Pharos woke up from the sounds of screaming.
He yawned and slowly rubbed his eyes as the bloodcurdling screams went on and on, reverberating along the metal corridors of the lighthouse.
He stood up and washed his face, the screams so loud now that his eyes vibrated and he saw ripples in his eyesight.
“Will you shut up?” he said, holding his head. This was the lousiest way to wake up, ever.
The e-person floated next to him. It looked like one of those toolcases people keep in their automobiles for emergencies. “I would, but nothing wakes you up anymore, sleepyhead.”
“Phylax, I swear, one of these days I’m gonna rip your circuits out and take a dump on them,” Pharos threatened in the same teeth-clenching tone he always had when talking to that stupid machine.
“Oh, the skatology again. That’s a low point in the conversation every time. And you, Pharos, of all people are achieving it at record-speed,” Phylax said, bobbing up and down, nodding with a tilt of its boxy body.
“The skatologist needs to take his morning dump, so beat it.”
Phylax left the bathroom.
When he was fully awake and ready, Pharos started his rounds, checking the diagnostics. “This is pointless,” he muttered, checking his tablet and then moving on to the next panel. “Why am I doing this? It’s all automated anyway,” he complained.
“As I said for three-hundred-twenty-six times over, automatics can fail. The chance of that happening are miniscule, of course,” the floating box scoffed, “but it cannot be ignored. Redundancy is important.”
“Yeah, redundant. That’s exactly what I am,” Pharos said and shuffled to the next panel. Everything was operating as expected, everything was great, just fucking great.
“No, don’t think of it like that. You are the Observer, and there aren’t many left in these parts of the galaxy,” Phylax said, apparently trying to reassure him.
“That stupid argument again!” Pharos turned to the silly box and shouted at it, arms extended. “The universe will not break down simply because there is no one left to observe it. That’s hogwash,” he spat, and the little box swerved and avoided his spittle because nothing ever failed and humans were useless.
“I assure you it is not. Yes, it is a theory and yes, it hasn’t been proven because of its teleological nature.”
“Stop making me dizzy with those big words, Phylax! It’s not enough that you woke me up with the screams, again,” he pointed out.
“You never wake up,” the box explained himself.
“Okay, let’s say you’re right. So, you think that if I, for example, go blind someday, you’ll cease to be?”
“We say observer but organics observe through many senses. All that matters is that your mind perceives its surroundings.”
“You’re full of shit,” Pharos concluded, pressing his chin on his throat.
“Again with the skatology,” Phylax said, pointing out the bottom of the argument.
“Argh!” Pharos grunted in despair and paced away from the source of his misery, the bane of his existence, the antidote to his peace of mind.
Phylax followed him with no remorse and no real effort. “Are you having a migraine again?”
“Of course I have a migraine! You woke me up inside a horror movie!”
“Hyperbole,” Phylax said simply.
“I said, stop it with the big words,” Pharos pointed a finger at him and then moved on. The sooner he was done with his rounds, the sooner he could relax and maybe take a nap to reset his brain.
The was done with the last couple of checks and then finally got to the light room. This was his favourite, he never got tired of it, really.
“Again with the light-beam. You’ll hurt your eyes,” Phylax said.
“You’re like a mother in a box. They should ship you out, sell you with that marketing angle,” Pharos mocked the damned e-person and stepped inside the rim.
The light coming from the moon’s core was the most brilliant white you could ever see. He had to put on goggles, naturally, and even with those it was so bright that he saw afterimages for hours after each exposure. But he didn’t mind, as long as he got his daily fill of light.
“Tell me again,” Pharos said softly, tilting his head a little, not taking his eyes off of it.
Phylax was there next to him, of course. He never left him for more than a minute or so. The box sighed, impossibly. “Again?”
“You never get tired of this, do you? Anyway, the lighthouse emits a unique type of beam. It’s infinitesimally faster than the speed of light.”
“But that’s of course, not possible in this universe,” Pharos mouthed as Phylax said the exact same words.
“That tiny, tiny variance adds up over long distances. And that’s how the lighthouse is used, warning away ships that are coming this way at light-speed. The computers on board detect the faster light a femtosecond before they crash into the asteroid field.”
“And that’s how we keep them safe,” Pharos said. He bobbed on the balls of his feet. He took in a deep breath, and turned away, reinvigorated.
The afterimage was killer, he had stayed too long. He grabbed the railing and Phylax floated close.
“See? You can’t see. Your squishy little eyes cannot take this every day,” Phylax said.
“And my squishy little ears can’t take the screaming, but I don’t see you stopping that crap anytime soon,” Pharos snapped back, pushing the little piece of shit away and pulling himself by his own strength.
The e-person could help him, of course. He could manipulate fields, heck, he could pick him up and carry him like a baby. The e-persons could do anything, everything, all of it.
But they couldn’t observe the damn universe. Or so they said.
Pharos stumbled towards the rec room and took a nap on the couch, alone.
He woke up to the same bloodcurling screams. “Argh!” she shut his ears with his hands. “Stop it, Phylax.”
The screams stopped.
He stood up and went to prep a meal for himself.
“I can make food for you,” Phylax said, hovering beside him.
“Fuck off,” Pharos said, beating his eggs. He had no idea how he could get eggs in this tiny moon at the ass-end of the galaxy, but he was glad he did. He made an omelete, saw it, and snorted all by himself, thinking how his brains were as scrambled as his eggs.
The smell was invigorating. He wolfed it all down from the frying pan, basically scalding his tongue and washing it down with some orange juice. Now, that one he could believe that it was manufactured. It tasted like wet carton. Whereas the eggs were delicious, even though there were no chickens around for light-years.
He chewed and drank absent-minded, thinking about his life. He was in one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way, so far away you couldn’t consider it even a part of the galaxy. If you made a map with all the galaxy’s stars, you’d go all the way into the black edge and put a pin there. You’d ask, ‘But there’s nothing there?’
And that’s where you’d find Pharos.
He understood the reason for that one. It had to do with gravity and approach angles. Everybody that was coming to our galaxy tended to approach from this area, but it was literally dark and riddled with rocks.
So, like the deadly shallows that sank ships, the e-persons set up this lighthouse that warned all those races that hadn’t discovered space-folding.
Why were those races crossing distances galaxies-apart to get here?
Same as us. Exploration. They sent out ships, automated or not for millions of years of travel.
It was a waste to have them cross the dark-matter tendrils between our galaxies after all this time and end up crashing on the shores of our own, vaporised in an instant by stupid rocks.
The system worked, he knew that. He’d warned at least three ships in the years he was working at the lighthouse. Three visitors. Oh, the wonders they had seen. Or, wait, they hadn’t seen anything. Their home planet was definitely gone by now and the passengers had either been in stasis or in generation ships for a million generations, which meant they didn’t actually know anything outside that claustophobic hull.
Pharos finished his orange juice, went blergh from the taste just like always, and left it all in the kitchen sink. The box could clean it up afterwards.
He walked back to the rim, to the beam of light.
The e-persons feared that if there were no more organic people left, then there would be no one to observe the quantum effects and collapse the waveform. Meaning the universe would vanish.
That’s why they kept panhumans around as pets.
Because of a scientific superstition.
He stared into the beam of brilliant light, his body tilting forward. It was as if it was calling him, the most brilliant light in the galaxy, brilliant enough to outpace the other, boring beams of light.
He understood some of the science. For example, he knew that in order to produce that impossibility, the moon simply had to remain still, unmoving, steadier than other things that rotated with the spin of the galaxy.
That meant that someday it would be left behind as the spiral moved, but that was far, far beyond his lifespan. Only the e-persons bothered with that problem, and who knew what their solution would be.
They’d probably have some poor bastard that was kept around like a pet such as him push the damn moon into position.
Pharos chuckled at his silly thoughts.
He titled forward, almost ready to take the plunge. It was deep, far too deep into the heart of the moon and the heart of the light that was faster than light.
He sighed, covered his eyes.
He turned around, blinking. He reached out for the railing, felt his way around, grabbed it.
He blinked, took off his goggles, rubbed his eyes. He kept waiting for the afterimage to fade away a bit just like it always did eventually so he could get to the corridor.
He waited a minute, two.
“Phylax?” he shouted, worried now.
The afterimage didn’t fade away. All he could see was that brilliant plume of light wherever he turned, and the contrasting darkness around her. Nothing else.
“Phylax? This is not funny.”
He stumbled along the corridor, after all he knew these halls and these walls after all those years.
He went on all fours and felt his way around.
“Phylax?” he said softly, weeping. In the dark. Alone.
It seemed that the improbable had happened. The automatics had failed. Pharos kept doing his rounds and his routine checks, day by day.
The lighthouse was working just fine, but he did prevent a few catastrophic malfunctions. The panels had a compatibility mode where they just gave him haptic feedback or spoke things out to him, so that was less of a problem than he was worrying about.
Blind, he walked the same halls along the same walls and made his own breakfast. He washed the dishes after he was done, Phylax wasn’t there to pick up after him.
He saved six more incoming ships. They carried on, unable to stop by their tremendously accumulated momentum, towards the centre of the galaxy, to find some place that was busier and meet someone with a more interesting job than Pharos.
Pharos searched the installation top to bottom with his own fingers, centimetre by centimetre. Other men would have given up after a few standard months, but he was epically stubborn. Eventually he found the little box behind a failsafe mechanism, it must have overloaded as he repaired it and zapped him dead.
He carried the little box that looked like a toolcase with him at all times after that, maintaining the lighthouse like they used to do.
For he was the Pharophylax now, always there to keep everyone else safe.
He missed waking up to the screams every day.