Risks and Rewards

“It’s a star; a black dwarf.”

“I already told you, that’s impossible.” She reminded him that for a white dwarf to cool to the cosmic background radiation temperature it would take a quadrillion years—70,000 times the current age of the universe.

“You can recite numbers all you like, but I’m telling you it’s a black dwarf.”

It shouldn’t exist. But there it was.

Of course, they’d gotten into the astrophysical debate to begin with to distract themselves from the more complex questions surrounding their find. Literally surrounding. A haphazard array of derelict vessels orbited the central mass like an unending funeral procession. None of the ships were human. For that matter, no two were alike. How many spacefarers had stumbled across this impossible stellar object? And why had they all gone dark when they approached it?

“Forget the star,” she said at last, acknowledging the real question. “What do you think is aboard those ships?”

“Won’t matter if we get trapped, too. Might as well be a tarpit full of fossils.”

“But imagine the technological leaps if we could recover just one alien starship. And there’re hundreds of them. Thousands!”

He sat completely still, his heart even pausing its monotonous murmuring for him to think in silence. He emptied his lungs like air brakes. “Fine. Let’s do it.”

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