"Five, four, three... abort, abort!"
Oh, what now? Mark cancelled the jump, took his hands off the controls, and turned to face his second in command, slowly enough to swallow his exasperation. "Problem, Jason?"
"Yeah. Numbers are wrong."
Mark considered yelling. Didn't, mostly because Jason's tone held all the exhaustion he himself was feeling, and the frustration too. They were all shattered after two back-to-back missions. They all wanted to go home, right now. Including Jason.
"Bring her around, Tiny. We'll try it again."
"No - Mark, the solution's wrong, setting up again won't help. We can't jump home from here."
Not for the first time, Mark wished for some method of plotting their FTL jumps which involved a computer, or a calculator, or a slide rule. Something he understood. Something, anything other than a mathematical genius looking at the numbers and 'seeing' the answer. That part of interstellar flight had always terrified him, though he'd never have admitted it. But Jason had never failed. Not before this, anyhow.
He took a steadying breath, aiming for 'reassuring'. "What's the problem?"
"If I knew, don't you think I'd have said?"
Yes, I do. I also think you're a lot more rattled by it than you're letting on. "Let's investigate," was what he said. "Keyop, I want a full scan down the flight path for abnormalities, maximum sensitivity. Princess, any clues on the radio? Jase, can you see what's causing it? Are all the numbers odd?"
"Not really how I work."
"I know." Mark had insisted on at least knowing what Jason's methodology was, even if he couldn't do the math involved. Jason looked at the numbers, he visualised the contours, and he figured out where the minimum was. In something like seventeen dimensions. He looked again at the numbers Jason had given him. Were they odd? Any different in form from the last jump they'd made, or the one before that, or the several hundred before? Maybe they didn't look quite right...or was he just uneasy because Jason had told him it was bad data? In any case, going from the solution back to the input data which made it a bad solution wasn't something he could even start to do. He'd give Jason a while to think about it before exploring other options. Most likely case: they had a dead sensor in there somewhere, and they'd have to decide whether to try to replace it or jump with a solution based on an incomplete set of data. They'd never done it for real, but there had been plenty of simulations. Most of them had gone okay. Not as many as he'd have liked.
"Oh!" Keyop yelped. "Oh, heck."
"Report, G-4," Mark said as calmly as he could manage.
Keyop just pointed at the image he'd uploaded to their top screen, pixellated through distance, and they sat and stared at it in horror for a while.
"Is that what I think it is?" Tiny said eventually.
"If you think it's a black hole, then yes." Jason turned his attention back to his console. "Well, we can't jump through that."
"I guess we'll be going home the long way round." Mark sighed, and turned to reset his own controls. "Plot us a course back to Arcturus, G-2. We can jump home from there. G-3, tell Control we'll be delayed."
Two long jumps instead of one. There might be quicker alternatives, or more fuel-efficient ones, and doubtless he'd have to answer to his superiors as to why he hadn't spent time looking for them. Right now he was too tired to care.