When he flew low enough, he could see the clouds.
Or what was left of them at any rate. The planet below him was covered in red fog that seemed to pulse along with a light that sat within it. It looked as if the planet had a living heart which he supposed it did. If the pulse followed a specific beat, it was unknown to him. There was a crackle of static in his left ear.
“Commander, have you got a visual of the red planet?”
Cindy’s voice was crisp and authoritarian. He knew her voice got like this when she was nervous. “Affirmative.” He said.
“What can you see? Is it like the others?”
He shook his head no and wondered how to phrase his reply. The planets had appeared in the solar system only recently: a blue one filled with nothing but water; a green one that was covered in grass and trees. A yellow one that covered in nothing but light brighter than the sun. A purple one that was filled with pearly white beings that looked like an alien race. It was as if the Earth as they had known it had decided to split into fragments of itself and the planets were the result.
Sullivan and his crew had been away from Earth for a month, touring the cosmos for signs of intelligent life. They had wanted to see what was out there, what was beyond the pale. When they had returned to where Earth should have been, there were only the five planets, stretched across the cosmos.
The green planet was the only one that was inhabitable, but being that there was just grass and trees, a person wouldn’t survive there for long. Sullivan doubted whether a person could inhabit a world filled with water. They couldn’t even get close to the yellow planet, the shields began to shut down and small fires broke out in the control rom. McKenzie, his navigator, was trying to find out all he could about the purple planet; Sullivan wanted to know what those opalescent beings were before they approached further.
“I think so, yes.” Sullivan said, answering her question.
“So, in other words, we’re fucked. We can’t stay on a space station forever, you know. There’s only so much oxygen here to begin with. We were lucky to find it, but we have no idea how long it’s been here.”
“You don’t have to remind me.” He growled. “I’m flying back now.”
He clicked off with another burst of static and set his course for the space station. It was even higher above the clouds and it was only thanks to McKenzie that they had found it. As Sullivan was about to turn his ship around, he felt a deep pulse come from the planet. It reverberated through the blackness and the stars.
The pulse passed through the hull of the ship and through Sullivan. He could actually feel the wave of the pulse, could almost see it move the air around him. He heard a click in his headset and what sounded like the shrill hissing of a dog whistle. It seemed to go on forever and he thought he would go deaf from it until it stopped, and he heard something else entirely.
“Repeat base.” Sullivan said. “Say again.”
The voice didn’t belong to anyone on his crew. “Say again.” He said. “How did you get on this channel?”
“You…can…hear…me.” It wasn’t a question this time. It sounded like whoever was speaking was trying to find his way around the English language.
“What do you want?” Sullivan didn’t know what to say. “Who are you?”
“You felt my light. You felt my heartbeat. I beat for you.”
Sullivan was about to turn off the headset when he looked at the switch and saw that it was already off. Then he thought about what the voice had just said. “You felt my heartbeat.”
He thought about the pulse that had moved through the ship. That had moved through him, that still pulsed within him. “Who are you?” Sullivan asked.
“I am but a…heart. I am the molten heart that binds the rest. The world is broken and you must find the key.”
Sullivan wondered what this could mean. He wondered who was speaking to him, whether it was a friend or foe. “Who are you?” He asked.
“I thought you…knew. Let me show you.”
The ship shook as another pulse passed though it and though him. He heard the shrill hiss of dog whistle and he shook his head to clear the sound. “What does this prove?” Sullivan yelled.
“You do not believe.” The voice said. “Let me…show you again.”
As the ship rattled and shook, he saw something outside of the ships windows that took his breath away. He watched as each of the five planets flashed, a rainbow of colour in the dark night sky. All of the planets pulsed in time to the beat that was flowing through him even now.
The shrill sound of the whistle was starting to sound like the wind. In that sound, he could hear the planets true voice, speaking in words that he could never understand. The red planet below him was the heart of it all. “What do you want me to do?” He asked.
The shaking of the ship lessened. On the ship window, he saw a light as a hologram took shape. He watched as the five planets slipped back into each other, becoming a whole planet once more. Sullivan watched the hologram again and then a third time before he understood. The five planets had been Earth as a whole; now the pieces that had made their planet were separate.
“The world is broken and you must find the key…” The red planet said again.
Sullivan looked at the darkness of night and wondered where he would begin.