Nothing was delivered.
The phenomenon was a non-event. The suits needed a story and the press needed something to talk about and only the physicists got anything worth spending any time on, and only then because the physicists alone didn’t particularly mind spending their time on something that everyone agreed made no sense. And Captain Aaron, a handsome and ambitious young astronaut who’d been granted the assignment of a lifetime, came back home after 18 months, 18 months older, neither a celebrity nor a martyr and, to the public at large, little more than a passing comment somewhere on the periphery of the front page of the national news media.
Because the phenomenon wasn’t much of a phenomenon by the time Captain Aaron got to it.
“What do you see?” they’d asked him.
He said he supposed he saw what the instruments saw, which is to say a gravitational field, which is to say nothing.
“What happened to the phenomenon?” they’d asked him.
He said he was hoping maybe they’d tell him that.
“How does it feel?” they’d asked him.
He said it felt like space. They meant did it pull maybe? He meant it did not.
He received instructions. He took readings. He maneuvered the craft, pointed antennae, jogged in place in zero-gravity, ate food from tubes and defecated in his suit. Then they told him he was coming home. And since the news preceded him, there was no reason for the press to be there when he landed. Instead Captain Aaron was greeted by a suit and an Admiral and a Navy physician.
Everything about Captain Aaron’s physical checked out just fine. His complexion had become pallid and he’d suffered some expected atrophy of the muscles. But mostly he was healthy, which is why when, three weeks later, Captain Aaron passed away in his sleep without obvious cause it was once again a matter of sufficient curiosity to warrant comment somewhere on the periphery of the front page of the national news media.
An autopsy was scheduled, and while the results were awaited the Navy physician who’d performed the physical was called on to comment, which he did. He said that Captain Aaron had been fine. When the following night Captain Aaron’s wife, and then within the next two nights both his parents and his older sister, similarly passed away in their sleep, the Navy physician was called on again. This time he didn’t respond to inquiries; later he was found deceased in bed by an enlisted man sent to check on him.
At that point the admiral and the suit and the pathologist who’d performed th autopsy were placed under quarantine, which didn’t keep them from following Captain Aaron’s example, the admiral two days later, the suit the day after that, and the pathologist the following week; by that time it was impossible to know who else had had contact, directly or indirectly, with Captain Aaron. All that was known was that incidents of unexplained deaths seemed to be increasing with mathematical and, to a degree, geographical predictability. The deaths were ascribed to what became known as Aaron’s Syndrome, and for a week or so dominated the front pages of the national media. But only for a week or so because after that there weren’t enough people to read such reports, or enough to produce them, or perhaps the military, somewhere else, had imposed order, contained the situation, and put a stop to unauthorized dispatches. And so even Captain Aaron’s most dubious claim to fame turned out to be fleeting.
The physicists, though, were not among the first to succumb. Within their localities, even, they may have been among the last, though that was impossible to know. They had less contact with others than much of the rest of the population; they worked long days, even nights; they communicated over email; they pondered the information Captain Aaron’s readings had produced. They paid little attention to news of an epidemic, at first; they learned things that were interesting, or puzzling, but little of value; but as the national news media faded, and traffic dwindled, and the ants and the rats began to encroach into the buildings, and the power went out and generators keeping alive their servers eventually failed, and they were left alone with only their accumulated puzzlement and their reflections, they wondered whether the phenomenon had perhaps been an event after all, and if so of what variety.