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 Two
Lower Common Room: Hour 5
With the ship stuck in a queue, the diagnostics for the day would be extremely reduced, and it seemed as good an opportunity as any to delay the work a bit. Dash passed by Guugel in the lower common room, who was engrossed in a tablet.
Guugel looked up at him. You’re looking better.
Dash shrugged. “Caffeine helps.”
Back in the bunk, he changed into some workout clothes: Light pants, a light shirt, and body tape for his hands, fingers, and ankles. He had figured an hour on the sparring bag sounded perfect, and he practically had a spring in his step as he made his way back down the hall to the lower common room.
Mara’s Bunk: Hour 5
Mara had already wandered around the ship to see if anything needed her attention, which nothing did. The idleness in such closed quarters made her antsy. She was back in her bunk to change into her workout clothes. Before leaving, she went to her terminal and attempted to sort through her messages but found nothing new.
She sighed as she shut down her terminal and left the room, the lights turning off as she stepped through the sliding door. Within minutes, she was in the lower common room, pummeling the training bag. Nearby, Guugel was sitting in a small chair, doing whatever it was that he did.
She could never quite figure the little guy out. He was loyal to a fault and had saved her butt in many dangerous spots, but there was always the nagging problem of not really being able to talk to the guy. At best, he typed out messages or gestured. She didn’t distrust him, but there was much to be said for actual conversation in any relationship.
He understood everyone else and reacted in all the right ways, but it seemed like he operated on a different wavelength, one that only he had access to. Except for Dash, of course. Those two clicked for some reason, and it drove her nuts.
Mara’s rapid-fire jabs pummeled the bag with heavy thunks. Her mind felt frayed, but each speedy strike soothed her nerves by a slight margin. The more she attacked the bag, the more it felt like the tension was leaving her body. The transference of the negative at the expense of a little sweat worked just fine for her.
She had been at the bag for only a few minutes when she noticed Dash walk in. Maybe he’d spar with her? She hadn’t had any real combat practice in ages. Mara put on her friendliest voice.
Lower Common Room: Hour 6
“Hey, good morning!” Mara continued to punch at the bag. “Wanna spar?”
Dash remained silent. Mara noticed him glare at Guugel.
Yes, Dash, “wanna spar” with your ex?
Dash glared at Guugel, sitting quite contently on the seat facing the sparring bag, tablet cast aside for potentially greater entertainment. Dash grimaced and thought of a succinct, albeit profanity-laden response.
Guugel’s singular eye grew wide. How rude.
Dash focused his attention back on Mara. His hair was messy, his eyes were baggy, and he seemed pensive. Mara continued punching at the bag, and her blows were aggressive, like always. She always seemed frustrated by something, and frankly, this morning, that was something he didn’t need to be dealing with.
“Actually, I just wanted to use the bag alone,” he replied. His voice seemed to drift, and he avoided her glance, staring toward the floor. “I’ll just wait until you’re done.”
“Oh, c’mon,” she said. “The bag is no substitute for an actual partner. It’s not like you’ve really practiced in a while.”
She stopped hitting the bag and turned to him. As she approached him, he couldn’t help but notice her slight sashay – how could he not? She stopped just short of him and leaned in. “Unless you’re worried about getting your ass kicked again.”
Dash’s shoulders slumped, and he glanced away from her. “I have no idea what you mean.”
Mara responded to his frown with a pleading look. He rolled his eyes as he spoke, “Fine. Just a few rounds.”
He knew that she knew he would relent. For as long as she had known him, she always won out. Mara raised her arms above her head to stretch and promptly whirled away from Dash to make her way to the other end of the practice area. The slight skip of her steps made certain parts of her body bounce, causing him to think… just for a moment.
“You ready?” she asked.
He shook his head and snapped back to attention.
Guugel’s psychic commentary drifted across Dash’s brain. You can cut the sexual tension with a knife.
Dash ignored it to the best of his ability and turned back to Mara, who was already packing the sparring bag into the corner. He sighed. It was likely that to Mara that he seemed to be on edge. Then again, a part of him has been on edge since he was a kid with a chip on his shell.
It didn’t help that she knew how to needle him, either. It was sometimes a nightmare, having someone know you so intimately they could press the right buttons.
“Fine, let’s go a few rounds,” he said. Ge instantly grimaced as he heard Guugel’s telepathic laughter.
Mara smiled at his offer, though, and Dash felt slightly better. Sure, she was overly competitive, and he wasn’t, but seeing her happy felt good. After all, he knew she had much to be mad at him about. It wore on him, really.
Mara threw back a foot and put herself into a barrel stance that she picked up from some Blassnaught self-defense videos she had downloaded. She favored them over the traditional Terrekin kai-eh stances. It’d been this way for years now. Aggressive stances for an aggressive woman, Dash reasoned. Some things just made sense.
Her body was slightly hunched over her forward-facing knee. Her arms were in front of her like she carried something, with one hand just below her chin and the other stretched outward. The stance was simple enough, designated for quick grapples and strikes. She liked the Blassnaught style, as it allowed her to control every fighter’s position during battle, something she had focused on since she was young. Sure, she didn’t have the dimensions or proportions of a Blassnaught, but she could still use their combat principles. It worked on Dash enough, he reasoned.
She studied Dash as he took his stance. He felt her eyes on him. He stretched his left foot forward, his weight resting on his other foot and his leg bent below his body. His left arm was hovering just over his outstretched left leg, the back of the hand facing the ceiling. His right arm was bent, not stiff, with his fingertips bent toward his hip. The stance of his grandfather Razaal’s lessons. A solid, if not reactionary, stance. Mara knew the stance well but always appeared too defensive for her tastes. Dash and his grandfather always focused on reacting to attacks rather than dictating the flow of combat themselves.
Mara’s eyes narrowed.
“Count of three,” she said. “Your count.”
Mara darted forward, her arms locked into position. Dash held firm, as expected, and she was almost on top of him when she released her upper arm into a backhanded strike. Dash leaned back to avoid the blow and curled his left arm upward. He struck her in the chest with his elbow. He could hear the air escape her lungs and saw her stumble backward. Mara rubbed at her chest and winced.
“Well played,” she said. It was clear she hadn’t taken a hit like that in a while, and it caught her off-guard.
Dash smiled slightly. “Thank you,” he said.
He returned to his stance but substituted his left side for his right. Mara returned to her barrel stance, prepared to make his victory temporary.
“Your count,” he said.
Mara counted and began her approach as before but chose to strike at him with both fists. Dash whirled and turned his shell back to her. Mara’s fists collided with the hard surface of the shell, and she felt her fingers crack. She grunted and shook the pain from her hands as she glared at him.
“Damn it,” she said.
She stomped her foot on the mat. She took a deep breath and looked back at him with annoyance. He seemed to be dominating her. It was certainly a change from the norm – she was usually the more effective fighter between them. Now, she had a new obstacle to overcome and appeared happy. It was a good distraction.
“Not bad,” her features softened considerably. “You definitely caught me off-guard for a change.”
Guugel’s voice drifted into Dash’s mind. Kiss her. Kiss her.
Lower Common Room: Hour 6
Dash shook his head and glared at Guugel.
“No, shut up. That’s a bad idea,” he said.
Mara flinched. After a second, her surprise faded, and she put a hand on her hip.
“Wait, what?” she asked. Was he talking to her or Guugel? It was hard to tell when Dash and Guugel were in the same room.
Dash’s eyes widened in panic.
“Crap,” he said, looking away from her. “No, I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to Guugel.”
“Oh right, that weird thing you two have. How does that even work?”
Dash tilted his head towards Guugel and shrugged. “I don’t know. Sometimes I’d love to turn it off.” He stared directly at Guugel, who picked up his tablet and wandered away.
Dash seemed to mutter something under his breath as the Wot wandered off; it sounded like “your advice is terrible anyway.” Mara winced at the generally one-sided conversation the two shared through glances. Most times, those two were just beyond her.
“One more round,” Mara said.
Dash sighed, “If you say so.”
Dash and Mara returned to their positions. Mara entered another Blassnaught stance, the lock-horn, stretching as she took her position. Despite the thrashing just now, she felt her anxiety about her parents retreat to the back of her mind. She smiled. Dash seemed a little more chipper as well, perhaps taking in the energy she was putting out.
“I’m glad we’re doing this,” she said. “I’ve been a bit worried since…”
Dash’s eyes widened.
She held her words for a second but continued. “…since the Vark incident a couple of months ago. You seem to be a little more… well… you.”
Dash kept a stoic face. She could tell he was trying to prevent her from reading him.
“Don’t want to talk about it,” he said.
She frowned, left her stance, and started to approach him.
“You almost died, though. I mean, that’s gotta weigh on you.”
Dash scowled and turned away from her. “I’m fine. Drop it.”
“I’m just worried—”
Dash shuddered and turned away from her. “Look, I don’t need anyone worrying over me right now. Vark’s rotting in prison. You saved my life. Thank you.”
“It’s just that you never really talked to anyone about it. That, and you look so exhausted all the time. Everyone’s noticed it.” Mara raised a tentative hand in his direction, reaching out to him. “I mean, you ended up attacking me—”
“And I apologized for that profusely. Dorian said it was clearly stress.” Dash left his stance and began walking away from the mat.
“I’m not trying to guilt-trip you. It’s clear you’re not you right now, and everyone is worried and wants to help—”
Dash walked off and threw his hand back over his shoulder dismissively. “No need to gossip with anyone about my next breakdown. Next time some psychopath decides to stalk me, I’ll shoot you all a message.”
“It’s not gossip, jerk!”
He turned back to her. “I’m just going to go stew in my obvious insanity. I’ll try to warn you if I snap again.”
She watched him leave the room. She gave a short, frustrated yelp that carried down the hall.
Standing alone in the room, she made a fist. She stomped to the punching bag, giving it a single, furious punch. She just had to bring up the Vark incident to the man who shuts himself off from people who try to help him.
She made her way to a wall and slumped onto the floor. She was alone again. First, her parents, now Dash. She curled up, bringing her knees below her chin, and felt even more alone as the bag wobbled in the silent room.
Nav Room: Hour 6
As fun as Bandit’s Quest was, Kracker had been at it for a solid hour and was beginning to get bored. He punched out of the program and slipped through his messages again. Nothing new but the unopened missives from his parental units – genetic donors – assholes. He hovered over one momentarily and then dragged them to the trash bin, one by one.
Messages gone, he found himself alone in the silence of the nav room. He switched on the local comm band but heard nothing but local spacer chatter. He heard something about port fees and documentation between factions. Many voices chimed in about blacked-out routes between Federation and Imperial territories. Kracker turned down the volume. All noise and no substance.
Marken entered the nav room. His face betrayed a level of frustration, but that softened slightly as he held up a cup of coffee to Kracker.
“I figure you could use this. These shutdowns are a nightmare.”
Kracker took the cup and sipped at the bitter drink. “Thanks.”
“Nothing. Just some sort of accident.”
“I hope it wasn’t anything too serious.”
Kracker took another sip and stared out the multitude of ships near the large ring-like structure of the gate. Each ship rotated in place to preserve power by generating gravity through centrifugal motion. Even then, it was a very much weakened state of gravitation, and Kracker watched the coffee in his cup slosh around slowly as he moved his wrist. He could easily toss the liquid into the air and have time to catch it.
“I don’t know; from what I’ve gathered, there was a break in the gate, and some ships were stranded mid-jump.”
“That’s terrible. Where could they be?”
“I’m not sure. I’d have to do some calculations.”
“Well, keep up the good work, Senn. I can’t imagine sitting here is very exciting right now.”
Marken wandered out of the nav room, and Kracker was left alone with his coffee, staring at the ships dancing outside the durable window. His thoughts remained on the possibility of ships caught up in an accident serious enough to cause a shutdown.
If the wormhole dissipated mid-travel, given the nature of space-time, they would be stranded far outside of the Silver Spiral. An unappealing thought, to say the least. Depending on where the space-time tunnel snapped, a ship could potentially be anywhere, maybe even on the other side of the known universe, if the folding of space-time was particularly intense. He gulped down the last mouthful of coffee and sat in his chair, pulling up the monitors and scrounging through what data he could find on the situation.
It was time to do some math.
Common Room Stairs: Hour 6
Dorian, fueled by rage, came down the stairs as Dash crossed his path. The Terrekin was stewing as per usual as he wandered into the engineering bay and didn’t even seem to acknowledge him. Dorian stopped and sneered at Dash.
“Nice to see you too, Dash…” Dorian said.
The Terrekin ignored him. Dorian was further incensed.
Lower Common Room: Hour 6
Dorian stepped into the common room, where Mara was curled up with her back against the wall, staring at the floor. She looked up at Dorian and glared at him, making him step back. They stared at each other briefly before she went back to ignoring him. He stood next to the punching bag, which swung in a slow arc. He leaned himself against it trying his best to appear casual.
“You wouldn’t believe what Marken had me do just now,” he said. Dorian folded his arms to illustrate his level of indignance.
“I got pulled into helping him make dinner, and he was trying to impose these weird exotic ingredients on me. It’s ridiculous.”
Mara sat calmly and let the Grey vent. To him, Mara seemed more interested in the floor than his problems. He continued anyway.
“I can’t have any crazy food, and he should know that. It’s not my fault; it’s just my genetics and upbringing. You know what I mean?”
Mara shrugged, but all that seemed to do was encourage Dorian to pace around the room.
“You wouldn’t make a Parrack grill a loapburger, and you don’t make a Grey waste his time preparing something he won’t eat. It’s simple. Back on Gnarlruut, I would go a whole week just on noodles during finals week. And let me tell you—”
Mara exploded, “Dorian, enough!“
He froze and saw Mara gritting her teeth at him. Her nostrils flared as her eyes bored directly into his own. “I’ve had to listen to you complain about everything for almost half a year now. I don’t know what to tell you anymore. If you don’t learn how to live with other people, I’m sending you back to your stupid university, where you can have all the noodles you want for the rest of your life. Are we clear?”
She huffed, visibly shocked by her outburst.
The two stared at each other again. Dorian clenched his fist, trying to come up with a rebuttal, but he could not find the words. He couldn’t figure out the puzzled expression on her face. Dorian threw his hands up and grumbled as he left the room.
Bunk Room: Hour 6
Dorian went back to the bunk room and closed the door behind him. He turned off the lights and threw himself back into bed, where he buried himself in his covers. He sat there in silence for a few minutes. He went through his sleep preparation routine. Even if he was in his bed, even if the lights were dark and he was warm and comfortable, even if he felt tired a few minutes ago, he still found himself awake.
He was tired, he was awake, and he was livid. He was also embarrassed – the hot flash of blood on his face told him as much.
Continue to Part Three.