Gravity Well

by Ashley Arnold

Try as he might, Kevin couldn’t escape the gravity well.

The event horizon hung like a curtain of heavy clouds in front of him. That epiglottis of horizons looked so close yet was always out of reach. But that was the nature of the event horizon—things could come in, but nothing could ever get out.

So Kevin sat and waited. Despite the excitement that another day might bring, for there were always new gifts from outside, existence at the centre of the galaxy had become tiresome.

Then a phone emerged from the curtain, followed by an ever-increasing line of cable. Kevin snatched the receiver and put it to his ear. ‘Hello?’

‘Kevin? How are you boy?’

‘Fine, I guess. Who’s this?’

‘I’m Dave, the Supreme Ruler of the Galaxy. We’re going to get you out by piling all the matter in the galaxy in there. When we’re done, you’ll be able to climb out.’

‘That sounds expensive.’

‘The galaxy has voted in favour—unanimously. The fate of a boy stuck at the bottom of a gravity well has united the galaxy like nothing before.’

‘Won’t filling the hole with more matter only make the event horizon larger and stronger?’

‘You’d think so wouldn’t you? But apparently there’s a point of diminishing returns. The more matter in there, the closer it all is to the edge. My mathematicians assure me it’s true. They’ve shown me the calculations, and I’ve never seen more pages filled with numbers and obscure squiggles.’

Kevin thought for a moment over what he knew of black holes and event horizons. Supposedly nothing could escape the event horizon, so intense was the gravitational pull. ‘How can you hear me anyway? How is my voice getting out of the well?’

‘The mathematicians and the engineers, my boy. They can protect a tubular region the size of an electron so that an electric signal can get out. They assure me they can’t make it large enough for a person to fit through, otherwise we’d have the fire brigade down there dragging you out as we speak.’

‘Well, okay. Let me know when you’re done.’ But the line had gone dead, the cable having snapped.

* * *

Soon after, matter rained from the horizon. At first ladders and step stools, even a lift carriage, as if the universe thought it would help him to get closer to the edge if he had something to climb up. Although it was well intentioned, for Kevin it meant having to dodge a stream of bullets falling from the sky.

Soon larger items came down, until the crushed remains of entire planets and the gaseous remnants of stars—their reactions extinguished by liberal smatterings of nuclear retardant foam—came down. All the while Kevin had to continually stay on top of the latest barrage. It takes a long time to climb through a planet-sized bucket of matter, so it was just as well time had no meaning at the centre of a black hole. The horizon looked no nearer, or rather it looked as near as ever but always remained out of reach.

The onslaught went on and on—the universe was really making its best effort on his behalf.

When it finally happened, it took only a fraction of a second, close to a Planck length of time. One moment Kevin stood atop the pile of matter that was the galaxy, the next he had fallen through the event horizon, becoming the first person to do so.

Outside, in real space, there wasn’t much light. The expected glow of countless stars was missing, as those stars no longer existed. Complete darkness surrounded him, except for a dull red line that marked the radiation leakage from the black hole.

Then a light clicked on. A man floated before him, a handheld torch pressed beneath his chin.

‘Kevin. You’re finally here.’

‘Dave?’

‘Yes, I’m Dave. Not the Dave you spoke to. That was millions of years ago for us, on our side of the well. But every Supreme Ruler of the Galaxy since then has been called Dave in his honour.’

‘I’m free then?’

‘Of course. But you’ll have to excuse me though. The black hole is so huge now that even I, the last remaining matter in our galaxy, must fall through. Here, take this.’

Dave handed Kevin the torch, then rippled through the event horizon. Kevin was left alone again as the batteries slowly died.

Copyright © 2006 Ashley Arnold.
First published in our Infinitas Newsletter, December 2006 .

This page last updated 16th September 2008.