The latest from Earth Fleet

From my NiP, hot off the press­es*:

Verne’s death wasn’t over yet. It would be days before all his sys­tems failed, and even then the derelict would remain, kilo­tonnes of met­al and plas­tic and vac­u­um-formed ceram­ic, hull plat­ing and obser­va­tion win­dows, sen­so­ry appa­rati and hun­dreds of kilo­me­ters of wire. Tanks full of sil­very sand, short-range lasers, all of it grav­i­ta­tion­al­ly enslaved by RCS4481, his orbit an ellipse cal­cu­lat­ed auto­mat­i­cal­ly by the MIs, since that was some­thing that they just did, and avail­able on request.

Sul­li­van didn’t request it. He didn’t want to know.

If some­one had come into his suite, that night, just sat there in one of the unoc­cu­pied chairs and watched him for a while, they would have thought he was asleep with his eyes open. He slouched in a plas­tic sling chair, trans­par­ent nylon web­bing looped through dull steel tub­ing, and stared at the still holo above the table. Verne’s gut­ted bulk float­ed at the cen­ter of the image, cap­tured by a troi­ka of still-func­tion­ing cam­eras from his near-space sen­sor cloud. Tiny fig­ures float­ed in slow orbits around the dying ship, as cap­tive to his grav­i­ty as he was to the yel­low dwarf’s. Occa­sion­al flash­es of light pin­point­ed cir­cuit fail­ures or small fires still burn­ing, fueled even in vac­u­um by air pumps that hadn’t yet failed.

Two-thirds of the way back, Verne’s shape had changed. Met­al and ceram­ic had flowed like water, alter­ing the pro­file of the star­ship. Sul­li­van thought he knew what was going on.

At the heart of the jump dri­ve and its inter­de­pen­dent ecol­o­gy of sup­port sys­tems lay a sin­gu­lar­i­ty, a tiny black hole. Through some process Sul­li­van didn’t pre­tend to under­stand, ener­gy was derived from this hole by fir­ing mol­e­cules of hydro­gen at a spot just above its event hori­zon. Fan­tas­tic ener­gies were unleashed, most of which were reab­sorbed into the sys­tems that held the sin­gu­lar­i­ty in place.

Those sys­tems, aboard the hulk of Verne, were fail­ing, or had failed. The cap­tive black hole was free. Verne was being eat­en from with­in.

I’m hop­ing to soon have some­thing set up where you can read the whole nov­el so far online. More on that as things progress on that front.

* Or pip­ing hot fresh from the kbd, maybe.