Forty-Five Seconds that Matter

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Imagine how you would feel, starting your breakfast dosa before heading into university to defend your thesis on astrophysics, then looking out of the window to see the sun looking like a misshapen aubergine. Seven tenths of the solar disc were completely normal but to the top left, from my view, it was stretched, like it was attempting some kind of yoga manoeuvre.

I put down my half-eaten pancake and opened my laptop, navigating to the NASA website. There it was, just as I’d feared when I’d first glimpsed our star so miserably out of sorts:

Solar warping due to previously undetected, encroaching black hole.

I picked up my cellphone and dialled, waited for my supervisor to pick up. “Hello, Professor Allen? Yes, it’s Amit. I won’t be able to come in to do my viva today. Well, firstly, I have an upset stomach. Secondly, it’s the end of the world. No, I’m serious, look out of the window.” I waited while he went to see for himself, looking at my dosa getting cold over on the table. He came back to the phone, hysterical. “I’m glad you understand professor. As you can imagine, I’m going to try to find a flight back to India to be with my family. OK. The best to you, too.”

I hung up the phone and dropped it on to the couch, then walked over to the desk on the other side of my open-plan apartment and opened the pristine file of papers, ready for my defence.

So many months of work, all for nothing.

I held the folder over the waste paper basket and watched as the sheets began to slide in, one by one. Then I froze. I had an idea.

I clutched at the top sheet and another wad from behind it and marched to the sofa, sitting down and redialling the professor.

“Professor Allen, it’s Amit again. No, I haven’t reconsidered the meeting, but I have thought of a way that it might be possible to stop the black hole. Do you think you can get hold of one of your contacts at NASA?” The other end of the phone went silent, then Allen told me that they might be too busy to speak to me in the circumstances. “Look, professor, please try. Tell them I have an idea that might save the world.”

I put the phone down and went back to the kitchen to finish my breakfast.

#

It was just before noon when the screen of my phone sparked to life. A group skype call. I answered quickly. “Amit, we’ve got about five minutes to get your idea across, I’d like you to meet Professor Douglas, as of today head of the Extinction Event Reaction Team at Nasa.”

I smiled, “thank you so much for giving me your time, sir. It’s really an hono-“

“We’re about forty-five seconds into your five minutes, Mr Gee. Professor Allen speaks highly of you, which is why we’re talking now, but you must cut to the chase.”

I shook my head at the stupidity of my blathering. “You’re right sir. So, cutting to the chase, are you familiar with the ‘Nature’ paper on Hawking radiation and black holes?”

“That they emit a proportion of what they consume as HR and eventually dissolve?” The professor angled his head to one side, glaring into the screen.

I nodded my head, yes, stammering nervously as I tried to go on. “Well, my research was on th-that topic and, my theory states that… if we b-blasted the black hole with enough matter it might-“

“Might dissolve before it eats through our sun?” The professor scratched his chin, as though pondering my idea, then shook his head. “We’ve looked at the measurements. It’s not quite on the supermassive scale but, short of somehow pushing another planet into it – and everything that might entail in consequences – not feasible. Thank you for sharing the idea Mr Gee, quite brilliant, but I’m going to have to get back to-“

“Sir,” I interrupted. He stopped mid-sentence. Not likely the sort of fellow used to interruptions. “I’m sorry sir, but the theoretical principle in my research was looking, not at physical matter as the source but the base of all matter – information – as the means to dissolve the hole.”

I watched on screen as the pixeled image of him twitched, seemingly deep in thought. “Hold on.”

We suddenly had a disorientating view of the ceiling of the office as the professor must have put his phone down. I looked at the image of professor Allen. He smiled back at me. We waited. Then we were back.

“I’ve talked to some colleagues about it. No-one is sure it’s going to work but there are only two possibilities: yes or no. How much data do we need to fire up into that thing for this to work? By your calculations?” The professor asked me so matter-of-factly.

“If you can send me the calculated mass of the hole, I can do the math,” I said, confidently.

“It will be with you in three minutes, Gee. Looking forward to your response.” And the screen went blank.

#

I was flown to NASA headquarters by helicopter to watch as the internet – in its entirety – was sent in ultra high frequency waves into the heart of the black hole from thirty-two telescopes all over the visible hemisphere. After twelve hours mainlining coffee and watching telescopes go offline and others come on, we got the first reading, it was working.
I brought up the video feed of the sun from Japan. The portion of the sun ‘eaten’ was at forty-eight percent. Two more and it was too late.

“We’re too late,” Professor Douglas called out as he strode into the room.

“Sir, there’s still two percent before-“

“There’s too much mass left, Gee. It’s over. Let’s hope that in a different multiverse you didn’t waste those forty-five seconds.”

About the Author: 
Kev Harrison is a British author of dark fiction living and working in Lisbon, Portugal. He has had work published this year in a variety of anthologies over the past year, alongside some outstanding authors. He is currently working on his first novel.