Silence at 200km

Ever since the first days of humanity, we have been fascinated by the stars. By the blinking lights in the sky at night, by the massive light that rises in the morning and sets in the evening. We mythologised the ones that moved, assigning them the status of gods like Mercury, Jupiter, Mars. We grouped them into constellations, seeing patterns among the random scattering. As we stared, we learned more about them. As we stared, we learned more about the universe, from their motions and from their light. We moved from calling them gods to calling them lumps of rock, or balls of gas. Our understanding grew. And as our fascination grew, we dreamed. We dreamed of the day we’d send probes up there. Maybe even men.

In 1957, we launched Sputnik 1. It was meant to be the first probe to orbit the earth at a height 215km. Except as it hit 200km above sea level, it vanished. The signals stopped. The Russians assumed it had been lost for some reason. An engineering defect perhaps, after all nothing had gone that high before. No debris was reported or found.

The near success of Sputnik 1 started the space race.

Sputnik 2 rapidly followed, with the engineers having tweaked the designs in the hope it was simply a manufacturing defect. It too, disappeared. The US tried too, and again at 200km it also disappeared.

This caused the scientific and engineering communities great concern. Nothing in the theories or models predicted anything that could destroy a probe at 200km. Probe after probe was tried, and they all failed. No signals were received after a probe reached 200km. Religious communities seized on this failure of modern science, trying to portray it as a sign that science was wrong, that it didn’t know everything.

The Space Race ended, inevitably, when both sides agreed that the 200km phenomena needed cooperation to resolve. And so that lead to today, where we’ve worked together to engineer a rocket capable of reaching almost, but not quite 200km, and capable of sustaining life for a time so we can report back what can be found, as our probes are evidently incapable of detecting anything.

As we launch, I’m in constant contact with mission control, as is my one crew mate. We both know the risks, that we might not see our loved ones again. As the rocket lifts us up we keep looking ahead, straight out of the window to see what, if anything we can see. The altimeter in the corner of my vision is counting upwards. 50, 60, 80, 100, 150. The rockets cut out, momentum should be enough to take us to our desired height now, at which point we’ll just maintain altitude. As we hit 199km we can just see space. It’s beautiful. It’s exactly as we’ve always seen. Below there are clouds, and in some places ocean and land. It is beautiful.

We know what we need to do. Our sensors, and senses, report nothing unusual. Looking at each other, and with a silent nod, we tell mission control that, against orders, we’re going higher. Silence in response.

We go higher, and higher….. the altimeter ticks over to 200.

The hollow cuboid

An image of the Enclosure sculpture
Enclosure – Paul de Monchaux. The inspiration for this piece

The structure appeared one day.
You might expect that no one paid much attention to it, that they believed it to just be another art installation in a city park.
But people noticed. It wasn’t an art installation. At least, not one sanctioned by the local administration. Not the national one for that matter. And the international bodies didn’t concern themselves with art. Usually….
The first person to see it in the early hours of the morning on their bike to work noticed The Quieting.
Approaching the frame, they realised they could no longer hear the sound of their bike on the path. The sound of the wind in the leaves. But they were running late to take over their shift and so onwards they peddled, putting it out of their mind. Or trying to.
As news spread of The Quieting the military was mobilised. You could hear them coming with their loud rattling Jeeps… so long as you weren’t in The Zone.
They came with their devices and their guns – not being sure what to make of it. Enquiries were being made to determine where it came from.
The first thing their devices told them was that The Quieting was absolute and, apparently, passive. It wasn’t like noise cancelling headphones – emitting a sound that just cancels out other sounds. There was no sound. None. It was as if the air was perfectly still, held in place. Except, of course, it wasn’t. You could still feel the wind.
Enquiries came back with no information. No one knew where it came from or why it was there.
And then the military scientists had another result come back that resulted in the cordon being widened.
They simply walked through it. They didn’t do this immediately naturally. They’d tested with microphones, speakers, cameras, sensors of all kinds and nothing had happened. But when the junior scientist walked into it they simply vanished.
Everybody was shocked. You would have heard a yell from the soldiers. Screams from the observers. Except for The Quieting.
It took a minute or two in all the panic for the soldiers and people at the cordon to notice… but where the cordon was previously outside of The Quiet Zone, it was now silent. The Quieting had reacted.
Military rushed to widen the cordon again, but really there was little need – the public had fled after seeing the soldier disappear.
Day after day, week upon week, this continued. Experiments that, while consistent and repeatable, refused to make sense. And slowly The Quiet Zone expanded as more experiments triggered its apparent defences.
Eventually the size of The Quiet Zone, and the refusal of The Quieting to yield to science lead to weapons being used. It was attacked with jackhammers, drills and power tools of all kinds. Each caused a reaction from The Quieting.
The public was scared. The Government was powerless despite the assistance of international bodies.
One by one countries, governments, fell. With The Quieting becoming ever more aggressive the political ramifications were felt the world over.
And when The Quieting was complete, when The Quiet Zone was global, what happened? Something spoke. Not out loud, for no longer was there sound anywhere. But something spoke into the minds of everyone.
‘You are ready’