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Opening pages to
by Jaclyn Costello
The structure suspends itself in deep space, floating in the darkness. Trillions of billions of light years away from all celestial bodies. Its geometric structure is not fixed. It remains in constant motion, a slow dissolving followed by deliberate becoming. When it takes shape, it is composed of two, colossal strands in a double-helix formation – each metallic filament twisting gracefully around the other. The metal is coated in sugar-phosphate molecules, nucleobases, and pure energy. The rungs between the two strands are also floating, friction-free, dissolving into shimmering fragments of light before silently re-forming. As it twirls, the structure ascends to a primordial melody. A song gentle enough to lull the entire Universe to sleep.
If the structure had to be assigned a cardinal direction, it would be North. Cartesian: Upward. But there are no coordinates in this space, no frames of reference, no identifying nodes. To travel here would be to catapult one’s self beyond the snow-covered peaks of Tibet, past the living crystals in the sky, through the pink and golden vaporous clouds at the edge of the mesosphere, beyond the explosive, dying stars in all-known galaxies, through the time-space manifold to the center of a dark, cosmic sea – a peaceful emptiness containing nothing but the structure, dissolving and becoming.
Location: 8♃µ:2qψ - Elonia moon
Santi adjusted his lab glasses and broke another beaker.
Not quite under his breath, but soft enough that Aadhya believed he was finally adjusting to her presence in the laboratory. He pushed the broken glass aside with a cloth before wiping the contents of the spilled beaker from the counter onto a tray. He held the tray under a light source, examining. When he was finished, he placed the tray aside and reached for a vial and pipette hanging from a collection rack above the counter. He used the pipette to eject the vial’s contents into a crystalline substance in a small dish. Then he placed his instruments aside and stepped back to watch the reaction taking place.
Aadhya sat upright in her chair. She’d been watching Santi work for eleven weeks in the Elonia moon laboratory. Sometimes she saved observation notes to a private vault in her mind. Other times she did not save; she just examined and released. In this moment, her thoughts were fixated on one of her initial questions about the laboratory: why was Santi working in such archaic conditions? Surrounded by glass containers, clunky machines, handheld laboratory tools, and not an AI in sight – as if the laboratory had been constructed in the 19th century.
We’re in one of the most protected, pristine star systems in the galaxy, she sent Santi on a shared thought-stream. You could have created anything.
I am creating anything, sweetheart, Santi looked up from what he was doing. Why do you think I’m here?
I’m referring to this primitive lab.
Santi swept his hand in a gesture that embraced his surroundings. I think better in these conditions. I find this environment comforting.
Aadhya glanced at the lab coat hanging from a peg on the corrugated, silver wall. And that?
“I’m nostalgic,” Santi nodded at the coat. “For unnecessary formality.” He returned to what he’d been doing.
What is he creating? Aadhya formed the thought in her mind’s private vault. She’d been assigned to this lab by her commanding officer after they’d first discovered Santi – a rogue, undocumented scientist practicing in the far reaches of the Milky Way. Aadhya had been sent to assess the situation, to make sure Santi wasn’t disturbing anything. After her first few days of observations, she suspected he was a madman, sly and cunning and with an unspoken mission he refused to reveal.
“I’m not a madman,” Santi said. “I’m what my ancestors would call a coyote.”
Aadhya shot him a glance. How did you know what I was thinking? I had those thoughts privately.
Not private from me.
You can access private vaults?
I’m surprised you don’t also have that faculty – being military.
Aadhya unfolded her hands in her lap. You’ve been able to access my private thoughts for the past eleven weeks.
I have. They really took me somewhere I wasn’t expecting. Thank you for that. They’re slick. Transparent. Remind me of ice. Make me feel something.
Aadhya stood. All this after I negotiated the removal of formal recording devices and disconnected from the neural-nano cloud interface, as you requested.
It will be more fun for the officers back home to decipher reality through the filter of your mind. Don’t you think? He waited for her reply. “Don’t you think?”
“I feel deceived.”
Santi looked up at her again. She was fit and militant. Thick boots, strong thighs. Enormous, beautiful, brown eyes. Full lips. Full chest. Full hips. Round cheeks. She wore her long, dark hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. He was sure she’d been raised on Earth, but he couldn’t place her ethnicity. Samoan-Polynesian. Moroccan. Greek.
“Particles change when they’re being watched,” he said, “so from the moment you arrived, has anything here been unadulterated?” He removed his lab glasses. “I like your voice. The resonance is refreshing.”
Aadhya ignored his comments and motioned to his work at the microscope. “Tell me what you’ve been doing. What do you mean by ‘coyote’? I can’t access that vocabulary.”
“Limited space?” Santi shook his head. “They’re slacking down there, aren’t they? Or are there laws about information storage? I thought all forms of censorship would be decreed.”
“It’s me. I chose a limited recall capacity of obsolete terms because it frees up my mind for other things.”
“Like forward remembering?”
“You practice that?”
“I’ve activated it inside me.”
Aadhya wasn’t sure she believed him, but she stored the note anyway. “If you still won’t tell me what you’re doing, tell me more about your personal history.”
“Which personal history?” Santi asked. “The one where I roamed the streets? Or would you like to know about the injustices I suffered for my genius during the 23rd century? I can tell you what I was smuggling. Or do you want to hear something happy? A story from the lifetime I was a Gabonese boy, enamored with the stars. I hadn’t left Earth yet so my relationship with the sky was still a way to transcend my body. Every glance to the stars was an escape from the confines of my humanity. Which lifetime do you want? Give me a century.”
Aadhya studied Santi’s face, the weight of the grief held in his eyes. It did appear as if he carried a full history. She even had reason to believe he’d traveled through the manifold.
“Not yet,” Santi said. “Not like you.”
Aadhya tried not to think.
“Don’t get anxious about me knowing,” Santi said. “I can’t see everything. There’s still a place in your mind I can’t gain access to, and it’s the most intriguing place to me. I have seen you cross though the manifold though, many, many times. Few people have crossed through like that, so effortless and with such charge. You’ve been on a mission since the beginning, Major Aadhya Nafanua. Nafanua. It just came to me. Your roots are Samoan, aren’t they? In this lifetime at least.”
“It’s all one lifetime for me. No matter what body.”
“I thought so. I want to hear more about that. What’s it like for you to have existed for so long in one identity?”
“One soul, many identities.”
“A soul, huh?” Santi leaned forward and peered through his microscope. “Would you like to see something?”
Aadhya hesitated, surprised by the invitation. No matter how many times she’d inquired over the past eleven weeks, Santi had refused to reveal the details of his work in the laboratory. She approached and waited for him to move from his chair so she could sit at the microscope. She placed her hand on the eyepiece and brought her face forward to peer inside. When the slide came into focus, she didn’t know how to interpret was she was viewing: a dark spot on the slide – a perfectly formed black sphere – with what felt like an enormous density. Yes, Aadhya could feel the spot’s overwhelming gravity acting upon her body.
“Nothing can escape it,” Santi said.
Aadhya backed away, her heartbeat rising.
“It’s still a baby,” Santi continued, “but I’ll nurture it to maturity. Then I’ll release it into the wild to feed upon the sky, first on dead stars, then living. Its density will grow as it devours all the mass in its surroundings, expanding beyond the size of any known object in the cosmos, seen or unseen.”
“And then what?”
“At the heart of the hole, all matter is compressed to a non-dimensional point called a singularity, a solitary point of zero size and infinite density. And that,” Santi told Aadhya, “is where our Universe is going.”
Aadhya instantly disappeared into her mind, moving within it to stand before her communications HGC. She sent out an alert and waited for the holograph of General Revel to appear. It did not. Hurry, General, please, Aadhya couldn’t help herself from thinking. Why isn’t he responding?
“He’s not coming, sweetheart,” Santi said. “It’s just you and me.”
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