Author: Rick Tobin

“Not one of your better ideas Inky.” My yelling echoed against the reinforced beams and lines of ready ships stored in launch five.

I shook my head as Enrique Chacon selected and boarded a starcraft alone from the space station’s shuttle bay, or should I say stolen? His reputation as a daring Latino space explorer would only grow and spread after such bravado. By order, the hangar remained bone-chilling cold. Even with that, odors of toasted reentry metal plates filled my mouth with acrid filth.

“Can’t help it. Got to have that last chevron. Only three other cosmos got a selfie there. That’s rare company, Mayfield.”

Inky used my last name when he wanted to make a point that he was a commander while I remained a shuttle captain, simply babysitting robots transporting VIPs and medical supplies between worlds.

“How do I explain this to Central? They’ll pull your bars…maybe put you on a prison planet when you get back…if you do. How can one photo be that important?”

I pulled up my synth suit sleeve, revealing burn scars from an engine test backfire for interdimensional jumps that caught me off guard when I was first out of Academy. My grizzly reminder itched with a crawling pain when bad events were in the wind.

“Commander, AS 134 is still off-limits, even to the Emperor. Every alien race we’ve met avoids it. Those three you admire in the Halls of Records have no graves or memorials. We only show their last, grainy photos. No doubt, standing that close to a black hole with all the stars imploding with their bursting arrays behind you, the comets circling and dying in that pit’s dark blue halo framed by double pink nebulae ionic waterfalls…fabulous. I get it. But it’s a suicide run, Inky. You’ve got decades of adventure ahead. Why now? You have everything other pilots dream of in our empire.”

Chacon waved me off as he closed the entry portal. “A few decades and I’ll be a gray-haired dribbler at the age centers. Ever been there? Gives a new perspective. If I’m near AS 134, I might find the other three, still watching, looking back as all of you fade and disintegrate into your time as ours slows. It’s the sizzle from the steak of immortality. Can’t get that at the commissary. It’s one to a customer. Appreciated our service together, Mayfield. You’re a good sort. You’ll move up, but don’t hold back. Grab wild and wonderful things that come along…and they will. Make your life a flame, not a sputter.”

With that, Chacon closed the door. I slammed the bay door shut, out of harm’s way, spitting bitterness from my throat, as blue plasma roared around his circular ship blinking into the compelling void. Weeks later, I received a short video of Inky with the black hole AS 134 behind him. The new interstellar cameras finally worked. The brief video was every bit as stunning as he described so often in his infamous tirade about the inkiness of space. I’ll remember him as forever walking towards the camera as he shared the rarest views known in the galaxy. It’s now playing continuously on the wall with the other three daring souls’ previously sketchy records. All of them risked everything for a momentary magnificent stroll. If Einstein’s theories about such places are correct, Chacon is watching our galaxy dissolve as he drifts slowly back into a singularity—the ultimate unknown, while I settle for my bucket without a list. I wonder if he is alone.