The bump as the landing gear touched the metal was a very welcome sound, let me tell you. I’ve just spent fifteen minutes sat on the loading ramp with my head in my hands, just relieved to be back in civilised space. The Vortigaunt is sitting there innocently, like nothing’s happened.

I bought her from an Imperial mining colony who had problems with pirates. I think she’d been used for atmospheric combat, as she was decked out in khaki green – not a useful camouflage in deep space. I haven’t had the heart to repaint her though. Over the years I’ve put nearly every credit I’ve earned into her. She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts. You wouldn’t guess from the outside that her jump range is nearly thirty light years, even packing twin fragment cannons.

SSF Vortigaunt

Anyway. I left Saiph after six hours’ sleep, for a fifteen-jump trip to Mintaka. The system was staggering – tens of pinky-purple planets, many with glittering icy rings, orbiting a blue-white super-luminous star.


I scooped a bit of hydrogen fuel from Mintaka while I triggered a deep system scan. Once it had finished logging all the astronomical bodies in the system I opened my console to have a look what I’d found, as standard.

Black hole!

I’d seen one before, once. They’re nearly impossible to see from afar, or without the deepest scanners. This was a small one, on a far orbit, over 6,000 light seconds from Mintaka.

I headed straight out there. The ‘lensing’ affect, as light emitted from stars behind the black hole is bent around it’s circumference, is staggering to watch and impossible to capture in pictures. The map people pay good money for data on those, too.

Black hole

I got to about 150 kilometres from it and prepared to drop out of super cruise. The drop to normal space was abrupt – I’d flown too close. The Vortigaunt hung quietly there for a few minutes, while I ran the detailed surface scanner over the anomaly, before I realised that the heat levels were rising dangerously.

Black holes emit radiation. This heats a ship quickly, and the act of charging your frame shift drive to boost your way out of there heats your ship more. This is a dangerous situation at the best of times.

I punched the command to vent a heat sink, purging the ship’s heat into a thermal block and shooting it out towards the black hole, and then started charging my hyperdrive. The heat this generated instantly replaced that that I’d managed to vent into space. I’d have to power it down and continue on normal thrusters for a few kilometres to get away from the gravity well of this thing.

That’s when the Vortigaunt started playing up. Ignoring the command to power down the frame shift drive, the heat levels kept building – to over 100% of safe limits. I felt sweat run down the neck of my flight suit. The mass-lock effect of the black hole meant that the frame shift drive was taking far longer than usual to charge, so the welcome escape that would have come with a jolt into superluminal speeds didn’t come. 120%. The console started smoking.

I mashed the heat sink button – nothing would drop the ship’s heat below 110%. Warning lights were flashing all over the cockpit, wires were sparking and modules were taking heat damage. Just when I’d ejected my last heat sink, the hyperdrive kicked in, and threw the smoking Vortigaunt and I into super cruise. The black hole quickly shrank behind us.

The rest of the trip went by in a terrified blur. My heat-damaged core modules could have malfunctioned at any time. I charted the remaining stars of the near Orion – Betelgeuse, an impossibly-large supergiant over six hundred times larger than Sol, and Bellatrix – terrified that every jump would land me between a tight binary pair, unable to vent heat. That would have been a toasty end to me.


After Bellatrix I made a beeline for inhabited space. The nearest frontier system was HIP 23277. The station there, Pierce Port, had repair facilities. I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful to get out of my pilot’s chair.

The Vortigaunt needed a cool few thousand’s worth of repairs. At some point I’ll need to get to the bottom of the software malfunction, as without that it’s just a spin of the roulette wheel as to when something like that will happen again, but not here. I’m due to meet Vex at Kaushpoos in Alliance space. The Explorers Association are building a space station there to send to the Pleiades Nebula and there’s work to be had. Further repairs will have to wait.

Souvarine out.



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