As if on cue, the lights flickered on and off. The noise of the ship changed as they did. When the lights were off, it was as though the pressure changed, and there was a momentary relief from the loud buzzing. Unfortunately, the darkness only served to make my anxiety spike.
“Oh, it still is!” Asher laughed nervously. His eyes flicked left and right, surveying the small space.
My unease was made worse by the look on his face. I tried to take a deep breath. My heart was echoing in my ears.
Asher adjusted his glasses, and began to speak quickly. “I don’t think you guys realize what she’s accomplished here. The ship’s systems weren’t intended to be hooked up like this. Everything has been jerry rigged to provide the minimum sustainable power and control. With very few spare parts, it doesn’t surprise me that it is now set-up this way, but it has made the whole thing very unstable. There are no checks or balances. It’s literally a time bomb.” He took a deep breath, and his expression changed, his eyes scrunched up and a hint of a smile curled the corner of his lips. “But I have to hand it to her, it is an impressive time bomb. Despite the risks, she did what she had to do to stay alive.” As he spoke he shook his head in wonder.
I opened my mouth to respond, but at that moment I was distracted by the movement of Willow from inside her pod.
“Is someone out there?” She said slowly, her voice was of a high and gentle pitch but had the gravel that comes from just waking up. She swung her arms out in front of her. Aimlessly swatting at the air.
“Yes,” I said, “there are three of us here, myself and two men. We are from another expedition sent from Earth.”
“Mmhmm,” she mumbled. “I hope I’m not totally losing it.”
I reached out and touched her hand gently. She flinched for a moment, and her face showed surprise. With one hand I grasped her fingers in what I hoped was a comforting way, and with the other I checked her pulse.
“I’m Anaya. I’m the ship’s doctor and scientist. The two colleagues that I have with me are Asher, our ops and engineering guy, and Captain Emeric Harris. Captain Harris is the leader of our expedition and also in charge of flying our ship.”
Willow noded and blinked repeatedly, squinting hard between blinks.
“You’re still recovering from the stasis and your vision-”
Willow cut me off, an eerie calm still on her sunken face, “will come back fully in about two more minutes. I know. I’ve done this more times than I’d like to count.”
“Um, Anaya?” Asher said, with a smirk and a playfully teasing look in his eyes.
“Oh, sorry! Willow, I was nodding that I understand.” Then I laughed aloud at myself.
“Ms. Smith. I could use some answers,” Emeric said. His look was stern, as though he was demanding respect and attention. It wasn’t a look that I had often seen him make since we left Earth, but during our training, listening to lectures from a variety of specialists, it was a near permanent fixture on his face.
“Answers to what?” Willow said, her tone was almost that of a child who was unsure whether or not they were in trouble.
A loud, stumbling screech came from Skyler’s cryo tube. “What is happening?”
Asher flinched, pulling his arm off of Skyler’s chest.
I moved closer and started to stroke his arm. “It is going to be okay.”
“My voice sounds funny. Did we make it?” Skyler said. His voice was still very loud, and echoed slightly inside the nearly empty metal tube that was the Raven’s interior.
“Can you feel my hand on your arm?” I said loudly hoping that he was recovering well.
“Is anyone there?” Skyler responded.
“Can we, please, move them now?” Emeric sighed.
I waved my scanner in front of both Skyler and Willow. The readings weren’t completely back to normal for either of them, but my continued high level of stress over being on the Raven got the best of me. “Yes, I think we can move them now.”
Asher slowly lifted Skyler from his cryo pod, turned him so his feet were pointing towards the docking hatch and gave him a shove. Skyler flailed slightly as he flew straight and true towards the door.
“Wait!” I screeched. “He won’t be able to walk in his current state. There’s a stretcher in the storage units across from the cryopods.”
Asher propelled himself forward and past Skyler. “I’ll get it,” he said as he moved. “You stay here.” He said grabbing Skyler’s feet and slowing his movement.
“Willow?” Skyler hollered. “Did we make it?”
Willow didn’t answer.
In the few minutes that Asher was gone, I explained to Emeric how I thought things should proceed. I would have them take Skyler first, since he was the one I was more concerned about in his recovery. I would stay with Willow while they were gone, and then go up to manage Skyler while they got Willow on the stretcher.
Both Emeric and Willow agreed with my plan.
Once both Willow and Skyler were in the two cryo pods we had reserved for them near the engineering compartment, I felt so relieved.
Asher closed the connection to the Raven, and I was ready to forget about that ship and move on towards our goal.
“What happened to your ship?” Emeric said. He was standing close to Willow. If it were me, Emeric would be standing inside my personal space bubble. It was likely a military tactic to keep people off balance and uncomfortable. I felt like jumping in, pushing Emeric aside and protecting Willow, but I was just as curious what her answer would be.
“I kept detailed logs.”
“I know you did. How about you provide me with the details that I need to know, so I don’t have to go through them all? When was the last time you were in contact with Earth?” Emeric continued to push. His tone was very unfriendly.
Willow blinked and squinted in the bright light, but kept her gaze fixed on the captain.
I wished I could telepathically tell him not to be mean to her, but had to settle for what was likely an awkward but unhappy glare.
“Well, things kept breaking, so the ship would wake me up to fix them. I am supposed to get him,” Willow pointed to her right at the cryo tube that Skyler was in, “to sixty-three thousand astronomical units from Earth so that Orbit Excel could win the AU Prize.”
“We know about your mission. Have you been in contact with Earth?”
“I had to cannibalize the communication system years ago,” she chuckled slightly.
“What’s so funny?” Emeric demanded.
“Sir,” I whispered.
“Well, it’s just that time is funny when you’re in and out of cryo… Days, months, years… They mean nothing, really.” She cleared her throat. “Anyway, we stopped being able to communicate with Earth either incoming or outgoing at that point, about year eleven into the trip I believe.”
Emeric nodded. “Do you know why our ships are slowing?” He continued to press. He barely waited for an answer before commanding for another be given. His impatience made the exchange uncomfortable. I looked at Asher and could immediately tell he felt the same way.
“Emeric, do you need me here anymore? I should probably look into that speed and engine issue some more,” Asher said.
“You are dismissed,” Emeric said coldly.