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Still sitting in front of the relay station, staring at the display, Maria had activated the cameras in the mining drones. Mostly to look around so she would see any more bodies, or signs of survivors. After two thousand years, give or take a little, the chances for that were pretty slim, but she hoped that they had made it.

“In a few hours the shipment of silicates and rare earths should arrive.” Sighing in boredom Wesley sat down on the ground next to her. Anna joined him, tired after hours upon hours of working inside the heavy clothes. It wasn’t a full spacesuit, but close.

“I need to take a dump.” She announced as if they had lived in that cavern for a month and were used to one another saying these things. “Go ahead, the suit is equipped to handle that.” Sounding just as glum as he felt Wesley buried his face in his hands.

“I can’t.” She stammered. “I just can’t do that.”

Annoyance in his eyes Wesley looked to her. “Fine.” He grunted. The two got up and retreated from Maria’s presence.

 

After two hours they returned. They found that Maria hadn’t changed position all the time. Carefully Anna approached her fellow geologist. “You all right?”

“Had to think of my kids on the Explorer. What if we end up like that guard?” In her eyes utter panic. Getting no reply from the irish woman Maria started to sob.

“Results should be up an a few minutes. I’m pretty sure that we’re clear.” Anna finally found her words. With a hopeful glance she turned back to the relay station.

With some surprise she noticed that the analysis had completed as they spoke. “He had cancer.” She stated dryly, “Or she. Otherwise the alien was healthy as a horse.” Feeling relieved she suddenly realised how much she too had dreaded a possible contamination.

“Great!” Maria sprang so sudden to life that neither Anna nor Wesley were able to stop her. Neglecting her helmet, Maria ran to the exit. The airlock door fell in aplace just as the two reached it, a moment later Maria rushed outside.

“How long can she survive these temperatures?”

“A few breaths.” Still sounding dry Anna couldn’t help but stare at the door with a blank expression.

 

Beeping the pod’s airlock closed behind Wesley and Anna. In his arms he carried Maria, they hoped that she was merely unconscious. As the airlock in the mine had allowed them to leave, Wesley had woken Anna from her shock with a slap, then they followed Maria with her helmet in hand, in the hopes not to be too late.

“She has kids. I didn’t know she had kids.” Communicating over the wireless allowed Wesley to think through any reply to Anna. He didn’t finish with that as they arrived in the pod.

Once the thin icy air in the airlock had been replaced by warm thick air from the ship, they removed their helmets, and Maria’s.

A pale almost blue face greeted them, her lips were dark violet. “Is she,” Anna didn’t finish her question, already tears were welding up in her eyes.

Clumsily Wesley freed his hand from the glove. “She’s ice cold, but breathing!” Inner doors of the airlock made a pneumatic hiss as the opened. “Medic! Lindstroem, Mustafa, get your asses in here!” Especially trained for cold related injuries and emergencies for this mission, the two rushed into the airlock.

A moment later they carried Maria away.

“What happened sir?” D’aggio saluted him lazily, months ago the strictness in the military part of the Explorer’s crew had been loosened.

“She panicked, although we’re clean. The dead alien guard frightened her.” Finally peeling himself out of the suit, with D’Aggio’s assistance, he sighed in relief. “Afraid that she might end up like him, half skeleton, half ice mummy, she heard that there were no pathogens, and ran.”

D’Aggio nodded, he had heard of such things happening. And worse things. “The delivery system is close to completion.” Over the air he didn’t want to report that, as it might have brought the frenchman to thinking they could scavenge through the archives of the newspapers more. “I’m starting inspections tomorrow, or the day after if anything else arises.”

“Fine, I,” Wesley paused, he turned around. Anna stood still in the airlock, crying silently. With a nod he dismissed the private. Slowly he strode back to her.

“Jenkins? Anna?” Not even a flinch.

Calm handed he opened the clasps and strips of her suit. Peeled her shoulders and arms free. “Now,” he cleared his throat, “I’m just wearing this ridiculous hempen underwear for the suit, and sadly you can see more than just my beer belly right now.” He tried smiling at her, still she didn’t flinch. “I’m not making a move on you, nor should you feel I’m somehow sexually harassing you. Just ignore that thing.” He opened more straps, clasps and the ring that sealed her boots to her trousers.

“Why?”

Surprised he looked up as he wrenched one of her feet free. “Why what?”

“Ignore it.” Her voice was thin, but still carrying the spice and fire of her irish accent he loved so much.

“Because,” he started working on the other foot, “even if you don’t feel harassed, and my dreams should come true of us hooking up, it wouldn’t be the right time. If this wouldn’t have happened, maybe. But you are in emotional turmoil right now.” Why did I say that? If she’s interested I’m still going to say no? Am I retarded?

“Thanks.” Anna sighed, more tears welded up, broke free. Sinking down to the ground, to where he kneeled before her, she started sobbing uncontrollably.

“Hush.” He took her into his arms, repeating himself several times. “We’ll all get back. Garcia will see her kids again, you and I will see our respective friends again. Maybe you and I will go on a date or two, until you realize what horrible decision that was, and we’ll go our separate ways.” Between sobs he distinctly heard a chuckle, making himself smile a little.

“So, come on now. For all that to happen we need to get going, and to get going we need sleep.”

 

Sleep had not come easy.

Not the night after their return, not the nights there after.

It seemed to Wesley that sleep eluded them even more after more words had been translated. The newspapers revealed that indeed the Ericssons had a run in with a netron star. Had the star passed their solar system half a year earlier or later the planet would’ve been destroyed, just as it would happen to earth.

Instead the star passed by, and through its immense gravitational pull it flung Ericsson out of orbit, out of its home system.

Wesley stared outside the door, he wore again the pseudo spacesuit, a long shift at the launch site for the payload delivery just had ended.

The tragedy of the Ericssons had occurred long before mankind even knew what space was. Would some species one day find the remnants of earths civilisation just to discover that earth was wiped out?

“Concentrate on the tasks at hand, Wes!” Gnarling at himself he waited for the airlock doors to close and pressurize the, small room. “Welcome back skipper.” Lindstroem awaited him. “I have grim news.” She bowed her head.

“Garcia?”

The blonde womanwoman nodded. “We had to put her in stasis. But unless a real doctor sees her, that won’t save her for long.”

At least the first batch of mined material can be sent on its way in two days. “Crap.” Unscrewing and opening straps he breathed in the air. “Are the air filters working? This stuff smells rather stale.”

Helga looked at her glasses. “Running low, but within parameters.”

Pondering for a moment Wesley enjoyed being free of the suit. “Run a diagnosis, sift through the data package that Misses Nye Charles has left for us to increase that. Just in case something goes awry, I don’t want to heat up heaps of the snow outside for air.” Seeing her confused expression he quickly explained to her that the stuff outside was not snow kike they knew it, but condensed air, at least that’s what he had learned before their departure.

 

Anna stayed close to the computers, didn’t go on any of the EVAs since the initial one, so it was not hard for Wesley to find her there. Xiaofeng spent the day at the processing and relay station at the mine, analysing the rare-earths brought in by a duo of drones.

Since the initial EVA Anna had hardly done anything other than work. Watching her analyse samples remotely Wesley leaned in the door. “Got dinner plans?” Somehow his courage had increased. For four days in a row he had asked her to dinner. A fifth now.

For a fifth time she declined, with a few words only.

“Maria is in suspended animation.” He checked his glasses. “I was thinking about sending her ahead in one of the payload transports.”

Like struck by lightning Anna turned around. “Why? Is there something wrong with the ship?” Clearly she was close to panic. “Nothing. Just want to make sure she gets to the Explorer in time for treatment by real doctors.”

The panic in Anna’s eyes did not vanish. In a calm way Wesley strode over to her, embracing her. “We will make it too. I’m certain of it.” He said in a tone as to lull her to sleep.

He received no reply. Worried he glanced down to her face, only to find her asleep. Worked through the night again, haven’t you? Gently he managed to pick her up and carried her to her bed.

As he shuffled away from her bunk, trying not to make a sound that could wake her, his glasses started alerting him to a desperate call from Xiaofeng. Slowly the door closed. “Yes?”

“We might have a problem.” A greeting like that usually meant that there was definitely a problem. Wesley rolled his eyes.

“What knind of problem?” He was well down the corridor, out of hearing range for Anna. “The condensed air snow, it might react violently with the propulsion of our payload delivery.”, an uncomfortable pause followed those words. “And our propulsion.” There we have it, problems. “As some sort of catalyst?” An agreeing noise from Xiaofeng’s end of the line confirmed his suspicion.

On descent the engines of their pod had not used as much power as they’d use for lift off, so they would have to clear off the launch sites.

 

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