Estimated reading time — 4 minutes
Array 1- Channel 4.
Ursa Minor once had six stars. So did Cygnus. I know most of you don’t believe me. In fact it’s possible that none of you do. But I swear on the graves of my family that it’s true. Every word.
They’ve been here ever since the early 80s. They hide in our skies, disguising themselves as stars. They’re the ones who made my father become sick with dementia until he died, taking my mother and little sister with him when he rowed the family canoe out onto the lake and flooded it until it sank, killing them all. He believed me, you see. He’d been one of the few who could remember the night skies without them. When the constellations had the right number of stars.
I remember the day they arrived. I had been on my way to a game of miniature golf with my little sister Anna when I decided to use the payphone near the grocery store that we had to pass to phone home. I forget why I was calling, but I remember that I didn’t have any money. I dialed the number for my parent’s house without the usual collect call pre-dialing. Usually you could do that and an operator would come on the line and ask you to deposit some money or if you wanted to make a collect call.
This time, there was a different voice on the line. What they sometimes call a chip voice. It simply recited “Array One, Channel Four. Array One, Channel Four. Array One, Channel Four. Array One.” and then paused before repeating itself.
I didn’t know what to make of it. I let Anna listen and she agreed that it was weird. But she is, as she used to put it, more normal than I am, so it meant nothing to her. She suggested that they were probably just testing the phones to make sure they were working right. That didn’t seem right to me, though. The code sounded almost military.
My sister and I played our round of golf. We play at Screaming Mimi’s, you know that one with the animatronic statues of the old time actors? There’s a statue of Esther Williams as a mermaid on the fourth hole which knocks your ball aside with her tail if you knock it in her direction.
Anyhow, I didn’t play all that well that time. I couldn’t get that readout out of my head. “Array One, Channel Four…” Or maybe it was RA1-Channel Four? In any case I wanted to know more.
When we got home, mom made us wash up for dinner. Dad talked about work. About the new guy who just arrived with with bright ideas that the boss agreed would secure the company’s place in the business. They’re energy consultants. I don’t really know what that means, but it made my dad good money, so it was at least a profitable job.
After dinner, we sat in front of the TV. My sister and I wanted to watch MTV. It was good back then. They played nothing but music videos. But my parents absolutely refused to watch “that nonsense”. My father unprogrammed the station from the remote. He thought that meant it was no longer available. Of course I knew that if you tapped the numbers for the exact channel you could still watch it, even if it skipped past it when you were channel-surfing.
We watched a rerun of an old show called Perry Mason. The commercial came on. You remember that one with the weird talking head guy advertising for a version of Coke that nobody wanted and acting like he thought it was delicious, even though he was supposedly computer-generated and couldn’t even drink it? While he was stuttering his way through his misinformed praise of a soda he couldn’t even drink, I asked my father about the message I’d heard earlier on the phone.
He agreed it sounded military. But he said it wasn’t an army code. He served in the army as a communications officer for five years before he switched careers to be a medic, and it wasn’t something he recognized.
He went into his workshop and locked the door. The way he used to do when my sister and I were really little and he wanted to be sure we didn’t come in and hurt ourselves. He was in there for a little over an hour. He composed himself quickly when he came out, but I knew he’d learned something while he was in there that disturbed him.
I went in after he’d gone back to the TV room. There was an old radio there, one of those CBs that truckers and CBers used to talk to each other with in those old days before cell phones and the internet. It was unusable. In fact, parts of it looked like something in a painting by Dali, that one with the clocks.
I went outside to think, looking up at the old familiar constellations.
They were all wrong. I counted seven stars in Cygnus. That didn’t seem right. I knew there had alway been six. I went to get my book on astronomy. The one my grandmother had given to me when I turned nine the year before she died. It had been her book when she was little and she wanted to share the stars with me. I read it every day, always counting the stars in each constellation. I knew their names, and even some of the stories of the gods and heroes they were named after. I had just read it a few days before and I know I’d read that Cygnus had six stars. But when I read the book, it now read that Cygnus was a constellation that held seven stars. Not all of the constellations had more stars, but there were at least three in each hemisphere with more than they once had.
That was thirty years ago. A lot has happened since then. Some might think that aliens trying to change our world might be responsible for all the wars in the Middle East, or the eventual downfall of the shuttle program. But they’ve been more subtle than that. You know those people who put things like Honey Boo-Boo on the Learning Channel. Or who gradually weed out passages in old history books that they consider too passe to be of interest to modern students? Those people who inundated MTV with those mindless entertainment programs that we watched until we forgot what intelligent TV was? You know those reporters who ignore the subtle signs of invasion to broadcast whether or not some panda got laid this week? Those people are the target. They’re the reason so many people don’t know the difference anymore. I stopped watching TV in 1987, after my favorite show was pulled. So my mind wasn’t messed up like so many others.
I doubt you believe this story, but I know it’s true.
Ursa Minor once had six stars.
Credit: authour ElegantButler