Footnotes

Daily Writing Exercise: Science Fiction. Relationships grown in the margins. A reply to a r/WritingPrompts post. 799 words.

500 Words Story Index


There are notes everywhere.

.

It had started small, just a doodle on a whiteboard beside the checklists. A bit of whimsy in the ocean of dry status reports. It was outside of company protocol, but not against protocol– that thin gray area where the corporation forgot the stationkeepers were humans and not actual robots.

At least payroll remembered. Every shift she watched the numbers climb and dreamed of what she’d do once she was free..

Two years of solitary monthly shifts, broken up by off-shifts spent in cryosleep, was just the thing she’d thought she’d needed.

The station is at the edge of the shipping lanes and oversees a vast swath of beacons. Ships drop from hyperspace in a burst of violently beautiful radiation and in those fractions of a second recalibrate themselves against the beacons before vanishing again. A constant stream of rhythmically random static that seeps into every corridor.

The computers handle everything. Communication, maintenance, error handling, there’s almost nothing left for a human to do.

.

The first real note shows up in the margins of the food logs, daydreams of a home cooked meal that makes her mouth water as she chews bland nutrient bars. She hesitantly adds back Mangos, Marsroot, and Licorice.

.

The next is squeezed in-between the lines of the minor issue checklist, describing sunrises and rainstorms, snowbanks and long empty beaches.

She doesn’t write anything back and spends her shift staring out into the darkness of the port windows, watching ships explode into existence.

There’s no notes for two shifts after that.

.

They leave doodles in the corners of the after-action report, showing how the ship had come too close and punched a hole in the swarm of port beacons and grazed the temporal bubble. The lines are functional, impersonal, but not required. It’s all repaired by the time she’s awake again.

After a long moment, she draws them an ocean sunset along the top of the empty UFO log.

.

Things pick up after that.

They never use names because they’ll never meet, it’s one of the stipulations of the contract. They never say where or when they’re from, keeping everything impersonally personable

Lemons, Europan Roses, Saltwater Taffy.

.

She finds an origami venusian tiger made from the biodegradable wrapper of a nutrition bar tucked into the corner of the couch. She recycles it before she goes off-shift and leaves a badly folded paper airplane in its place.

The next month there’s a small army of wrappers showing her each step of a swan and she hides a dozen around the station with a smile she hasn’t used in years.

.

Three shifts from the end of the contract she realizes she doesn’t want to go home again. The piles of money aren’t what motivates her daydreams anymore.

The company has been very very careful, perfecting safeguards over the years to make sure they’ll never meet. She read the list once, on a whim, and it terrifies her to know how many people have tried and failed.

So she leaves notes and doodles and swans and tries not to think about what happens next.

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There’s only one use for a human stationkeeper, one event bound to an infinitesimally small statistic that rides the edges of impossible.

.

She wakes to the sounds of cursing and the sickly-sweet taste of emergency cryo reactivation.

“How bad?” she asks, blinking away the echoes of dreamless sleep.

“The bubble’s gone, half the station went with it.” He helps her out of the pod.

The constant crackle of ships transiting is gone, leaving a terrifying silence behind.

There are no warning lights, no alarms. The computers are calibrated to run inside the temporal bubble, a tiny fixed point in time that moves forward so slowly that decades pass between seconds.

All save for one.

“Estimated repair times?”

“Four years, seven months, sixteen days, two hours, nine minutes remaining,” the computer answers.

“When are we?”

“Four hundred years too early,” her crewmate breaks in. “We’re not even in the records.”

Which means it’s been long enough for him to check. Most of the emergency protocols are locked away, given in vague overviews in orientation, but set to be spoon-fed to the survivors in preordained timelines to minimize the trauma.

Waking the other crewmate was at the bottom of the list.

“Only four months,” he offers when he realizes where the train of thought has taken her. “Wasn’t too bad. I mean, wasn’t fun, but–“

“Five years,” she says, testing out the idea. “We’ve got five years.”

“More or less.” He grins in sunsets and lemons, swans and salt water taffy.

.

The station pops back into existence an infinitesimal fraction of a section after it left and time rolls on.

There are notes everywhere.

Martha Bechtel

My name is Martha Bechtel and I write fantasy and science fiction stories, paint small model horses silly colors, cast resin and plaster magnets, code random code (and Wordpress plugins)... Come on in and join in the fun!

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