Willow’s distinctive voice, airy but with a rumble, came over the speakers as we finished up our meal, “Hi everyone, I’m not sure if you can hear me, but if you can, could you all please come to the infirmary? I really think we all need to air everything out and talk things through.”
Asher caught my eye and smiled. “Think we can do this again some time?”
“Sure,” I smiled back. I pushed my chair out and stood. I leaned over and picked up my tray. From the periphery of my vision, I noticed him looking at me and wondered if he was checking me out. I tried not to dwell on the thought for fear that embarrassment would beam from my face.
I turned and looked at Asher. He began to blush with a large smile. “Awesome. That’s great. Thanks.”
“Let’s go,” I said and gave him a playful little tug.
Up in the infirmary, Willow was sitting at the edge of her pod, and Skyler was sitting in his own. While Willow had a serene expression, Skyler wore a look of disgust.
Willow nodded to Asher and I. “Thanks for coming, guys. I really appreciate it.”
Both Asher and I nodded.
The door to the bridge slid open and Emeric marched through. “What is this all about?” Emeric growled. “For the record, in case it hasn’t been made abundantly clear, this is my ship. I don’t appreciate being ordered around on my ship.” There were deep, dark bags under his eyes, as though he hadn’t slept for days.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend,” Willow began, “I was just hoping we could talk through some things, since we’re alone out here in the dead of space, just the five of us, and what decisions we make could mean the difference between death and life.”
Emeric glared at her, and Willow swallowed hard before continuing.
“And in my own defence, I technically didn’t order anyone, I just asked.”
Those words only served to thicken the tension. It felt like some of the air had been let out from the ship and the lights had been slightly dimmed.
“Captain,” I interjected, “I really think we should hear her out.” I didn’t know what Willow was going to say, but I hoped that reason would shine through, and we could find a way back to the way things used to be. That we could be the joyful and casual crew we were while still integrating in the Raven crew.
Emeric’s glare pierced through me. For a moment, I thought he was going to yell or hit something, but he took a deep breath and with a tight set jaw and unblinking eyes, he nodded.
“Look, as I’m sure you all have figured out, I’m sick. I have a terminal disease,” Willow said and took a pause. “Well, it used to be terminal. Apparently, there is a cure now, but we don’t have it and there isn’t any way for me to make it back to Earth. So, still terminal.”
“That’s horrible,” Asher interjected.
“Yeah, I knew this was going to happen before I left Earth, so it isn’t a big surprise for me. What I didn’t expect was to meet all of you. Anyways, the disease is called Brinkerhoff-Chernobog Disease. It is fairly rare, but comes with a mess of amazingly horrible side-effects.”
I placed my right hand on her shoulder. “You don’t need to say anymore,” I said. I looked around the room, and saw the stances of all three men looking quite similar: eyes wide, barely moving. For a few moments, there was silence. I could almost see the gears inside their heads as they processed the information.
“They sent me out here with someone that was going to die?” Skyler squealed, finally breaking the silence.
“So you will get worse?” Emeric said. His face relaxed more than I had seen recently. There was even some compassion in his voice as he asked the question.
“Yes. I will get much worse, and probably half way back to Earth, I’ll die. That is, if I’m allowed to remain outside of cryo sleep as much as the rest of you.”
“Does that mean you’ll go crazy like before?” Skyler asked.
I opened my mouth to answer Skyler’s question and correct him on his use of the word ‘crazy’, but Willow continued before I could.
“Ananya is doing all she can to help reduce my symptoms, but I will have hallucinations, memory lapses, behaviour changes, and trouble with coordination as well as potentially blindness and weakened limbs in the final stages.”
I watched as Asher covered his mouth in shock. I almost did the same despite having known all of this for quite some time.
“What will happen if she stays in cryo?” Emeric asked looking at me.
Willow responded. “The longer I stay in cryo, the harder it will be on my system and the less likely I am to wake up. I would probably not survive three years in constant cryo, let alone the eight years back to Earth.”
She glanced at me and I nodded my affirmation of her statement.
Emeric folded his arms across his chest and paced back and forth. His chin was pressed into his collar and he stared at the floor. His lips were slightly pursed as he was prone to do while thinking. He also raised his right hand and touched his lips with the side of his index finger.
“There’s still the issues of sabotage and trust,” he said in a low, slow voice, still looking at the floor. “We are, as you said, alone in deep space. The three of us were heavily vetted prior to our acceptance for this mission. The two of you are wild cards. I need to put the safety and wellbeing of my crew above all else. I have seen no indication of loyalty or trustworthiness from the two of you since you came on board.”
“Captain,” I began.
“Secrets.” Emeric said, looking straight at me. “Secrets and partial truths. How can I trust them? How can I know that all this,” he spread his arms out, palm up in the direction of Willow and Skyler, “isn’t just manipulation?”
“Because I have run the tests myself,” I said. “I have been treating her. I have run simulations based on the current degradation of her disease. I can vouch for her honesty.”
“What about him? What about the attempted sabotage of this ship?”
“What about the blowing up of my ship?” Skyler snapped.
“Guys, come on, please,” I said. “Obviously trust will need to be earned. We need to work together and give each other opportunities to build that trust. I know that we can do this.” I pleaded as hard as I could. I hoped that my words were not falling on deaf ears.
“I’m going to give you one more chance. If you want me to trust you and to work together, then I expect an honest and direct answer,” Emeric said pointing at the Raven crew. “If you lie, and I will know if you do, then I’ll put you both in cryo for the journey home. I don’t care if it means you won’t ever wake up.” Emeric’s face started to turn red as he forced the words explosively enunciating each one like heavy metal bullets from an antique machine gun. “Did you sabotage Lalonde’s Dream?”
“Yes,” Skyler replied.