As I scrubbed the black residue off of Skyler’s cryo pod, I looked around. Over several hours, I was able to make this section of the ship look close to new again with some cleaner, elbow grease, and the odd replacement parts I was able to take from the common area on the lower level. While it wasn’t mission critical, I felt as though I had helped in my own way. The cryo pods had finished their detailed diagnostics and confirmed that they were all working perfectly. I shuddered to think about one or more of the pods being broken, and what that would have meant for the journey home.
Willow had come through a few times and pulled the odd wire from the ceiling or wall. I didn’t ask her any questions and despite how tired I knew she must be feeling, she was a woman determined to complete her mission. As she exited engineering for the eighth time, I couldn’t help but notice the smile plastered on her face.
“Did you fix it?” I asked.
“It isn’t pretty, but it works,” she replied.
Asher exited engineering as well, though with much less enthusiasm. A look of discomfort was present on his face as he slowly walked towards me. “My back is throbbing,” he said before he turned to show me his still uncovered, raw skin.
I felt both anger and compassion in near equal measure. I had told him to change his uniform before continuing, to lightly cover and protect the open sores on his back from getting infected. Of course, asking Asher to not focus on the needs of the LD was like asking someone not to breathe. They might be able to temporarily stop, but they’ll get blue in the face rather fast.
I grabbed another needle for the pain, placed a layer of liquid skin bandage over the wounds, and gave him the same spiel as before about keeping it clean and safe from infection. I don’t know if it fell again on deaf ears, but I wanted to believe this time he would listen to me.
“Everyone to the bridge,” Emeric said, his head and shoulders leaning through the entranceway to the bridge.
Skyler took one of Willow’s arms and I took the other as we made our way.
Asher spoke before anyone sat. “Before you say anything Captain, I want you to know that with Willow’s help, not only did we fix navigation, but also the power system connected to our anti-PEC field emitters. We should try again.”
My mind reeled, I wasn’t sure what to think, a voice in the back of my mind whispered ‘is this really worth it?’ I looked around the room at each of my fellow crewmembers in turn, Willow now sat at my console, lips closed tight, staring at the screen, her hands poised to type. Skyler leaned against the door, his arms folded in front of him, his brow furrowed, as he stared up at the ceiling, deep in thought. Asher sat, slumped forward with his elbows on the console, his hands pushing back his curls, frustration written all over his face. Emeric paced the front of the bridge. His hands tightly clasped behind his back.
“In light of recent events I feel it is time to reassess our priorities.” Emeric’s tone was low and official sounding. He took care in pronouncing each of his words.
Skyler audibly blew out a long breath and Emeric glared at him.
“You all have to realize, we are out in the dead of space. All around us is death. We have limited supplies and only this vessel to keep us safe. If something goes wrong, we are stuck. No one is going to come and help us. If we are stuck, we die. If our hull is breached, we die. If we run out of supplies, we die. Even if we make it beyond this, what did you call it?”
“Potential Energy Conversion Field.” Asher and Willow both mumbled.
Emeric didn’t look at either of them, he simply continued pacing. His hands still behind his back. “Even if we get through this potential energy conversion field and reach our goal, how can any of you be certain that we can make it back through again? I can’t speak for each of you, but even sixteen years displaced in time, I still want to go home. I want to breathe fresh air, I want to smell the ocean and freshly mown grass, to stick my toes in the sand. I want to die on terra firma, not out here in the cold emptiness of space. Think about all we have sacrificed. Think about everything we would be risking. Do the four of you really think that making it to one Astronomical Unit away from Earth is really worth never seeing it again? Never returning home?”
“Well, I never really expected to make the return trip.” Willow said quietly, still staring at the screen.
I bit my bottom lip, keeping my mouth closed. I didn’t want to admit out loud that I wanted to go home. The prize would mean so much to my family, but giving up ever seeing them again to reach it, that seemed like too large of a sacrifice to me.
Emeric continued, “you can’t even promise me that we’d be able to communicate with Earth from the other side to let them know we have reached our goal.”
Asher straightened up in his chair and pushed his glasses up his face. “Actually, the probes are still able to communicate with Earth, so if nothing else works, we could match our frequency to theirs or piggyback our messages with theirs.”
“I am not going to make this decision unilaterally.” Emeric said after a pause. I want you all to think long and hard about this before you decide. Take some time. Go away from here. I’ll see you in an hour.” He waved his hand to dismiss us.
Without saying a word to each other, we all walked off of the bridge, I helped Willow back to the infirmary, where she got into her cryo pod and I checked her vitals.
After an all clear from the computer, I walked downstairs, and heard the distinctive clack of the first break in a game of pool. I ignored the sound and walked into my room. I opened the file of my siblings at the party they had thrown in my honour, and began watching it again.
Confusion and guilt swam through my head as I stared at the happy faces of my family. How could I let them down? How could I agree to go home without giving this mission one last try. If we returned without reaching one AU from Earth, we would return home empty handed. I would have nothing to show for my sixteen years away. How could I let my siblings down? We were all counting on that money to allow my older siblings to retire in peace, and to fix up the family farm. With that money I could move out on my own and maybe even think about starting my own family. Yes, trying to push through the field was a risk, but so was every other aspect of this mission.
Emeric’s voice came through the internal communication system. “All crew, report to the bridge.”
I looked at my clock, exactly an hour had passed.