What Lies Beyond: Chapter 38

“It feels good to do this again”, Pack thought to himself as he scribbled away in his little book. “It's been too long.”
A shadow fell over his little book, and he looked up to see a man in a grey suit resting his arm on the top of his cubicle. “Books balanced for another night?” he asked.
“Just about”, Pack responded, crossing out another number and writing something else in its place. “That's got it.” He closed the book and put it away in his desk, then locked it with his key.
The man yawned loudly, stretching his arms way above his head. “What a long day, I thought it would never end.”
He stood up from his desk and the two of them left the room, which was now empty. The man shut off the lights behind them. “Being busy's not so bad”.
The man nodded. “True enough, it's worse to do nothing. Do you have any plans for this evening?”
“Oh, I've got some work to do and some things to sort out. I'll probably be pretty busy.”
“Yeah, me too”, the stranger sighed, drooping his head.
“Something wrong?”
“Every day, we just go to work, do our job, go home, and get ready to do it again the next day. Don't you ever wish there was something more?”
Pack shrugged. “Like what?”
“I don't know, maybe that's the problem. I just wish I had something to work for, so at the end of each day I could feel like I accomplished something.”
“You should try to enjoy the work”, he said, patting him on the shoulder. “It can be rewarding in itself.”
“The work is okay, but it's just not enough.”
They came to the exit door, and stopped in front of it. It was dark outside, and looked like it might rain. “Well then it sounds like you need to find something or someone who makes you happy.”
“Having someone to go home to really would be nice”, the stranger said, smiling wistfully. “But it's so hard to find that kind of connection. It's not something that comes around every day.” He opened the door and stood in the doorway.
“That's true...” Pack said, looking up at the sky. “But you never know, tonight could be the night.”
“Yeah, if only. I guess I'll see you tomorrow.” He waved walked out into the night. After the man had gone, Pack returned to his ship, which was waiting just outside.


“...And good work, everyone”, he said, finishing his night's address. “As of late, the ship has been running especially well and there have been no daytime incidents to report. Please continue to work your hardest so we can maintain this success.”
A chorus of “yes, boss” arose from the crowd and they all set about their business.
Pack sighed contentedly: “A shame that stranger couldn't appreciate the simple satisfaction of a job well done. I spent so many nights focusing on what was missing in my life that I forgot about all the things I used to enjoy. You can't live your life just hoping that things will go your way, you have to find that happiness within yourself”. He walked back to his cabin to set his records in order and shut the door behind him.

Just as he had finished noting down the status of the maintenance on the second row of cabins on the lower deck, there was a knock at the door. “Enter”, he said, though he was not expecting visitors.
“Sorry to bother you, boss”, said the visitor. Pack turned his chair around. It was Snag.
“Oh dear.” He said, knowingly, “what's happened?”
“Uhh, nothing, boss.” He said, quickly, folding his paws behind his back. “I finished mopping the deck just like you told me to.”
“There were no spills? And the mop is still intact?” Pack looked at him suspiciously.
He said nothing at first. Pack rolled his eyes, he'd probably spilled the whole bucket.
“...Are you feeling okay, boss?” He said, finally.
“What are you talking about? I feel fine. Are you trying to change the subject?” Pack asked, wearily. He'd probably broken the mop too.
“No boss, everything's fine. That's just it. I don't get nervous around you and make mistakes anymore, boss.”
“That's a good thing!” He said, shaking his head. “Why would you assume that would be bad? If you've finished your work, I'm sure there's more you can help out with. Why don't you go show off your newfound confidence to everyone?”
“Yes, boss”, he said sadly, and moped out the door.
“I was always nervous because I wanted to impress you, boss.” He mumbled to himself as he left.

Not much time later, he was interrupted again. This time, one of his crew arrived to tell them that they had a visitor to their ship. “Such a busy evening”, he thought, straightening his whiskers in front of his mirror before he went to see their guest. “I didn't think our current course would take us by any other ships tonight.”
As he stepped out onto the deck, he saw with some surprise that it was Sister who had come to see him again. He greeted her cordially, but she did not respond.
“I certainly didn't expect to see you again so soon” he said, politely enough. “I'm afraid my position has not-”
“She's back.” Sister interrupted him.
“Who's back?” He asked, a hint of surprise showing on his face.
“Lapse. I've found her.”
His face went blank when she said her name. “You mean it?” She nodded.
He closed his eyes and paused for a long time. “I'm glad”, he said, finally.
“That's it?” Sister said, incredulously. “Come on, I'll take you to her.”
“I- I can't”, he replied, flustered.
“Why not?” She demanded, her expression quickly turning cross. “Just what happened between you two?”
“It's been so long. I've changed so much. I can barely even remember what it was like when we were together. And more than that...” He sighed, and it was as though all the life went out from his face. “...I gave up on her. I didn't think she'd ever come back, so I stopped hoping. I don't deserve to see her now. It'd be best for her just to try to start over without me.”
“You've got to be joking!” Sister threw up her paws in utter disbelief. “You were so intent on finding her! Now she's back, and you won't even go to see her?”
He shook his head. “There are some things that just can't be taken back. I'm happy for her, I really am, but it's too late now.”

They stood there in silence for a moment, but he did not budge. She took a deep breath and shook her head. “Well, this tells us one thing: Either Lapse was never truly lost, or there's some way that someone who is lost can come back. It means there is hope for Corsair after all.”
“Yes, that's true.” He admitted. “I wouldn't have believed it, but it seems there may be a way.”
“In that case, I think we should start looking for him again”, she said. “Can I see your star charts?”

They walked over to the navigation table where Quill was hard at work, as always.
“Do you remember how to read these?” Pack asked her.
“I think so. I came this way.” She drew a line with her paw along the chart. “Could you check up here?” she asked, drawing another line. “I will head back this way.”
“I suppose so”, he said, wearily. “But don't get your hopes up. We didn't find Lapse for a very long time.”
“I just have to try”, she insisted. “If there's any chance he might still be out there.” He could see the fragile hope in her big blue eyes. He must have looked much the same to them, back then.
“All right”, Pack said, humouring her. It didn't make much difference to him where they went now, and the sooner he agreed the sooner she would leave and he could get back to his business. They said their farewells and Pack sailed off as she had indicated.


The first thing she noticed was that her arm was moving on its own.
“Oh yes, that's great”, someone said, enthusiastically. “Your technique is excellent.”
“It's happening again”, she thought. She still wasn't used to it. “Please don't let it be bad”, she hoped silently.
Lapse gingerly opened one eye and found herself staring at a picture on a large easel. In her hand was a small piece of charcoal, worn down from use. Her fingers were stained pitch black with powdery dust. She breathed a deep sigh of relief and wiped her brow, absentmindedly leaving a big black streak across her forehead.
“I can really feel the emotion in your use of light and shadow”, a man said, the same one who had spoken before. “Keep up the good work”, he finished, and he walked away.
Upon the paper was a black and white drawing of a girl staring out an open window. The interior of the room she was in was very dark, her body shaded in grey against the black, with the light falling only upon her face and the hand that supported her chin as she gazed outward toward the sole ray of light illuminating the picture. No wonder her charcoal was so worn down, the light was the only part of the paper that hadn't been rubbed over.

“Oh wow, this is so good!”, someone else said, peering over her work. “I wish I had the creativity or the talent to do something like this.”
There was a spot that needed a bit more shading. She went back to work on it, carefully applying each line in a thatched pattern...
“-You can really feel the girl's sense of longing. It's so beautiful, but sad.”
She stopped.
“Is that... you?” he asked.
“I'm me.” She said, quietly. “This is just a picture.”
He seemed flustered to hear her speak. “Sorry, I just- ... since it was so powerful... you know?” She looked at him, blankly.
“Anyway, the medium really brings the picture to life” he said, quickly. “I wish I had come up with something that clever.”
“What did you do?” She asked. He winced, but took her back to his picture anyway, which was right behind hers. He had drawn what looked like some kind of tree, with someone sitting under it, but the person was too small relative to the tree, and there were smudge marks from the charcoal all over the picture.
“I know, it's not very good.” He said, sheepishly.
“If you hold it like this, you won't get smudges”, she said, placing her charcoal stub in his fingers. “Mine is done, anyway.”

He tried sketching a bit more, nervous to have her watching him. He still wasn't doing it quite right and the picture was already a mess, but there was some slight improvement.
“It's still quite tough.” He said, sadly.
“You're getting a little better.”
“Thanks”, he said, “that means a lot, coming from you. Maybe we could get together later to talk about art, and you could give me a few more pointers?”
“You mean... you want to see me again, later?” She asked, incredulously.
He smiled at her. “Sure, I'd love to talk about art with someone as talented and pretty as you.”
She flushed red, totally embarrassed. She hadn't expected him to call her pretty, but it made her happy. Someone liked her. “I'd really like that, too.”, she said coyly. She reached forward to take his hand, but before she could, there was a loud rustling from all around her, and the others all started to leave.
“Oh no”, he said, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand just as she was about to reach it, “I'd better get going. I'll see you again sometime soon, okay?” Someone flicked a switch on the wall as they left.
“No! Wait, don't go!” she cried, reaching out for him, but it was too late. It was dark, and she was all alone again. It was just like in the picture, except there was no light at all. The ship was waiting for her, waiting to take her back to her life of solitude. Tears streamed down her fuzzy face as she slowly climbed up the ladder, back where she belonged.


“Who am I kidding?”, she thought as she sat on her bed and sketched out the image she had seen using a piece of paper and quill she had found on her desk. “Of course the woman in the picture is me.” This time she had drawn the woman with long, droopy fur, and a very sad expression on her face as she reached out towards the window. But now it seemed to her that there was something missing in the picture, so she began to sketch another figure on the other side...

“Eeek!” she gasped involuntarily as she heard the noise from outside her cabin. She quickly tossed the sketch under her bed, put out the light, and hid behind her desk. “Who could it be? Why are they here?” she thought, shivering.
There was a creaking noise as the door was pushed open. “Are you in here?” asked a voice.
She peered around the side of the desk. It was the same girl with the spotted fur from before. She had said her name was Sister or some such. Lapse ducked back around the desk. What did she want? Why did she come back? Maybe if she was quiet she wouldn't notice her.
But then she thought of the sad, lonely girl in the picture, who wanted something, but couldn't, or wouldn't, leave the darkness, and so she could never have it.
She tried to say something, but it just came out as a quiet, squeaking sound.
“Oh, there you are”, Sister said, not chastising her for cowering. “I wanted to talk to you.”

Her cabin had only three pieces of furniture, the desk, the chair, and a small bed, so she sat on the bed while Sister sat in the chair.
“Do you remember anything from before I came here the last time?” she asked.
She thought back to that awful memory she had recalled previously. “...Not much”, she said quietly, looking away.
“I thought you might not”, Sister said, a hint of sadness in her voice. “You probably don't remember this, but we knew each other a long time ago. It was so long ago, I barely remember it myself, but I remember knowing you.”
Lapse stayed silent as she continued.
“One night, you just disappeared. We looked for you, but we never found you. Not until I found you, a few nights ago. Do you remember anything about that time?”
“No, all I remember from before you came is looking down at my reflection and thinking that I couldn't believe this was real. I'm not even sure why I thought that, but I did.”
“Well, I've pieced a bit of it together. You know how we go somewhere else when the sun comes up?”
“To a dream, you mean?”
“What?” Sister asked, surprised. “Do you know something about it?”
Lapse shied back, embarrassed. “...I'm not sure why I said that, it just slipped out. But I think I heard that somewhere before.”

Sister tilted her head inquisitively, but Lapse had clammed up. “...Well, at any rate, it doesn't last forever, after a while you have to come back here. If you come back on time, you can just get back on the ship normally. If you do something wrong, you get sent back early and have to swim to the ship. And if you don't come back at all... well, who knows what would happen to you.”
Lapse frowned but said nothing.
“That's what happened to you, isn't it? You got stuck there one day, that's why you were gone for so long. But somehow, you came back, and you're here now. If you know something, please tell me.”
Once again she said nothing, so Sister continued.
“You don't know this, but this also happened to my closest friend. He's still missing. I thought maybe if you knew something, we could help him.”
“I just don't remember”, she said, sadly. “I'm so sorry. I'm no good for anything.”
“That's not true.” Sister reassured her. “You remembered that it was called a dream. No one else ever knew that. Please think carefully. Is there anything else that comes to your mind?”
Lapse thought back to the picture again. “...lonely.” She said quietly, looking down at her feet. “Always all alone.”
“I thought so.” Sister, said, standing up, which surprised her. “Come with me.”
Lapse merely looked up at her. “Where are we going?”
“To put things right.”

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