“Out, out!” roared the unfolding supernova, its end birthing one last litter of photons into the universe. Out these photons flew, alongside their elemental brethren, into every direction of this breathless third dimension. Out they flew, these fairies of light, into the stunning dark.
The innumerable photons met their destinies in waves and swaths, then millions and hundreds. They crashed into comets, fed the plants of far-flung worlds, warmed the ice of moons, cried the news of their sun’s demise to fellow stars, and chronicled that wondrous death into the eyes of intelligent stargazers until only one photon, the last glimpse of its sun, journeyed across the universe, and journeyed alone.
The photon yearned to join its siblings in becoming part of the universe’s vast mechanics. Perhaps it would shine on the ice caps of an unexplored world, held for a breath in diamond suspension before splitting in a burst of light. Or it would be accepted into the brilliant rainbow scales of the nebulae leviathans. Or it would fall through a window, and into the eyes of a newborn gazing for the first time at the night sky.
It came upon a black hole, and passed within a whisper of the event horizon. The photon cursed its inability to alter course, for even sinking down a black hole’s drain is a noble destiny for a photon. Black holes and dark matter need to eat, after all. It got close enough to blow the black hole a kiss, and then the photon flew on.
It sidled up to an asteroid floating in a parallel path. In the nanoseconds it took the photon to speed by, it wished the asteroid a good eon. They exchanged tales of the marvels and terrors they had seen on their voyages. Under their talk burned the photon’s desire to have struck the asteroid, to have traded stories with it forever. But the nanoseconds ticked away, and the photon flew on.
A planet loomed in the distance, and the photon hoped it was on a collision course with the titan. The photon passed the empty husk of a spaceship, its hull ripped apart as if from gigantic claws, and darted through a dense ring of debris orbiting the planet. As it drew closer, the photon saw the planet was scarred and barren. Whatever war had picked its teeth on the planet’s bones had spared not sea nor land nor sky. But, as the photon zipped by, it thought it saw, in an isolated corner of the world, a single blade of green pushing to the surface. To have been the light to nourish such a sign of hope! The photon sighed, and flew on.
The photon dreamed. It dreamed as it danced to quasar arias, whizzed through the gaps between dark matter, waved at white dwarfs and red giants, sailed across the arms of galaxies, and hummed to itself as it wandered.
But the stars grew further and further apart. The planets became scarce, then nonexistent. The dark broadened as mass stopped appearing in all its magnificent guises. The lone fairy of light plunged deeper and deeper into black.
And then all was behind, the night ahead. And there, beyond the end of all things, the photon knew it journeyed without a destination, a pilgrim without a Mecca. The gaping maw of entropy waited to swallow it whole with its infinite jaws. Out the photon flew, out to unceasing night on the back of time. The universe receded from everything, to a galaxy, to a world, to a constellation. The photon had travelled many times longer than its sun had lived, and on it would fly for longer still. Out into the night, the universe now a twinkling star behind it.
And then nothing.
Slowly, the photon forgot. It forgot the curve of planets, the trembling of pulsars, the color of nebulae. It forgot the creatures that sometimes reached the stars. It forgot the stars themselves. It forgot its own sun. It forgot heat. It forgot light. It forgot what it was. It forgot.
And then, in the distance, something. A something that looked familiar, like a hole punched into the darkness. There was a word for that something. Photon. That was a photon. A lonely, forgetful photon in the distance, one that was drawing closer. This impossible crossing made the photon remember that it too was a photon, a fairy of light. And, unfathomably, a second photon appeared from a different direction. Then another; and another; and with each photon, each oncoming dot, these forgetful photons remembered something else. They remembered galaxies. They remembered comets. They remembered planets and stars and their suns. In hundreds and millions, then swaths and waves, the photons raced to crest the night. And there, beyond the end of all things, in the incontrovertible belly of entropy, they met their destinies with each other. They remembered heat. They remembered light. With a bang.
Banner Imge: ESA/Hubble [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons