This is the fourth of a five installment, novel length story.
Upper Common Room: Hour 25
Kracker’s anger was understandable. The pain in his eyes said everything. Mara sat there a moment, thinking about the scenario he put forth about the Sulany, and he was right.
“You should release your findings, Senn. The truth about the Sulany needs to be told.”
“Yeah, I totally intend-”
“But not right now.You’re too hot about it.”
Kracker leaned away from her, taken aback. “Too hot? This is a cover up. Should I be anything but mad?”
Mara shook her head.
“You’re right to be angry. I’m angry. Nobody would disagree with you and your evidence, but if you do anything now it’s because of your rage.”
“But we’re being lied to-”
“And I know the truth of the situation now, but right now you need to gather yourself. You need a plan of action.”
Kracker’s indignance faded into confusion. “What do you mean?”
Mara stood up and tugged at the hem of her shirt a bit, then returned to her seat, but faced Kracker more directly now.
“This is a huge incident with huge ramifications. If you’re going to release this data, you need to be ready for the consequences… and you need to make sure you’re not going to potentially harm the people you care about. I mean…” she took a breath, “whistleblowers are important and keep the galaxy in check… but there are consequences. We’ve seen it. Sometimes they’re deadly.”
Kracker ran his palm over his crest and looked at Mara, “So you’re saying I need to insulate myself and figure out a way to get the information out without it leading to us.”
“Exactly.” She smiled slightly. “If anyone would be able to make something untraceable, it’s you. I recall a few exams that were mysteriously ‘corrupted’ to afford a few classes another day or two of study time.”
Kracker said nothing for a long while. He just sipped at some of his cold coffee and stared at the jump-gate in the distance. After some time he turned back to Mara.
She smiled and scratched at the nape of his neck. He seemed calmer now. The situation was still awful, but at least now he has some measure of distance from it, at least from what she could tell.
“I better clean up in there.” He rose up from the couch. “Can I get you a cup of coffee?”
Mara rose up as well.
“I’d love that. I’ll go ahead and get started in the nav room.”
“No, please, leave it to me.”
“Not like I have much else going on right now. I can at least keep you company.”
Bunk Room: Hour 26
The walls of the room were covered by thick, red curtains that were eerily still, despite the discernable wind which blew sand across the black and white zig-zagging carpet. Grains would swirl, pile, and drift to swirl and pile again across the room. Dash found himself watching the grains passively, only becoming conscious of the black leather chair he sat in when he noticed Vark, to his left, sitting in an identical chair.
The Furnesean stared at Dash. His face looked calm and passive. He wore an orange prison jumpsuit. He smiled slightly, and began to talk.
“Hello Kameku, do you want to play?”
Vark swept his hand across the room to a pile of shells. The action was slow, but periodically the arm would appear to shake violently. Without knowing why, Dash rose to his feet only to notice they were bare. He felt sand between his toes, only to realize that the ground was not carpeted, but was actually white and black sand. Dash dug his toes in and watched the grains tumble into the depression. He pried his foot free, but it was though the grains had never been disturbed, appearing perfectly smooth.
Vark chimed in, almost soothingly, “The sands of Ocia are black with blood, kid.”
Dash turned to see Vark again. In his lap was a Terrekin’s shell, somewhat familiar, and maybe even Dash’s own. The shell was cracked and crumbling. Vark smiled, shuddered violently and then turned his eyes to the pile of shells.
Dash began to walk toward the pile, but no each step took him no closer. He turned back to Vark, but the man was nowhere to be found. Dash turned back to the pile, now to see Vark standing behind it, surveying it. Dash approached again, but still moved no closer. Now with each step figures began to fade in. The figures were vague, he could not tell who they were, but their body language was clear. Whoever they were, they lied broken on the piles.
Vark smiled again, “Every step you take.”
Dash’s steps continued and the figures became clearer. His friends and family lied on the pile of shells. But Dash pressed onward, only stopping when by some miracle his toes touched the lifeless, outstretched hand of Guugel.
Dash looked up at Vark, who now held up a small, toy model of the Lucky Strike… the blue and purple, box-like structure was instantly recognizable. Dash watched as Vark took the ship between his fingers, swooping it and making lazy drifts through the air, accompanied by whooshing noises though his mouth made no movements.
Vark smiled once more, and pressed the ship between his thumb and forefinger, crushing it.
Dash awoke with a start, feeling as though he had fallen into his bed. His eyes were wide open and pointed at the ceiling. He took a moment to steady his breathing – one of his grandfather’s lessons – and took in his surroundings. Kracker was nowhere to be seen in the bunk room, Dorian was crashed out on his mattress, and Guugel was out as well.
He had stayed up late working on the calculations surrounding that missing ship, the Sulany, with Kracker for hours and finally grew tired enough to head to bed. Now though, he was up early and had maybe pulled three hours of sleep at best. He sat up and wrapped himself in his blanket in an attempt to remove the chill of his night sweats, but found that the blanket was soaked through.
Nav Room: Hour 26
Clean up was mostly silent and uneventful. Against his wishes, Mara wiped off the boozy residue from the map interface while Kracker scooped up mug shards and wiped up the floor. As Kracker wrapped up degunking a seam in the plasteel floor, he finally spoke.
“You do see the irony in you telling me I was coming at a situation with too much anger, right?”
Mara grimaced. It had not slipped her notice. “Those who deliver advice can rarely follow their own” was her reply.
Kracker sat back against the map screen and he pulled his legs to his chest.“How are you doing, Mara? Don’t think I haven’t noticed that you’ve been in a bit of a funk today. Not to mention that limp.”
“It seems like everybody has something going on. I wasn’t even aware I had a limp but I guess now I can sort of see it.”
“And you? What do you have going on?”
Admittedly, the attention was nice. Maybe her parents couldn’t deliver any interest in her life but at least her friends could.
“I’ve been a bit stressed today. Busted my ankle running laps.”
Kracker snorted. “Those stress laps of yours?”
Mara slumped into the nav chair.
“Do I do those that often?”
Mara grimaced. Kracker gave her a reassuring tap on the foot with a fingertip.
“What got to you?”
“Where do we start? My lack of achievement? Dash being a closed-off idiot? My parental issues?”
“Is this multiple choice?”
Mara sighed and began to regale the parrack with her day’s disappointments. The parents, the squabble with Dash, and the feeling of accomplishing nothing.
Nav Room: Hour 27
Mara flicked at her bangs. “The truth is… I do have some anger issues.”
Kracker has said nothing for some time now, but Mara by now was too absorbed in her story to really care.
“When I busted my ankle today, it was just me hurting myself. But honestly, I used to hurt others.”
Kracker turned to her. “What do you mean?”
“When I was a kid I was a bully in a lot of ways. I used to pick on Dash and force him to compete with me. But we were friends, right? I mean, it was good natured. But I was also deeply, deeply jealous of his whole thing. His grandpa was strict, sure, but I could see the love. I got shipped off to Movari to live with my aunt. She was great and everything but…”
Tears welled up in her eyes. She wiped them away with the back of her hand.
“No matter how cool my aunt was, or what a nice place Movari was… my parents sent me away. The worst part is, I have no idea why. They never talk to me about that time, they never really talk to me in general, you know?”
Kracker looked at his yellow, pointed toes. “And I am sure I didn’t help things with the messages I received today from my folks.”
Mara laughed a bit, it was choked and coarse, but it was genuine.
“No, you certainly didn’t. I’m not mad at you, I’m just being petty. Your parents reached out. Talking to Dash’s cousin today also just rubbed me the wrong way, too. It’s just being here at this standstill… the crap is just collecting like… a stagnant pond, you know?”
“But yeah, I mean, I was a bully as a kid. I picked on Dash, of course, but I loved – love – him. He was just this odd kid who I spent all my time with, and any time any of the local kids gave him crap I’d jump at them.”
Kracker leaned forward, “but you went too far one time?”
“One time we were in the woods a little further inland from the village. We were… learning some things about each other. It was this kind of goofy, romantic moment, like you’d see in some of those silly romance vids.”
“Sounds nicer than my first time.”
“It wasn’t our first time, but it… it almost was, you know?”
“We were there in a little clearing we’d set aside to hang out in. Nothing intended when he set it up, of course. It was just a place to hang out since we were such good friends. But that moment was just destroyed by a couple of older kids who started messing with us. I was out for blood and attacked them. The fight took us back to the village where the adults broke things up, but all I got was disappointment from my aunt, from Dash, and Razaal. Hell, even Shippena. That one hurt. She was like my biggest fan growing up.”
“But that wasn’t it?”
“No. I snuck out of my aunt’s house that night and tracked them down and beat them to the point to where they were unconscious. I was in disguise and it was dark, so I don’t think they realized it was me… but after that they seemed to leave me and Dash alone. It didn’t feel good.”
Mara stood up and walked to the viewing window. She placed a palm on the transparent aluminum and let the coolness wash over her.
“I don’t know where I was really going with this. But I guess it kind of gets back to you being so angry a little bit ago, Senn. Just don’t do something you’ll regret. Never act in anger. Don’t be me.”
Kracker made his way to the window and threw a bulky, feathered arm over her shoulders. He brought her in close and leaned his head against her’s. They stood there a moment, looking at the ballet of ships orbiting around the jump-gate.
“So what are you going to do about the Sulany?”
Kracker was silent for a moment, and then he smiled.
“I’m gonna blow it wide open like a Toucair does.”
Engineering Bay: Hour 28
With the ship still in forced orbit around the jump-gate, there was little to do aside from check for any Kimney-correspondence, of which there was usually plenty, or work on a pet project. As usual, there were a number of messages from Kimney, most relaying things that his various research teams were working on, and if Dash had anything to add? It was unsurprisingly frequent that Dash did have some form of suggestions or tweak to the projects, and while not all panned out, a great deal of them did. If Lucky Strike Transport ever went under, Dash was positive he’d have a healthy career waiting for him at Kimney Industries.
Until then, though, he’d monitor the ship, which was currently running in low-power mode. He took a few moments to take in the engineering bay with all of the industrial scents and textures. Dash made a note to himself that he hadn’t seen or heard much from Bucketbot in a while now, nor had he seen Blu either, on that note. He shrugged it off, however, as there was very little trouble the two could cause while the ship was locked in orbit.
Dash opted to return to a pet project he’d been developing since just after his university days. He made his way to a drawer tucked into a workbench on the other-side of the engineering bay and extracted a small plastic bin which he set on the workbench. He activated the overhead lighting, and opened the bin, extracting two wrist-sized rings of coils, magnets and various mechanical viscera. As he continued to shift the articles in the box he noticed a small magnetic screwdriver was missing. He thought about when he last saw it for a moment, but then figured that Blu had probably ran off with it at some point. He’d need to scold the little robot about that.
He set one on a raised grip arm on the bench and adjusted it so he was staring straight down at it. He began to boot up the soldering wand and his tablet. With a few quick taps the tablet displayed schematics for similar bands, but of a much more polished and practically seamless style.
Soldering wand ready, Dash picked it up and began to work with a small pair of needle-nose pliers.
Mara’s Bunk: Hour 29
Sure, the Parrack could be a goofball, but the chat she had with Kracker was a huge help to her in many ways, at least enough to settle her mood so she could get a scant couple of hours of sleep. No matter how bad she hurt, the events of the Sulany provided a grim sort of reminder that things could be worse. It didn’t mean she was happy now. No, she was far from that, but she felt a little more at ease. She was far from complacent now, but if there was anything she actively rebelled against in her life, it was complacency. It was now well into day two of the jump-gate lockdown, and she was determined to accomplish something… might try to crack the emotional nut that was Dash Kameku.
For now though she was sore from the workout yesterday and felt like maybe, just maybe, she could take it easy. Her ankle in particular kept nagging at her like a splinter, and even thinking about it just felt like it drove it deeper. It drove her just nuts enough to drop Dorian a line, asking him to take a look at it. His reply was quick, that yes, he could check the ankle out. She just had to meet him in the med-bay when she was ready. She felt bad about her outburst yesterday, so she decided to drop in a little later. Afterall, rest was probably the best thing for her ankle.
She had grabbed her tablet, downloaded a couple wardocs, and plopped herself at the dining table with some tea. She thumbed through Dividing War strategy sims and generally occupied her mind with something that wasn’t her GIN messages, or the lack thereof. Guugel wandered into the common room and stared at her. Mara smiled.
“I’m doing better today, Guugel.”
His single eye almost twinkled as he gave her a cursory thumbs-up. Still as inscrutable as ever, but at least he seemed pleased for her.
There was an odd notion, though. As though he was telling her something, like a whisper from across a room. She could feel a sensation of his speaking, but there was nothing she could actually interpret.
“I wish I could understand you.”
Guugel gestured toward her tablet, and she handed it to him. With a flurry of finger-swoops he scrawled out something and handed the pad back.
It read: “We’re out of Loap Milk.”
Mara laughed. So much for the Wot’s supposed wisdom.
Engineering Bay: Hour 31
Dash stood in the lab facing the tablet that sat on the bench which was currently recording his actions. Around his wrists were the bands from earlier.
“Alright, test three.”
Dash stood for a moment, took a breath, and then used his right hand to press a small button on his left bracelet. There was a soft whirr of electronics booting to life, and then several small clicks as tiny probes launched out from both wrists in a preset formation. Soon enough, the probes began to fire small beams of light which then bounced off of each other into a projection of a low-poly sphere… well, more accurately a dodecahedron.
Dash took a step back at the miniature probes floated in place, giving the projected shape the appearance that is was rotating on it’s axis. Dash raised his arms, pleased to see that his motions were not affecting the sphere. Then he began testing gestures, seeing how they would react to the projection. He could push and pull the sphere along with his either of his hands, and even squash and stretch it with a combination of both hands. So far so good.
However, he had seen all of this before, today he wanted to test something new.
He paused for a moment and let the sphere return to a resting position. He watched the image flicker as the probes adjusted to the new, static position. He raised his hands as though he was resting his hand on the surface of the sphere, and then he motioned as if he were unfurling a map. The sphere began to flatten, and stretch into a parabolic arc that matched the motion of his arms.
And then a brilliant flash of light blinded him for a moment as the individual probes began to pop, exploding violently. Dash staggered back as the probes exploded into particles and streams of laser-light dissolved, destroying the flattened, curved image he had established. Little pops danced across his vision and he was unsure if it was from the the initial flash, or the probes giving into their fiery destruction.
He blinked his eyes a few times, waiting for the rings and flashes to expire. When his vision was restored he removed the bands and set them onto the workbench.
Sure, it was a failure, but with luck the bands recorded the information and he’d be able to analyze that failure. He already had an idea of what went wrong, but until then he’d need to run the analysis.
Bunk Room: Hour 31
Marken’s playlist was almost complete. Dorian limited the length of the playlist to about fifteen songs, so as not to overload Marken. Dorian learned from awkward parties and ‘you should listen to this, dude!’ sessions at college that not all people liked what he liked. Heck, he thought that he didn’t like most of the artists on this playlist. It was the kind of music that you’d hear from an older spacer’s comm unit, or one of those GIN sites that pretended the last thirty years of music history had never happened.
He kept his ears focused on the music through his studio monitor headphones. As much as there was a temporal distance between Dorian and the music meant for Marken, there was something that made his skin shudder and a wave of feeling course through his body from his ears. The instruments were upbeat, downtempo, triumphant and mournful, and spoke to times that Dorian had not experienced, yet the essence of the artist’s expression reached right through to him. This was the best part of being so close to music, getting so much out of one sense, or maybe two, if you preferred to listen to your music on larger speakers, feeling the driving bass or kick-kick-kick-kick. Or maybe three, if you swear that you can smell the frontier of a new colony, or four, if you taste the salt from the inside of your mouth, which became dry all of a sudden. Or five, if you could see the shapes flow out from the music, warbling and shifting and dancing all around your vision as the song plays. As he listened, he felt his eyes draw closed, his body exhausted by the cabin fever.
If Dorian couldn’t get Marken to hear him out, maybe he could get him to feel all that he felt right now.
Upper Common Room: Hour 32
Dash wandered into the kitchen where Marken was hard at work.
“I’m making dinner now,” Marken said, “so don’t eat anything too heavy.”
“Just grabbing a drink.”
Dash opened the the refrigerator and set his glass against the spout of the beverage mixer. He pressed the menu buttons, cycling to pom-extract, and then pressed the dispenser button. A fruity, dark-red mixture poured into his glass. Dash took a sip and closed the door of the refrigerator, leaning against it.
“Did you and Dorian sort out your issues?”
“Our issues? You mean did he sort out his issues?”
Dash furrowed his brow and gave Marken a look that screamed really? Marken grew slightly sheepish and wiped his paws on his apron. Dash took a large gulp of the juice.
Dash took a moment to consider his words, and then spoke slowly. “Look, I know Dorian can be a little childish, but his concerns about what he eats are pretty valid. His people don’t really concern themselves with flavor. I’m not even sure if they ever had a concept of that… like, culturally.”
Marken sighed. “Well, it’s more than that.”
Dash leaned against the galley’s island. “How do you figure?”
“He’s been with us for months and I just don’t feel like I’ve connected to him. It feels wrong. I knew you, Mara, and Kracker from the university, but Dorian is just still so much of a blank slate to me.”
“What about Guugel?”
Marken laughed. “If I can’t connect with Dorian how do I connect to him? That’s a bridge I need to cross later.”
Dash smiled. “Grey are kind of odd like that. It’s a cultural thing.”
Marken continued to chop at some vegetables, his measured technique lightning-fast and efficient. He worked his way through some onions, quickly scooping them into a stew pot.
“All I really feel like I know is food. That’s my interest. I can’t really talk medicine with the kid…”
Dash began to wash his cup in the sink.
“You are aware that Dorian is super interested in music, right?”
“Oh yeah, he’s made just about everyone a playlist of music. You should see the little directory he made for everyone on the ship’s computer.”
“I wasn’t aware he was such an audiophile.”
“Wait, where have you been getting your music from?”
“I’m paying for a GINTunes account.”
Dash began to put his glass away, but paused, thrown off by what he heard.
“Wow. That’s… huh? Yeah, you should talk to Dorian.”
Dash began to wander toward the nav room. He overheard Marken’s drawn out “huh” as he crossed the threshold into the nav room itself.
The nav room was dark, lit only by a single glowing monitor that sat in front of the pilot’s chair. Dash did not see much at first, but noticed his friend’s teal feathers rim-lit slightly by the monitor.
“Hey buddy, are you doing okay?”
Kracker’s only reply was a broad, limp, feathered hand that passively waved the question away.
Dash made his way to the control bank so he could get a good look at his friend in the chair. Kracker was there, but not as distraught as he was the night before. Rather there was an aura of cool resolve surrounding him. His eyes, curiously enough, were equally wide and fearful, but heavy-lidded and exhausted.
“Did you get any sleep?”
“No. Not really. Working on something.”
Dash looked over the data on the monitor. It was all computer code, but a few of the variables were familiar from the mathematical jam session hours ago. Kracker was still working on the Sulany situation.
“Did you figure out what happened to the ship?”
Kracker peered over his shoulder and put a feathered finger-tip to the screen, onto one particular variable: 12 KPC.
“Twelve kiloparsecs,” Kracker paused for a moment to let the number sink in, “basically, they’re on the other side of the galaxy at this point. Technically an improvement. My original results put them at fourteen.”
“Even at top sub-light speed they are centuries away from getting back to civilization.”
“With any luck they carried some schematics for a jump-gate, but considering the fact that the JGA keeps that stuff locked down, I am not optimistic.”
Dash leaned on the chair.
“So, what are you going to do?”
Kracker gave Dash a half smile. It wasn’t very reassuring.
“I’ll tell you a little later.”
Dash began to step away, but he heard a glimmer of optimism from his best friend when he asked for some coffee. At least he wasn’t asking for something seeped in alcohol. That was a good a sign as any.
Dash left the nav room and made his way to the kitchen. He spied Mara sitting down at the table, surrounded by data-chips and drinking her tea. Had she been there earlier? Had she heard his discussion with Marken?
Mara looked up from her tablet and noticed that he looked a little embarrassed.
Dash started the brewer as he surveyed Mara from the kitchen.
“Sorry about yesterday,” he craned his neck to see what was on her screen. He saw the telltale signs of strategic documentaries.
“Battle simulations? Not surprised.”
He wondered if she might enjoy Romance of the Three Factions, but the ding of the brewer interrupted his thoughts. He poured an extra large mug, and threw in some fruit-splash for flavor, after Kracker’s habit. Piping-hot coffee in hand, he began to make his way to the nav room. Then, he paused, turning toward the table.
“Hey, a little later I want to show you something that I think you would really like.”
Mara looked up and gave Dash a lovely smile that made him feel better after the events of the day before.
Back in the nav room he found Kracker hard at work in a room that was brighter. More of the monitors were on, and now the parrack was standing in front of the massive nav-screen, charting some galactic positional points on an unmapped arm of the Silver Spiral. Kracker took the coffee and sipped at it. He was pleased with the flavor and gave Dash a hearty thumbs up.
Coming out of the nav room with soaring confidence, Dash discovered Mara was no longer at the table. He felt deflated. Maybe he had screwed up quite badly after all…
Med Bay: Hour 32
“Look, Mara. I see some bruising but there is no sign of a torn ligament on your ankle.”
Mara grimaced and Dorian continued to push and pull on her foot. The pain was excruciating.
“It’s just killing me.”
“Of course it does. I mean, you surely banged it up, but it’s just a bruise.”
Dorian sat down on the stool.
“I think it’s probably something else.”
“What do you mean?”
Dorian began to collect the analysis tools from the counter while he was still seated.
“Well, you’ve been on edge a bit lately.”
He pushed against the floor with his feet, sending the stool rolling across the med-bay to a series of cabinets on the other end of the counter that wrapped around one corner of the room.
“I mean, you did sort of snap at me last night. That doesn’t come out of nowhere.”
Mara’s face flushed crimson and she remembered yelling at the young grey the night before. In many ways he was still very much a kid, but not even he deserved getting yelled at by her.
“I’m not upset that you yelled at me, I know my problems are minor considering everything that’s happened. I’m upset that you won’t come talk to me.”
Finished sorting the instruments, Dorian slid the cabinet closed and turned back to her.
“I’m the resident medic. It’s not just about physical stuff. I’m a counselor too. Why do you think I interview you guys every couple of weeks?” Mara remained quiet, absentmindedly rubbing her ankle with her toes. “Space travel is rough on anyone, especially when it’s for such long periods of time, and you and I both know it’s been even rougher for everyone on this ship considering everything we’ve dealt with.”
Dorian rolled back to Mara. She looked up at him.
“I mean, there was that incident with all the robots,” she began. “Then, the whole thing with Dash’s stalker. Heck, our first night as a crew at that restaurant ended up with a hostage crisis, and then a couple days later those pirates tried to take our ship. That’s not normal.”
Dorian placed a hand on his knee and leaned forward.
“But you were there every time, leading us to safety,” Dorian assured her. “You’re a hero.” Her eyes welled up with tears. “I notice things, not just as a medic, but as your friend. I know something has you upset. I know something on the GIN has you down.”
Suddenly, she fell forward and scooped him into a hug, sobbing. At first he stood frozen, unsure of what to do, but then felt compelled to hug her, his three-digited hands tapping the surface of her shell in an attempt to reassure her.
She sniffed a bit and let go, sitting back up and trying to compose herself.
“Don’t tap on the shell like that. It’s a little uncomfortable for Terrekin.”
Dorian’s face froze into an expression of slacked horror, and Mara began to laugh.
“It’s okay, it’s okay.” She wiped at her eyes with her forearm. “You’re a very astute kid, Dorian.”
Dorian bit at his cheek and furrowed his brow as he responded, “I’m 21 years old. I’m not a kid. Guugel is younger than I am by 18 years!” He shrugged, though, being honest with himself. “I mean, I am an adult, but I know I have my issues. It’s just that D’Lazmuh genomic error causing trouble again.”
“What’s the ‘D’Lazmuh genomic error?’”
Dorian shook his head and replied. “It’s not important right now. I’ll tell you later. Tell me what has you so upset.”
“It’s a couple of things.”
“Not really. I love him and everything, but I can solve those problems with him.” She hopped off the examination bed onto the floor. She felt a brief jolt of pain in her ankle that quickly subsided, and felt the cool plastisteel tile on her feet. “Something else has bothered me for a long, long time, and I’m just not dealing with it the right way.”
“And what is that?”
Mara turned away from Dorian for a second, eyeing the door and contemplating simply leaving. She took a deep breath and turned back to him.
“How often do you talk to your family?” she asked.
Dorian paused for a moment, not really understanding the question. He thought about it for a few moments and looked at her.
“I spoke to Angn recently. He just got some sort of job on the Serreven, but I wasn’t really paying attention at the time.” He scratched his chin. “I’ve not heard from Fellian in months now. We D’Lazmuh kids kind of drifted when each of us were old enough to leave Uncle Cham’s place. We weren’t a close family unit, even for, well, us Grey.”
“That sounds awfully familiar.”
“So you’ve not heard from your family in a while?”
Mara’s snout wrinkled.
“When you put it that way it sounds silly-”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“It’s more of a chronic sort of disinterest on their end that drives me to do stupid shit.”
Dorian leaned forward expectantly. Mara huffed and leaned against the examination bed. She stared at her ankle as she spoke, “Well, Doctor, let me tell you about my childhood.”
Med Bay: Hour 32
Having taken in everything she had said, Dorian’s only response for a while was, “I see.”
“You see what?” Mara asked. Dorian flicked at her ankle and she winced. “What the hell?”
“Your injury is all in your head, Mara. You said it yourself; your parents seemingly not caring causes you to act out and do stupid things. You went for a particularly intense workout, and screwed up by twisting your ankle, making yourself feel even worse. ”
Dorian stood up and walked to a counter, and fished into a drawer.
“You are mad at yourself for being upset, and you are using the ankle injury as something to focus on when in fact there is no real injury there.”
“So, what do I do about this?”
“What can anyone do but try to deal? Solve the problems you can control and just try not to dwell on those you can’t.”
Mara stood against the examination bed, her arms crossed. “And what if I can’t stop dwelling on these things?”
Dorian sighed and walked towards her. He held out his palm and in it was a small, wrapped candy. She stared for a moment and gingerly took it out of his hand.
“Then you run the risk of actually breaking your ankle next time.” He gave her a hug and then began to direct her out of the med-bay. “Go find something to do. You need a hobby that isn’t just self-destructive exercise. Look for a strategy game or something.”
Before she knew it she was back in the hallway. She turned back to him.
“We need you in better shape than this, Mara. I know you can handle it.”
She nodded and began to walk back toward her bunk. She remembered the candy wrapped tightly in her palm and opened it, popping it into her mouth. It was very good.
Med Bay: Hour 32
Dorian was left alone in the med-room for a few minutes. He felt a little numb, but also a little relieved. It had been almost a year on the Lucky Strike and yet that was the first real personal moment he had experienced. And the moment came from the captain, of all people. She always seemed to keep to herself when not on a delivery mission, and now he knew why. And he had opened up to her, too. He felt vulnerable and numb as he tried to distract himself with work. Then, he turned his head to see Kracker in the doorway. His eyelids were lidded and he seemed to be half awake. He held onto the doorway as he stared at Dorian.
“Dorian,” he said. “Can you give me some stims?” As Kracker approached, Dorian observed Kracker’s appearance. His shirt was open and his chest feathers smelled somewhat of sweat, alcohol and coffee. His eyes were red and veined, like he had been staring at a monitor for a long time. His winged fingers twitched at his sides. He walked with a slight stagger. He leaned against the examination table, his eyes darting around. “Where do you keep ‘em?”
“Why do you need them? Dorian asked.
“I’m working on something important and I can’t lose my train of thought,” he said, tapping his fingers on his wrists. “I’m on the verge of something major.” He folded his arms in a self-hug while tapping his foot. “Really big.”
“Have you slept at all since the ship stopped?” Dorian asked. Kracker shook his head.
“Not really,” he said. “I haven’t felt like I needed to.” He stared out at the ceiling with a blank expression. Dorian folded his arms.
“What have you eaten and drank in the last thirty hours?”
“I had dinner, then I had some…of my usual pick-me-up, and then some coffee, and then…nothing.”
“So, you’ve been on almost nothing but liquids during a prolonged period of being awake.”
“Does it matter?” Kracker snapped back. “Holy Kaata, you’re always so analytical. Just gimmie the stims and you can diagnose me with whatever you want later.”
“You have no right to order me around,” Dorian said firmly. “And I’m not going to have our pilot collapse when we’re in the middle of a tense situation.”
“You don’t get it,” Kracker said, his fists clenched. “I know exactly why we’re sitting around like this. Trust me, if I just get some stims, I can finish my work, and we can move on with our lives.”
“If you stay up for any longer, you’re going to have a seizure, or worse,” Dorian said, raising his voice. “I have the mind to give you a tranquilizer, never mind a stimulant.”
“Fine,” Kracker said, slamming his hands down. “If I knock myself out, it’ll be my own fault. It won’t be on your precious conscience.” He left the room in a huff, almost tripping over his own feet. Dorian folded his arms and put his palm in his face. Of all people to give him trouble today, it was the usual suspect. He spent a few minutes reorganizing the med bay, just to do something to keep his mind off of his frustration. Then, he saw Dash.
“Huh, Kracker poured out of here in a huff. What happened?”
Lower Common Room: Hour 33
Kracker came stumbling down the hall toward the stairs just as Guugel was making his way down. Kracker said nothing and practically shot up the stairs like a rocket. Guugel watched him make his way up and gave a long, slow blink. He’d heard the discussion among the crew, and had, admittedly probed the Parrack’s mind a bit, curious about what had him on edge. Of course it was Dash’s concerns that were particularly tangible. He made his way to the cargo-bay.
The Parrack’s story was indeed one worth spreading, and Guugel volunteered himself to facilitate the telling. Guugel’s experiences over the past several centuries hadn’t really exposed him to computers as much as one would think. He made a note to learn more about them in the future, but from what he had gathered, Kracker’s concerns were more about being able to tell the story of the lost ship from the safety of anonymity. This line of thinking, of course, is what led Guugel to his current course of action, which was to wear a pressure suit and walk from ship to ship orbiting the jump-gate, setting up “spoofing” antennas that Dash and Kracker had designed for some likely highly illegal purpose. From what he had gathered as they worked on them, each antenna was a portable computer that could retrieve data from a designated source, and then latch onto an existing communication system and forge an official communication from the attached system. At least that was what was theorized it would do. Guugel had no real idea what any of this actually meant, and wasn’t aware of any testing of the antennas, but it was worth a try.
Guugel’s pressure suit was little more than a modified Terran helmet with some arm holes and installed pants and boots of his own design. Wot spacing gear was a rarity even on Ottiwa and being the roamer he was he needed to be proactive. The suit was effective enough, but it was stiff and awkward and pinched at his arm-pits. It also had the side-effect of making is ambulation into a form of waddle. Thankfully though nobody would be out and about to witness it.
The life-support systems checked out and he began the depressurization procedures in the room. The chamber lights dimmed and then the flashing red depressurization lights blinked on and off, accompanied by an alarming klaxxon. Guugel wasn’t particularly keen on anyone knowing about his spacewalk, particularly concerning potentially illegalities, so his hope was that nobody noticed the depressurization. If worse came to worse he could say it was a simple perimeter sweep. After all, he was the security officer.
With the chamber completely depressurized the door to the void opened and Guugel took in the sight of dozens of ships orbiting the hoop-like structure of the Jump-Gate, as though they were all players in some cosmic ballet. There was an effortless elegance to it. He turned back to the cubbies to find his equipment and came to the realization that he hadn’t taken it in with him.
Outside the Lucky Strike: Hour 33
Spacewalks always filled Guugel with a sense of dread, and his first tentative steps outside of the safety of the pressure room were highly experimental. It was not like he hadn’t done this sort of thing before, but being in space with little but some anchor lines and a pressurized suit between him and the infinite black tended to make him a little more alert and wary.
Of course he was also equally mortified and annoyed that he had to go back to regather his equipment which required pressurizing and depressurizing the chamber again. His equipment was safely arranged, various tools bundled into a pocketed and rolled up and securely fastened to his suit. He hadn’t been able to track down Dash’s magnetic screwdriver, but he figured he could improvise.
For now though, he put his focus onto the first of what would be several “jumps” from ship to ship. “Jump” of course was a euphemism for the process of using a magnetic grapple line to pull himself from one ship to the next to install the antennas. It had the potential to be utterly terrifying and incredibly deadly. However what he had in his favor was the fact he was a crack shot… and his race’s gift of telekinesis.
All of that fell by the wayside, of course, when he saw Blu and Bucketbot on the ship ahead of him, walking the surface to their own mysterious ends.
Med Bay: Hour 34
“Your scar seems to have healed up nicely. Well…” Dorian muttered a bit, “besides the fact that it is a scar.” The Grey was profusely apologetic. “It was entirely my fault I wasn’t able to get the synthoderm applied until we made port.”
Dorian sighed. Dash simply smiled and gave Dorian a light punch on his arm that they kid seemed to flinch at.
“Honestly, you did fine. You have noticed the other scars, right?”
“I’m just not thrilled about your body being a record of my failings as a medic.”
Dash rubbed his fingers over the scar just over his collarbone.
“You failed nobody, Dorian. You’re annoyingly good at this medical stuff. You’re making me healthy whether I want to be or not.”
“Even when I had Guugel tranq you? I mean when you woke up from it and that monster was there…”
“You made the right call.” Dash hopped off the examination bed. “I was a danger to everyone at the time. You did what was right.”
Dorian scrawled some notes in his tablet.
“And how are the nightmares, Dash?”
Dorian set down the tablet on the counter next to some mysterious machine Dash never saw him use. Medical equipment tended to be beyond the Terrekin’s paygrade.
“I don’t want to look for a chemical solution. So I’ve been studying some more… holistic techniques.”
Dash laughed as he put his shirt back on. “Why doctor, I never thought I’d hear you suggest meditation.”
“Terrekin often use meditation to provide emotional stabilization. There is quite a bit of data to indicate-”
Dash put a reassuring hand on Dorian’s shoulder. “Relax, I know what you mean. I’ve been trying. I just feel like something is blocking me from getting to where I need to go. Usually tinkering centers me, but that’s not exactly doing the trick.”
Dorian puzzled for a moment, and then looked up at Dash.
“Has there been anything lately that you felt has gone unfinished?” Dorian asked.
Dash instantly thought or Mara, but said nothing. Dorian continued talking.
“As far as I see it, you and Mara are entirely too stressed out. You with your nightmares, for example.”
“What’s up with Mara?”
Dorian appeared genuinely surprised, his already large eyes seemingly growing wider. “You haven’t noticed her limp?”
He chuckled to himself a bit as he scrawled something on his tablet.
“You two should definitely have a chat.”