And then came the day Neptune burned.

That’s the day everything got weird, though not all at once.  Historians and trivia champions will point to THAT day as the start of a whole new age of strange.

From our perspective on Earth, it appeared as though a tiny sun burst to life in the daytime sky over the northern hemisphere. No one could explain the reason, but smart people gave it a name in their paperwork: Wells-1897.

Despite a lack of knowing, people went ahead with what they do best and made things up, invoking one god or another but sometimes involving a government conspiracy.   There actually was a conspiracy, of course.  Smart people conspired to not talk about it with the excitable public until they knew what the hell was going on.

The bright flash in the constellation Leo faded after a week and most people forgot about it a few days later.  It was a month before someone leaked the first images from Hubble II into the ether.  It reported to be images of Neptune, once blue and serene on a canvas of black, now a venous red with pockets of amber boiling to the surface, tearing itself apart like a cell undergoing mitosis.  The video began when H2 began transmitting which was allegedly eight hours after the first flash. The text accompanying the video claimed Neptune’s moons were incinerated or shot across the cosmos like bullets.

Still, this was not enough to earn the attention of a population bored with the miracles of our age.  They only worried for a little bit when they thought the bright flash was the great International Space Complex in orbit or one of our supply shuttles heading to or from our base on the moon.  No one cared to interrupt their favorite fishbowl reality shows to notice the cloud of black emerging from the center of Neptune’s dying mass.

What emerged looked more like a natural phenomenon; a thick mass of particles orbiting around a solid, spherical core about a hundred miles across, though it was hard to get a good look at the core for all the particles surrounding it. It left the dying fire of our outer gas giant and headed toward the sun. We caught it inside the orbit of Uranus when it suddenly changed course to slingshot around like one of our early exploration probes.   The H2 got a decent look at it as it crossed in front of Uranus. The best minds in science called it a “metal cloud” which the media dubbed “The Shroud” because they like to dwell on the parts that are scariest; like the solid center alleged to be perfectly spherical and, therefore, likely designed intelligently.

They were right. It passed the orbital radius of Jupiter two days later.  All the digital eyes in space strained to get a better look with radio and infrared telescopes.  By all accounts, the thing was headed for Mars.  When it accelerated suddenly to three-quarter light speed, we initially thought it disappeared.  When an amateur astronomer released video of The Shroud entering orbit around Mars, some people thought there might be more than one of the things in our neighborhood.

By that time everyone on Earth and on the moon decided to pay attention.

On that day, we received a message into the ether from The Shroud.

In Latin.

It read: “Mitte nos cadavera vestra.”

The news reported it as: “Send us your dead.”

More to the point, it read: “Send us your corpses.”

To be continued…