Jennings puzzled over the signal from the communications terminal aboard the colonial starship. Scientists and Astronomers on Earth had long puzzled over the song like signal being emitted from the black hole in the Perseus Galaxy, but now just outside the immense and powerful phenomenon, the signal took an eerie familiarity.
“Admiral, from this range I suspect something or someone may be attempting to communicate a distress message. It’s a hunch, sir, but one I like to follow up on.”
Admiral Danvers ran a hand over new stubble on his cheeks. His primary directive mandated that he deliver the half million people aboard, to their new home, which lay another decade beyond. However he saw no harm in simply investigating a phenomenon that had puzzled humanity for decades. His colonial starship would be within close range of the black hole for weeks as it maneuvered around its gravity field for the far side of the Perseus Galaxy.
“Jennings, I’m assigning Leila Connor from Linguistics to your task. The two of you have three weeks to translate the signal if it is from an intelligent source,” the Admiral replied.
Ensign Jennings had the pleasure of Leila Connor’s acquaintance already. Leila Connor had the respect of her colleagues after translating an alien message on a deep space probe five years ago, her crew mates also found her pretty. The young man’s grin connected his ears as he pounced on the terminal to message her duty assignment.
Leila reported to the communication office adjacent to the bridge within the hour. Her eyebrows raised as she locked eyes with Ensign Jennings; the only cue to her excitement. The com officer had been all the girls in linguistics talked about while they translated the deep space probe from the Rish Ti Karn race five years ago. Leila had also been fond of men in uniform.
Long work days seemed short with pleasant conversation and at times, flirtation. Jennings detected a twenty six hour pattern to the song like frequency. Leila sped the message to a length of five minutes, on the assumption that something caught in the event horizon would experience a shift in time. The theory paid off.
“Admiral, we’ve done it!” Jennings said. “It’s a distress call from a coordinate within the event horizon. The ship and its occupants are capable of escaping the black hole’s gravity, but an explosion damaged materials critical to their propulsion system. The signal is a distress call, complete with coordinates and a parts list.”
“Excellent work you two. It’s a pity that we had not discovered the frequency when those poor souls could still be helped. That signal has existed for lifetimes, the crew trapped inside must be long dead by now,” the Admiral said.
“Sir,” Leila said, “Black hole theory suggests that time within the event horizon nearly stands still. While decades, possibly millennia have passed in the universe, only minutes or hours have passed since the crew inside there started to broadcast. We have to rescue them!”
The Admiral consulted the colonial league’s virtual board of directors, present on a small android for a moment before shaking his head somberly. “Jennings, Ms. Connor, congratulations on a job well done, but I can’t risk human life on this,” he indicated the black hole out a viewport.
Leila met with Ensign Jennings that evening in his quarters for a celebratory meal. “It doesn’t feel like we have cause to celebrate,” she said.
“The crew of that ship is going to slowly get crushed into singularity over the course of the universe’s slow collapse,” Jennings said. “I wish we could help them.”
Leila’s eyes twinkled. “I piloted shuttles on mining detail part time to pay for college. I still have friends in the mining division. We could borrow a shuttle and the supplies we need,” Leila clasped his hands in hers and locked eyes with the Ensign. “Will you come with me?”
A small shuttle sped toward the black hole. The Admiral ordered the communications officer who relieved Jennings to hail the vessel and warn them of their plight. Suddenly it dawned on him that Leila Conner and Ensign Jennings attempted the rescue mission in the colony’s civilian craft. The Admiral slouched into his post, worried for his crewman and civilian charge as the pair disappeared into the mighty phenomenon.
The colonial starship continued its course around the black hole. Two weeks had passed since Jennings and Conner disappeared in the mining shuttle. The Admiral feared their attempt had been in vain, leaving the young pair to share the fate of a slow crush to the center. The vessel realigned its course on the far side of the gravitational disturbance and pushed ever onward. The aged leader gave a salute to his lost citizens and began to exit the bridge to deliver the news to their parents when the communication board came to life.
“Admiral, it was a success! Leila and I helped the Vignaytar vessel escape the black hole. Permission to dock, sir,” came Ensign Jennings’s voice over the com.
The Admiral leapt to the rear view screen and beheld a strange vessel approaching his starship and he smiled in relief. “Permission granted. Welcome home son.”