For last week's b7friday topic of science fiction, some hard SF set in S2; 600 words.
A Tide Taken at the Full
"It's too good a chance to miss," said Avon. "We rarely get close enough to a black hole to observe it."
"But you can't! See it, I mean," Vila said. "Doesn't all light and everything else get sucked in?" His grin was replaced by a look of dawning horror. "Including us!"
"Nonsense. One can observe the bending of light around it, and you're quite safe outside the event horizon provided you're moving fast enough to escape the gravity well."
"And we will be. Right?"
"Orac and I have calculated it to a nicety." Avon handed a plastisheet to Jenna. "Here's the course, attitude, and speed."
Jenna looked at it and nodded. "That's easy enough. You want me to turn the Liberator like that because of the tidal forces?"
"Correct, although we shall only experience them for five seconds."
"Eh?" Vila looked worried. "What d'you mean, tidal?"
"It's a small black hole, Vila, so the inverse square law will cause parts of you nearer to it to feel a stronger attraction than parts further away. The effect is also called--" Avon paused for effect "--spaghettification."
Vila paled. "I... I think I'll go and lie down," he said faintly.
"A good idea. Sometimes you show surprising signs of intelligence.." Avon turned to the others. "I would advise everyone to do the same during the pass so that they experience the least difference in gravitational pull." He nodded and left the flight deck to check on his instruments.
"Are you sure this is going to be safe?" Cally asked.
"No problems." said Jenna confidently. "I've done this manoeuvre before, and Avon's calculations look fine to me."
"Besides," said Blake, "it might improve his mood. Anything would be worth that."
In his cabin, Avon stood on a chair, his back against a bulkhead and his eyes on the screen which showed the images from the bottom sensors--a smattering of stars, galaxies, and nebulae distorted in the centre as if someone had put a large lens of black glass there--and a line of ever-changing numbers across the bottom. At the right moment, he kicked the chair away and gasped as he felt his whole body stretch. There was a series of loud cracks as the gap between each vertebra in his spine widened.
Vila lay on his bed tense with fear. A little sick with fear, actually. He had that butterfly feeling in his stomach. No, worse than that. It was stronger now and obviously it wasn't just nervousness; he had the distinct sensation that his front was being pulled upwards while his back was pressed into the bed. If Avon had got it wrong, he'd be pulled apart. Terrified, he lifted his hands to clamp them over his stomach to hold it in place, but he misjudged and something grabbed them and pulled them up. He yelled in terror, trying to get them back. "Avon! I'll get you for this!" Then the strange invisible tugging weakened and it was all over.
Shaken, Vila sat up and felt himself all over. He seemed the same size and shape as before. He reeled out of his cabin just as Avon left his. Avon didn't look at all ill; quite the opposite in fact.
"You bastard!" said Vila.
"I did warn you."
"I'm not talking about that. You set this up just so you could have your bad back stretched!"
Avon looked dignified. "My interest in the phenomenon was purely scientific."
Vila scowled and stomped off to the galley in search of a stiff drink.
Avon smiled for the first time in weeks.