I looked at the list of files received from Earth, and through my tear filled eyes, I noticed that there was another transmission from Abarrane. I selected the file and Abarrane’s face appeared on the screen. She was smiling. It was so familiar but the lines on her face were still surprising to me. She had aged so much in the past eight years, but it had only seemed like six months to me.
“Hey, Anaya. I really miss you. I love getting your transmissions, but I miss actually getting to talk to you. I miss sharing with you all the little things, and getting your advice, or giving you advice. We had a party for you last week. I can’t remember the last time all five of us were in the same room. It was weird, you not being there. We haven’t gotten together as a family since you’ve been gone except for mom’s funeral.” Abarrane’s voice broke and she looked away from the camera to wipe her eyes.
A fresh wave of sadness welled up inside me as I was reminded of my mom’s death and the fact that I couldn’t even find out about it until six months after it happened. I felt so far away from home, but knowing that my mother was gone, that she had been gone for years, yet to me it only felt like a few months, really accentuated the distance and how displaced I was. I couldn’t help but be angry at myself for coming on this seemingly futile mission. I decided to turn off the video, but before I did Abarrane began talking again.
“I try to keep you here as much as possible. I try to keep you alive to the kids. We watch your transmissions together, and I am keeping a record of your journey. We talk about how far from home you are. I’ve had to explain more than once how long it takes for our messages to reach you and how long it takes for a response. I would say it’s just the kids that are impatient, but I sometimes curse the time delay as well.” Abarrane let a quick frown flash across her face before returning to a shaky smile. “We talk about how cryosleep slows aging and how old you will appear when you get back. As the kids get older, I think that they are understanding it more. I hope that one day, we can share your journey and all you accomplished with your kids.” Abarrane smiled again, then winked. “I love you, baby sister. Never forget that.”
I swallowed hard and got off my bed, blankets still wrapped around me. I sat down at my desk and opened the recording software. I selected each of my siblings as recipients of the message and began recording. “Hi Kalim, Galina, Pavel and Abarrane. When you get this message, I’ll be a year closer to home and the lag in our communications will be decreasing. I really want to tell you that this mission has been a success and that when I get home there will be a bunch of money headed to each of you. But…” I tried to keep the sadness out of my voice. I forced a smile on my face to try to keep the tears away. “But I can’t. I know it’s been a struggle at home for you guys. I came out here for all of you. I came out here to improve all our lives. But I was wrong. I never should have come.” I stopped the recording, folded my arms on my desk and let myself cry until I almost fell asleep. I picked myself up, took off my uniform shirt and flopped in bed wearing just my undershirt and uniform pants, wrapped myself up in my blankets again and slept.
Days passed quickly as everyone focused on trying to find a way past the energy barrier. My time was filled with medically supporting Willow followed by evening dinners with Asher. Most of the time, I was left, sitting in my quarters to contemplate my family, the world that I left behind, and the small community that I was stuck with. I could feel the tension in the ship rising, day by day, as the only answer that Asher, Skyler and Willow were able to give was one of frustration.
“Everyone, to the bridge,” Captain Emeric sternly commanded over the comm speakers.
I grabbed a clean uniform top, put it on, and exited my quarters. As I walked up the stairs to the main level, Asher came along side me.
“It’s a discussion on how much time we have left to figure this out,” Asher said.
“How do you know?”
“We haven’t been making any progress in figuring out what’s keeping us from reaching our goal, and our Captain isn’t a patient man. He will probably want to start heading back.”
I wanted to console Asher. I could hear the sour frustration in his voice. As we reached the bridge and opened the door, we saw that Emeric was sitting in his chair facing the door. Skyler and Willow sitting on either side of him.
“Get out of my chair,” Asher said to Skyler, and he complied shooting Asher a sly grin.
I stood behind my normal seat, which was occupied by Willow. She looked at me, her face and eyes asking if I wanted to take my normal seat. I shook my head and she smiled.
“I called you all here to discuss the progress being made on solving the mystery of the energy barrier that is stopping us from reaching our goal.” Emeric paused, and looked at each of us in turn. “I want you to know that no one is more committed to the success of this mission than I am, but part of that success is making sure we all make it home safe in both body and mind. I’m concerned about the long term morale and health effects of staying out here.”
Asher cut in, speaking as soon as Emeric took a breath. “Captain, we still have plenty of supplies. With minimal wake time on our journey home, we could stay awake for many more months before heading home. Right Anaya?”
My ears perked up. “Yes, I think we have enough supplies for all of us to stay awake for around eight more months before we would be risking running out on our return voyage.”
“I know that. I also know that the longer we stay out here, the longer it will be before any of you see your families. In the latest transmission I received from Interstellar Humanity, they ordered this ship to head home as soon as we reached our goal.”
Emeric brought up a partial transcription of the message he had received. It didn’t explain any reasons, but just as Emeric had said, the orders were to return to Earth as soon as possible after reaching the goal point.
“It does say that we should return home after reaching the one light-year mark,” Skyler said.
Emeric smiled, “you are correct, but I don’t think they expected us to run into an issue that would delay us for so long.”
“Give us one more week. What have we got to lose?” Asher stood from his chair and faced Skyler, Willow and myself. “We are so close, do you just want to give up?”
“Asher, that’s not your call to make. It’s mine.” Emeric said. His tone had become firm. “I am your Captain, and if I say it’s time to turn this ship around, then we turn it around.”
“I think we can still do this!” Skyler spoke louder than Emeric, his voice reverberated through the bridge.
“Willow, you’ve been pretty quiet in all of this. What do you think?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t think it matters what I choose, since I probably won’t be around soon, but if there is a chance I could see Earth again, even for a minute, that’s what I think I want.”
I had to hold back a tear at Willow’s words, but even though they resonated with me emotionally, I felt she was wrong. I looked at Asher and saw the face of determination.
“Just one more week,” Asher pleaded.