Adam sulked. He thought Mr. Pin was being far too stingy with the protein bars.
He’d seen more than enough in the man’s bag for each of them to have their own, but Mr. Pin had made them share only half of one. Even worse, he’d made them wait hours to eat at all and his stomach was already grumbling!
“I’m still hungry,” Adam said, folding his arms across his chest and frowning.
“We all are,” replied Pin without taking his eyes off the control panel’s gauges and blinking readouts. “But we have to keep as much food as we can for as long as we can. We don’t want to run out.”
He turned to the boy and pointed to the floor where Emma was sleeping peacefully under one of the bulky space suits. “Why don’t you try and get some sleep,” he said.
Adam huffed and slid off the bench to curl up next to Emma. “I’ll try,” he said.
Pin shook his head and turned back to the control panel. He was too distracted to worry about Adam’s discomfort just then. After going through the escape pod’s life support systems, he calculated the craft could supply them with oxygen for no more than fifty six days. If they were still adrift after that, each of them would use a space suit, but that would only give them, at most, another eight to twelve hours of breathable air.
He sighed quietly. Of course, if they were still adrift in fifty days it also meant their little pod had gone completely unnoticed by any craft that might have been in the shipping lanes, and the option of rescue had long since passed. As far as he knew, no ship had ever travelled that far from the regular transit zones between space ports. Why would they? There was nothing worth visiting in the middle of space.
Pin confirmed the pod’s distress beacon was transmitting at full frequency and then leaned against the wall.
He looked at Emma and Adam, both asleep, curled up together like a pair of kittens, and let his mind wander back to his own childhood; to a more innocent time when space wasn’t just cold and black, but offered hope and the promise of a better future.
Back when he was a child he’d been obsessed with the government’s search for a second Earth. The project was called Eden Star, and the scientist in charge of it was Dr. Charles Le Guin.
No expense was spared to ensure the Eden Star’s success and—despite outcry from Earth’s struggling and starving populations—Le Guin captivated the world with bold claims that she and her team would launch the human race into the stars and toward salvation.
Hundreds of long range probes were launched, their sensors beaming back amazing images and sounds from the farthest reaches of space. Pin remembered his family huddled around their monitor for each broadcast, itching to see what new planets and systems were discovered.
“See, Pin” his mother would say, planting a kiss on his cheek and pointing to each Technicolor orb that popped up on the screen. “That’s where we’re going to live one day. A whole new planet. A fresh start.”
For a while, these images were enough to give humanity hope again, to make them forget that Earth’s fate was beyond their control. But, after years of searching—and out of hundreds of new planets discovered—Eden Star remained elusive.
Earth, it seemed, was indeed a miracle.
Out of necessity, Le Guin’s focus shifted away from discovering a new planet and towards moving humanity off-world and onto space ports. After that, space lost its wonder for Pin. It just seemed mundane and, well, empty.
The probes had sent enough information back to Earth to send ports into a vast array of systems to capitalize on the few planets that could be mined for gas and minerals; a dangerous business, it turned out.
Pin shuddered, remembering his own experience as a young man in the Deep Space Mining Corp. His first three years off-world he’d manned a drill ship for a company called Mariner Ore. To this day, he still didn’t know which was more dangerous, the job or the other miners— criminals most of them, driven to rum and violence by the brutality of the work. Of course, he’d done more than his own share of drinking then. Back when alcohol still existed.
Pin licked his lips, remembering the sweet bite of alcohol. Just another pleasure lost forever, he thought and looked around the small pod. It suddenly felt a lot more like a coffin than a space craft. I could sure use a bottle right now.
Pin returned his thoughts to the situation at hand and took stock of their other supplies.
He’d only packed enough protein bars for sixty days and enough water to last thirty days. But that was only for himself. He hadn’t anticipated caring for two tiny companions. With heavy rationing, he thought he could double the food rations, but their calorie intake would be dangerously low. Vitamins would help off-set the malnourishment, but alone they were useless.
Adam snorted and turned over and Emma shifted onto her back. It seemed as though the children would rise then, but they settled back into sleep a moment later.
After all they’ve been through, they need it, Pin thought. After everything they’ve witnessed.
He’d seen in their eyes that—while they were dazzled by the strange spectacle of the Tian’s destruction—they were unable to understand the violence of it all, or the magnificent loss of life. He wondered if Emma understood the fate of her father and secretly hoped the topic never came up again. He wasn’t what you would call adept at cheering people up. Luckily children rarely dwelled on the past, he reminded himself. Instead they seemed predisposed to focus on the moment, on where they were and what the future had in store for them. Living in the past was a pastime exclusively held for the old.
Pin’s eyelids felt heavy and he decided he’d better get some sleep before the children woke up. Careful not to disturb them, he lay down next to them on his back and folded his arms across his chest.
He listened to Emma breathing through her nose, each inhale followed by a soft whimper as the air left her nostrils. At first, the sound was a comfort to him, but then it reminded him of how little air they had left. Then he fell into a restless and dreamless sleep.