It took Yuo some time to realise why the thing he was looking at didn't make sense.
"That... that planet is black."
"It's not a black hole. It's a black planet. I can see stars reflected in it. How strange."
"You don't say!"
"Why are we here?"
"Other than philosophically? We are here because I have a deep spiritual question which I wish to be answered, and this is my space-Mecca. Also we happened to be in the area."
"Space-Mecca. You never said you were religious."
"I'm not. It's just a bit of fun."
"Jex, my darling, this is a... this should be a perfectly normal terracompatible planet. Who turned it black?"
"A wild, wild, crazy, crazy man with a horrifyingly large amount of money, an army of nanobots and a vision. It's marble. Black marble. Perfectly flat. Not a single bacterium. No atmosphere, no bugs. Searingly hot in the day, a crisp two hundred and thirty below during the night. Good for ice skating, I'm told."
"This is not a bit of fun. This is a disgusting wasted opportunity for billions of people to have happy, happy lives. This is the biggest waste of potentially inhabitable space in inhabited space. Who steals an entire planet?"
"This is a SHRINE, Yuo. It's meaningful. People come from all over. You'll understand in a little. Look, we're coming over the horizon. Do you see that black area?"
"You're pointing at black area on a perfectly smooth black planet in space. You're going to have to be more specific."
"The darkened continent. The perfectly circular indentation made of glass."
"I think I see it. My eyes hurt. What is it?"
"A window into the mantle of the planet."
"And what's in the mantle of the planet that we're so eager to see?"
"Liquid gel! Totally transparent to depths of thousands of kilometres!"
"Not if you're insane! It only looks black inside because the underside of the marble is black too. Not a lot of light gets in. You see the thing yet?"
"Is that... that's a comet?"
"On collision course! Look beyond it, you can see the next one lined up too. There are thousands of them! There's an array of deflector thruster robots out in the system's Oort Cloud and has been for decades, spooling up comets and flinging them in this direction one at a time. One impact per week, regular as clockwork. There's an explosion, there's fire, the whole world shakes. Trust me, you'll love it."
"It's... performance art?"
"The bots fold the marble over the devastation, the place becomes smooth again! The whole thing takes about a week and the cycle begins again. It's wonderful stuff! Destruction and recreation!"
"Hmm. I'd have to see it. Look, can we come back? We'll be late for Achenar Prime. Everybody'll be waiting for us."
"We won't be late. It's only a few more minutes, we got lucky with the timing. Get comfortable. Grab a good seat."
"The comet hits the black planet, the planet absorbs it like jelly."
"You'll love it. Trust me. It's unmissable."
Time passed and gradually, the reflection of the comet became clear in the surface of the planet it was about to hit.
"Well, that at least is a new one to me."
"Mirror planet, aye? Other side of Sagittarius there's one covered in aluminium foil. Stunning place. Shiniest single object in the known universe."
"How did I go so long without knowing this stuff existed?"
"You gotta look for it, babe! It's a big totality."
"It's not going to hit the clearness."
"Not aiming to. Glance hit. Knock the whole ball sideways. Here it comes, here it comes..."
There was a blinding white flash. The comet was only a few kilometres across and plowed into the solid planet at over a dozen kilometres per second, so it pulverised itself out of existence in less than a second, hurling black-grey-brown-red-white spurts of material off from the impact point in arcs, most of them directed in the direction of impact, themselves leaving lines of smaller impacts around the edge of the planet, while a visible black ripple spread out from the origin. FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM was how Jex and Yuo's onboard videoaudio sound effect generator chose to interpret this.
"Not bad. Seen better in the threedies. You say thousands of people come to see this?"
"Wait, wait. That's not it."
"What are we waiting for? The echo to go all the way around?"
"Watch the clearness! Just watch it!" Jex crossed her fingers and closed her eyes. "'Is there a way to reverse entropy?'"
"Entropy? What... It's a..."
They watched the dark blackness for what felt like an hour. Then, at last, a shadow could be seen rising underneath the glass continent. A shadow deeper than deep blue - an edge. It moved with incalculable slowness, starlight shifting restfully across it. It was a sapphire, bigger than worlds.
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