I stand on a flat, red-hot plain. Looking up, I open my eyes wide and stare into...
...nothing. Not a single star or planet or moon, no comet or nebula, brightens the pure, black void. Those luminescent delights were reserved for the ancients. My heads up display, overlaid on my vision, flashes. I flex my arms within the suit, feeling the servos assist my motion. The gravity here would be seven million times that on Earth, if Earth still existed. Only the inertial dampers of the suit are keeping me from being squashed as flat as a bug.
100% CHARGE. MOVE TO OBJECTIVE.
I dismiss the message from my visor and walk in the direction my HUD indicates. There are no landmarks here, no hills or valleys, just a flat plain of dully glowing iron stretching to the horizon seventeen thousand kilometers away.
Below me, a thirty-kilometer-thick shell of iron spins slowly, its centrifugal force in perfect equilibrium with the gravity of the black hole far below it. In between, there is nothing but vacuum. All the mass of the old universe is here, all the iron and gold made by the long-gone stars. We few have survived on artificial worlds, the last bastions of life.
I reach my first objective, reflecting on my mission. We always knew we'd have to do this eventually, but we delayed too long. We have little time, now.
I unhook a small sphere, about four inches in diameter, from my belt. As I flick my eyes, activating my suit's short-range radio, its legs deploy, spiderlike in the reddish gloom. I place it on the ground, and its indicator flashes once. Primed and ready.
I deploy my jets with a flick of my left wrist. The blast sends me soaring. It's a deplorable waste of mass, but we're desperate, and I suppose it won't matter in the long run anyway.
Minutes later, I touch down on automatic, nice and smooth. I deploy another device, then move on.
Hours pass, and I've deployed almost three hundred of the spiderlike devices. Only one to go, now.
Land. Detach. Activate. Prime. Place. And I'm done.
My HUD flashes:
OBJECTIVE COMPLETE, RETURN TO POINT OF ORIGIN
I look up and zoom in with my retinal inserts. Far, far away, I see my next landing spot, the only other point of light I've ever seen. The Homeship.
My HUD visually plots the course for me, somewhat redundantly, as it will do all the flying. I flick my wrist and the jets fire. Around me, I watch other specs of burning flame appear: my comrades, all three hundred of us.
I notice that my suit has reoriented me. Looking down, I see the ship, still only a speck of light. There is no way for me to gauge my velocity; I'll have to trust my HUD.
300 KILOMETERS. DECELERATION.
I brace, and the jets fire again. The ship is visible now, burning hard away from the sphere.
I brace for impact. The ship's magnets will have me locked by now, but it's an instinct.
I wonder how I missed the 100 KM warning. I must deliberately slow my breathing.
A running countdown appears on my HUD. I am visibly slowing now. My jets give out at 20.2 KM, but the ship has me now.
The ship is running at full, something that hasn't happened since my childhood. The reactor section is glowing a visible white.
I can make out the lettering on the ship now: USS MERRIWEATHER LEWIS.
500 meters now.
I'm breathing hard again. This will be the last time I see her hull, I realize. It fills me with sadness, somehow, more than anything else. I love this ship.
Ten meters, and the dampers catch me. At five meters I'm falling like a feather. I barely even feel the impact.
The airlock opens. Around me, others land and walk solemnly in. We say nothing to each other; no speech is needed. We know what we must do.
The captain strips her suit first. We all follow, just as protocol dictates. We walk at attention, filing into the observation room. We have a perfect view from here. Though we are over twenty million kilometers away, the sphere almost fills our vision with its dull red glow.
The captain's eyes flick about the room as she counts us. We're all there - where else could we possibly be?
Her hand stretched forward, reaches the box. Flicks the cover up. The label reads DETONATE. She applies precisely 2 Newtons of pressure to the key. It lights up momentarily, and all our heads snap toward the window.
A pulse of radio races toward the sphere. As it reaches the closer side, the metal spiders transmit a synchronized pulse around the giant iron shell. Then, with perfect timing, they detonate.
In front of our eyes, a gate to hell is opened. Each spider contains a three hundred megaton bomb, and tier simultaneous detonation applies the pressure of fifty million supernovae to the sphere.
It cracks, slowly at first, and then faster. Its spin negated, the chunks begin to fall into the blackness at the center. The black hole, sustainable at this giant mass with sixty thousand tons of input per day, suddenly absorbs five hundred quintillion.
And for one crucial instant, it actually glows, visibly, with Hawking radiation.
That glow, produced by a fluctuating quantum field, signifies and event that has happened only once before, at the very beginning of the history of the universe. The event horizon collapses, and all the pent-up matter and energy, imprisoned for ten trillion years, are released in a single shining second.
And I realize something. We've just created a universe.
We are gods.
For a moment, I am stunned by triumph. Then the radiation front reaches us, and we taste whiteness and oblivion and peace.