“One more week. If there are no results, then we turn around and head home. Understood?” Emeric said.
“Thank you, sir,” Asher said, rushing from the bridge. Skyler left right behind him.
Willow stood up slowly from the chair. Her whole body shook and she laughed. “I think I need to lie down for a bit.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” Emeric said.
I grabbed Willow by her arm, and guided her off of the bridge. We shuffled slowly towards her cryopod. She didn’t make it down to the lower level bunks much anymore.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
“Mostly just tired and a little foggy, but the pain medications you have me on seems to be working well.” She smiled.
Carefully, we worked together to get her into her cryopod. It came alive and started scanning her.
“Any other symptoms your doctor should be aware of?” I asked gently. I knew that the more information I had, the more likely that I could stay in front of it. I didn’t want Willow to experience any more crisis situations.
“Some numbness in my fingers and toes, and occasionally my vision is a little bit blurred.”
I quickly made notes in her file, and cross referenced with the information I had on BCD. It showed a graph highlighting the acceleration of her symptoms, and how much I could do to relieve them with the medication on hand.
“But I’ve been having those symptoms for years. I just have them more frequently now.”
“Alright,” I said, “I’m sorry, Willow, but I can’t make the numbness or the blurred vision go away, and they’re only going to get worse.”
Willow nodded. “I think I’m coming up to the end of my story.”
There was something about her acceptance of her fate that made me uncomfortable. I wanted her to find the fight to live, just as she had found the drive to work with Asher and Skyler on trying to solve the mystery of the barrier. “I can’t tell you how long you have. It’s so hard to judge that, especially taking into account cryosleep.”
“But getting back to Earth isn’t an option?”
It wasn’t. All of the work I had done all agreed that there was no way for Willow to survive, but I didn’t want to tell her that. I shrugged, and tried to give her a gentle smile. “Hard to say. I’m still reviewing the data. But for now, want to eat?”
“Nah. I’ll rest first.” She smiled and closed her eyes.
“Alright, well, I’ll wait for you to eat. It’s always nicer to eat with someone than to eat alone.”
Willow smirked slightly and peeked open one eye to look at me. “You could ask Asher to eat with you.”
I could feel my cheeks turning red. I turned my face to my monitor, hiding my embarrassment before responding. “I’ll just wait for you to get up. I’m not that hungry right now anyway.”
“Sure. Whatever you say Doctor of Love.”
I huffed and focussed on reports I wanted to send back to Earth in the next data burst. I compiled information about the health of each of the crew members and Willow’s deep rhythmic breathing let me know she quickly fell sound asleep. I tried to ignore the gurgles of my stomach and the urge to grab a snack. I inventoried the medical supplies for about the fortieth time since we came out of cryo. I checked the status on each of the pods, and all were functioning normally. After a little more than an hour, Willow began to stir.
“Hey sleepyhead,” I said with a smile.
“You’re still here? Or are you back from a steamy date with Asher?”
“I’ve been here this whole time,” I said defensively. “I was catching up on work.”
“You’re always ‘catching up on work’. You must be really bad at your job!” Willow laughed, weakly.
I laughed too. “Come on, you hungry?”
Willow nodded and I helped her out of her pod. I offered her my arm for stability as we walked to the dining area. Willow sat down and I grabbed us each a tray full of glop. The computer reminded us that it was nutritionally complete, but it always looked so unappealing.
“What I wouldn’t give for a nice juicy steak, potatoes and cheesecake.” Willow sighed, staring at the scoop of orange on her spoon.
“Yeah, that would be nice!” I said. “I could go for a fresh cob of corn smothered in butter.”
“Someday,” Willow said, reassuringly. She stared at the wall display, which was currently set to a view of the stars. “Could you change that to views from Earth?”
I nodded and accessed the menu of scenery. “What part of Earth would you like?”
“I used to live in the rocky mountains. Our town was in this valley, with rivers and a lake. There were mountains and trees all around us, and if we went swimming down at the lake we could turn one way and see untouched nature and if you turned around you would see busses, stores and apartment buildings. Busy people, rushing around, living their lives.”
I nodded. “So which will it be? Nature or people?”
“Nature,” Willow said without hesitation.
I cued up the closest imagery I could find and she smiled.
“Almost like being home.”
We ate in silence for a while before either of us spoke again. Willow staring at the scene on the wall.
“Where did you live?” Willow questioned, finally breaking the silence.
“We lived on a farm, about an hour away from one of the big cities in the New North American Region. Just on the outskirts of Welland, a town that wasn’t as heavily affected by the great wipe. The farm had been in our family for years. When I left to go to medical school, my family was happy for me but nervous about how we would make ends meet. They never once discouraged me from going. So I spent my last ten years on Earth in the city, going home to visit when I could.”
“You know, I still can’t wrap my head around this Great Wipe.” Willow shook her head. “When I left Earth, things were the same as they had always been… Everyone working for themselves, governments fighting for the greater good of those with money. The world you’re describing doesn’t sound too different, the need for money is still there.”
“Yes and no,” I said. I struggled to find a way to explain. “I was pretty young when the Great Wipe happened. I don’t really remember life before it. But my siblings and parents would talk about it and we had to learn about it in school. The world before the Great Wipe definitely was not good.”
“Oh? How so?”
“Well, there were very strict laws in place for families. Just months after I was born a law was passed that families had to pass a screening process before being allowed to have children, and then only about one family in ten would actually be permitted to have a child.”
“What if you had two?”
“Law enforcement was also extremely strict. The punishment for pretty much any crime was death. This included not following the population regulation mandates. People saw this as a selective culling of the population to try and fix the problem of overpopulation killing the Earth.” I started to find my rhythm, and spoke faster about what I could remember. “Not everyone liked the new world order and factions were rising up against the various governments. If the Great Wipe hadn’t happened we would have been in the throes of a world war within months.” I let my words sink in and reviewed Willows reaction.
It didn’t surprise me to see a look of horror on her face.