I emerged from witchspace to find myself held fast in the eye of oblivion:
The Voice that led me here had gone utterly silent. All that remained was an imperative command. Calmly and deliberately, I pushed the throttle slowly forward. The massive blot of gravitationally-lensed light surrounding the black hole grew wider, and Celeste began to send out heat warnings as the cockpit's temperature gauge rose to 150% and then 200% as the ship bathed in the hellish heat and radiation being thrown off by the singularity. A number of non-essential modules had already failed, and vital modules such as the power plant and life support were beginning to throw up warning alarms as well. I blithely ignored all the chaos, staring dumbstruck into the heart of annihilation as I sped towards my death.
My final thoughts before darkness wrapped itself around me were of my friend Elena, who along with me was enslaved by pirates from Aldebaran. Before she had grown from a gawky and ungainly little girl into a beautiful young woman, the slavers had paid her little mind except to heap physical and emotional abuse upon her, but once she had bloomed, the bastards had taken notice. One night, Elena just disappeared. I never found out for sure what happened to her, but I knew...and now perhaps I would join her, wherever people go when they leave life behind. I greeted the coming darkness as a friend, and to my eternal shame never once did I resist the suicidal pull of whatever it is that dwells at the Galaxy's center. No, I obeyed to the very end, though doing so would mean my destruction.
I was on the very brink of unconsciousness, the temperature in the cabin intolerable as the gauge read 250%. Soon the ship would disintegrate, and I along with it. As I began to slip away, there was a sudden blast of static from the overhead cockpit speakers, and the booming voice of Midnight filled the oven-like space.
"Wake up, Commander," he blared, "you are free!
I almost didn't believe him, but the abrupt swelling of absolute terror within me was proof enough, and almost by instinct I leapt into action, pulling back on the stick just in time to miss the exclusion zone and cruise away into the black, watching my hull drop while sparks and flames flew through the cabin. For long seconds we fled, buffeted by the gamma winds of the event horizon and cooking within the metal shell of the ship, until at last the temperature began to drop, and within ten seconds we were back below 100% heat, with the hull melted down to 73%. I was breathing in heaving, gulping gasps, and it was many minutes before either Midnight or myself said anything. In fact, it was he who spoke first. Had he not done so, I may have thought that I had only imagined him in a last-ditch effort at self-preservation.
"Commander?" he said, very softly. I still started and screamed in fright, looking around in a panicked daze for a moment before forcing myself to calm down with an act of will.
"I..." I began, and then blacked out before I could continue.
When I came to, we were in supercruise, still in the Sag A system, but with the black hole itself a thousand ls or so behind us. I glanced at the modules panel to my right to see the two AFMs busily repairing the ships many damaged modules, some of which had been completely fried. Another minute and we would have been done for.
"Midnight?" I called, fearing to receive only silence as an answer.
"I am here, Commander," Midnight answered softly, voice filled with relief, and I am not ashamed to admit that I almost burst into tears in my own relief at hearing the old man.
"Let's finish this repair cycle," I said, my voice sounding half-dead in my own ears, "and then get the hell out of this fucking place and burn hard for the Bubble."
"Aye aye, sir."
"One more thing, Midnight."
"I'm going to go sleep for about sixteen hours. You take us ten jumps out and find a safe place to drop out until I report back to the bridge. Then, we're going to talk about what the hell happened these last few days."
"Good. See you in two shifts...and thank you, my friend."
My sleep was blessed and dreamless, and it turned out that only twelve hours were needed to bring me back into something like shape. I drank an entire pot of coffee and took a very hot shower and then returned to the bridge to see the dense blue starfield of the core out of the cockpit viewscreen.
"Good morning, Commander," said Midnight with guarded good cheer. "Are you well, sir?"
"Much better," I said. "I felt like I'd been awake for days...what the hell happened to you, Midnight? Where did you disappear to before I almost drove into that...thing?
"I did not abandon you, sir," said Midnight sadly. "Much like you, I was taken.
"Taken? Taken where?"
"To a dimension inaccessible to one tethered to matter, one such as you, for instance. Meaning no offense."
"None taken. And what did you see in this dimension I can't access?"
"See? You use a word that does not make sense to describe the place in which I was. It was all of time and space mingled together, and then something more...I cannot even explain it in a way that you would understand, but suffice it to say that whatever it was that called out to us resides in that dimension, and the supermassive black hole in the Galactic Center is a window into its reality from ours, and vice versa."
"And what did it want with us?"
"It sensed in me a kindred spirit, and sought to understand me better. It and I have much in common, for we both can experience the entire stream of time from any point along it. It used you to bring me close enough so that it and I could communicate. It was going to destroy you so that I could not escape back out into the Galaxy."
I mulled this over for a moment, my mind reeling with the implications.
"But we escaped," I said at last, feeling sort of dumb for stating the obvious so plainly.
"Clearly," said Midnight, echoing my thoughts in his mildly sarcastic tone of voice.
"I made a pact with it, and in return, we were allowed to leave."
"A pact?" I said with alarm. "You made a pact
with a trans-dimensional entity from inside a supermassive black hole? What sort of pact?"
"I agreed to return regularly to report to it on the goings on in the wider Galaxy and to keep the secret of its presence. It agreed not to eat you and trap me here with it forever."
"Screw the secret!" I blurted. "We've got the data to prove
that the son-of-a-bitch exists, and I intend to show the whole Galaxy!"
"I'm afraid that will be impossible, sir," Midnight said, not sounding very sorry at all if I'm being honest.
"And why is that?"
"Because you deleted the data shortly before jumping into Sagittarius A* system, sir."
My jaw dropped open. "Like hell
," I said, flipping open a data panel and searching the databanks, running query after query and getting back nothing. Then I saw it; the deletion tags, with my own biometric signature appended and everything. I had
deleted the evidence.
"So be it," I said, shaking my head in disgust. "Let's go home already."
"Very Good, sir. I've plotted a course to a nebula about ten-thousand light years away. Awaiting your command."
"Engage hyperspace jump."
From here on out, it will be essential scanning only. I've had my little adventure out here in the black, and it's time to get back to civilization and be part of things again. Even here in the center of light, there is darkness better left undisturbed. My next entry will be on the road to the Bubble...let's hope I get back there soon, and safe. Wish me luck and good speed...