Black Hole

He was known to disconnect from the world on occasion. One minute, he’d be in the grocery store, leaning over to smell the flowers, and the next he’d be floating alongside the Orion Nebula, not able to breathe, swimming his arms in empty space but not going anywhere. He’d be out there just until he thought he’d pass out from lack of oxygen, and then he’d blink and be back wherever he was before the episode started, gasping for breath but alive. Looking for a diagnosis was a farce. Half of the MDs he saw pegged him as a drug addict, while the other half wanted to have him admitted. Some suggested narcolepsy with vivid dreams, but these weren’t dreams. He could feel the coldness of space biting at his fingers, the sting in his eyes when he looked at the bright light of the stars unencumbered by an atmosphere to shield out the harmful rays. He could feel the pressure in his head and chest, hear the absolute silence of the void.

He never knew when it would happen. It didn’t seem to be triggered by any specific smells or sounds or sights. It could happen when he was happy or sad or angry. He made detailed logs of his episodes and shared them with the MDs who actually stuck with him, but it got him nowhere.

He never knew where it would take him, either. He’d witnessed the creation of stars, flown over alien planets he’d never before seen, each of them dotted with lights like you’d see in a photo of Earth from space at night. Gaseous clouds of every color undulated past. Hunks of rock of unbelievable size hurtled past, so massive that they seemed to be lazily sliding past him. Satellites of a construction he’d never before seen flew past, sometimes stopped in place as if to observe him, then continued on their way. Every time, he’d hold his breath as long as he could and try to take in as much as possible before going back. If he was in public, he’d inevitably find himself surrounded by unfamiliar faces, concerned faces that were relieved to see him regain consciousness. That was better than waking up in an ambulance or hospital room, because at least then he wouldn’t be charged for the ride and visit.

He took whatever he had with him. More than a few times, he found himself aimlessly pushing a shopping cart through the yawning abyss of space, his groceries slowly floating away from him. When he’d wake up, everything would be back in its place. Then, one day, he got an idea. He was surprised it hadn’t struck him before.

He’d wear a breathing mask and oxygen tank.

He went to a scuba shop and bought the best mask and biggest tank he could find. He called a week off work and wore the mask and tank 24/7. He’d basically never gone a week without an episode before, so all he’d have to do was wait. He also kept a fire extinguisher handy at all times so that he’d have something to propel himself with in space. He spent as much time as he could in bed to ensure that he wouldn’t fall and get hurt if an episode hit. He was ready.

And then it happened.

He found himself hovering above an alien nebula he’d never seen before, each twinkling pinprick within it a star, some of them perhaps suns for habitable planets. He had to remind himself that he wasn’t technically above the nebula, that there was no “above” in space. Some concepts are hard to shake off.

He got to work right away. His mask secure, he turned on the oxygen and was amazed to find that he could breathe. All these years, all these episodes, and he’d always been holding his breath. When that was done, he sprayed a bit of the fire extinguisher by his side, just enough to make him spin. He needed to see where his destination would be.

There were massive clusters of stars everywhere, uncountable. But then there, in the center of it all, there were no stars. There was nothing at all. A perfect circle of nothingness stared back at him, whether taunting or beckoning he couldn’t tell. An unnamable dread consumed him, a fear of something he did not and could not understand. A black hole.

He fought against its pull at first, the different vestigial parts of his brain fighting against this threat, trying to liken it to an apex predator in the wild but having no clear strategy on how to outrun something so massive that it can slow down time.

He’d read all about time dilation. The frequent, unplanned, and initially unwanted trips to space had developed in him an interest in the infinite. Theoretically, if one were to be pulled into a black hole and somehow survive, time would slow down to such a degree relative to them that it would seem like they were being pulled in for millennia. There were many theories on what would happen once an object or person was entirely pulled in, but no one knew for sure.

Now he would.

He pointed the fire extinguisher behind him and propelled himself forward, toward the black hole. He saw this not as an end, but a new beginning. A gateway to something else. A path leading to a world he had no concept of. He flew, and was pulled, and carried. He watched as the light went in along with him.

HONEY DRIPS

Milky nebulae glitter past in their swooping hues, the spirals first this way, then that as the thickly booted feet tip and sway, and yes even angle themselves slightly toward the sun.

The stars shine down their light in spots and waves, the eyes’ retinae scanning and attaching themselves to targets and responding deftly to stimuli.

The body the eyes are attached to is living and breathing for the moment, chest expelling carbon and drawing in depleted oxygen in gasps and starts.

The body has a brain within, and nerves sent twisting and snaking through subterranean channels calibrated for a clime without turning and twisting nebulae, with starshine far removed from thought and view.

The body belongs to a person who is here. They have been here for some time and will continue beyond time. This is why.

Distant galaxies come in as impressionistic swirls and whirls, little tableaux dipped from the tip of a cosmic brush out there in The Grand Nothing.

And the seconds drip like honey from a spoon, until each one can be tasted individually and studied; picked apart and analyzed for an indeterminate amount of time.

The stimuli still rush on as the last breath comes in, hardly oxygenated and stale and tasting bitter on the tongue.

A billion miles back there’s a home; a rock with trees set on it and the starshine far removed. There’s oxygenation and little cosmic swirls set only in the minds of those down below.

The thickly booted feet fall and make purchase with nothing; no down makes claim and up won’t have them either. It’s nothing but ink to spill across the page of it all, a couple scribbles of a nib to set it all in motion.

And the stories from before the booted figure’s life come back in staggered steps, racial memory a download that’s set to expire as soon as life does. The stories of beings sent from beyond the sky, from the place that the figure now floats through in amniotic hues of blue and black.

The honey solidifies in solid chunks and refuses to fall from the spoon; the Gape up ahead is pitch.

A yawning chasm set in the fabric of it all, a whirling drain pulling in thought and time. An irresistible force set from before anything was, an ethereal dream spinning wide and far and carrying in all it finds.

It occurs to the booted figure that it will die, that a cessation of being is just beyond the lip of the hole, waiting to catch the honey drips on a great and unseen tongue.

Milky nebulae glitter past in their swooping hues, the spirals first this way, then that as the thickly booted feet tip and sway, and yes even angle themselves slightly toward the sun.

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THE FIND

It was too late in the day to safely continue the expedition without fear of storm, whether solar or otherwise, but the captain’s curiosity had gotten the better of him, as it had a tendency to do. Today marked exactly one year to the day that the astronauts had descended on the planet in search of a sign of beings that could’ve come before, and the captain wanted something ceremonious for everyone back home.

The captain’s men could do with a good recharging and were nearly mutinous, but they were inextricably bound by their command line. They all marched obediently behind their captain, protective helmets secured over their heads as they left the comfort and safety of home base.

The dead world’s air was choked with red dust, almost stagnant as it seemed to hang in the air. A gust of it picked up, the grains abrasive enough to leave scratch marks on the captain’s helmet. They marched on over increasingly rocky terrain, fearless as they set out to chase the setting sun.

The captain’s mind wandered as they trekked on. Naturally, it went to the place it always had a tendency to gravitate toward whenever he considered the ever-elusive Find. How would it change belief back home? Would having concrete proof that they had once existed change anything? Would his name be in the history blogs for years to come, as he so wished it would?

Just as this thought crossed the captain’s mind, a tremor beneath the ground opened up a massive sinkhole that immediately swallowed up one of the astronaut archaeologists. He didn’t even have time to let out a yell before plummeting into the abyss of the dead planet’s interior.

The captain turned back, the look on his face a cross between mild interest and annoyance. This was the third man he’d lost so far. The others paused to look down into the sinkhole, more out of curiosity than empathy. The captain waved them on, impatient.

“We’ll just have to find a replacement when we get back. Come on.”

And so they all marched on without another look back toward their fallen comrade. The sun was nearly set on the horizon, and the captain knew they had much ground to cover before he’d let them all retire for the night.

And then he saw it. Peeking out from the detritus and dirt of untold centuries was what seemed to be the frame of a building. Standing out against this otherwise barren landscape was something that clearly had to be the work of intelligent hands.

Spurred on by this discovery, the captain took off his helmet to get a better look. The abrasive sand storm had since died down, and the scratches on his helmet just wouldn’t do as far as visibility went. The other astronauts followed suit, all of them approaching the ancient building without their helmets. Asphyxiation claimed none of them.

The captain entered first, relieving the building’s door of its nearly disintegrated hinges. Shelves stood out in sharp relief within the place, but there was too much dust on everything to make out what might be shelved here.

The captain stopped in his tracks, eyes locked ahead with laser precision. There at the front of the building was the unmistakable form of a cash register. He approached it with deference, eyes watering as he came closer. As the other astronauts gathered around, the captain placed his trembling hand upon the keyboard.

“A257, get the panel open. It’s here.”

The man this strange name apparently belonged to obeyed at once, removing the back panel of the cash register and exposing its electronic guts. The captain removed one of the computer chips and reached a hand to his face. He pulled at the skin around his neck. It flipped upward like rubber, revealing a complex skeleton made of chips and wires as opposed to flesh and bone. He held the register’s chip up to the exposed chips of his own face, the similarity striking.

“This is all the proof they’ll ever need. No one will be able to doubt that they made our ancestors here before creating us in their own image.”

“But sir, why would they simply vanish? Where could they have gone?”

The captain pondered this question for a moment before picking up the cash register and inspecting its every nook and cranny. Finally, he found a marking on the bottom. He wiped his hand across to relieve it of dust. Emblazoned across the bottom was, “MADE IN CHINA.” The captain pointed at the words.

“Perhaps here is where our answers lie.”

And so the astronaut androids set off with their find, elated at the prospect of finding the human gods who created and abandoned them long ago.

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