Mikhail was tired. He had been there for only a few months as far as he could tell, stationed in one of the various fringe posts as a lookout of sorts, a frontier man whose charge was that of monitoring and keeping a detailed log of all that occurred in the observable sector of space – if one could call it that – he had been assigned to. While the work itself wasn’t particularly demanding in a physical sense, the subjects of his surveillance mission was most taxing to the psyche, and so he was showing the clear signs of fatigue that came with being in a high stress environment for a prolonged period of time.
There was something wrong with time, or the keeping and measurement thereof, in this place, and he couldn’t be sure of exactly how much time passed since his arrival. Digital watches would malfunction in strange ways, traditional gear-work clocks did, too. Sometimes he thought that maybe more time had passed, but then, how could it? He didn’t appear to have aged at all since the beginning of his assignment and neither had any of the other frontier officers scattered in their own self-contained habitation modules.
Communication was kept by shortwave radio with some modifications. Officers would communicate with each other in very specific codes based on numbers and names, though the etiquette would sometimes be broken when the cypher would not suffice to convey a particular message, more often than not related to the menial and miscellaneous such as maintenance of the living modules. Some of the outposts had grown quiet over time, however, but Mikhail just couldn’t say how long ago. Communication with the motherland was also carried out in this manner, though they, too, had grown silent. Perhaps the war had finally broken out of Earth proper, the Cold phase of the conflict no longer keeping the Americans and his countrymen at stalemate. He, as did the other officers in their own outpost who remained communicative, continued to relay his reports to the home base despite their radio silence.
They were all well aware that madness was a possibility in under their current assignment. There was also the possibility of never being able to return home, for that matter, and one had to become rather practiced at applied stoicism in order to not let that looming shadow hang over one’s mind all of the time. Mikhail presumed that his silent comrades had more than likely succumbed to insanity. He himself often wondered if he might already be spiralling into dementia despite the measures he religiously took to stave off cognitive decay. He exercised frequently, he composed poetry, he listened to classical music on his phonograph – a rare allowance but permitted given the extremity of their assignments – and read the many books he had brought with him. An occupied mind was the best weapon against madness, or so it was thought by the experts on the matter, but there were the odd things that took place in his day-to-day affairs that were increasingly worrying him. He would forget what books he had read, and if he had read them recently. Gaps in his memory manifested themselves in ways that troubled him, to the point that he would be unable to recall what he was doing just a few minutes before at times. After a while he decided to keep a detailed log of all he did, but he sometimes forgot about the log itself, only to find it later and realize he had been keeping it while not actually recalling any of it. He would begin recording his activity, but the cycle would repeat itself. Furthermore, he had a hard time making sense of the previous blocks of logged entries, as he say many more than could be accounted for in the time he had been on his current post. He rationalized that it would likely have been written in some shorthand and was, perhaps, not an actual 1-to-1 account, but something else. And since date-keeping was practically impossible there in that strange area of the universe, the logs appeared to be numerically arranged rather than chronologically. It was both disconcerting and terrifying.
Still, Mikhail figured it wasn’t quite as terrible as it could be, all things considered. He took stock of his predicament in light of the colossal proportions of what their mission entailed, the sheer significance of what they were tasked with observing, and he judged himself fortunate.
He and his comrades were stationed in a strange anomaly of space – at least, anomalous to human eyes – and were charged with the observation and cataloguing, as well as reporting of all that took place in that quadrant of the universe, one that was not reached by means of rocket propulsion as was the method preferred by the space programs in both the U.S.S.R. and U.S.A. but rather through a gateway of sorts that was discovered deep in Siberia. The U.S.S.R. had kept this as its most secret discovery and eventually managed to send manned probes that actually came back without casualties or biological complications, which logically led to their current post.
The strange celestial bodies in the region of space where they were stationed were a constant defiance to what had been the basic understanding of the universe form the human perspective; landmasses stretching for miles like disjointed mountain ranges and plains suspended in what was assumed to be space, but not like we had known it prior. Each such floating mass dotted with megalithic structures that bespoke of intelligent design. Strange creatures the likes of which could hardly be described, much less understood from a viewpoint as narrow as that of their own scientists. There appeared to be intelligence behind the creatures, though it was too much to expect to understand their intelligence in terms reconcilable with humanity.
What was stranger, however, was that the creatures appeared to have built their structures, and based their activities, in relation to the dwarf star the masses orbited. A most intriguing puzzle, that one…
The internet was abuzz with activity over at all the fringe topic messageboards and websites. A certain set of number stations were broadcasting more cryptic messages that ever before and the meaning of them were no clearer than those from all the previous years since they had been “discovered” sometime after World War II.
No government had claimed responsibility for them, thought they all seemed to broadcast messages in Russian. The broadcasts were obviously some kind of code, consisting for the most part of series numbers and names, though sometimes the odd non-codified exchange could be heard – no clearer for lack of context, however. When no messages were broadcast only cycles of tones and bouts of static would come through the shortwave radio station. But for the past three weeks there had been an overflowing bounty of activity and the web’s denizens were constantly churning out theories.
No one knew quite what to make of the ever-cryptic broadcasts, however, though the conspiracy theory which had begun to gain more and more traction linked them with recently increased military activity in Europe, with odd joint efforts by the U.S., Russia, the U.K, China, and a smattering of former Soviet Bloc nations. Nothing much was reported in mainstream news outlets both online and through the more traditional media technology, but infamous hack groups like Anonymous and others were constantly uncovering raw data that, coupled with the few snippets of reports on the military “exercises” being carried out in the Northern region of Europe, could be interpreted into something significant.
These hack groups claimed that they had found information about the stations and some relation to the operations, but that they had yet been unable to break deep enough into the military databases, many of which were not in the same web as the rest of the world in general. As these things usually went, it was only a matter of time before Anonymous or another outfit managed to break in and release the information for the free world.
They had all become keenly aware of the fluctuations in the light of the dwarf star, the patterns, the explosions… Something was happening and, Mikhail, sensed instinctively, it was not good for the human race. There had been dreams, as well; strange abstract dreams where he only barely managed to hold on to his sense of self, as though he was being slowly consumed by something that seemed entirely too large to even hold in ones thoughts, a sentient presence, something that chilled him to his soul.
His exchanges with his stationed comrades had yielded nothing that differed from his own experience, but he did think himself the sanest one of them all. They had all mostly degraded to animal fear, some even going as far as taking their own lives. Those who still managed to speak with some sense were of a mind to follow suit as a last resort, a prospect which loomed nearer with the distorted passage of time.
The dwarf start was also growing, expanding, and Mikhail thought he could observe the silhouette of something within it, as one might see a shadowed outline through a backlit paper screen, like a shadow puppet. He did not lend credit to this, but his bowels had loosened as some atavistic fear shocked him the first time he glimpsed the shadow.
The Cold War be damned, the motherland be damned, his communiqués kept getting no reply at all, but surely someone somewhere must be listening. He decided after much consideration that he had to escape being consumed by whatever it was that dwelt in the dwarf star. The only way this could be achieved, however, was through death. He saw no other clear avenue of action.
With his last spoken words, projected at the microphone receiver of his shortwave special unit, Mikhail made the first meaningful broadcast not in coded format since he had been assigned.
“Someone, please, seal the gate. Destroy it, for the sake of all, destroy it.”
Author’s Note: I was inspired in great part by the subject of numbers stations and felt that there was something very Lovecraftian that could be used in tandem with the subject. In the end, it became less about the stations itself, my story, but I’m somewhat pleased with the result. If you guys are interested in the subject of the stations, here’s a couple of links that might get your started, though Google will of course be the best tool for casual research on this matter.