Fahrenheit 52

Voyager 3

When the phone rang, Felix was already awake. He ignored its cries and instead rubbed his eyes until the glowing blue phosphenes came back. The rings faded into static. His wife, Abby, called to him. If he could only focus on the glowing shapes, then he might able to see her.

Bugg nipped his toes.

"Fine, you little pest."

The three-year-old Newfoundland whined and licked Felix's big toe, broken ages ago in a whiffle ball game and never quite the same.

"What?" growled Felix into the cell phone.

"Sir, you'd better come outside."

Felix sat up.

"It's three in the goddamn morning. What are you talking about?"

"Sir, please."

"Lieutenant Colonel, I asked you a direct question."

"Sir, it's Voyager 3."

Somehow Felix already knew. But, still, his stomach lurched.

"I'm coming down."

Felix found and put on his eyeglasses, slipped into his lime green Crocs, and followed Bugg downstairs and then out the back door.

Lieutenant Colonel Bragg was waiting on the patio, looking like she hadn't slept in a year. Two other Space Force brass stood in the yard, looking up.

A hundred feet above them was Voyager 3.

"No..." whispered Felix.

"Sir, we need to get you to the base. NASA and the President are expecting your..."

"Out of my way, Bragg." Felix stepped onto the dewy grass. He gaped upwards and the space probe blinked patiently back at him.

"What in the name of..."

That Voyager 3 was not supposed to be here was an understatement. The world knew well of its siblings, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, mostly thanks to Carl Sagan's "pale blue dot" speech and its iconic photo of our little planet Earth. 1 and 2 were now well on their way towards the Oort Cloud. But Voyager 3, built and launched in secret, had another mission.

Felix wanted to inspect the probe's heat shielding array, so he jogged towards the basketball hoop in his driveway, hoping to catch a better look.

Voyager 3 followed him, glowing neon blue as it moved over Felix's position.

"Sir! Watch out!"

Felix jogged back towards Bragg, and the probe slowly traced his steps, somehow locked onto Felix's location.

"Sir. We need to get you to the base, now."

Felix nodded and climbed into the SUV in the driveway, holding the door open for Bugg to hop in next to him. Bragg climbed in after him and handed him an iPad, chattering something about the space probe's sudden reappearance. Felix ignored her and climbed around so that he and Bugg could look out the tinted, bullet-proof back windshield. Sure enough, the probe was following their car.

When Felix turned around, Bragg had the iPad open to a chart of the probe's navigational path since its mission launch in 1977.

"Sir, as you know, we lost track of Voyager 3 five months ago... after you authorized Protocol 41a..."

"I know what I authorized Bragg. What happened to it? How the hell is it here? Why the hell is it here?"

"Sir, the Deep Space Network relays have no log of this course change. Or how it reentered our atmosphere, undetected by our satellites, with no visible re-entry damage. By, all accounts, it should have been..."

"Fried," muttered Felix. He ruffled his fingers in the scruff of Bugg's neck. "It should have been fried... wait, those blue flashes when it moves..."

"Tachyons, sir. It appears from our readings that Voyager 3 is entirely covered in tachyonic particles. What we are seeing is Cherenkov radiation."

"Pull over."

"Sir, we need to get to the base."

"Do I have to ask you again?"

Felix hopped out and Bugg followed him. They were still in the main section of the California town where Felix lived. Felix stood in the center of Grant Avenue and whistled at the probe.

Voyager 3 lowered slightly.

Felix kept whistling, and Voyager 3 slowly manuevered to the ground, landing in the center of Grant Avenue. Felix strode towards it.

"Sir, stop! What are you doing?"

"What does it look like? I'm checking it out, goddamnit."

"Sir, you need to be in a vac suit. That thing is covered in radiation."

Felix ignored her. He looked for the Golden Record.

The Golden Record, humanity and Earth's creative codex, meant for whatever, whomever, found this space probe, was missing. But, in its place, was another record, this one black and vinyl.

"I need a turntable!" growled Felix over his shoulder at Bragg.

Several other people had stepped into the street, awakened from their homes above the storefronts by the glowing blue space probe.

"Anyone! Hello! I need a record player," shouted Felix.

Bragg and the other two Space Force officers attempted to hold back the growing crowd, but a young woman in her late 20s with curly brown hair pushed her way through. She called out towards Felix.

"I've got one in my apartment, if you want to come with me."

Felix nodded, carefully holding the black record. He, Bugg, and Bragg followed her into her apartment above the laundromat. The railroad layout was tidy in a cozy way that Felix hadn't seen or felt in years.

Her record player sat above a homemade bookshelf, filled with records and paperbacks and sheet music.

"May I?" asked Felix.

"Of course," she answered. "I like your shoes, by the way." She wiggled one of her feet. Blue Crocs.

Felix smiled and placed the record on the spindle.

He dropped the needle onto the groove of the third track of the record.

He already knew what it would play.

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson.

Jesus loves you more than you will know

Whoa, whoa, whoa

Abby's favorite song.