The following novella, Pause & Effect, was originally published on Wattpad and has since been published here. It has received some corrections. David Davis wrote Pause & Effect with contributions by Deft Beck.
You can follow other short stories using the stories category. Successive novella segments will be linked in this header and at the bottom of each post.
Day One: Part One
Bunk Room: Hour 2
The diagrams flew across the touch screen as Dash Kameku flicked through them absent-mindedly. He skimmed each one looking for a place to start, some nugget of insight or flashing text that more or less spelled “start here.”
So far, his arrangement with Mr. Kimney had been entirely one-sided, though not from a lack of effort on Dash’s part. Bucketbot had become a big help in Dash’s duties aboard the ship. Still, recent events and the general workload had kept him from providing any real suggestions to the multitude of project files Kimney had transferred to him… and continued to transfer almost daily. Dash’s eyelids drooped. The days had begun to run together. He resigned to giving the project files a serious once-over since he didn’t feel comfortable sleeping lately.
He continued browsing on auto-pilot. Throughout the documents, one recurring term offered him some small glimmer of interest. Nanotech. Even though he studied applied energies, ion and particle accelerators, propulsion, and energy shielding in college, he was always intrigued by robotics. He had been working on his own robotic project for months, and, despite needing to teach himself the basics, progress was steady. He was in no way knowledgeable enough to figure out just what the deal with Blu was, but then he doubted anyone could explain that little stowaway robot.
Dash set a flag for all documents marked “nanotech” and reclined in his chair at the terminal. He felt his eyelids grow heavier, but he knew he didn’t want to sleep. It had been this way since the Vark-incident; his eyes would ache, and he’d fight against them. He rubbed his eyes with his fingertips and let out a groan. The Terrekin adjusted his vision, watching splotchy colors drift away from his field of view, and then fixed his stare at the monitor, looking at nothing in particular.
He knew everyone would wake up soon, so he shut off the terminal and crawled into his bunk. He wrapped himself in a blanket as he stared at the plastisteel-tile ceiling. Dash continued staring for what seemed like an eternity until he finally heard Guugel, the diminutive, one-eyed security guard, get up from his own bunk to begin his day.
A few minutes later, Dash found himself drifting off. Sleep overtook him.
Bunk Room: Hour 3
Dorian woke up two hours before his alarm. Again.
His eyes were wide open as he stared at the time displayed on the front of his data wallet, which rested on the nightstand next to his bunk.
Dorian turned over and tried to go back to sleep. He enveloped himself in his covers, folding and tucking them under his body. He went into a fetal position, closed his eyes as tight as possible, and tried breathing steadily.
In and out. In… and out.
He threw the covers off his body and grabbed his data wallet, picking it up and waking it with a tap on the screen. The lock screen was blank for now. If the ship was within galactic information network range, there would be all sorts of notifications on it. With such limited network reception out in space, it seemed as if it was more of a glorified watch and music player than anything useful to him. He unlocked his mobile data wallet, went to the network settings, and turned on the wireless radio.
He waited, staring at his static home screen in the dim room.
Dorian’s mobile began to vibrate in short bursts, buzzing over and over. Icons upon icons appeared. Windows popped up, and tabs popped out in every screen direction. He made deft swipes and quick taps, clearing the notifications and pop-up windows. After a minute, the home screen was clear.
Dorian opened the social media folder and held his finger over the Spacebook icon. He hesitated for a second… before tapping it.
He waited a moment as his news feed refreshed itself. His feed was now full of posts where his friends and university colleagues did their best to show off to one another. There was a picture of his sophomore friend Songo taking a selfie with an award for excellence in research from the Salderi Project. If Songo could help them find the cure for spacer-rot, he could cure himself of narcissism, too. Niloa, from Dorian’s xenoimmunology class, posed with her Parrack friends in front of a climate-controlled display of tropical trees at the Skyhaven Parrack National Embassy on Oonoo. Dorian wondered how such a cold woman found so many friends in warm places.
The rest of the feed consisted of ads for products he did not need and for concerts he wished he could attend. As he suspected, he had no messages.
He switched to the Hearpoint music app and checked his notifications for new music. His eyes widened as he saw the new release from Triflock, a popular voidtrance group. Two Parrack twins and one Hauke posed in trendy clothes with eyes shut and somber expressions between the sun rising on a dark planet and the word “Migration”. This must have been their latest annual album.
He placed a finger on the album art and heard a sample. Multiple synthesizer arpeggios murmured over a lead piano melody. The notes reverberated in Dorian’s ears before fading into silence. Dorian closed his eyes as he listened, feeling a chill run up his neck. The Grey began to download the album and forwarded a notification to Senn. Since Senn would listen to the singles from an album and then go back to his favorite music from college, this notification might have been pointless. Still, if he was a fan of Triflock’s old material, he might like this new album.
Dorian queued up several more album and playlist downloads before exiting the application. He stifled a yawn and smacked his lips as he stared straight ahead into the dark, quiet room – almost too quiet. When the ship was in transit, the silence was always underscored by a low hum that could be heard throughout the ship. He got out of bed and stood up, stretching himself out. The soft vibrations at his feet were missing, too. Did the ship stop moving? Great.
He put his mobile down on the nightstand and trudged towards the washroom. After a cold shower, he wore comfortable pants, a neutral-colored shirt, and slip-on shoes. He had nobody to impress unless they were having a heart attack, and he had to use a defibrillator on their chest. When they returned to life, they would see him in his professional, no-nonsense clothes and be impressed, marveling at the smart, quick-thinking medical intern who saved their life.
As he walked to the galley for breakfast, no one marveled at him.
Bunk Room: Hour 3
The black void was stifling. Dash struggled against it, but it seemed to enclose around him. It grew tighter and tighter around the contours of his body. He kicked and thrashed as hard as he could, but the sludgy darkness swirled and coalesced around him, and as he opened his mouth to scream, the void flowed into him. He couldn’t breathe, but he couldn’t die either. In panicked silence, he choked, almost drowning in black but then, suddenly, a reprieve. As the pressure subsided, he found himself floating in nothingness. His breaths were gasping and desperate. He was no longer drowning, but the inky darkness still lingered in and around him.
Then, he heard the tearing of fabric and saw a gleaming light rip through the darkness. A dagger tore through the void, leaving a gash of frayed black edges. The light was blinding, but Dash looked toward it to see what existed beyond the veil.
Vark came into view; his throat ripped out in gruesome detail… his gash throbbing with each labored breath and the red and pink insides of his neck slick and moist. Worst yet was the smile, as though he had knives where his teeth should have been.
Dash had only been asleep for a little over an hour when he found himself waking up from his latest nightmare. Everyone else was out of the bunk room by now except Guugel, who was reclining on his bed with little else to do today. Guugel’s single eye opened and turned to him.
Dash felt the question echo in his skull. He sat up and brushed some wet hair from his forehead.
Want to talk about it? The voice bounced.
Dash grunted as he threw his legs over the side of his bed. He threw his head into his palms and replied: “I’m fine.”
Guugel shrugged and lay back down, eye closed.
You really should open up about these sorts of things.
“I’m not a fan of your voice bouncing around in my head like that.”
Heh. Maybe you shouldn’t leave the door open so wide.
Bunk Room: Hour 4
Dorian turned his face from the bright lights of the galley. The room smelled of coffee and protein paste, so someone must have had breakfast and left before he got there. The Grey went into the fridge and got out a plastic tumbler. He closed the fridge and opened a nearby compartment, digging around for his freeze-dried oat packets. Dorian looked at the design on the packaging, which displayed a cartoon Grey smiling with the words “Original Flavor” below.
He stretched his back as he poured the powder into the tumbler, which he filled with water, shook up, and stuck into the microwave. He checked his data wallet again while waiting for the oats to cook. Senn’s icon on the Spacebook messenger app was green, so he was awake. No one else on the ship seemed to be online, though.
The microwave pinged, and Dorian handled the tumbler with care. He stirred the oats and took a whiff. Nice and inoffensive, just how he liked it. It would fill him up until he could have instant noodles for lunch. Dinner was another situation, though. It was unclear if the ship’s current lack of forward momentum would spur Marken to make something special. Dorian shuddered at the thought.
He walked down the hallway to the medical bay and turned on the lights. They flickered on one by one as he set the tumbler down on a counter. He stirred the oats more before scooping out some of the sludge and tasting it. Perfect. The cold tumbler had caused the hot oats to cool down faster than normal. This had been the most science he had applied in a long while, and it was not even related to his area of study.
He swallowed the oats as he booted up his medical console and logged into the operating system. He went over to his calendar application and checked his due dates. Dorian sighed as he saw that his next psychological profile was due to be sent to his internship supervisor soon.
With all of the recent drama, he had almost no time to begin the profile. It was on Bernell Marken, who usually just went by Marken. It had been almost half a year, and while their paths crossed often, Dorian did not have much reason to chat casually with him. If he wanted to finish this work on time, he would have to find a reason to talk to him.
In the meantime, there were many emails to answer and many articles to catch up on. He took a key ring from his pocket and unlocked a nearby drawer, taking out a pair of headphones. If he just left them around, a certain Parrack might choose to borrow them, and he would never see them again. He plugged the headphones into his mobile and slipped them onto his aural patches, pressing play on the chillwave playlist.
For the next few hours, all Dorian saw was his monitor and his data wallet. He found himself lost in journals, emails, and various online distractions.
Bunk Room: Hour 4
Kracker woke up with his feet on his pillow and his head buried under his blankets. As usual, for a few embarrassing moments, he wondered why it was so dark in the bunk room.
He raised himself from his bed, tore the blanket off from over his head, and peered around. Guugel was absent, as was Dorian, and Dash was shivering under his covers. Kracker listened to his friend whimper slightly. He frowned but suddenly grew alarmed.
The ship was running silent. Even as a war-era antique, the ship was relatively quiet, but the lack of noise now meant something was up with the auto-pilot.
He threw himself toward the nightstand, grabbed his data wallet from the charger, and thumbed through the interface. He had synced his wallet to the ship’s A.I. and was relieved to see the ship’s computer code reply to his inquiry: Everything was fine, and the ship was in a queue for the jump-gate. Ships ran idle in queues to preserve resources, but the odd part about this was that the queue had begun a couple of hours prior.
Kracker made his way to his drawer in the wall, pulled out some clothes, threw them on, and made his way to the helm.
Mara’s Bunk: Hour 4
Mara stared up at the ceiling of her room, hesitant to leave the comfort of her bed. She sighed, threw her legs over her bunk, slid into a robe, and made her way to the utilitarian desk across from her bed. She took a seat and activated the computer interface.
A display screen rose from the desk’s surface and flickered to life, a portion of the desk’s smooth surface morphing into an array of lit keys. She yawned and began to type:
There was no response. She rubbed her eyes with her palms and spotted the typo. She typed again:
There was a short delay before a series of data flashed across her monitor, per usual. All of a sudden, it came to a stop. She saw a simple message.
Upper Common Room: Hour 4
As the first one in the kitchen, it seemed fair that Kracker got to decide the breakfast situation for the crew this morning, and, like always, he fixed some coffee with the nutriment paste. The fruity flavor of the paste played well with the acidity of the coffee and was pretty much exactly what he needed. Well, with just a dash of ale from his pocket-flask. Just a nip, really.
Coffee in hand, Kracker entered the helm room and took his place in the pilot’s seat. With a few quick gestures, he activated the displays and began combing through the data about the queue. He occasionally glanced up and out the primary window, observing dozens of other ships orbiting the jump-gate, which, oddly enough, seemed to be deactivated.
Senn “Kracker” Toucair did a double-take and returned to the data, eager to find out why the jump-gate was down. He continued to pour through the data with one finger as he took a sip of his coffee with his free hand. He trilled slightly after a delicious gulp, loving the fruity note that lingered afterward.
The logs were fairly standard so far, but then he found what he was looking for: a general warning from the Jump-Gate Authority concerning an emergency shutdown. He raised a quizzical, feathery eyebrow and studied the message thoroughly. Admittedly, the details were light, but a gate shutdown was serious business. Data could still be transferred between gates. The gates were vital to communication networks, but it seemed that ships were not permitted to travel through for now.
That was worrisome, and Kracker dove right into local broadband chatter to get a feel for the situation.
“This is pilot Toucair of the Lucky Strike. Anyone have more up-to-date info on the closure? Over.”
Kracker took another sip of his coffee.
A guttural voice bellowed across the broadband, “This is pilot Vobang of the Boulder Dasher. No updates yet. Over.”
“This is pilot Toucair of the Lucky Strike. Thanks for the update. Over.”
Current methods of investigation exhausted, Kracker leaned back in his seat, coffee in hand, waiting for whatever news would find its way to him.
Upper Common Room: Hour 4
Mara stifled yet another yawn as she entered the nav room. Kracker was already there, focused on his array of monitors. Mara’s entrance was a welcome reprieve from the idle chatter of spacers on the broadband. She had a couple of slices of pom fruit from the galley tucked into a disposable towel and gently placed the package on her terminal. She dug into the package and popped a small, ruby-red slice into her mouth, savoring the mild, sour tang.
“Morning, Senn,” she said, wiping away some pom juice from the corner of her mouth.
Kracker didn’t turn away from his monitors but instead pulled down an arm-mounted monitor and opened up some relevant data.
“You may have noticed that the ship is in orbit around the jump-gate,” he said. “Turns out it’s been shut down for a bit.”
Mara’s eyes widened.
“Beats me. They certainly haven’t told us anything. I’ve been tuning in on broadband, but nobody has any idea what’s going on.”
Mara sat down at her nav terminal with the creeping realization that there would be very little to do today. She stared at her monitor as she mulled over this, figuring it was not true after all. It was just a period of rest. Sometimes priorities shift.
“Is the gate still letting us transfer data?” she asked.
Kracker leaned back in the pilot’s seat.
“Yeah. I’ve been downloading Triflock’s new album all morning while I wait for more info. From what I’ve heard so far, it’s pretty good.”
Mara smiled. “I know of them, but I haven’t heard their latest stuff.”
“Same, but Dorian turned me onto their new stuff. He’s a nerd, but he knows good music. I’ll throw it in the ship’s music locker.”
“Thanks.” She jabbed at the touch screen with her fingertips. “I’m gonna go ahead and download everyone’s mail since we have a stable connection.”
“Good idea.” Kracker swiped the screen and brought up his inbox. “It’s been a while since we were in decent network range.”
He took a sip from his flask and watched his inbox update. Dozens of messages pinged on the screen one after the other. By the time they had downloaded, he had already trashed a handful. Mostly ads for feather-lice removal, artisan liquors, and a few outdated Zero-G race statistics updates.
Mara took a few bites from a juicy slice of pom as she watched the download box fill with hundreds of messages. Unsurprising. They had been out for a few weeks with spotty Galactic Information Network reception and had been unable to update their message boxes. She took another bite and opened her freshly-updated inbox.
Kracker’s autopilot inbox culling halted, however, when he stumbled on his own surname. Sure enough, it was followed up by the name Darena. His mother. Kracker groaned loudly.
Mara turned away from her terminal.
“Everything okay?” she asked.
Kracker rested his head on his feathery hand; his voice was practically muffled by the tightly drawn beak he spoke through.
“Mail from my parents.”
Mara didn’t know much about Kracker’s parents beyond the fact he didn’t get along well with them. She knew the feeling; she hadn’t heard from her own in months.
“Maybe they’re just wishing you well?” she said comfortingly.
There was a pause.
“Parents are overrated…” The venom in his voice was unmistakable.
He went back to paging through his inbox as Mara started to scroll through her own, eager to see what else was happening in the galaxy. She had developed tunnel vision as of late and figured she needed to refresh herself on a broader scale. Her first refresher came when she found a message from an old university friend, Qarleen Kuil.
Hey, Mara. It’s been a while since we talked. How are you?
I wanted to tell you about this newsgroup for the Gnarlruut Strategist Club that just started up. Want me to see if I can add you to the subscription list? I recall you had a real knack for strategy games when we were at uni.
The GSC club members seemed to spread out across the Silver Spiral after uni, but it’s cool that this could bring us back together. I heard that a few of our former members got picked up by the Federation as consultants since our graduation. It might be cool to network with them!
Keep in touch,
For a few moments, she focused on that last line. She had her hands prone over the keyboard but could not compel them to type a response. She closed the message window for now. Consultants? Those dorks who weren’t even good at the games they played? She scratched her neck a little harder than she intended. She thought it best to move on to another message.
It turned out that the next message was from Dash’s cousin Shippena:
Hey girl! Haven’t heard from you in a while, or my ‘bro’ much either for that matter. Grandpa says hi too. Anyways can you do me a fave? I got a gift for Dash for his birthday and stuff and I don’t quite know when you are gonna be in range of a Cosmart. If you are in range, can you get his gift? I have the invoice attached to the message so you can just give them the number and they’ll give you the package. If you could get it wrapped and stuff and hold onto it for a few months that would be great too. Please give Dash me and grandpa’s love.
Seen any cuties lately? Tell me all about what is going on with you!
Talk about too much coffee. Mara made a mental note about Shippena’s request.
Mara swept her fingertips past a dozen advertisements, form-driven messages, and phishing schemes and grew anxious. She picked up the last slice of pom fruit and tucked it into her mouth, chewing on it as she scrolled through the last dozen or so messages. The Terrekin reached the last of her new messages and paused, keeping her finger on the screen. She lowered her head toward the keyboard and sighed. As always, there was no word from Mom and Dad. She checked her outgoing messages. At least her last few messages to her parents had been delivered.
She took a deep breath and began writing a new message:
Hi Mom and Dad, It’s your daughter again.
I haven’t heard from either of you in a while and I am REALLY ANNOYED ABOUT THAT. (Okay maybe change that.) Last I heard, you had an article published in an archaeology newsgroup. I was wondering if you could send me a link?
Anyway, I bet you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to…
At least, she hoped they had been wondering. She stared at the unfinished message, which seemed to be going nowhere. Her fingers felt stiff again, and she felt exhausted by simply closing the message window.
Mara had lied about not having read the article – she had actually read it six times after stumbling upon it. She opened her bookmark again.
RUINS OF ANCIENT TERREKIN COLONY FOUND ON AVABIA
Scientists have long suspected a common ancestor between the Terrekin and Repton, but recent evidence discovered by local archaeologists brings to light new evidence of ancient Terrekin having settled Avabia even prior to recorded Repton history on the planet…
She scrolled down the page, past images of the findings, conjectures, and theories, and she narrowed her eyes. Mara drew her face closer and closer to the screen, analyzing every word of the article. As she reached the end, there was a brief biography of her parents, the same one in every one of their articles: Alva and Ula Senten are experts in their fields in blah blah and live in the desert studying their knick-knacks…
There was no mention of Mara or any of her accomplishments. Then again, what accomplishments were there to mention? She didn’t join the military academy, and now she was the captain of nothing more than some delivery ship. There had been some notable incidents, such as the terrorists at the amusement park, but why would anyone with a single-minded fetish for ancient cultures care about that? She would admit their work was important and maybe even cool.
But it was not her path; as their daughter, she was important too.
They didn’t seem to have any strong feelings about whether or not she would join the Federation military when she was considering it. It didn’t even seem like they had any concerns about her feelings when her ex, Baen, turned out to be a smuggler. They seemed more upset that they lost a member of their excavation team and the setbacks that arose from it.
She stared at the screen with her legs crossed and a frown on her face. She sat there in silence for a while, neither her nor Kracker saying a word. After ten minutes, she forced herself up from her chair and left the nav room in a huff.
Continue to Part Two