Transcript: This story is by Cameron Evesque Davis, a prolific writer with a novel, short stories, screenplays, and comic books already under their belt. Their favorite genre is actually Urban Fantasy, taking us out of the real world *just enough* to be exciting. This is “Black”.
There are two things you learn when you’re a scientist who ends up working in space. 1) Space is cold. And 2) Stay away from Black Holes.
Sadly, these rather straightforward rules had completely missed the guild in charge of the Excalibur V expedition. Myself and four other crew members on a mostly automated ship were sent far off into the depths of space to study a black hole up close.
And it was damn cold in space.
Our ship had travelled via the hyperspace gateways that were placed at strategic points across the galaxies, allowing us to find our way to the singularity in question after only a week of travel. We had supplies to last us for the three years our expedition was supposed to last, and we were lucky to have a ship equipped with a holographic entertainment suite, because otherwise I would have lost my mind only talking to the same four people for three years.
It was just when I was enjoying some…ahem…entertainment in said holographic entertainment suite that I felt a jolt in the ship. It certainly is bizarre when you’re…entertaining and the entire world shifts slightly to one side. It’s especially bizarre when the people you’re in entertainment with don’t react at all. Really removes the feeling of immersion from the experience.
That being the case, I said, “Ship, turn the simulation off, please.” The ship obeyed, and I was left lying on the floor of the suite. I sat up and sighed before standing and heading out into the corridor.
The hallways of the Excalibur V were tight, compact, uncomfortable, and ugly. The “functional” grey color of the metal walls always made me feel sad and homesick, and the fact that they were only five feet wide by seven feet tall didn’t help. It was a metal coffin for five foolhardy space adventurers. But we hadn’t had a choice as far as which expedition we were to go on. Such is the life of a member of the Layaway Mercenary Space Science Guild.
Yes, you heard that right. Mercenary Space Science. The economy of Earth at this point in history (5832 CE) was such that the only companies that existed were Mercenary Guilds of various kinds. There was the Archetype Mercenary IT Guild, the Scarborough Mercenary Biology Guild, the Fineline Mercenary Dog Sitters Guild, the Van Buren Mercenary Meme Generators Guild, etc.
As a member of any one of the guilds, and anyone could become a member provided one had the proper recommendations and certifications, you lose most of your free will and may only do jobs assigned to you by the higher-ups in the guild. Supposedly, once you moved up ranks, you could gain some ability to choose your own jobs, but I had no idea if that was true. All of my friends were low-ranking scientists like myself, and thus were thrust into the gaping maw of danger at every opportunity. A more cynical mind than my own might think that the guild didn’t like me and was trying to get rid of me, but I tried to stay positive.
And then I would look at those cold, grey, death-like walls of my prison and get sad again.
The ship jolted again, this time to the right. An announcement came over the PA System as the blue alert bulbs began flashing: “All personnel to the control room. All personnel to the control room.”
I made my way down the cold, shitty hallways, passed the mess hall, passed the crew quarters, and up to the front of the ship where the control room was. I was met on the way by one of my fellow scientists, Amy Wilfinger, who greeted me with a nod.
“Have any idea what’s happening, Mark?” She asked me.
I shook my head, “Not a clue. Although, being this close to a black hole might have something to do with it. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Guild didn’t plan for every problem that comes from being near a singularity.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me either,” she replied. We continued walking and eventually made our way to the control room proper, and there stood the last three members of our crew. Jacob David, the captain, Jacquelyn Maynard, our navigator, and Rachel Brown, our engineer. Amy and I were the scientists, meant to actually study the black hole, and honestly, we weren’t too used to travelling around in a spaceship, especially not for this long of a tour, and especially not with such boring wallpaper.
It was lucky, then, that we had our crack team of veteran space adventurers. Or I would have thought that, had they not been a shitshow of constant bickering, disagreement, and pretentiousness the entire trip. Amy was the only one on this ship that I actually got along with, and so I stuck by her as we entered into the control room.
“Ah good, they’ve finally showed up,” Rachel sneered, “Don’t you remember the bylaws we wrote up? ‘Any obvious problem, everyone should report to the control room.’ We shouldn’t need to announce it on the PA system.”
“Oh, shut up, Rachel,” Jacquelyn said, “We’re all here now, let’s just deal with the problem.”
“Thanks, Jackie,” Amy said.
I sighed, “So what is this problem? What caused the lurch?”
Jacob, who had been staring out the viewscreen at the terrifying singularity of doom we were in orbit around, turned to face us. He looked at us seriously, “We got some…anomalous readings off our friend out there. Something we weren’t prepared for. None of the documentation provided by the guild hinted at anything like it.”
“What kind of readings?” Amy walked over to the console to the right of where Jacob was standing and typed in her code. I meandered over and looked on the screen. She had brought up a chart which showed energy output and input from the black hole. She pointed at a couple spikes on the chart.
“You mean these anomalous readings? I can’t see a source.” Amy told us.
“No, nor could I,” Jacob said.
And then the ship lurched again, and this time the lights flickered. We heard a groan of metal being pulled and warped. I looked around to pinpoint where the noise was coming from, but it was coming from all around us.
More groans from the ship. Another lurch, huge this time. I had to grab onto the console to keep myself upright, and as I did so I caught a glance at the chart on the screen. Two large spikes of activity had appeared. And then another as the ship lurched again. I felt the ship starting to turn, its backside (where the engine was) turning to face the black hole.
“Uh…guys?” I asked, “What are we going to do?”
Jacob leapt into action, “Everyone to emergency stations! Buckle yourselves in!”
We all scrambled to our seats. Mine was to the back, right in the middle, and I logged into my console as soon as I was strapped in. Not that my science console could see that much more than Amy’s could. The ship creaked and moaned more, and swung all the way around. We all held on as the ship started spinning, whipping around through space and moving towards the black hole.
“HOLD ON!” Jacob shouted, “AMY, TRY TO GET THE DAMN STABILIZERS BACK ONLINE! RACHEL, GRAB ONE OF THOSE STABILIZER SUITS AND GET DOWN TO THE ENGINE ROOM! MARK, GO WITH HER!”
The alarms on the ships began blaring loudly, and red light flashed throughout the chambers. The noise of metal creaking and air whooshing and sirens blaring was almost deafening, and I shouted over it, “THAT’S NOT REALLY MY AREA!”
“I DON’T FUCKING CARE! RACHEL, GET HIM THERE!”
“AYE AYE!” Rachel shouted and unbuckled her chair. She timed her movements with the spinning of the ship and grabbed two of the Stabilizer Suits which hung on the wall to our right. She came back over to me and, as I unbuckled my seat, slapped the suit on my chest. The suit automatically wrapped around my body, its tight-fitting grey fabric hugging me closely, and suddenly I felt…well…stable.
My brain no longer noticed the spinning of the ship, and the suit held me in a stable position, and I was able to easily move through the ship, following along with Rachel down to the engine room. When we arrived, we were greeted with an unexpected sight.
The engines, normally glowing a brilliant blue color, the center spinning, and the energy whizzing about with pips and pops as it zipped back and forth throughout the ship, was now moving remarkably slowly. Not only that, it was covered in a black sludge-like stuff. It oozed and squelched as the slow-moving central orb barely shifted. The blue glow made it through gaps in the sludge, but it was clear it wasn’t going to keep the ship going.
“What are we going to do?” I asked Rachel. She shook her head.
The ship lurched again, this time accompanied by a squeal of metal breaking and cracking. We both felt a shift forward and we held onto the railing to our sides. Our stabilizer suits having their own internal gravity, it was clear that the part of the ship we were in was falling forward in comparison with where it had been.
The lights went out. I heard Rachel yelp and undo her stabilizer suit, the noise being unmistakable. I heard her feet land on the floor of the ship as I tumbled upside down. I fell towards the black goo and quickly undid my suit as well, falling with a bang onto the grated metal walkway. I groaned and pulled myself up to a seated position, my hands resting on the grate behind me.
“Rachel?” I called. No response.
I felt a weird feeling on the back of my hand, a slimy feeling. I looked behind me, but I could barely see, as it was almost pitch black except for some slight light coming through the sludge on the engine. And then I heard a voice.
“Black holes, what made you pitiful beings want to study them, of all things? That fascination. Foolish. Pompous.”
“What?” I heard myself ask, “Who are you? What do you want?”
“I am beyond your species comprehension. We have lived within the singularities of the universe for far longer than you have even been in this form. Long before you were even single celled protozoa in the primordial soup of your tiny planet.”
“Within the…singularities. Nothing could survive that.”
The voice seemed to smile, I could feel its grin in my mind, “Nothing you’ve ever seen, nor ever will again. Now sleep, my morsel. Just sleep.”
I felt my eyes grow heavy as the lights flickered back on.
There in front of me was a being, all black and tall, with spindly legs and four arms, each of which had long-fingered hands on the ends with eyes on the palms. Said eyes were bright orange, and its mouth was vast and wide, taking up all of what could be counted as the being’s head.
It grinned and then opened that horrible mouth, hand-eyes staring at me. I felt so tired. Impossibly tired. The mouth grew and grew, and I felt myself being drawn towards it. My organs lifted in my torso, my eyes felt like they were being pulled out of my sockets, and yet I felt so relaxed. I was stretched and pulled off the ground, straight into the monster’s mouth.
The last thing I heard was from the creature again:
“Black holes really…suck, don’t they?”
Ben is a Chicago based writer, actor and improvisor. He is a contributing writer and performer with Starlight Radio Dreams, recorded live at Mrs. Murphy and Son’s Irish Bistro and available wherever fine podcasts are downloaded. [Incidentally, I produce that show… so Conor if you’re looking for something to review… you get it.