“Asher, can you tell me if what he is saying is true?” I asked.
Emeric shot me a cold look as everyone turned their attention to Asher, and I waited eagerly for him to respond.
“I should be able to,” he said slowly, “but I’ll need to hop on a computer.”
Skyler shifted around the side of the bunk and grabbed the tablet off his bed. “Here you go,” he handed the tablet to Asher with a rehearsed charming grin. “Happy to help.”
Asher nodded and walked to the pool table. He leaned on the edge of it, his legs crossed at the ankles. He pushed up his glasses and began tapping away on the tablet.
“Don’t think for a second that being nice to a member of my crew changes anything,” Emeric said with a hardened stare.
“Definitely not.” Skyler said with a shrug. “But let me ask you this, why would I try and break a ship that I’m on?”
“No idea,” Emeric said through gritted teeth. “But I also have no idea why you’d hop on that pop can in the first place. You hurled yourself into deep space, asleep in an untested cryotube, with a best case scenario of getting home forty years displaced in time.”
“I call that the greatest adventure of all human history. Think about the rush of it all and the potential reward,” Skyler said coolly. “How is what I did any different than what you guys did?”
“We’re scientists and explorers,” Emeric growled. “We’re not some idiot space divers who think they’re gods.”
“I guess you just proved my innocence,” Skyler said, jabbing a finger at Emeric. His tone had taken on more of an edge and there was definitely heat in his cheeks. A vein pulsed in his temple. “How could anyone like me have any idea how to break such an advanced and scientific piece of machinery as this?”
Asher cleared his throat.
“What!” Skyler and Emeric yelled at him in unison.
“It’s just,” he cleared his throat again, “I found it. He did try and contact Earth.”
“See?” Skyler hollered, “I’m not lying!”
“About that!” Emeric yelled back. “Even the biggest liars tell the truth sometimes.”
“Guys,” I muttered, “please. Let’s hear Asher out.”
“Well, what about that other file, Asher?” Emeric snapped. “Any chance you can tell what section he was looking at?”
“No. I can only tell that it was accessed and when and for how long. Given the length of the document – it covers pretty much every scenario they could have come across – it’s several hundred thousand words long. I can’t. There’s no way to know for sure, and no way to even narrow it down.”
“No way at all?” Emeric pried.
Asher shook his head.
“Well, that’s useless.” Emeric ran his hand through his short hair. “This isn’t over, boy,” he said to Skyler. “We will find the truth. And when we do.”
“Sir,” I said, cutting him off, “maybe it’s best we all take some time to cool down?”
“Asher, lock down computer controls for LD personnel only. Dismissed!” He growled again and walked to his quarters at the front of the ship.
I glanced at Asher and met his eye. He glanced quickly at Skyler and then back at me.
“Anyone up for a game of pool?” Skyler asked.
“Nope,” I replied.
“Yeah, definitely no,” Asher said. “But I’m going to use the terminal in the corner there to run some more diagnostics, simulations and tests.”
Skyler shrugged, then flopped on his bunk. “Whatever.”
Asher nodded at me and flicked his eyes down the hall, wordlessly telling me it was okay to leave them alone.
I returned to my quarters and leaned heavily on the door as soon as it closed. I took a few deep breaths before stepping further into my room. I sat at my desk and opened up some camera feeds. I got a good angle on Asher and on Skyler, as well as Willow’s pod. I could see she was still out cold and that made me feel a little better for some reason.
I opened up a video from home, but barely paid any attention to what my family said, despite missing them so much.
There was a new feeling on the LD as everyone started to look at each other differently. I was trained in basic psychology, with a focus on the mental effects of long term space exploration. This was very similar to reports I had read about small groups in long-term isolation. Everyone was under the microscope and walking on eggshells.
As I came up from my crew quarters for our evening meal, I noticed that Emeric was nowhere in sight. He was usually the first one at the dinner table, or rounding us all up to eat with him. Instead, I concluded, he was likely in his quarters or on the bridge.
Skyler sat alone at the table. He stared down at his plate of food and moved it around the tray with his spoon.
Willow was still sound asleep in her cryo pod. I made a mental note to check on her and bring her something to eat after I had finished my own meal.
I walked over to the food dispensary and grabbed a tray. The computer said that it was an egg and spinach omelette with a side of potatoes, but all I saw was a blob of grey and light green. As I moved the tray, the whole thing stayed firm, too firm to taste good. I filled up a glass with water, and turned towards the table. I didn’t know if I should sit down and join Skyler, or retreat to my own quarters.
“If you don’t want to join me, that’s okay,” Skyler said. His eyes didn’t leave his plate. His shoulders were slumped down, as though all vitality had been drained from his body.
Before I had a chance to answer, Asher came round the corner, likely coming from the engineering section and probably wondering if we were all still going to eat together. He looked happy to see me until he realized it wasn’t Emeric sitting at the table, and then his face went neutral.
I felt even more apprehension with Asher there. I played through all of the outcomes in my mind while looking at him for some signal or sign.
Asher went to the dispensary and grabbed a tray as well. “I’m going to eat in my quarters. Would you care to join me, Anaya?”
I felt my cheeks warm. It felt rude to leave Skyler to eat alone, but I wanted to accept Asher’s offer.
With his plate still mostly full, Skyler stood up. “You guys can eat here. I’m done.” He walked over to the disposal and put his tray inside. He walked downstairs and disappeared from sight.
“I’m so glad he’s gone,” Asher said.
I wondered if Skyler was out of earshot, and realized that the whole exchange had happened without any input from me. “That was more awkward than I was expecting.”
“My offer still stands. We could eat privately in my quarters if you’d like.” Asher shot me a wide grin.
“I would like that,” I replied.
We walked side by side down the stairs to the lower level, and as we reached the final step, the ship shuddered violently. I lost my footing, and my dinner flew from my grip. I fell hard and my chin bounced off the thinly carpeted flooring. My ears were ringing, alarm bells sounded, and the crimson glow of emergency lighting flashed everywhere, making my blood look black.
“Are you okay?” Asher yelled. I felt his warm hand on my back.