Aphelion Issue 296, Volume 28
July 2024 --
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Parting The Black Hole

by Garrett Carroll

It loomed over them like a hulking metal canopy. Their supplies were dwindled to near-nothing. They scrounged for soups and crackers in the storage bins. What little moisture they could get from their bodies, they drank. Weeks remained, if that.

“We’re not going to make it much longer. Half the ship has already been damaged beyond repair. At this point, it’s a slow corrosion. We’re escaping death by a plank’s edge,” said Saul, a general no less at ease than the few remaining pilots and engineers on Graft 1.

The ship behind them fired continuous blasts of instantaneous, incinerating starlight. Not lasers, but starlight. With a thousand years of advancements in battle-light technology, stars became the givers of life—and the ammo of human killing machines.

Illumine, the ship on their trail, had eight large, cylindrical shapes on each side of its enormous pyramid shape. Four sides each, eight-cylinder cannons protruding out and forward. Behind it, engines harnessing and pulling from every source of energy imaginable thrusted the ship forward, bearing down just behind Graft 1, which held a higher speed due to its slightly better engines.

Illumine continued to rain the bright blue, fiery starlight on them. The ship’s goal was straightforward; destroy the ship carrying the escaped military personnel. Nobody walked its halls. Rather, it had no halls. It was an intricate webbing of sentient wires and AI nanobots continuously directed and redirected around themselves for self-sustenance and judicial patrol. Its sole purpose was to destroy the escapees. Saul, Edgar, Jonathan and the engineers fled the galactic war a mere two weeks ago.

“You’re not gonna like this,” Jonathan commed to Saul. Jonathan, a pilot of the galactic navy, had five stars on his uniform’s chest. These five stars represented his loyalty and honor in the midst of many deadly conflicts. The galactic wars never seemed to end.

“What? What’s the worry?” Asked Saul. His palms and forehead began to sweat.

The starlight continued to sling past their ship. Evasion became a primary means of defense. The ship evaded the starlight in a continuous shaking motion, done at light-speed, unnoticeable with eyes but not unfelt by the ship’s crew. Graft 1 shook and tumbled in space.

“There’s a black hole right ahead. We’ve got about fifteen minutes before we’ll be past the point of no return.”

Saul’s head sank. As captain of the ship, it was his duty to protect the crew. Against a black hole though? It would be a slingshot used in the dark. How could he direct his crew through or around a black hole? Any more maneuvers and Illumine would quickly overtake and catch them in its gravitational telemetric levees.

“Okay what have we got then? Any ideas, anyone?” Asked Saul. He paced the floor of the captain’s overlook.

“Well, two possibilities. Either one, we enter into the blackhole and get stretched in every conceivable direction and sent dead into its void. Or two, we enter into the blackhole, and it is simply a portal to another subsection of space. Either way, we’re stranded and probably going to die,” Proposed Edgar, who sat as a co-pilot to Jonathan. Edgar had less experience in the navy, and was immediately labeled a traitor upon pursuing this escapade with those onboard Graft 1.

They watched as the black emptiness shifted around them, the black hole manipulating every particle of light beyond its event horizon in vague existence.

“What about you Jonathan?” Asked Saul.

“I don’t know. It’s too much to warp around right now. We should just accept our defeat and let our lives be done here,” Jonathan replied.

Saul spoke, “I disagree. We need to figure something out. I’m feeling down, I’m sure we all are, but we need to put something together. A plan, a change of pace, something to catch Illumine off-balance.”

Saul, Edgar, and Jonathan began concocting a plan to reverse behind Illumine without being fired upon. After great deliberation, it was determined that this plan was wholly ineffective. There was too much risk in trying to evade the already intense onslaught of starlight trying to break the ship’s exterior.

Saul then presented another idea altogether.

“Alright, I know this is risky, but we need to try something. In theory, there has been some speculation that this could work. What the effects and consequences are, however, is unknown,” Saul paused for dramatic effect.” We’re going to attempt to split the black hole in half. We need to use the dark matter emitter.”

“What? Captain, there’s no way this is possible," said Jonathan. "Splitting a black hole in half? I’m not sure this will work.”

“We have to try something, otherwise we’re screwed anyway. We can send the emitters into overdrive,” replied Saul, who picked up a pendant from his nightstand. The nightstand sat next to the captain’s chair in his part of the pilot room. “Edgar, slow down the shaking motion. Let the patroller Illumine think it’s safe to shoot at us. We need to direct it between the divide. We’ll use the dark matter emitter and slice it down the middle of the black hole.”

Edgar hesitated. “But what about the crew’s safety? If we go down this route, the dark matter emitter might disrupt our own ship operations. It’s overload, and overkill!”

“Without our ship diving through a split black hole, we’re going to die anyway. No sense in trying nothing.” Saul kept his composure and continued to direct the skeleton crew. “Reverse forward thrusters and shakers. Prop up the dark matter emitter. No matter the damage the ship incurs from overload, we’ll be fine,” Said Saul,” Come at us Illumine.”

They sat at the precipice of their deaths on the frontlines of Byron II, denied Death’s call, then set off into the blackest depths of deep space. The nearest safe-zone planet was light years away, and while their supplies dwindled, the hope that they could reach it slowly eroded as the painful sublimation of eminent emaciation hit them. Their skeletal structures imprinted the innards of their flesh like prison bars draped with a thick blanket.

“Saul, I really hope this works.”

“Me too.”

Graft 1 began to alter course, shifting forty-five degrees down, and twenty degrees left from its self-imposed, gyroscopic plane of symmetry. The crew directed all resources to the front end of the ship. Thrusters increased in velocity. The ship’s shaking slowed to a near-halt. It continued to evade some shots, but otherwise it let some ding the ship’s exterior. Huge holes with wounds composed of wires began to weave around the ship. Illumine rained its starlight relentlessly.

Some shots, however, flew past the ship and began striking the middle of the black hole. Light came and went, shooting past Graft 1 and disappearing through the black hole’s suction.

Edgar and Jonathan powered up the dark matter emitter. The focus cannon began to vibrate and glow at a rapid pace, and a wavy element began to center and spin around itself.

“Wait for it, wait for it,” said Saul in anticipation. Nervously, he placed his right hand atop the nightstand. He tapped his fingers in an odd time signature. The ship’s dark matter broiled right in front of the cannon’s head. Saul yelled, “Fire!”

Jonathan pushed the emitter’s handle forward. Dark matter split from the cannon and shot out in a continuous wave. Circuits aboard Graft 1 began to blink all shades of red.

“Come on, come on, come on. The theory. The split. Break, break!” Yelled Saul.

The ship began to enter the gravitational pull of the black hole. Five minutes remained before the stretch and tear would begin. Saul and the rest of the crew’s bodies began to twist and contort slightly past the edge of the event horizon. Starlight continued to zoom past them.

“Come on!” Yelled Edgar and Jonathan in jarring, dissonant harmony. They flicked more switches to alter course. By now, the ship wouldn’t survive another drastic change in direction. Every possible path was glommed up by the black hole. A forced shift in pathing or complete free fall would end in a bending, binding death.

Illumine loomed over them. The situation came to a crossroads. Ten more blasts of starlight shot past Graft 1. A sliver of gray appeared between the deep void of darkness of the blackhole. Beyond, a bright red star faintly glimmered three light-years away.

“Saul, Saul! It worked! We can see the faintest of stars between. Enter FTL now?” Jonathan yelled and asked.

“Not yet. Not until we’re through the divide itself.”

“Saul, we have to go. We’re about to be blasted to smithereens.”

“Stand by.”

The divide split further apart. The ship passed through the divide. Lights and indicators flickered in and out of functionality and existence. The ship faced the tremors of stretchiness associated with the way black holes curve and flex any and all objects, including light. However, Graft 1’s small size and advanced construction technology allowed them to pass safely through and past the danger of complete rubberbanding annihilation. Only minor contusions to their fingers and toes appeared.

“Saul, it looks like the split is large enough for Illumine to pass through. We need to do something, and fast!” Quickly shouted Edgar.

“I know. Pilots, reverse the emitter’s direction and face it backward. Throw all power into the light matter reversal processes.”

Edgar and Jonathan used toggle sticks to reverse the dark matter emitter’s line-of-sight. Then they began reworking power to reverse its dark matter properties, and instead create an invisible stitching capable of undoing damage caused by dark matter.

Jonathan pushed the red handle forward, and the reversal process began. Dark matter began to dissipate from the split in the black hole, and the black hole itself began to close in on the Illumine, now halfway between the two smaller, newly formed blackholes.

Halfway between the blackhole divide, Illumine began to split in half. Its semi-aware AI nanobots, wires, and connectors tried frantically to reroute power, engage in repairs, and save itself from doom. Within seconds, though, the ship was coldly and callously torn apart. It reached critical failure and imploded on itself. Its run of dogmatic justice was over, and the remains of its artificial being was sucked into the black hole.

After weeks, the chase had finally ended. Jonathan powered down the dark matter emitter. Graft 1’s crew settled the ship’s movement and began plotting a course for the red star three light-years away. Thrusters ignited. Engineers, using what little strength they had left, began to repair the gaping holes in the ship's exterior caused by Illumine and the dark matter emitter.

Saul looked out to the vast expanse, giving a salubrious sigh of relief. There would be some reprieve in this journey ahead. Graft 1 blipped away and toward the red star three light-years away.


2024 Garrett Carroll

Bio: Garrett Carroll is a poet and songwriter whose work has been published in Star*Line, Abyss & Apex, Utopia Science Fiction Magazine, and Amethyst Press. He holds a B.A. in English/liberal arts from Adams State University and now calls North Dakota home. When he is not writing poetry, journaling, or playing music, he is daydreaming about all those things or wanting to cuddle with dogs.

E-mail: Garrett Carroll

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