It is the end of the Age of Starlight. The light is dwindling in the sky. Space seems vast now, pinpricked with the smallest of holes in the blanket. Space is the best word to describe the stretched and endless spaces between all matter. Space is the best word to describe what confronts her eyes through the triple-shielded screen every day.
Space is a series of pitfalls, she knows. Black holes and white dwarves, the sad conclusions of entropy, spattering the void between those last visible beacons of hope. Travel has become a question of navigating artfully past those unsighted traps. Journey times between stars have been doubled or tripled in the past million millennia.
Black holes are the pitcher plants of the universe, waiting for inconsequential bodies to slip into their depths. They make a mockery of time. They make a mockery of life itself. She hates them. Too many people she knows, travelling too fast, travelling without due care, looking away for a moment to dust a crumb from their sleeve or speak to a colleague, have found themselves slipping too close. Once a black hole exerts its gravity on a ship there is no hope. Even light cannot escape that un-satisfied throat.
What a death… What a death.
It is unimaginable to her – but that doesn’t stop her imagining a thousand possibilities for that dragging, weighted end. Sometimes she imagines a perpetual moment, frozen just inside the cusp of the hole. She imagines a life arrested, neither dying nor living, until the soul of the person trapped wrenches itself free, and, being insubstantial, escapes as a ghost into the airless void. At night when she closes her eyes, alone on her spherical craft, she sees them, silent and accusing, pressing against the tri-glass. They want to come in. She cannot let them in.
She travels, day in, day out – although days are largely meaningless in this time when time itself is skewed and there is no rising of the sun. She travels between the colonies, between those people who pushed further and deeper into the galaxy in an attempt, like flowers, to turn their faces to stronger suns. She brings them the objects they need – the objects that their own lands cannot give them.
This particular part of the enterprise sometimes seems pointless. Ferrying goods through a dying universe is like delivering the final meal to the condemned. A brief, brief pleasure, and then – what? What words describe the death of a person? What words describe the death of a universe?
People need to eat. That’s what they always say. No matter how close they are to the dying of the stars they still need food, they still need blankets to press out the cold from their arms and hunched backs. The children will still cry without milk and the aged will stare through milky eyes without their soft and comforting meals. Against the death of all time, the human stomach is a voice that is impossible to deny.
She sighs, and curls closer to the window, looking out over the vista of dwindling stars. A little of yesterday would do her good. Her finger hovers over the chrono-leap, but she can’t bring herself to press it. Questions are always asked when the logs don’t match the flow of real time. Besides, yesterday looked much the same as today in the void between the stars of Orion. It was just that yesterday she received the letter, and today there is nothing.
My love, I wait for you in a better place…
She moves the words through her mind as though she were thumbing them on antique paper.
My love, when you are able, come to me…
Such language is out of date, but she savours it anyway. She savours it more dearly because no one speaks like that in this time.
The arrangements are made, my love, and you will fit in here as easily as your ring fits upon my littlest finger. The arrangements are made, and I wait in a land with a full, yellow sun.
It may be a thousand years before she can answer his call, she knows. To him, in his place in the past, it will be no more than a day, or perhaps two. To her time will stretch about her like rubber pulled between the fingers of a child. To her time will be a vast and weary thing, as she travels and travels again with a hold full of bulk of which she never catches a glimpse. She will age and rejuvenate and age again in the perpetual waltz that she describes between the cold, stony spheres that these people have chosen as home.
But one day she will let her finger press that button, and she will find herself in a warmer place, with him, with air to breathe and the soft balm of a yellow sun, and grass beneath her feet. In the end, time is no time at all.