A broadcast appears unbidden across all screens, addressing the citizens of earth. An elderly man appears in full military uniform, medals and insignias across his chest. At his side stand four other men, also in military uniform, though their uniforms differ from his.
“In early February, 1945,” he tells his audience, “our scientists picked up an incredibly dense object traveling at near light speed on a trajectory that would take it through our solar system.” He speaks calmly, unemotionally, with an accent from the southern United States.
They later determine the anomaly to be a micro black hole. It would come close enough to perturb the orbit of the earth. There is even a small chance it could drive it from the solar system altogether.
“That being said, we haven’t just been sitting on our hands this whole time,” the man says.
Curiously, this story contains an editor’s note that it is fiction: “I have been shocked the past four years by what millions of people are willing to believe, so I feel compelled to make clear: this is fiction.” I read this is a political statement, at least in part, and can sympathize. The story is not overburdened with verisimilitude but gives a whiff or two of a grand conspiracy theory.
For the most part, the narrative is written in second person, which is jarring, particularly in one area where the narration occurs between two blocks of quotes from the military man. Who is the “you” addressed?
Could anyone detect a black hole in 1945, let alone moving relative to the solar system? If it did, indeed, disturb the earth’s orbit, wouldn’t it disturb the orbits of the other planets? Wouldn’t objects in the asteroid belt start hopping around, particularly the smaller ones? Wouldn’t the moon start acting strangely? And why wouldn’t astronomers notice any of this?
Let me set those objections aside for the moment. The author reveals his mystery at a nice, enjoyable pace. Who are the military men? Why are they broadcasting to everyone on earth? Are they aliens? They don’t sound like aliens. Why does the broadcast look so dated?
I admit to second-guessing the author. I took a brief tour via Google. In 1945, black holes were still theoretical, predicted in Einstein’s general theory of relativity in 1916, but not named until 1967 by John Wheeler, an American astronomer. The story isn’t given a specific time frame, however.
Having said all that, I really liked “Cold War.” I enjoyed figuring out was going on. Even the title has multiple meanings, and the last couple of lines bring it all home. Technical improbabilities can be forgiven.
According to his blub, author Ike Lang stays awake at night wondering where all the aliens are. He graduated from the University of Iowa and lives in New York. This is his first published story.
The story can be read here.
Title: “Cold War”
Author: Ike Lang
First published: December 7, 2020, Daily Science Fiction