Midshipman Ravi MacLeod, weightless and adrift in zero g, did what he often did. He barfed into his sick bag. With an ease born of long practice, he sealed it up and tossed the whole schmeer into the recycler. The little machine gurgled gratefully, adding its vibration to the gentle thrumming of the elevator. The car, he noticed, had finally passed the ten-kilometer mark. Less than five to go.

The elevator car-the only one that ran express to the engine rooms-was a blast from the past. Seldom used as it was, it was one of the few parts of the ship still in its original condition, right down to the bronze plate with its early version of the ship’s logo. First Crew would have been right at home here.

He doubted First Crew would have appreciated being cut off from the hive, though. He didn’t quite know when it had happened, but happened it had. At some point during his descent, the ebb and flow of data through his implants had died away to nothing. The nearest working routers would be in the docking ports, he reckoned, several kilometers “above” him and getting farther away by the second. His face twisted into a wry grimace. He would be offline for the duration.

An image of Chen Lai popped into his head. In his imagination, the engineer’s stern, gray-haired visage looked both disappointed and annoyed.

Explain to me, Middy, the engineer would demand, how you can be offline WHILE STILL ABOARD THE SHIP?

Chen Lai would lean forward, peering relentlessly into Ravi’s eyes. As the scene played out in his head, he could picture his mumbling response all too clearly. It shouldn’t happen, sir. No matter where you are, you should always be in range of a router.

So, Chen Lai might respond, what the hungary do you think is going on? The old man would stand there, stone-faced. Waiting.

The routers, sir. There’d be the usual rush of blood to his face. There are routers in the engine rooms. They’re not working for some reason.

And then Chen Lai would have nodded and sent him off to do something menial and humiliating. Ravi grinned to himself in relief. Thank Archie the pedantic SOB was nowhere in sight.

The grin faded as quickly as it had come.

There was something wrong with the routers.

He hung motionless in the middle of the elevator car. His face twisted with strain as his implants reached out to the engine rooms, feeling blindly for any sign of the silent equipment. The sudden beginnings of a headache stabbed at his temples.

Would he have to fix the routers before he did anything else? The headache, unpleasant to begin with, was intensifying rapidly. Did he even know how to fix the routers? He threw an anxious glance through the roof of the car. What if he had to go all the way back up without accomplishing anything? His mouth dried up at the thought of Chen Lai’s disdain, the unspoken mockery of his well-bred classmates.

His jaw tightened with mulish determination. No way, he told himself. No sarding way. He’d space himself first.

A series of musical chimes rang through the cabin, and Ravi, without really thinking about it, pointed his feet at the floor. A minute or two later he was drifting downward. The elevator, after an hour-long journey to get there, was decelerating. A weak, ersatz gravity pulled him to the deck, only to vanish the moment the elevator slid to a halt.

“Engine rooms,” the elevator announced. The airlock lights were all green, so he went ahead and opened the hatches.

Which was stupid. The whole module, unvisited since Archie knew when, was still warming up. It was barely above freezing. Ravi looked around in dismay. Every surface was covered in a thin layer of frost. White breath billowed in front of him, drifting lazily in the direction of the nearest filter. The air itself, stored away for far too long, tasted of metal. Its cold fingers slid effortlessly through the thin blue fabric of his fatigues and pressed against his skin. Ravi cursed silently. He’d been careful to bring his toolkit. He hadn’t thought to pack a sweater.

His headache was still getting worse.

A sigh escaped from his lips in a puffy cloud. He followed it deeper into the compartment. The room was set up for thrust, which meant he was floating in through the ceiling. “Beneath” him, the monitors were in sleep mode, an iced-over landscape of dark screens and drowsy orange lights. Ravi brushed the rime off one of the chairs, strapped himself in, and used his hands to fire up the boards. The switches burned cold against his fingers.

The boards lit up: green mostly and a bit of red, but nothing critical. The hive burst into life. He could feel the press of data against his implants, the quiet hum of information, the mindless chatter of systems. He breathed a sigh of relief. The routers were working after all. Left alone in the dark for maybe the best part of a decade, they’d simply turned themselves off.

Tap. Tap.

Ravi would have jumped out of his seat, but the straps held him back. He let out a nervous laugh.

Like there’d be anyone down here, he chided himself. As if.

His hands were still shaking, though. He tried to blame it on the temperature.

Creepy noises were only to be expected, he told himself. Until a few hours ago, the engine rooms had been deep-space cold. Sleepy, huddled molecules, newly energized by an infusion of heat, would want to fly farther apart. The materials made of those molecules, the switches, the consoles, the decks-stuff-would have to expand to accommodate them. There would be all sorts of creaking and cracking as the edges of things stretched into new spaces and fought each other for the right to be there.


Tap. Tap. Tappity-tap.


He ignored it. He unstrapped himself from the seat and floated free. He had work to do.

The last time the drive had been fired was nine and a half years ago-a minor course correction. Ravi had been a child at the time and incapable of understanding the details. But he remembered the excitement leading up to it, how parts of the ship had been broken down and turned through ninety degrees, the way his mom-less brittle then, with Dad still around-had checked and double-checked that his toys and belongings were properly stowed. He remembered how the ship’s great habitat wheels had ceased their endless rotation, the way everything and everyone had floated. It had been awesome. And his young-boy stomach hadn’t cared one bit. He and his friends had wriggled free of their parents’ grasp and soared through the living spaces, bouncing off the bulkheads, playing tag on the ceilings, throwing stuff in impossible directions. Flying.

And then, finally, the drive had stretched and yawned and woken from its long slumber. He remembered the gentle but relentless way it flipped everything sideways, turning walls into floors and windows into skylights. It plucked at the whole enormous vessel like a guitar string, making her hum and rattle along in harmony. Every step he took was suddenly and unbelievably light. In a moment of carelessness, he would fly high off the deck, arms flailing, but the drive would always bring him back down, safe and sound, cradling him in soft hands. It was magical.

It lasted for three whole weeks.


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Excerpt from BRAKING DAY by Adam Oyebanji, published by DAW Books, Inc. Copyright © 2022 by Adam Oyebanji.