Journey to the Centre of the Couch, Aside: Dicing with Death

A little while ago I made a throw-away comment about black holes, and dicing with them, that I’d like to take a brief time-out to explain, because frankly what Creepy did next was characteristically – and paradoxically – unpredictable, random, crazy and annoying, so I’ll step back a metaphorical moment and relate this anecdote.

Because what are you going to do, fire me? Put Yool, the inexplicably buff Christmas tree who has been here the whole time, in charge of the story?

Not many people are aware that black holes are more than just ultra-dense singularities that draw in light and matter, the last collapsed remnants of unspeakably ancient stars. Of course, that’s kind of what they are, and it’s amazing, but it’s only true in a small, taxonomic, ultimately narrow way that entirely lacks a sense of magnificence that I do my best to bring to my everyday life, especially when I feel it’s particularly lacking in the magnificence department. You might as well say that a person is a collection of carbon and water in a sort of calcium-reinforced sludge-bag where neurons fire to lend the assemblage a stimulus-response behavioural model so it will flail around and make a lot of noise when it’s set on fire.

All true, more or less, but ignores the beauty of the whole to such a colossal degree as to go beyond mere offensiveness and become simply amusing.

It fails to take into account the cynicism of black holes, their philosophy, their wonderful music, and their absolutely crippling gambling addiction.

Here’s the thing. Nothing much can escape the pull of a black hole, except the more esoteric supra-light-speed entities and interconnected thought-patterns, unbound from their electromagnetic framework. Pure balls-to-the-wall Jiminy Cricket magic feather no-place-like-home uranium-enbullplopped imagination, in short. Something human beings at once have no shortage of, and no conception of. The cruise liners of their minds glide through dark waters and they get obedient little chunks of imagination-ice from their ship-ballroom drinks dispensers, and kid themselves that they know what ice can do.

Aside from imagination, black holes express themselves in functions of what they consume, and how. It’s difficult to explain. But they draw stuff in, and keep it, and this fundamentally affects their attitudes towards ownership, possession, loss and gain. Even towards the concepts of past and present. Trade and exchange are exotic ideas to them, basically on a level of pure theory.

That’s why they’re so nuts about gambling.

It’s essentially impossible for human beings to comprehend intelligence, sentience, significantly alien from their own. They can just about understand chimps and dolphins and dogs and things, but only in terms of their own human intelligence, translated into some framework they can understand. Starting from stimulus-response, and working up to instinct, fight-or-flight, primitive and then complex emotions, motivations, dreams and self-identity … humans systematically overlay all these things onto other organisms – even the very concept of the organism – and base all their assumptions and understanding on these vastly arrogant, teeteringly illogical premises. To do otherwise is just not in human nature.

This in itself is an evolutionary measure. We’d probably find it a lot more difficult to eat stuff if we thought about it in any broader or more communal way.

Anyway, the point is, throw it all out as you spiral in toward the event horizon, because from the very fundamental basics on up, black holes share none of these things. Your average black hole is what we’d describe as an emergent intelligence (and we’d pretend to know what that means), a becoming complexity, if not a life-form as we understand it. And while I won’t stoop to making a joke about their impressive gravity, they have an undeniable presence.

The one I met called himself The Headless God. I asked him why, back when I first met him.

“Simplicity itself,” he[1] replied. “Bump yourself inside my last stable orbit and find out.”

[1] I use the masculine pronoun, of course, simply as a matter of convenience. The Headless God used the term ‘God’ rather than ‘Goddess’ consciously, insofar as the concept of consciousness has any meaning in this context, so although no real gender ought to be assumed or implied, I followed his lead.

How I’d come to be within the spinning grasp of The Headless God – sliding along the great spiral strings of what he referred to whimsically as his celestial lute – is rather a long story, but let’s shorten it to ‘I was in an escape pod’. The last gasp of propellant had settled me into the fabled last orbit against the black hole’s pull, and as what seemed like the rest of the light, matter and energy in the universe drained past me I was able to make out the slow strumming of those strings, the spider in the middle of its web plucking on the strands, calling in flies and expressing itself to the universe.

“Doesn’t that kill people?” I asked him.

“Not always,” The Headless God said cheerfully.

You might think it was just a delusion, the feverish hallucination of a human being so utterly out of its natural element that it filled the blanks edited into its mind by the self-protecting erasure of nightmare, crafting fantasy to refill the void left behind by its own mind crumbling into dust.

You might very well think that.

Still, it wasn’t names or other philosophies I happened to want to anecdote about now, so much as the gambling. As it happened, The Headless God’s game of choice was Thrice, a sort of outer-space version of craps that he’d picked up from the dwindling radio broadcasts and last rubble-strewn remains of some civilisation or other whose sun had gone supernova and sent a whole arc of their solar system into his embrace.

Thrice, as the name might suggest, involved three six-sided dice (actually in the original version it involved three three-sided dice that not only defied human senses of geometry but also counted their pips in a weird mathematical poetry of three-stacked power towers, but The Headless God agreed to keep it simple for me and I happened to have my lucky red and green and blue D6s with me), wherein both players rolled and attempted to get the higher score. Xxorgon-eyes – in this case three ones, but in the original three nines which essentially were the lowest you could roll on a real D3 but looked much the same as three eyeballs and this made The Headless God marvel about cosmic synchronicity – meant instant and utter loss of the game, but otherwise the rolls went on in an uncomplicated but rather involved sequence with which I won’t bore you.

Naturally, I wagered my escape pod and all its contents, including me. If I won, The Headless God would let me go. If I lost, he would consume me. I’m not entirely sure whether he slipped some other condition into his victory – I got the strong impression that if he’d won, he would have shifted his course through the darkness of space and begun merrily eating his way into parts of the galaxy I cared about – but as it happened, obviously, he didn’t win.

He also began the game of Thrice with the agreement that if he lost due to Xxorgon-eyes, he would let me go free but would take one of my lucky dice as a consolation. Which is why I now only have a red and a green lucky D6. I still carry the pair of them with me wherever I go, even though they’re not much good even for human-rules Thrice anymore.

Hey, I didn’t tell you it was a great anecdote.

About Hatboy

I’m not often driven to introspection or reflection, but the question does come up sometimes. The big question. So big, there’s just no containing it within the puny boundaries of a single set of punctuationary bookends. Who are these mysterious and unsung heroes of obscurity and shadow? What is their origin story? Do they have a prequel trilogy? What are their secret identities? What are their public identities, for that matter? What are their powers? Their abilities? Their haunted pasts and troubled futures? Their modus operandi? Where do they live anyway, and when? What do they do for a living? Do they really have these fantastical adventures, or is it a dazzlingly intellectual and overwrought metaphor? Or is it perhaps a smug and post-modern sort of metaphor? Is it a plain stupid metaphor, hedged around with thick wads of plausible deniability, a soap bubble of illusory plot dependent upon readers who don’t dare question it for fear of looking foolish? A flight of fancy, having dozed off in front of the television during an episode of something suitably spaceship-oriented? Do they have a quest, a handler, a mission statement, a department-level development objective in five stages? I am Hatboy.
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