Old Theo watched with fondness as the new telescope was put in place. For as long as he could remember, he had been trying to persuade the elders to build this instrument; a duplicate of the instrument destroyed in the last war.
This was the best telescope that could be built on Mars. Theo had done his utmost to convince the elders that it was so much more than luxury, and of the utmost importance.
-"This project must succeed!" he said passionately, looking at his students. Like him, they were enthusiastic, but Theo was a little envious of their youth and vitality. He comforted himself with the conviction that this generation would breathe new life into astronomy, and he would go to great lengths to teach them all the knowledge he had acquired in his life.
The workers who built the telescope did not share Theo's enthusiasm.
-"You are wasting our valuable resources." the workers' supervisor had said indignantly. "For two years dozens of workers worked on that thing so that you can look at the heavens and stare into the sky,
Comments like that irritated Theo immensely:
"You call yourselves workers, but the truth is you are soldiers," he replied angrily and bored.
"Perhaps I may refresh your memory and point out that it is your kind who have brought our civilization to the brink of annihilation. What remains of our people? A pile of hungry misery. Not only have you stopped the progress of science, but also hastened death."
Theo waved through an open window and pointed to the evening sky, where a blue celestial body rose just above the horizon, its brilliance outshining all other celestial bodies.
-"Isn't that dazzling?" Theo asked.
The overseer looked at him uncomprehendingly.
-"On that planet," Theo began to explain, "live civilized beings. They are our only hope of salvation." He took a deep breath and continued in a solemn tone:
-"It is our duty, as long as there is only one of us to continue, to work on contacting them."
-"And how do you want to know all this?" the overseer asked angrily. "Have you been there before or something? I've never heard of intelligent beings on other planets." The overseer sighed contemptuously.
-"That's not a fantasy of mine!" Theo defended himself, "Those creatures have been giving us signals for a long time. And I have succeeded with my students in creating a network of space-forming lines that amplify their signals." old Theo went on imperturbably.
-" Distorting Space?" the overseer growled, "Wasting precious energy more likely."
Workers were busy screwing the last legs of the telescope into position, under the cheerful glances of the students.
Theo looked gratefully at his new instrument and then glanced at his students. He was filled with the hope that with them astronomy would once again become of great importance. Perhaps they would be the savior of their civilization. He turned his face proudly to the overseer:
-"The power used was very scarce", I can assure you, mister soldier.
-"What's with it?" the overseer snapped.
-"Well, nothing else but, or rather, an interesting laboratory trick, which also occurs in the wild." Theo said. The overseer rolled his eyes, but old Theo continued with devotion:
-"When I was very young, I once saw the light of stars around the sun bent in a selector scope, and that gave our scientists the idea to make their warps."
-"You're just standing here justifying yourself with your sermons that no being understands. You're an old fool." the overseer grumbled. "And what was the result of this scientific deception"
"As if an idiot like you could understand the slightest thing about that," Theo replied levelly. "I'll spare you the method, and jump to the outcome. The warping of our force beams was a network of opaque lines, which would be a clear signal to an observer.” Theo couldn't muster the patience to answer the superintendent's silly questions, wasting his precious time. "And now, for heaven's sake, if you would be so kind as to get out of here? “
The overseer was offended and withdrew grumbling. When the last worker soldier had left the room, Theo began to check the placement of the telescope. He nodded in satisfaction when he find everything was all right. His students crowded around him with interest. Theo looked at them pleased and contented.
-"Our work is great," Theo declared, overcome with emotion. "We have to communicate with that blue planet through means of a system that we have to work out in time." Theo sighed, and hesitantly continued:
-"But there is so little time." Theo scratched his head. "Who has followed the work of one of our greatest physicists Grammore?."
-"Oh, you mean those probability tables that he invented?" an attentive student asked.
-" Those which show that the end of our time is near, isn't it master?" recruit another student recruited.
Theo nodded sadly: " Indeed guys." he sighed, "Our future looks bleak. War and its consequences inevitably strangle our civilization. Our people are almost wiped out. Such is the result when creatures behave like beasts."
-There!" Theo continued, pointing a finger at the blue planet, "There lies our only hope. We may yet rally if we can establish communication with the inhabitants of that planet and let ourselves be guided by their wisdom.”
-"How do you know..." A student began to, but he hesitated before continuing. "How can you be so sure that they are wise over there?"
Theo sank wearily into a chair:
-"I venture to say it is obvious."
The students were not satisfied with that answer and insisted on a little more explanation.
-"Most of the land surface of that planet is made up of spots of light. I've seen very old photographs taken by our little telescope, and there are lights, clearly visible. Definitely lights. I can only imagine what a mighty science, it is with which they can send signals to another planet through night light. That must be the purpose of those lights, right? What else could be the reason for that?
The students looked at old Theo with interest.
-"Can't those lights be from cities?" one of the students asked.
"Of course, you could be right." he agreed, "A lot of the lights are around one place. So, millions of creatures must exist to populate so many cities."
One of the students made a loud amused noise.
-"What's so funny?" Theo asked. The student shook his head shyly.
-"Please enlighten us." Theo urged.
"Well,” the student began, giggling at first, "I've never heard of a city without a roof, and as far as I know lights can't shine through a roof." the other students started laughing as well, but Theo's face remained unmoved. after a while, it became quiet in the classroom, and the student who had asked the question began to feel embarrassed.
-"Enough!" Theo exclaimed, "We're not putting on a comedy show here."
He focused his lens with great care. His students gathered around the concave shell. The lights went out and a dim orb moved in the bowl. As Theo brought the lenses closer together, the sphere brightened itself more and more until it was a perfect view of the blue planet.
The students were in awe of its beauty and could only stare at the dazzling image. They felt as if they were gathered in the immense emptiness of space itself, looking at the blue planet from a height of only a few thousand kilometers.
It was indeed a breathtaking spectacle. There were five continents and two large land masses Theo had explained to his students. In addition, there were several islands of great size, one of which was practical of continental size, in addition to a great number of islands; large and small, which were scattered on the surface of the planet.
The hemisphere they stared at was mostly water. The larger land mass disappeared from view, and half of the smaller mass was presented to their vision. A double continent that stretched almost from pole to pole, with a narrow length of land connecting north and south.
The students rejoiced in this scene of terrifying beauty. They stood around the quartz bowl for a long time. Speechless, captivated by the two continents. But what no one saw was old Theo staring sadly at the image of the beautiful blue planet. Nor did anyone notice the look of desperation burned on his face. Total desperation. The students were too focused on the blue planet or its image.
The student who had previously made the ridiculous comment about cities and roofs was the first to suggest that something was wrong. An elusive thought made him feel sick. There was something wrong with what he saw, but what was it?
It slowly dawned on him. He looked at Theo but couldn't bring himself to ask about the lights.
The teacher suddenly looked so old. He wanted to say something, but he couldn't. After a while he said in a heavy tone:
-"We failed. I had hoped that the creatures on the blue planet would detect our signals, but I fear the signals must have been too weak." Theo sighed one more time and said:
"I was hoping..." he didn't finish his sentence. Theo stood and stared at the evening sky. He looked like his heart had just been broken.
-"Two years,” Theo moaned, "Two years I looked through my little telescope. But for two years I watched the lights disappear. First one by one, but more and more, several at a time. I had hoped that I was wrong and that it was a weakness or defect in my instrument But lo and behold, every light on the blue planet is darkened.
His voice became a soft wail.
-"What does this mean?" one of the students asked.
-" The darkening of the lights on the blue planet means a blackout and with it a blackout for our planet. A planetary total blackout.
The fate of one dying planet had rested in another; a blue planet, which in turn had not been able to save itself from destruction...