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Stolen Skies – Part Two (Nanowrimo 2022)

In a lot of ways the End of All Hope, as it was dramatically put, was perfect timing for me and a bunch of other people. Twenty years-old with primary, secondary and tertiary education completed without once producing even the faintest concept of what kind of work and life that would lead to, I was already a bit depressed and anxious about the future. And then, out of nowhere these amazing astronomical reports started to pop up in the news. They were a welcome distraction from scanning through the endless screeds of employment “opportunities” available to a moderately well educated young man with no interest whatsoever in either working with people, grinding out tech in the nano-factories or fondling animals in hopes of extracting food from them. It was quite fucking bleak, watching the more self-advancing of my peers pick up corporate jobs which began by sterilising their brains and killing off their more endearing qualities (I jest, but not really… key to getting ahead in a company whose only purpose is exploitation and growth at any cost requires a pretty severe soulectomy, though they do promise that you can get it back on retirement), while I admittedly did the same via the cheaper route of really not good red wine and zygoptic vapes. God, I miss those.

Space: big, cold, murderous and mostly out of our reach. Though we had established a dinky little moon colony. I say “me”. Like everyone else, the major achievements of our species are always shared, as if my Sunday consumption of two bottles of wine that could stain marble pink added to the enormous effort required to conceive of, let alone build and launch a rocket. I mean, I did like explosives and fire, but then who doesn’t? Being able to blow up a beer bottle isn’t really in the same league. Nonetheless, “we” had stuck a rotating team of international heroes in a grim grey tomb under the surface of the moon (so they didn’t get instant full-body cancer from the radiation). Mars had proven to be painfully beyond the reach of even the most earnest billionaires. Thank fuck they didn’t just piss that money away on curing stupidity or anything. Somewhere between Earth and Mars are a few dozen metal cans with mummified astronauts clanging about. At least, I assume they’re still there. I’m not really sure what happens to orbiting objects when you take away one of the massive objects they’re orbiting. Not my field, as they say, but I guess they head towards the other thing. So maybe we did get to Mars, and even now the neat little atomic rovers that did make it in one piece are enthusiastically discovering traces of interesting life on Mars. None of that bacteria bollocks. They’re behind the times though, we’ve met proper life from outside our solar system, and they’re a lot more interesting than algae that only grows in the shade of a meteor’s arsehole. Notably, that failure to get (living) people to Mars isn’t a failure of “we the people”, that’s the failing of the fuckwit billionaire and governments that enabled them. We only take credit for the good stuff – fuck ups are specific responsibilities.

Now, a fuck up in space that was none of our fault – instantly interesting. I was in the habit of casually perusing the news in between pages of companies hiring humans to perform menial tasks, feeling truly one with the universe, and having a nice nap. With an eerie eternity of apparent free time looming ahead of me, I found the new space stuff tickled all the right parts of my brain. Somewhere between Saturn and Uranus – it’s millions of miles away so don’t get picky about exact distances, I can’t remember, and anyway it’s really the orbital paths we’re talking about – they’re fucking planets, they don’t spend their day lined up like they’re waiting for a pat on the head. So – somewhere in the hundreds of millions of miles between their paths, a hole had appeared. Yep – a hole in space, which if you think about it, is basically a massive hole already. “See the hole within the hole” was a koan to die for. Funny thing is, if you think about it long enough, you can kind of see it in your mind in a way that our astronomers couldn’t. They called an area of negative gravity – something that wasn’t quite there, but was big enough to push mass out of its way. In this case, the mass it was shoving was two huge planets, buckling their orbits and consequently fucking with the delicate and beautiful celestial mechanics we’re all familiar with from gaping incontinently at an orrery in a museum. Unless you think the world’s flat and the other planets are painted on the ceiling of a glass dome, in which case you’re an absolute tool and the last twenty years must have been truly terrifying. Or maybe not, maybe they think we got scooped up in a snowglobe and popped on god’s living room mantlepiece. Some people are just too depressing to live. Though that’s jumping ahead – spoilers, they did not all live.

Anyhoo. Quite the kerfuffle unfurled as our solar system began to show early signs of going right off its lovely Newtonian rails. Obviously I sat out one hundred percent of the debate and planning for this, being an unemployed wastrel, but having a passing interest in science, my continued survival and a ready supply of zygoptics, this was an utterly golden time. The few months of scientists freaking the fuck out and trying to get our battered coalitions of governments and corporations to first take an interest, second to understand it and third – to actually do something about it, was absolutely wild. Mostly because there was little we (the species) could do about it. We’d managed to kill every one of the people we sent to Mars, and Saturn is unbelievably further away than the little dusty red murder ball. So our chance of getting any human eyes out there was nil. We did have an nifty little array of semi-autonomous probes and stuff out there, plus a couple of wicked telescopes that were being trepidatiously turned upon “the hole” (not the best work of journalists and researchers there – an existential threat to humanity should really have a grander name, but then we had called our planet Earth so there was really little hope for us). Absolutely zero of the news was reassuring. Like, not one good thing. The very most optimistic statements were along the lines of “this might take several hundred years to fuck us”, the most pessimistic didn’t even bother with a timeline “we’re fucked, get used to it”. Well.

I found I was drinking a little less, reading more, and occasionally getting dressed. The drab little social housing unit that a good third of the population including me inhabited felt strangely bigger than it had a few weeks ago. I had the oddest sense of the universe and my world suddenly opening up with this news of imminent catastrophe. Perversely life was perhaps actually worth getting on with. Maybe it was the thrilling prospect that if I was really lucky, the several hundred years would turn out to be a wild over-exaggeration, and I’d never need to find a job at all. Maybe it was just discovering that the world was more than this shitball of a planet, so much of a shitball that we’d basically called it planet shitball (I can’t tell you how much this has always annoyed me, and continues to annoy me, especially since we gave all the other planets cool names: Saturn, Neptune, Mars… and shitball. Fuck’s sake. Imagine how embarrassing this is when you have to explain it to the other alien planets in our cluster – Eraptol, which is about as close as you can get it in English, means “Glorious Fountain” – no wonder we’re the cannon fodder), and there were infinite horizons beyond the bubble of our atmosphere.

There was a lot of panic. The usual doomsday cults rose and fell, but at least they had the decency to take their members with them. Literally no one had any good ideas about what to do. But don’t worry – it got much worse. Those wondrous telescopes, rotating in their Lagrange Points between Earth and our nearest planetary buddies watched this hole within a hole expand, and then stuff started to come out. That at least explained the negative gravity thing – there really was a shit-tonne of mass inside or behind the hole. So that chilled out a whole bunch of astrophysicist types who were a bit alarmed at the mass from nothing problem, while another lot got super-over-excited about where the hole lead to. That brought up all the brilliant ideas, like “how many holes does a straw have?” It’s definitely worth spending a few minutes on that one. In this case, the space-hole was a tube – and tubes only have one hole – a single long one that runs its entire length. To you and me, that means it’s a hole at both ends. Crucially, the hole goes somewhere, and wherever it went, well, that was now here. I can see why a lot of people stopped following the news at that point and got seriously invested in end-times activities like massive fires, weird sex things and immense quantities of drugs. But I was hooked. The pictures we got back were… strange. Our telescopes were really, really good, but they never truly captured the hole within the hole of space – sure you could use different frequencies of light and allocate colours, but they never seemed credible. Now there was something to see. It looked like frost forming around a drain. Not the most poetic simile, sure, but that’s what it looked like. Ice crystals flowering out of nothing. Except it wasn’t ice, it was shapes – all kinds of shapes, stuck together and possibly so small we couldn’t tease their individual shapes apart. So “space-ice” it was. Again, we’re not good at this stuff.

Endless speculation ensued. From both experts and idiots – the only two groups of people granted permission to air their views, and always in the interests of balance. For every intriguing idea about this being the first possible exit point of a black hole we were also gifted with a lunatic belting on about angels and god’s fury (sphincter, presumably). The debate was pretty feverish, and you could feel it in the street – most people got on with their daily lives, but compulsively checked the news (these were my people, though my daily life did contain relatively little to begin with), but there’s always a minority of folks who feel change with such utter intensity that it erases their ability to do anything or take in any new information at all. I wasn’t totally without sympathy, but come on. You’ve still got to walk the dog, take a shower – whatever the highlight of your day usually is. I really felt for the experts. It’s one thing to know a heap of cool stuff about what we already know, but to be then presented with an unprecedented cosmic event, which looks like it’s gonna be waaaay worse than the K2 event that scoured our dinosaur pals off the face of the earth, and then be expected to answer random questions at all hours of day and night, without sweating like the proverbial individual in a playground… Not an easy job.

But of course, that mere existential threat to (maybe) our children etcetera was wildly trumped when some bastard started sketching out the edges of vast net around the Earth. For all my love of observing absolute carnage on the news, that really did push the world over the edge.

 

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Stolen Skies

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