Stillwater: A Short Story

It is still an early draft.



To Anna


Story Iteration #4[j]f

Work in Progress

Instead of footnotes, I have laid out some comments that I think may aid your enjoyment.


Del decided to consume a star.

Although it could be costly, feeding on the small fusion furnaces had been Del’s most reliable source of sustenance. He[k][l][m][n] needed to continue his search for an optimal target.

Faint spots washed away like raindrops on Del’s path, tracing afterglow of varying lengths. Average stars couldn’t cut it; he was after targets heavier than the common ones.

Nearby, in the familiar void, a few thousand atoms were busy mocking up a wry scale model of their galactic home. For Del, individual particles and stars called to mind a similar degree of randomness.

Stars, they were lively fellows. They cruised the galaxy at speeds sometimes comparable to Del himself. That being said, like dust, they were really hard to keep track of: stars would change courses all the time, as though in an eternal, capricious dance with one another.

In Del’s mind, the coldest and stiffest equations of orbital mechanics – if he knew about them – was but a tepid pond of liquified probabilities and dissolving uncertainties. Knowing the stars’ distribution readily sufficed for the trajectory calculation.

He had little sense of scale on individual stars: he permeated a ellipsoidal region in space a few parsecs across. And, even traveling at lightspeed, each of Del’s neural impulses might still take a while to traverse all the neurons and effect motion.

The matter world hardly ever noticed his passage. Visible only occasionally to those with the correct intention and equipments, he manifested his image in some ghostly rise in the vacuum energy level[o]s – the universe’s expansion seemingly accelerated[p] more inside of him. Despite his vagabond nature, he passed through space so slowly, that any matter world that emerged from within him was prone to sensing his presence as part of its infallible truth.

As such, he was a local packet of dark energy, a computer unit[q], and no less a being. Now, he was discharging in his relaxed state, briefly resting between the sleepless aeons of processing, with every cycle beginning exactly like the first.


In a salient triangle up ahead, three stars tugged certain strings in his senses. The formation was but a transient arrangement; indicative, nonetheless.

Two vertices of the triangle were ejected from stellar nurseries not long ago, and flaunting their nascent solar winds. The remaining one, however, was about to succumb to one or more instabilities endowed by nature. Life was ticking away, and its grasp on its shell weakened following every waft of spun-out matter; the old star’s red gaseous coat was peeling off and revealed a blazing core.

These brilliant stars’ appearance might bring to memory a distant age of the cosmos to some more elderly travellers. Altogether, those stars were all that left in the whole galaxy[r] massive enough for supernova.

Awaiting final certainty, he veered towards the moribund star. If utilized with experience, a single explosion was enough to sustain him for a good while, long enough to put worries away, and allow him to return to the homeworld timely.

His circuitry would at times return unraveling issues. Just now, he feared that someone was talking to him. Within the shackles of physical laws, his mechanisms of sensation out here were rather limited. His galactic surrounding appeared to him an ocean surface bubbling with unintelligible chatters.

Keeping negativity or confusion in the core wasn’t wise. Soon enough, worries would flee[s] him again, like any passing segment of light, leading to no stimulus in his mind, and awaiting a full-on rediscovery.

Before long, he arrived. Rather, he crossed path with his target, and the rubicund star gently landed onto Del, like a speck of dust touching water. Ripples extended far yonder – they were to converge on the other pole of Del in a few cycles.

As Del held that star close, he deformed his point of contact with the star into a thin rod that enables a faster local neural pathway. No longer spherical to spread the tension, his body was not built to bear the strong repulsion[t] created in such a deformation for long. The pain was the price he had to pay to gain precision, to reach the smaller worlds, so to speak.

Nature remained an indifferent arbiter, and everything had a price.


Tolerating the agony was worthwhile. He could reach for the finer stripes on the surface of time, and, by extension, the lives of every nucleon in his target.

A digital model of the star in his grasp was generated, and its simulation sped up, instantaneously ending its life in a spectacular firework show. Meanwhile, in sync with the star’s natural evolution, Del studied the pattern in every single jet, explosion and turbulence[u], and planned out a method to harness their power.

Coordinating any effective procedures in real time was a bit beyond Del. Therefore, to seize control of the ensuing violence of the imminent supernova, the logical solution was lengthy and careful orchestration.

“The target is one of the last few in this galaxy.” He noted on the side, a natural observation from all data at hand. Still, unexpected additional feelings occurred to him beyond the numbers. If the universe could feel, would looking at a tiny replica of its violent creation make it feel somewhat younger?

As the surrounding world in his simulation was obliterated into a sea of fundamental particles over and over, Del felt a nebulous sense of loneliness, or maybe, pity, that there would forever be missing a star, and that maybe no one could ever notice – that himself, too, was a tiny speck in a universe’s story, a lone voyager lost at sea.

He then burned the sudden feeling of tenderness away. All parameters’ determination took another lengthy ‘instant’ to complete. His program and the star are now in sync. It was time to feast.

Del extended a larger section of his body forth like a backwards raindrop, with the tip aimed at the star. Seeking balance among  myriad factors, he immaculately parameterized his shape to be optimal for the operation.

A mirror extended from him. It began planar, but then commenced bending towards the star. Made entirely of exotic matter, it could bend light geometrically from all directions without attenuation. A torch lit with the heat of life itself, and a faithful replicator of any observer, it produced an optical artifact temporarily indistinguishable from reality.


To produce the mirror, Del had borrowed energy from empty space, which he was adept at. The object soon reached the size of a planet. Any piece of matter that newly manifested itself was immediately coated in the color of night, and shone in the glory of the target’s final flare.

Del had given these energies the mass they deserved, which was not shy to reveal its power right away, plunging towards the target at sub-lightspeed. It took merely a moment for Del’s plan to execute itself to completion.

With a simple topple over the edge, the dying star was set to collapse. The next instant, something tore through the plasma sheath of the star, parting its coat, and vaporizing all specks of dust in this way.

Before any information could escape, the very centre of the star was revealed with haste, for the first time, and the last time, it gleamed into the outside world. Photons that used to spend millenia trapped within were freed to reach for the outside, and just like that, nothing was left behind to battle the core’s insurmountable gravity.

Del’s tiny messenger was not a bystander. It split into pieces that precisely binded with stellar components that he previously labeled from simulation. With a few atom-precise nudges, the drop aligned just enough pieces into just the right place, creating a star-sized particle accelerator[v]. It allowed Del to fine-tune an otherwise uncontrollable natural phenomenon to his advantage.

In its last moment, the target was engulfed in a bright blue hue, with swarms of fleeing photons, followed a myriad of explosions. The surrounding vacuum was filled with gas, and then sound, and then everything returned to silence. Nothing was meant to withstand such extreme conditions, not even atoms.

Del felt quivers all across his body. The compression waves would repeat themselves for the next thousand or so cycles, leaving behind a new stellar nursery, and a rapidly rotating black hole. Similar to an undisturbed supernova, immense streams of Gamma rays burst from within every bit of the stellar core.

Inside the stellar remnant, just before the black hole formed, it came the time to return the debt to vacuum.

Del’s mirror purposefully bent all outgoing jets towards the central black hole. They hadn’t displaced much, but the strongly  excited[w] photons fell into the grasp of a new, unfamiliar abyss, like a jetstream shooting off atop a waterfall.

The meal was over before Del could sense it, one of the most powerful events in the universe, a jet hundreds times as powerful as the lifetime energy output[x] of a regular star was made his own.

With an immense impulse, the burst overcame the flimsy separation between dimensions. In the face of such a powerful force, anyone needed to acquiesce.

Vacuum settled with Del’s repayment, and fed it into the reservoir unknown to the matter world. Soon, which was more, Del converted the excess into his new body, replenishing the wears and tears from the past millions of cycles, and readying him for millions more.

Del waved the new black hole goodbye. With several solar masses missing, but almost unbothered otherwise. As Del had expected, no one noticed the demise of a star, whose remnants traced its predestined path, completing a circle of life.

============== Humans will return. ===============


My sincere apologies, you may come across inconsistencies in setting and unfinished dialogues from this point on. The ending is complete, though.

I guess a sensible thing to do will be to skip reading the things below and rant to me in person how horrible I am at time management and suggest how you would use my settings so far to make a compelling story.


The black hole glided on Del’s amorphous body, who was slowly turning away. To steer was then ironically lengthier, now that he was also to manipulate a larger body. This situation was to last a few hundred cycles.

Of all the objects Del had ever encountered, the occasional black holes were his favorite. In essence, like himself, these puddles of immense attraction and distortion were bridges between the visible dimensions and its hidden mechanisms beyond perception.

It was, then, no surprise, that Del enjoyed studying matter entangled to black holes in particular. For one, regular black hole’s intrinsic radiations could provide him with snack of sorts[y]. If not, the thrill of riding close to one was palpable, too.

Del had lost parts of him to black holes before. His body included, all forms of information must fall through an enormous filter in order to touch an event horizon. The filter was energetic, and, further, temporal: were his fingers to venture too close, not even the light carrying his senses could continue its journey. Then, the only option would be to detach them from outside world irreversibly, as not even time could flow in a black hole.

Nonetheless, thanks to his distinct biology[z][aa], to Del, the field equations governing gravitation appeared rather linear.[ab] If absolutely necessary, he could borrow some more energy from vacuum and briefly level a black hole’s gravitational presence.

[ After a few cycles – a thousand years or so – Del came across a human spaceship parked near the black hole we just created … although we go slower than light, and Del, I guess, it still sufficed as a surprise due to Del’s complete unawareness that some intelligence was nearby. ]

[I am yet to explain how humans arise onto this stage, but let’s just take it as a given. Maybe the star he blew up was Eta Carina, so we are naturally close by (after being fried). ]


The object orbited the black hole so [ac]quickly, that it seemed to blur into a continuous belt along its orbit. By measuring the shadow it cast away radially, Del could investigate its properties. Similar to the times before, he focused his body around the black hole, and extended his fingers.

In a few cycles, more information should become available, and the discomfort should wear off. To expedite that, he lessened the priority of trajectory computing and stress management, averting his eyes that gazed at the galaxy towards the black hole, whose former gas envelopes had long dissipated, with only a fraction of the stellar core sticking around, tracing a plasma belt along the black hole’s equator, keeping note about yet another instance of conserved angular momentum.

With all distortions calibrated for, the artifact was an opaque black cube, its size negligible to its host black hole, well, about as trivial as the black hole itself compared to Del. Nonetheless, this time,[ad] scale could not dismiss Del’s curiosity.

As evidenced by its shape, aerodynamics was not of concern of its builders (for any actual molecules needed to avoid out there, an EM shield proved much more effective). The interior must appear completely black if placed anywhere else. Of course, apart from photons, one of the most benign out here, the building is engineered to keep out all kinds of radiation — space.

An intricate system relays excess energy into both the black hole and far away places joining the background radiation, keeping just enough heat to reduce the center of a cluster, one of the few night-less corners of the universe, to a glowing furnace of night of winter.

There was a way in. In a dreamy sequence, Del’s finger permeated into the interconnected system of waveguides and filters surrounding Stillwater. Some historians of this event even conjured that the influence reached the neural pathways of its inhabitant. [ae]

In Del’s defence, there were not many ways to tell humans from machines. Long before the version of database aboard Stillwater had been prepared, humanity around the galaxy must have been well acquainted with the fact — be them prosperous — no power armours from skin, no lens from retina, and no electrics from neurons.[af][ag][ah][ai]


For the being on board, me[aj]anwhile, things appeared as usual in the cube, ordinary, even. It was rather quiet amid an ambience of incessant clings of heavy machineries, and pictures vaguely recognizable as shards of the universe covered every hallway.

The passing glimpses of the universe nearby kept morphing  into wavy phantoms of dust, where nothing that a pair of eyes grew to appreciate was visible, but everything else, ironically, was. To whoever that marvelled at the fabric of the night sky, orbits settled in their state of chaos and disorder. They average the scene surrounding each observer, into a nondescript collection of noise. Any slimmest chances of disarray manifest eventually,  “eventually” effectively meaning “now”.[ak]

Left out by time in Del’s gentle grasp, was a human spaceship, now.

No one could recall the name of it, nor of the black hole, or even of its precursor star before its demise. There hadn’t been a naming system for a while now. Naming stars with constellations like the old ages have long been vetoed by space travel and the simple passage of time — stars move slightly between generations. It was everyone’s freedom to imagine their own night skies.[al]

It was not the best feeling for a civilization to be the one washed ashore and picked up by someone else. Like a shell soaked by sand particles, its owner’s channel proteins breaking equilibrium one atom at a time to sculpt every bit of its intricate structures, the space station, a fruition of every leap in its home world’s technology, and a result of everyone’s choices and secrets, seems to be a crystallized shard of humanity itself, all revealed at once.

[ They attempt to talk to each other after gradual apprehension of their difference. Del offered part of him as a digital projection manifesting in the field of stars for the rest of the story. ]

[Where relevant, Carlos is the placeholder name for the human character. ]

[ Sampler: One back-and-forth I wrote this May ]

“Things do go through there.” Carlos rested his eyes again onto the event horizon below. When I was a student, I was immensely frustrated to learn that the three-body problem can be solved to no avail, analytically. My teacher then added something to this conversation.”

“I remember this quite dearly, actually,”

“We cannot solve the three-body problem, but nothing ever stopped the solar system from evolving; the same way that the lack of an analytical solution of Navier-Stokes never precluded water from flowing.”

[ Backstories of Carlos are lost in transcript, but he was supposed to be a cool guy and the protagonist of earlier human-focused drafts. For this incomplete draft, he’s me. ]

[ SPOILER: The gist of the whole story is as follows: one character, Del, is very powerful, utilizing dark energy as his biological essence, and 0’s and 1’s as his perceptual stream. However, he is also very slow, taking a century to blink once. Enabling the contact between him and some humans, a intermediate-massive black hole is required to slow the humans down so Del looks faster. Thanks to Einstein for his gravitational time dilation ideas ]


Del watched everything evolve as he always did. But for the first time, he had a companion, one he got from the least likely of origins. No matter, he thought of their encounter with a cosmic sense of certainty – destiny, perhaps.

Carlos could see the surrounding world better thanks to Del’s influence. Planets that lost touch with their far-off suns, or suns that grew tired of their cosmic dance. The tiny neighbourhood of a black hole welcomed and unified them all, rather rapidly.

It was getting late. Not that a sun – or the lack thereof – was about to endow the space station with a night of any sort.

It was getting late, judged subjectively. Carlos, and maybe Del, too, never felt more tired than this time. Carlos’s fatigue was due more to his circadian rhythm, inherited from the planet he was born on, whose days were compressed into nights seen from here; Del was worried how slowly he could realize the changes, both in the matter world, and in its shadows, his home[am]land:

Most living thing had forgotten about the age of the universe surrounding the couple of converging souls, and that stories used to have a beginning, the canvas weren’t infinite, and,


Contrary to the composed and talkative character that Carlos had come to recognize Del as, Del fell silent, as if this corner of space time has returned to its lifeless state, like the countless moments that preceded the story of Stillwater.

And, when the night sky murmured into the sensory organs of every collection of atoms, and when …

“Why do,” Carlos interrupted Del’s processing, reaching a step forward to Del’s hologram,

“Why do we exist?”

“I…” Del’s projection frowned.

In the surrounding space, Del paused. Entirely paused. For all the power he wielded, computational, perceptual and so on, he had no defense towards this question. No process in the cubic light years’ worth of circuitry signalled concern if he thought his projection has returned bad signal.

No one, this moment, would not have doubted at all if whoever behind this hologram is actually a human. The actual figure grew less obscure obscure, and Del’s frown distilled into abstraction. His simultaneous states of power and powerlessness assured Carlos that Del’s, too, eternally trapped in the fabric of night sky.[an] He understood the silence, and remained in front of the projection.

Usually, confusion and long pauses would erode runtime memories beyond repair, but Del felt his thoughts were flooding in at a much more overwhelming rate, populating his thoughts with all that’s dissipated at every instant. It was an experience beyond numbers.

He vaguely starts to recall the stars whose space in between he glided through, the encounters, separations, conflicts and mysteries every corner of this galaxy ever hosted, the stories bubbling in a seemingly monotonous ocean, everything nature hid from him, in all the hastes and pursuits of life.

Across the universe, waves of civilizations washed ashore, stirring the gelatinous array of stars. Tracing their own constellations, reaching beyond imaginations and emotion.

Del felt glad he was part of it. As insignificant, as lonely and as transient as it may be, a speck of dust in the face of galaxies, leaving ripples across space and time.[ao][ap]

Bonus Figure: Various Scenes in one Drawing

[a]To be commensurate with the 30 min I wasted designing this cover art, I have put it here.

Actual content begins below

[b]==Click here for CONTENT FLAGS==

Attempts to sound grandiose while I cannot manage it.

Science Prerequisites: Hopefully nothing but curiosity.

Open-mindedness towards (metaphysically) weird stuff, experimental tone, and monologues appreciated.



[c]I just wanted to say that the title design is really cool

[d]I forgot to bring this up during session, but I wish to offer free cover designs for everyone in the workshop

[e]Omg could I convince you to make one for my novel? It’s about an android

[f]Is it the one in this semester’s queue?

I draw horrible humans (as Anna can attest) but I guess I’ll have some time to try around the Berkeley finals season :).

[g]Six chapters of it are in the semester queue? There are also ships and things

[h]👀I can certainly try

[i]Stillwater? Not as much an emergent or original name as I thought it would be, for my cosmic themes.

It is the name of an OK(lahoma) State University campus, a band, a 2018 horror movie and even a village 20min’s drive from where I live…

[j]This story is totally different from what I thought it was going to be when I started. I hope, in its evolution, the story remains interesting.

Several prior event chains of Stillwater root contained more human drama, but I am attempting to convert them to implicit backstories in this version.

Spoiler follows:

My core premise is of the relativity of time, and causality, and I don’t think that I utilised it properly… compared to works such as Interstellar.

How would you approach this? Remember that I did not fictionalise relativity (among everything I did fictionalise 🙂 and our real world is pretty weird.

[k]I had too many ‘it’ for various objects already, might as well make Del semi-autobiographical.

[l]“The story was revealed to me in a dream.”

[m]There are other neutral pronouns (they/them, ze/hir, xe/xem), but he seems to work fine

[n]Roger that

[o]Deleted para explaining his unimaginable scale even more:

In his normal state, any macroscopic effect he produced would cancel itself out within the size of a planetary system, like a gentle tide that lifted every patch of the water surface a few inches in the middle of an misty ocean – assuming any ship was even there with the proper intentions and equipments – it is next to impossible for him to influence many events.

[p]as he distorts all light rays passing him, the effect is global.

… it’s a bug, but will become a feature later.

[q]This character calls to attention a dissipative non-equilibrium state in DE, similar to us. But I also assumed that DE is less interesting than ordinary matter.

Think about Del’s biology as a Boltzmann brain maybe, rather than the fruit of some weird negative-mass procreational rituals.

[r]Is it a small galaxy or a crazy late age of the universe?

I haven’t made up my mind yet.

[s]worries would leave him?

[t]Incompressibility: ∇·Del = 0 …

 Ironic that Del was called ∇ in earlier drafts. I will explain this name’s origin.

It may have things to do with Anna’s dell computer,,,

[u]“4th order perturbation theory”… one can only dream.

[v]… stellar collapses produce a lot of cosmic rays in real life.. we are more like turning an oven’s dials, or gene-editing an organism … influencing some natural forces to our advantage.

[w]Has 100MeV of energy.

Has no access to a thesaurus.

[x]My understanding of Gamma Ray Bursts are still at a shallow level, so the appropriation of modern results for this piece is more imaginative than I’d like otherwise.

[y].. the other particle of Hawking radiation, the one extracted by BH from vacuum.. I will elaborate if you ask.

[z]Is Del more biological or technological?

[aa]his biological cells are zero and one, so … technological?

[ab]Fan fiction right there.

… in the real universe, although mismatching by 10^120, vacuum energy is a scalar.

[ac]In the proper time experienced by its inhabitants, one lap every 90 min.

I’ve done the maths

— perturbatively, unlike Del.

[ad]… more justification is required … In the current logics, Del could just do this and study any random system, hence the loneliness I am rendering is kinda unfounded.

[ae]I appreciate this line but it’s a bit jarring as a sudden change from Del’s POV

[af]what is this sentence trying to say? I don’t even

[ag]sorry.. it’s copied from a storyline that does not belong here.

[ah]I am meaning that no aliens will naturally understand people as distinct from our clothings and equipments, as we are all just regular matter.

[ai].. as Carl Sagan famously put it in Cosmos, an alien bystander may as well recognise our society as one of cars, not their drivers’.

[aj]Not a good cut.

[ak]“Things revolved around the black hole around here. Life approaching the speed of light, as it turned out, brings all kinds of unimaginable phenomenon into life.”

Don’t know where to put it.

[al]I really like this bit

[am]there is a large population of Dark Energy clouds that function together on an intergalactic level, of which Del is a small member.

Where are you my CLARITY?

[an]I got this sentence from an early draft, and have no idea what I meant:

“For all that he knows about worlds beyond those of humans, and for all that they collectively knew not.”

[ao]I made sure to only use ‘Space time’ ONCE although I am writing relativity fanfic.

[ap]Cause most of the time RESORTED to water analogy, .. due to the leaky title choice.