Black Hole by Katy Naylor

Punk Noir Magazine

One thing that I’ve learnt over years of space travel is that there are things you can’t leave behind, however far you go. All the light years, all the galaxies I’ve crossed, and always the same tired eyes looking back from the mirror.

Outside the ship, the stars spin fast. The Rosa Z has been riding the waves of the deep dark for some weeks, but it’s still a long time before she’ll make the next port.

It took a while, but I scrabbled together enough to get a working ticket on a Commission cargo vessel, sharing out my duties with another sucker who needs the credit. It’s cheaper than sailing on one of the big pleasure cruisers, and it keeps me busy.

I can turn a hand now to the routine tasks required of an able spaceperson – oxygen checks, theta monitoring, navigation. The years have given me that, at least.

Theta monitoring in particular requires constant vigilance: the slightest fluctuation in the wave patterns can be a vital early warning of fourth dimensional interference. Leave them too long and you’ll land in trouble. Signs that you are approaching overload include interruptions in the temporal flow, time freezing, stretching and distorting, until before you know it, you’re in such a spin that you won’t notice that you’re staring a black hole right in the face. It’s an unwelcome consequence of dipping your rudder into dark matter that the spacefaring worlds have decided they can live with.

I flick through my entertainment station. Joni Mitchell. I always loved twentieth century music, but I haven’t been able to bear to listen to this one for a long time.

A swoosh as the bridge doors open.

“Jaaaaax, my main lady!”

I stifle a groan. Creg should be settled in her bunk trying to get some sleep. I know what she’s after.

“Hi Creg. What can I do for you?”

Creg has the decency to look shame-faced. She stares at the ground, her right eye briefly flicking up to gauge my reaction, and her tongue darts nervously.

“You don’t happen to have any filters going spare, do ya?”

It’s not Creg’s fault that, unfiltered, the air on a Commission ship will kill her. But she could have at least made the effort to keep her own stash topped up.

“You know what Creg, I just might. What’s it worth?”

The colour drains from Creg’s scales: she’s cold broke, and she knows that I know it. What could I possibly ask from her that she’d be able to give? I leave her hanging just that little bit too long.

“Of course I’ve got spares, Creg.”

I toss Creg the keys to my locker. They land in her claws with a faint jingle.

“Go on. Fill your boots. I’ve got some rum in there too – grab yourself a tot while you’re at it.”

A look of intense relief floods Creg’s face.

“Thanks Jax – you’re a marvel. I owe you one, for sure.”

“Ah don’t be daft, you big lizard.”

A swoosh as the bridge doors close.

Nebula rising. The sight of the blue-green swirls gradually ascending into the ship’s sights is something tourists on the pleasure ships would pay good currency for. Now Creg has scuttled back to quarters, the show is all for me, the swoop and dazzle of it. So much dust, that’s all.

There are some things all the wonders of the universe can’t compare with. A different kind of dust, lit by the lazy sunlight filtering through the blinds, in the warm stupor of a September morning. Nate’s face, in the moment that sleep finally falls away and he slowly starts to open his eyes. The very beginnings of a stirring, the faintest flutter as I swear I can feel you – but there’s no point going over it. That was on another planet, and besides –

A swoosh as the bridge doors open.

“Jaaaaaaax my main lady!”

“Hi Creg. What can I do for you?”

“You don’t happen to have any filters going spare, do ya?”

“You know what Creg, I just might. What’s it worth?”

“Of course I’ve got spares, Creg. Go on, fill your boots.”

The locker keys jingle as they land in Creg’s claws.

A swoosh as the bridge doors close.

I shake my head. Was that…? No. De ja vu, is what it is. Instruments all read normal. Still, I can’t quite shake the sense that the air is slightly sharper than it was before. The faintest crackle under my skin. The nebula shimmers outside my window. It must be a trick, an optical illusion caused by a stray eddy of dark matter, but I could swear that it’s pulsing in time with my breathing. The ripples are soothing: what rivers dream about as they flow under the stars.

I wish I had a river I could skate away on. 

The bittersweet melody flows from the little speaker in the corner of the room, under the sound of the monitors and the smell of antiseptic. I close my eyes and try to focus on my breathing over the waves of pain. Nate sits next to the bed, holding my hand. He wants to comfort me but he is as helpless as I am. The sheets are wet. I don’t know if it’s with my sweat or something else. Again I try to push, but nothing happens. My heart pulses faster, yours is slowing. Sometimes it stops completely. I’ve been here twenty minutes. I’ve been here for a thousand years. The doctors still don’t come.

A swoosh as the bridge doors open.

“You know, Creg, I just might…”


“….spare filters…”

A jingle as the keys…

“..fill your boots…”

Colour draining from her scales. 

“You don’t happen to have..?”

“…big lizard…”

“…what’s it worth?”

…land in her claws…

“…do for you..?”

A swoosh as the bridge doors… 

I shake my head to swat away the dizzy dregs of it. Fuck. There’s no mistaking this. The thetas are royally screwed and I don’t have much time to fix it if we want to get out of here with our hull in one piece. I turn to the controls. No need to panic just yet.

Not yet… 

4am. I can feel you settled low into my pelvis, still kicking as my abdomen tightens with each wave. I’ve been trying to breathe through the pain but now there’s something different. I’m so hot I’ve had to take off my clothes and now there’s something all over the kitchen tiles. Wet – good job I missed the carpet haha – it’s – it’s coming out black – it’s meant to be clear – ohgod there’s something wrong – we need to get help stat – it’s not meant to be like this –

A swoosh as the bridge doors open. 


The room judders, like the holo’s skipped…

A set of keys traces a shining arc through the air. The moment is slowed, stretched so thin that a liquid eternity could pass before they land in the pair of waiting claws. I watch this moment from a cage of static. Time is frozen, trapped in amber. Or maybe outside of these crackling bars everything is flowing along just fine, and I’m the one who’s trapped.

A swoosh as the bridge doors close. 

Now…now I’m starting to panic. The ship lurches. The controls whine under my hands as I hammer every emergency combination I can think of. I can hear banging on the bridge doors – one of the codes must have locked Creg out. Outside the window blue-green light crackles and churns. The nebula isn’t a river: it’s a whirlpool. I just need to calm down.


The doctor’s quiet authority has all but evaporated as he shouts to make himself heard over the machines. Somewhere, over in the top right-hand corner of the ceiling, a part of me notes, with an air of quiet detachment, the irony of the fact that the doctor, this man who only half an hour ago was batting away my polite requests for help with professional distain, is the one to lose his temper now it’s skirting so close to disaster. From up there I wryly observe the futility of shouting at someone whose blood pressure is as high as mine, when a moment of calm is possibly all that’s keeping me from the waiting crash cart.

Most of me though is right here on the bed, staring up at the strip lights and the square grey ceiling tiles. This is it. This is the moment I’m going to die. It doesn’t feel real but it feels too real and it feels it feels it feels it feels oh how can I claim to know how to feel ever again now that you’re gone –

The ship shudders and groans as I try my best to right her. But there’s no turning back. Her course is set. Blue-green currents swirl around me now. I am firmly in their grip.

I hope Creg’s jacked into an escape pod and saved herself. That’s what Nate did when, on that distant Sunday afternoon, he finally fled from the bitterness of our silent house. I don’t blame either of them for it.

Some things you can’t run from, however far you travel. It was always going to end this way. I look into the flowering heart of the nebula and see a great eye, staring into my very core.

Katy Naylor lives by the sea, in a little town on the south coast of England. She writes in the time that falls between the cracks. She has work published with Outcast Press, Expat Lit, The Bear Creek Gazette and many others. Her chapbook, Postcards from Ragnarok (Alien Buddha) will be published on 14 November. Find her online at and on twitter @voidskrawl