The Room Where the Stars Live

Episode #107
Aired 2021-01-16
Length: 24:00
Size: 11 MB
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Quiet Please: The Room Where the Stars Live
Paul Knierim
2021
24 minutes

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ESAU - An old man who spent 50 years as an alien.

MITCHELL - Middle aged woman. A little brusque, no nonsense professional.

VAN DYK - A seemingly-kindly octagenarian astronomer who knows far more than he says and kind of patiently toys with people to pass the time. Secretly a hyper-intelligent alien from Alpha Centuari assisting the invasion of Earth. Always calm and wise, behaves kindly to people but in the way one would to a pet.

STEVE - An average man. Kind of easily startled/shocked, a little timid sounding.

ANNOUNCER - For opening and credits.

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CHAPPELL: Quiet, please. ... Quiet, please.

[SFX: MUSIC ... THEME ... FADE FOR]

ANNOUNCER: QuietPlease.org presents "Quiet, Please!" which is written by Paul Knierim and which features Paul Knierim. "Quiet, Please!" for today is called "The Room Where the Stars Live."

[SFX: MUSIC ... THEME ... END]

ESAU: Do you remember the little house on the edge of Mount Wilson, the house that had nothing inside it? Do you remember the astronomer Van Dyk? Do you remember the music, the message to the other side of the stars?

[SFX: eerie musical accent]

ESAU: We thought it was all over. Aliens were going to land on Earth, they were going to absorb the people of the Earth as they'd absorbed Dorothy, and that would be that. It'd be like a neat little science fiction story, a cautionary tale to the next species that might think itself master of the Earth.

But that was seventy two years ago now. Nothing happened. At least, we thought nothing happened. Now... now I know better. And soon, very soon, so will you. You aren't going to like it one bit, so if you want to live the rest of your life in peace I suggest you stop listening right now and go watch some cat videos on Youtube.

Still there? Okay, you asked for it. I'll tell you. Listen.

[SFX: thoughtful musical intro]

ESAU: On that fateful day in 1949, when the beings from Alpha Centauri were due to land on our Earth, I was with Steve -- you remember, Dorothy's brother Steve. We drove up to the top of Mount Wilson together after dark that evening, because somehow it seemed like the appropriate spot to meet our fates. We were greeted there by Van Dyk, as if he'd been expecting us.

Van Dyk guided us to the hundred inch telescope. Steve was looking through the lens when the thing happened.

STEVE: [astonished] The stars! They're all gone!

ESAU: Something must be blocking the telescope.

VAN DYK: [definitively] No.

ESAU: What? But what else could it be? There hasn't been a cloud all night, and there's never fog up this high.

VAN DYK: You should both step outside with me and see. I don't think you'll want to miss this.

STEVE: Miss what?

VAN DYK: [with mild amusement] Nothing.

ESAU: Huh?

VAN DYK: Come.

[SFX: 3 pairs of footsteps on metal platform, metal door opening]

VAN DYK: Now look up.

ESAU: There wasn't a star in the ink black sky, but that wasn't the strangest part of what we saw. Steve noticed it first.

STEVE: The moon!

ESAU: And there high overhead was the moon, clear as can be, almost full, in the middle of an empty sky.

[SFX: haunting sting]

ESAU: Can you explain that? All the stars disappearing on a clear night, but the moon still so clear you can make out Tycho crater with your unaided eyes -- just south of Mare Nubium, the sea of clouds. No, you can't explain it. Neither can I. Nobody can, no human anyway.

VAN DYK: Wait a moment. Five more seconds. Keep watching.

[SFX: silence for a few seconds]

STEVE: It's back!

ESAU: But how can the whole sky except for the moon just blink out of existence one minute and back then next? Van Dyk?

VAN DYK: [kindly, condescendingly] You wouldn't understand anyway.

ESAU: [voice quivering] What happens now?

VAN DYK: [wryly] Nothing.

ESAU: And the way he spoke that one simple word sent a chill down my spine in a way the cold mountain air never could.

[SFX: sting]

ESAU: There were reports in the next morning's news of a strange atmospheric phenomenon. Most people hadn't seen it, those who did quickly wrote it off as another of those countless things in life which can't be understood and have to be brushed aside so we get on with our lives and preserve our sanity.

Only Steve, Van Dyk and myself knew that something significant had happened -- and only Van Dyk knew what it was, and he wasn't telling.

After that day, Steve and I went our separate ways. I moved to a marketing job for a chemical plant in Van Nuys. I don't know what happened to Steve. I do know what happened to Van Dyk.

[SFX: slight sting]

ESAU: It wasn't until 1967 that the next thing happened. I was retired by then, and I had a thought to come back to the observatory one night, just to banish once and for all the uneasiness that'd been keeping me away all those years. You know how it is, when you're getting up there in years and you feel like you've got unfinished business? And even though you don't really want to deal with it, you haven't got the excuse of work taking up your time anymore to put it off?

So I drove up the long windy road, reached the little parking lot at the top, got out and stopped a moment to admire the city lights a mile below me.

Something caught my attention from the corner of my eye: a little house made of corrugated iron sheets, with a high peaked roof, hanging on the edge of the mountain. It was the house with nothing in it. Somehow I was drawn to the house despite my fear of it. I walked over and pressed my hand against the cold iron door, reassuring myself that it was real, not just a figment of my imagination all these long years. It was locked, of course.

I must've jumped ten feet in the air when I felt the hand on my shoulder, and another five when I heard the familiar voice.

VAN DYK: [coldly] You're back.

ESAU: You... you're... you're still here, after all these years!

VAN DYK: [amused] Thought I must be dead by now?

ESAU: [narrating] He just stared at me for a few moments with a sort of knowing look in his eye, not taking his hand off my shoulder.

VAN DYK: You want to see inside? I'll show you.

[SFX: rustling of keys, turning key in rusty old lock, metal door swings open]

ESAU: I can't see anything.

VAN DYK: Go on in.

ESAU: There's nothing in there.

VAN DYK: That's right. Go on in.

ESAU: [scared] I don't want to! I want to leave!

VAN DYK: Why don't you?

ESAU: I... I can't move! Let me go!

VAN DYK: [with hint of amusement] I'm not holding you.

[SFX: Van Dyk's voice starts to echo and sound distant on above line]

ESAU: Your voice... what's...

VAN DYK: [threatening command] Go on in. NOW.

[SFX: accent]

ESAU: [narrating] And with that he gave me a shove I wouldn't have thought possible for a man his age.

I fell forward, and then suddenly there was no forward or backward anymore, just nothing all around. How can I possibly describe nothing for you? I suppose I can tell you how it made me feel. Weightless... a little nauseous. Hot but unable to sweat. Wholly constricted, somehow, despite nothing to constrict me. Seconds seemed to stretch into hours.

I tried to draw in a breath and found I couldn't -- there was nothing in there to breathe. I started clawing desperately at the lack of air to try to turn myself around. It was hopeless, of course -- you can't move when there's nothing to move in.

A while later -- it's hard to say how long since time loses meaning there -- I began to hear a faint music.

[SFX: faint music from Oso del Cielo fades in and grows behind narration. or whatever similar stock music i can replace it with.]

ESAU: I recognized it as the music from the other side of the stars, the music Dorothy first heard at the bottom of the old well with the Spanish soldier. As the music grew, somehow my need to breathe subsided. I thought my terror was receeding, but then realized it was I myself who was receeding, my thoughts suppressed and finally replaced by the music from the other side of the stars.

[SFX: music crests and fades into dramatic bridge]

ESAU: That's right, I was absorbed. No, I didn't disappear into a little gray-green ball like Dorothy had -- they're just as capable of inhabiting our bodies as they are of absorbing our bodies into theirs, and apparently they found my body convenient for some purpose.

No, I'm not an alien now. I was one for over 50 years, but I'm not now. They can grow old and die, see.

MITCHELL: They usually live a very long time. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of years.

ESAU: But I got lucky, the one who absorbed me must've been very old. He -- it -- whatever you want to call them -- died a few months ago. When the music finally faded out, I was back.

It was almost like time travel for me. One moment I was in 1967, then I woke up in the 21st century. I look perhaps five years older than I did in '67, it seems our bodies age much slower while absorbed. I've only the vaguest impressions of the missing years, which manifest only in nightmares whose horrors I can't begin to convey.

[SFX: sting]

ESAU: It's quite a shock, let me tell you, waking up over half century after you fell asleep. I couldn't even figure out how to work a telephone, they've changed so much. I thought the future was going to be flying cars and moon colonies, but it turns out instead it's minitature computers everywhere.

MITCHELL: Hadn't you better get back to the story? We may not have much time.

ESAU: It's taken me some time to piece things together, to work out some of what I (or rather, the alien in my body) was doing all those years. The clues led me right back to Mount Wilson. I worked out they've been building something there all these years, something from nothing behind the door of the odd old building.

Finally last night I got it in my head to figure this thing out once and for all. I waited for the work crew to arrive, waited for them to unlock the door and go inside. I waited another 5 minutes, then walked up and tried the door, only to realize the workers had locked it behind them.

I wasn't surprised at all to see Van Dyk stroll up, looking not a day over eighty, fifty plus years after we'd last met.

[SFX: night sounds]

VAN DYK: Good evening, haven't seen you lately.

ESAU: I've been on another project temporarily.

VAN DYK: Welcome back. I'm headed home now. Did you lose your key?

ESAU: Yeah. Right behind you.

VAN DYK: Lucky I came along.

ESAU: Two fears were at war within me. I was afraid of re-entering that empty room where I'd lost myself, of losing myself again. But I was more afraid of what Van Dyk and his collegagues would do to me if they discovered my fear. So I followed him.

[SFX: metal door opens, two footsteps, then silence]

[Music bridge?]

[SFX: alien music slowly grows under the following paragraph]

ESAU: It wasn't just nothing anymore.

Imagine, if you can, a small room that's mostly nothing, but with a spherical structure in the middle somehow dwarfing the room itself. The room is maybe 15 feet wide, the sphere about thirty. It hangs there as if ignorant of gravity. It has no real edges, just kind of fades.

In the middle of the sphere, a strange blinding landscape -- not an image, an actual three dimensional landscape.

All around me was the music, the voices of a conclave of beings from another world. But this time the music didn't seem to take an interest in me, didn't overwhelm my mind.

I saw Van Dyk float toward the portal, then through it into whatever was beyond. I had no control over my movements, no choice but to follow him through.

[SFX: dramatic music bridge]

[SFX: desert winds and alien music]

ESAU: Until that moment I had never known heat. You can taste the crackling of the air, a burning on your tongue and up your nose. The winds reach out and lash at you and gouge at your skin with the sand. Every breath is an effort.

It's a word of two colors, the white of the endless dunes and the red of the sky. Toward the horizon, a pair of blazing white suns blinded me.

I ran, without any idea where I was going, knowing only that anywhere would have to be better than where I was. I don't know how long I ran. When I couldn't run any longer, I fell.

[SFX: running footsteps in sand under previous paragraph]

[SFX: collapsing body in sand]

ESAU: I don't know how much later it was when I awoke. It was dark, and the heat was more bearable. It was quieter, just a hint of the wind in the distance. And I had a strong feeling that I wasn't alone.

[SFX: 2 seconds silence]

ESAU: Who's there?

Where am I?

What have you done with me?

[SFX: footsteps on dirt/rock/sand]

MITCHELL: You're lucky I found you. You wouldn't have lasted much longer with the suns getting higher.

ESAU: You haven't answered my questions.

MITCHELL: Name's Mitchell. Don't worry, I'm human. Geologist by trade, not that it matters here. You're in a cave.

ESAU: I'm Esau. How'd you get here?

MITCHELL: Same way as you. Probably from a different place, they have portals all around the world -- our world -- that lead here.

ESAU: Do... *they*... know we're here?

MITCHELL: Maybe. I don't think they care. We just don't really matter to them, like insects, only worth swatting if we become a nusance.

Water?

ESAU: Thanks.

[SFX: swig of water]

ESAU: Been here long?

MITCHELL: Long enough.

ESAU: What do you mean by that?

MITCHELL: Long enough to know there's no way back, no way forward, no way to save the human race.

[SFX: long dramatic sting]

MITCHELL: We're not the first people to shelter from the heat in this cave. There are journals here going back 50 years. Others like us who came through a portal and thought they'd get back to warn everyone.

ESAU: What do you think happened to them?

MITCHELL: Just a guess, but I suppose they're scanned in some way when they enter the portal from this side. Then absorbed. Did you know they can take over our bodies?

ESAU: Happened to me once.

MITCHELL: You're *quite* lucky, then.

ESAU: [hopeful] Maybe we can only be absorbed once? Maybe they can't detect that I'm not still absorbed?

MITCHELL: Sorry, no. There's some others like you in the journals, who outlived their controller and came here to investigate.

[SFX: errie wind chime crystal like effect]

ESAU: What the hell?

MITCHELL: Happens every day, everywhere. I like to think it's some sort of religious thing.

ESAU: But how?

MITCHELL: We probably wouldn't understand it if they explained it to us. We'd be like ants trying to understand how a circuit board works.

[SFX: 2 seconds pause]

ESAU: What about radio signals?

MITCHELL: Pardon?

ESAU: Can radio signals get back through the portal?

MITCHELL: Maybe. I don't know. I don't see why not.

ESAU: I've got a transmitter in my pocket. I left a repeater in my car back on Mount Wilson. I know radio is old tech to you, but I'm an old man, it's what I know. Someone could hear us.

[SFX: music bridge]

ESAU: We aren't going to make it back. I'm not being pessimistic, that's just the facts. Technically I'm 115 years old, so I suppose it's no real tragedy in my case. But perhaps my warning can make it back without me, with your help. Perhaps there's still time for *you* to do something to save your world.

This is what I've learned, friend:

The invasion happened that day in 1949, without any of us noticing. The visitors from the other side of the stars didn't choose to conquer cities like the aliens of science fiction stories, because they consider us an inferior form of intelligence and have no use for our cities. They rarely absorb people, most of them prefer to retain their natural state. They can live anywhere, but mostly choose to live in hot deserts like the Sahara or Mojave, where the climate is closest to their home planet.

Relieved? Not so fast. They're a very patient people, very methodical. They've decided to adjust our climate to be more like theirs, a climate where a scorching Sahara summer is the norm planet-wide. They've decided to achieve this not by taking any great action of their own, but simply by manipulating human society and waiting for the result.

Have you heard the reports about the disappearing arctic sea ice, or about antarctic ice shelves thousands of years old breaking apart in a matter of hours? Did you read about the recent winter heat wave up in Canada? The fires in California burning with an intensity never before seen? Global warming, they say. Listen carefully on a hot day this summer and you may hear a faint unearthly music on the wind.

[SFX: MUSIC ... THEME ... FADE FOR]

ANNOUNCER: The title of today's "Quiet, Please!" story was "The Room Where the Stars Live." It was written by Paul Knierim and the man who spoke to you was Paul Knierim.

PSEUDOCHAPPELL: And Paul Moss played Van Dyk. Mitchell was Lindsay Townsend. Steve was Gary Wallen. As usual, music for "Quiet, Please!" is by Albert Buhrman. Now, for a word about next week, the ghost of Wyllis Cooper.

PSEUDOCOOPER: Thank you for listening to "Quiet, Please!" Next time, we have a little story about a dead man who recieves an unusual amount of mail. It's called "Mail Call."

CHAPPELL: And so, until next week at this same time, I am quietly yours, Ernest Chappell.

[SFX: MUSIC ... THEME ... END]