Chapter 18

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Frank left home that morning and made his way to the same place he did almost every day for the past sixty years. He walked the same route he always did and pondered to himself how so much had changed, even in recent times. Yet, most things seemed to stay the same.

A quick tune found its way through his whistling lips. His thoughts jumped from his loving wife, who shared decades of life to their beautiful daughter, who was doing well for herself. He also still had a job if it could be called that. It was a passion, more than anything else. Frank's thoughts continued to wander, and his legs directed autonomously. Before he knew it, he arrived at his destination, the Abalone Astroscience Laboratory.

The entrance door opened for him, and he stepped inside as the lights were coming on. Frank was the first one to arrive. On many a day, he was also the only one. That was a saddening thought. He remembered days when the AAL was alive with people and buzzing with discussions. The diminishing pursuit of non-applicable positions had begun long before his time. It surely wasn't the same as it was back on Earth as far as he could tell. But even the last fifty years had seen a steep decline that had all but declared the death of scientific research for the sake of research.

Applicable science and inventions were still being made, albeit at a slower pace than ever before. Big scientific breakthroughs were mostly a thing of the past. This was true for Astronomy and Astrophysics in particular. Most of the physics questions that humanity pursued were now answered, but that didn't mean there were no mysteries left to solve. Neither did the fact that man had traveled a small part of the galaxy in less than an average life-span mean something in the grand scale of the universe. He often thought humanity as well and stuck here on these clouds. Both in the physical and psychological sense.

Frank tried to calm himself down. These thoughts about the fate of the sciences always worked up his anger, or at least his bitterness. He grabbed a cup of tea from the machine and went to his spot. His partner wasn't in yet. Many days they spent here together, Bok and him, going over their theories, debunking, finding logical holes in each other's work. It was what they both loved to do.

The room Frank sat in was the heart of the laboratory built during the Abalone's construction. The cloud was a hybrid of the great remaining ARC ships that brought humanity to this star system, and newer parts, now 500 cloud-years-old, grafted on top of them. Over the years, Frank saw many school-trips walking in groups and being told about the history of the cloud. He once heard those trips used to include the AAL itself. But that had already stopped before he joined.

The room was as a hub for all the inputs coming from the different listening and imaging devices mounted on the outside of the cloud. There were telescopes for capturing every type of signal known to man. They and the lab were built in a time when the hope of hearing or seeing other life forms was still prevalent. Those days were also gone. Frank had spent a considerable time of his research hypothesizing how no sign of either superior or even emerging intelligence had yet presented itself to their most potent cosmos investigatory tools. Unfortunately, no one had been willing to fund the research needed to pursue his hypotheses.

A secondary use for the listening devices was for cloud dwellers to capture signals coming from Earth's solar system. Earth was most likely barren and hostile for life, even underground, but there were several other colonies left in the system when the ARCs left. The biggest one was the one on Mars, followed by the lunar colony. The settlement on Europa was much smaller but still housed several thousand.

None of them were expected to last this long without the support from Earth, but strangely no signals had ever arrived, not even in the first fifty to a hundred years after the cloud settlement. The prevalent conjecture was that they'd felt betrayed by the covert mission to save just the selected few, chosen to leave on the ARCs while billions were left behind. Therefore, they had never attempted to make contact or respond to the messages sent their way.

Thinking about the departure from Earth reminded Frank of the upcoming ceremonies marking the founding of the Clouds. The celebration and commemoration mixing into one. The momentous day was approaching. It made Frank think of a folk song he used to hear as a child. It had been a long time since he'd heard it. Perhaps sitting silently in the room all alone, surrounded by panels and devices linking him to the strongest communication devices available, made him nostalgic. He signaled the room's speakers to play the original, slow version of the song. Frank lifted his feet and rested them on a nearby chair, closed his eyes, and allowed the melody and lyrics to carry him away to a different time.


Can you see in the darkness
The rays of light bursting
The celestial home rising
Shadows all but melting
Do you see

Can you hear the silence
The nights dance beginning
The house walls vibrating
A cosmic tune is playing
Do you hear

We founded a home
and forged our palace
found a garden to roam
Our unity, our solace
To thrive under the dome

Can you feel the tenderness
The gossamer threads binding
The nest protecting
Heart's fear subsiding
Do you feel

We founded a home... ♫

End of Part I

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