Accrete

The colors around the accretion disc are malevolent purples and hardboiled greens, crackling eons of plasma corralled from the broken chain of a dying star system. The star’s dwarf planets have been consumed but jagged planetoids remain, drifting toward the ebon absence like cyclopean driftwood. A great blazing arm of the star reaches into the maw, mixing with the purples and greens on the outer rim of the event horizon. Red soup. Chunks of asteroids circling. From a safe distance it was a blot in the black abyss. A safe distance was light years away.

Twin jets spray from the center of the calamity, neon gouts of ions, mirrored like the spray from a lost whale floating nowhere. And we drift onward. The onboard computer systems have failed, emergency power supplying air and a baseline temperature stable enough that we won’t freeze to death but nowhere near comfortable. So we, a crew of veterans, some of us scientists and even great men, stand huddled over the dull bridge console in blankets, caps on our heads, hands clasped or buried in our sleeves. And we watch the blot grow larger, week after week.

Rations will last us years yet. Miniature and freeze dried staples are in good supply. It isn’t the air or the hunger that will do us in. It is that looming blackness, a blackness deeper than the interstellar background. We had come this far to dredge the disc of its magnetic might, to absorb the chaotic frequencies of its x-rays, its gamma bursts, housed in our insulated station and ready to transmit our findings along the bread crumb satellites we planted behind us. They were left spinning in the lonely expanse, waiting. We gunned the engine to speed up the journey, knowing our reserves were enough to get us back home, needing only a little push in the marginal friction to reverse. We’d pinpointed the disc and locked on to it. And when we were giddy, at our brightest, the rigs died, one after another.

We watched the blot grow day by day, months churning the slow grind of hours into thick paste. Bereft of our technology we did not succumb to barbarism. It was listlessness that took hold. That and the stirring sight of the enormous disc, enormous, enough to fit three of our solar systems inside, still a bright smear outside the ship’s glass. We were glued to it. It still holds our fascination as much as our doom. In that way we are like insects drawn to a candle.

Occasionally the deck sputters to life. The mechanics, oil flecked, the engineers, breathless, will stumble back up from the ship’s congested belly. They fight the console and demand manual control. Once the youngest mechanic actually tore the monitor free of its housing. Fiber optics unraveled like angel hair pasta. And the computer gurgled. Sounded like laughter. Then sobs. He joined it at once, ashamed of his own violence. And together they wept the great machine back into its accustomed darkness.

Not for the first time have I dialed your number, knowing that to reach you this signal would need to be connected by God himself. God help me, then. Please.

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