Stanza VI: Amago

Pillar exploration vessel Amago
Final approach – Black Hole NX-717
363 standard cycles before the Crescendo

Synthesized Recollection

The crew of Amago approached black hole NX-717. The viewscreen was set to full transparency and they could see it now, like a distortion in the screen. The vessel hissed a cloud of propellant fluid to decelerate their craft and set their trajectory into a controlled orbit around the anomaly. The crew watched as the white particles of the propellant continued to fall towards the dead star. Instead of dissipating into every direction, the cloud took a gently curving path toward the distortion, pulled by its intense gravitational field.

The crew spent these final moments before the next phase of the operation marveling at it. As they moved closer, they could now clearly see the thing’s inky heart. A black so deep that it made the backdrop of space appear slightly lighter by sheer contrast. The edges of this impossibly black core rippled with distortions as if a giant were pushing a colossal finger through some semi-liquid mirror. The stars behind the black hole were stretched as bands of light that pulsed around its edge, the distortion weakening the farther it was from the core. They knew that almost nothing escaped the pull of this titan, not even light. They expected this phenomenon. But to see it was something else. 

A ribbon of light slowly wound around the black hole. The crew could finally see the stream of charged particles with their own eyes as it spewed out of the darkness at an unimaginable speed, confirming the long-distance captures.

A signal blared in the cabin and the crew tore their gaze away from the black hole and got to work. Every second was crucial now and would become more precious as they approached the intensifying gravitational field.

The captain gave verbal confirmation of their condition through the quantumly entangled communicators, an Asarian invention that made the mission possible. The secretive Asarians had newly joined the fledgling Pillar when the mission had launched, and while little was known about their own civilization, their selective sharing of certain technologies had caused an explosion of advances in interstellar navigation. In the 158 cycles that had passed during their frozen hibernation on the Amago’s journey, the Pillar had cracked the secret of connecting two distant points in space through a stabilized energy gate.

In fact, the Pillar had sent multiple waves of exploration drones into other black holes like NX-717 and must have captured fantastic quantities of data. The captain wondered if their expedition had become a redundancy when he learned this after waking. But the Pillar assured them that their sacrifice would remain a bright point in the history of the Pillar’s exploration of space. The crew was told that they remained the only expedition of volunteers and that no other sentients, extric or otherwise, had set off on similar missions. They would still have the honor of being the first to die in a black hole under observation. In this way, they would satisfy several of civilization’s morbid curiosities while cementing their place among the pioneers of space.

When the crew awoke, it took them some time to adapt to communicating with command as effectively as they did before their hibernation. After 158 cycles, there were anticipated changes to language and the organization in the Pillar, as all things change in time. In that time, Silari, the standardized language of the Pillar, had borrowed many words from the Asarian vocabulary. This was especially true for words related to states and arrangements of energy.

It seems that the Asarian tongue had long been accustomed to describing the many nuances of change that can afflict energy from its wild and chaotic forms in light and radiation to its most rigid and condensed forms as matter, and everything in between. There were countless elegant words to describe arrangements of molecules in nearly endless combinations. The chemists and physicists of the Pillar gladly adopted these terms over the increasingly ungainly chains of Silarian words they had previously mashed together to describe similar phenomena in their labs.

The hibernation had captured a slice of time from 158 cycles ago. The Pillar interstellar research station now heard this speech, perfectly preserved, through their comms systems. To them, it was like listening to old recordings from the early days of the Formation Era. They replied and the crew of the Amago received the reply in the more relaxed and sharper voweled Silari which they were still not accustomed to.

Command asked the crew for their consent to proceed. They would soon enter the black hole’s orbit. If there was any hesitation among them, they did not show it. They all agreed to continue. The Amago had an extra fuel reserve which would be used to burn at maximum force to attempt to escape the deadly pull. There had been no mathematical models when the mission was launched to guarantee that this would work. Because of this, the crew had playfully named the system: “false hope.” The crew had all discussed the likelihood that this measure had only been taken to find a way to approve the mission. No mission without any hope of survival would be accepted, even with a fully consenting crew.

Black hole NX-717 grew larger in the viewscreen as the Amago continued its elegantly arched approach. The crew could only spare passing glances at it as a large holographic display appeared in the center of the research cabin. The same display appeared near the top of the visors they wore to display information overlaid onto their surroundings.

Three figures.

On the left: the relative time onboard.

On the right: the relative time back at the Haskiid station where their command base was monitoring their mission from.

In the middle: the gap between the two.

At that moment, they saw the number in the middle crawl up. It now marked that there was a gap of fifteen seconds between their current temporal position and that of their command station. The entangled communication system had a mechanism built into it to account for the perceived warping of time by the observing teams on both ends of the mission. The modulator would account for the difference in temporal states and modify the transmission so that each side could hear it as if there were no time dilation.

The crew did their best to ignore the increasing figure in the middle as their ship began to rattle from NX-717’s enormous pull. They worked to collect and interpret the data as it came through the ship’s many specialized sensors. The communication appeared to be seamless, but as the time gap grew to the size of a standardized Valturan day cycle, they heard different voices reply. A change of personnel. The team at Haskiid must be waiting hours now between each reply while the crew aboard the Amago felt no delay in their replies.

The Amago curved onwards, the raging darkness now filling a majority of the viewscreen. From here, they could see ribbons of color sparkle and fade around the ship. Occasionally, the crew could see flashes of light in their vision as errant charged particles struck their retinas.

They worked and performed their practiced routine as the dying star raged below them. The figure in the middle continued to grow at an exponential rate. The crew began to experience breakdowns in communication. Confused replies crackled over their comms and sometimes, they waited moments in silence before hearing anything from Haskiid.

The voices changed with each reply, and the words became more and more perplexing. As the temporal gap grew to a width of 140 cycles, almost as long as they had hibernated, their communications broke down. They could only understand half of the replies, and most of their questions went unanswered. The crew stopped, looking to one another as if searching for reassurance in a universe that had changed too quickly to recognize any longer.

One reply, in particular, made the captain’s heart sink. “Haskiid communication base has received your transmission. We have no record of this callsign. Please state your purpose and your vessel registration information.”

The captain removed his visor. He laughed, and the rest of the crew laughed. They stepped away from their instruments, away from their work, and gathered at the viewscreen to gaze at the growing void.

The vessel rattled and all its alarms blared as the ship approached the event horizon. From their position, the former tranquility of the black hole was gone, and there was a sea of rushing matter that swirled almost imperceptibly across the inky black nothingness of the core.  The craft’s thrusters tried to maintain orbital motion, but the gravity of the supermassive body pulled them closer with every passing moment.

The intercom continued to pour our transmissions, one after the other. The captain had stopped trying to decipher the strange languages, the confused replies, and he tried to imagine that the end would be peaceful.

An urgent voice through the comm made the captain turn back towards the ship’s command display. The holograph in the middle of the cabin showed a temporal gap of 355 cycles, all the lights and screens of the Amago went dark. For a few moments, the only light came from the swirling vortex that raced across the event horizon.

Then the screens of the ship came to life. The image on them flickered, a mess of wavy static that began to define itself into a shape. The captain had seen this shape before, but where? It was the most familiar thing to him, like an image burned into his earliest memory. The coiling arms of it, the pulsing center, radiating delicate wisps of static that left an iridescent wake behind them as they slid across the screen.