It looked as if Emeric had not left. He was still pacing, or pacing again, right where he had been before. Hands folded behind his back. He didn’t acknowledge any of us as we entered.
I helped Willow into my seat, Asher stood beside me. I raised an eyebrow at him and he shrugged. Skyler stepped past him and took a seat at Asher’s station. “He won.” Asher explained and Skyler grinned at me before turning the seat to face Emeric.
“I want to hear from each of you.” Emeric said. He sounded tired. He turned and faced us. He leaned on the back of his command chair and gestured for Willow to begin.
“You all know where I stand. As I said before, I never imagined I’d make it back to Earth, and even if we don’t try, there is very little chance I’ll make it to Earth at this point. But, I think I could accept death easier knowing that I gave it my all to take humanity to that next level. That said, the rest of you have a lot to live for. You all have a great chance of making it home and living long and happy lives. I wouldn’t want you to give that up because of what I think.”
Emeric nodded. He turned his attention to Skyler, and gestured for Skyler to speak.
“I think we should do it. That’s what we’re all out here to do. And what’s life without risk? I say we go for it.”
Emeric nodded again. He rubbed his hands over his face, his weariness was quite obvious.
“Asher?” He said without looking at him.
“You know I want to try. We are so close. We’ve tried so hard. I think Dio will be with us on this last leg of the mission. I keep praying for his blessing that we can get through this and get home.”
Emeric let out a long breath. “Anaya?”
I thought for a moment before I spoke. My lips were dry. I weighed all of my thoughts and emotions about turning for home versus trying the barrier one last time. I thought of my siblings’ faces, I thought of the possibility that I may never see any of them again. I let out a long breath that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding.
“There’s a lot of risks, and a lot of unknowns,” I began, “we’ve already had some serious complications. Part of me thinks our best option is to turn around now, and head for home. But if we do that, we go home empty handed, and with more questions than answers. I know we may regret the decision to try again, but I think we’d also regret not trying again. I have given this a lot of thought, and I think we should try again.”
Emeric closed his eyes. He seemed much older to me in that moment. “You’re all in agreement. You understand that this could very well be a one way trip.” He paused, and folded his arms across his chest. “This goes against my better judgement, and I will be saying so in my report, but we’ll do it. One last try at the barrier. After that, if we can, and regardless of the outcome, we will head for home. Do we have an agreement?”
We all nodded and said some form of affirmation.
“Alright. Go have dinner, rest, and we’ll try this in the morning.”
“Would you all like to eat together, like we used to?” I asked.
“I have no appetite.” Emeric said, then gestured for us to leave.
“Awesome!” Skyler said, getting up from Asher’s chair and helping Willow up before I had the chance to. “I know we’ll make it this time. I have a good feeling about this!”
He helped Willow past Asher and I and off of the bridge.
Asher leaned in and whispered in my ear. “Care to have dinner with me tonight?”
I felt a small smile curl at the corner of my lips as I nodded yes.
“My quarters, in about an hour?”
“Sure,” I whispered back.
“It’s a date.” He stepped back, gave a quick grin, winked and walked away. Halfway to the dining area, Skyler patted Asher on the back and two continued to the eating area together. After grabbing a drink, Asher rushed down the stairs. Willow hung back and I walked with her.
“Hey, Willow, want me to get you a plate of disgusting goo?” Skyler asked her.
“Oh, please!” Willow said with mock enthusiasm.
They both shot me grins and waved me away.
I went to my own quarters and tried to make myself look somewhat more presentable. I brushed my hair and twisted it into a loose french braid. I took a fresh top out of my closet, I wished I had something nicer than my uniform to wear, but I had to make due. I didn’t have any makeup either, and I guess it didn’t really matter. Asher had seen me at my worst right after waking from cryosleep. I just hoped he would be able to tell that I was making an effort. I felt the butterflies in my stomach and wished that I could talk to Abarrane about Asher.
I glanced at the clock, it was time to go. I walked down the hall and pushed the button beside Asher’s door. A moment later, it slid open and Asher greeted me. His hair was damp, making his curls appear tighter, and pushed back from his face. His eyes sparkled behind his glasses, and the corners crinkled with his smile.
“Right this way.” With his hand he gestured for me to come in. He had moved his desk from the wall, and used his sheet as a table cloth. He had taken the chair from the desk in the common area, so there was a chair on either side of the desk. He had set two of the emergency flashlights standing on their ends so the lights faced up, in what I knew was an attempt to simulate candlelight. Classical music played gently over his speakers. I couldn’t help but grin at all the effort he had put in. It really did feel like a date.
“Anaya, I’m so glad you’re here.” Asher said, a gentle happiness sang through his words.
“I am too.” I said with a contented sigh.
I sat at the table and Asher served our food. I didn’t care what it was, I didn’t care the colour or consistency. I ate it and stared at the man opposite me.
“If we’d stayed on Earth, I don’t know if we ever would have met,” Asher began, “But I am so happy that we got to go on this adventure together. It’s hard to say if we’ve known eachother for years or months, but I know that I have never met someone like you.”
I could feel my cheeks growing warm and I knew they were turning red.
“I didn’t come out on this expedition to fall for anyone.” Asher paused, and his left hand traveled to the talisman of his faith around his neck.
I could tell he was nervous, and I figured it was my turn to speak. “I didn’t either, and I tried to ignore the connection because I worried it might just be a circumstantial attraction. But you intrigue me. Your quiet gentleness, your faith, your intelligence, your passion for the mission. I’m glad I’m here with you.”
“I am too.” He smiled and relief seemed to spread across his face. “I admire how much you care for others, the way that medicine is more than just a job for you. I admire your bravery, in taking this mission, knowing all that you left behind. I think you are amazing and I would love to explore what we have here.”
“I would too.”
For a while we just sat in silence, a comfortable easy silence. We finished our meal, and Asher cleaned up. I sat on his bed, and stared at the display on the wall which he had set to the ocean. The waves were mesmerizing. When he was done, Asher joined me. He pushed a stray strand of hair from my face.
“If it’s alright, I would really like to kiss you.”