Stanley initiated a standard scan and watched the numbers scroll across his screen. "That’s not right," he muttered. He stopped the test and restarted it. He stared at the image on the screen. His mind drifted. He reached forward, and jumped when his fingers hit smooth plastic.
He shook himself.
"Captain, I’m getting abnormal readings," Stanley said. "These are not indicative of a black hole at all."
The captain glanced over. "What are they indicative of?"
Stanley tapped his screen and scowled. "I have no idea, ma’am."
"Let’s send a probe."
The probe passed what appeared to be an event horizon and continued toward the anomaly. Its readings cut off just before it made contact. Its readings matched Stanley’s, but didn’t offer any additional insight.
"This is all very unusual," the first officer muttered. "We’ve never seen—"
The ship lurched forward violently.
"Diane! What are you doing?" the first officer shouted at the pilot.
The pilot shook herself, then yelped and pulled her hand off of the accelerator. "I don’t know what happened," she said. "My hand must have slipped."
"It was a poorly timed slip," the captain said, her voice grim. "We’ve passed the event horizon."
The shift changed, and Stanley went to his quarters while the senior staff wrestled with saving their lives.
He felt odd. A strange anticipation danced in his belly. He remembered his strange spell earlier, wondered if the pilot, Diane, had felt something similar.
He went to bed, and dreamed of white creatures that skittered on their bellies, and of a dark, all-seeing lord.
It was an oddly pleasant dream.
The ship continued to fall toward the anomaly. Stanley fought against excitement swirling in his belly. He shouldn’t be excited. He should be terrified.
But the excitement wouldn’t go away. He felt giddy—couldn’t concentrate. He fought to keep his hands away from his instruments—he didn’t trust them anymore.
He noticed that Diane was actually sitting on her hands.
The head engineer finished tapping something into the computer. "Okay, captain, the engines are ready. This should work."
"Let’s get out of here," the captain said.
The engineer pushed a final button.
Stanly and Diane were both touching their screens.
The rest of the bridge crew stared at them. Both stepped back. Diane started crying. "I don’t know what happened!"
Stanly didn’t remember moving his hands. He had no idea what he’d done. "I—I think we should be locked up," he said.
The first officer nodded to the security officers. "I agree."
Stanley buried his face in his hands. Diane was still crying. He searched his mind for what he’d done, but his memory was blank.
He should be feeling shame. He should be horrified that something had gotten into his body and moved him like a puppet. He should be afraid for his life.
Instead, all he felt was that same, mounting excitement.
He wondered if Diane’s tears were real.
As they fell, gravity grew. Whatever the anomaly was, it had incredible mass, and moving became more and more difficult. Stanley was pinned to his cot in the brig, like a bug on a corkboard. He wondered how long until he was crushed.
He still wasn’t afraid.
They hit the anomaly with a dull thunk that reverberated through the whole ship. The lights sputtered and died. Dim emergency lights pulsed, giving eerie, displaced flashes of vision.
Stanley understood how he needed to move. Rolling was hard, but then he landed on the floor. His wrists and ankles were wrong when he looked at them, so he turned his eyes away. The lights pulsed, and he saw that Diane was on the floor, too. Her hands and feet were all flat on the floor.
"There’s something wrong with us," she said. But there was joy in her voice.
Stanley skittered forward. The energy field that held them in their cells had failed. Life support would soon follow. His elbows and knees burned at first, then the sensation faded. "Our master is waiting," he said. He didn’t know where the words came from, but they were true.
Diane grinned. "Our master," she repeated, savoring the words. "Yes."
The lifts weren’t working, but they wrenched the doors open and scrambled up the elevator shaft. They slipped into the bridge.
The lights pulsed, and he saw that the others were pinned to their seats, or on the floor where they’d fallen. The captain tried to lift her head. "What are you doing?" she asked. Her voice was weak—the gravity would soon be too much for her lungs.
"We must feed," Diane said.
Revulsion spiked through Stanley’s gut, followed by glee. She was right. They needed to feed, so that their master could feed. So that he could escape the prison he’d been locked in for so long.
Diane skittered over to the first officer. He managed to cry out as she sank her teeth into his leg. But he could not thrash, could not fight her.
Stanley went to the captain. The terror in her eyes didn’t please Stanley. But his master hungered.
He started at the captain’s throat. There was no reason not to make it quick—she’d always been a strong leader, and a kind woman.
Her blood was hot on Stanley’s tongue. It slid down his throat like water.
His master needed more.
But there were enough people on board. They would feast, and then their master would gather them to himself and fly through the stars, looking for new prey.
Diane cackled with joy, and Stanley joined in.