If you’ve just joined in, start at the beginning here.
Much later, Lucas returned to the bridge with a closed mug of coffee made from a reconstituted powder. Fortunately, the lack of gravity messed up his sense of smell enough that he could tolerate the brew. With his free hand, he pulled himself into the pilot’s seat and buckled in.
Earth hung low in the view out the front windshield. He yawned, then took a sip. On ship time, it was the middle of the night and everyone else was asleep. The regular hum of the ventilation system combined with the engine vibration created a sense of calm in him—everything was working as it should. He could take a few moments for himself.
Pulling his attention away from Earth, Lucas shifted to the comms screen and made a call. On the entire planet there was only one person he wanted to talk to—the same person he wished he could be with.
With a click, the call connected at the other end. The video flashed to life, showing him the face he longed to touch highlighted by mid-afternoon sun. Lucas smiled.
“Hey.” Camila grinned in return and two dimples formed on her cheeks. “I thought you were Captain on that ship, how’d you end up on the night shift?”
“We’re kinda cramped up here, and I wanted to make sure I got you to myself.”
Camila brushed a liquorice-hued curl out of her face and tucked it behind her ear. He longed to run his fingers through her thick hair. “I can’t wait until you get home. I’ve got something I want to show you.”
He pulled himself closer to the camera. “What’s that?”
“It’s a surprise,” she said with a shy smile.
“But now I’ve got to know.” He glanced back to ensure the door to the bridge was closed, just in case what she wanted to show him wasn’t for public consumption.
“Mmmmm.” She put a finger into her mouth.
“How about you give me a hint?”
“Remember our recent pussy discussion?” Her cheeks flushed red—talking dirty wasn’t her thing.
“Well...” She reached down out of the camera’s field of view and lifted something furry and black. “This little guy needed a home.”
Two green eyes fixed on him. “Mmmrp,” said the kitten, and his heart melted.
“When are you going to come home?” Her tone became more serious. “I have a knot in my gut about your mission.”
“I’ve booked off some Earth-based leave starting as soon as I get the Angler back to Maximillian Station. I figure while I’m home, I can go down to the spaceport and talk to a few people.” He shrugged. “Maybe my skill can be put to good use there.”
“Really?” She leaned closer to the camera. “You’d give up the Angler?”
“It’s about time Ash got to be a captain. And maybe it’s time we move on to another phase of our lives.”
A crash from the common room behind him drew his attention. But the door was closed, making it impossible to see what happened.
“I should go check on that.”
“Be safe, and promise you won’t do anything stupid.” Camila’s dark eyes bore into him.
She frowned. “Stupid includes being a hero.” Then her face morphed into a wide smile. “And don’t forget that I love you.” The screen went dark as she disconnected the call.
“I love you too.” He put two fingers on the screen where Camila’s face had been. “I’ll be coming home for good soon.”
Lucas pushed off the comms console on a heading for the door. In one motion, he slid it open and pulled himself through. The stench hit him first—vomit. He set the air filtration to maximum and drifted forward.
Paxton floated in the centre of the space with her back to him. In that moment, it dawned on Lucas that he didn’t even know the woman’s first name.
“Hey,” he said to alert her to his presence.
“I made it to the washroom, in case you’re wondering.” She spoke without turning his way.
He glanced towards the bathroom door and made a mental note to check the room after he was done with Paxton—he didn’t want anyone accidentally inhaling vomit. “I’m more concerned about whether you’re okay.”
“Bullshit, I suspect you’re just looking for an excuse to turn around.” She let out a long exhale and her body slowly rotated. Once she faced him, she put out a hand and grabbed onto one of the bars on the ceiling. “They warned me you’d try to get out of doing this mission.”
Lucas tucked his foot under a bar on the floor and scratched his head. “Who said that?”
“I shouldn’t say. We just need to stick to the plan and get to that asteroid. Once I have my sample, we can get back to the station and I won’t need to ever see you again.” She continued to glare at him even though her skin was an unhealthy shade of green.
Lucas consciously kept a frown off his face. Why she hated them all so much baffled him—unless she was under so much pressure she had to take it out on someone. Since Paxton didn’t seem willing to open up about her mission, or the stakes, his only choice to keep the peace on his ship was to be as compassionate as he could.
“Space sickness is a normal consequence of living without gravity. For some people, the fluid in their ears can’t deal with it. I’m sorry you feel unwell.”
Paxton didn’t answer.
Lucas nodded. “Right. I need to do a check on our course, so I’ll be heading back up to the bridge. Why don’t you take more anti-nausea meds and sleep it off?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“And one more tip—don’t move your head too fast. You’ll feel better that way.”
Without another word, Paxton drifted over to her bunk and pulled herself inside.
“Thank you,” she said in a tiny voice before drawing the accordion door closed behind herself. Once she was out of sight, Lucas pushed himself off towards the bathroom to confirm there was no floating vomit.