“So now you start rememberin’?”
“Now we start using our heads,” Mason examined the chamber. “What are we doing on a Haven Ship?”
“Oh, a globeship. My gramma said she rode one of them,” Carter said over the comms. “She said it was the biggest thing she ever did lay her eyes on.”
“The standard is about sixty million.” Mason approached another chamber, clearing the screen and reading the occupation and cabin number of the cargo.
“Sixty million what? Inches? Meters? Freight cars?”
“You’re tellin’ me there’s sixty million passengers here?”
“Cargo. Interstellar travel isn’t cheap. They try to get as much on one ship as possible.” Mason continued clearing panels, finding mechanics, navigators and engineers.
“Still, though. Sixty million.” Carter muttered.
Mason eyed the kid and cleaned another ten chambers, drying the melted frost with his forearm. Still no captain. His oxygen gauge faded into orange as he shook out his arm and approached the last chamber of the third rank. The ice melted away, and he smiled. Success. “I got him.”
Mason brushed more frost off the panel. “His baggage is in cabin 40.” He jogged back through the chambers and Carter followed. The lift descended, shot left, and gravity receded as they slowed to a stop ten seconds later. Mason’s orange gauge darkened as the door slid open.
Carter gripped the railing spanning the circumference of the lift. “Why we floatin’ again?”
“No need for gravity in storage.” Mason glided into a passage. Numbered doors stretched into the distance and grated deck panels covered wires and tubes, like snakes in the shadows. “Why waste the money?”
Carter nodded, still clutching the rail.
“Cecilio didn’t send me to babysit,” Mason said.
The kid glared but pushed off the rail, gliding toward Mason. “Are these cabins or lockers?”
Did the kid know anything? “The cargo’s in hibernation. No need for living space.” Mason shot toward cabin 40 and pulled at the door. It wouldn’t budge. He yanked at it again and floated back. “The captain should have the key.”
“What, you gonna open him up?”
“We have to get in there.”
Carter frowned. “Your gauge is red, right?”
“Then we ain’t got time to crack eggs.” Carter drew and fired a crimson bolt. The door snapped from one hinge and Carter drifted from the kickback.
Mason shoved the broken door out into the passageway. It swayed on its single hinge as he floated past into the cabin. Carter followed, clipping the gun to his side. The glow of their suits revealed plastic crates strapped to shelves.
“What we lookin’ for?” Carter examined the crates.
“Some kind of keycard,” Mason made a rectangle with his fingers. “About that big. Should have his rank and serial number.”
Mason unstrapped a crate of clothes, ironed, folded, and stacked. An organized man. Respectable. He slid the crate back and popped open another, finding a photograph. A man—the captain—saluting before the Federal System’s banner.
“Heh,” Carter chuckled. “He’s prepared. He’s got a stash of tape and freeze dried somethin’. That’s cool.”
Mason rolled his eyes. Did it matter? He pulled out another photo; the captain smiling down at a woman.
“Hey, and a box.”
A wooden box—a record player? Did Earth still have those? He examined the photo again. The woman gazed into the captain’s eyes; her face bright and her smile brighter. In the dim glow of Mason’s suit, she almost reminded him—
“Got it!” Carter held out a keycard.
Mason dropped the photo, staring at it before he shook himself and shot toward the door. “Come on.” His eyes drifted back to the photograph, and the unhinged door swung behind him, snagging his oxygen hose and whirling him into the passageway. He caught his breath and crashed into the deck, his hands shooting to the tube, feeling the damage. It held, but for how long?
Carter sighed. “Man, I haven’t seen somebody hit that hard since—”
The hose snapped; Mason exhaled. The gauge went black and escaping oxygen hurled him through the passage. He clawed the tube, but his grip slipped, and his remaining air spewed into the emptiness. The kid sprang to his side, jabbering, but Mason shoved him toward the lift. He shivered, his head spinning. Protocol—remember protocol. He closed his eyes, keeping out the cold. His teeth chattered. Everything went dark.
15 years before
“I like that one.”
Mason opened his eyes at the sound of her voice. Cool lush grass cushioned him as he gazed to the night sky, counting clusters and constellations.
“Which one?” He squinted at the speck in the sky. “I can’t even…Pick a different one!”
“No.” she smiled.
He faced her. “Pick another. One I can actually see.”
“Well, I like that one.” She pointed. “It’s beautiful.”
He crossed his arms and squinted again. “You can hardly see it.”
“Do you even know what it’s called?”
“Nope,” she laughed.
He laughed as well. “So how can you like it?”
“I guess, even though you can’t see it, it’s still there, bright as the rest.” Her blue eyes sparkled in the starlight. “But it just takes faith to see,” she smiled. “Open eyes see past the dark, they see the light from just a spark.”
“Did you just make that up?”
“Maybe.” she turned back to the stars. “Which one do you like?”
He shrugged with a sigh. “I don’t know. It’s all the same, isn’t it? That white speck, or maybe that white speck. Or over there, look, another white speck.”
“Oh, come on.”
“Why do I need a star up there when I’ve got one right here?”
She jabbed his shoulder.
“What?” he laughed.
Her smile faded, and he stopped laughing. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“Any time.” He leaned back in the grass, gazing at the specks. “But let’s bring a telescope next time.”