Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Horatio Kiddleson stared open-mouthed at the turbulent accretion disk as it swirled into the ergosphere that surrounded the bottomless gravity well. “Dammit Schwarz, you didn’t tell me our destination was a black hole.”

“Quite right, young man. And believe me; it was not easy finding a licensed pilot that didn’t know V404 Cygni was a black hole. I wasted a year searching for someone as unenlightened as yourself.”

“I may not know every celestial object in the quadrant,” Kiddleson rebutted, “but I know how to jettison your sorry ass out the airlock. I’m getting us outa here. They don’t call them things ‘widow makers’ for nothin.”

“Hold on, son, that’s all about to change. I’ve invented a Quantum Gravity Shield, which will make this ship impervious to the effects of gravity and hard radiation. But you don’t need to take my word for it. How about a simple demonstration? I’ll activate the shield and you can take us in for a closer look. Just drop down to one AU. This old plasma burpper will still have plenty of power to escape if it doesn’t work. I’ll even sweeten the pot. I’ll double your payment if I’m wrong.”

“Double you say? Hmmmm. We can do one AU on half impulse. Okay, Schwarz, it’s a deal. But I’m pullin’ out at the first sign of trouble.”

Schwarz activated the Quantum Gravity Shield, and the ship descended to 93 million miles in a matter of minutes. “Wow,” said Kiddleson, “we don’t even need a radial velocity to maintain this distance. I think that thing may actually work.”

“There was never a doubt,” replied Schwarz with an arrogant smile. “How about dropping us down another 60 million?”

“Sure, why not. This excursion will make me famous, not to mention rich.”

Again, the ship plummeted like a geosynchronous space elevator on steroids. But at 40 million miles, something started to go wrong. “Hey, Professor, I don’t feel so good. I’m getting light headed.”

“It looks like the graviton compensator is out of alignment. You better take us out so I can fine tune it.”

“No can do, Professor. Whatever’s happening, it’s preventing me from activating the ion drive. If you can’t fix it on the fly, we’re crashing into the event horizon.”

“Don’t be an idiot, Kiddleson. The event horizon isn’t a material surface. You can’t crash into it. It’s just a dimension where light can no longer escape the gravity well of the singularity. We can pass right through it. Of course, if the generator’s imbalance gets any worse, we may get Spaghettified first.”

A few minutes later, the ship passed through the event horizon without incident. In preparation for escape, Kiddleson rotated the ship outward, into the overpowering brilliance of the incoming photons. He frantically began manipulating the controls. “How much longer?”

“Got it,” Schwarz replied. But Kiddleson didn’t need to be told, he knew it the instant his body wasn’t being pulled like taffy. He rammed the throttle to full, and initiated the warp drive a few seconds later.

Safely back in space, Schwarz looked up from the shield generator toward the cockpit. “Oh my God,” he exclaimed. “Where are the stars? Crap, it must be time dilation. While we were within the black hole, time stopped for us, but the rest of the universe aged a trillion years. All the stars have burnt out. The universe is dead!”

Kiddleson began laughing. “Now, who’s the idiot? I shut the iris when light started pourin in. Stop worrying.” Kiddleson opened the iris and stared open-mouthed out the viewport. “On Shit,” he said, “no stars.”

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