“Well, I guess we have to give it a try then, don’t we?” Emeric said. His eyes seemed tired, and I could tell that his heart really wasn’t in the mission anymore.
He looked from face to face, and when he got to mine, I smiled and nodded.
“How do we start?” He asked no one in particular.
“We’ll have to put together some components from spare parts we have, and then strategically place them on the hull. It will take three or four days, but once it is done, we should slip right through the PEC field like it isn’t even there.” Asher explained.
“Keep me informed of your progress. Use whatever equipment and resources you need.” Emeric turned and walked towards the stairs to the lower level. “I’ll be sending a transmission to Earth about our status. If any of you have anything else to put in this data burst, please send it to me in the next hour.”
The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I couldn’t help but feel my family’s premature celebration may have been prophecy. I couldn’t wait to tell them of our success. I couldn’t wait to see their faces and know that they would be taken care of. I thought of making a video for home and sending it to all of my siblings, explaining the struggles we’d had and detailing our next steps, but I decided not to. I didn’t want them to get false hope or worry about our failure. I wanted to wait until I had concrete information to send.
Over the next few days, I saw very little of anyone other than Willow, and I only saw her when she was completely exhausted. Everyone worked long hours trying to get us ready for the transit through the energy barrier. I spent a lot of time trying out simulations of different treatments for Willow’s BCD. I tested to see if there was anything I could do to extend her life. Any way that I could get her back to Earth. As usual, experiment after experiment failed. In our off time, I tried to get Asher’s attention more than once, but his mind was laser focused. It was hard to not take it personally.
“We are ready to test the system,” Asher’s excited voice said from behind me.
As was becoming a routine for me, I was eating alone in the dining area. I was looking over a data pad with some of the top news stories from Earth that we got in the last datastream. With a mouthful of food, I turned to see him. My heart gave a little flutter and I became painfully aware of my bulging cheeks.
He was covered in dirt, his clothing torn, glasses askew and smudged, and blood trickled from his forehead, but his pearly white teeth were exposed in a near ear to ear grin.
“What happened to you?” I asked, after swallowing all of the food.
“Where’s the Captain?”
“I think he’s on the bridge,” I stammered.
Asher immediately spun on his heels and raced towards the door to the bridge. Before the door could close behind him, I heard him repeat “we’re ready for a test!”
I went over to the cryo pods, and helped Willow out of hers. “Apparently, we’re ready to test?” I asked.
“That’s great! We were close when I had to come and rest.”
“Yeah, I’m glad.”
“About the test, or hopefully getting Asher back?” Willow quipped.
I felt my face blush. “Both, I suppose.” I replied without looking at her.
Willow leaned heavily on me as we shuffled towards the bridge. Just before we arrived at the doors, Skyler came alongside and pressed the button, opening the door.
Emeric stood tall between two seats. He looked towards us and smiled. “Asher’s told me that we’re ready to test the equipment that you’ve been rigging up all over my ship the last four days.” He stepped backwards, his head almost hitting the upper bulkhead before he sat in his chair. “Positions everyone!”
Emeric turned and slid toward to his consoles. Asher took his seat, and I placed Willow in mine. I stood behind her and Skyler stood behind Asher.
I stared at Asher as he tapped away on his display. The interface changed quickly, windows appearing, text scrolled quickly down the screen. I couldn’t imagine being able to read any of it. “Ready Captain,” Asher said after a few moments.
“Activate,” Emeric said in a commanding tone.
Asher tapped a large button on his screen, and it vanished. An interface, showing a cross section of the ship appeared with several small green boxes on the top and bottom of the ship.
“Status?” Emeric said.
“Everything looks…” Asher cut himself off.
“I see it too,” Willow responded.
One of the green boxes on the display had turned orange.
“What does that mean?” I whispered to Willow.
“Asher?” Emeric said.
“One moment,” he replied.
The lighting on the bridge dimmed. The normal hum of the ship went down an octave, and then stopped. The silence was deafening. The main lights on the bridge went out and the emergency lights came on, casting their ruby red glow over everything.
“What is going on Asher?” Emeric said, over annunciating each word, as he slid back towards Asher’s station.
There was a loud cracking noise and the whole ship shuddered. I grabbed the back of the chair Willow was in to stop myself from falling. Sparks rained down on us for a second or two and then everything went dark.
I heard some coughing and a noise behind me. I turned and saw an eerie glow coming from beyond a slowly opening door. The silhouette of a man pushed through the still opening doors.
“Fire!” Asher yelled confirming my suspicions. He took off towards the blaze.
Someone pushed passed me. It felt like a solidly built man, likely Emeric or Skyler. I couldn’t tell which one it was. “Are you still here Willow?” I aimlessly let my hand wander down the seat in an attempt to find her. I touched what I think was her shoulder.
“Yes, I am.”
“Are you okay?”
“A little shaken up.”
I started to smell and taste smoke. The air at the top of the bridge started to get hazy, so I crouched down. “Don’t stand up. There’s smoke coming in here.”
“I’m gonna try to help stop the fire.” Skyler said from the other side of the bridge, his voice was almost shrill, I couldn’t tell if it was panic or excitement.
I watched as the shadowed figure exited the bridge.
“The fire suppression system isn’t working,” I said out loud, but to no one, my lungs were burning and my voice was rough.