Frankly, the whole thing was an embarrassment to the Captain.
She could not help but take this cruel twist of fate rather personally. Her first intergalactic mission for the Semi-Democratic Empire of Friends, after countless exams, oaths, personality assessments and reconditioning, was to end before even getting out of the goddamned solar system.
She had been trained for emergencies such as this. If she was being honest with herself, the Captain had always known that disaster protocols were a mere illusion to make explorers slightly less afraid. Everyone knew they were expendable, hundreds more eager to take their place as explorers should they perish.
Case in point: The Captain had pulled the lever that was supposed to activate an escape pod, but all that did was spit out a small, dated flyer with instructions on where one could purchase such an item.
A cruel joke, all in all, made crueler by the fact their ship, defectively ferrying the crew on a course smack into the sun, was ironically christened “Helios”.
Watching her steadfast crew in their final moments was, admittedly, akin to a grotesque clown show of sorts: Rosa was holding herself and loudly sobbing, occasionally thrown off balance as Sam ran up and down the narrow hallways of the ship, screaming and stuffing objects into his sack as if he were going somewhere. In one corner sat Jack, intoning a prayer to the Eternal Influx in his designated religion square just loudly enough to be heard above the din.
In the other corner, Kate, her various tools having failed her, had taken to the oldest method of dealing with unwieldy machinery: kicking and screaming. “Stupid! Goddamn! Piece of shite, cheap goddamn shite ship! Stupid-“
“Quiet, please,” Jack interrupted. “You may have gotten us into this mess, but I refuse to let you take my final moments from me.”
Kate’s eyes flashed. “You’re blaming me for this?” she hissed, making her way over only to be knocked to the floor by Sam on his way past. “Well”, Jack replied airily, “You are the engineer. Look, I’m just saying, if you could do your job…”
“Shut it!” the Captain proclaimed, finally putting a stop to the spectacle. “Jack, there’s nothing to be done. We’ve gone drastically off course thanks to our Empire stuffing the newbies into a cheaply-made, tin can of a ship. Heading into the sun is inevitable. Brakes, steering, all emergency systems have irreparably stopped working—what can you expect from any of us? Kate is the finest engineer around. If there’s nothing she can do, there’s nothing for it.” For a moment, her words seemed to resonate among the crew and leave a silence. Maybe, thought the Captain, they could still die somewhat nobly. As if on cue, her plucky band of heroes erupted once more into hysterics. Slowly, she let the pamphlet fall from her hand and turned to join them, embracing the still crying Rosa.
In short, they were to be cooked alive, their daring mission to distant solar systems coming to an end before even leaving their own. In those moments the band was so sure were their last, and just as the ship was starting to get a good singeing, a rather inexplicable thing happened. A latch on the side of the sun had opened up, creating a dark spot on the large, blazingly white exterior. Ropes began to extend from within the sun’s newfound cavity, wrapping around the tiny spaceship and pulling it in. Like a great serpent, one of these ropes detracted from the others and seemed to peer into the windows of the ship before shining a blue light over it, suddenly making the vessel deathly cold. The explorers, despite this oddity, were still more concerned about their imminent deaths and continued to hold each other and scream and pray whilst approaching closer and closer to the sun.
After a few minutes, the din coming from within the good ship Helios began to die down as they realized the sun wasn’t scorching them as it ought to be. Instead, the exterior seemed to be hit with steam that quickly dissipated. And why, come to think of it of it, now that they were no longer preoccupied with screaming, was the Sun pulling them in? As they entered the open latch, it looked not at all like the innards of a star but like a boarding hall on some galactic station. It was clean and white, made of smooth impeccable tile. Just above them was a series of pulleys, gears, and levers, part of the machinery that was them along the rope as well as closing the door (the door of the sun) behind them with a solid thud. At the top of the walls were speakers, piping in some sort of flute/panpipe medley with a mechanical voice, repeating the same message over the music: “不要害怕. NO TENGAS MIEDO. DO NOT BE SCARED. डरें नहीं….”
The ship was pulled along for quite a while down the pristine hallway. “What the hell is going on?” asked Sam, his voice quavering. The question was answered with silence as all members of the ship looked forward, straining to make out what lay ahead. They were grateful to be alive but confused, terribly confused, and frightened about what could be coming next. The only sound was their shallow breathing, and the recording, repeating itself over and over.
“不要害怕. NO TENGAS MIEDO. DO NOT BE SCARED. डरें नहीं….”
After what felt like an eternity of being pulled down the hallway, they could finally make out their destination: a large glass booth, with two figures inside waving at them with apparent enthusiasm. The musical recording stopped as the ship came to a stuttering halt in front of the booth. The two figures were now seen to be some form of life, but nowhere near human. They were incredibly tall, slender, and purple-skinned beings with bald heads and shining white eyes. The only thing that seemed to distinguish one from the other was the unique set of colourful dots and markings that started on their skull and ran down their arms. After several tense minutes of the alien beings motioning to them, the crew slowly emerged. They barely came up to the knees on these creatures, one of which wasted no time in stooping down to closely examine Rosa’s face. The other opened a door on the back wall of the booth and pulled its fellow alien through. Despite hierarchy now being a moot point in such a situation, the crew still looked to the Captain to see if they should follow. The aliens were quickly disappearing round a corner, conferring with one another in a series of clicks, whirrs, and chiming sounds—obviously excited. With one nod from their Captain, they filed through the doorway.
Kate was the first to speak as they walked quickly to keep up with the creatures. “So, what I’m gathering is…” she said, “the Sun is, I guess …not a sun.”
“They seem nice,” said Jack, not sounding convinced. They passed a series of corridors and rooms containing mechanics incomprehensible to them. They also passed more of the creatures, each one stopping to look and then following them, talking quickly to their companions. Eventually, they ended up in a room that contained yet another of the creatures, this one a darker purple than the others. Looking up from writing on a circular tablet, it smiled indulgently at them. Silence wormed its way into the odd grouping, as the aliens all stared expectantly at the explorers and the explorers at the aliens. Finally, Rosa managed a nervous, “Hello,” which immediately sparked another excited flurry of bizarre clicking sounds, ending with one recognizable word to the crew that rose up and around the alien cluster:
One finally stepped forward from the rest. “Hello!”, it said, “It is a pleasure of having you here today! We are the GraHareden. To whom are we addressing?” As much as exchanging pleasantries with aliens was something the explorers had dreamt of since their youth, in this moment they wanted nothing more than to grasp the situation at hand. “What’s going on here? How the Hell are we inside the sun?” the Captain demanded, voice cracking. This merely sent up a series of tittering that echoed through the room, and what sounded suspiciously like this life form’s version of patronizing laughter.
“Ah, yes, yes! The Earthlings must be terribly confused and frightened! No need, however! We can tell you this is perfectly safe, and there is no black magic or witchcraft involved in this miracle today-you humans are still scared of witches, right? Is that a thing which scares you? We are proud to say, no witches here!” the GraHareden announced. Some of the aliens began petting the heads of the crew in what they probably thought was a soothing gesture.
“You see, this “sun” as you call it is, in fact, a vessel housing eighty billion of our kind! We were pushed out of our own planet by the murderous Rothe’en, and have been mass migrating to an unoccupied one for quite a while in this state of the art vehicle! The outer shell is purely for protection and camouflage. On the first leg of our journey we traveled on our own. Due to the size of the ship, we created our own gravity field and began pulling in all kinds of debris that over time formed planets. We didn’t think of it too much, just some rocks circulating until we saw life on yours. Elipthel, that was exciting! We’ve watched your progression very carefully, given your miniscule lifespans. Well, Truth be told, we’ve sort of adopted you; like pets, if you will. We saw you headed our way, about to be burned by our heat shield and well, we couldn’t resist inviting you in! So much to discuss!”
“Come, come!” the alien implored, as the crew found themselves gently pushed out of that room and again following the ever-growing crowd of GraHareden.
Another series of hallways and corridors, trying to keep up with the GraHareden, another mass of spectators drawn behind them, and the crew of Helios huddled tightly, conferring about what to do with this information while walking. “It’s strange to think, is all, how we’ve been wrong since the beginning of time…” Rosa mused. “I don’t like this,” Sam, said. “I’d sooner forget this whole business, chalk it up to a dream or the divine will of Eternal Influx .” The real gobsmacker was how insignificant this made earth: they were debris picked up from a more advanced, more civilized, larger race than themselves. An amusement for the GraHareden while they went on to bigger, more important things. “It’s funny,” said Kate, “how there are plenty of moons and suns we have given names, like Io, the moon of Jupiter. But when it comes to earth, our moon is simply THE moon, and our sun THE sun, like they were the only two that mattered.”
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly call it OUR sun anymore,” Jack replied grimly. The Captain walked ahead, lost in thoughtful silence. The human race had thought, going off, exploring the universe, that they had all the answers. It turns out they were no more than ants that were living in the wall of a house, or sea monkeys; a distraction for the GraHareden. Throughout civilization, humans have worshipped the sun. There are countless sculptures, temples, and scriptures on Ra, Helios, Sol, or what have you. The humans thought they had all the answers then, too, but alas, that is the flaw of their species. Whether they thought it a supreme deity or a star birthed from some far off nebula, the sun was and always had been a really big spaceship made of cold tile, slowly making its way through the unknown universe. Shaking her head, the Captain, her fellow humans behind her, walked towards whatever new frontier lay onward.