Very Last Array

Celeste pulled herself slowly over the scaffolding of the main body of Outpost Myrina. The station had been her entire world for more than two years as she worked alone in the emptiness of the outer solar system, but the habitat, with its fuel reserves and maintenance modules and stabilizers, was utterly dwarfed by the 10 kilometer telescope lens it was attached to. It was one of the most sophisticated pieces of equipment ever conceived, but apparently it was broken. She was looking for micrometeorite damage, but so far had found none.

Myrina was part of an immense array. Two sister stations, Penthesilea and Hippolyta, were parked at the Sun-Neptune L2 and L5 respectively, leaving Celeste alone at the L4 site. The three massive lenses—made of reflective liquids pulled magnetically into parabolas—acted as a single instrument 5.85 million miles wide. It could take a hell of a picture.

But today the Myrina lens was turned backward, facing the sun instead of away, due to its unique alignment with Earth, which was just about to peek out from behind the sun. Celeste was supposed to capture the end of the occultation, but something wasn’t working. All systems reported green, but the software failed to detect the Earth’s appearance. The software had never made a mistake before.

She combed over the station methodically and carefully but found no damage. The task was not quite complete but her suit was getting low on power, so she returned to the habitat. The timing of the occultation was not up for debate: she’d missed the window by now.

When she was back inside she found messages from both other stations. She’d asked them to check her calibrations, even though they were in the wrong place to make the observation themselves, but the vast distances meant the response had taken hours to arrive. She didn’t believe the messages and asked for confirmations. It would be the better part of a day before she had any answers. Could it be true? Could the Earth really be gone?

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