Background Story: Stuck

"Still more than eight hours in this damn cabin! If only I could travel alone!" Captain Roberts looked at the women sitting facing him, and then he looked away quickly to avoid being noticed and getting involved in a conversation.

Not that anything was wrong with her. She was called Emily, a young pretty waitress from space station Draal. She was going on a vacation for a week to the beaches of the exotic Balduse Islands with her groom François who was a musician and in love with her.

Captain Roberts knew all this about Emily because she kept talking ever since they had gotten on the elevator. She had already told him half of her life. If she were given the chance, she would probably tell the other half as well.

The captain didn't like people. They are boring and they always talk about totally irrelevant things. Emily perfectly illustrated his problem with people in general. There was only one thing he hated even more than people - space elevators. Even though this was the first time he used one. If he could have, he would have omitted this trip, but the planet's governor insisted that he wanted to talk about the evacuation in person. This was the first time he had left outer space and he hoped it was going to be the last time.

He was born on a battleship. There was nothing surprising about this, most of the spacehips' crews were born on ships and space stations. Most of them, however, were eager to step on a planet's surface. They say sunset is one of the most beautiful phenomena in the universe, and for those who were born in space it was a miracle.

Captain Roberts did not share their enthusiasm. But now he would have watched a thousand sunsets, if he didn't have to ride this elevator. First of all, he was sick of the planet's natural gravity. Even though there is no physically detectable difference between natural and artificial gravitation, thirty out of a hundred people can feel the difference, and three percent of them get nauseated and dizzy. And, beyond that, he just realized after leaving the geostationary level that he had agoraphobia. He was not afraid of death since he had been trained to cope with it his whole life, but of the falling itself.

Malfunctions, however, are extremely rare. He had read an article about it not so long ago. Accidents happen once in a blue moon. But the captain had a vivid imagination and, since he had peeked into the blueprints of one of these elevators, he developed dozens of deadly scenarios. A drifted SPS or a mis-measured meteor could easily tear the tether. An icicle frozen in a wrong place pushed under one of the stabilizing rings by the ice scrapers could damage it and it would immediately explode from the many gigapascals of tension in the tether. If it ripped at least a tenth of the threads, the shockwaves would damage more and more threads and rings and the resulting cascade would mean the end of the elevator.

Captain Roberts, in order to divert his attention from these thoughts and to avoid “speaking” with Emily (or more precisely: listening to her), got out his handheld computer and checked the target galaxy. But this did not interest him either. Strictly speaking every galaxy is just the same. And neither its shape nor the “good spots” could excite him. He will be told where to go and he will go there.

Zandagort s8 galaxy

Emily does not know it yet, but her vacation is going to be interrupted. If she's lucky, she will be in the first round of the evacuation. If not, she will die relatively fast and relatively painlessly since there will be no second round. A Zeus fleet of about ten million equivalents is mincing the empire planet by planet. Since there is no fleet to match it in size and speed, only the most important planets are defended. Emily's planet is not among them and the aliens will be here in three days. Until then only a portion of the inhabitants will be saved, at best.

They were about fifteen thousand miles above the surface when the elevator bumped and started to slow down with a terrible crash. Captain Roberts grabbed the seat's armrests in terror while Emily screamed continuously. It took almost two minutes for the elevator to stop. The noise ceased and Emily became silent too. They looked at each other in shock.

The captain recovered quickly. He immediately called the first officer and handed over control to him, so he could manage the evacuation as acting captain. And, of course, he asked for a mechanic to repair the elevator and save them.

Emily was not a silly woman, she understood the situation immediately. The captain decided to breach the protocol because of the extraordinary nature of the situation and told her everything. If he gets out alive and is caught he would be tried for his crime but he felt he could take the risk.

Of course he prohibited Emily from warning François. And oddly enough Emily didn't even think of that. Perhaps due to the fear of death or perhaps something else, but Emily started to take interest in the captain. She started to flirt with him. Or at least she tried because the captain was totally immune to female body language.

He suggested instead that they play Pick-up Sticks until the mechanics arrive. Actually this was the only thing Captain Roberts enjoyed, pulling out sticks from a pile. Even having to play with others didn't disturb him. Emily, as she had no other choice, joined the game. Soon resignation took over her and she wasn't bothered by the possibility anymore that she would be spending probably her last hours playing with a bunch of sticks.

The mechanics never arrived. The first officer (or acting captain to be more precise) exploited the situation to finalize his new rank. He didn't tell anyone about the captain's situation, especially not the mechanics. And in the big rush no-one has noticed that an elevator was broken.

Emily and Captain Roberts played Pick-up Sticks for three days, while watching the evacuation and, finally, the arrival of the aliens. The captain showed Emily through a telescope the 3 feet long bombs thrown out from the Zeuses. The bombs detonated near the surface and the high energy gravitons emitted by them created an irregular black hole which devoured the entire planet. In the end the fluctuating singularity was torn to shreds and radiated in just a few minutes.

But our heroes, quite understandably, did not see anymore. Their bodies were trickling out as gamma radiation, their souls lost in the information paradox.