Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 6: “Delayed Messages” • by Carol Scheina


Welcome to Odin III, a grubby little mining world on the dark and dusty backside of nowhere. It’s a world where everything that’s worth having is already owned by Galactic Mining, and where people come to squander their hopes and lives, working for the company and dreaming of striking it big. It’s also a world where some very strange and fantastic things have begun to happen, and it all started a little over a week ago, in a little bar called Weber’s Place, when Ray Cornwall didn’t merely warp the fabric of space/time, he totally bent it…

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

“Delayed Messages”

by Carol Scheina

As usual, when Shelley walked into the Galactic Mining Communications office, she didn’t open the tiny window overlooking the street. She didn’t want to see the gray buildings or the dusty road or the lackluster people who walked around here. Instead, she’d plastered the cement office walls with “See the Universe” Galactic Communications ads. One showed blue skies and purple oceans. Another had two suns setting over a field of orange flowers. It was just her luck that she had been assigned to the farthest, most provincial corner of the galaxy that was Odin III. See the universe, indeed.

Bored, she logged into the computer console and glazed over the messages. Strangely, the list went on far longer than it normally did. In her four months on the job, she’d never had the message box this full.

It took several readthroughs before she realized it was the same six messages repeating, and all were cut off. Running diagnostics revealed that Relay Station 1173 was malfunctioning. Messages traveled slow around here, bouncing off relay stations, often taking weeks or months to reach this isolated corner, and one broken relay could shut communications down.

Shelley punched in the authorization code to send Repair Drone 51 to the relay station and sighed. She hated activating the repair AI, but it had to be done. She turned on the earpiece connecting her to 51, as AI protocol required human oversight. The drone would take two days to reach the relay for repairs, and hopefully this one wouldn’t grate on her as much as the last one.

“Repair Drone 51 here. I am activated and on my way.”

“Great, I’ll be here.” Things were going to be boring while she waited for repairs. Shelley stared at the purple ocean on the wall and imagined herself swimming in those waters.

She sat up straight when the Galactic supervisor pushed open the office door.

“I’ve been expecting a message. It should’ve come in by now.” Popov’s voice was all business.

Shelley gave the standard response: “I’m sorry, ma’am, we’re currently experiencing technical difficulties. I’ll inform you when we’re operational.”

Popov’s face was always hard to read. The supervisor simply nodded and walked out.

Shelley let out all the air she’d been holding inside. The last thing she wanted was to get on Popov’s bad side. She’d heard Popov once went after a poor performer and the guy ended up joining the clergy to escape her. She didn’t want to end up a nun on this blasted planet.

Curious what Popov was waiting to hear about, Shelley skimmed through the half-finished messages. Four were for Joe Thurbone, the foreman for Galactic Mining, with notes about the new explosives they were using. One message was for Father Francis. Something about a delayed wine shipment. And one for Popov that started, “We know you’ve been waiting for an update about James’ condition—” And nothing more. 

Almost every message she received was a monotonous Galactic Mining memo or something involving new supply orders for beer and food. Shelley couldn’t recall a single family-related message. Space travel just took too long, and most people lost their connections to offworld relatives eventually.

“I wonder if I should let her know we have something for her,” Shelley muttered.

51’s voice sounded over the earpiece. “Regulations forbid relaying incomplete or unverified messages.”

Shelley rolled her eyes. Served her right for talking out loud. AIs were always so bossy. “But she looked like she really wanted some news.”

“There are no exceptions.”

 “You’re no fun.” She stared at the orange flowers on the gray wall and wished the clock would move faster.


When Shelley reported to work the following morning, there were the same six messages overloading her inbox, and Popov waiting. 

“Are you operational now?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, we’re still waiting for repairs. The drone should be arriving at the relay station today.”

“I expect to hear the minute you’re operational.”

Shelley couldn’t resist blurting out, “I do have part of a message. Something about a James.” 51 beeped a warning in her ear.

Popov looked startled. “You’ve got something?”

“We’re supposed to wait until a message is complete before delivering.” 51 beeped louder, but Shelley ignored it. She printed out the incomplete message and passed it to Popov. “This is all I’ve got. The rest should come in after repairs.”

The supervisor’s check twitched. “Let me know immediately once you get the rest.”

Shelley’s mouth opened, wanting to ask more but too terrified to broach any questions to the Galactic supervisor.

Popov volunteered without prompting. “It concerns my great-grandson.” The supervisor turned without another word.

As Popov walked out, Shelley took in the Galactic Supervisor’s tight black curls and smooth skin. Popov couldn’t have been more than 10 years older than Shelley, yet she was a great-grandmother.

51 beeped. “Regulations forbid passing on incomplete or unverified messages.”

Shelley ignored that. Why had Popov left her family to come all the way out here?


Hans came in wanting to send out an order for another meat slicer for the deli, but Shelley had to explain the relay problem and that they’d have to wait to send any messages.

Hans groaned. “More waiting. On top of it taking a year or more to get the order delivered here.”

“We’re doing our best to fix this quickly.” Shelley watched Hans leave, then muttered, “51, can you go any faster?”

“No. Repairs are proceeding as scheduled.”

Shelley sighed.


Father Francis stopped by next asking about a wine shipment. She mentioned that everything was delayed, and tried to put emphasis on the word “delayed.” 51 beeped warningly about regulations, but she hadn’t actually given the father any messages. Regardless, Francis didn’t look happy as he left.


The clock ticked slowly. The last time the relay broke, Shelley spent the day imagining herself under twin suns with a tanned server bringing her cool drinks. This time, she imagined scenarios that would result in someone like Popov leaving her family to come out here. A star-crossed romance? On the run from a murderous gang?

51 beeped. “I have completed repairs. All messages are incoming.”

Shelley tapped her computer panel. There it was, Popov’s complete message. She hit print and ripped the paper off before sprinting down the dusty street toward the mine entrance.

51 beeped in her ear. She tore the earpiece out.

Joe the foreman glared at her, grumpy as always, but allowed her to enter the Galactic supervisor’s office. “Wait here. She’ll be here in a minute.”

Popov’s office walls were covered with pictures of smiling faces that gradually grew older as Shelley’s eyes drifted over them.

The supervisor’s voice broke in. “The pictures were waiting for me when I arrived here. That’s my son, my grandson, and my great-grandson. They’d grown up while I traveled, and relativity kept me young.”

Quietly, Shelley handed over printout.

Popov’s eyes darted over the message, silent for a time. “People always ask how I could leave them. I always say the money was worth it. My son was born with a rare genetic disease, and the Galactic signing bonus paid for the treatment. It also paid for my great-grandson’s treatment. He has the same disease, but looks like James will be okay.” The supervisor looked up. “Every time I wonder if I made the right decision leaving them, messages like this reminds me it’s all worth it.”

Shelley wasn’t sure what to say. “Yes, ma’am. I’m sure it’s worth it.”

The supervisor’s eyes were bright. Shelley had never seen the woman seem so … human. “Thank you. Shelley, right? Your job means a great deal to people here. Keep up the good work.”

Back in the office, Shelley stared at the Galactic Mining Communications ads on the walls without seeing them. She hadn’t known about Popov’s family. Indeed, she didn’t know much about anyone here, thinking them as drab as the rocks all over the place.

Quietly, Shelley opened up the window in her office. Maybe it was time to start learning more about her new home, about the people who surrounded her. The people like Popov, who’d given up everything for her family. People like—

A young man flashed a brilliant smile at her as he walked by the window. Luigi, she thought his name was. She grinned back. Yup, it was definitely time to start getting to know the people around her. After all, she was the communications representative here. Her job meant the universe to these people.

The buildings and dusty roads outside seemed brighter, and for the first time, she thought maybe her time here wouldn’t be so bad.


Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative fiction author from the Northern Virginia region. Many of her stories were thought up while sitting in local traffic, resulting in tales that have appeared in Cossmass Infinities, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, and other publications. You can find more of her work at


Pete Wood said...

This story highlights one of the strengths of the project. Carol explores Popov, a character only casually mentioned in the first story.