“Am I asleep?” said Pin, waking with a start.
He couldn’t remember falling asleep, but reasoned he must have. Did he hit his head?
He looked around, but it was dark and his eyes had yet to adjust. His fingers felt rough fabric on his body and he looked down to see his old space suit draped across his shoulders. He blew out a sigh of relief, deciding he must be in his work bay and still aboard the Tian.
“What a horrible dream I had,” he said aloud. “The Tian destroyed, gone up in flame and torn apart.”
“Mr. Pin!” came a tiny voice from somewhere in the darkness.
Pin straightened for a moment, surprised, and the truth came flooding back to him: the fire, Emma and Adam and their escape into space.
He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and turned on the pod’s interior lights. It was as it was before, the children there with him, Emma awake and perched on the slender bench along the wall.
“Mr. Pin,” Emma said again.
“What is it, honey?” he answered, still groggy.
“Where are we?”
“Space, of course. Where else would we be?” he answered the child.
“Where’s daddy?” she asked.
“He’ll be along shortly,” said Pin, not knowing what else to say.
“I want a drink,” the girl said.
Mr. Pin pulled a liter canister of water from his bag and poured the girl a cap full. She drank it down quickly and demanded more by pushing the cap into his face. He denied her request, shaking his head and taking it from her. To her credit, she didn’t resist him, but watched closely as he twisted it back onto the bottle.
“Is it night or day?” she asked, settling back down next to Adam who had not stirred as far as Pin could tell.
“Reason it must be night still,” Pin replied, relying solely on a gut feeling. “By human standards, that is. No such thing as night or day in space.”
“Oh,” was all she said, already close to sleep again.
“Why don’t we get some more sleep and see what the morning brings?” Pin said and turned the lights off in the pod.
Emma mumbled an inaudible reply and faded back into sleep, her tiny whimpering breath filling the blackness once more.
Unfortunately for Pin, sleep would not come as easily. His bladder was full and his back was aching from the metal floor. He envied the children’s young, nimble bones.
Moving to the waste system, he opened a small drawer and pulled out a long plastic bag. Peeling open the top, he turned away and relieved his bladder into it until it was full and warm in his hands. He inspected it to see its coloring was dark and there was a murkiness to the liquid that made him nervous. He knew it meant his water intake was already far too low.
Careful not to spill any urine, he sealed the bag and slid open a panel along the wall to reveal the round opening of the waste disposal tube. He slid the bag into it and sealed it shut again before pressing a little green button on the wall and releasing the bag into space.
Pin watched the bag undulate for a second before freezing and floating away into the distance. Then, casting his eyes around the horizon through the pod’s little window, he tried to find a sign of life. But no movement or a ship could be seen, or sign of a planet, only an eternity of stars. Of course from the limited view of the window, Pin had a very small horizon to study. In the vague and limitless world of space, it was possible that there were ships just out of sight that could sneak up on them at any moment.
He chuckled as the thought entered his mind. Such positivity was uncharacteristic of him. He looked back at the two sleeping children and wondered if they had inspired it somehow— Emma and Adam entwined beneath a dirty old space suit. At that moment he wanted nothing more than for them to be safe and enjoy as long a life as he had.
He sat on the bench with a groan and cast his thoughts back to the days of his youth; to blazing bar fights on Port Valhalla, the oily decks of monstrous drilling vessels and, of course, the choking smoke from the mines of Reah, Saturn’s moon. Such men and women he had known. Derelicts of the Earth they were, charged with taming a new frontier.
After almost forty years of trips on so many different ships it was near impossible for him to remember which was which and who was who anymore. Why was it, for example, that he remembered the bloody face of his old friend Jack Rafferty, but not who’d thrown the punch? Or why for that matter?
Pin sighed. “Thoughts of youth may be long, long thoughts,” he muttered. “But none are longer than this old mariner’s, lost in space. Right now they seem as long as the world is round and as infinite as space itself.” Then he nodded off to sleep, where youth waited to greet him in his dreams.
“Daddy!” Adam cried suddenly, sitting up and rubbing at his eyes. “Where are we?”
“Alright, Adam, my boy!” said Pin, who had been awake for some hours, watching the horizon in another vein endeavor to spot ships. “Your daddy’s safe, I’m sure, and he’ll be here soon enough and bringing a ship with him.” He put his arms around the boy’s shoulders to comfort him and noticed Emma was awake and sitting up against the wall. “So, you’re awake too, little mouse.”
Emma nodded and pulled her feet under the warmth of the space suit. Another child might have supplemented Adam’s inquiry with questions of her own, but she did not. Was it because she sensed the subterfuge in his answers? Pin couldn’t quite tell, but guessed by her nature that she was less likely to be fooled by false comforts.
“Ahoy!” called Adam as he stared out into space through the pod’s little window. “I’ll be a captain one day, like Emma’s old dad, won’t I, Mr. Pin?”
“Could be that’s true,” Pin replied.
For the first time, he noticed how dirty the children were, their faces covered in a thin layer of grey ash. He could only imagine what he looked like after fighting the fire in the engine room. Even though he knew they couldn’t spare the water, he felt compelled to wash them all so, moving to his bag, he poured some water into his hand and tried to wipe Adam’s face.
“I don’t want to wash!” the boy said, pushing Pin’s hand away and almost spilling the water.
“Stick your face in this water right now!” Pin said, pulling the boy towards him and rubbing his cheeks roughly. “We may be the only three fools for light years, but we’re not sitting around with faces like bags of soot and coal.”
When Adam had washed, Pin beckoned Emma forward. “You too,” he said and the girl slid off the bench and walked over to them without protest.
Pin knelt down to her level and Emma titled her head, casting her eyes upwards. As he washed her forehead and cheeks, watching the dirty water drip over her chin and bead down her porcelain neck, Pin was struck by the ceremony of the act. He’d never been much for religion but just then he felt like a priest performing a baptism, the girl, like the Virgin Mary, washed of sin and speaking silently to The Lord.
When she was good and clean, Pin let Emma skip back to her seat and watched her slide back under the space suit. She peeked her head under it for a moment to check on her secret box, which was there safe and sound, and then sighed contently to herself.
“Mr. Pin?” came Adam’s inquiring voice from beside the window.
The man turned to the boy as he sat down to ease his aging knees. “I suppose you can both just call me Pin from now on,” he said. “Since we’re all becoming fast friends.”
“That’s a funny name,” said Adam, wrinkling his nose.
“Well I prefer it to Paddington, my first name. Pin will do for us all if it’s all the same to you, Adam.”
“Emma is a short name for Emmeline,” the girl said enthusiastically, happy to be sharing in the conversation. “It was my mother’s name.”
“A fine name to be sure,” Pin said, noting the sweet smile that crossed the girl’s face. And what about you, Adam, my boy?” asked Pin.
Adam shrugged his shoulders. “I’m just Adam,” he said, flatly.
“Nothing wrong with being just Adam,” Pin replied. “Just Adam is just fine. Now what were you wanting to ask old Pin?”
Adam turned back towards the stars as he continued. “Well, I was just wondering about animals.”
“What about them were you wanting to know?”
Adam shrugged again. “I don’t know. All about them, I suppose.”
"All about them is a lot, so I’ll start by telling you this: There were three kinds of critters that used to roam the Earth before people wiped them all out.”
Adam ran across the pod and sat on the bench next to Emma, excited to hear all about the three kinds of animals.
“First, there were the ones that walked on land. Some had fur, others had smooth and shiny scales, and some were as bald as you and I.
“Then there were ones that flew in the sky. Birds we called them; some of which were made up of so many colors you’d think you were looking at a rainbow. They were called Parrots, or Robins, or Woodpeckers, and people would keep them in cages on account of their beauty.”
“I wish I had a parrot in a cage,” said Emma dreamily.
“And what in the world would you do with a parrot in a cage, Emma LaFarge?” asked Pin.
“I’d let it out, of course,” replied Emma.
Pin nodded and chuckled. “I believe you would, little mouse,” he said. “I believe you would.”
Pin continued, telling the children all about the third type of animal, those that swam in the waters of Earth’s vast oceans. He described how schools of fish moved together in the currents and how whales—some larger than even the pod they were in— could swallow the whole lot of them at once.
He loved the way their eyes lit up with wonder at his memories and couldn’t recall a happier morning.
When the children grew tired of hearing about animals and Earth, Emma asked Pin to tell them a story, and seeing no reason to deny the girl her wish, Pin began to weave a tale as old as time about a land before everything, where people lived in glorious gardens and slept among green trees and colorful flowers in an endless valley surrounded by tall mountains.
“In this land,” Pin said, speaking in a low and serious tone, “two royal children—a twin brother and sister—ruled justly with a shared heart. They were so close they could read each other’s thoughts, and feel each other’s joy and sadness.
“When they were awake, the world was light. And when they slept, darkness fell across the valley. As long as they were together, the valley was in perfect harmony and their subjects were happy. They were both equally beautiful, and kind, and forever young and their subjects loved them fully.”
“I like this story,” said Emma as Pin described the world to them.
“Me too,” said Adam with a big smile.
“Not so fast,” warned Pin, a stern look crossing his face. “For you see, on the other side of the mountains, there were people who lived a very different kind of life. They had nobody to watch over them, so they lived with terrible hardship. They were always hungry and thirsty and lived in great fear of fierce beasts and terrible monsters that hunted them throughout the land and gobbled up their children.”
“That’s terrible!” blurted Adam, unable to control himself.
“Indeed it was, Adam, very terrible indeed!”
“What happened next?” both children asked almost simultaneously.
“Well, if you’ll both hush up and let me go on then you’ll know, won’t you?”
The children nodded and lay down into one another as Pin continued his tale of the royal twins who ruled their world as one.
“One day, two travelers appeared in the valley. They appeared sickly and indeed were on death’s very door on account that they were at the end of a long and treacherous journey over the mountains. They were met with great kindness by the people of the valley, who fed and clothed them and eased their pain with heavenly potions and ointments.
“When they were finally in good health again, the two travelers asked how it was that the valley people lived in such glorious splendor. The people told them of their rulers, the beautiful twins who lived atop a silvery tower in the very center of the valley. The travelers were intrigued by this and asked to see the twins for themselves, and so were taken to the great tower to meet these sacred children.”
“Did they see them?” asked Adam.
“What did they say to them?” Emma piped in.
“They did see them, Adam, but they did not speak a single word, Emma. They couldn’t, in fact, because the twins’ beauty was so wondrous to their eyes that mere words would not come to them. Instead, having been raised in the violent world beyond the mountains and knowing nothing but treachery, they grabbed the girl and stole her away from her brother, away from the silver tower, away from the valley and back across the mountains, where they hoped she would bring light to their dark world.”
Both children sat up straight, their mouths agape in disbelief.
“But—” Adam started.
“Why? I mean, why didn’t anyone stop them?” Emma finished for him.
“Well, I suppose it’s because no one had ever seen such a thing. Couldn’t even imagine something like that could happen.”
Adam leaned forward, dissatisfied. “Will her brother get her back again?”
Pin rubbed his chin as though unsure of the answer. “Well, suppose she could bring light and happiness to the people beyond the mountains. And chase away the monsters and demons. Would that be a good thing?”
The children fidgeted as they thought about this. Finally Adam said, “But you said the twins were sad when they were apart.”
“Indeed they were. And while they could feel each other across the mountains, they only shared a deep sadness between them. But, they could also share the sun and moon equally with everyone and while the valley people were a little bit less happy than they once were, the mountain people were a little less sad and scared. So, you see, to steal his sister back, the prince would have to be willing to also steal away the happiness from the mountain people.”
“I think he should get her,” said Adam. “Those rotten mountain people were bad!”
“I don’t like this story at all,” said Emma with a huff.
Pin chuckled and rose to his feet with a grunt. “Well, chew on that for now. There’s more of this story to tell, but you’ll have to wait to hear it,” he said. “Right now there’s work to be done and there’s no point putting it off any longer.”
With that, Pin turned to the control panel to study the pod’s readouts. He was determined to find a way to save some air time, somehow.
When he heard whispering behind him, he turned slightly to listen. Adam and Emma were continuing the tale of the estranged twins, wrestling with the dilemma he’d set for them, and trying to figure out how everyone could live happily ever after. He marveled once again at their innocence, and smiled to himself as he continued his work.
Over the many days that past, it often occurred to Pin that most people in their situation would find the total absence of privacy intolerable. But surprisingly, the things that most people might call indecent, or would shock them under normal circumstances, seemed like nothing at all when herded together in a little shuttle and forced to live face-to-face with eternity.
Since he had no more convention than a walrus, Paddington Pin cared for his two little wards like a nursemaid would a baby; that is to say with no mind for modesty or decorum.
He helped them with their bathing and toiletry needs and fed them on a strict routine. He helped them fall asleep when their little minds wouldn’t settle and soothed them when they were cold, or scared of the dark, all the while entertaining them with more tales of the royal siblings who ruled their kingdom with love in their hearts and learned the hard lessons of life.
While none of them said it, it seemed to all three castaways that they had become something of a funny little family drifting all alone in an endless sea of stars.