The voice, then, came out of nothingness.
Consciousness there was none. Not yet? She could hear it, anyway. First, it was like a whisper. But it soon came to mind clearer. »Dr. Hedström? Dr. Hedström, can you hear me?«
No idea. No response. »Dr. Hedström, wake up! Open your eyes!« Her lids moved. Dim light, sensations of grey, a sudden convulsion of fear. Eyesight set in. She laid on the ground, in a small room.
The doors were open, people ran across the corridor which was flooded with a deep crimson light. A tremendous thunder exploded in her ears. The room shook. An earthquake?
»Get up now!« commanded the voice. »You need get out of here!« The young man helped her to stand up and held her at her shoulders, looking in her face. »Anything all right?« he asked.
»Where am I?«— »In your lab. You fell when the shock wave of the explosion hit the station. Do you remember?«— »Explosion? Of what?«— »Of the device.«— »What device? What station?«—
»Ah, c'mon now, Doctor!« he said, grabbing her arm and heading out the room. They hurried down the corridor. »What's going on here?« she asked.
»The experiment was a failure, Doctor. You must go!« The experiment?—The experiment! Yes! Suddenly the vacuum in her mind filled with memories. The experiment! Sure! She remembered everything.
The device, the probe that brought it into position: 6.5 million kilometres from the station. The data from the sensors continuously scanning the inmost mechanism of the device. The exact point in time she set it into action. Yes! The experiment!
»Everything was OK.«— »No, it wasn't,« he said, »it was a failure.«— »What went wrong?«— »Don't know. You must find out. Left, left now!«
They entered a small hangar whose floor almost entirely was made of thick glass, resembling a window slid over space by the constant spin of the station. Anyway, it seemed as if the station stood still and ever-changing fields of stars moved into and out of view.
As fascinating that view was, as horrid the constant sensation of falling to walk that floor of glass, the empty iciness of space beneath.
»You can see it after this revolution,« he said and went to a console built into a big structure in the middle of the room. »See what?«— »The parhelion.«—
»What are you doing?«— »Preparing the capsule.«— »The capsule? For what?«— »For you to go, Doctor.« Slowly, as the station was rotating, the floor turned red, starting to give sight of a massive structure in space.
First its deep red rim became visible but soon it filled the whole window. »Good goodness!« Hedström whispered. The young man looked from his console to the floor, just for a second, then continued with his working.
»That's the horizon approaching,« he said, »the capsule is ready.« The airlock got clear, the hatch to the capsule opened. »It expands!« she noticed.
»It does.«— »We must make it collapse!«— »No way. How could we?«— »What?«— »We have no clue. You did say so. You told me you would be the only one to find out, anyway; but, not here and not now.
You thus must go.«— »And what about that parhelion?«— »It appeared at the opposite side of the horizon, exactly as you had predicted. We see it in a few moments. Get into the capsule!«—
»You want me to leave the station?«— »Exactly.«— »The purpose being?«— »The purpose being to do what you had devised.«— »I devised...that? When?«— »Before we started the experiment.«— »Before?«—
»Yes. You said the only escape hatch would be the parhelion, should anything go wrong.«— She sighed. »The parhelion is a bridge connecting one point in space to itself but in an unpredictable time from now.
If that could ever be an escape hatch, it would not bring me elsewhere, just to this same place at some other time, later or whenever.«— »Yes, but whatever will happen here will be over once you're through. From whatever direction you'd like to see it.«—
»Through?«— »So you devised.« The view changed slowly and a bright, nova like stellar structure appeared to be seen through the glass window floor.
They both looked at the beautiful object for a few seconds, speechless, then the young man interrupted the silence. »Ready for detaching probe on my mark.«—
»Roger that,« a voice acknowledged over intercom. »What are you doing?« she asked. »Bringing the second folded space device through the parhelion.«— »No! We need it to close the horizon, we must not lose it!«—
»Three, two, one...«— »No!«— »Mark!« They saw a small probe emerging from the station, holding direct course to the stellar structure, soon disappearing in its bright centre.
»What have you done? This was our only chance to stop the horizon from growing! I cannot do this without the second device.«— »You can, still.«— »How?«— »You'll follow it. You start during the next revolution.
Once you're through you have everything you need to make this undone. As I said, you cannot do it from here since, here, you have no idea how. This is what you told me.«—
»This is nonsense.«— »This is what you've told me, over and over again. Just before the gravitational shock wave hit us you'd told me that. I will follow the protocol. Get ready!«—
»Why is it that I cannot remember what I told you?«— »I do not know.«— »What shall I do with the device once I'm through the parhelion? Given I will survive the passage?«—
»I do not know. But here no one will survive, the horizon will destroy everything. You must all see yourself later on. You will.« Again, the horizon appeared in the window. It had grown remarkably since the last revolution.
The young man gave her a serious look. »Time is up, Doctor. Get into the vessel! Now!« She looked through the window, watched the giant dark red structure coming closer. »Yes. Yes, you're right,« said she and went to the airlock.
She climbed down into the capsule, took seat. »Put the headset on, Doctor,« the young man advised and closed the airlock. It was nearly dark inside the capsule.
Only tiny displays and all the many control bulbs shed some light into the vessel's blackness, blended with the dim red light from outside. She saw the horizon below her, the gigantic slit in space she had created.
Slowly it got out of sight as the station spun and the blue light of the parhelion appeared in the corner of the windows. She heard the voice of the young man in her ear.
»I transferred all data we could get to your on-board computer. The sensors of the station will continue to gather data from the horizon as it's approaching and transmit as long as possible.«—
»Copy.« The parhelion could now be seen in full size in the rear window of the vessel. She felt as if she had to face her very end and presumably that was it.
She had predicted the parhelion's appearance and modelled its nature, all its characteristics, its purpose, probably; but all that she did on paper, it was theory. In no way, she had thought that she would truly see it here, thus near the station: 0.00274 % of probability it would appear where it did—how probable was that?
»Detach capsule on my mark.« The young man's voice cut into her thinking. She suddenly fell back into the brutal depths of her life. How could the moment come thus fast?
»Three, two, one...«— »Wait!« she shouted, automatically. »Mark!« The capsule detached. Weightlessness set in momentarily.
Then the engine engaged and she was pressed firmly into her seat. She could not move a muscle, only watched the screen displaying a timer how long the engine would be active as she headed towards the bright centre of the parhelion.
Just 10 seconds remaining. Only ten seconds to eternity, she thought and followed the counter on the display. Three, two, one...engine stop.
Weightlessness. Immediate weightlessness. Quietude. Absolute quietude. The front window filled with the parhelion whose bright blue light flooded the capsule.
The vessel soon came near enough the structure to get into its gravitational pull and quickly gained velocity. Once she felt the gravity pulling her out her seat, the capsule started to gear and the force changed its vector.
She now was pressed into her seat as the gravitation got stronger. The display read 1.3 g, increasing. 1.5, 1.8 ... she took her eyes off the display and looked through the tiny rear windows near her feet as she fell into the parhelion.
Its blue light burnt in her eyes but she could not close them. She entered the structure backwards so she could see the ever-expanding horizon in the front window whose crimson light at least did not hurt the eyes.
The horizon's tidal forces had long destroyed the station and would have torn the capsule into pieces, also, had it not gained such great distance from the horrid cleft in space-time.
Anyway, the gravitation of the parhelion was as punishing. The frame of the vessel began to deform, she could hear the creaks of the metal being distorted by the force of the gravitational field.
»Calm down, calm down, Rahel. No fear. This is not a black hole,« she tried to reassure herself. She heard her breath. She felt her heart beating in her chest, unpleasantly slow.
»It will be over. It will soon be over. This is not a black hole,« she repeated as the vessel entered the centre of the parhelion. Master alarm.
Red lights. Nervous views. The capsule jolted and rattled as if it would have driven over rough ground. The blue light gained intensity. Sweat on cold skin.
The spacecraft geared again once the gravity became weaker so she could look through the big front window of the vessel while it flew deeper into the parhelion whose shape quickly changed to a bright blue ring.
Inside the ring, there was blackness. Entire blackness. The lights of the control panels started to blur and were distorted. The capsule was filled with darkness. The alarm went off.
The vessel seemed to be beyond danger. She passed the bright blue ring, fell into the black abyss, and while she was falling, the portal's blue colour darkened more and more. No stars outside.
Nothing. Was she alive, still? The power failed. All systems went offline. Zero gravity.
No force. No movement. Just blackness. Entire blackness. Two eyes' last blink. One last thought: