A young woman has a simple hypothesis about black holes...


In a wide orbit around the black hole designated by Imperial Catalogue Number 327-B, there was a space station. It was not a very big space station. It held maybe a hundred people, most of them scientists, with a small group of support staff.

Monitoring black holes was actually a pretty boring job. Only really dedicated scientists wanted any part of it.

For one thing, you had to orbit pretty far away from it, if you want to avoid becoming part of it. I mean, you were still closer to a black hole than anyone else, but it wasn't exactly right there, either.

For another thing, it was monotonous. When you first arrived, watching a super-dense gravity well devour anything it could was exhilarating. Then it went on, and on, and on. It just kept doing it, and it all looked pretty much the same.

Half the reason the station was there was to confirm that, in fact. If the thing suddenly changed its behavior, they'd have to tell someone about it, maybe do something about it. Nobody really knew what they'd do, but at least would be something different. Some people were excited by that idea, others dreaded it. Everybody talked about it, all the time, because it was something to do.

Living on this station, with her parents, was a young woman—most grown-ups insisted on calling her a "girl", but she was old enough to take herself seriously, even if nobody else did. She was a young woman. So there.

This young woman had spent most of her childhood (she was all of 9, mind you, but she considered her childhood to be a thing of the past) traveling to this station, which was far away from anywhere, so that her parents could study ICN-327-B. She knew entirely too much, for a young woman of her brief experience, about black holes. Her parents talked endlessly of various readings and experiments and theories and math and whatever.

There were only two other people roughly her age on the station. Both of them were, in her judgement, children. She was, let us remember, not a child. she was a young woman.

As such, rather than spend her time playing with those children, she had given herself an extremely important job. A science experiment of her very own.

Her hypothesis was simple, but, she thought, profound: if you feed a black hole enough cake, it might not be hungry any more, and might stop devouring everything else. Maybe it would even get sick from so much cake!

Then, when it stopped, they could finally go somewhere else, anywhere else, more interesting.

So, every day, she took advantage of the fact that nobody really was paying attention to her. She spent a couple of hours baking a cake. She was extremely careful about it, especially right at first. It occurred to her that, if she set something on fire, she'd certainly be stopped from continuing her experiments.

So she'd read the directions, looked up what she hadn't understood on the station's network, watched the oven like a hawk the first few times.

Then she'd figured out how to set various reminders and timers on her terminal and realized that the cake batter could absorb heat and convert it into useful chemical activity without her constant supervision.

Then, when the cake was done, and cooled, she frosted it. At first, she wasn't very good at it, but she gradually got more skillful and artistic. The fact that nobody would ever see, except herself and black hole, and maybe some very bored technician who happened to glance at a scanner at the right moment, didn't bother her much.

Then, at last, she placed it in an airlock, waited until the station rotated just the right way, and cycled the airlock. The air, and the cake, shot outward, in the direction of black hole ICN-327-B.

She knew it would be quite a long time before any of her cakes reached the event horizon of the black hole. That was fine. Her parents had been clear they would be here for a long time.

She could wait.

The proximate inspiration for this story was the daughter of one friend who kept interrupting her brother trying to be serious about black holes by shouting things like FEED IT A CAKE! Other aspects of the character came from another conversation with a friend whose child had reached "don't call me ${PET NAME} in public, please" stage. And hey, I wrote a thing, and it's been a while!