Hiatus! The Novelization
by C. A. Bridges
(Based on the teleplay “Encounter in Forever on the Edge of the City of Tomorrow” by Manny Ulrich)
Chapter One: When Destiny Comes Dumping
“Everything has a beginning. And every new beginning is also the end of something else, usually something you’ll miss later when you’re alone and it’s raining and nothing’s on. Moral: I need to drink more.”
– Captain Parvo’s Personal Log
Inky black space, sparkling with gemstone stars, fills your mind to overflowing. The sheer, unfathomable enormity of it threatens to burst open your brain like a child’s balloon. Here and there bright marbles sparkle in the distant sunlight but they remain marbles, easily lost or discarded. Below you is the marble that keeps you alive. Earth is wrapped in a frigid embrace, streaked with blue and green and wreathed in fluffy white fluffiness, but from up here it is chillingly apparent that almost anything — natural disaster, particularly viral pathogen, sufficiently violent political upheaval, asteroid strike, planetary temperature rising a mere 10 degrees — could take that paper-thin ecosystem keeping humanity alive and rip it away, leaving billions of souls gasping and boiling where they fell, even as–
Actually, spaceflight only affects you that way if you stick with classical music. That’s why early spaceflight pilots were awoken with peppy tunes piped in from ground control; enough replays of “Thus Spake Zarathustra” could make anyone want to set their controls for the heart of downtown Houston and fire all thrusters. And the song chosen for inclusion in humanity’s letter-in-the-bottle Voyager launch was The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” which should have served to warn any approaching aliens of both our race’s general crankiness and our love of the double negative.
Judging from the pounding bass line that was just barely audible through the thin air of the stratosphere, the captain of the small two-man Orbhopper ship currently blasting over the horizon preferred to vanquish the terrifying insignificance that space bestows by cranking up “Exhaust Port Woman, You’re a Shot in a Million” by The Walloping Pandroids. Also a good choice.
But music aside, what really helps you ignore the vastness of eternity is to be really, really pissed off.
Move past the ship. Sink down through the clouds. (Try not to scream, this is a literary device.) Zip over and approach the western seaboard of the United States. Circle around, observing the regulated flight patterns, until you are silently drifting over San Mateo, California. Head for the coast. There, nestled in what was once a bayland marsh protected by the government to preserve endangered species, lies the magnificent Hill Institute, a rambling collection of gleaming white buildings and relaxing parks. Founded in 2027 by Gene Hill, futurist and biologist, in its first 10 years the Hill Institute was responsible for 341 distinct patents, each one a miraculous innovation that would help mankind. Which, frankly, was more than the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse ever did.
Walking around the Hill Institute made even guests feel vital and connected to something greater than themselves. Scientists competed to work there; you could hardly heave a brick without hitting two or three Nobel Prize laureates, who would then scramble to publish learned papers about trajectories, the histories of impromptu weaponry, and the rise of social barbarism. Every element of the Institute was carefully designed and crafted to be eminently functional and soothing to the soul. Eco-aware, beautiful to look upon, a scientific heaven on earth.
Sadly, a heaven with extremely lax security. Not that it would have helped.
The front doors of the administrative building slammed open, which was impressive since they were designed to slide sideways. But when a 6′4″ man with broad shoulders, muscular arms, firm jaw, thick wavy hair and a glint of steel in the eyes demands entrance, nothing but slamming will do. “What the pus-crusted hell is going on?” he bellowed.
Various lab-coated doctors and assistants scurried to get out of the way as the man strode up to the front desk. The receptionist turned from her computer (where she was idling away the time between visitors by devising a way to produce cellulosic biofuels with office desktop terrariums) and smiled.
“May I help you, sir?” she asked. It almost goes without saying that she was strikingly beautiful; most humans were, those days.
The man leaned on her desk and growled at her, fluttering her hair. It was not unlike being confronted by an angry bull that had been drinking beer. “Where’s the bastard?” he yelled.
“The bastard that sent me this!” He thrust out a grubby, crumpled printout. “The bastard I’m going to–”
“Ah, you’re Admiral Buchanon’s 9 o’clock. He’s waiting for you, just go right down that hallway and turn right. He’s waiting for you.”
He leaned closer. “You really might want to go ahead and call the EMTs for him now,” he said. “I hear even a few seconds can make a difference.” The paper fell to her desk as he stormed off down the hall. Crashing sounds quickly followed, along with a small explosion.
Were you to take, say, a beer-maddened bull, zap it a few times in a delicate spot with a cattle prod, and then release it into the halls of the Institute, you might end up with the sort of trail the man left behind. Fist-sized holes in walls, sporadic eruptions of paper and electronics from passersby who failed to yield right-of-way, scorch marks that were better left uninvestigated. The Hill Institute administration building was a very deliberately relaxing place, yet cool walls punctuated by leafy plants and frequent displays of tasteful artwork completely failed to register on the man as he pounded past (and occasionally over) students and scientists, who abruptly found a predator in their once-secure habitat and reacted in the most scientifically appropriate manner, i.e. shrieking and hiding and quickly trying to evolve. He moved rapidly from corridor to corridor, his eyes darting back and forth, his quarry within range.
Using his keen skills of cunning and detection he finally found his quarry (down the hall and to the right) behind the door marked “Adm. Everton Buchanon, Director.” He burst through the disappointingly open door into an elegant, well-appointed office of dark woods and screamed at the man behind the desk.
“Dammit,” he roared, fists raised to the sky. “Why did it have to be you?”
The man leaned back and smiled. “Because, Parvo, the only other people who would voluntarily talk to you are orderlies, bartenders, and hostage negotiators,” he said. “Sit down.”
With one stride Parvo loomed over the older man. “I got a message says my new job is here, I had to come see who was peeing into my life this week. I got a job, Buchanan. I don’t need or want your handouts! What I need and want to do is to kick your liver-spotted ass!”
Buchanon touched a few more keys on his desk, tapping the last one with a final flourish. “You had a job. Now you’re working for me. Show some gratitude, I had to practice saying that in front of a mirror for three days before I could do it without throwing up.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Right, sorry. Small words. We. Need. A. Captain. I chose you. Do you still fit into a forty-six regular?”
Parvo stared at him for a long moment. “Alzheimer’s, huh? Or maybe you’ve been resting your forehead against engine cores. I don’t work for you! We served together! That was it, end of story!”
“‘Served together.’ That’s certainly one way of describing it,” Buchanon said amiably. “I notice you left out the word ‘dishonorable.’”
“You were a lousy captain!”
Buchanon chuckled. “Oh, I was,” he agreed. “I was far too lenient on my insubordinate crew, for one thing, especially when it came to landing parties and personal responsibility. Hey, I hear plant life is just starting to come back in that crater you left during the peace mission back in ‘52, so there’s some good news.”
“Stop! Stop talking to me!” Parvo yelled. He clapped his hands over his ears. “Stop messing with me! I’ve got a respectable, high-paying job and an amazing, supportive girlfriend and a nice life going, and I’m not risking any of them for your insane meglomaniacal fantasies!” He let go of his head and balled his hands into massive fists. “Now, I’m going to punch you for a bit, so–”
“You might not want to assault the only guy who’d hire you. Little business tip. You’ve been fired.”
“–I’d advise going limp early on in the beating, you’ll avoid serious… what? When?”
“Depends. How often does your boss check his e-mail?”
Parvo looked down at the keyboard, then back up at Buchanon. There was a brief pause while certain painful thoughts slotted themselves together inside his head with nasty little clicks, and when he finally located his voice again it was a small, tortured thing. “What… the hell… have you done?”
“I have to hand it to you, Vincent. You did, somehow, manage to score a great job. Your employers are fine people. Salt of the earth, the type who would never employ someone who’s done what you did.”
“I HAVEN’T DONE ANY–”
“How old did your new girlfriend tell you she was?”
“She’s…” Parvo started to
say, and then Buchanon’s smirk drilled right through his brain. He staggered back and collapsed into a chair. “Oh, God… Kelly…”
Buchanon stood and came around the desk. “Don’t worry, the police will break it to your family and friends gently. Now, most of the stuff in your apartment was crap, but I had my people pack a few things you probably think are worth keeping.”
“…I have to call her…”
“No, you really don’t,” Buchanon said. “Come on, let me show you your brand spanking new destiny.”
Parvo was several hallways and two flights of stairs along before it really dawned on him that he was moving. Left foot, right foot, left foot, just like before in those good old days when he had a girlfriend who didn’t lie to him. Had there been clues? More to the point, had there been clues he might have detected despite his near-toxic level of testosterone? How could Kelly have done that to him? His mental turmoil sidetracked slightly as he went on to remember a few of the specific and more pleasant things she had done to him, and so he barely noticed the glares from the assorted scientists around him who were still picking up papers, carts, and other, slightly damaged scientists who had been knocked over during his previous passing. He smiled a grim, somewhat threatening apology at them and followed Buchanon through a magnificent archway and down the smoothest escalator he’d ever been on.
The tram looked like someone had successfully weaponized Disney. They stepped aboard into a gleamng interior and the tram instantly took off at a blinding speed with almost no noticeable inertia whatsoever, which annoyed Parvo for some reason. Try as he might he couldn’t see any evidence of current or historical puke anywhere, making this a very unique subway indeed in his experience. Glitzy place. Was Buchanon still talking? Dammit, he was.
“The Hill Institute was founded by Gene Hill to better the lives of all humanity, Vince,” Buchanon was saying. “Even you. In the last five years we’ve advanced cancer therapy generations past anyone else, found a cheap way to reinvigorate arid soil, and perfected that four-dollar roll of solarphane you use to power your house for a year. We’re good at what we do, and what we do is everything.”
“Are you good at getting to the point? Do you have people that can do that for you?”
Buchanon ignored him and turned to face the side of the tram, which irised open almost immediately. Parvo hadn’t even noticed they’d stopped. Through another, smaller archway (with a pressurized hatch. he noticed) they stepped into wonders.
Imagine a beehive populated by science fiction geeks. Now shake it, and you’ll get the idea of the constantly churning, brightly colored panorama that Parvo beheld. The room they were in, all glass and steel and glasteel (not to be confused with steeglass, which, outside of certain select artistic endeavors, had no redeeming factors whatsoever unless you had a pressing need for a car that shattered with a melodic tinkling sound) with a highly polished floor that actively resisted Parvo’s casual attempts to scuff it, was a central location from which white and silver hallways radiated outward. People in lab coats were purposefully moving in purposeful directions, many of them carrying clipboards or PDAs or handfuls of electronic equipment or, in one case, a 35-foot reticulated python. Doors opened here and there, revealing futuristic machines and complicated glass contraptions of bubbling chemicals and colorful smoke. Hums and beeps and mechanical linkages could be heard from all directions, strange smells competed for attention, lights and lasers and weapons flares lit up the vaulted ceiling. There was even a student up there, looking like a lost balloon, wearing some sort of jetpack that was currently grinding him relentlessly into the light fixtures. This was capital-S Science, happening at the speed of thought, expanding the known universe by measurable degrees (which were promptly measured, notated, collated, and filed). It was nearly impossible to see all this and not be awed at the capabilities of mankind.
Mostly Parvo was thinking how much he really, really wanted to break something,
He turned to see Buchanon waving to a young and very fit woman who was jogging slowly down the hallway toward them, carrying a clipboard. Her lab coat flapped open to reveal tight athletic clothing underneath. With the unerring reflexes and calculating mind of a true leader Parvo instantly forgot his own troubled personal life in order to check her out.
“This is Dr. Espinosa,” Buchanon told him. “Don’t touch him, doctor, the idiocy rubs off. So, what have you done for me today?”
Espinosa smiled and continued to jog in place while stretching her arms over her head and bending side to side in a completely fascinating motion. “The new… rejuvasnacks… are showing a… 35% increase over… the previous batch… Dr. Buchanan!” she said.
Parvo looked up from his careful examination of the seams in her jogging shorts. “The who with the what?”
“Rejuvasnacks,” Buchanon said. “Remember the food pills they always promised you we’d have someday in the future?”
“These aren’t them. They’re better. How long have you been awake, Sadie?”
She consulted her clipboard, expertly timing her movements to match her rhythm. Bounce, bounce, bounce. “Ninety-seven hours and… forty-three minutes… doctor. I should be able… to hold my present level… of mental acuity… till the weekend.”
Parvo continued reconnoitering her as she bounded off. “Excellent,” he said under his breath, and then had to hustle after Buchanon who was already on the move again, pointing at various doors and rooms as he passed.
“There are some amazing things happening here,” Buchanon was saying. “Blond guy by the tanks? He’s developing a way to teach children intravenously. That team down there? Cold fusion, probably within the decade. That’s Marty – Hi Marty! – he came up with an all-natural breast implant that actually takes on the woman’s DNA. That was a profitable one, there.”
“Yeah,” Parvo grumbled. “You’re saints. You got dental?”
“Better. We have a breakthrough. A breakthrough that’s incredible even by our standards, which are, I should point out, astounding.”
“What is it?”
Buchanon stopped to look at him. “Why? You won’t understand it. I don’t understand it, and I’m much smarter than you.” He leaned forward with a conspiratorial look on his face. “But the short answer is: we’ve found a way to step outside of time.”
Parvo blinked. “You what?”
“We can stop time,” Buchanon said, once again striding away. Parvo sighed and followed, his fist clenching and unclenching over and over as he gazed longingly at the back of Buchanon’s head. “Step outside of it and let it continue without us, like jumping to the next chapter of a book.”
“Like being in stasis?”
Buchanan stopped again, nearly being bowled over in the process, and looked at the bigger man in surprise. “Very good, Vince. Have you been watching ‘Star Trek?’”
“I’m still waiting to hear why I shouldn’t kill you,” Parvo said.
Buchanon grinned. “Come on. Let me introduce you to someone brilliant.”
Twenty minutes later Parvo was looking up at the biggest, ugliest chandelier in the world. It didn’t help that the crystal and brass monstrosity appeared to have a laser cannon coming out of it, or that the scientist standing under it seemed to be in love with it in a way that was disturbing and possibly against the laws of God and man.
“Isn’t it glorious?” he demanded, beaming at it.
It also didn’t help that the scientist, whom Buchanon had introduced as Dr. Tuckby, looked exactly like Elmer Fudd. Parvo realized his edginess was partly due to his unconscious expectation that Tuckby was, at any moment, suddenly going to whip out a shotgun bigger than himself and fire wildly into a hole in the ground.
Around him was an assortment of lab techs and research assistants who all seemed very proud of something. Otherwise the room was conspicuously empty in that stark, “must be easy to quickly decontaminate” decor which signalled, to the experienced eye, that this was not a good room to be accidentally locked in, particularly if any sort of countdown was involved.
“Yeah, you’re a lucky man, doc,” Parvo said. “Can I go home now? I have a federal manhunt to start avoiding…”
Buchanon leaned over and whispered out of the corner of his mouth. “Vince, your only options at this juncture are to nod politely and pretend to understand what’s about to change your life and the lives of everyone on this planet forever, or go directly to jail. Now, political advocacy groups, concerned with negative implications regarding personal sexual preferences, forbid me to suggest or insinuate that a very large and smelly someone in that jail might want to make you his very unhappy girlfriend despite your own personal sexual preferences, so I’d appreciate it if you’d choose the first option, thus allowing me to avoid a few angry phone calls and allowing yourself to continue to walk normally. I await your response.”
“So,” Parvo said brightly, clapping his hands together. “What’s it do?”
“Good boy,” Buchanon whispered.
Tuckby rushed over to them. “This is the culmination of my life’s work! I, Marcus Tuckby, have managed to stop time in its tracks!” He was a gesturer and inveterate arm-waver, never a good sign.
“Uh huh,” Parvo said.
“You’re right to scoff, sir. Many have trod this road and been waylaid by false paths, spurious reasoning, or the budget cuts of weak-kneed fools! But only I have reached the end of that long and difficult trail to discover the closely-guarded wonders to be found at the end!”
“Can you just dial back the mad scientist thing a little bit, you’re flicking drool on my coat.”
“Behold!” Without warning Tuckby spun and dashed back to a small table directly underneath the massive device. It was burnished steel, about the size of a footstool, and contained… nothing. There was even a dramatic spotlight aimed at the table, to highlight the nothing. The lab techs and assistants stood around with an eerie, worshipful silence. Buchanon gripped Parvo’s arm and dragged him over to look at the nothing. They looked at it for a long moment as Tuckby beamed with pride.
“Well, I’m impressed,” Parvo said.
Tuckby stopped in mid-rave to look at the table. “Why? There’s nothing there.” Abruptly he lowered his arms and looked at Parvo more closely, then smiled in a totally different manner. “I’m so sorry, son, my mistake, are you here for one of the special tours? Admiral Buchanon, is he allowed to have candy,” he asked, patting his pockets, “or should I–”
“AAAAGH!” Parvo screamed. He rose to his full and impressive height, his chest filling with enough air for another fully righteous and desperately-needed scream. Tuckby and his techs all stepped back, cowering before the wrath of…
And Parvo released it. Unclenched his fists. And smiled. “Dr. Tuckby, I apologize for my brusque demeanor but I’ve just had some very troubling news about a loved one that I’m still trying to assimilate. If you would be so kind, would you please demonstrate for me your amazing new discovery?”
The room breathed a collective sigh of relief. “Of course, of course, let me show you,” said Tuckby, flushed with the endorphins that a near-death experience brings. He snapped his fingers at the terrified techs, who scurried to various positions behind protective plasteel barriers around the room (except for the smallest, shame-faced lab tech, who had to go change his lab coat). Lights flashed. The massive monstrosity over them began to hum and spin slowly.
“Nice,” whispered Buchanon, smiling straight ahead.
“I’m going to kill you with fire,” Parvo whispered back, smiling just as brightly.
Tuckby took up position behind the table. The spotlight added a dramatic effect to his appearance which was, sadly, still Fudd-like. “One week ago, there was a cage containing a ferret on this very table. Using my formulas and the Tuckby HyperConditional Interimator, the inner workings of which are known only to me, I have sent it into… hiatus.”
Several smartass comments rose to mind, but Parvo was deeply into “get this over with yesterday” mode and held onto his snark with an iron mental fist. Too bad, there were some good ones. He also figured anything he asked at this point would make him look unbelievably stupid, so he settled for raising an eyebrow.
“Simply stated, Mr. Parvo, the ferret is currently skipping past this entire week. When it appears, in…” He looked at his watch. “…two minutes and seven seconds, no time at all will have passed for her.”
“The ferret. We call her Sunflower.”
“Of course you do. So, this is time travel?”
“Oh no, no no no, of course not. Time travel is impossible, mere science fiction fantasy and wish-fulfillment. No, we are men of science here.”
“What we’ve done is push a bubble of reality out of our universe. With a ferret in it.”
Tuckby then began expounding the mathematics behind his discovery of Interim Space, a non-place which exists between the smallest possible division of time. It took more than forty years and thousands of ferrets, but he finally made the breakthrough of firing two concentrated bursts of tachyons to… do something or other, Parvo had no clue, he had zoned out as soon as the Fudd guy started jabbering.
Had there been signs, with Kelly? Some subtle indicators he might have noticed had he not been blinded by love and six-inch-long skirts? She had seemed to favor pony tails a lot, but that could have been a Japanese thing. And she did disappear between 6:30 and 3:30 each day but she had assured him that was the early shift at the pesticide taste-testing facility where she worked but would never let him visit.
Tuckby was now waving his arms like a pissed-off windmill and raving something about time-space and induced causality-suppression and yadda yadda yadda. Her skin was awfully clear. And she did have that habit of waiting outside when he bought booze. No, this was insane, it was one of Buchanon’s tricks. Parvo’s job was fine, Kelly was waiting for him, he wasn’t going to get railroaded into volunteering for some idiotic science project with Dr. Wabbit Season, here. Parvo took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and started listening again.
“–which is why doing so would be the most dangerous thing imaginable, with consequences for our entire solar system, so don’t ever, ever do that,” Tuckby finished, wild-eyed and breathing heavily.
“Sure, no problem, doc,” Parvo said. “But look, I’m really not going to JUMPING JUDAS IN A JELLYBEAN BASKET!” he yelled, pointing. Behind the doctor the table had… done nothing at all, really. One second it was empty, the next there was a small wire cage containing a briefly contented ferret, which immediately became a very agitated ferret at seeing and smelling humans who had, as far as the ferret was concerned, just appeared. Sunflower hurled herself to the far end of the cage and proceeded to evacuate her bowels and bladder with alarming alacrity and volume, following her biological imperatives and imparting a valuable metaphor about science in the process.
Tuckby clapped his hands together. “Ah, there’s my girl! Just like we last saw her.”
“When… when was that?” Parvo asked.
“Six months and one day, exactly. We had originally set it for six months but when the time came near one of my techs hit the snooze button instead and, well, it threw us all off.” Behind him one of the techs looked away, whistling, while the others mumbled and glared at him.
“But she’s in perfect shape, so you should be just fine.”
“That’s great to hear, doc.” Parvo shook his hand and turned to face Buchanon. “What the hell is he talking about?”
The older man produced a cigar which he proceeded to light despite the many posted signs explaining why what he was doing was wrong on a moral, physical, and scientific level. He took his time. Once a few acrid blue puffs were floating between them, he grinned at Parvo. “Do you know why we’ve never reached the stars, Vince?”
“Besides those. We’ve never gone to the stars because we don’t live long enough. And we need to. We need to spread humanity out as far and as wide as we can, because even with the remarkable strides we made toward turning our planet into a paradise there’s always that chance of global disaster. We need the stars, Vince. But at our best speeds it would take hundreds of years to get to the closest one, and bad things happen when you put a colony of people in a can for a few dozen generations. So we need a way to put people on ice, so to speak, for the trip.”
“Right, cryo, no big deal.”
“Cryonics is an excellent answer if your question is ‘how do I freeze this dead guy?’ It’s not so good if you want to defrost one. Ice forming between body cells, ischemic injuries, a certain amount of accidental breakage, cryo just isn’t an option yet. But this device lets us put people in stasis, on hiatus, for as long as we want so we can send ‘em wherever we want. So that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Parvo was getting a very bad feeling that the smell in the room wasn’t all from Sunflower. Of themselves his hands started balling into fists. “And what is that, exactly, Admiral Buchanon?”
“Install a Tuckby HyperConditional Interimator in a generation ship. A ship with a working colony, set up and ready to go. A ship that needs a fully qualified captain.”
Parvo blanched. “No! No! A thousand hells of no,” he said frantically, backing away through the techs with his hands held up in front of him as if to ward off evil. “No way are you sending me anywhere, much less to another star.” He grabbed the littlest tech and held him up as a whimpering shield.
“Come on, Vince, it’ll be just like taking a vacation in Barbados, if Barbados was 26 trillion miles away. There’s sunlight there, I know you like sunlight–”
“Get away from me!” Parvo began swinging the tech in a wide, shrieking arc in front of himself. “I’ll use this, this–”
“Rothman!” the tech screamed.
“–this Rothman, if I have to. He’s armed and ready!”
“Agh!” Rothman yelped.
“Vince, put the man down. We don’t want to hurt anybody.”
“You know, I really kinda do,” Parvo said, easing himself backwards toward the far door.
“He really kinda does!” Rothman yelled.
“But we both know you’ll do this,” Buchanon said calmly. “Because you’re an adrenalin junkie, and you need this.”
“I’m a what?”
“You crave excitement, adventure, derring-do. You have a need for speed that working at a restaurant, however nice, just won’t give you. Eventually you would have discovered a conspiracy amongst the waiters or rushed off to save the life of a princess who was abducted during the soup course. You can’t help it.”
“You’re lying! I crave boredom! I demand sameness and regularity and conformity! It’s relaxing, dammit!”
“When two guys tried to rob the place, why did you beat them up, track down their boss, beat him up, and then assault his family and his entire 25th reunion party? Instead of, you know, calling the cops?”
“I love my job!” Parvo said, a bit helplessly.
“So why did you come here?”
Parvo stopped still, releasing the Rothman to cartwheel into a work center. There was a spray of sparks and a brief scream. “What do you mean? You sent a message.”
“And you could have sent one back, or called me, or e-mailed, or just ignored it. You’re right, I have no control over you. Instead you took the first chance to leave your beloved job, did an interballistic jump instead of a conventional plane or even a bus, and came here to punch me.” The admiral, all elegance and assuredness, stepped forward to look Parvo in the eye. “You want this, Vince.”
“Tell me, old man.”
Buchanon smiled broadly and clapped him on the shoulder. “You’re going to save the world.”