A Sky Full of Stars
Barnard Ross turned his telescope towards Alpha Centurai, pressed his right eye to the eyepiece and sighed. “This simply cannot be,” he muttered to himself, scribbling wildly onto the eggshell white paper in front of him. “Almost twenty more. Where are they coming from?”
It had all begun last Tuesday, an unusually bright evening for the middle of winter, when Barnard’s curiosity had led him to the University observatory. To start with they’d looked like a fistful of new stars; distant suns that had simultaneously turned their new-found nuclear energy towards the small, rocky planet that we called Earth. Since then they had multiplied tenfold, until the evening sky resembled a gigantic colander with millions of tiny holes streaming shafts of celestial brightness down upon Barnard Ross and the Columbia State University observatory.
Barnard stopped for a second to review his notes, adjusted the angle of the telescope ever-so-slightly and returned his gaze to the skies. He increased the magnification of the lens and concentrated on a single smaller star, just to the east of Proxima. Through the telescope’s viewfinder the star began to vibrate, slowly at first, then faster. “Interesting,” Barnard exclaimed, without breaking his view. The star continued to shudder backwards and forwards frantically for a few more seconds before, poof! it split itself into two, both halves somehow the same size as the original. “Extraordinary!” he screamed, and rushed to pick up the observatory’s telephone.
“For God’s sake Barnard, do you know what time it is?” moaned the Dean’s grizzled voice over the other end of the line.
“Three twenty four exactly,” replied the excited astronomer. He had needed to share his discovery with someone, and phoning the Dean had seemed like a fantastic idea a few moments ago.
“Unless the University is burning down I don’t want to know,” the Dean pleaded.
“But sir, stars duplicating, doubling themselves, actual celestial mitosis.”
“In the morning Barnard, please, don’t call me again.”
The Dean hung up the phone and the busy tone played for a few seconds before Bernard returned the phone to its cradle.
Barnard scribbled a few more, dishevelled notes onto his paper and returned to the telescope for one last look. He adjusted the magnification again, and began slowly sweeping the night sky, from east to west. He had completed a full 360 degree rotation by the time he had finished, his brow drenched in sweat, droplets of it covering the eye piece. Barnard’s face was as blanched as a huge white hole, and he slumped himself into a nearby chair, his hands shaking uncontrollably. “My dear,” he said. “They’re everywhere. So much light. So much heat! Only a matter of time before the tipping point is reached.”
Barnard spun his chair towards the large windows of the observatory, He put on his sunglasses, took a cigar out of his inner jacket pocket and lit it. All around him the sky began to pop and crack as more stars multiplied themselves; thousands, millions, each bright spark joining the one next to it, creating a carpet of white. The night sky suddenly grew bright, blindingly bright, so hot that an elm outside spontaneously caught on fire and began to burn. Up the road, Barnard could see the same thing; trees, bushes, bus stops all spontaneously combusting. “Sweet Jesus,” Barnard exclaimed and re-dialled the Deans number. No one answered.