Mapping the Tetra

“Seen one Tetra, seen ’em all. What’d I tell you?”

“More than I asked for,” said Pia. “I hired a pilot, not a color commentator. Stay the course.”

The impossible bulk of a Predecessor Tetra loomed before them, a lightyear to a side and as smooth and as black as any human tool could measure. It gave off nothing. Not a photon, not a graviton, not even a blip of Cherenkov radiation. It was as cold and massive as it was mysterious, but it wasn’t dead. Or so Pia believed.

“If we get lost in there I’ll have to charge you for the extra fuel.”

“I’m aware of the fee structure. If we get lost in there, overhead costs will be the least of your worries. And if we find a path through, you’ll wish you had a tenth of a percent of the rights to the route. I’ll buy you enough fuel to get you halfway to Andromeda.”

“Alright, alright. But strap in. No telling what we might find. Might get dicey in a hurry.” The gruff little man rubbed his gray cheek stubble with both palms like he’d just woken up from a bender and was psyching himself up to power through the hangover. It didn’t inspire confidence, but Pia didn’t need it. She was confident in her own convictions. He was just the driver.

She could have flown the ship herself. Pia was an adequate pilot, understood the mechanics well enough but didn’t have the feel for it, the natural talent. And anyway, she didn’t have a ship. She could charter a ride, but no one was eager to rent out a deep space clipper for what she could offer as collateral.

The ship entered the Tetra through an opening at the blunted point of one of its four vertices. The tunnel was beyond enormous—it could hold an ice giant between its walls—but was only a pinhole compared to the whole structure. It was an hour of flying straight in awkward silence before they reached the first decision point. Three more tunnels branched off their own. Each held nothing but perfect darkness. Pia pointed, and the pilot nosed the ship around accordingly.

Pia concentrated with all her willpower to make a mental map of the Tetra’s interior, but it was going to be a challenge. It wasn’t uncommon for explorers to get lost in a Tetra and never make it out. But she had another theory: the Predecessors build the Tetras as gateways. They might lead to other Tetras across the galaxy, or maybe even to the Predecessors themselves. Maybe she’d find those lost explorers on the other side. Either way, a navigable route would be worth a fortune, provided she could find her way back.

Of course, she’d have to kill the pilot.

She didn’t feel bad though; she’d noticed his own weapon, a well-hidden bulge in his crash couch. He knew the score. At least one of them wouldn’t be leaving the Tetra.

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