When I was born, a clever mage, who was also my mother, made for me a triptych: three panels, attached in a row by hinges, depicting paintings of our home. The middle panel depicted our capital city, where we lived. The left panel depicted my mother, her hands raised as if in the casting of a spell. The right panel depicted the Arx, the great tower of knowledge where mages learned their trade. The flanking panels were each half the width of the middle one, so they could be folded inward, and the image could be hidden. And strangely, my mother had built a lock into the triptych. Once folded, the triptych could be secured. I did not know why it would need to be locked. There were no secret or blasphemous things depicted in the paintings, as far as I knew.
The Shifting Night Anomaly was so called at first because its margins seemed to change every so often, making it difficult, if not impossible, to map. We had sent probe after probe inside for three generations. Out of the near thousand probes that were deployed, only forty-seven were recovered. The more we learned about the anomaly, the more we realized how fitting the name was. There were no systems and no stars within, only remnants of dead worlds. Only strange and exotic gases. Only nebulas haunted by the ghosts of stars that flickered and faded before they could burst into life.
Waiting. We’ve been waiting for thirty minutes. A nuisance, maybe, if I were out in the world on an errand or anticipating someone’s arrival. But here, in the antechamber, poised on the threshold of the most important thing I will ever do with my life, or the grandest failure of my life, those thirty minutes have stretched into the last thirty years of my life. It must be worse for the person on the other side of the antechamber door, the patient waiting for us to save his life.
“So you…want to go into stasis, sir?”
“For seven to eight hours a night, yes,” I said, nodding to the only person I trusted to help me carry out my latest endeavor.
“But the technology doesn’t work that way,” Leeke said. “No one has yet managed to develop a program this sophisticated that wouldn’t require continuous stasis for at least several months, probably more. At least, not with the information that the agency has released so far. Sir, at best, I fear it would be a waste of your time.”