“Time to eat, Marie.”
“Be right there.” I hit the record button. “I just want to tell you how much I love you and miss you, Vera. I know your Aunt Lucy is taking good care of you. Your mom, out.” I hit the stop button and lightly stroked the data cube with the picture of my daughter. With a sigh, I got up and went into the ship’s small dining space.
“Sorry,” I slid into the chair. I was the last one at the table.
“You know she’s grown, dead and gone, right?”
I stared at Burt Aston, navigator for our research vessel, The Albatross. “I know, Burt. Telling me every meal isn’t helpful.” The man was on my last nerve. What was it to him if I wanted to send messages to my long dead daughter? To me, it had only been two years. I saw her as a smiling ten-year-old, hair in pigtails and knees skinned. I clenched my teeth together and turned to the Captain, John Marsh. The ship’s pilot, John was the picture of the laconic, southern pilot from the twentieth century.
John raised an eyebrow at Burt but gave me a tiny nod of understanding. I was good. I wouldn’t try to kill Burt today, at any rate. Arabella brought the food to the table. As our biologist, Arabella had set up a hydroponics garden in half of a storage bay. The casserole smelled wonderful and my mouth began to water as my stomach growled.
Wendy Fernald, astrophysicist and her husband Roy, leaned forward to enjoy the aroma. “I think you’ve outdone yourself again, Ary.” Roy grinned at her as she sat down. Plates and spoons were already on the table. John nodded to Ary and picked up the serving spoon. With the precision of an engineer, John scooped the casserole in six identically sized servings onto the six plates. Burt eyed everyone else’s food.
I had to bite my tongue. We were all hungry. His overt checking of portion sizes ticked me off. “Wendy, have you found anything today?” John sipped some water then took a tiny bite of food.
That was the way to do it. Eat slowly, give your stomach a chance to feel full. Not the way Burt shoveled it in. Then he sat, watching every bite each of us took. I took a breath and sipped some water. I needed to calm down and enjoy my only meal of the day. Stressing over Burt Aston wasn’t going to get me anywhere.
“Burt and I have been studying the debris field. We can see the eddies where some debris is sucked into our black hole neighbor faster than in other spots. The Albatross seems to be in a dead spot. We’re not drifting into the hole but we still can’t seem to get out, either. If I had to guess, I’d say a tiny bit of anti-matter is holding us.”
The Captain nodded. How about you, Roy, any good samples today?” He took another tiny bite of food.
Roy wiped his mouth with his napkin and nodded. “Sucked in some manganese, phosphorous and the usual amount of iron. I gave the first two to Arabella for the hydroponics. I’m storing the iron for future use.”
“What future use?” Burt snarled. He threw his napkin on his plate. Arabella can keep on stretching our rations with the Swiss Chard and tomatoes, you can keep on storing iron but we’re stuck here and never getting out. We should face facts. All of this studying and planting is getting us nowhere. We’ve been here a year and food is running out. We’re going to die here.”
Arabella cocked an eyebrow. “Well. Aren’t you Mister Rainbows and Unicorns today?” She stared over the rim of her water glass at him.
The two of them had been sniping at each other for the last month. They’d been lovers up until then but my personal opinion was that she was as sick of his attitude as I was.
“Let’s keep it civil, everyone,” John said in a low voice. “We keep looking for a way out.” He looked around the table, catching each person’s eye. “We stay busy. We use what we find, find new uses for old stuff and keep doing our best to save ourselves.” He looked at Arabella. “Nice dinner. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Ary picked up her fork and stared at Burt as she deliberately ate a tiny bit of food.
I brought my attention back to John. “I’ve been giving a lot of thought to Wendy’s eddies. If we think of those eddies like currents in the ocean, maybe we can push the ship into one that’s heading away from the black hole.”
“We’ve tried moving the ship before, Marie.” Burt slapped his hand on the table. “All we did was stir up the debris field.”
“Maybe. That was a year ago before we knew about the eddies.”
“We don’t know what’s holding us in place.” The Captain leaned forward. “You have a plan?”
“I think we can deploy one of the shuttles on an arm, look around and see what’s actually around the ship. Then develop a plan to release ourselves.”
John nodded. “I like it. First thing in the morning.”
The Captain insisted on sitting in the shuttle’s pilot seat while Wendy and I were glued to the window and the monitors. Wendy pointed to the shuttle’s right. “That’s a black hole, right there.” I pointed at the monitors. “See the waves? Electro-magnetic.” I grinned.
“What?” John said.
“We make the ship the opposite magnetic charge. We’ll get shoved out of here so fast we won’t know what happened.”
John and Wendy started laughing. Tears ran down our faces. We were going home.