Paused (Time Captive Book 1)

Their lives are on hold…

Dr. Valda Bashan wakes to the inexplicable—a biosphere where she and four others are the only occupants. Before this place, she possessed a life and a career. A computerized voice welcomes her to the biosphere and the job she’s apparently accepted. The terms are clear, she and her companions have to survive there for a year, and only when the time is up, will they be free.

Her companions trouble her on a deeply personal level…

Andreas, Hatch, Oz, and Dirk couldn’t be more different. Each man seems to be in the same predicament as her. No one remembers agreeing to the project or what task they have to complete. If they can’t work together, they may never be able to escape.

The first order of business: learn to get along. Though that task may be the most impossible of all, because everyone seems to be hiding secrets.

**Please note this is a reverse harem and the author suggests you always read the forward in her books. This is the first in a trilogy and the story will continue through future books.

***Previously published as Their Memoriam by Jazz Michaels, a pen name. Now re-edited and proofed for re-release.

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Read Chapter One

From the journals of Valda Bashan

What happens in life writes a story in the flesh. Those words, you could say, were the mantra of my childhood. My parents were a Romeo and Juliet love story in an age where science and religion were once again on the precipice of war. Does that sound a little melodramatic? Maybe. To me, they were always my parents. I didn’t understand the significant issues confronting not only their relationship, but also their alliance.

Papa was a nuclear physicist. He was all about creating clean energy sources. Zero toxins for the environment, security for his people—a win-win. Mama was a bio-engineer who wanted to create vaccines against even genetic markers which could go awry in the body.

They were on the cutting edge of their fields, and they met at a masquerade ball. Weird, right? The masquerade was during a conference in Switzerland. All the greatest minds of three generations gathered in one place at an open forum geared toward sharing. Papa said that when everyone knows the secret, no one tries to ferret out the truth. Mama believed more minds were better than none.

Then there was a party, and as always, there was alcohol. Mama and Papa spent an entire evening dancing. This, of course, was my favorite part of the story. They weren’t scientists or zealots—they were people, and they fell in love…or at least, very much in lust. They adored each other, and after the conference, they began a correspondence which both saw as innocent. After all, they were in two different fields. It shouldn’t matter that one was from Russia and the other the United States—or that one was Muslim and the other a devout atheist.

Science was their language, their passion.

It never occurred to either of them that their governments would see their liaisons as traitorous, or that religious groups would paint them as monsters. They wanted to help people. However, in politics, the way you win is to point out someone different and label them as the source of your problems.

During the pandemic of 2024, the world learned that Aloria Bashan—a Russian bio-engineer in Novosibirsk, Siberia—worked for a vector institute on viruses, adapting them to reprogram DNA. Clearly, she was the source of the problem. It wasn’t long before the news raced around the world…even faster than the illness sweeping through schools, hospitals, and airports.

The news showed three kinds of images—men in hazmat suits, smoking rubble filled with bodies, and Aloria Bashan’s face. She was the source of their problems. She was to blame. Russian military forces raided the complex, mercenaries attacked it, and rebels destroyed the nearby town.

What no one had realized at the time was that Carter Edgland had arrived in Siberia mere hours before the first news story broke. During a secure briefing with the head of his laboratory on security protocols, he’d learned they would be moving all dangerous materials off site in preparation for power losses.

People were afraid, and they were blaming scientists. Heightened security would protect the nuclear material and other dangerous substances in their care. As an offhand mention, Aloria Bashan’s name came up. After securing his station and signing off on his materials, Carter left the lab and took a flight to Russia.

Perhaps I romanticize this part too much, but there was a pandemic. Travel anywhere was dangerous; no one knew where the virus originated or how long it would be airborne. Papa’s credentials allowed him to clear through security channels. No one knew why he was there, but his papers all declared he had orders, so he passed unmolested.

He drove to Novosibirsk, collected Aloria, and then continued south and east through Asia. By the time the raid took place to arrest my mother, she was in the South Pacific with my father on a small island in the chain which housed Fiji. Mama said the next years were a dream for them—isolated, free, and together.

I was born there nine months to the day from when they arrived. Our life was perfect. More than three thousand scientists were killed during the purge of 2024 and 2025. Most were victims of protestor violence and terrorist attacks. Religion stepped into the fray in the form of clerics, priests, and ministers, who promised that prayer—and living according to scripture, the Koran, or some other religious text—would see them through this second Dark Age.

For the record, the internet never went away, so the label was more for creating headlines than it was for real events. Still, people believed science failed them all, and that was probably the worst virus of all.

On what should be my fortieth birthday, I woke from a lifepod. I’d lost weight. I was pale. The warm rich tan of my life had faded to a sickly shade of gold—it looked more like jaundice than sun kissed skin. My hair was too long and my nails too long.

I was freezing, and my muscles were cramping. I also had a headache.

Even as I catalogued each of these items, I studied my sterile surroundings.

I knew who I was. I knew where I’d been, but I didn’t know where I was. A digital display on the wall scrolled the date, the time, and my vitals. All evidence said I was forty, yet my last memory was New Year’s Eve the year I turned thirty-five.

Papa always said, “What happens in life writes a story in the flesh.”

After I threw up, I would have to get to work on deciphering mine.

Day Zero – Biosphere One

“Welcome, Dr. Valda Bashan.” A computerized voice penetrated the fog of waking up with the worst hangover. “You will find an IV bag with fluids and nutrients on a table to the left. Please attach it to the port already placed in your arm. Your vitals are registering in the acceptable range.”

The disembodied voice kept talking while I fumbled with the attachment. Outside of the pod, it was cold, and a shiver worked over my flesh.

The computerized voice had an almost feminine hint to it, but there was too much mechanical to give it any warmth. “Current temperature is 15 degrees centigrade. Heaters are adjusting to warm the room to 25 degrees.”

I had no moisture in my mouth to do more than grunt an acknowledgement. The tubing fit where it was supposed to, and I released the cap on the bag so that fluids would begin to drip. The cold penetrated my arm, but it was an illusion. I was chilled.

Sinking onto the edge of a chair next to the stand holding my IV bag, I tried to get my brain to cooperate. The surroundings were unfamiliar and far too white. The lack of color hurt my eyes.

“Whe…?” The word wouldn’t come out. I tried to lick my lips. They were so parched, I half-expected them to be cracked or bleeding, but they were just dry. Saliva seemed to be a precious resource, so I tried to swallow a little, then tried again. “Where?”

Speaking should not require so much damn effort. The teeth chattering began, a good sign. If my body could begin involuntary motion, then it was warming up.

A white nylon bodysuit hugged my legs and torso. The fabric seemed like a second skin, but the more I trembled, the more it seemed to itch.

“You are currently located in Suite 101 of the Biosphere One project.”

Project? What the hell was the computer talking about? Lifting my head, even though it seemed to weigh a ton, I managed to lean back in the chair. The effort was exhausting. The bag was a third down, but my thoughts were still foggy. It was taking time to get my bearings.

Gradually, the display came into sharp relief. The IV was definitely doing its job. I could see the data more clearly—my name and vitals were listed next to a full body scan image. Blue and red highlighted along my extremities. A heat and cold pattern?

“Who am I?” The words came out hoarse, but no longer a croak. Was there actual water to drink in the room? Beyond the sitting area where I settled, there were two doors. Hopefully, one led to a bathroom.

“Dr. Valda Bashan, lead researcher at Biosphere One. Security clearance: Delta.”

Lead researcher? The hangover needed to go away. When did I become a lead researcher? I worked alone and only consulted with a rarified few. The world still held scientists in deep contempt. Signing onto a project was tantamount to putting a target on my back, particularly with my last name.

“Parameters of program?”

“The Biosphere One is an isolation project for determining colonization of inhospitable worlds.”

Inhospitable worlds. Planetary colonization?

A dull thud began behind my eyes, and I reached up with my free hand to massage the temple.

“Date of project inception?” Since my brain wasn’t cooperating.

“Today. September 13, 2065.” I was still grappling with the date when the computer added, “A pain reliever can be found in the dispensary on the wall. The recommended dosage is 500 milligrams of acetaminophen, 500 milligrams of aspirin, and fifty milligrams of caffeine. Please take with water and a protein bar to prevent stomach acid regurgitation.”

Helpful.

Rising, I tested the strength in my legs. They were still wobbly. Using the IV stand for balance, I walked to the dispensary. The organization of the listed medications made preparing a spray easy enough. My hands were shaking as I added the components to the injector. Right eye twitching in time to the throbbing in my head, I put the injector to my arm and pressed the release. The sharp stab was brief, but the promised relief would take longer.

Since I was already up, I made my way across the room. The IV stand flowed easily over the tiled floor. The white was going to drive me crazy. I needed more color in this place, if I was supposed to use it for work.

The kitchen was right around the corner. A bottle of water and a protein bar sat on the island, as though I’d placed it there for myself earlier. The trembling in my extremities increased the longer I was on my feet. Carrying the supplies, I returned to the chair outside the lifepod.

It took a moment to get the packaging opened, but the water tasted fantastic. The coldness on my throat soothed the rawness.

Lifepod.

Lifepods were theoretical constructs for deep space travel. They allowed passengers to slow the natural aging and damaging process of years aboard a ship to reach another celestial body.

The sinking feeling in my gut couldn’t be ignored.

I’d come out of a lifepod into a room so barren of personality and color, it was practically institutional.

“Am I still on Earth?”

“I do not recognize that inquiry.”

Really, now the computer didn’t want to provide helpful data? The concept couldn’t be that theoretical if I’d just come out of one. They were being studied in limited capacity for protecting seed storage and food supplies, particularly after the fall of genetically modified crops and the toxic poisoning of so many fields.

If I’d been in one, it would explain the weight loss, the dehydration, the mild shock, and the need for supplies ready and waiting for my emergence.

But how long had I been in it?

Tearing the wrapping on the protein bar was easier than actually eating it. Cardboard had more texture than this nutrient dense monstrosity. Forcing myself to chew it, I considered the next reasonable question besides what the hell had I gotten myself into? I worked alone. I researched obscure segments of the population. Vaccines had fallen out of popularity after the pandemic. Mortality rates skyrocketed in what had once been First World countries while Third World regions were accumulating wealth and power—they’d already been through the crucible of not enough medical care.

They were thriving.

I focused my efforts where they would do the most good, not on some insane scheme to colonize somewhere else. Humans as a species were untrustworthy creatures. We didn’t deserve what we had left of a world we’d abused, much less to pollute another planet.

After washing down the unpleasant bite with more water, I glanced at the monitor. My vitals were still steady. The heat scan had evened out, and the teeth chattering shakes had stopped. My visual acuity improved, and the bag was only half gone.

“Parameter of the Biosphere One mission.”

“Parameters require survival under independent conditions. Minimal provided supplies will supplement crop facilitation, oxygen production, and refuse recycling.”

“For a crew of how many?” No way I could do all that on my own. I was good, but not superhuman.

“A crew of five researchers, including research lead, Dr. Bashan.”

So, four more people. “Where are they?”

A map appeared on the screen, and it gave me my first real look at the layout of the biodome. I was in the north section; four other suites were illuminated in blue beyond the one I presumed outside of the green chamber which was most likely mine.

“Their status?”

The screen shifted, and four sets of life signs appeared. They were all far too low.

“All participants except Dr. Bashan remain in suspension. Scheduled awakening is in twenty-three hours and three minutes.”

Twenty-four hours after me. Fantastic. They woke the doctor first.

Hopefully, one of them would have a clue as to how I signed on. “Term of assignment?”

“Unknown.”

Stomach bottoming out, I stared at the display.

“Unknown?”

“I do not understand the inquiry.”

“Me neither.” I groaned and rubbed my head. “Do I have a workstation?” If I’d taken the job, I would have brought my own equipment, right? My personal computer? My journals?

“Dr. Bashan’s workstation is on B-Level, Medlab.”

That didn’t help. Not even with the pretty little map.

“Do I have a datapad? Laptop? Something?” I used a digital tablet. Of course, according to the calendar, that was three years prior. Images of a party, Dubai, and fireworks flashed briefly through my mind as the pulse of the headache eased.

“All personal items are located in storage.” No map appeared, but a drawer on the far side of the room illuminated.

That worked.

Abandoning the water and protein bar, I staggered over and opened the indicated storage compartment. Inside was a datapad, a t-shirt, and a pen with a chewed head.

That was it?

I lived light, but that was ridiculous. Removing the datapad, I activated it with my thumbprint.

The date on the screen matched that of the computer’s display, and an incoming message began flashing on the screen. Carrying it back over to my seat, I sank back and closed my eyes. I was out of breath.

The physical effects of the lifepod weren’t easily shaken. I needed to finish the protein bar, hydrate more, and maybe sleep for a few hours. All of which just irritated me.

Hitting play on the message, I stared as data began to scroll.

“Good morning.” The voice on the message gave me a jolt. It was mine. “You agreed to participate in the Biosphere One project. You’re in charge of overcoming all the medical aftereffects of lifepod use, while also identifying and treating any illnesses which result from life in the biosphere. The team you’ll be working with was handpicked for this assignment. In order to facilitate the project, and to not compromise the results, you will have access to only what you know, what you remember, and what is present in the biosphere. Good luck.”

I replayed the message three times, searching for some hidden meaning. I’d sounded so clinical, detached, and even the good luck wasn’t very encouraging.

Switching screens, I opened my journal. It was blank.

That was enough to make me want to vomit. I documented all of my work. It was important to be meticulous. It was all gone.

Decades of work—gone.

“Begin recording,” I told the device. Apparently, I needed to document my time, so I would.

Then I might go throw up.