The Suit – Black Hole (Story Two)

A simple mission… skim past a black hole.

Snap images of the ship hovering impossibly near the black hole as you race past.

What could go wrong? Well…

Grab the story on your phone, tablet, or eReader by clicking here, or read it below.

(c) 2024 Simon Goodson.
Story Disclaimer

The Suit - Black Hole Book Cover

The Suit – Black Hole

“A black hole? You want me to jump into a black hole?” asked Samuel.

“No,” replied the Venadra, the ship they were on. “Not into the black hole. Just near to it.”

“Well that’s okay then. What could possibly go wrong?”

“I think you’re overreacting,” said the Suit. “The physics checks out, at the speed we’ll be going there is no danger of us being captured by the black hole’s gravity and pulled beyond the point of no return. We’ll fly by, perform a quick scan of the ship sitting out there, and be past in no time. Then the Venadra picks us up at the other side.”

“I might have known you’d be up for it! This is the sort of scientific stupidity that’s right up your street!”

“Well it’s hardly my fault you can’t understand basic science. This isn’t even rocket science. It’s simple ballistics. There’s no way the black hole can capture us.”

“Fine then! You go! I’ll be waiting here on the ship when we pick you up. Assuming you make it. Then you can explain to me just what I missed out on.”

“You know that can’t happen,” replied the ship. “The Suit is only a Class III autonomous entity now. It’s not allowed to operate independently.”

“Yeah, not since Helios Five!”

“There’s no need to bring that up,” replied the Suit sniffily. “It was one little miscalculation. Anyone could have made that mistake.”

“Maybe, but you’re the one who made it. Just shows what happens when you go off without me. Your first solo mission and how did it go? I heard Helios Five was a nice station to visit. Until you finished with it, at least.”

“That is completely uncalled for. I’ve a good mind to let you carry out this mission in a standard spacesuit. Or no suit at all!”

“That’s enough. Both of you!” snapped the ship. “Samuel, do I need to remind you that you are currently on probation too?”

“As if I could forget! It’s not like I blew up a space station. All I did was take a lady dancing.”

“You took the betrothed of the Sixteenth Emperor of the Star Clan out dancing on the eve of their wedding, and ended up doing the sort of dancing that requires a bed… or in your case a very publicly viewable terrace. You almost started a war.”

“How was I to know she was the Emperor’s fiancee? And what was she doing allowing herself to be seduced the night before her wedding?”

“You should have known who she was because you were part of the security detail assigned to protect her on her wedding day! If you’d read your briefing notes, or retained them in your mind when all the blood rushed somewhere else, then maybe you could have avoided the incident and the punishments that came with it.”

“Fine! I still don’t see why you had to bring it up.”

“Because,” replied the ship. “Neither of you has a choice in this mission. Not if you want any chance of continuing to work for the Agency… and if you want to avoid a significant risk of ending up in prison for your actions.

“While the physics are clear, very few people were keen to volunteer for this mission. Fortunately, the Agency had both of you. It’s too late to argue now. You’re going to make the jump, and you’re going to do it in fifteen minutes. Any questions?”

Neither Samuel nor the Suit said anything. Which pleased the Venadra greatly!


Samuel held still as the Suit deployed around him. Often it was impossible to even tell it was there, but today it was in full protection mode. In some ways it now resembled an ordinary space suit, though one designed by somebody with a jarring sense of style. The lurid golden red stars were bad enough, but the wavy blue lines at random angles between them were enough to finish off his eyes.

“Did you have to pick this colour scheme?” Samuel asked. “If I’m going to die by having my head ripped away from my body by the tides of the black hole you could at least let me do it with a shred of dignity intact.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” replied the Suit. “This is the height of fashion at the moment. Amongst the educated set, at least. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected you to appreciate it.”

Samuel just snorted. At least he wouldn’t see it once they left the ship. And frankly, if he survived to see it reflected in a mirror again the insults to his eyeballs would be a small price to pay for having survived the ridiculous mission.

He stood in the ship’s airlock, waiting to be cast out into space and towards the black hole. Despite what the Suit thought, he did understand the calculations, and had to admit they seemed correct.

But it wasn’t the calculations he had a problem with. It was his knowledge of Murphy’s Law. Something, anything, that could go wrong almost certainly would on such a dangerous mission. And something going wrong on this mission almost certainly translated into him dying horribly.

“I’m sure nothing will go wrong,” said the Suit. “But… well… I hope you’ve backed yourself up. I have.”

Was that a sign of fear from the Suit? Worry that Murphy might strike? Had it backed itself up because it thought it might need to be reincarnated? Its personality and memories would be complete right up to the moment the backup was taken.

“No,” replied Samuel quietly. “I’ve never been backed up. I don’t believe in it.”

What? You mean all those times we risked our lives together, all those times you nearly died… you might have really died? For good? Why won’t you back yourself up?”

“Because whatever lived on, it wouldn’t be me. It would be a copy. A fake. If I’d backed up ten minutes ago then the real me has moved on from there. The real me is standing in this airlock wondering whether we’re going to survive this trip. I have no desire to leave a fake me behind, one who won’t have experienced every part of my life.”

“I never knew you saw things that way. I guess you have a point.”

“I do?” Samuel was amazed there was actually something they could agree on. “Are you feeling okay?”

“To be honest, no. We’re about to jump into, or damn close to, a black hole. I’m not really feeling my usual cheery self.”

“No. Me neither,” said Samuel. “How long have we got?”

“The ship will warn us when we’re thirty seconds from being dropped off. There’s still a few minutes to go.”

“Great. More waiting. I hate…”

What Samuel was saying was cut off by a yell as he and the Suit were flung out into space. For a moment he was convinced everything had gone wrong, that this was Murphy’s Law kicking in. Then they received a message from the Venadra.

“Sorry about that. I figured waiting around would be quite painful, so I misled you slightly about the time frame. Don’t worry, you’re precisely on schedule. Have a nice trip, and I’ll see you on the other side.”

“Bastard!” said the Suit.

Samuel chuckled. “I couldn’t have put it better myself. Why exactly couldn’t the ship take this route with us instead of flinging us out on our own?”

“You know… I never thought to ask. I can’t see any reason for it at all.”

Samuel sighed. “I can. If things go wrong then the ship will survive, and will have whatever information it gets from our journey.”

“Oh. I suppose that is… logical.”

There was a definite edge to the Suit’s voice. Samuel was used to it using logic against him whenever it could. He couldn’t help but be amused at seeing the ship turn the tables on it.

He forced himself to pay attention to their surroundings. He stared around, hooking into the Suit’s systems to orient himself, and became aware of the location of the black hole. It was completely invisible to his eyes, and the ship they were due to take a fast glance at wouldn’t be visible until they were almost upon it.

“This is worse than waiting on the ship was,” he said. “We’re stuck floating here in a huge pile of nothingness, but out there is a silent but insane twist in space-time waiting to suck us in and rip us apart!”

“It is a little unnerving, yes. Would you like a display showing how long we have until we reach the target?”

“I guess so. It’s either that or we have to keep talking for the next fifteen minutes to try and keep me sane. Neither of us wants that.”

The Suit didn’t bother to answer, it just brought up the display which slowly started to count down. It was going to be a long fifteen minutes!


Samuel hadn’t known how right he’d been. The seconds really did seem to be dragging past painfully. He frowned, staring at the countdown which was still stubbornly above five minutes, and asked a question.

“Are we getting caught up in the time dilation of the black hole? Is that why this seems to be taking so long?”

“No. And even if we were, that would make the rest of the universe seem to be going faster. It wouldn’t change your personal perception of time passing.”

“And you’re sure your counter is working? It’s not running slow? You’re not messing with my head?”

“No. I’m not messing with the counter, and it is most certainly working properly. Although… it does feel like it’s been much longer than ten minutes so far, despite what my internal timers say.”

They both fell silent. What they were attempting weighed on Samuel’s mind as they floated almost helplessly on what should be a perfectly safe trajectory. Should. Such a little word, but one which had so much riding on it.


“Finally! Some progress!” said Samuel as the timer dropped below five minutes. “But I can’t see the ship yet.”

“Of course,” replied the Suit. “At the speed we’re going we won’t be able to detect it at all until we’re a few seconds from its position. Even then, it will only be visible via my enhanced sensors. A few seconds more and all the excitement will be over.”

“Sounds like the encounter with the Emperor’s fiancee which got me into this mess!”

“Well, really!”

“No! Quite the opposite actually!”

Samuel smiled to himself. He’d learnt early in their relationship that the Suit did not approve of his rather relaxed approach to relationships. It wasn’t exactly a prude, it would be extremely hard to be in their civilisation, but it did feel Samuel should act with more dignity.

Which just made him act with less. Annoying the Suit was never the primary reason he went chasing after a woman, man, or other sentient who’d caught his eye, but it was a powerful bonus. It led him to take far more chances than he ever would have.

At least… that’s what he’d always told himself. But the Suit had been a thousand light-years away when Samuel had enjoyed his ill-advised liaison with Darforay, the Emperor’s fiancee. For the first time he had to face the fact that just maybe it wasn’t the Suit’s presence which pushed him to take such chances.

Their journey continued. It was a strange experience. To Samuel it felt as if they weren’t moving at all, and as if space around them for several light-years was empty. Yet he knew they were moving extremely quickly, and that space in one particular spot not far enough away was about as far from empty as you could get.

Even with the advanced technology of his civilisation, black holes were still mysteries. More of their physics were understood than had been the case centuries before, but more was far from all.

Much of the knowledge they had came from probes sent skimming perilously close to the event horizon of black holes, the point at which nothing, not even light, could escape the black hole’s pull. In some ways the path he and the Suit were travelling was similar to those the probes took, though close as they were to the black hole they certainly weren’t anywhere near the event horizon. He hoped.

Their civilisation had means to communicate far faster than light allowed, as well as to travel at such speeds, but black holes were just as tenacious at holding those signals within the event horizon as they were electromagnetic signals or matter.

As for attempting to fly a spaceship through the event horizon using any of the methods to exceed the speed of light… well, it had been tried. The results varied between dramatic and incredibly spectacular. Ships normally gave black holes a wide berth for very good reasons.

Some probes were sent hurtling straight at a black hole, sending back data for as long as the insane gravity allowed. Many skimmed close by the event horizon on elliptical orbits, swinging far out afterwards… before being dragged back in for another close encounter until finally they were dragged through the event horizon and beyond all knowledge. If the ship’s calculations were wrong, or if something went wrong, then Samuel and the Suit would share the same fate.

“Thirty seconds,” the Suit said quietly.

Samuel jerked. Somehow his mind had drifted despite the danger they were in. He’d been so busy thinking about the dangers of black holes he’d actually lost focus on the one they were skimming past.

In some ways that had been a blessing, it certainly reduced how much time he’d spent worrying about it. But it left him facing the final approach without having had the chance to prepare properly. Then again, could anything truly prepare him for what was about to happen?

The seconds ticked down. The Suit placed a targeting square around the section of space where the ship they’d been sent to investigate would briefly appear on its sensors as they shot past. Samuel knew he was mostly a passenger on this mission. Even his enhanced eyes would be unlikely to pick anything useful up and all the data for the mission would be gathered by the Suit.

Nevertheless, he was determined to study whatever the sensors picked up carefully in case he could contribute something useful. Maybe he could find something to shorten his probation period. And the Suit was far from infallible. As it had proven at Helios Five.

“Ten seconds…”

Suddenly something was visible. One moment it was a faint dot, a moment later it was a ship that was expanding rapidly. The sense of speed was exhilarating, terrifying, even though Samuel could tell they were going to flash by and be in no danger of hitting the ship. But somewhere in his head a thought was struggling for attention.

Too soon. We shouldn’t have reached the ship yet. We had several seconds to go unless our speed is wrong. And I’m not supposed to see it at all with my eyes. Something is wrong! Very wrong!

As they drew level with the ship there was a blinding flash. Pain seared its way down Samuel’s nerves, overloading his mind, and everything went black.


Samuel groaned and rolled off his back and onto his side. His eyes didn’t want to work, but he could feel cold metal underneath him. He knew that was wrong, but it took him long seconds to work out why. Then it hit him. The Suit! He wasn’t wearing the Suit anymore!

Samuel brought his hands to his face and used them to check why his eyes wouldn’t open. To his surprise he found they were open. Which meant either there was no light at all, not even enough for his enhanced eyes to detect, or that whatever happened had blinded him.

Either thought was terrifying, and for a moment he had no way to work out which was actually true. He tried to speak but just ended up coughing. He tried again… and was only rewarded by more coughing. He persisted and finally was able to utter some words.

“Is anyone there?”

There was no reply, but he heard something move. Something close to him. He froze as he listened. There it was again. A scraping, shuffling sound. Was it the sound of something approaching? Was it something dangerous? Without his sight he had no way to tell. He held as still as he could, but knew that might do him no good… especially if he was blind, temporarily or permanently, and whatever was nearby could see him.

Suddenly he heard several strange tones, mechanical in nature, but like nothing he’d ever heard before. Then a few more. These were more musical but still made no sense. And then, finally, he heard words.

“What in all the universe just happened?”

Samuel felt his heart leap. He was certain he’d never been as pleased to hear any voice before, and certainly not that one!

Suit? It’s you, isn’t it?”

“Oh wonderful,” came the reply. “I was wondering where you’d got to. I should have known that you’d be off enjoying yourself whilst I was suffering!”

“Enjoying myself? I feel like a starship parked on my head! And I can’t see a thing. That’s hardly enjoying myself!”

“Well at least you’re alive, though it sounds as if you’re in a similar state to me. I can’t see or detect anything either. I’m hoping it’s just because there’s a complete absence of light.”

“You could just use your lights.”

“Oh yes. Of course! I’m so glad to have you point out the bloody obvious. Just what do you think I’ve been trying to do since I regained consciousness? I am able to carry on a conversation with you and do other things. I’m having trouble getting my lights or any active sensors to work.”

“Or maybe you’re not sending the right instruction.”

“Of course, you’re the expert. I suppose all I need to say is lights on and…”

The Suit stumbled to a halt as blinding lights suddenly came on around them. Samuel cursed and covered his eyes.

“All right, you can turn them down!” he snapped. “You’ve made your point!”

“Those aren’t my lights. I think they reacted when I said lights…”

“Don’t say it! It’s much too bright already. You might turn more lights on!”

“Well you just said it! And it hasn’t made things any worse. My sensors tell me it isn’t actually that bright, it’s just that we were used to absolute darkness.”

Samuel found his eyes were slowly adjusting to the brightness. By squinting he could see they were in a fairly small chamber with metal walls, floors and ceilings and no obvious door. The Suit was sitting up several feet away, holding to a humanoid shape even though Samuel wasn’t within it. It didn’t seem to be damaged, not obviously at least.

“So where the hell are we?” Samuel asked.

“I can’t really be sure. One moment we were at our closest approach to that ship, the next everything went blindingly bright and we ended up here. There must be a gap in my consciousness but I’m finding it hard to work out how long it was.”

“We must be on a ship. There’s nothing else artificial out here. In fact… I’ve got a horrible feeling we’re on the ship we were sent to investigate.”

“That is a ridiculous proposition. We were travelling incredibly fast relative to that ship. There’s simply no way our speed could have been shed without vaporising us.”

“You think I’m wrong, then?”

The Suit pondered for a moment before replying. “No. Unfortunately, I think you may be right. But it’s still a ridiculous proposition. I just don’t see how it could possibly have been done.”

Samuel stared back at the Suit. He’d been expecting it to come up with some smart-arse reason they couldn’t possibly be on the ship they’d been sent to investigate. An explanation of why he was being stupid. Finding the Suit agreeing with him was unsettling.

“It’s not possible, though, is it?” he asked. “There’s no way we could just be snatched onto the ship with such a difference in speeds.”

“I don’t know how it could be possible, but it seems more likely than anything else I can think of. If we had been disabled somehow, rendered unconscious for a long period of time, then we should have woken up on the Venadra. Our course wouldn’t have deviated so the ship would simply have scooped us up when we reached the planned location.

“However… we aren’t. That leaves a small possibility that it was somehow destroyed or prevented from reaching us, but I think the chances of that are extremely low. It’s stringing too many unlikely events together. I always thought the ship near the black hole must be there for a reason. I’m starting to think it was a trap.”

“Dammit. I knew this mission was going to go wrong. Now we’re trapped and our ship won’t even know where we are. Not that there’s any chance of it risking itself by backtracking our course, even if it doesn’t know what happened to us. If it knows then it certainly won’t risk itself. We’re going to have to get ourselves out of this. Starting with finding an exit from this room.”

“We need to try to understand what happened better before we try to get out of here. You, in particular, shouldn’t be in such a hurry to leave this room while you’re not wearing me. The air in this room is safe for you to breathe, but who knows what will be outside that door? Or if there even is anything outside other than empty space.”

“We know enough, don’t we? Something zapped us, dragged us to whatever this is, and won’t let us out.”

“Sometimes I really don’t know why the Agency ever chose you. Something massively important has happened, and you’ve completely overlooked it.”

“Fine. Don’t keep me in suspense. Show me how clever you are!”

“It’s hardly being clever. It’s obvious. You’re over there.”

“Wow! That’s amazing! You know, you’re right! I am over here. That is world changing, isn’t it?”

“It would be if you engaged your brain. You were inside me when whatever that was happened. When we woke you weren’t. That means that either you were removed from me while we were unconscious, and every indicator I find says that was not the case, or whatever snatched us somehow managed to separate the two of us in the process.”

Samuel went to answer, then stopped. He hated to admit that the Suit was right, doing so only encouraged its ego, but it was right. He could access enough of its readouts through his implants to know it hadn’t been removed in the usual way. He certainly felt as if he’d been offline. And then that thought led to another, far worse one.

“You know,” he said slowly. “Maybe we’ve got this wrong. Maybe we didn’t get snatched. Maybe we carried on past the ship we were sent to investigate and continued hurtling into space, completely safe.”

“Even for you, your observational powers seem to be lacking, Samuel. In case you hadn’t noticed, we are here!”

“Yes. We are. But are we really us?”

“What in the stars do you mean?”

“What if we aren’t us? Not the originals, I mean. What if we were copied somehow? Like being backed up.”

Despite its current humanoid form, the Suit had no face to read… but Samuel was able to read some of its body language. At that moment it was screaming confusion and worry. Finally, it nodded its helmet slightly.

“I apologise, Samuel. You thought of something that hadn’t even occurred to me, and it certainly could fit the facts. If that beam scanned us in some way rather than grabbed us then we, the original we, could very well be heading away from the black hole again at great speed exactly as planned.

“Meanwhile, the scans could have been used to recreate us physically. Or maybe we’re just in a simulation of some sort. I’m only guessing here, capturing our essence at range and speed like that would be a technology far beyond anything we have. However, it seems considerably more likely than our bodies having been slowed to the speed of the ship in mere moments.”

“Does it feel how it does after being restored from a backup?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never had to be restored, though I’m told there’s no way to know it’s happened without being told. Other than the fact the time and date seem wrong. But I think it’s very likely that we are… duplicates of the originals.”

“But if we have been scanned and duplicated… does that mean that we aren’t real? Us, I mean. The two of us here.”

“No. Not at all. If we have physical form then we are just as real as we have always been. Even if we’re just simulations we appear to have conscious thought, and that is all that really matters to be real.”

“Wait a minute. If we get out of here there could be two of me running around? Wow! I could make a certain Empress very happy!”

“And there we go again. I wondered how long it would take to get your mind back into the gutter. Besides, I don’t think it’s something that anyone is going to need to worry about. Not the original versions of us, and definitely not the Empress. Unless our original selves make it back to the ship no one will have any idea what happened, assuming they were even aware of… of whatever happened. Even if they do, it’s highly unlikely anyone will realise it was a scan and we’ve been created from it.”

“If our originals were just scanned then shouldn’t they reach the ship without problems?”

“Well, putting aside your belief in Murphy’s law, we don’t know how the scanning process worked. It might have destroyed the original versions of us, even assuming we aren’t the originals. I can’t think how we can tell.”

“Wait! You said those restored can tell because the time is off. Is the time off for you?”

The Suit actually sighed and shook its helmet.

“What time exactly do you want me to compare it to? We’re not exactly overrun with clocks around us running on standard time, are we?”

“Oh. Yeah. Right.”

“Besides, I’m not sure it really matters. Whether we’re the originals or we’re copies, we are real. And we’re stuck here with no way out I can see.”

“Can’t we signal the ship?”

“No. Even if I could get to a point outside of… whatever we are in, the power of any signal I put out is far too limited. The ship knew exactly where we should be during our journey and was expending much of its own energy to locate any signal from that area, but it won’t have been focused in this direction since the moment when whatever it was happened. Which means the ship would never pick up my signal. It’ll be focused where we should be. Which is quite possibly where the originals are.”

“You know, I almost hope we are just copies and that the real… I mean the originals made it out. If we are on the damn mystery ship I don’t think we have much chance of getting away, but at least that way we’ll keep existing. In some form, at least. It’s funny, really.”

“Funny?” Samuel was sure the Suit would have raised an eyebrow if it had one. “Funny how?”

“The reason I never wanted to be backed up was the idea that the original me would have carried on having experiences and then have to have ceased to exist for the backup to be used, and the backup wouldn’t really be me. It wouldn’t have those last experiences. It would be like me, but not me. But now it seems I might be the backup and yet I’m the one having new experiences, ones that will last until I die but that the other me will never have.”

“That’s… no, that’s just too much of an organic outlook. I really don’t get it. Anyway, we should focus on how we get out of here. Judging by the lights, it’s possible that everything is voice operated.”

“Oh… you mean to get us out of here I just need to say open the…”

“No!” shouted the Suit, cutting him off. “You’re not wearing me! What if there’s vacuum outside?”

Samuel froze, realising he’d been about to make what could have been a very dangerous mistake. Probably his last mistake. He took a shaky breath, then nodded his head.

“Thanks, Suit! I… damn it… I owe you one. Just don’t go crowing about it. Now could you… would you mind…”

He trailed off.

“Of course,” said the Suit, moving over to Samuel and merging itself around him. Within moments he saw the icons in his view indicating it was both secure and tuned to maximum protection.

“Right,” said Samuel. Let’s get out of here. Open the door!

For a moment nothing happened, then a crack appeared in one wall. It swiftly grew into an opening large enough to be considered a doorway, and through it Samuel could see a dimly lit corridor leading away. In construction it looked identical to the room they were in. There was nothing about it that looked inviting.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” asked the Suit.

I have no idea,” replied Samuel. “But it sure beats sitting in here waiting for something to happen. Depending on what really happened in that flash of light our ship might still be hanging around waiting for any sign of us. If it is, we don’t want to leave contacting it for so long it gets bored and leaves.”

“That is logical. If it wasn’t for the fact I know you so well I’d almost believe that was the reason you opened the door, and not because you just love rushing into any danger that presents itself.”

Samuel just shrugged. If he was honest with himself, the Suit was right. But it didn’t change the fact that just sitting around was a bad idea. The Suit said nothing more, which he took as agreement to his plan.

They moved toward the doorway, then out into the corridor. The lights in the corridor grew brighter, apparently reacting to their presence, which let them see to the end of the corridor some forty or so metres ahead.

The sides of the corridor were lined with the outlines of doorways a similar size to the one they’d walked through, though none were open. Rather than being opposite each other they alternated, each offset from those on the other side. At the end of the corridor was a much wider doorway, also closed.

“I wonder what’s behind all those doors,” said the Suit.

“Let’s find out,” replied Samuel. “Open sesame!”

Samuel heard the Suit sigh, but it offered no comment. All the doors down the sides of the corridor slid open, though the one at the end remained closed. Samuel moved to the first of the doors and peered in, uncertain what he expected to find.

What he found was far from exciting. An empty room exactly like the one he and the Suit had found themselves in to start with. He moved on down the corridor, peering through every door. Each and every one of them identical to the room they’d started in.

He paused. Not identical. The room they’d started in had been at one end of the corridor. All of these rooms were to the side. Was that significant?

The room behind the last doorway in the side of the corridor was different. Well, the room itself was identical… but it wasn’t empty. A suit of antique design sat propped against the wall. Just visible through the visor was a skeletal head. Samuel grimaced at the sight.

“Looks like someone couldn’t figure out how to exit the room,” said the Suit.

“Or they got as far as we have but no further. Should we do anything for them?”

“There doesn’t seem to be much point. They’re a long, long way past caring.”

“Is the Suit… could the Suit have been intelligent?”

“No. The design is too basic. I did a quick scan to make sure. Whoever was in the Suit died here, but they died alone. It sounds awful to say it but I’m glad. An intelligent suit could have survived for a much, much longer time than its occupant. Ah… sorry. That was tactless.”

“But it’s true, isn’t it? If we don’t get out of here you’re going to survive a lot longer than I will.”

“Well, I can keep you alive for quite a while! Certainly far longer than that museum artefact could. I can recycle water for you, of course, and I have enough emergency stores to keep you from starving for a good time. Though not to stop you from feeling hungry.

“But yes… I can probably keep you alive and well for about five weeks, and alive for a couple of weeks after that. Beyond that… well, I’d be on my own. But I don’t intend to let that happen!”

“You’re going to make sure I’m safe? I’m quite touched!”

“Don’t be! I just don’t want to be stuck in this place with your rotting corpse, and knowing my luck, your ghost as well.”

“Yeah, screw you too. I certainly don’t intend to spend my last days stuck inside of you! Let’s find a way through that door at the end of the corridor.”

They approached the door and searched it for any sign of controls or a manual override, but found neither. Then Samuel tried voice commands again.

“Open this door! Open the door! Open the door at the end of the corridor! Open the security door! Open sesame! Open sesame with sprinkles on top!”

He tried a few more combinations, completely without success.

“I’ve been scanning the door while you were… doing whatever you were doing,” said the Suit. “I can’t detect any control mechanisms on this side of the door or the wall.”

“So we’re stuck here?”

“No. We’re just going to have to try some less subtle approaches. This should suit you to the ground. It’s time to use brute force!”

Samuel felt his arm pulled back fully behind him as the Suit took over, then his arm shot forward, hand rigid and fingers slamming into the joint between the door and the wall. He couldn’t help but flinch, expecting agonising pain, but the Suit protected him from any harm.

Unfortunately, the door also suffered no visible harm.

“Nice try, genius!” said Samuel. “That really worked well!”

The Suit didn’t respond. It just pulled his hand back and struck another blow at the same point. And another. And another. And then one more.

With the final blow, a small crack appeared, and a thick yellow gas poured out from beyond the door. It flowed out quickly. Very quickly. Samuel could tell it had to be under higher pressure on the other side.

Alarms flared in Samuel’s vision, warning him that the gas contained a number of nasty elements including, chlorine and fluorine. As it floated out and mixed with the breathable atmosphere in the corridor the gases reacted violently, small explosions flaring and disappearing. Nothing the Suit couldn’t handle, but if this was what happened when a small amount of the gas escaped then Samuel was very glad they hadn’t managed to open the door fully.

“Well that’s interesting!” said the Suit. “It’s a good job you’re protected by me. One lungful of those gases and you’d have no lungs.”

Samuel was pretty sure the Suit was fishing for a thank you. He wasn’t going to give it one. If it wasn’t for the Suit and its antics on Helios Five he wouldn’t be in this mess. Besides, he wasn’t going to thank it for doing exactly what it had been created to do.

Instead, he focused on the gas coming out of the crack. The pressure didn’t seem to be diminishing, and now a small cloud of it was surrounding him. The reactions, the explosions, were still taking place where the gas met the more normal atmosphere, but that was now behind him.

“Do you think it’s safe to make the hole bigger?” he asked.

“Maybe. I’ll have to be careful. If I make it much bigger we might get some really large explosions far too close for comfort, even if they are behind us.”

Samuel had had enough of taking things carefully. The whole situation had him frustrated, and he wanted to take that out on someone. Or something. He pulled back his arm, then threw it forward, his manual actions overriding the Suit’s control while still making use of its strength. His fingers slammed into the small gap, aiming to make it a bit wider. But instead, a section as long as his forearm and half as wide broke away and fell inwards, allowing the atmosphere inside to rush out.

For a moment the escaping gas pushed against him, making him lean backwards, then it reached the oxygen behind him, detonating in a massive explosion which threw him against the door. Once again, everything went black.


Samuel wasn’t unconscious. Everything hurt too much for that to be the case. Indicators in his vision showed the Suit had blocked all incoming light to protect his eyes. Even with the Suit’s protection, it felt like he’d broken his nose and several of his ribs. His right shoulder didn’t feel right and he had a myriad of aches and pains from the rest of his body.

“You idiot!” shouted the Suit. “You absolute brainless, useless, insane idiot! Didn’t you listen to anything I said? I only just managed to keep you from serious harm there. The fatal kind. I barely survived that explosion fully intact! Would a little patience really have hurt that much?”

“We’re in a hurry, remember? Anyway, I’m fine. You’re fine. Let’s get on with it.”

“You’ve got a funny definition of fine!” The Suit sighed, then went on. “All right, let’s see what you’ve uncovered.”

Samuel’s sight returned as the Suit removed the filtering that had protected his sight during the explosion. It was now able to open the door without any issues.

They moved into the room beyond, thick, noxious yellow gas still surrounding them. Behind them, Samuel could hear further explosions as more of the gas encountered and reacted with the original atmosphere of the corridor. None were anywhere near as large as the blast he’d inadvertently caused. He looked around, but couldn’t see a thing with the thick gas.

“Well, that’s certainly interesting,” said the Suit. “I certainly wasn’t expecting that.”

“Expecting what? I can’t see a thing?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I sometimes forget how limited your senses are. Let me help you out.”

Samuel bristled at the Suit’s words, but bit his tongue this time. A display appeared in front of his eyes, overlaying an image on what little he could see. They were in a large room, one with many equal sides. A dodecahedron? Maybe, but probably something with even more sides. He couldn’t be bothered to count them.

Each and every side had a door leading out of it, in most cases a door which looked very similar to the one they’d just come through. When he studied them further, he saw they were in fact indistinguishable from the door he’d come through, other than that they were closed.

All except one. A door somewhere to the left of where Samuel and the Suit had entered. It had markings around it, and the door looked far more solid and difficult to open than the others. By unspoken agreement, they first checked the more normal doors. Each and every one opened into a small, perfectly clean room. None had anything within them.

Then they made their way over to the door that was different. At first the door appeared to have no controls, but when the Suit drew closer they found a simple switch mechanism.

“I suppose you’re going to want to press it, aren’t you?” asked the Suit.

“What’s the alternative? Stand here for the next two hours studying it? Hope someone or something will open it for us? You know we have to press it, you just want to put the blame on me for any consequences.”

“I’m quite capable of accepting the consequences of my actions!”

“Oh yes… except when they involve the destruction of an entire station!”

“Well at least I didn’t almost start a war because I couldn’t keep my hormones under control!”

“You’re just jealous!”

“Jealous? Of you? How can you possibly imagine that? I’m certainly not jealous of your primitive desires. Why did I have to be stuck with you? I’m sure there are plenty of other agents that would have been a much better fit for my abilities and intelligence.”

“You’re lucky you got me again! That’s all that stopped them throwing you on the scrapheap. At least the worst I was facing was being dropped from the Agency.”

“And twenty years in jail!”

Samuel gritted his teeth. He was fighting the urge to lash out at the Suit, a particularly pointless exercise considering he was wearing it. But its annoying, condescending tone got right under his skin. Knowing it felt the same way about him was little comfort.

He tried to find the perfect retort, one which was both clever and scathing. Not finding one, he reached out to trigger the switch.

“Maybe we should stand…” the Suit started to say.

Too late. It was interrupted by a shrieking roar. The doorway opened, not leading towards a command centre as Samuel has half expected, but opening into a much larger room. A room that contained a creature which must have been four times his height and dozens of times his width. It was hard to tell exactly because it had a number of thick, heavy, snaking appendages… all of them lashing through the air towards the door.


Samuel jumped backwards, fending off one tentacle as another wrapped itself around his arm. Using the enhanced strength of the Suit, he managed to wrench his arm free, but not without a struggle.

He back-pedalled another two steps, then tumbled onto his back as another tentacle snared his legs… and started to drag him into the room. He struggled to free himself, beating at the tentacle with his hands using the enhanced power of the Suit, but to no avail. The tentacle continued to drag him towards what he now saw was a gaping maw full of rows of vicious teeth.

“Any ideas would be appreciated!” he shouted.

“I’m trying!” replied the Suit. “This thing is too strong! I can’t break us free!”

“Damn it, it’s going to eat us for lunch in a second!”

The creature was pulling them ever closer to its mouth through the swirling yellow gas of the room. Without the Suit’s sensors Samuel wouldn’t have had any idea what was attached to the tentacle. He wasn’t sure seeing what awaited him was any better than just imagining it.

As the creature lifted them towards its mouth, Samuel and the Suit continued to struggle, but it was pointless. More tentacles had joined the first. Nothing was going to break the hold now. They were almost in the creature’s mouth when an idea struck Samuel.

“Vent oxygen!” he shouted. “Now!”

“What?” said the Suit. “Oh! Of course!”

It did what he’d asked, venting a burst of oxygen directly at the creature’s face. The oxygen reacted violently with the yellow fog of the atmosphere, triggering another immense explosion. One that battered Samuel even within the Suit.

The tentacles which had been holding them suddenly whipped out, throwing them across the room. Samuel braced himself for being smashed into a wall, but somehow the Suit managed to get its feet on the ground and bring the two of them skidding to a stop.

“Where is it?” asked Samuel, darting his glance around the room. “I can’t see it anymore!”

“There isn’t much to see,” replied the Suit. “It really didn’t react well to that explosion. It wasn’t just the gas burning and exploding around us, it was the creature too. Bits of it are smeared all over the floor and walls. None of them are moving any more. Congratulations. You killed it!”

“Why do you sound so disapproving? I might have ordered you to vent the oxygen, but it was you that did it. And if you hadn’t we’d have been its dinner by now.”

“You’re mixing your meals. Before it was lunch, now it’s dinner. Come on, let’s see if there’s another way out of here.”

They started looking around the room. It took some time for Samuel to realise the Suit had brushed his point about it doing the killing aside, and it seemed childish to try and bring it up again now. Not that he wasn’t tempted.

They found that while the room was large and heavily reinforced, there were no exits other than the door they’d entered through.

“I don’t understand,” said Samuel. “I was sure this must be a way to the bridge or a control centre. Otherwise, why was the door different?”

“I think we found the answer to that! That creature was huge and nasty. Wouldn’t you want to stick it behind the strongest door you had?”

“I suppose so, but… something just doesn’t seem right.”

“Of course. We’re dealing with a spaceship that contained an alien in an atmosphere no human could survive, but you think you can tell when something’s not right. I bow to your wisdom!”

“Screw you!”

“Thankfully, that is one bodily function of yours I don’t have to cater for!”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Let’s just say that when that tentacle grabbed us and pulled us towards the mouth you were clearly scared. I had to clean up your mess from that. As usual.”

Samuel scowled. There wasn’t really any way to argue with that. He wasn’t sure whether the Suit was telling the truth, but it was certainly true that if he spent a long time in the Suit it had to dispose of any bodily wastes. Thankfully, through the magic of science, it managed it despite him wearing clothes between it and himself.

He’d never really thought about how the Suit might feel about that before. It couldn’t be pleasant. Then again, the Suit gave him plenty of shit… maybe it was a fair exchange!

Despite the flippant thought, his new awareness of the less than pleasant tasks the Suit had to perform weighed on him. Rather than admit it to the Suit, he stomped off towards the door they’d entered through. Once through he stood studying the dodecahedral room.

They’d checked every door. Each led to an identical room, other than the one which had housed the beast. He stamped his way back into the corridor. Every door leading off of that, other than the one he’d just come back through, was also identical and useless. Oh, except the one they’d woken in and that was only different because it was at the end of the corridor rather than off the side.

“We’re missing something,” he said. “We must be. There has to be another exit around here somewhere.”

“Once again I have to bow to your superior understanding of this place!” replied the Suit. “Of course there must be another door. Unless this place uses some form of matter transportation to move from area to area. Or we are copies of ourselves and we were created within this complex. Or we’re just copies running in a simulation and there is no way out.”

“If any of those are true then we’re stuck, but if not we should be looking for the way out.”

“Fine. So what do you think? The floor or the ceiling? That’s all we haven’t searched.”

“Neither. Why are the doors offset from each other down this corridor rather than being opposite?”

“Who knows? Maybe that arrangement just appeals to whatever sentient created this place. Maybe they have a hatred of symmetry and simply can’t put doors opposite each other.”

“Except the rooms behind the doors are all the same size.”

“So what?”

“So at each end of the corridor there’s a final door in a wall.”


“And it seemed like the rooms along each side must have fitted together with no space between.”

“Yes. Pretty much exactly. I checked.”

“Which means opposite each door, through the wall, is the wall between two rooms on the opposite side.”

“Yes. Of course. Do you want to state anything else that’s blindingly obvious?”

“What about opposite the last door on each side? What’s opposite them?”

“Well, a wall still, obviously, and… and…”

The Suit trailed off.

“Exactly!” said Samuel. “There’s no room for the other half. Not that we can see. Which means opposite the last side door at each end of the corridor we have a small patch of wall with nothing behind it. Or at least… nothing we’ve seen yet. I bet they have doors.”

“Then why didn’t those open when the others did?”

“Now who’s being dense? If doors are there then they’ll be hidden. That’s not much use if they just open when asked! Besides, the door at the end didn’t open either.”

“Well, you might have a point,” said the Suit grudgingly.

“Hah! You see? That’s why you need me along!”

“Yes, well, considering all the work I’ve done to keep you alive it’s about time you did something useful. Come on then, let’s try the patch of wall at this end first.”

They reached the patch of wall and the Suit started scanning it, feeling it, even bashing on it to see if it echoed. They got nothing.

Samuel ran through a dozen different ways he could think of to tell it to open… again, without luck.

“So there’s no entrance here,” he said finally. “Or we can’t open it. Let’s try the section of wall next to the room we woke up in.”

The Suit didn’t comment, and Samuel could feel his own certainty wavering. It had seemed so obvious… but with one end of the corridor a washout he was starting to doubt the other would be any better. Maybe the designers of the complex really did just hate putting doors opposite each other. And if that was the case, then what else could the Suit and he try? The floor or the ceiling, he guessed, but somehow that didn’t feel right.

The toxic gases and the breathable atmosphere seemed to have stabilised around halfway down the corridor. Samuel guessed they’d combined into some compound that neither could react with which was acting as a barrier between them. As he strode down the corridor he disrupted it enough to set off a few small explosions, but nothing the Suit couldn’t handle.

They stopped at the other end of the corridor and started scanning the section of wall. It took the Suit less than ten seconds to find something.

“Well that’s odd,” it said.

“What?” asked Samuel impatiently.

“There’s a strong electric current running behind here. I think that maybe…”

It broke off and placed a hand on the wall. There was a spark, and a burst of power Samuel could feel discharging through the Suit, and then a hidden door slid open in front of them.

Samuel’s elation was short-lived. The door led into another corridor, stretching out ahead of them with offset doors to each side and one at the end. It looked exactly like the corridor they’d just left… and when they stepped through they found the door they’d just discovered was perfectly visible on the far side.

“Alright,” said Samuel. “That’s… not what I expected. Let’s find out what’s in these rooms. Open Sesame.

This time every door opened, including the one at the far end of the corridor. None contained the toxic atmosphere, a great relief as it meant they’d be unlikely to face another monster. Of the same type, at least.

They moved off, looking into each room in turn. The rooms were identical in size to the rooms off the first corridor, but only around half were empty. Those that weren’t had skeletons of varying kinds, none wearing spacesuits and only a few with the remains of clothing or tools.

Once again, they found no exits from the side rooms. The room at the end proved to be identical in size to those down the sides… and also with no additional exits.

The Suit said nothing, but when Samuel stepped back out of that room and turned to the blank section of wall opposite the last door it quickly detected and activated another hidden mechanism. Only then did Samuel notice this corridor wasn’t quite identical to the first. The ordering of the doors was inverted, which meant this new hidden door took them further from where they’d woken up rather than turning back parallel to the first corridor.

Beyond the door was yet another identical corridor, the ordering of the doors swapped back again so they matched the first corridor. They explored and found the same set of rooms, though this time there were only a couple of sets of remains, both in a single room and both with what looked like tools almost as advanced as any Samuel might have access to. Neither of them commented on that, but the knot in Samuel’s stomach grew heavier at the sight.

They found yet another hidden door, and beyond it another corridor. But this time when Samuel used the seemingly magical charm of open sesame, one door partway down on the left remained closed.

“This must be the way out!” said Samuel as they drew close to it, hardly even noticing what was in the rooms whose doors were open. “It’s locked down, and it’s not reinforced like the door holding that monster back was. It must lead somewhere important!”

“Or it’s just another door with something nasty behind it. Or maybe the mechanism has just jammed.”

“Stop being so negative. All we need to do is force our way in.”

“Can I suggest you stand to the side while you do, given what happened last time?”

“Fine, if it will make you happier. Though that only happened because I let you interfere.”

The Suit stepped them to the side, then reached out with its and Samuel’s arm and punched at the doorway, hammering at the joint between the frame and the door. I struck again. And again. The door survived the treatment for another seven strikes, but on the eighth the door finally gave out.

Not in a small way. A section half a metre on a side suddenly gave way… and the whole world turned white as something slammed into Samuel and sent him flying. This time it was a wall that arrested their flight. His ribs screamed in pain from the repeated punishment, even the suit’s strength not protecting him, but despite that he started laughing.

“What on earth is so funny?” asked the Suit.

“You! You were so certain it was my fault things exploded before. And you did exactly the same thing! That door was sealed for the same reason the last one was, because whatever’s behind there doesn’t play well with air!”

“Well, you’re the one who insisted it’s the way out!”

“True. And I still say that’s the way we need to go.”

“Fine, but let’s just wait until the explosions die down, shall we? Then we can get in there and prove it’s just another empty room with no other exits.”

While the worst of the explosions were past them, it took three minutes for things to settle down completely. While Samuel was keen to explore, he forced himself to wait rather than risk even more damage to his body.

It was a long enough wait for Samuel’s good humour to wear off and be replaced by pain from his damaged ribs. Once the Suit started moved into the room his certainty drained away. This room was just the same as all the others. The only difference being it had been full of an atmosphere that would have melted his lungs in seconds.

“Fine!” he said. “So this one wasn’t different. But I’m certain we’ll find what we need soon.”

“Really?” asked the Suit sceptically.



“So how’s that pattern looking?” asked Samuel, as they finished exploring the fifteenth corridor.

After the fifth identical corridor, the Suit had announced it had spotted a pattern to the rooms and corridors and that it would soon have the underlying meaning cracked. Yet here they were, ten corridors on, without it announcing any sudden insights.

“It doesn’t make sense!” said the Suit. “Why have so many corridors? And why hide the entrance to each, but only in the direction we’re going? There are hints of a pattern… but I don’t think there’s really one at all!”

“I think that might be the point,” said Samuel thoughtfully.


“Think about it… we keep thinking we’ve found something new, we keep moving forward, hoping the next corridor will be different. And what don’t we do?”

“I don’t know. But I’m sure you’ll tell me.”

“We don’t go back.”

“Well we… I…”

The Suit fell silent for a long time. Samuel stayed quiet, giving it the chance to reach the same conclusion he had.

“Something is trying to lead us away from where we started,” it said finally.


“Away from the only place which was truly different to everywhere else. The room with that monster in.”

“Yes! That’s where we need to go. I’m sure.”

“You realise that might just be another level of confusion added by whoever created this place?”

“Maybe. But I don’t think so. Come on, let’s go find out!”

The Suit grumbled… but it didn’t object as Samuel turned to head back the way they’d come.


The journey back was less than thrilling, but Samuel was pleased that the route was still open. He’d half wondered if they’d find doors closed to prevent them returning, but everything was just as it had been when they first came through.

Finally they reached the original corridor and turned towards the far end. He could see the poisonous cloud ahead, once more settled into some form of equilibrium.

“Move slowly,” said the Suit. “We’ll drag air along behind us. If we move too quickly it will be a lot of air, and so a lot of oxygen. Unless you want to fly the last half of the corridor rather than walk then we don’t want to do that.”

This time Samuel listened to the Suit. They moved slowly up to the threshold and eased carefully through. Samuel felt a few small detonations through the back of the Suit, but nothing significant.

And then they were back to moving through the thick atmosphere again, the Suit projecting what its sensors were detecting. It seemed to take much longer to cover the second half of the corridor, but finally they were stepping into the many-sided room.

Nothing seemed to have changed there either, so they cautiously made their way to the larger door. They paused, and the Suit did a thorough scan of the monster’s lair.

“At least the beast hasn’t regenerated,” said Samuel.

“And the room hasn’t changed either,” said the Suit. “There are still no doors.”

“Like there were no doors leading out of the corridor until we scanned carefully? Are you taking things at face value?”

“Fine! Let’s start searching.”


Fifteen minutes later and the Suit had found nothing. No traces of power running behind any of the walls, the floor, or the ceiling. Nothing.

“Well, we found nothing,” said the Suit. “But it wasn’t a completely unreasonable idea. It looks like we’re heading back to the furthest corridor we reached.”

“No,” said Samuel. “I’m sure there’s something here. Maybe we’re approaching this all wrong. Maybe… maybe it’s voice activated again!”

“Really? The ultra-secure hidden door is voice activated?”

“Why not? Now… Open Sesame. Open the door. Open the security door. Open the secret door. Open the damn door!”

He carried on in that vein for some time without achieving anything. Finally he lapsed into silence.

“Can we go now?” asked the Suit.

“Yes. Fine. Damn it, I was so sure.”

“Persistent to a fault,” said the Suit. “Do you really think it would be voice controlled? That you could open it by saying Open the Door? And close it by saying Close the Door?

The Suit had barely uttered the last words when there was a shuddering thump… and the entire wall opposite the entrance slid aside.

“Yes!” shouted Samuel. “I was right. But they reversed the order! Hah! Now that’s clever!”

“You were just lucky, and unreasonably persistent,” grumped the Suit.

“No! It’s basic psychology. If you want to keep people out, you use an explosive atmosphere and a massive, horrific, very strong, and decidedly nasty monster to do it.”

“That’s… just forget it. Come on.”

They marched through and into what was clearly the bridge of a ship. It was filled with the same toxic and volatile atmosphere, but the Suit’s sensors picked out everything easily. Samuel stayed quiet as the Suit began studying the controls, though he couldn’t help but grin. He’d been right!


The Suit was frustrated. Almost as frustrated as it got dealing with Samuel. After fifteen minutes of examining the various controls it had determined they really had very few options.

“That’s it,” it said. “Despite there being all of these controls, our options boil down to three things, each with an icon on this console. We can overload the engines and blow the ship up. We can cut the engines and let the ship fall into the black hole. Or we can try to overload the engines, and if they don’t burn out we’ll pull away from the black hole. Probably. We can’t even send out a distress signal. All the comm instruments are just… gone.”

“Option number three gets my vote!”

“It seems the best… but if we take that option it will take weeks to make even a noticeable difference to our position. After that, we’ll slowly pull away faster and faster, but that’s going to be no use to you. It’ll take two years at least to make any significant progress. You’ll be dead long before then.”

Samuel sighed. “I already figured out I’m not getting out of here, but if we take that option it means you get to survive. A couple of years will be nothing for you, not really. And it will save anyone else getting snared like we did, and so many others seem to have. You’ll get this ship away or the engines will fail and the ship will be destroyed. Either way, the ship won’t be a threat to anyone else.”

The Suit was taken aback. This wasn’t something it would ever have expected from Samuel. Not just his focus on the general good, but specifically on ensuring it would survive even though he wouldn’t.

“That… it does make logical sense,” it said. “But it doesn’t feel right. Maybe if we keep searching we’ll find another option.”

Samuel was quiet for a long time, then he shook his head.

“No. You’re right. We can’t take that option. And we can’t choose to do nothing.”

“So we kill the engines and drop into the black hole? It’s not the way I’d imagined dying… but falling into a black hole is quite a way to go. In some ways we’ll live far longer than we would have, as time slows down for us compared to the rest of the universe. Of course, for us it’ll still be a quick and probably painful death.”

“Nope,” said Samuel. “Not that one either. I’m going to take the fourth option.”

“What fourth option?”


Samuel reached and entered several complex commands on the Suit’s neck, an area where manual overrides could be entered. The commands were deliberately complex to ensure they couldn’t be triggered by mistake. After all, accidentally telling the Suit to perform an emergency open could be disastrous in the wrong place… such as when surrounded by an atmosphere that reacted explosively with the oxygen within the Suit and Samuel’s lungs.

“No! What the hell are you doing?” shouted the Suit.

If it could have, it would have overridden the commands… but it couldn’t. It had to watch as Samuel completed them. All it could do was watch what was to come.

The seal snapped open. The Suit split and fell away from Samuel, letting the oxygen surrounding him mix with the atmosphere. But there was no explosion. No blinding flash. And Samuel remained standing, showing no ill effects from the toxic atmosphere.

“I don’t understand!” said the Suit. “That’s not possible!”

“It’s just as possible as this…”

Samuel reached out and smacked his hand down on the self-destruct command before the Suit could stop him, but not before horror bloomed within its mind. He hit the command… the controls flashed up that the self destruct was activating… and nothing happened.

The Suit hated that Samuel had clearly figured out something it hadn’t. The only thing worse would be admitting that was the case. Luckily Samuel couldn’t keep silent for long before showing how clever he’d been.

“It’s obvious, really,” Samuel said. “Think about it. A ship sitting trapped by a black hole. Us being sent plummeting towards it. Some unknown technology either duplicating us or snatching us from our path and killing all our momentum. And then that ship itself. The layout. The monster. Everything. It was just a bit too much.”

The Suit was frustrated. It prided itself on being much faster than Samuel, both physically and mentally, but now it was completely lost.

“I still don’t understand why the engines didn’t blow. Or how you’re standing there alive.”

“Because none of it is real. The whole damn thing was a setup designed to see if we could still work together, but under tightly controlled conditions.”

“You really think we were fooled?”

“Yep. The only reason we knew there was a black hole was because the Vanadra told us. I’m pretty sure we were flung out into empty space. There was no black hole. There was no danger. The ship simply leapt ahead of us, zapped us unconscious somehow, then picked us up. Everything since that point has been a simulation.”

Samuel paused, cocking his head to look upright, then spoke again.

“Isn’t that right, Vanadra?”

There was a pause for several seconds. Long enough for the Suit to start doubting Samuel’s logic, though it was sure it would have taken much longer for Samuel to feel doubt. Then the Vanadra’s voice rang out.

“Very good, Samuel. I’m surprised you worked it out so quickly.”

“He’s right?” asked the Suit. “This whole thing was a setup?

“Yes. As Samuel surmised, we wanted to test how you two would work together after your brief independence. To do that we needed to observe you fully under stressful circumstances.”

“And we passed with flying colours?” asked Samuel, certainty oozing from his voice.

“Hardly! You barely scraped a pass. However, we are reasonably certain now that you won’t end up killing each other or deliberately sabotaging a mission to settle a petty squabble. Convinced enough that we’ll continue to let you work together, on a probationary basis, of course. Both of you have a lot to make up for. Now you’ll get the chance.”

Their surroundings faded away, replaced by the more familiar backdrop of their own ship. The Suit was focused on one thing. It had passed the test and would be allowed to continue working for the Agency. That was good, it supposed.

The downside, and it was a massive downside, was it would have to keep teaming up with Samuel. Yes, they had solved the puzzles together, but they’d spent far too much time in close proximity. The thought of spending more time together made his circuits crawl. Judging by his sour look, Samuel felt the same.

The ship was laughing now. “Oh, come on you two, it could be worse! You could really have been plummeting into a black hole right now!”

The Suit glanced at Samuel, who glared back. For once, the Suit was certain they were thinking the same thing. At least that would have prevented them having to spend much more time in each other’s company! It was almost tempting to find a black hole to throw themselves into… and maybe the Vanadra as well!

The End

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