The starfield around me is rich, dense and bright, and there isn't a place I can look that doesn't have the glow of a star. Even in an adjacent system less that 2 light years away I can see that there's something rather strange up ahead.
The space ahead looks... dimpled, and a halo of light surrounds my destination. The gravitational distortion of light behind the black star that is lucky enough to get around and not fall in.
The jump drive spools up and the throttle slides forward as it has done so many times before. There's no time to counter the dry throat that just formed.
The ship slides into witch space one more time.
A loud boom reverberates through the ship on exit and the blue Cherenhov radiation fades away from periphery vision. A rougher transition than usual to be sure, but the gravity distortion in this system is far from usual.
The canopy glare filters lift and, for a moment, I believe that nothing has happened. Directly ahead is a dark black and empty volume of space in which my eyes can't pick out any detail. As the stars in the sky return to my sight there is a moments disorientation as they swim around in seemingly unnatural directions.
The ship comes to a halt and the dark sphere fills out with light gathered from all over the sky.
Light is bent so far out of shape that I fancy I could see the photons from my own ship thrown back at me after they've made an orbit of the event horizon. The sensor net starts waking up and spewing out crazy reports that aren't too far away from that flight of fancy. The data is confusing so I just let the machines gather and store it. One thing I know is that the jump has placed me over 60 light seconds from the nearest mass.
Then a mental correction that reminds me of the situation I'm in: its not mass, but the nearest singularity in space and time. A super massive black hole hiding over half a million solar masses.
I've made it.
The local comms channel static clears up and a message comes through in clear: "Hello friend!"
Another commander from our original exploration team of nine has arrived, only a few minutes earlier, and is also assimilating the view. We return to normal space and line up to capture evidence of our arrival. We share the survey data for the system, and swap stories on the journey up (he's not been to the Great Annihilator yet, and plans to do so on the way back).
A small glass of Eranin pearl whiskey from personal supplies celebrates the moment, though it wouldn't be wise to drink more while this close to something so dangerous. The hours pass quickly, and this seems a very quiet part of space.
Sensors carry their familiar warning beep and another ship jumps into the system. Another commander from our group has arrived, having had some trouble with navigation computer for the last few hundred light years.
We let him savour the moment, the view, and the achievement.
As we all will. For the rest of our lives.
With thanks to Cmdr Stoneage and Cmdr Ol for the assistance in taking of photos on the edge of the event horizon.
Also to Cmdr Bikky, Cmdr Ian Norton, Cmdr Jeffrey Stoob, Cmdr Cluseau, and Cmdr Iain McC for the company and camaraderie on the journey.
We lost one along though: started the journey but we lost touch along the way. We hope he made it back safely.