed to the source, towards the lonely mountains of that empty world.
He looked towards them again, catching the last rays of the star that shone down upon that world. He watched the darkness envelop the land and then he watched the stars take over the sky.
His heart had slowed down and his eyes had dried up. He wanted to survive. Minutes before, seeing the blue skies of Earth again seemed like an impossible wish, but now, with the information of an electromagnetic field, the probability had risen. Maybe there was a on old human outpost waiting for him deep inside a cave within the tall yellow mountains. Maybe he wasn’t alone, maybe he would wake up in the morning listening to the voice of a rescue party. And maybe it was nothing, but that was key. Maybe.
He laid down on his side, on the land of the planet that had taken his ship, watching the bright stars in the horizon, waving at him from beyond the vastest of distances. It seemed like a waste. A spectacular view of the galaxy and its celestial bodies, one unlike any that could be seen from Earth, one that existed on an empty planet, above the sky of a yellow ground where a dead man stared. And as beautiful as the view was, Van Kelt did not want it. He brought his knees to his chest and he took his head towards his legs, and below the white light of the galaxy he closed his eyes and wished for it to go away.
“Why are you crying?”
“Can’t you hear it?”
“Listen to it. It’s singing to us. It’s crying. Listen.”
It seemed that silence had taken over the world, but somewhere underneath it, below the silence, a current of wind carried within it a melody. It was the sound of mourning. It was the sound of sadness. It was the sound of a permanent goodbye.
“I hear it.”
“Shh… Just listen to it.”
They looked into each other’s eyes and held each other’s hands, and under the light of a half-lit moon, they watched each other’s tears.
“Just listen… listen…”
And together they listened. Sitting in the dim blue light, feeling their heartbeats through their hands, feeling the sadness in unison, feeling the sorrow that had seeped from another place upon the air they breathed.
Van Kelt opened his eyes. The glow of a shining star reached his eyes. He squinted at its brightness and for a small instant, in that instant where the mind has woken up but hasn’t yet recalled the events of the previous day, in that instant in which everything seems okay, he tought he was watching the sun through the window in his bedroom. And then he looked down to his dirty hands, he looked at the yellow ground and he remembered he was not in his room, and that it wasn’t the sun. He had slept alone in an empty world, and had awoken to extend his life another day, to delay his death a little more.
He remembered the crash, the signal, the electromagnetic field and the mountains that called to him, and before he could look towards them again his mouth dropped open.
His spaceship, the Tero 4, seemed now but a dot near the horizon, and before him a yellow mountain loomed. Behind him, imprinted on the ground, there was a trail of tracks that led from the distant ship towards the place where he was standing. They appeared to be human footsteps, but they were not his own. Rectangular and flat, they looked nothing like the boots that he was wearing.
The hair on the back of his neck stood on end at the sight of it. Whoever had been with him in the darkness had carried his body through the empty plains and had left him at the foot of the mountains to continue his sleep. He was not alone. The footsteps did not stop at his location. They continued through a path between the mountains into the depths towards the center of the cluster of hills.
Who could it be? Someone from the crew? Impossible. A lonely person living alone in a desert world? A strange species that had found him interesting? Why hadn’t he woken up when it carried him? Why had it taken him to the mountains? Why had it left him there, alone?
Van Kelt followed the footsteps into the rocky terrain. To his sides, the walls of the mountains rose high above him. They reminded him of Earth, of the time when he was a child walking through the grand canyon. He remembered the feeling of walking on an alien place. His father had walked away from him in that occasion, hiding behind a bush, waiting for his kid’s reaction, and Van Kelt remembered the feeling of being alone. He had called out to his father two times before a stream of tears began to run down his face. It was too much to take. How could a small child hope to survive in the dry river, so far away from everything he knew? How could he hope to survive now, on this yellow path, following the footsteps of an unknown being, two thousand light years away from home, away from everything he knew?
A low rumbling made its way through the cracks of the mountain and through his helmet. The ground began to shake and he watched as small rocks and stones came flying down from the tops of the rocky mounds.
This was not a dead world.
Van Kelt sprinted ahead, following the tracks that would take him to meet his stalker, his saviour, his companion in the yellow world. Each step he took seemed to strengthen the quake and he was sure that one of those strides would be his last. His life would end with his blood full of adrenaline below a boulder, as a red stain, never to be found by the people who would listen to his message. But before his mind could be carried away any further he reached the end of the path.
He stopped abruptly near the edge of a precipice. The largest hole in the ground he had ever seen stood open at his feet, like an empty ocean. Darkness swallowed the depths of the seemingly bottomless pit, and in the middle, like an oasis in a dune-filled desert, a tower rose from the insides of the alien world. From beneath the blackness of the chasm and into the grey skies, it stood untouched by time, perfectly preserved. It emanated a white glow, its many columns shining with spectacle, and as the quake of the yellow world grew stronger the tower began to emit a sound he had begun to recognize. It was a song, it was the song of silence, the song that had permeated his dreams as he was being carried away by the stranger of that strange world. With every passing second the tower grew taller and rose higher above the atmosphere of the trembling planet, and then as suddenly as everything had begun it stopped.
The ground stood still, the tower stood firm, and the winds that had been passing around him ceased. Everything was left intact, as if nothing had ocurred at all, everything but the silence. In the place of silence the song remained. It echoed through the mountains, it echoed through the empty chasm, it echoed through the air and through his suit and he was able to hear it in all its splendor. It was a sound like that of a thousand violins playing a song of demise, a song of sadness and sorrow. And with every note played, the song burrowed deeper into his heart, and he recalled his own tragedy. The tragedy of spaceship Tero 4, the tragedy of his crew who now lay below a million tons of steel, the tragedy of having to walk an empty world waiting for death to come.
As Van Kelt stood paralyzed at the edge of the crater hundreds of white dots appeared below him in the darkness of the pit and he watched them intently wondering what they could be. Droplets of water? A reflection of the orange star? No. He could see them for what they were, a myriad metal spheres flying through the air, climbing the empty hole of the planet, defying the gravity that kept him in his place.
Van Kelt stumbled backwards and fell on his back as the spheres sped through the precipice where he was standing, and from the ground he watched the silent spheres move through the air as if unaffected by friction or displacement. The spheres raced to the top of the tower where they brought themselves to a formation of concentric circles and began to move in a rhythmic fashion with the sad singing of the white tower.
He watched the dancing spheres above him, unsure of what to do. His heart pounded in his chest with adrenaline, his mind flooded with chemicals meant to preserve his life and a head-ache set in as the unreal events transpired around him. On a platform extending from the tower, the silhouette of a man waved at him across from where he stood, across from the abyss.
It was him, the man who had carried him away from his dead ship, the man who had brought him towards these mountains. He stood up and watched the man from afar. He had taken him there for this, he wanted Van Kelt to see the tower, to see the spheres and listen to the song it sang, and just as Van Kelt waved back, a deafening high-pitched sound reached him and cracked his visor. Van Kelt screamed and brought his hands to his helmet. The spheres had gone mad, erratically moving in all directions at unimaginable speeds. Looping through the air, shooting themselves into space and into the chasm below.
“Help!” Van Kelt screamed again, hoping that the man across the gorge would somehow hear him, hoping that there was a way to be saved and that he was not, in fact, the subject of an experiment to the flying machines. He fell to his knees screaming, and as he did a metallic sphere ten times his size rose from the precipice and gracefully stopped before him. Its surface immaculate, a perfect spherical shape. He looked to it, afraid that it would mean his death and watched his cracked visor in the reflection along with the rest of the world behind him. The mere presence of the sphere had somehow silenced the area around him and he now lay in the ground fearing his own reflection, relieved to be in silence. Maybe that’s what death was, he thought, watching oneself’s last moments alive, in quiet solitude, in hush tranquility.
The sphere’s perfect shape began to deform and a set of doors slid open, inviting Van Kelt inside. It was dark and it was empty except for a small seat in its center. Around him the erratic behavior of the other spheres continued along with the sad song of the tower — a song that now seemed to play in the background, as if in a distant place.
Behind the sphere, across the abyss, the man continued to wave, this time with both hands, calling to him, wanting Van Kelt to join him on the platform.
“Alright.” Van Kelt whispered, and took a step inside the empty sphere. He sat down on the small seat in the center and then the door slid shut, enclosing him in complete silence and in complete darkness. He breathed a deep breath and tried to keep the fear of the unknown at bay, away from his mind.
“He- Hello?” The room reacted to the sound of his voice and it was inundated with a sparse light where no obvious source was the origin. The walls of the vessel began a dance of colors, they changed from white to blue, from blue to red, from red to green, through all the colors of the spectrum. Patches of changing colors spread across its inner surface, changing, like an out of focus picture moving through the canvas, and then the walls became transparent.
He could see the world outside as if the sphere had disappeared, as if he was floating in the air. He watched the dark abyss below him, the gleaming tower and the dancing of the other hundred spheres. His seat rose into the sky well above the white tower, and as the sphere floated in the alien atmosphere the walls began to change again.
He watched the land of the yellow world morph from desert lands, dead places, to a populated landscape. Thousands of small creatures walked the planet’s surface, enormous glass pyramids rose from the ground, populating the ground in all directions, reflecting the light of a bright white star. Trees and plants grew in every unoccupied patch of land, next to dark roads, at the top of the thousand pyramids and across the mountains. Below him, where the endless pit had been, a blue lake thrived with the life of large creatures swimming below the surface, around the shining white tower.
What was the sphere showing him? The past of a long-gone civilization? And if they had constructed such a world, why was it empty now? Where were the people of that lush world? Where was the life that had inhabited it?
And then the image on the walls of the sphere changed again.
Darkness encompassed the atmosphere of the world, clouds of a dark thick smoke rose from the ground and into the sky. Fires spread throughout the half-destroyed pyramids of the city, and its people ran in panic, heading towards the white tower. Van Kelt looked down at the abyss, where the lake had been on the images of the thriving world, and in its water, a million corpses floated. Hundreds of other inhabitants were swimming through them, trying to reach the glowing obelisk. The song of sorrow was playing and the people sang with it as they ran through the mountains. The metallic spheres floated through the sky, moving at incredible speeds through the air, going to the ground, picking people up and transporting them to a platform on the singing tower, helping them reach their destination, but there were too many people, too few spheres. The land turned white, the people and the buildings went up in flames and then exploded into ash. The lake below became a cloud of steam and everything inside it disappeared, and he heard the scream of a million souls shouting in unison as they watched the death of their species, and then there was nothing.
The only thing that remained on the landscape of that strange world was a white tower and a myriad metallic spheres that darted through the sky, lost, searching for life amongst the disintegrated bodies of the inhabitants of the world they were protecting. The walls of the sphere in which Van Kelt sat again changed, and once again he found himself sitting in the darkness, listening to the song of the white tower, listening to it cry for the long-lost people of a long-dead world.
The doors of the sphere opened and he stepped outside. He had been transported to the platform of the tower where the waving man had been standing, across the dark abyss; And as he exited the sphere, it returned again to the sky, moving erratically like the others, searching through the land for survivors that did not exist.
The waving man stood before him just a few feet away. It was a man, but one unlike any other he had ever seen. A man made of the same reflective metal as the spheres. It had the square feet that matched the tracks that had taken him away from his destroyed ship, and it approached him. It had no face, in its place was a reflective surface where Van Kelt saw his own cracked helmet, his own half-grown beard and his dark eyes.
The man of the alien world stood before him in silence. It seemed as if it was waiting for Van Kelt to do something, as if it expected him to know something, but Van Kelt did not, and he stood there too in silence, half-afraid and half in awe, staring at the man who had taken him from his ship. The song of the tower seemed to come from its surface, he felt its vibrations in his lungs and listened to its melody, and as he did, the man from the yellow planet pointed towards the tower. It wanted Van Kelt to go to it. It had been the destination of the millions of people who died in the explosion he was shown. Why? He asked himself. The tower was a solid white object with no doors, or windows, or stairs. It was just that, a tower.
The man stood still, with one hand to its side and its faceless head towards Van Kelt, and the other pointing ahead. And when Van Kelt did nothing, the man stepped forward and took Van Kelt’s hand into its own, like the father of a child in need of guidance, and together they walked to the glowing tower, towards the edge of the platform, to the singing tower of mystery. The alien man made no sounds, and Van Kelt mimicked it, not wanting to cause distress to what he assumed was a machine, like the spheres that moved through the air above them. And when they were two steps away from the wall of the white tower Van Kelt stopped and the man stopped too.
“What do you want from me?” Van Kelt asked, certain that his question would go unanswered, but the faceless man of metal listened to his voice and again, with a simple slow movement, it pointed towards the wall before them with a shiny hand.
Van Kelt nodded, and, without any other choices, he stepped forward and touched the wall of the tower. It was solid, like a smooth stone, and as he felt the surface of the tower, the man of the yellow planet approached him and took his hand once more. It held Van Kelt’s hand and with a swift movement of its arms it ripped the glove off of Van Kelt’s suite.
“No!” He screamed, but before he could do anything, the man had taken his hand and pressed it against the white surface. A cold bolt travelled through his arm and into his body. He saw the faceless man one last time. His own body became translucid, and its mass stretched out into the space above him. He watched the yellow planet go small below him and then he watched the darkness and the stars around him, and in the distance, a yellow star approached. A blue world entered his view, and before he could examine it, he stood on the shore of a large blue ocean, with his feet in the sand.
“Holy shit! Hey man, are you okay?” A man in a swimming suit asked him, “You just came out of nowhere.” The man turned to the sky, confused.
Behind him, a large city rose from the ground, skyscrapers populated the skyline and vehicles flew around them.
“Where am I?”
“Cape Town, are you okay? Where did you come from?”
“Cape Town… in South Africa?”
“Yes. Hey man! Get an ambulance!” the man yelled at another who stood close by them.
“It’s okay. I’m fine now. I’m home.”