“Can you tell why?” I knew even as the words left my mouth that it was a dumb question.
Asher’s lips tightened into a white line. He pushed up his glasses, ran his hand through his hair and shook his head. “I need more time. I need to run some tests.”
It was as though someone let all of the air out of a balloon. There was a general sense of deflated disappointment. The hum of the ship’s engines continued their high pitched whine and filled the spaces in the conversation. It reminded me of our previous attempts to get through the barrier.
“How long will it take?” Emeric asked, his words were clipped with frustration.
“It depends.” Asher swiped his hands across his console, switching between views so quickly I was sure he couldn’t be seeing anything. “There are other probes not far away. If -”
“How far?” Emeric cut him off. He turned and pushed his chair back between Skyler and Asher.
“Well,” he gestured and a star map appeared on the front display. “This one is about a month away,” a red circle on the map blinked. “And this one,” another area blinked in yellow, “Is closer to six months away.”
“No.” Emeric moaned.
I couldn’t believe how quickly Emeric responded. As much as the energy and hope was draining from the room, all I could think about was my family back home, and how close we were to success.
“Captain?” Asher raised an eyebrow, his mouth hanging open.
“No,” Emeric said more sternly, shaking his head for emphasis.
“But the more data we collect, the more chance we will have to figure this out. Maybe the hole moved, or maybe the field weakens at certain points in time and space.”
Asher’s plea seemed grounded and rational to me. I kept waiting for the right moment to interject, but didn’t feel my opinion was wanted. I looked at Willow and saw the expression I was likely making mirrored back at me.
“I could try to help,” Skyler said.
Emeric shot Skyler an icy glare before turning his attention back to Asher. “I am not going to have us sit out here in the middle of nowhere for months with no guarantee of answers. Do you have any idea what my logs would look like?”
Asher shook his head.
“They would be stupid, inane drivel. Day” He rolled his eyes, “Whatever. I woke up and had my breakfast, it was green with a side of white and tasted horrible again. I checked with engineering, and we’re still not moving. Received reports from medical and engineering. Everyone is still alive, but still no answers. I ate dinner, did my workout and am signing off for the night.” He began to laugh, but it was a cold laugh. “Can you imagine my superiors on Earth sifting through months of that garbage? We can’t do it, Asher.”
“But we could be passing up on one of the greatest discoveries in human history.” Asher tapped on his console and brought up science logs relating to the energy field. “Even if we can’t figure out a solution, the information we bring back could be monumental.”
“Do you know what happens to people confined to a small space with very little to do? They go nuts, Asher.” Emeric stood up from his chair, his head brushing the ceiling. “My answer is no. Find what you can here, but we’re not going after any other probes.”
Asher opened his mouth to protest, then stopped.
“You’ve got one week, then we send a data burst and turn for home.”
“One week?” Asher sounded like a kid who had been grounded. “That’s barely enough time to scratch the surface.”
“Then you’d better get scratching.”
“I’ll need help.”
Emeric raised his eyebrow and looked at Skyler and Willow standing off to the side.
“With a few extra hands I could hopefully get more information, run more tests.”
“Fine. Willow. Skyler. You are to do as Asher tells you. I’ll be watching you both carefully. Cameras always trained on you. If either of you try anything you’re both frozen until we get to Earth. No negotiations.”
Willow and Skyler exchanged a glance.
“Well, what choice do we have?” Skyler shrugged.
“None, really.” Emeric said with a slight frown. “At least you won’t get bored.” Emeric turned back to the front of the ship and slid towards his command console.
“I guess we should start,” Asher said.
“I’m up for it if you guys are,” Willow said heading to the door.
“You should rest Willow,” I said knowing my words had fallen on deaf ears.
I watched as Skyler, Willow and Asher flowed from the bridge. As the door closed behind them, the computers beeped loudly.
I looked at my terminal and as I realized what it was, Emeric spoke. “We’re getting a data burst from home.”
“I see that. I’ll review it in my quarters if you don’t mind.”
“Let the others know that it came in. I expect to compile and send a return transmission by tomorrow after lunch.” Emeric tapped on his console and didn’t look back at me.
I walked from the bridge to Engineering. As the door opened, I looked inside and saw the trio as they frantically worked away. “We received a data burst from Earth.”
I couldn’t tell if they hadn’t heard me, or if they were just so focused on what they were doing, so I spoke louder. “Data burst from home just came in!”
After a few moments, I turned and exited Engineering without any notice. For a moment, I felt slighted, but as I walked to my quarters, I came to my senses.
I sat down at my desk, I glanced around my room for something that would provide me some comfort. I really wanted a nice cup of hot chocolate, like mom used to make. A pang of sadness hit me at the memory of home. Homesickness ebbed and flowed in larger extremes than I ever thought it would.
I stood up and walked to my bed. I grabbed the blanket and wrapped it tightly around me. I transferred the files to the wall by my bed that I usually had set to nature scenes. I cued up everything from my family and then flopped on my bed.
The first image that appeared on the screen knocked the wind from my lungs. Abarrane was in the centre of the frame, to her left was the bald head and heavily lined face of our brother, Pavel. Behind him was a white haired man, with deep set crow’s feet and hunched shoulders. It hurt me to see my brother, Kalim, looking so old. On Abarrane’s other side, with her arm around Abarrane’s shoulders was my other sister, Galina. She had some work done. Her hair was a vibrant red and there was not a line on her face. I guess she had run into some money after her most recent marriage had ended. I couldn’t help but think how much more beautiful Abarrane looked next to her.
“Hi sweetie!” Abarrane said, a wide grin spread across her face.
“Congratulations!” My siblings all said in unison. They raised glasses up as a toast and drank down the liquid, all of them were emptied.
“By the time this message reaches you, you should have made it to your goal,” Galina said. Her face was tight, but a smile could be seen in her eyes.
“We’re so proud of you Baby-Ya-Ya.” Kalim said and they all had a little laugh. They knew how much I hated that nickname. But in that moment, I just wanted to hug them, to cry on their shoulders.
“We can’t wait to see you when you get back, to give you big hugs and to hear all about your amazing adventure.” Pavel was smiling, but the corner of his mouth was tight as he spoke, and I knew he was fighting back emotions. He cleared his throat. “We miss you.” He nodded, then pushed his mouth into an oversized, almost comical smile.
“We have so much to talk about when you get back,” Abarrane said as she pushed her brother from the frame. “We’re so glad you’ll be starting your journey home soon.”
Kalim reached his arm out of view, leaned over and a moment later he and Pavel were back in their original positions. “We love you!” All my siblings called in unison before they waved.
The screen went blank and I exhaled deeply. I hadn’t even realized I’d been holding my breath. I gasped and began sobbing. I covered my mouth with my pillow to muffle the sounds. A montage of pictures cycled on the screen. It looked like a party my family had thrown. The date was from a year prior. I could see that it was to celebrate me reaching my goal, and claiming the AU prize. How could I message them back and tell them that we had come so far only to fail?