It had been a million years since the last star stopped shining and the sky darkened forever. Michael didn’t think much about it; he was born thirty thousand generations too late to know the difference. Besides, when the sky turned dark, we turned our backs on the sky. We clustered around the darkest parts of a dark universe, and there we made our own light, looking inward.
Oasis 4320 was a society like most others, living, loving, learning, lying, and dying on an artificial shell wrapped around a small spinning black hole. Michael himself had done most of these things, albeit in a different manner than most. As a generator specialist his life consisted of a precarious dualism. He lived and worked on the inner shell, closest to the hole—the lowest, so-called zero caste. If the sky still held stars, he wouldn’t be permitted a view. But his particular specialty allowed him to look directly at the hole itself and the light he pulled from it. It had a transcendent beauty that the other castes would envy if they understood it. In those moments when he stole threads of light from the hole’s angular momentum, Michael felt a peace and an awe that made the arrangement feel as though it fell in his favor.
This was not one of those moments.
Ariah was here, all the way from Six Deck. The closer people lived to that dark sky, the darker their disposition, and the greater their wrath. Those godlike beings who enjoyed the luxuries of Six Deck did not descend those lofty heights to bring good news. More often than not death followed them like a shadow.
“Open the shell,” demanded Ariah. “Show it to me.” A six caster would not call the hole by its name, of course.
Michael could not guess at Ariah’s agenda, but he did as he was told. Ariah was not like Michael and did not need protective equipment to look upon that holy blackness. But still, even the six casters had their limits. Michael forced Ariah into the opening and quickly shut the shell. Ariah would be drawn around that never-satisfied rent in space, stealing a bit of its energy, and would be converted into pure light. There was no loyalty among the upper legions. No one would come looking.
Michael had lived, loved, learned, and lied on Oasis 4320, but today would not be his day to die.