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By Eve Taft
Faln shifted and looked around the room. The space ship where the Galactic Representatives met stared out at the Sharan Galaxy. Like any Lu, he could focus in on even the most far away stars. He knew what every one was classified as without even looking. He could hear the conversation held at the end of the hall and through the large doors, made of petrified plant forms off Fander, before the planet had been turned into a nature conservatory. Seeing as the conversation was being held in the strange, clicking language of the Seelavisery, he couldn’t understand what was being said, but he had a fair idea that it was the same thing everyone was talking about, the reason they’d been called here in such a hurry.
“No one is going to want to hear what I have to say,” he thought, thinking of his hastily prepared data. “We haven’t accomplished anything. We’ve made the end come faster, if I’m honest.”
Faln was used to glares; very few Representatives enjoyed listening to Lu demand more funding for research. Still fewer enjoyed watching their planet’s industrial pollution plotted on a graph. The Lu, however, were the most scientifically advanced species in the universe, and as such, they conducted official Galactic Council research.
The research Faln was about to be presenting was something he wished he could ignore or disbelieve, but it was honest, unshakable fact.
Beside him, the Hara Representative shifted in its seat. Faln grimaced. Even with the thick auditory blockers he was wearing, everything was uncomfortably loud.
The moderator of the Galactic Representatives entered, gliding with effortless grace to a seat in the center of the infinity sign-shaped table where all the Representatives were seated. Junav Sonsan had been elected moderator before Faln had finished college. Junav, a rien (one of the five genders of the Rievengi) led the fifty-seven Representatives from various planets, solar systems, or, in the case of Fen, one very small galaxy. Rarely did a meeting occur when everyone was present, because it was difficult to get the entire universe to get along long enough for a meeting, let alone agree on a date. Five wars had been put on temporary hold for this one.
The Lu had never fought a war.
The universal language, which was slowly working its way into mandatory curriculums on enlightened planets that threw around the term “galactic citizen” a lot, was clunky compared to Lun. However, Junav spoke it well, and as Faln listened, he mentally translated it into his much more specific mother tongue.
“Welcome,” Junav began, “to the four-hundred and fifty-second meeting of the Galactic Representatives—is everyone accounted for?”
Faln hummed, a perfect, clear note, adding to the din of sounds. Junav raised a hand.
The room fell niev, the Lun word for empty of meaningful sounds. Faln could still hear the engine of the satellite running. It wouldn’t do much, soon enough, he thought. He began second-guessing his opening line—would he ever be able to convey the seriousness of what he was saying?
“No. I don’t even fully appreciate it myself. No one can. It’s the Law of Terror Management. Basic psych.”
“You are all, I trust, aware of why we are here,” continued Junav, gesturing out the window that spanned the length of the room to the Sharan galaxy. It had moved, Faln knew, without even looking.
“Closer…” Faln thought, and shuddered. “Lu don’t panic,” he told himself. “We listen.”
The Dnrg beside him was not of the same opinion, seeing as it was shivering in fright. He could hear its circulation racing. Faln was glad he didn’t have to deal with a circulatory system.
Junav continued. “Kalah’s Hole, since it must be said. If you could direct your sensory input organs to the screen—”
Faln stood up. He forced his voice to be steady. “Kalah’s Hole, as you know, is the black hole at the center of our universe. Ever since the beginning, we’ve been speeding away from it, but just recently, we turned back. It was a common theory—that the contraction and expansion of the universe was natural—but it began to accelerate during this lunar cycle. The solar system it consumed greatly increased its gravitational field—as did our probes.”
Faln heard murmurs at that, but ignored them. They had tried, damn it, and the Lu had been the only ones who had the technology and the funding and the out-and-out guts.
“The Ki Galaxy, which I’m getting hourly updates on, is coming within reach of Kalah’s Hole today. After it is consumed, the rest of the universe will follow suit rather rapidly.”
Faln paused. The words were inadequate, he knew. No one was panicking, which meant no one understood.
The Hara made a whistling noise, which was high pitched enough to hurt, and Junav said: “Yes, Lord Hon?”
“Has anyone estimated how long it will take us to reach…the hole?”
“We’ve worked out the numbers,” said Faln. “If we’re right, we have about a standard week until the outermost edges of the universe are...until they reach Kalah’s Hole.”
“Are consumed, you mean,” said another voice, an Ikir man, all the way at the other end of the loop.
A standard week was about two Lun days. Faln could feel himself tensing up, and he forced his muscles to relax. He had always know the next stage of being was waiting for him, but he had not imagined he would reach it with the rest of the universe. Surprisingly, their shared fate wasn’t inspiring camaraderie.
“What’s causing this?” asked the Gaaai, who represented an entire solar system that produced most of the universe’s energy. He was unused to not being the center of attention.
“Well,” said Faln, with an infinitesimal sigh, “we don’t know.”
That was what bothered him the most. He would die without knowing why he was dying, alone amongst millions of life forms who simply didn’t understand.
“We’ve always been moving toward Kalah’s Hole,” he continued, almost desperate. He needed someone else to understand, so they could share his despair. “It’s just been so slowly that no one really cared. There’s a theory, though, that the universe used to be expanding—quadrillions of years ago—and then Kalah’s Hole formed and started bringing it back. That’s what black holes do, you know, suck everything within reach in—”
“All right,” said the Dnrg, through a strong accent, “what happens in the hole?”
Faln shifted. “We’re not exactly sure,” he said. “The compression that would occur, though…it’s reasonably safe to say life would not exist.”
“And now they’ll see.”
The Hara made a sound that Faln registered as laughter. “Any other news for us?”
“Well,” continued Faln “it looks as if there would be another expansion. A rather large explosion, if you will. Energy and matter stay constant, you know…they just switch forms.”
“A large explosion?” asked the Hara. “A large explosion?”
“Yes,” replied the Lu. “Theoretically.”
Junav cut in. “Perhaps we could turn to precautionary measures?”
Faln shrugged. “Unfortunately, anything we send near Kalah’s Hole will only make expedient matters. There was talk of a magnetized field but…we haven’t the materials or the time. The team is working, and I’m connected to the labs now, but I’ve heard nothing.”
There were a few moments of niev, and finally, Junav said: “So there’s nothing we can do?”
“No,” Faln. “Nothing.”
Those two mundane words caused the panic Faln had foreseen, and he stood, awkwardly, with his graphs behind him.
“A final question,” said Junav. “Is there any chance of life surviving—in any form?”
“Not after going through the hole,” said the Lu. “We’ve run simulations…it’s impossible.”
Junav paused, and Faln could hear the moderator’s heart beating, steadily, just slightly elevated. All around, every life form was exhibiting all the signs of panic; the Dnrg was muttering under its breath and the Hara’s vitamin intakes were faster than normal. Faln felt strangely calm. Yee people had a lower than average capacity for fear, but a moment ago he had been nearly losing his grip on sanity. Calmly, rationally, he looked for what had changed.
As he listened to the sounds of the room and the galaxy outside, he felt for the first time a sense of unity that spread from one end of the universe to the other. It was as if every life form, from virus to living terra was singing out the same note.
“I have heard the final chorus,” he thought. “I am going to die, but I will have lived to hear it.”
His final thesis, after his first thirty years of study, had been on the final chorus. He’d nearly been laughed out of the trials, but he’d managed to pull together a large body of evidence that it existed—that it would it exist. And he had been right. He wondered if Professor Hil, who’d accused him of fabricating data, could hear it now.
“Life, then, is ending?” asked Junav. “Completely?”
Faln paused. This was the odd bit. He’d almost forgotten, because it seemed so inconsequential. “Well, he said. “Almost.”
The Hara leaned forward, and the chair below it creaked beneath its bulk. “What do you mean almost? You told us all we were going to die!”
“We are,” said Faln. “But there’s a backwater galaxy that’s not being affected—it’s got its own black hole that’s pulling it away. According to the math, Kalah won’t overcome it, even by the end.”
Junav, betraying surprise for the first time, asked: “What life is there?”
“There’s one planet,” said Faln. “It orbits an average star, and it is completely alone. As far as it knows, it’s the only life in the universe.”
“It will be,” said the Hara, dryly.
“Yes,” said Faln. “It will. After the second expansion, if there is one, it will be pushed to the outmost edge of the universe—and it will be the only life. But it’s primitive, thus far. It might evolve—but then it might not. We don’t know. But it has potential, I think, and it’s lived through all the models we’ve run.”
“What’s it called?” asked the Hara.
“Commonly?” said Faln. “Earth.”
At that moment, the ship rocked, and Faln heard the engines whine. They were moving now, inexorably, and he could see where the calculations had been off. They had given themselves so much time, wishfully.
He leaned back, listening to the chorus. The heartbeat, shouting, crying, panicking noises which were beginning to come together into an all intensifying racket were all the same note, and in a terrible way, it was beautiful. He was not alone.
In the end, there was silence.
Soon, there would be a very big bang.