“Ground Control to Starfruit, come in Starfruit.” This was my second attempt at communication, my first having gone unanswered. Things happen. It’s not unusual for delayed response on first contact. But still. There was something crawling around in the back of my head, a stray thought that wouldn’t die. Today felt off. First contact was one thing, but this was second contact after all. That’s classified as more than standard delay. I held the handheld coms unit ready, but there was no response, just searing static.
“Ground Control to Starfruit. Starfruit, do you copy?” Again, nothing. I stared up at the ceiling, willing my vision through the drop-hanging textured tiles, peering beyond into the great dark abyss above. I could picture her up there, on the edges of imagination, her yellowed edges floating tantalizing outside of Earth’s reach, a ripe Carambola you couldn’t touch. What was going on, Starfruit? Why weren’t you answering?
“Ground Control to Starfruit, be advised, your responses are not being heard. Switching to reserve, emergency frequencies. Follow protocol Avverhoa.” I turned the dial on the hand com, setting it to the reserve bandwidth, and sent out a signal response detector, a simple beep that Starfruit would return upon successful reception. I waited.
That wasn’t good. The reception return signal was an automated process. If there was no response, that meant there was no Starfruit. I felt my breath start to quicken. I swallowed it back slowly, not allowing panic to seep. I picked up the emergency contact phone, a direct line to mission command headquarters. No dial tone. What was going on? Were all coms out? I set my handheld to broadcast all frequencies, sending out a standard response call. Nothing came back. Where the hell was the communication network? There should have been dozens of replies. What else was down? My cell phone? No signal. The internet? Not connected. The handheld HAM radio in the storage closet? Dead air.
I roamed the building, normally bustling, home to hundreds of employees, accountants, scientists, mechanics, repairmen. No one was there. I went up to the observation room, a glass giant of a wall overlooking the city at large. No movement from afar.
I was alone.
Breath suddenly failed me, my lungs raspy, my chest tight. Sweat. Where did all this sweat come from? I felt so very hot, my consciousness teetering on the edge of faint. Where did everyone go? No. This can’t be real. This can’t be happening. Not to me. I closed my eyes, praying for normalcy when my vision returned. But no. It was all gone.
I ran back to the communications room, my heart racing harder still, pounding like a piston. I snatched up the coms unit, desperately broadcasting to all channels. “STARFRUIT COME IN. STARFRUIT DO YOU COPY? STARFRUIT, PLEASE, YOU MUST COPY? DO YOU HEAR ME?”
The sound of steps accompanied by rubber wheels echoed into the room from behind me. No, not yet. They’d come for me. I needed more time. There must be someone else out there. There must be something out there! Anything! This couldn’t be happening again! “STARFRUIT! PLEASE!”
And there I was, still yelling into my hardened breakfast croissant, ass exposed in a medical gown, crying “Starfruit”, when they wheeled me away.