The feeling of endless waiting.
It reminded her of that room back in Florida, where they sat with crossed arms and watched their loved ones rise through the atmosphere. I’m reliving it all over again, she thought. The waiting. The hoping. We were there because we knew there’d be no going about our normal days otherwise. No concentrating on anything else or getting lost in our daily routine. All we could do was sit and pray things turned out the way we hoped they would. That’s why we had a special room for it: a place where we came together in solidarity and hoped our loved ones survived the launch. . .
“Please tell me you’re not napping again,” Thomas said.
Julia looked up. Her husband was standing in the doorway, his judgmental stare matching the tone of his voice. Unperturbed, she shrugged. “I wasn’t. I was about to take a look out the window.”
Thomas ducked his head under the doorway as he stepped into her unit. Beside the bed was a nightstand, containing only a couple of sets of folded clothes inside, as well as a few crew jumpsuits. Other than that, the small room was empty, minimized—nothing but the essentials.
“I guess that’s better than sitting in bed all day,” Thomas said.
“Too bad my bed isn’t by the window.”
Thomas chuckled. “Swap units with Aaron. He’s got one in his unit.”
“Does he really? He’s so—that lucky bastard. How did I not know that?”
“You know, some people wouldn’t consider that lucky.”
“Well, I do. I just want to lie here until we're there. I'd like something to stare at since there’s nothing to do but record our logs. Mine are—” Julia yawned, shifting to sit upright. “—I have mine later tonight.”
“There’s nothing for you to do?” Thomas asked. He looked up and poked the ceiling, checking if the smooth, plastic material overhead was as close as it seemed; there wasn't much free space on the Orion. His fingers remained up there, feeling for the grooves in the corners where the panels connected. “Shouldn’t you be preparing or something? You know you can borrow my e-reader, right?”
“Prepare for what? I was preparing two years before we even launched.”
“And isn’t that knowledge growing stale now?”
“We couldn’t—as if we could ever forget all that training! Like they didn’t drill it into us the way they do with kindergarteners and basic math.”
Thomas dropped his hands from the low-hanging ceiling and sat down on the bed with Julia. She felt the mattress sink where he had sat down, the green bed sheets depressing under his weight. “Couldn’t you be reading papers or something? I’m worried you’re gonna lose your mind from all this boredom.”
“Oh my God,” Julia snickered. “Back to reading again? Look, you know how many astrobiology papers they write a year because of this mission? I already read whatever Control tells me to. I don’t think I can take anymore.”
“But you need to do something!”
“I’m happy with just sitting here right now.”
“Suit yourself.” Thomas stood up again, almost knocking his blonde head against the ceiling, even though he had gauged its height moments ago. “I’m about to start a book. DeMarcus recommended A Gentleman in Moscow to me. You ever heard of it?”
“Nope,” Julia answered, annoyed. He knows I haven’t, she thought to herself. He’s just hoping if I hear myself admit it, the guilt will make me read more.
“Well, he pushed this book on me pretty hard, and since he’s already got the file on board, I might as well read it. Should give us something to talk about. He says it reminds him of classic Russian literature.”
Julia laughed. “Is that the only stuff he reads? Didn’t he start War & Peace right after we launched?”
“I think so,” Thomas nodded, walking back to the doorway of her unit. He turned around to face her. “You know, he speaks it?”
“Yeah. I think he learned back when it was still a requirement. Lucky us, right?”
“I could never learn another language. My brain’s too spent.”
“On what? Sitting around?”
“Go read your book.”
He chuckled. “See you at dinner.”
“Buh-bye,” Julia waved, blowing him a kiss, while rolling her eyes.
She watched Thomas duck his head under the doorway for the second time. The cramped spaces of the Orion were omnipresent; there was no getting away from them, no matter where onboard the vessel you were. I signed up for this, she realized. Volunteered to give a year of my life up to just sitting around and waiting, with claustrophobia to top it off. . .
How did I even get the idea in the first place? she asked herself. Did Thomas put the idea in my head, or was I trying to find something? And did I really expect the wonders of the universe wouldn’t get old, even when they were the only thing there was?
Just two more months on this damn thing, she thought. Two more months of feeling like I’m back in that room in Florida again, back where we all got together to watch the launch, the other astronaut wives and I. Look at me: I fought to get myself up here with Thomas—to be by his side during this mission instead of waiting for him on the ground—and yet it feels like I’m still down there, losing my mind, back in that room again.
Why does being up here remind me of that? she asked herself. Does it remind me of the anxiety? The same exact sense of dread I had when I was down there? Why? We survived the launch, didn’t we?
At least up here the anxiety is mostly just from the boredom, she reflected. Even if there is still some fear that slips into my thoughts because I have nothing better to think about. Down there, the fear never ended, because even if everything went fine, I had to come back the next time and do it all over again. There’s always some weather condition that forces them to scrub the launch and try again. I always felt like I would have to keep watching until the day his luck ran out. If you do something often enough, those unlikely probabilities stop being so unlikely. If you do something enough, every possibility becomes inevitable.
Two more months, Julia repeated to herself. Just two more long, unbearable months.
. . . and another seven months back after that, feeling like I’m back in that room again. That damn room in Florida.
“THIS IS DR. Fisher, checking in for mission log number forty-four. I’m reporting that there have been no significant developments since my last check-in. The spike in the power regulator’s voltage from two weeks ago hasn’t come back. Thomas will probably tell you this in his log too, we expect it was due to the extra stress the Pseudo-G was putting on it. Otherwise, I have nothing to tell you about because nothing is happening.
“We’re all in good health. I’ve been monitoring everyone’s pulse rate, blood pressure, vitamin levels, et cetera, and everything checks out. We’re handling the journey just fine. On a side note, I’d like to put in a request that crews on future missions be given more storage data—we’ve already watched everything that’s on board at least a hundred times—or, if possible, let us use the bandwidth we use for these transmissions to download something other than text files.
“Dr. Fisher signing off. Awaiting your response.”
Julia leaned forward and hit the stop button on the recorder. Before her, five different monitors curved around the front of the cockpit, each displaying their respective readings, green text against black backgrounds below the wide but short window above. Her attention on the center-most monitor, she loaded the message into the transmission queue and hit send. It would be at least half an hour before anyone responded. Already, even with the Orion having yet reached Mars, the light travel time was becoming significant, the delay in communication a nuisance.
Changing screens, Julia opened the research paper Mission Control had sent her on a previous transmission, hoping to kill time. Published in Nature, the topic the authors had chosen dealt with the salinity of Mars’s surface water in environments below 0° Celsius, where the salt’s concentration was high enough to allow water to exist in liquid form. The paper contained a few pictures of this: streams running across the planet’s surface, like veins on the God of War’s forehead.
But there was nothing new to it. Julia had read hundreds of papers like it before. She already knew everything there was to know about the Red Giant—at least as far as its habitability was concerned—and almost had to wonder why Mission Control had even bothered sending it along. The paper added nothing to the world—except a publishing credit for the researchers who had worked on it.
I sure hope I find something once we get there, Julia thought. If not active life, then at least fossils to prove it had been there—something to make this worth it. I’d be lying to myself if I said this wasn’t my only chance: we aren’t the only team with eyes set on Mars. Its surface will be crawling with teams both international and corporate within the decade.
It wasn’t long before the monitor beeped, signaling to her that Mission Control’s response had arrived. Julia was surprised. Reading the paper had killed more time than she had expected. Maybe Thomas is right, she considered. I should read more—maybe even borrow that e-reader of his.
She went back to the message queue on the center-most monitor and paused, giving the system time to load. Shooting radio signals across interplanetary space wasn’t the easiest thing to do, even today in 2041, when humanity had adopted artificial gravity and self-driving cars. Transmissions often came through distorted and with bits of information missing when sent these distances. To fix the problem, Mission Control always sent the signal twice, hoping to fill in the gaps.
She played the message.
“We’ve received your report, Dr. Fisher. Thank you for checking in. Your request for extra transmission bandwidth has been noted. Please check in again, seventy-two hours from now. We’ve attached more papers that might interest you.”
Rising out of her seat, Julia shut off the console and stepped out of the narrow, low-ceilinged cockpit, passing the back row of chairs as she stepped out. She rolled her eyes as she walked down the hallway, the dull, white walls resting on both sides of her. My request has been noted, she thought. That’s a euphemism for “no” if I’ve ever heard one.
It was a short walk back to her unit. Before entering, she came to a stop by the window down the hall from her room. The stars had caught her eye, their radiance begging for her attention, a background revealed behind the window’s rectangular shape and curved corners. They looked the same as they always did, but so far, she hadn’t grown tired of this view. Somehow, the sight of the night sky without an atmosphere to blur the picture had the same effect on her it always did, filling her with a sense of inspiration and awe when all else had grown stale. The stars would never grow old. Not when each one of them deserved to be pondered over with more time than all humankind had to give.
She clasped her hands together and began praying. It had been a while since she had done so, but something about this view had made the urge arise. She liked this spot too: it was only a few feet away from her unit.
“Dr. Fisher,” her commander, DeMarcus, said from behind her.
Embarrassed, Julia’s hands dropped to her sides. She shifted her weight from one leg to another, a little annoyed. You can’t even intervene when I’m trying to talk to You? she wondered.
DeMarcus took a spot at her side and joined her in looking out the window at the canvas of light outside. He was a broad shouldered, but otherwise small-framed, African American man with short, buzzed hair, and a face of scraggly facial hair he had never learned to take care of. “I’ve always been a big stand-up comedy fan,” he began, his arms folded behind his back. “What about you?”
Julia thought she heard something suspicious making its way into his mid-pitched, sniveling voice. Something mischievous.
“Not really,” she responded, watching him closely. “It’s just—it’s mostly just a bunch of cursing.”
“Well, you’re right about that.” DeMarcus folded his arms across his chest and scratched at his chin, his eyes on the stars outside. “Most of anything is shit, but there are some stand-up comedians who I’d regard as true artists. I caught Bill Murray live a long time ago. He was already old by then, but man, was it a show!”
“Yeah, I saw a lot of the greats; Robin Williams, Bill Maher, even Jerry Seinfeld. And I never got to see him live, but I had a whole bunch of George Carlin DVDs I used to watch all the time. He was fantastic. I’ve seen a lot of funny stuff.”
“Sounds cool.” Julia wondered where he was going with all this. She twisted her neck to the side, trying to pop it. Sitting in that chair in the cockpit for the last half hour had left her stiff.
“But I’ve never come across anything funnier than the fact you believe in God,” DeMarcus said.
Julia lowered her brow. “Oh really?”
“PhD in astrobiology. NASA astronaut. One of the world’s smartest, really,” he said. “Yet, you’re still buying into the religion stuff.”
“You know, there are more of us than you’d expect.”
“Maybe so, but you’re a unicorn in the field these days. I haven't met one of you since I was in college.”
“You almost sound happy about it.”
“I think the world would do better without superstition.”
Julia took a step away from the window and turned to lean her shoulder against it. Truth be told, she didn’t want to argue; yet she also couldn’t let her beliefs go undefended—almost no one who believed in anything could—and she found the words coming out of her mouth before she could stop herself. “You're saying—so it’s not enough to just not believe?” Julia asked. “You have to say it’s evil too?”
“Perhaps not evil, but ignorance never helped anyone.”
“Is that really how you see it?”
“What? That religion’s ignorant?” DeMarcus scratched at his chin again. “Yeah, I’d say so.”
“Have you ever pictured what life would be like if people didn’t have faith in something?”
“Most of the people I know don’t believe in anything. Your husband doesn’t either.”
“We all grew up in a culture influenced by faith, though. Your morals—I bet your sense of right and wrong isn’t that far off from the Christian version.”
“I don’t know about that. I think faith is morally wrong.”
Julia frowned. She did her best to not let her growing frustration or annoyance slip into her tone. “And how is believing in something greater than yourself morally wrong?”
“It’s not. I believe in the sun. It’s bigger and greater than me, but I don’t worship it—plus, it exists.”
“That’s not the point of faith. You can’t expect the standards of this world to let you notice the next one.”
“I see. So you know in your heart that God exists?”
“I do. Faith’s a—it’s not a rational thing, just like loving someone.”
“Love is your brain producing the chemicals that cause happiness. Sounds like a rational reason for love to me,” DeMarcus said with a smug little smile that made Julia’s blood boil.
“We’re more than that,” she seethed.
“So, show me the evidence,” DeMarcus challenged with that same smile.
“It’s not something I can just show you. You can’t understand it until you understand faith.”
“What if I have faith God doesn’t exist? What if I know in my heart he isn’t real?”
“You can’t—how could you know something like that in your heart?”
“How could you know it the other way around?”
“Because I’ve felt God.”
“And I’ve felt there isn’t a God. So, isn’t this line of reasoning a little useless? You ever read Anna Karenina? It’s a good novel, but at the end of it Tolstoy basically makes the same argument you’re making.”
“No . . . I haven’t.”
“Well, it’s pretty good—especially if you’re interested in the traditions of Russian marriage in the 19th century.”
“Not particularly. . .”
“In the book, Tolstoy argues we should listen to our hearts and not our minds when it comes to religion—which is stupid if you ask me. Still a good book, though.”
“Do you really think the world would be better without religion?” Julia was eager to get him off literature; once he got going, DeMarcus could be more condescending about it than religion. “You think we’d be better if we didn’t have a sense of responsibility to whoever created us?”
“I sure do. We do fine distinguishing between right and wrong. We don’t need churches for that.”
“But don’t we? Look, what stops a person from doing something wrong?”
“Several things. Sometimes, it’s empathy; other times, it’s fear of getting caught.”
“That’s why—isn’t that the reason people break the law to begin with? Because they don’t think they’ll get caught?”
“Well, I bet people would break the law a lot more if they thought God wouldn’t catch them as well.”
“Julia, did you lose your virginity before you were married?”
She scowled at her commander, a little taken aback.
“Why do you want to know?”
DeMarcus let out a nervous laugh. “This is relevant. Really. Premarital sex is a sin, right?”
“Did it happen before you were married?”
Julia frowned. “Yes,” she replied in a low voice. “And your point?”
“Well here’s something that's only a crime against God—not the law—and yet everyone does it anyway. So I’m not seeing how religion makes us any better—if anything, it makes us worse. Makes murderers think they can be forgiven. Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to bring yourself to do something like that if you believed the creator of the universe would still love you afterwards?”
“You’re just—you’re not looking at this the right way at all,” Julia groaned, fighting to keep the impatience out of her tone. “What I’m saying is that knowing something’s wrong comes from God. Not society.”
“But society wouldn’t work if we were killing each other all the time.”
“No, it wouldn’t, and that’s why God declared it wrong. Our knowledge of that comes from Him. See the difference?”
“But what about the premarital sex thing? That’s something literally everyone ignores. So, why hasn’t religion been able to stop it?”
“I believe there are different kinds of sin, so of course something like that won't make us feel as guilty as murdering someone.”
“But has it stopped anyone? Anyone other than a few home-schooled kids who creep everyone out because they actually do wait until marriage?”
Julia rolled her eyes. Is the premarital sex argument the only example he has? she wondered. She cleared her throat, struggling not to get too worked up. “Things would be—it’d be worse if people didn’t have God in their lives. Maybe not everyone needs moral guidance, but most do.”
“So, if the fear of God in our hearts makes us better human beings, what about religious parents who beat their kids and stuff like that? Right before we launched, I read an article about a father who nearly beat his son to death for being gay. What about that?”
Julia sighed and shook her head. She hadn’t planned on a half hour debate—especially not with someone who couldn’t tell when his interlocutor wanted the conversation to end. “It’s not like—I don’t know, DeMarcus. You’re right, people have misused the Bible—but that doesn’t take away from its meaning.”
“So, people have used religion for evil?”
“Yes. Not many people actually listen to what it says.”
“So which is it? Is religion a force for good or not? We’ve got a paradox here. If only a few people do good things because of it—and the rest do bad things—isn’t it doing more harm than good?”
“No!” Julia groaned. “It holds the world together, DeMarcus. It gives us a conscience. I’m sorry you don’t get faith, but until you’re willing to open your mind to it, you’ll just keep thinking I’m stupid—when really, you’re doing the same thing the Catholic Church did to Galileo. All they had to do was look through the telescope to see he was right about the Earth not being the center of the universe, but they wouldn’t because they were so sure they were right.”
DeMarcus chuckled. He scratched his chin and turned to look out the window again. He shook his head.
“You’re not buying it?” she asked.
“You put up a hell of a good argument, but there’s a lot more to go over in this conversation.”
“People spend their entire lives arguing about religion.”
“Were you praying when I first walked up a few minutes ago?”
“Yep. I was asking God for a chance to fight for him.”
DeMarcus laughed. “You mind putting something in your next prayer for me? Something I’ve been wondering about?”
Julia frowned, worrying worried another setup was coming. DeMarcus liked to build things up in his favor, set the stage for his performance. She could only dodge his traps so many times before she fell into one.
Cautiously, Julia asked, “And what might that be?”
“Ask him why children die in hurricanes.”
Julia waited for him to add something else. He didn’t.
“And?” she asked.
“That’s it,” DeMarcus said. “How about we pick this conversation up another time? It’s good to debate, Dr. Fisher. I’ve enjoyed this.”
“And I don’t get to leave you with any final thoughts?”
“Of course you can. Do you have any?”
“I do. When we—how about next time we talk, you tell me why you’re so interested in religion, DeMarcus? I bet it’s because the hardest person to convince is yourself.”
DeMarcus smiled. “Till next time then.”
Julia nodded and turned toward her unit. As she walked away, she listened to the sound of her and DeMarcus’s footsteps against the plastic floor beneath them—a denser surface than that of the walls, but made of the same, dull white color, which seemed to absorb the light from overhead rather than reflect it, a design sensitive to human eyes. Once inside her unit, she plopped down onto the bed, letting out a deep breath as she sank into the mattress.
Why did they always do this? she wondered. Intellectuals, scientists—everyone she’d ever met in STEM—they always have to pick an argument, throw one question out after another. Ask her to explain God, as if it was her job to do so—as if she, as a believer, could just pluck Him down from the sky and show Him to them. Even Thomas had been like that when they first met. There had been a time when she wondered if their marriage would work out because of it, the differences in their beliefs too great and prone to friction. Thomas and DeMarcus had both studied aerospace engineering before entering the astronaut program—becoming commander and landing module pilot, respectively—so it only figured that they both enjoyed debating, went out of their way to denounce every superstition they came across. In fact, though she barely knew him, the pilot of the Orion, Aaron, was the only who hadn’t picked a fight with her over her beliefs. But this came as no surprise. Most military veterans were churchgoers.
Aaron had come onboard through a different route than the rest of the crew, had joined the astronaut program through the Air Force; academics had never been a part of it. He didn’t seem to enjoy debating intellectual topics like DeMarcus did—like Thomas had, back when he and Julia were students. Though they rarely talked, Julia appreciated that, and, in a way, liked him the most because of it. It’s just so much easier to get along with people we agree with, she reflected, unlike Thomas had been. . .
Back then he had berated her constantly, not for having faith, but for not spreading her faith. He had asked her how she could date someone she believed was going to hell, how she could spend even one second of her life not doing everything in her power to save him from eternal damnation. No moral duty was greater than saving people from the worst fate in the universe, he argued. He had never let up on that, hadn’t let her forget for a moment she was damning him by not proselytizing to him. He had been relentless about it to the point Julia hadn’t seen spending the rest of her life with him.
Yet, as they grew older, he eventually lost interest in debating religion with her. It happened to most people like that; they hit college, wanted to convince everyone they were right, screamed in each other’s faces like the world depended on it, but calmed down when the real world took their energy away. When full-time jobs and family responsibilities hit, leaving no time for things like principles or beliefs.
But the rest of the people Julia had surrounded herself with weren’t so reserved: scientists, engineers, the people dedicated to the frontiers of knowledge and expanding humankind’s place in the universe; they were the only crowd left who still wouldn't let it go, wouldn't pass up the chance to argue with her whenever the opportunity came by. She couldn’t stand it. Their perception of her was all too obvious from the way they always approached the topic. Obviously, she was smart as they came, her doctorate and position were all she needed to prove that, yet they saw her as delusional: misguided, but capable; a high-functioning person with a non-debilitating mental illness. Somehow, that was worse than being perceived as stupid; at least then they didn’t think you were crazy.
I’m not delusional, Julia thought, sinking further into the mattress, trying to be swallowed up by it. I’m the one who’s capable of thinking above the cultural plane. Of course they’re all atheists. Their positions in the world demand it. The world shapes them that way; that’s what’s normal for people like them. They’re all in an echo chamber, just regurgitating what everyone else around them thinks. It’s easy for them to debate. They just repeat what they believe to each other until every angle of the argument is covered, until none of their mind is left thinking and all they’re doing is what a search engine can do. I’m the one who has to innovate on the spot, think freely, independently. And they probably see it the other way around, all because they’re just so sure I’m delusional, kidding myself about the God stuff—even though I have the same job as they do.
I’m going to discover life when we get to Mars, she decided, the drive solidifying in her mind. I’ll be the one who finds it, shows it to the world, and proves myself better than all of them. How would they like that? Beaten by a Christian. Isn’t being a high-functioning mental-case better than being normal if you’re a higher functioning person than the rest?
That’s what I’ll be, Julia told herself. The best. First. And greatest. I’ll show them that if you want to reveal more about reality, you have to be a bit delusional. Let’s see them deal with the paradox for once.
JULIA WOKE TO the sound of the alarm, a siren screaming in both low and high-pitched tones. Impossible to ignore, the noise made her jump from the bed more abruptly than if someone had dumped a bucket of cold water on her. Something was wrong, and the Orion cried out to its crew for help.
Everyone met in the cockpit less than a minute later, half awake but wide-eyed. Julia’s hair looked like it hadn’t been combed in days, and Thomas’s stood straight up, jutting out from the top of his head like a blonde fin. DeMarcus had large bags under his eyes, aging him beyond his years. Only Aaron looked like he hadn’t woken up less than a minute ago.
“What’s happening?” Thomas asked as he jumped behind Aaron to see the displays, his hand on the cockpit’s two front seats, his head ducking beneath the dials, buttons, and LEDs overhead. A large, red icon pulsated on the screen, a warning about the hull’s integrity.
Aaron said nothing, focused on the display.
“We have damage to the exterior,” DeMarcus responded, looking at Aaron’s monitor from the second front seat. He folded his arms across his chest and grabbed his chin. “How the hell did this happen?”
“Something hit us,” Aaron replied, his voice dry and raspy. He grunted like he was trying to clear his throat. “I heard something.”
“What do you mean?” DeMarcus frowned at his pilot.
“I heard a thud a minute ago,” Aaron continued. He was a large man, with thick, bulky arms; quite strong, even if his muscles weren’t as toned as most others of comparable strength. He was simply big, his genetics to blame rather than the gym. “I was up, heading for the bathroom. I thought nothing of it at first, but then I heard a few more. These were louder.”
“And you didn’t tell anyone?” Julia snarled.
Aaron glared at her. “There wasn’t time! I heard it and then the alarm went off! I’m telling you now.”
“God fucking dammit,” DeMarcus growled, slamming his fists onto the arms of his chair. He gritted his teeth. “What in the world could’ve hit us way out here? There can’t be anything for millions and millions of miles. I—I mean—”
“You sure you heard something?” Thomas asked.
“If I didn’t, then what the hell is this about?” Aaron snapped, shaking his hand in front of the display screen. “This is a hull integrity warning! What the hell else can that mean?”
“It could be the problem we were having with power dissipation. The radiators—”
“If there was that much of a heat build-up, we would have known about it long before it damaged the outside. I’m telling you, something hit us. I heard it.”
“Show the outside camera,” DeMarcus groaned, shaking his head. “Go on, let’s see for ourselves.”
“That proves nothing,” Aaron muttered. “It has a limited field of view.”
“We need to take a look, anyway. Bring it up.”
Aaron typed as quickly as his fingers would let him, his fingers dancing over the keyboard, moving through the ship’s subsystems. Julia noticed a bead of sweat forming on his brow.
“Uh-oh,” Aaron murmured, frowning at the display screen to his far left, the one he hadn’t been looking at originally.
“What?” DeMarcus asked.
“We don’t have a communications signal.”
“I’m not receiving a signal from the transmitter. We don’t have contact with Earth right now.”
A tense silence filled the room.
“You don’t need that for the camera, do you?” DeMarcus asked, scratching his beard.
“They’re on similar networks, but no. I don’t. This isn’t good, though.”
“How could the transmitter be down? Something wrong with the dish?” Thomas asked.
“It could have been hit. . .”
The room fell silent. Julia swallowed hard. If they didn’t have contact. . .
“We need an outer inspection,” Aaron said. “I don’t know what happened outside, but we’re missing several signals. We need to make sure life support isn’t compromised.”
“Thomas,” DeMarcus began, turning to look at him. “I—”
“I know,” Thomas said. He went for the door. “I’ll suit up.”
As he left, Julia began chewing her thumbnail, a nervous habit she had never quite beaten. It’s all right, she thought. He’s been on like, what, ten walks before? He’ll be fine.
With a shiver, she realized the room felt a bit colder than normal.
“Bring up that camera.” DeMarcus was hovering behind Aaron. “I want to see if we can spot anything.”
“I’m already on it. There.”
The view showed a perfectly normal image of the topside of the Orion. No signs of damage. Boring really. The hull of the ship, a white and grey, lifeless shell, told them nothing. The only interesting thing about it was the effort that had gone into building it—but now wasn’t the time to appreciate that.
“Okay good,” DeMarcus said. His arms dropped to his sides, and he grabbed the armrests of his chair, relieved.
“There’s more we can’t see than we can,” Aaron grumbled. “You know that.”
“I’m saying good that that spot wasn’t hit.” DeMarcus lifted a finger and motioned at the screen. “That’s a thruster right there. Aren’t you glad that’s intact?”
Aaron didn’t respond. For a few moments, Julia watched him out of the corner of her eye, wondering if he was always this agitated in times of duress. The corners of his mouth were creased as if he was gritting his teeth, restraining himself from arguing further with DeMarcus.
A few minutes later, they heard Thomas’s voice through the short-range communications channel. It played from the speakers on either side of the cockpit’s console.