"Are not the stars just so beautiful?"
The voice seemed to come from nowhere, but it encouraged me to look up at the speckled night sky. I suppose it was right, they did seem beautiful. Pinpricks of white light piercing the obsidian folds of a sunless blanket. They could resemble all sorts of things to a philosophical watcher; from hopes and wishes, to myths, to guides, to bittersweet memories of the past shining so brightly though they be long dead.
But to me, they are ardent orbs of blazing gas. They are obstacles. They are dangerous. You see, I used to be one of what they called a HarvAster. A dumb pun using a Greek root for star. Basically, there was a massive technological revolution about twenty years ago. Scientists somehow figured out a way to capture volumes of dark matter, and from there experimented until they realized they could use it as a potent energy source. And of course, instead of being content with this massive discovery and using it to fix Earth's energy problems, they aimed for the stars, so to speak.
About five years passed by and they developed spaceship thrusters that could run on dark matter. Don't ask me how that works, it's way above my pay-grade. To make things even crazier, since they found that dark matter engines were capable of exponentially higher power outputs, they were able to improve them up to speeds just under light speed within three years. Almost immediately, the planet began sending out ships at monthly intervals, exploring the planets within our solar system since they were now reachable within a matter of hours. All sorts of new materials were collected in this way, which somehow allowed the scientists to improve their systems even further and they eventually broke the light speed barrier.
Physics works strangely past that point. There were innumerable accidents. Humanity persevered, however, and we became able to travel the course of light years in a matter of days. That was right about when karma struck for the first time. There were side-effects to gathering dark matter. Doing so took enormous amounts of our planet's own energy and lots of resources besides to generate even a little of the substance. By the time we were zooming out around the void, we'd pretty much vampirized the Earth. We desperately needed more energy and a better way of collecting dark matter. That was when we turned to the stars, literally, this time. We harvested stars for energy. Not like you harvest crops, though; there was no replanting. We drained stars and moved on. The machinery was ridiculously effective, too. Solar powered, so they ran off the very light stars gave off; while concurrently siphoning the chemical and thermal energies out into special batteries. The Prometheus, they called it. I can't help but wonder if these people even realized how many red flags they were giving to themselves.
We lost a lot of people working on these stars. Different stars required different preparations and operations. As effective as the equipment was at its role, there were other sorts of malfunctions and technical failures: airlocks opening at random and sending crew members straight into their fiery deaths (or worse, the eternal void), tethers on space walks coming free, and temperature moderators giving out and baking entire crews to death. The worst of it is, you can't do anything in those situations but watch as people die. The stars are cruel like that, but maybe we deserved it. Maybe it was a sign. Nevertheless, the energy harvested from stars was able to save the planet and provide a reliable way to generate dark matter fuel for a spacecraft while in flight. This meant we essentially had unlimited superfuel and no longer had to manufacture it on Earth or refuel. We had fully achieved a sci-fi fantasy in reality.
As if. Did you know that the collection and development of dark matter for fuel involves forcing dark matter particles to interact and combine with more normal particles? Specifically Higgs boson particles. And do you know what makes Higgs boson particles special? They are unique quantum particles that give mass to elementary particles like protons and electrons. And what makes dark matter special? Before we reduced its value to a fuel source, dark matter was understood to be part of what holds the universe together. Its particles, in short, possess an attractive gravitational force more potent than normal matter, as there is not enough normal matter in the universe to produce the gravitational force to hold itself together. Now it isn't like we were using up too much of the universe's dark matter (there's like five times as much dark matter as there is normal matter, so that's like saying you lowered the sea level by scooping some of it up into a cup). Rather, we simply didn't fully understand the physics surrounding the particles, their interactions, and the fact that there was also dark energy, which we had, for some unknown reason, ignored.
Normally, it is impossible to generate fuel while travelling at faster than light speeds, since dark matter particles travel at sub-light speeds. Well, something happened one day. A team of explorers, HarvAsters, and probably researchers, decided to investigate a black hole. We don't know exactly when this happened, since the gravity around a black hole distorts time so much, but speculation puts it anywhere between eight and three years ago. In any case, that team messed up. All we have of what happened to them are a scrambled assortment of transmissions sent out across the years signalling for help and trying to describe their situation. They, as cliché as it might sound, became trapped by the black hole's gravitational field. You may ask what the problem was, as our ships were capable of faster than light speeds and should be able to easily reach escape velocity. For some reason, though, they found themselves suddenly out of fuel. Maybe the gravity of the singularity somehow neutralized the dark matter particles or forced them to annihilate early.
Naturally, they tried to produce new fuel so they could get out. The thing is, we underestimated the penance for attempting to conquer the universe. It seems that when we absorb dark matter and bind it, pockets of dark energy flood into the void left behind. Dark energy is the opposite of dark matter, in that it causes an anti-gravitational force, or a repelling force. These pockets never did anything under any circumstances we ever encountered, so they were never truly discovered or researched. And so, what happened next to this poor, trapped crew is an impossible-to-explain event that may as well have been the culmination of all the sci-fi and pseudoscience baloney you can imagine. To put it succinctly, a nightmare.
Something, between all the contrived particles and forces around that black hole and spacecraft, reacted. There was some kind of an interaction inconceivable except by the utter chance of maximum human ignorance and error. Perhaps they finally got enough dark matter to start their engines, but had already sunk too close to the black hole. And perhaps the engines could not get up to escape velocity fast enough. Perhaps they slowed their decent and gained an inkling of hope. Perhaps they broke light speed just as they hit the event horizon, the place where no amount of speed will ever save you. We can only imagine that they were somehow still producing dark matter fuel even as they entered the horizon and produced the impulse necessary for light speed. Dark matter, dark energy, the sources of infinite energy, and a black hole, an example of infinite mass, united by human folly...
It truly makes no sense, but that chain reaction resulted in something unspeakable. Experts still do not know what to classify it as. A mass, a force, an energy? Nothing quite fits. In some ways it still resembles a black hole, swallowing up all it comes across, distorting time and space, and being something beyond our comprehension. But it is so much more. So much worse. It spread. It is still spreading. It eats up matter, dark matter, dark energy, literally everything. And as it gets larger, and as it devours more, the universe gets smaller. And every day, that happens faster. It's gone on so long at this point that the observable universe has shrunk on one edge.
We can't go out there anymore. That thing is eating the stars. You can't see it, of course. The light of their disappearance hasn't reached us yet. The same goes for most of the stars we harvested. You couldn't imagine just how many of those glittery dots up there just aren't. Anyone we sent out there to try and collect new energy from the stars never came back. Some random on the internet dubbed the encroaching thing Adrestia after the goddess of vengeance, and it stuck. The name literally means "she who cannot be escaped."
Estimates suggest Adrestia will reach Earth sometime in the next four years. We never nailed down the idea of terraforming, and even if we had and had somewhere to run to, wouldn't that only delay the inevitable? There has never been a more hopeless situation as far as I know. Impending doom, coupled with the guilt of our mistakes and the fact that this is it? There will be nothing after this. No legacy, no continuation of the story. There is no stopping it and no running from it. They might try to send some sort of an ark out in the faintest of hopes, but really...we never found any other life out there. In every direction we looked, there was ne'er a sign of anything but us, alone in all the universe. And to be frank, Adrestia may have already surrounded us. We just can't see far enough to know. And we can't really go to check without risking bringing ourselves to an even earlier demise.
I remember what those stars did to us, but I also know what we did to them. For every star we killed, a wish was erased, a dream was made impossible, a myth was dishonored, a guide was ignored, a bittersweet memory--well, those were made all the more bitter. So yes, I should say the stars are beautiful. They are really, so beautiful. Seeing them all out there like that, it looks like we never did anything. Like everything is fine and we never prodded the abyss.
Tears are welling up in my eyes now, for I just saw a star wink out of existence. Yet the remaining ones look ever so much brighter through my wetted eyes. Yes, Adrestia is coming for us. And yes, the stars are beautiful.
Written by MystfitX