Ultron: They’re doomed!
The Vision: Yes… but a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.
-”Age of Ultron” 2015
Friday, August 22, 2025
Great Scope Observatory, Hawaii
Three minutes ago the Sun winked out.
What that actually means is that the sun went dark eleven minutes ago. It simply took eight minutes and change for the last of the light to reach us. We immediately swiveled the Great Scope’s sights to the Sun’s coordinates, to be rewarded only with an ominous flickering, growing ever darker. No one has the presence of mind for calculations, but we know our time is short.
There is a panic scarcely below the surface. Because we are scientists, observers, our curiosity holds us in thrall for now. This is the moment we’ve speculated on for time out of mind. We thought it would not happen for a million lifetimes, and now we’ve no time to correct our hypotheses. We can only watch.
We thought we knew what was happening in the Sun’s core. Hydrogen has been being built into helium, as the song goes, for the last five billion years, providing light and heat, supporting life on this planet and perhaps some others at one time or another. We thought, we knew it had enough fuel in it to burn for another four billion, staving off its own gravity with perfect hydrostatic equilibrium.
What we thought we knew was wrong.
One hour. The shock is beginning to wear off. With so little time left, nobody wants to waste seconds gaping stupidly. We are scientists. Highly educated people. Even if we can’t fix this, let no one say we did not act.
Not that anyone is going to be around to say anything.
A debate has broken out. Will the Sun explode? Or will it dwindle into a lump of sizzling slag, abandoning us to drift in bitter space, mourning the death of our star till we too expire? What will be the fate of Earth and its people?
Dr. Anders is keenly watching the Scope, as always seeing things the rest of us cannot. Earlier he took out his wallet, threw it on the floor and proclaimed, “Every cent I’ve got says Sol is going BOOM.” He peeked into the Scope once more and added, “In three hours.” What was there for it? The ante had been paid, and the betting commenced.
Four hours now. Long enough that the news of certain impending doom has reached the masses. The official story fooled no one: everyone is aware on a basic level of what will happen now that the Sun is dying. The fellow with the sandwich board reading “THE END IS NEAR” has been gratified at last. Every news station worldwide is oscillating between footage of our dimming star from the Visiogenic Orbiting Telescope [“VISION”], brief soundbytes of NASA brass stating the obvious, and talking heads ranting about whose fault this could be.
Chaos is in our hearts but not yet in the streets. Here in the Western Hemisphere, where it should be daytime, people stand in the open, staring at the darkened sky and nervously discussing the weather. In the East, many people are still sleeping, unaware. Imagine the confusion of waking to darkness, certain that something has gone wrong with the clock, only to find that this is likely the last day our world will ever see.
Now it’s happening. The Sun is expanding. Anders, grimly counting his winnings, asserts that it is in fact exploding. The light of this explosion reached us about five minutes ago, and already the sky is so bright that our Great Scope is mostly useless.
We have begun monitoring the explosion from the VISION feed, beholding the spectacle of the blast. To begin with, it was white, and an eerier white I’ve never seen. Rapidly it shifted into the blue spectrum and is now hovering in the vicinity of yellow at its center. Most of us expected the blast to be spherical (indeed, we placed bets on it), but instead we have something of a tilted sombrero shape. Unfortunately for us and our smaller neighbors, we’re directly in its path.
Calculations (see: bets) at the Great Scope range from seventeen to twenty-five hours until the debris takes us out, and as we watch, Mercury is beginning to light up like Christmas. It began as a red halo, when the first waves of heightened radiation met with Mercury’s magnetic field. That halo has grown steadily brighter, and now Mercury seems to be a blazing fireball with a still-visible rocky core. A meteor suspended, hell-bent on suicide.
In cities worldwide, people are coming to understand the finality of their situation. Some chaos and looting has broken out, but it’s astonishingly peaceful out there. Never-ending wars in the Middle East, Africa, West Asia, and Detroit have simply stopped; by consensus and not by orders, people threw down their weapons and took up their party gear. Radio stations everywhere are playing R.E.M.’s famous song at least once every hour. The general attitude seems to be one of making the best of the time we’ve got. Except, notably, North Korea. The North Korean government set off all their nuclear bombs and blew themselves up.
Here at the Great Scope, it is quiet. The giddy gambling has subsided. Even astronomers can feel the earthly repercussions of this heavenly event, and our mood has grown somber. We are all contemplating our final hours and where we’d like to spend them. With whom. I myself am precisely where I want to be. All my life I’ve dreamed of serving the Great Scope and one day even having scope time of my own, pointing her lens and barrel at whatever genius project I felt like pursuing. I’m still an intern; my time never came, and yet, it’s all I’ve ever wanted. Dr. Anders and almost everyone else have been here, on this island, long enough to have families to go to, but I left mine behind to come here. I’m alone if the others leave, but I wouldn’t abandon the Scope for the whole world. Pardon the phrase.
Mercury is destroyed. Seven hours after the explosion began, the first burning shrapnel slammed into its face. The little planet took that punch and stood ready for more, but within thirty minutes all that remained was a handful of fiery rubble. The main wave of explosion shock has moved on, bound for Venus in what looks to be eight hours or so.
People are leaving the Scope. It seems watching the destruction of Mercury has finally brought home the reality the Sun has planned for us, and most of us don’t want to see any more. Dr. Anders is encouraging us all to go to our families and loved ones. He is staying, for now, and so am I. He knows I will not leave. Will he?
The feed from VISION is still streaming live on the big screen. It is night now, though, and even though the sky is somewhat brighter than usual we can use the Scope once again. The few of us who are left are calling for our favorite sights, a sort of Greatest Hits final reprise. All our outer planets are lit extraordinarily brightly: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are all easily visible tonight. Mars and Pluto are on the other side of the Sun, though, and only visible through VISION, which of course has its focus set on Sol’s final hours. Calls for bright, fiery shows such as the Flaming Star Nebula and the Pleiadian Cluster are popular, and even the Elephant Trunk Nebula gets a visit. It’s as if we could go on forever, swinging from one fabulous vista to another, but time is not on our side. Spending the last moments with favorite humans is beginning to outweigh favorite celestial sights, and it won’t be long before Dr. Anders and I are the only two left at the Scope.
Anders is looking at Barnard’s Star. For once, I know what he’s thinking. Our closest cosmic neighbor might not even know of our demise for what would have been four and a half of our years. Unless… there are so many factors here. We on Earth are bound by the speed of light, but maybe someone else isn’t. Maybe Out There the news broke just as quickly as it did here. There is surely no escape for us, but what if there was? It is tempting to hang a little hope on the idea of rescue. Goodness knows there are plenty of people praying right this instant to be scooped up by the hand of Divinity and carried away from the fire and brimstone that are sure to engulf us tomorrow afternoon. Meanwhile, Dr. Anders entertains notions that lay firmly in the realm of Science Fiction.
Everyone else has gone.
Midnight now, and I’m alone with the Scope. Anders left just a few minutes ago. He said almost nothing to me. He just put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye for a moment, and asked, “You need anything?” When I shook my head, he nodded, then turned and walked out. He did not look back. I don’t know what I expected from him. Parting wisdom? A hug perhaps? We’ve worked together for years. He taught Stellar Astrophysics at my university. He hand picked me for this job, brought me here, mentored me. Then left me alone, at the end of the world, in the only place I’ve ever wanted to be.
I guess I’m honored.
The Scope is mine. This entire night is mine to explore with her. What do I do? Where do I start? I’ve kept so many fond dreams of this moment, yet now they seem thoroughly inadequate.
This is my day in the sun, pardon the phrase, so I may as well start with myself. Specifically, the constellation Aquarius: my own astrological Sun sign and secretly my favorite part of the sky. Aquarius is home to a number of fabulous sights, among them the Saturn Nebula. I like nebulae and this one is easy to find, or would be if I could stop shaking.
I’ve found something.
After the Saturn I took a tour of the sky, hunting nebulae in a rambling sort of way, swinging in a wide arc through the Western sky, then North, and I found… something. The Scope was focused for stars when I encountered some green and orange flashing lights, so I had to come back, closer to Earth. To be fair, there is a decent amount of Northern Lights happening just now, but what I see is a slow, steady blink. Green, orange, green, orange, then green and orange, then repeat. At first I only saw one set, but as I zoomed out there were more. Dozens more. They are all blinking in unison. What are they? What is this?
There are so many. Every minute there seem to be twice as many as there were before. It’s clear in my mind now that it’s not a what I’m looking at, but a who. Extraterrestrial life. Apparently the news did break just as quickly Out There as it did here.
Is this a rescue?
The sky is starting to lighten. I’ve watched the Blinkies for as long as I can, and there’s been no change, other than their growing numbers. What are they waiting for? Are they really just here to watch the fireworks? Can it be that during all the years we’ve spent reaching out, looking for others, they were right there and not responding? And now, we’re all about to die a horrible fiery death, and they’re just going to sit over there and watch? Is it uniquely human of me to hope for compassion?
Bastards. Sociopaths. Bloody vultures.
I’ve just come back to myself. I’m afraid I had something of a fit just now. Most of the breakable things here in the Observatory are broken, and from the feel of things I’ve been screaming and crying. I haven’t slept for the past twenty-four hours, after all, and it’s been an exciting day. I would worry for my sanity, but I don’t think it’s going to matter for much longer.
In all my excitement, I forgot about Venus. She is nearly due for annihilation. On the giant VISION screen she appears to be an evil yellow ball with a fiery tail that’s whipping angrily in all directions. If I were an imaginative person, and I am, I’d say that she’s angry at being disturbed and spoiling for a fight. She’ll have one, but she won’t win.
The sky outside is on fire. I haven’t ever seen the Northern Lights before today, but there they are. It’s as if I’m inside a kaleidoscope. The Lights are streaming out of the east, flowing right out of the rising Sun in every shade imaginable.
Disco isn’t dead, it’s coming to kill us all. There’s only one thing for it: a high seat in the opened dome, headphones, and Pink Floyd. I will not be destroyed while humming The Bee Gees.
I must have slept. The glorious light show is over, or more precisely, transformed. Gone are the dancing lights. Replacing them are literally great balls of fire. The sky is too bright to look at directly. My skin is sunburned and I’m utterly dehydrated. My faithful Musicpod is still chugging along, though, and so my ears at least are in bliss.
I’m going back inside in search of Spectrogoggles.
The VISION has been struck. The vantage spun out of control and then went to static, and hasn’t come back. On any other day I would mourn: VISION has been my lifelong companion, has comforted me in times of trouble and awed me in times of doubt. As it is, I tossed off a cursory salute and carried my gear back up to the dome seat.
This is it. The ground is shaking and I can hear the roaring and crashing right through my headphones. I’ve seen impacts in every direction. So far none have landed on the Great Scope Grounds, but from the looks of things —
The Intern’s Account, Galactic 5890
Transcript from voice recording
Courtesy of Salvage Probe
On Loan from Museum Galactica with many thanks
Greene, B. The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. Print.
“If the Sun Were Suddenly to Explode.” If the Sun Were Suddenly to Explode. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.
Lee, Rod. “The Sun.” PHY121. 2 Nov. 2015. Lecture.
“MESSENGER: MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging.” MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging. Messenger. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.
They Might Be Giants. “Why Does The Sun Shine?” Why Does The Sun Shine?. 1993. Music recording.
Find Angelee here: instagram.com/stuff.angelee.makes/
And her writing here: medium.com/@angelspot