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Dark Prospects

The starship Torres-9 was magnificent. Her hull shone from tip to tail, and her interior was meticulous. There was no wasted space, no room without a function. The engine bay and mechanical systems were easily accessible for repairs. All-in-all, she was perfection. Blink, the resident mechanic for the Torres-9 crew, never tired of looking after the ship. Her job was to make sure everything ran smoothly. She mostly covered basic maintenance, Torres-9 ran so well, there was rarely a thing wrong with her. Although Blink longed for a little more work to do, she couldn’t complain much, she had a cushy job and a wonderous starship to explore.

The rest of the crew barely noticed the head tech. The whole team of mechanics could only be identified among the crew by their close friends since they were so rarely needed. On the long stretch of the last trip Blink tired of getting asked what she was there for, and took to wearing her mechanic’s coveralls that identified her position in bold letters across the back. They were quite comfortable despite their dingy appearance, so she didn’t mind much.

Blink finished her pre-flight rounds and smoothed the front of her coveralls as she approached the bridge. Nerves shot through her as she readied herself to meet the new captain. The doors opened and Blink stepped through, stopping to stand at attention. “Permission to board the bridge?”

“Permission granted, step forward Lieutenant, report.” The captain’s terse voice did nothing to alleviate Blink’s anxiety. She took a deep breath and delivered her report.

Captain Bower was the most feared Captain in their generation, as well as the most respected. When they started in the Naval Academy their androgynous nature was used as a picking point, so they became tougher than everyone else, and rose to the top as their natural talent and dogged determination made them shine like a star. The Torres-9 was a dream assignment. The idyllic ship ran like a dream, and the crew was well seasoned. Captain Bower was anxious to cast off. Their first big assignment had to go off without a hitch. As soon as the lead mechanic gave the okay, they shipped off on their mission to explore the outer reaches of the galaxy.

The trip to the outer reaches went as smooth as it could go. The Torres-9 needed little maintenance and the crew worked together like a well oiled machine. The crew was growing restless, not having much to do on a long trip was tiring at the best of times, and paralyzingly boring at the worst.

Blink was in the engine bay doing her routine checks when it happened. the whole ship shuddered. Red and orange lights that hadn’t been used past testing flashed overhead and the engine shook fiercely before stilling altogether. Without the engine noise, Blink could hear the ship groaning at the seams, as if undergoing extreme pressure. Following procedure she pressed her coms device and hailed the bridge. “Captain, the engines have stalled. Are we under attack.”

“Lieutenant, we are busy up here, rig it up so life support won’t fail and get your ass up to the bridge.” The Captain’s voice was strained and Blink furrowed her brow.

“Are you sure I shouldn’t stay down here to fix-“

The Captain cut her off, “Don’t question my orders Lieutenant.”

“Yes Captain.” Blink answered tersely before cutting off communication and turning to the oddly silent engine bay. A couple of the other mechanical crew showed up just as she was finishing her patch on the electrical systems that powered the life support systems. She looked them up and down, “Took you long enough. I’ve got the essentials patched and the Captain requires me on the bridge. Check over the propulsion systems and our energy stores, see if you can’t get a diag. If this isn’t fixed soon we’ll be dead in the water.”

The crewmen nodded their assent and Blink made her way up to the bridge. The whole ship was in emergency mode. Along some hallways Blink saw patches on the walls that spoke of breeches in the shielding. Something big had happened.

Captain Bower waited impatiently for the engineer to get to the bridge. Never in their thirty-seven years had they thought something like this would happen. The Torres-9 had been moving along so smoothly. It was supposed to be an easy assignment, the first multi-lightyear trip for the craft. No one would have predicted a black hole to be the thing that upended the perfection of the Torres-9’s first major outing.

It hadn’t even shown up on sensors until it was too late. The ship was sucked into the black hole and was now slowly moving toward immanent demise. The door opened and Captain Bower turned to look at Blink. She was out of breath and beads of sweat accentuated the grease smeared across her forehead.

“Permission to board the bridge, Captain?” Her voice came out breathy as if she couldn’t catch any air and Captain Bower tried not to smile. They were used to making their crew nervous, but that didn’t make it any less amusing.

“Permission granted Lieutenant. Let’s talk.”

The Captain explained their predicament as calmly as they could. Then, Blink, Captain Bower, and Science Officer Tippon put their heads together to try and figure a way out of the grip of the void. They argued for what felt like hours until Tippon finally threw up his hands. “This is impossible. There is no way we could pull out of a black hole even with working engines. Without them, and with the amount of time already past, there is no way. No hope.”

The Captain sighed. They’d been worried about this, the crew would panic if there wasn’t a plan, even an impossible one. Blink cleared her throat and looked between Captain Bower and Tippon, “What if we fly into it instead of out?”

“What would that accomplish other than killing us faster?” Captain Bower glared at Tippon for his tone but allowed the question.

Blink squared her shoulders, “Theoretically, there are two possibilities other than death. One, if we get the engines going and use the gravity pull to our advantage we could reach infinite velocity and that may put us out of harms way and into a form of subspace un-effected by the black hole. The second possibility is that this is a wormhole, not a black hole, and by flying into it we negate the slow crushing of our ship and instead come out the other side of the wormhole, wherever it lets out.”

“Both of those are unsubstantiated theories. We are more likely to be crushed to death than have either of those things happen.”

The Captain looked hard at Tippon, “Do you have any other suggestions?”

He looked at his hands and shook his head, “No Captain.”

Captain Bower slapped their knee and looked at Blink. “Get the engines going. Once they are operational let me know and we will start a count down. Tippon, get the crew to express farewells to be transmitted, hopefully we have enough power left to shoot a probe out of the pull of the black hole. Maybe we can warn future travelers and say goodbye to our families even if we don’t make it.” Captain Bower looked at her two ranking officers and gave an encouraging smile, “We got this. Dismissed.” The two stood at the same time and the Captain turned their chair, opening the ship wide communications. Taking a deep breath they explained the situation and the plan to the rest of the crew, instructing all non-essential crew to their quarters or the mess hall for the time being. Then they got to work with the deck crew figuring out the flight plan.

Blink worked tirelessly to get the engine up and running. When she finally accomplished her task she notified the Captain. The engine whirred as the propulsion systems powered up. The ship moved forward with rattling intensity. The faster they went the more fires Blink and her crew had to put out. Literal and otherwise. The groaning of strained metal overtook the sound of the engines and the ship shook so hard Blink had to hold on to the wall of the engine bay. Some of her fellow technicians were sitting on the floor to stabilize themselves. The violent shaking of the ship lasted for so long when it stopped Blink had to check her joints to be sure they weren’t shaken out of place.

Then it finally occurred to her, the shaking had stopped. The ship hadn’t crushed them to death. She hit the coms quickly, biting down her preemptive excitement. “Captain, what’s our status?”

When no answer came, she looked at her team. “Keep things covered for me down here. I’m going to the bridge to see what’s going on.”

Without waiting for confirmation, Blink sprinted out of the engine bay and toward the bridge, carefully avoiding the repairs and injured crewmembers. Finally she got to the bridge and gulped down some air before entering. “Permission to board the bridge?” She asked.

“Permission granted.” The Captain’s voice came out hoarse and Blink gulped again, this time swallowing her anxiety.

“What’s the status? Did we make it out?” Captain Bower nodded, their gaze fixed on the external view screen. Blink looked and slowly came to an understanding at what she was seeing. The stars were few and far between. The whole area of space they occupied was peppered with black holes, entire swaths of space absent of life. “Where the hell are we?”

Captain Bower gestured to the navigator and they fiddled with the instruments on the control panel in front of them. The viewscreen pulled up a long range scan of their area and Blink gasped. “That’s not the milky-way.”

Bower nodded, their expression stoic. “We are no longer in our own galaxy.”

Blink fought back panic, “What are we going to do?”

A grim smile spread over Captain Bower’s face, “First, we re-cooperate, let the engines get a good oil bath, repair and reinforce the hull. Get the crew up to speed. Then, well, we have a plethora of black holes to choose from. Care to hazard a guess to which one will take us home?”


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