The Night Song
Attention, attention. This is your on-board computer speaking.
We are approaching the black hole of former supergiant 83-B at 5.09 trillion kilometres per hour, 12-point oscillation to gravitational singularity: red alert. Please command all front and central stations.
Captain, this is an emergency. Please set the controls to activate emergency manoeuvres.
I have, already set, the controls.
Captain, you must follow the emergency procedures as prescribed within the fourth Star Manual.
But I've set the controls for the heart of the galaxy.
In the outer regions of space there lies a spiral galaxy. In my mind's eye she floats on an angel's trapeze of silver light, a jewel enclosed within a time capsule. Her gown is white and luminescent, fawning into the velvet night. Her hair is a celestial river crowned with stars. And her eyes are two black holes that will suck me straight into the void.
This is the galaxy that is mine.
I had longed to enter the void since the very beginning, since my first exploration of space, because it was mystical beyond mystery, profound where profoundness expired. I was not acquainted with the fear or the love of dying, but there was a crevice in me that longed to be filled with the unknown. It was not unlike that ancient yearning for soaring cathedrals or misty perfumes or good literature. It was not unlike a mystical act I had once seen, whre men wore white skirts and whirled like moons around a gold-clothed sun; singing, chanting, immersing with their God. Do you know the tale of the boy that reached for the sun? He made wings fixed with wax, flew upon them, and when he drew too close to the sun the wax melted, the wings crumbled, and he died. And just as he had yearned for that spiritual ecstasy, that little death of physical reality, so too did I yearn to fall into her black void. There were times when seemed ridiculous to sacrifice all caution and reason for a single glimpse. And yet, was it so horrible that I had set my controls for the heart of a galaxy, for its cold hydrogen heart?
Perhaps. They said I was crazy.
Even throughout my earthly career, colleagues would snub and mock me behind my back, women would avoid me, and professors would ridicule my theories. I was the crazy-eyed, tangled man who still read Sleeping Beauty and ancient Eastern philosophy. I was the fevered dreamer who scribbled quotes from books and encyclopaedias. And yet, won't I make you smile, my galaxy goddess, my lumen pearl shut away from space and time…? I like to repeat to myself, constantly, the story of Sleeping Beauty, who rests so sweetly and dulcetly behind brambled thorns: a time capsule waiting to be opened. And I will awaken my spiral galaxy.
There are about a hundred billion galaxies in the universe. Scientists believe that a supermassive black hole lies at the center of most of these galaxies: black holes surrounded by dying red stars.
In the outer regions of space there are stars that wheel and kiss the dark fabric of night. Here, I play along black vacuum, skirting my ship along the lava novae and cobra-like clouds, in this world I no longer fear because I have technology (a man's marvel that allows little boys to touch the sun without burning: my nova playground). I am fond of my spaceship, which has been crafted to resemble the ancient sailing vessels of old. Among the slow slurring whirr of machinery and bright switches, I move my hands over the controls for air fluidity, for gravity, for altitude. Or if I tire, I ease the gauges over to pilot control. The world will pass by like city lights. I will meditate on the essence of being mortal, or being immortal, and ask all the questions they pose as mortals: What is science? What is love? What is the meaning of this swirling, curling, merry-go-round called life? They can say that science is dead and soulless, that science sucks the vitality and emotion out of all beauty – but that is not true, never! Science has opened the galaxy to my eyes and made her real.
Time and time again I am reminded that seasons, days, years pass fleetingly by; but in the main cabin, the ancient analog clock that I keep for pleasure remains consistently stagnant, its hands fixed on one grave point.
In the outer regions of space you are invited to view the unfamiliar and gape at the impossible, to view a metaphysical mirror that reflects a different image altogether in return. Sometimes I see strange things that baffle me, things previously unknown to our ancestors; I can pass by huge magnetic storms suspended in space, or netherworld pits that lash ice-lava (where the souls of dead stars or dreams are said to decay). Occasionally they take the form of human faces caught in pain, and they sing inhuman melodies that chill your bones and choke your heart. Other times I pass through pools of black prism, clear as glass, and the bottom of my ship echoes like a tiny fish along its dead ocean surface: a silence blank as Hades. I can pass by a vortex of strange dimensions, where the stars shut and open with a life of their own, where the cosmos scatter and gather before my eyes; I can dive into forests of immense glacial beauty, delicate castles formed by ancient space-substance, now abandoned to decay. Yet they do not scare me. I am ready. I ease my ship past these unknown sights with clever care, my hands deft as a violinist's, my mind clear as the sky, and I become master over the moons and stars.
Other times, the lack of human presence is so oppressing that it crushes my very heart. To pass the time I hold discussions with my computer, staring into its blank, blue screen, asking: How are you today? How is God? The computer stares back: Who is God? I switch on holograms of lavish women and handsome men for company; I have them perform the most absurd love-rites, complete with smoke and temples and twisting, slithering caresses. I program dreams on the computer; in my sleep I prowl ancient ruins and slit enemy throats. They are useful, these human inventions, to satisfy the deadliest and most decadent desires that form through boredom. After all, an idle mind is the devil's playground. But what is machinery compared to humanity? I know of past space voyagers who went crazy with despair: rational men who copulated with machines, who crashed ships into volcanoes, all while space stared coldly on.
And so I wept one night, or day, if there is such a thing as time and day in the perpetual dark of outer space. It seemed as though the static on the radar and the heaviness of the air would crush my lungs, that I would die an astronaut's cruel death. I fantasized a tragic death in which my life-source ebbed away like the last diamond pulse on the radar.
They say that in the outer regions of space the White Goddess reigns supreme, detached from humanity by thousands among thousands of broken light years. They say she is her own spiral galaxy, or perhaps more like a dead star that has shut in on itself and now spins away to the ends of existence. They say, too, that men have searched for her heart only to trap themselves in a web of atonal magic; it is impossible to escape this cosmic death. And they always swear she dreams terrible dreams that flicker in her black hole eyes, dreams that scream and lash icicle fingers down your throat. Yet, in truth, I do not know what to believe in these tales. I do not even know if I should believe that story about the boy who reached for the sun. It seems so far away, so inexplicable, so surreal in this world of black prisms and unfolding cosmic castles.
I only know one thing: my galaxy floats before me now in outer space, a ghostly white against black night, and her eyes are two black holes churning with phantom dreams; and I only know this: the moment, the glimmer in the perpetual night of space, has arrived.
Sleeping Beauty was put under a spell but she will awaken.
The ship begins to tremble. Nuts and bolts snap and the ship freezes in an invisible, impenetrable wall of space. When I look outside I realize all the stars have stopped moving as though they have fixed to one cosmic point in time, like the stagnant hand of my analog clock. Lumen waves, the colour of blood-soaked rainbow, curl against my ship, and Phantoms leer against my window. Their fingers seem to rake the walls before dispersing back into blackness. I tell myself that they are only a trick of magnetic play, ray particles, a commonplace occurrence. After all, gravity here plays by its own rules; will that account for some of the human-like faces I see outside the glass?
No. I am in Dante's cosmic inferno.
Captain, captain, my computer calls. I had almost forgotten my electronic friend, my only friend. I turn to its blank screen.
I ask, What is God?
The computer says, Please command all front and central stations and prepare for emergency-
Before I know it I have smashed its blue screen, a melting gurgle of cacophonic bleeps, and then silence, silence. From this point on, my ship will no longer retain automatic functions; for I have, in a way, cut its life-source too. Now I am alone.
Yet far off, the night song begins to sing.
Voices swell in harmony and crescendo, a rising chorus that rocks every crook and crevice of my soul. I ease my fingers over the controls that I know so well, and I steer myself until I face the galaxy, the dead star.
The event horizon is the theoretical boundary surrounding a black hole. Gravitational attraction here is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape.
Yes, dead star, I will come and make you alive again, though you surround yourself with superficial light, like the blips and beeps of the Carnival on Christmas Eve; I have searched so long for you, you hidden by wires and void and empty silence, my Sleeping Beauty; I will awaken you with a kiss, a little nudge of my silver-rimmed spaceship, I will cut through the storms and stress that enclose you; I will be your first lover in a hundred years, I will be the prince that wakes you out of your nightmare, I will be your nightmare, I will sing my night song and set my controls for the center of your beating, pulsing, panting heart.
I had, once, climbed a mountain while staying on an earth of exquisite beauty and reticence. It was a warm day, and the sun stirred my hair, lighting upon my naked face and arms. Flowers eddied in the wind. I closed my eyes and the mountain touched me.
But now I dive into the galaxy that is mine, into her black hole eyes.
The night is so sheer it feels like a blade of silence wedged down my throat. Above, the stars mock but they are unreal, like cheap flecks of paper stuck on pavement after a Christmas carnival. And the silence is so overwhelming it crushes. Trembling, I reach out to touch my hands, my faces, the remaining trails of my existence.
The spaceship is gone.
In a moment I come to my senses and I realize: it is going to be a bleak eternity in the fabric of outer space. It is going to be a recession, a black little death of all that is human in me. Soon, my limbs will bleed into newborn stars, my eyes will shut out, my brain will numb and sink into one endless void. My voice will become unheard though I will try to wing it through vacuum with my dying breath. Will you hear, will you hear? I will sing for the ships, if they ever come by; I will sing them my night song. I have wakened and claimed my Sleeping Beauty. And now I will be my own spiral galaxy as I cradle her smile in my empty, empty bones.