That was all the ransom message said. It came in on every radio station, newspaper, television channel and internet site. People were listening or watching or surfing and then boom they heard or saw or read “We now have Polaris.” No list of demands or reasons or anything. To make matters worse telescopes and infrared detectors could only see a dark spot where Polaris once shined so brightly.
People had kidnapped big things before: a plane, a ship, even a small island once, but who could kidnap a star? Who could orchestrate a worldwide media interruption? With advances in modern navigation, why would anyone other than astronomy nerds and people lost in the woods care?
I used to think that given a crisis, humanity would come together and beat back whatever terrible, horrible thing that happened, but that’s exactly what we didn’t do. The party not in the Whitehouse blamed the one who was. A congressman stepped up and blamed the Chinese, the Chinese blamed the Russians, the Russians blamed the US. Pundits blamed everyone else. And still we had no Polaris and no idea what to do. Or if it even mattered.
Luckily most commercial boating operations had GPS and other navigational aids, but when those failed or a storm knocked out the satellite link they had nothing to use.
Scientists analyzed the signal disruption, but could not determine how the effect had been accomplished. They did determine that the same signal had been used to override the visual, aural and textual signals, transforming into the appropriate medium as needed.
Small cults grew up, the Polaratti they were called in the media, worshipping the aliens or gods or monsters or things that had stolen out brightest star.
Ten years after the first, a second message came: a brief shining video and a sound that could only be described as a star weeping. We could only assume that this was somehow proof of life. That Polaris had not been harmed in the interim.
Who could ransom the stars? Better yet who could capture a star and be fool enough to think that we could pay them off.
This time our scientists were ready and using triangulation and time delays around the planet were able to pinpoint the source. We also learned that it did, in fact, seem meant for us as only our orbital satellites received the message. Everything we’d put on another planet or sent into the far reaches of our solar system picked up nothing.
Feebly we tried to send back a message, but what to send? After four deadlocked meetings of the UN Security Council and two more of the entire UN body, a technician at a radio array had had enough and sent the message, “What are your terms? -Blake”
Blake was immediately fired. The world leaders all sided against Blake while a substantial number of common folk applauded him for having the guts to at least do something. The media firestorm had died down three years later when a reply came in that same media agnostic burst of radiation. “Let the Earth go and Polaris will be returned.” To most of us this was nonsense, we’d barely cracked the atmosphere, how could we evacuate a planet.
The UN agreed on a message this time and sent back, “This is impossible. We cannot leave our home planet. Please let Polaris go. Members of the United Nations representing the world.”
Five years later, the reply was clear. “We will only speak to Blake.”
Blake, who’d tried to make the most of his fame, had been in three C level reality shows and had a smattering of appearances on B level sitcoms and the latest Law & Order incarnation. Like many who seek fame and the easy life he got into drugs. In a bad moment when he felt alone and rejected by the world, he took his own life via an overdose shortly before the message requesting him arrived.
The UN was disconcerted by this news and feared that aliens/gods/monsters/things who could steal Polaris and create medium agnostic notifications could surely tell if someone were only speaking in Blake’s stead. So they fought about it and fought about it and fought about it, until a humanitarian crisis, a flood in a micro-nation somewhere, turned their focus from the plight of Polaris. Eventually no one talked about Polaris or her captors at all anymore. The death knell came when the US Navy put out A Guide to Nautical Navigation and did not mention Polaris at all, or even the fact that it was once used for navigation.
It has been thirty years since the last message from the captors and whether they shall again ask a ransom for Polaris or kindly let us fade into extinction has yet to be determined. But either way Polaris’ place is still empty, and I don’t know if we’ll ever find our way home.