We arrived at a clearing. Sort of. It was difficult to explain, but the support beams and springs sort of thinned out and stretched away, without actually doing any such thing, leaving a warped region that wasn’t so much empty as filled with matter so dull as to make the space seem functionally empty even though part of your brain insisted there had to be something there, with the odd spike or filament of couch-innards extending into it like a giant inside-out sea urchin, but really nothing like a sea urchin at all, and not giant either because we were still hunched inside a couch. The rope, too, speared into this area and faded to nothing.
And in the centre of it all sat the non-event horizon.
I wasn’t sure what I’d been expecting, but the non-event horizon was about the size and shape of a tennis ball, perhaps slightly larger at one end. It was grey, with a blue stripe around the circumference and a little glowing screen and a couple of buttons on its northern hemisphere. It was very clearly a machine of some sort, but beyond that … my brain just refused to worry about processing the visual data it was receiving from my increasingly-disinterested eyes and the flaccid, sluggish interplay of light and matter around the nongularity. It was just a great big fat Whatever in the middle of my visual cortex.
Wesson and I stopped on the edge of the fade-out zone and lodged ourselves among the metal struts. There was no sign of Creepy or Michael.
“So,” I said, “not actually a naturally-occurring phenomenon.”
“Oh no,” Wesson said, eyes fixed on the directionlessly-malevolent egg. “Such nullification of the pattern density register could only be initiated by a conscious hand. It is a weapon, my portly friend. A weapon of inconceivable power, since the conscious mind simply cannot be bothered to try to conceive of it.”
“And not generated by our couch being boring,” I added, just a little accusingly – although I had to admit I was somewhat mollified by Wesson’s apparent decision to wholeheartedly embrace the melodramatic exposition voice.
“Not generated, no,” he replied vaguely, “although certainly masked.”
“And not human,” I said, “unless the CSIRO have started to design technology around a grey-egg-shaped-thing-with-racing-stripe theme, for no real reason,” I paused. “Although it does sort of look cool – I guess – from what I can see of it,” I paused again. “But that’s not really what scientific agencies base their decisions on, is it?”
But Wesson was still staring at the object.
“It’s perfect,” he said. “The nongularity lies dormant until it is remotely triggered, and then the device builds in power, slowly at first and then with exponential speed. It could sit here and feed upon the physical and conceptual energy of your living room furniture for months, and then go critical and consume the majority of this solar system in a matter of seconds. It will convert this entire region of space into dark matter, and the outer planets will just forget there’s anything here for them to orbit, and so they will consequently drift away into the cosmos.”
“Well we should probably try to stop – wait, did you say ‘dark matter’? You mean that’s what dark matter is?” I demanded, then paused in consideration. “No wonder nobody’s ever bothered to try and explain it.”
“How could they?” Wesson asked, his eyes rapturous. “It’s the very definition of nothingness. The matter engulfed therein still exerts some scientifically-verifiable effects, but as far as anyone’s concerned it’s just not there. So people say ‘dark matter’ and move on with their lives. Nongularity warfare has destroyed over ninety-five percent of the known universe.”
“Engulfed therein,” I approved. “Nice. But how about we-”
“This is how the world ends,” Wesson murmured dreamily. “Not with a roar, but with a meh.”