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Water Rights 2 - Sarah Lives


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#1 Logan1949

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Posted 30 May 2009 - 12:17 PM

Hi, I re-read this, and liked it well enough to want to have it put into the completed stories section with the first story, Water Rights. I know this could stand some editing, but the main story line is good.
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#2 Logan1949

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Posted 30 May 2009 - 12:20 PM

***00 The Story So Far ---

Space Time is 2209-03-12 08:20 S.T.. By this year, 2209, a significant part of the earth’s water supply has been lost to the furnace of global warming; and, it must be admitted, to the use of the hydrogen from water as a fuel for nearly everything, including space travel. In a desperate effort to find more water, beginning about 150 years ago, thousands of tiny spaceships were launched to search the asteroid belt for comets which may have crash-landed there. Because, as everyone knows, comets are made of ice, mostly.

Only four such sites were ever found. At each one, an Ice Station was set up, and robots were sent to the asteroid to mine the ice. After the ice is cut out in large blocks of about 100 meters high and wide, the ice-blocks are launched off of the asteroid and returned to a bottling plant on the visible edge of Earth's moon. Ice Station 4, owned by the company, is the last-known source of new water. By this time, there are only two companies left in the Space-Water business, Coke and Pepsi.

The Ice Ships, which return the ice to the Moon, are mostly alike. They are about 3 stories high and less than 20 meters wide. The aft, or bottom level, holds the main engine and just enough fuel to fly from the earth to the asteroid. The middle level is a tiny operations room, less than four meters wide, surrounded by eight other small units --- six bunk cabins, one Airlock, and one Mist-Bath and Toilet facility. The top level contains stores. It also has 8 rooms surrounding a central space --- One galley (that's ship-speak for kitchen), two freezers, and five storerooms.

Our story begins aboard the Ice Ship Janus, traveling toward Ice Station 4 to pick up a block of ice. On board are Captain William (Billy) Caulfield, First Officer Sarah Monroe, Pilot Linea Iverson, Communications Joseph (Joe) Torres, Engineering David (Dave) Stevens, and Life Support Andromeda (Andy) Dyson. The members of the crew, chosen by 17 year-old Sarah Monroe, are all 12 years old. Like her, they are all orphans, with no other family. The captain, 45 year-old Billy Caulfield, was also without family, until he adopted them all. Legally, The company could not hire them because they were under-age. But they could be sent out as members of a family.

Sarah Monroe, who has been suffering bouts of claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces) and panic for the last month, is standing in the closed airlock, watching the stars, humming some tunes, and thinking to herself.

***01

Well, Sarah Monroe, you're feeling better than yesterday, and better than the day before. It's so nice to be standing here in the Airlock, looking out the window. It's so calm. The stars are so beautiful today. I love the stars. There you are Deneb, in constellation Cygnus, the Swan. There you are Vega, in Lyra, the harp. There you are, down below. Oh, what's your name? The third tip of the Summer Triangle in Earth's Northern Hemisphere? Oh, I can't remember. But I love you all.

And I love Andy. You have such glossy black hair. And I love Dave. You have such nice blue eyes, but a complete lack of fashion sense. And I love Joe. You have the nicest smile. And I love Linea. You are so funny, in such a dry way. And I love … I love … I love …

I remember the first time I ever saw you, Billy Caulfield. You came into that office, all tall and tan, wearing khaki slacks and a blue Hawaiian-print shirt. Then you smiled at me, and this good feeling washed over me like a wave washes over the beach. Then Frank said, "This is Billy Caulfield. He'll be helping us evaluate your proposal." And for some reason, maybe because I felt like you actually cared, I suddenly felt like the whole world loved me, and that I could do anything at all.

Oh, I feel like I can't breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out. But the fear keeps coming up, that maybe I won't be able to breathe. They say that a panic attack never killed anyone, but sometimes I felt sure that I was going to be the first. It must be terrible for someone having an asthma attack to try to breathe. At least I don't have that problem; Just the fear; Just the panic; Just the terror. No! Think about the stars, Sarah Monroe. There's the Big Dipper, with two close-seeming stars, Alcor and Mizar, in the handle. I love you Alcor. I love you Mizar. There's the Little Dipper with Polaris, the North Star, at the end of its handle. I love you Polaris. I must breathe deeply. But what if I can't? Forget it. I refuse to let this feeling of panic interrupt my hope. Just remember, I love the stars. I love Linea. I love Joe. I love Andy. I love David. I love … I love … I love …

Billy Caulfield, I love the tiny wrinkles by your eyes that show up when you smile. And I love the way your smile is slightly higher on one side. And I love the way you joke about the things that could have scared us silly. And even when I told you that I loved you --- though it hurt so bad at the time, when you told me I should wait for five years, until I finished college, and then to see how I felt about you; That you never wanted me to think that you took my youth and future --- I love you for having given me that small hope, that someday, you might still be there for me.

Dear God, I don't know what you were thinking when you put me here at the age of seventeen, to fall completely in love with a man who's already forty-five. In five years, I'll be twenty-two, and he'll be fifty. But I wouldn't care if he was seventy. I wouldn't care if he was burned in a fire and disfigured. I would still love him. And I would still want to be with him. So please, God, make this work so he'll still love me at least as much when I'm older, as I know he loves me now.

Well, enough mooning over Billy, Sarah Monroe. I feel better today, so what should I do? I should do something to help everyone else. I know! There's an extra Pressure-suit here in the locker. While everyone else is busy practicing ship's drills, I'll go out and find that stupid pinhole leak, that's been nagging at Dave. Okay, Pressure-suit on. But safety first. I'd better take one of these jet-packs so if I lose my hold on the hull, I can always get back. Oh, and here's an extra turbo-booster, just in case; Double the safety. It's funny, all the extra equipment they crammed into these lockers.

Okay, Pressure-suit is on. Where's the button? Oh, yeah, it's under the little door. Push the red button with the X, or was it the other…

Inside the Ice Ship, the red light alarm over the inner airlock door flashed on. Dave took one step toward it when a loud whump shook the whole ship and brought him to his knees. Dave leaped to the inner door and looked through. And he saw the stars through the open outer door. The stars kept appearing, like they were turning on, first on one side and then another. Surrounding something dark, and growing smaller. Gradually, in less than a minute, he blinked, and Sarah was gone.

Dave turned around and saw the rest of the crew frozen in disbelief; But Billy had tears running down his face.

They held a memorial service for Sarah, the next day. Billy played an extremely old recording of a bagpipe playing "Amazing Grace." He said it was traditional. Then Billy said, "Sarah, of all the stars in the sky, you are the brightest. You taught us to dream with our hearts and follow our dreams. We will never forget you." But he had a lot of trouble saying it.

***02

Ooww! That hurts. Open your eyes Sarah Monroe. Ooww! That hurts. The stars are so bright. Flip down the helmet's solar shield. That's better. Now I can see which stars are brightest, without being blinded by all the other stars. Why am I out here? What happened? Oh! I think I forgot to cycle the air out of the Airlock before I opened the door. Where am I? Look around. Lower, left of center, Deneb, Vega and Altair. I remember you now, Altair. Right of center, the Big Dipper, Ursa Major, the bear. Constellation Leo is on my right. So I'm still facing the center of the Northern Hemisphere.

Think, Sara, think. I'm facing almost exactly the same direction, when I was looking out of the Airlock. But I was blasted out of the airlock, so, the ship should be behind me. I need to do a perfect rotation, keeping the same vertical direction. Taurus is overhead. It has to stay overhead. Just a touch of the horizontal thruster on one side. And here we go. Slowly rotating until Leo is on my left, and stop.

So now I'm looking at the Southern hemisphere. But. But there's no ship.

Crippity Crap, Sarah Monroe. You're in deep trouble now. The stars are so far away, and this is such a huge, empty space. I so much wish I was in my own snug little bunk, with all my friends around me. Stop it. Think, Sarah, think. Remember. What did they tell us about finding our way?

We were all in class. Our instructor, Jim, was standing in front of a whiteboard, telling us how important it was that we memorize the stars and constellations around the equator of the Sun. And Billy was walking by in the hall, wearing a Ship-suit. Hmm it kind of shows off his shoulders. Then he looked at me, and smiled as he walked by. I was beginning to think that he liked me, a lot.

"Pay attention, Sarah." Jim said. "You have to know this, because out in the Solar System, if you head off sideways from the thin flat plate in the middle, where almost everything orbits, you will never get back. Now, who can name a constellation with two stars on the equator?"

Linea raised her hand.

"Yes, Linea?" said Jim.

"The constellation Leo. The middle two, of the four feet, are on the line of the equator. But the front-most one of those two, the bright star Regulus, is a bit north of that line."

"Correct," said Jim.

Enough remembering, Sarah Monroe. Look at the stars. There's Sirius, the bright star in Canus Major. Upper right of that? The three stars in Orion's belt, not quite overhead. Straight up from Orion's belt, is Gemini, overhead, slightly to the left. Castor and Pollux. Remember, Pollux's middle star is on the Sun's equator. Thank you Jim, for telling us that. Down on my left, there you are, constellation Leo, walking the line.

So, now I'm still in the plane where our ship is, but it is out of sight. Why? Because it's moving away from me. Why? Because it has its engines on. Wait. My jet-pack is on. It must have triggered when I left the airlock. Think this out, Sarah. The ship is hurtling toward Ice Station 4. So, when I left the ship, I would still be hurtling toward the Ice Station at that same speed. Wait, that's not right. The ship was in the process of slowing down. Since it has much larger engines than my Jet-pack, it should be slowing down faster. That would make it appear to shoot forward, above me.

So, to catch up with its slowing down, I'll have to slow down a lot more. That means I need to use the turbo-thruster for a while. How long, Sarah Monroe, how long? I don't have a clue. Maybe an hour? How do I time it? I'll have to count the minutes and seconds.

The blast of the turbo thruster, as it kicks in, feels like a full gravity of acceleration. I start counting: one and one, one and two, one and three …. And I keep watching for a dark spot to appear amid the stars. But somewhere after twenty-five ten, twenty-five eleven, I must have lost track of everything.

***03

Deep breath, Sarah Monroe. Time to wake up. Time to … Uh-oh. That first hit must have been harder than I thought. I must have passed out after twenty-five minutes. What's going on now? Turbo thruster is off. The gauge says it's empty now, so no more turbo thruster. Jet pack is off, but still has fuel. I turned it off to use the turbo-booster. Stars are still there. I'm still facing the southern hemisphere. And there's still no ship in sight.

Oh, wait. There's a dark spot overhead. And it's getting bigger.

Oh no, it's getting a lot bigger. That's no Ice Ship. It's huge. It's coming right toward me with seven flames shooting toward me. Why is it shooting at me. Oh wait, it's not shooting. It's slowing down, and starting pass by.

Oohh. It is an Ice ship plus all six of its rockets, pushing a huge block of ice. That's why it looks so big. Now, it stopped. No wait, it's starting up again. Oh no, Sarah Monroe, get your brain in gear. I just caught up with it, because I happened to be going faster. Because it is still accelerating, it's going to pass me by and leave me here. Get that Jet pack started, and get over there.

I reach a cable on the side of the ice block and grab onto it. But then it breaks near the top and I start sliding backward. Until I reach the end of the slack, and the shock of that pull hits my shoulders, hard. But the steady pull is less than a quarter gravity. So, As I am swinging toward the Ice Ship in the middle, I start pulling myself in, hand over hand. I think I must have broken one of the camera cables, which feed pictures into the Engineering station.

When I reach the Ice Ship, I grab on to the ladder which runs from top to bottom and passes the Airlock door. So I start climbing the ladder. But when I reach the Airlock, I'm going "Uh Oh," because the logo on the side of the door belongs to the other company. I am now trying to hitch a ride with the competition. What if the ship is full? They may not have room for me. Oh, well, It's not like I can wait for the next bus to come by. Carefully, this time, I will carefully cycle the air out of the Airlock.

Once inside the Airlock, I carefully lock it and cycle the air into it, while looking through the inner window. Hmm. Only three crew members? They're manning the Control Consoles and the Pilot's console. And they look like they're all in Hyper-sleep. So, I open the inner door and enter the cabin. Everyone is sleeping. I'm feeling pretty tired, myself. The Life-Support door, next to the facilities is closed, so I slip into that bunk-room. It's empty. Maybe I'll just lie down on the bunk. Shades of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," er, Crew Members. I'll just open my faceplate to get a breath of … of … green gas? …

***04

I heard a voice and woke up to find my feet on the floor, because I was standing next to the bunk. I guess adrenaline does that to you when you're very touchy about where you are, or who might be there. The bunk-room was empty, except for me. The voice was coming from outside the door, in the central cabin. Well, Sarah Monroe, you're in for it now.

"Ice Ship Zero One Seven. Twenty-four hours to Landing at the Moon Base Station." It was the computer voice. It looked and sounded like both companies had bought their ships, and computer programs, from the same supplier. That actually made a lot of sense, since there are only two companies in this business, and not that many Ice Ships. All of them put together would be a pretty small fleet of less than fifty ships. And only half of those might be active in a year.

But I could care less at the moment because I just realized several things. One, I must have slept in the Pressure-suit, unpressurized, but still uncomfortably hot and rumpled. I even forgot to take off the stupid helmet. I must have a terrible case of bed-face. Two, I had the worst case of morning-after breath; you would think that I drank sugar water just before sleeping. And Three, I had to pee so bad it was really starting to hurt.

I quickly looked under the bunk and what, to my wondering eyes did appear, but a clean Ship-suit which I grabbed up. Dull gray, but still, it was clean. I then peeked out the door and, another miracle, the light was green on the toilet next door, meaning it was open for anyone's business. And, at the moment, everyone else seemed elsewhere, probably just finished moving into their own bunk-rooms. So I dashed out two steps and into the facilities. I think I truly believe that heaven must include being able to use a toilet when you really need one. It's just such a relief.

A fast shower doesn't seem to be happening. I feel like I haven’t had one in a week. Oh, wait, if I'm only twenty-tfour hours away from the Moon, then I haven't had one in three months or so. My hair just won't come clean the first time, or the second time. Come on, Sarah Monroe, you've got to get out of here. I am hiding on an Ice Ship, in the only place everyone will want to be, sooner or later, probably sooner. Maybe these guys are really nice and would be happy to give me a ride to the other Bottling Plant after we land.

Done in the shower, dressed in drab gray, I grab up the Pressure-suit, tuck my dirty Ship-suit into it, and crack the door open.

"G*d D*mn it, one of the cameras is gone." Came a very angry voice from the central cabin.

I quickly shut the door, which locked. But I can still hear him.

"I have to go outside to look at it." Suddenly there are two loud thumps against my door, and the voice says loudly, "Jack! Get out of there and get to work! We have get ready to land this f*ing thing, then we have to get out of there before anyone sees us."

What? Then again, maybe these guys are not nice at all. If they wanted to get rid of me, it would be all too easy for them to dispose of any evidence that I was ever here. I'm beginning to think that my chances might be better if I keep hiding.

I wait. Then I hear the Airlock cycling the air out. After the sound of the outer Airlock door closing, I peek out the bath-room door again. There is one man standing on the other side of the cabin, facing the Comm panel and wearing big padded earphones. He's wearing a gray Ship-suit, and he really does not look good in it. At least I'm only seeing the backside of him. There's a smell of coffee and something toasting, coming from the hatch to the Stores level in the center of the ceiling.

I remember that the kitchen is right above the Comm-Unit bunk-room, and most of the appliances are against the far wall. So I quietly exit the bath-room, and jumping up in the low gravity, pull myself through the ceiling hatch, hauling the loose Pressure-suit after me. Fortunately, the door to the kitchen is half closed, and the man visible through that door is facing the other way. I figure he must be the "Jack" which the loud guy thought was in the bath-room. He appears to be standing over a sink-unit, eating something. Keeping him in sight, I step back into an empty stores-room opposite the kitchen and close the door again.

So far, so good. Goldilocks should have had my luck. The room is full of empty shelves. There's a wide shelf, just above door height, running all around the room. I stow my pressure suit on this top shelf, over the door. Then I put myself next to it, on the shelf running down the side of the small room. This way, if anyone just opens the door and looks in, their head will be under the shelf I'm on. They won't see me unless they actually come into the room and look up this way. If they just look in, all they will see are empty shelves. Man, I'm hungry!

While I'm waiting, Jack leaves. Then the other two come up, and into the kitchen unit, working on breakfast. I'm quietly laying on my shelf, alone in my empty stores-room, listening to them talk. Their names are Bob and George. The loud guy, Bob, starts in with what he's going to do back on Earth, after they're paid. It has something to do with luring a prostitute into someplace that no one with half a mind left to them would ever want to go. I go from blushing, to shocked, to horrified. I cover my ears so I don't have to hear any more. And I pray to God that they never ever find out that I am in this ship with them. I understand why no one allows guns on a space ship --- one bullet through the hull and everyone dies. But right now, I wish I had a very large, big-bore pistol in my hands. I imagine it might help me to stop shaking so much.

I wait for many hours, until they go to sleep again for at least a few hours, before I move. Then I quietly sneak out and raid the other Stores-rooms for some kind of food that I can eat without cooking it, and without making very much noise. This amounts to granola, dried fruit and a chunk of chocolate for dessert. These guys must think they're camping. They have no imagination whatever when it comes to food. I also steal a knife from the kitchen, from the back of a drawer where it won't be missed. Then I sneak down and use the bath-room, but very quietly. And sneak back up to my Stores-room shelf. Again I wait.

***05

In the central cabin, a faint voice could be heard: "Ice Ship Zero One Seven. Two hours to Landing at the Moon Base Station." In the empty Stores-room, there was silence, except for a sighing breath.

Bob came out of the bunk room behind Control Unit one, and slapped the next two doors.

"Jack! George! Get up. It's time to land this f*ing thing."

For the next hour and a half, the three men went through the usual procedures for landing preparation. With minutes to touchdown, they were lying in the Control and Comm. bunks, listening to the quiet hiss of the rockets as the mass of ice over them was brought down to a very slow speed.

"Did you hear that?" said George.

"Hear what?" Bob said.

Khkhkhkhkhkhkh. Hshshshshshsh.

George said, "That. It doesn't sound like anything I've ever heard before."

"I think I heard it," said Jack.

"Ice Ship Zero One Seven. Six minutes to Landing at the Moon Base Station." The computer interrupted.

"Ssshh." Said Bob. "What is that?"

KhKhKhKhkhkhkhkh.

"I heard that. Bob, what is it?" said Jack.

"Be quiet," hissed Bob.

Shshshshshhhhhhh

Silence dragged out.

Loud in the silence, "Ice Ship Zero One Seven. Five minutes to Landing at the Moon Base Station." The computer spoke.

Then they heard it:

KHKHKHKhkhkhkhkh

"I know what it is," Said George. "It's Mynocks on the outside of the hull, just like in those old Star Wars movies."

"You f*ing Idiot," shouted Bob. "That's fiction! It's not real! And that stupid movie must be at least two hundred and fifty years old."

"But that's what it sounds like," said George. "And I read an article about them in the Wikipedia."

"Just shut up about it." Said Bob.

"Ice Ship Zero One Seven. Four minutes to Landing at the Moon Base Station." Went the computer.

shshshsusuuuUUOOoooo.

"Bob, that sounds almost like a voice, inside the ship."

"Shut up, Jack." Bob said. "It can't be a voice inside the ship. There is no one else inside this ship but us. So, just shut up."

Khkhkhkhkhkhkhkh.

Shshshshshshshsh.

And again, there was silence.

"Ice Ship Zero One Seven. Three minutes …"

"Yeeaaooww," shouted George, drowning out the computer voice. Then he said, "Sorry, I got startled. But I have to check it out."

George quickly crawled out of the bunk, and started opening, then shutting the other doors.

ShShUUUOOOooouuuusshsh.

George froze, and then opened the last door, to the facilities, and went in and double checked the Mist-bath unit. There was nothing.

"Ice Ship Zero One Seven. Two minutes to Landing at the Moon Base Station." Said the computer.

"I can do it," said George. Then he leaped up and pulled himself through the overhead hatch to the stores room. Quickly, he opened each door and looked into each room. There was no one, and nothing out of place in any of them. He jumped through the hatch and crawled back into his bunk.

"There's nothing, and no one in any of them." He said.

"Ice Ship Zero One Seven. One minute to Landing at the Moon Base Station." The computer said.

Khkhkhkhkhkhkhkhk. Shshshshhhhh.

"Dear Jesus, get me out of here." Jack cried out in fear.

"Shut up, both of you ," Bob said. But his voice was quiet.

"Ice Ship Zero One Seven. Touchdown complete." Said the computer.

***06

I heard what sounded like an Airlock door slamming shut, and opened my eyes. It was only a dream. But it was a very bad dream. I was still sweating in fear. Silence. Complete and utter silence. No engine, no computer, no radio. Just the hint of a ventilation fan. I shouldn't have fallen asleep. That was dangerous, Sarah Monroe, you might have made a little snoring noise.

I leaned over the shelf and looked down. The door was open, and I could see through the central hatch that at least one door below was also open. Trusting somewhat in the silence, I gathered my Pressure-suit off of the shelf next to me and jumped down. It felt like Moon gravity. Outside the Stores-room door, all the other doors were open. The rooms had no one in them. Hopping over to the hatch, I leaned over it and looked down. All the doors on the central level were open, and all the rooms looked empty---of people, anyway.

Jumping down to the central level, I moved over to the Airlock. Apparently it had just finished refilling itself with air, so I opened the inside door and went and looked out the window of the outside door. There were three figures in pressure suits, bounding away from the ship in big leaps. One of them stopped and turned around to look back. There was a light behind me, so he must have seen my silhouette in the window, with my hair sticking out from having been washed multiple times. Maybe the light was glowing through my hair. But he fell backward in an apparent mad scramble to keep moving away from the ship. Then he turned and continued bounding away. I wonder what's bothering them?

Whatever. This is a prime opportunity, Sarah Monroe, to make your escape back to your own bottling plant on the other side of this huge landing field. The two companies had cooperated to the extent of building only one extra large landing field, and putting their bottling plants on opposite sides of it. That way, if any kind of disaster happened to one plant, the people could be rescued after surviving by moving over to the other plant. I think they only ever had to do that twice, in the last hundred years.

I couldn't stand the thought of putting my own Ship-suit back on, dirty as it was, so I put my Pressure-suit on over the drab gray one. I'll just carry my Ship suit back to the Base and clean it there.

I double-check the Airlock, and the Moonscape outside the window. Everything looks clear, so I carefully cycled the Air out of the Airlock, checked the knife in my cargo-pocket, and exited the ship--- not forgetting to shut the Airlock door. It was easy to climb down the ladder and cross the landing field to reach my bottling plant. I am so looking forward to another hot shower, and eating something hot, and drinking something cold and fizzy, and wrapping myself in a warm blanket, and hiding under a bunk. Where did that come from?

I went through the landing-field Airlock, which leads into the hall outside the housing units for the plant workers. By the time I reached the hall, I had stripped off the Pressure-suit and was carrying it, and my pink Ship-suit. I was still wearing the drab gray suit, which by the way, had "017" stenciled across the left shoulder, and a big "017" across the back--- not exactly the height of fashion.

Not two meters away a door opens and Big-Molly McGuire, who is actually shorter than I am, steps out and stops right in front of me. She's wearing something I have never seen before--- a kind of thigh-length tunic, open at the sides, fastened at the waist and right shoulder. It looks like a blue-green page-boy outfit, worn over a caramel-colored Ship-suit. With her naturally red hair it looks really good on her.

Molly, is often called Big-Molly for a couple of reasons. One reason is that Little-Molly, her daughter, is eight years old, and in third grade at the Base school. Another reason is that she's the Floor Supervisor and acting Den Mother for all the workers in the bottling plant. And another reason might have something to do with the fact that she isn't afraid of anyone.

I heard that a couple of years ago, one of the single men, very tall, over 200 kilos, got too drunk, and the girl he was with at the time started saying some pretty nasty things to him, so he slapped her. Then she said some more nasty things, and he slapped her again. But when Molly saw what was going on, she picked up a woven packing strap, and waded into that guy until she had strapped all the drunk right out of him. Then she looked him in the eye, and said, "If you ever lay a hand on one of my girls again, I'll take some of that skin right off you."

And he just gulped and said, "Yes, Ma'am."

Then she turned to the girl and said, "If you ever trash-talk one of my boys again, you'll be on the next shuttle dirt-side, with no job. Do you understand?"

And the girl just said, "Yes, Ma'am."

And forever after, she was Big-Molly to everyone, even though she is three inches shorter than I am. But she has a heart of gold, and she loves everyone. I guess if there was anyone in the world, other than Billy, that I would want to see right now, it would be Big-Molly.

But when Molly sees me, her eyes go wide, and all the color just drains out of her face. I'm thinking it may be at the sight of my dull-gray Ship-suit and flyaway blond hair. Then she whispers, "Sarah?" And when I answer, "Yes?" Her color comes back and she grabs me in a tight hug. "Oh, Sarah, my girl, what happened? How did you get here?" Then she lets go, and looks into my eyes for an explanation.

I open my mouth to say something, but my throat closes up. My eyes start running with tears, maybe because someone actually cares, and I start shaking. I guess the fear and stress of the last few days must have come crashing down on me. I want to tell her. Really I do, but the words can't make it past my throat.

"Oh, you're in shock," she says. And the next thing I know, I am lying down in her room, wrapped in a blanket, holding a cup of hot chocolate, and she is handing me a white pill. "Take this," she says. "It will just relax you a little, then you can tell me all about it."

I concentrate on breathing for several minutes. Then finally, I can talk. "I got lost." I said. Then I go on to tell her about the Airlock, and pressing the wrong button, and trying to catch up to the ship, and hiding in the other ship, and being so afraid of the men, and falling asleep through landing, and one of them seeing me as they ran away. "And I lost my Billy." I sniffle at the last.

Molly reaches out and touches my left shoulder, brushing her fingers over the "017" embroidered there. "I have to believe you," she says. "Stay right here and rest. I'll be back in a little while."

As my eyes are drifting into sleep, my last memory is of Molly pulling the knife out of the Pressure-suit pocket, with a glint of anger narrowing her eyes.

***07

The first thing I see, when I open my eyes, is eight year-old, Little-Molly Maguire standing right next to my bunk, staring at me.

"You don't look like a ghost," She says.

I laugh out loud and say, "Well that's good, because I'm not a ghost. But why do you think I might look like one?" Looking around, I see that while I was asleep, someone moved me back into my old bunk-room. (There's still a tiny "S.M." scratched into one corner of the ceiling.) At least I'm still wearing the same gray Ship-suit--- so there was no undressing going on while I slept.

"Because everyone said you were dead," says Little-Molly.

"Well, I came real close to being dead, because I made a very big mistake." I explain, as I get up and open the bunk to look underneath it. I pull out a clean Ship-suit, in gold, and a contrasting jumper. Someone had been considerate enough to stock clean clothes in my bunk-bin. "Just remember, Molly, if you ever open the Airlock on a flying space ship, never, ever, push the emergency button in the little box. I made that mistake, and I got blasted out into empty space."

"Oh," she says.

"I'm going to the bath-room across the hall. Okay?"

"Okay." Molly says.

I just assumed that she would be gone, to wherever she was supposed to go, by the time I got back. But I was wrong. When I get back, a good thirty minutes later and much more presentable, Little-Molly is still there. After throwing the "017" Ship-suit into the bin to be washed, I start thinking that maybe there is a reason for her being in my bunkroom.

"Mom says that you can be a 'sistant' at the school," she says.

"I can be an assistant to the teacher in the classroom?" I ask.

"Yes." She replies.

I wait.

Molly waits.

"Are you supposed to tell me something?" I ask.

"Yes." She replies.

"Well, what is it?" I ask.

"I can't tell. It's not time yet."

"Molly, what did your mother say to you?" I demand.

"She said, 'Tell Sarah to meet us in the conference room at 9:30 and then go to school.' But it isn't 9:30 yet."

I sigh. "Uh, Molly, do you think that your mother might have meant that I was supposed to meet them at 9:30, in the conference room?"

I can see, from the way her smile widens, that she is using this as an excuse for more out-of-school time. "Come on," I say. "I will drop you by the school on my way to the conference room."

"Okay." She replies.

When we enter the schoolroom, the teacher looks at Molly, with a small frown for her lateness. Then she looks at me and blanches.

"I'm sorry," I smile. "Molly was giving me a message and I'm afraid that I made her late. Will you please excuse her?"

"Of course," the teacher sputters.

I notice that the other students were looking at me, looking at Molly, and whispering to each other. Apparently, Molly had just gained some kind of status for coming in with "The Ghost."

"Thank you." I say to the teacher, as I leave the schoolroom. I have just enough time to stop at the cafeteria for something to eat before reaching the conference room.

I came into the cafeteria from the side and was filling a cup with hot water for tea (to go), when the conversations of the people sitting at the tables behind me fade into silence. Being 98 percent sure that it's me they are staring at, I decide to go ahead and get it over with now. So, I put a small smile on my face, and turn around. Sure enough, they're all looking at me.

"Hi. Yes, it's me." I start to go between the tables, moving toward the door. "Thanks for caring. I'll see you later. Have a good day." As I reach the door on my way to the conference room, I hear them all start talking again.

Jim Watson, the Vice President in charge of Moon Operations and occasional Instructor to the Ice Ship crews, is waiting. When I enter the conference room, he smiles as if he is expecting to see me, instead of shrinking back like I'm some freak of nature. "Hello, Sarah." He says. "It's good to have you back. Molly will be here in just a minute."

I had to say it. "I just want to thank you for teaching us about the constellations and stars. It really came in handy out there." I tell him.

"You're welcome," he says.

Then Big-Molly walks in carrying a bag. She is grinning from ear to ear. "You will not believe what's going on over there." She says. "They totally refuse to admit that anyone could possibly have been on that Ice Ship other than their crew of three men. Also, those three men were on a shuttle back to Earth thirty minutes after they landed, so we can't even talk to them."

"But what's completely out of orbit, are the stories flying around that there was some kind of Banshee on that ship in the last few minutes before landing. One of the crew apparently claimed he saw it as they left. He says it had a black face and flaming white hair. They were all terrified of whatever was in that ship."

"What their staff knows, is that they searched the ship, top to bottom, every inch of it, and they found nothing. When I suggested that there had been another actual real person on board, they strongly hinted that they would---how did they say it?---sue the Ship-suit off of us, if we didn't drop this. And when I laid this evidence on his desk…" Here she laid a long kitchen knife on the conference table. It clearly had "017" etched into the handle and the blade. "Their V.P. just stood up and turned his back on me and told me to leave."

Jim said, "Do we have any other evidence?"

Then Molly reached into the bag and pulled out the drab-gray Ship-suit with the "017" embroidered on it, and laid it on the table. "When I first saw Sarah, she was wearing this. It was less than fifteen minutes after the I.S. 017 landed. Sorry, Sarah, I had to go through the wash-bin to fetch this. I don't understand why they would rather terrify their own crews with some crazy Banshee story, than show everyone the truth, that there was another actual person on that ship."

Jim said, "I think I know why; and this evidence is going to prove it." He gathered up the knife and Ship-suit and put them back in the bag. "Think about it." He said. "The only way that Sarah could possibly have caught the I.S. 017 coming back here, is if they were actually on the same course, coming from Ice Station 4. They may be taking two months longer to get here --- as if they were actually coming from Ice Station 3 --- but actually they are stealing our water from Ice Station 4." As he turned to leave, taking the bag with him, he stopped at the door and said, "Molly, can you explain to Sarah about the Janus?"

***08

I swallowed the last bite of my bagel, and drank the last of my tea. But when I looked up at Big-Molly, she didn't look happy any more. She stood up and moved to sit in the seat next to me. Then she took both of my hands in hers, looked at me, and began to explain.

"Sarah, we received a long message from the Ice Ship Janus. The message was sent automatically, a few hours after they left Ice Station 4. They told us that you had been lost out the Airlock, but they didn't know, or didn't mention, that you had a Pressure-suit on. They thought you were dead."

"When they reached Ice Station 4, they ran across something very horrible. There were already five empty Ice Ships on the landing field, but the crews were all missing. Then they found one dead person, and a written record of what had happened to the I.S. Hawthorne, which had already been reported missing many months before that. We found out later that they also found the Captain of the Hawthorne alive, and took her with them when they left."

"Sarah, the Station Master at Ice Station 4 had killed all the other crews."

"But you said they left," I interrupted. "You said that Billy and my kids left Ice Station 4."

"Yes," said Molly. "They did. But they should have arrived here four weeks ago. And there has been no trace of them since they left. And there is one more thing. Some of the Navigation modules that they found at Ice Station 4 had been sabotaged. They were programmed in such a way that anyone using them would never arrive back here. The company has already started the two-year process of listing the ship as lost, and declaring the crew, dead."

Suddenly my body reacted to this news in a very visceral way. I launched myself toward the door, in hope of reaching the toilet facility across the hall before what was now inside my stomach was hurled out; to follow my heart which felt like it had already been ripped out of me. When the retching slowed down, I subsided into loud moaning sobs. My hands were still locked to the sides of the toilet when Molly began washing my face with a hot wash-cloth. Then she sat next to me, pulled me toward her, and held me and rocked me as I cried.

When my crying had worn itself down to the occasional hiccup, I said, "Is there no hope?"

Molly said, "Of course there's hope. They are in Hyper-sleep. One time, fifty years ago, when navigation was not as good, a ship returned a full two years late and the crew didn't even feel the difference. There will always be that small possibility that they will return and will be all right, but we can't just stop everything and wait for them. We have to continue to live and grow, so if they do return, we will be ready to help them."

"My mother taught me that there are only three permanent things in life: faith, hope and love. We can choose to have faith that we will see them again. We hope that we will see them sooner and not later. And we choose to continue to love them."

"That's the thing about being human, Sarah. We can choose either the light or the dark, the good or the bad. If we give up hope, then our love can turn to resentment that they are not here, anger that we are alone, and hatred that anyone else can be happy. Or we can choose to continue to hope, to continue to love. My mother once taught me this saying: 'Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.' So, that's my choice. I choose to believe that someday, somehow, somewhere, I will see them again. And when I do, I want to receive them with the joy of a life well lived, and not react with a lifetime of anger and resentment."

I sniffed and then chuckled. "You know you sound a lot like a preacher."

"I know." She said. "But it's still true. Come on, let's go get Little-Molly, and we'll have a bite of lunch. So, what are you going to do with your life, Sarah Monroe?"

"I think I'd better catch up on my schooling, and then do some college work." I said. "I want to increase the ability of the Ice Ships to scan the space around them. Then I'm going back out there to try and find them."

***09

I thought to myself, this is day 9931, since I've last seen you Billy Caulfield. That's Twenty-seven years, two months and eight days. I open my eyes and look at myself in the mirror of the Women's room. Shoulder length hair, light gold with blond highlights; lightly freckled face with just a few laugh lines around the eyes; nice figure in the lavender dress with darker purple flowers. Not bad, Sarah Monroe, for being forty-four years old, technically speaking. Biologically I'm only forty-two because I've spent almost a total of two years in Hyper-sleep --- that's five trips to the Ice-Station in the asteroid belt.

Maybe I should have worn a dark suit today to look more businesslike. Now I have to attend a meeting with the Board of Directors where I'll have to refute the arguments of that wannabe-president, Jason Furness. But I really like this dress, and for whatever reason, I really want to wear it today. Well, here I go, into the lions den.

Sitting in the board room, at one end of a blond oak table, in a dark leather chair, I've spent the last twenty minutes listening to the rantings of Jason Furness as he attacks the way I've helped run the business for the last ten years. But then he gets downright mean.

Jason continues speaking to the board, "You hired me five years ago to help run this business. By all reasonable expectations I should have been named President last year. Instead, you continue to let this has-been cheerleader, this middle-aged spinster run the show." (Look out Jason, the board members are all a lot older than I am.) "And she wastes your money. She continues to fund a standby Moon shuttle program to the tune of two million credits a year." (As if two-tenths of a percent would make a big difference to a company with a ten billion credit budget.) "Because she's living under the delusion that her long-dead love will someday come back to her."

The members of the board look uncomfortable as he finishes his little speech, not because they believed what he said, but because they recognize that name-calling and character-assassination is the last resort of an intellectually bankrupt argument. Besides, Big-Molly Maguire, the only woman on the board, has known me for over twenty-seven years, and her eyes are starting to get very narrow as she looks at Jason.

Dayna Severensen, Vice President of Operations, comes in and quietly hands me a note. Since she would never have done this unless it was absolutely necessary, I quickly read it as the Chairman of the board, at the other end of the table asks, "Ms. Caulfield, would you like to respond?"

But now my heart is going double-time, because of the note, not because of what Jason was saying. So, I take a deep breath, hold it and then slowly let it out. I have to maintain control, for just a couple of minutes when every muscle in my body wants to run for the door.

"Yes, thank you Mr. Chairman. You all know that this company has re-established and maintained it's profitability over the last ten years during which I have been its President. My policy has been, and still is, one of being ready for the unexpected. In this instance, which Mr. Furness has been kind enough to bring to your attention," (Yeah, a little sarcasm for you Jason.) "I have continued to fund the Moon shuttle program, because we still have one unaccounted-for Ice Ship. Well, gentlemen and Ms. Maguire, our ship has finally come in. The Ice Ship Janus has landed, with a load of ice, and the water is now in the process of being bottled. The cost of our having been ready for this event, will now be returned to the company a hundred times over. Do I have your vote of confidence to continue doing this job?"

The ensuing vote, was almost drowned out in the chatter over this news. But when it was over I said, "If you will excuse me, I have a phone conference to supervise, and a Moon shuttle to catch." And I walked, very quickly, toward the door.

It didn’t hurt a bit, as I left the room, to hear the Chairman say to Jason Furness, "You are fired!" That man had been a pain in my derriere ever since he was hired. He was so sure that he, and he alone, knew how everything should be run --- mostly into the ground, trying to abandon needed maintenance to save a dime.

***10

Dayna, looking very neat in a cream-colored suit with matching shoes, was waiting for me in the hall just outside the boardroom. She was fifty or so, with medium-brown, shoulder-length hair with gold highlights.

"What's the status?" I asked, as we started fast-walking down the hall. I had so much energy I felt like running, but I didn't know yet where I would run to.

"They landed about six hours ago," she replied. "The phone call came through on the Video-Conference line 10 minutes ago. Our lawyer, Jackson Williams, commandeered the call to --- How did he put it? --- reinforce our claims and property rights."

"That doesn't sound good. Nice suit, by the way. You look very professional."

Dayna threw me a fast smile. "Thanks. And I really like your dress. It's very Spring-looking. By the way, how did the vote go?"

"I'm good for another year or two," I replied. I am sort of a figurehead president. Originally, I was appointed to be the young face of an old company. Usually the president would have been a man in his sixties. The board of directors had many older Vice Presidents to keep things in control, so they put me in as president to smile and sell the company to the bankers. But I've done such a good job that they all respect my ideas by now.

We arrived at the door of the Video Conference room. Dayna said, "Well, let's see how it's going." Then she opened the side door and we both stepped inside, just out of sight of the camera.

Jackson, slightly overweight and overdressed in a three-piece black suit and red tie, looked hot. He was starting to sweat. He was almost shouting at the video screen with the camera on top. "…What's all that racket?"

On the screen, I could see a man in a Ship-suit and black Ship-pants, stretching back and looking over his shoulder. It looked like there was a noisy basketball game going on behind him. I guess I should call it Moon-ball because everyone was jumping way too high, and in slow motion. The echo in the warehouse was pretty noisy.

Then he turned back toward the camera and my heart stopped, and then restarted going much faster. It was him. It was really him. Billy Caulfield. My Billy.

"That's just my kids, playing ball," he said. "Here, I'll introduce you." He turned away again and I could hear him say, "Linea. Andy. Can you take over for me here?" Then he looked toward us again and said, "This is Linea Iverson, and Andromeda Dyson. They're going to negotiate for us." And he stood up and moved off camera and the two girls sat down on the screen.

They were like bookends. That is, opposites. One of them was white-blond and very light, and the other with longer black hair was creamy brown. It was them. My girls. My sisters. Linea and Andy.

Jackson said, "Wait. Come back." Then he kind of sputtered, took a breath and said even louder, "You can't be there. You're trespassing on private property."

What? My head turned from the screen to look at him in surprise.

I heard Linea, on the screen, say, "We were hired by the company to bring back the ice and we brought back the ice. Do you have the authority to negotiate a business deal for the company?"

But Jackson just blundered on, "I demand you bring back Mr. Caulfield. You shouldn't even be there. We're going to sue you for trespassing …"

What? Why is he saying this? I turned back to the screen and saw that Linea and Andy were gone, and another lady was sitting down. Her skin was darker than Andy's and she looked older, maybe thirty.

I heard Jackson say, "I'm an officer of this company…" But the lady interrupted him.

She said, "I'm Captain Cynthia Roland of the Ice Ship Hawthorne. This company, in violation of company policy, left that monster out there for five years, where he proceeded to murder about 28 people, including my crew."

I was startled by the speed and forcefulness of her speech.

She continued, "As an agent of your company, he tried to kill us as well. You, and every other officer of this company can be criminally prosecuted as an accessory after the fact, for covering this up, and because the officers of the company are responsible for the actions of their employees when performing company business. I am a survivor and an eyewitness of these crimes. And when the details of this comes out in court, You could end up in prison, while the company pays us billions of credits in compensation. Remember, there is no statute of limitations on murder. Now go away, and put someone else on the line who can negotiate a business deal."

Then she got up and moved off the screen, to be replaced by Linea and Andy again. Andy reached toward the camera and did something. Then she said, "Sorry about the delay."

This was getting bad, and there was no reason for it. I pointed at Jackson until I had his attention, then I motioned with my thumb pointing over my shoulder, a sign for him to leave. He was not happy.

"Dayna," I said softly, so the microphone would not pick up what I was saying. "I need you to negotiate this deal for the company. I can't do it. It would be a complete conflict of interest. I'll stay here just off the camera and pass you notes, but you have to make the decisions because I can't decide anything on this. Okay?"

Dayna looked a little confused at this, but she was competent and said, "Okay." Then she sat down behind the table, in front of the camera. I sat on the side, out of sight of the camera. I couldn't be seen as part of this negotiation. It would be legally indefensible.

"Hello," Dayna started, "I'm Dayna Severensen, Vice President in charge of operations. You can call me Dayna. I understand you would like to do some business."

It was so good to see Linea and Andy again. I felt so much like I wanted to reach out and hug them. But I'm thinking they may not know I'm alive, and I want to tell them in person.

Linea was saying, "First of all, we would like for the company to agree to bottle, sell and deliver this water in exchange for a percentage of the gross proceeds." Then she leaned over and whispered to Andy."

Dayna said, "Wait, The company owns the water."

On the screen, Andy said, "I'm sorry, but no. This ship and this water have been lost in space for 27 years. We found it. We salvaged it. Therefore, it belongs to us."

Dayna glanced from Linea to Andy on the screen, and then glanced my way with a question in her eyes. I smiled with only half my face and shrugged. I think they're probably right.

"But you work for our company," said Dayna.

"Again, no." said Linea on the screen. "We were declared dead over twenty years ago, so we can't be working for anyone."

Dayna said, "But you were already in the ship, so how can you have found it?"

Andy, on the screen, said, "Yes, that was really convenient. Now, instead of mass-marketing, our new campaign is to sell these bottles of water one at a time, every 30 minutes using G-Bay. So far, we have sold 10 of them for more than fifty-five thousand credits each. The sale price, by the way, has continued to climb. So, we were thinking that the company could afford to bottle, sell and ship the product for about five percent of that selling price."

What was this? A tag-team negotiation? Then I realized that they had rehearsed this. Just like we used to practice ship procedures, they had pre-scripted and memorized their parts in this negotiation. I smelled Billy's organizing behind this.

Dayna turned to me and whispered "Fifty-five thousand credits, every thirty minutes. How much is that in a year, and can we afford to bottle it for that much?"

I jumped to the computer-printer console at the side of the room and opened up a spreadsheet. Let's see, twenty-four hours a day, every half hour is forty-eight bottles a day. Times 365 days a year times fifty-five thousand credits is 963.6 million credits. Times point zero five, which is five percent, is 48.18 million credits a year. But I already know that we need 80 million credits a year to run the bottling and shipping operations from the Moon. So I write the following on a note and pass it to Dayna, "=48m, need 80m."

Dayna reads the note, looks up at the camera and says, "I'm sorry, but that is only about forty-eight million credits a year. We would need almost twice that to be able to transport and ship the product from the moon, and still make a profit on it."

"Ten percent it is then, or 96 million, whichever is higher," Said Linea on the screen. Then she nods at Andy.

Dayna and I look at each other in surprise at the speed of this decision. What? Could we have asked for 150 or 200 million and gotten it just as easily? Then I realized that they knew. Linea and Andy already knew what we needed to run this operation. This really sounds like something Billy prepared. But it's okay, because the company will still make over fifteen percent profit on the deal.

Andy said, "The first load will be outside ready for loading as soon as you can come and get it. How soon can we tell the buyers to expect delivery?"

Dayna turned to me and I whisper, "pick up, two weeks. Deliver, four weeks."

She turned back toward the screen and said, "We'll pick it up in two weeks, and deliver it four weeks from today. We'll have our lawyers draw up a contract, and bring it to you when we pick up the first shipment."

Andy, on the screen, said, "That's okay, we won't need the written contract. We've had 400 thousand witnesses to it on the internet, so it's been recorded. Which, by the way, we have to leave now. Bye bye everyone." Then Andy waved at the camera, and reached toward the camera and did something.

Dayna leaned toward me, looking concerned and whispered, "I hope Captain Roland's speech didn't go to the internet."

Remembering that Andy had done something with the camera and then had said, "Sorry about the delay," right after that, I figured that she was turning the camera back on.

So I whispered back, "I don't think it did."

On the screen, Linea looked down and said, "Privately speaking, as a favor to us, we would like the company to provide the following services: One, an immunologist and doctor before we return to Earth. Two, lawyers to have us declared legally alive and to set up trust funds for all of us, including Sarah Monroe, and Cynthia Roland. Three, a real-estate agent to find us a place to live. And four, probably mental health services. In exchange for this, Billy has some information that may profit your company. Billy?"

When she mentioned my name, Dayna looked surprised and turned to look at me. I couldn't explain at the moment, so I just waved my hand to indicate she should just keep going. By that time, Billy had replaced Linea and Andy on the screen.

He said, "I think your lawyers can use this information. I was talking to Eric Harmon yesterday, well twenty-seven years ago.---I'm sorry. What ever happened to him anyway?"

I jumped to the computer-printer as Dayna turned toward me. This is something I had in my computer files. I held up one forefinger to indicate just one minute. I only had to pull it from my computer, across the intranet (inside the company's firewall) and print it out. I pulled it out of the printer just as it spit out the paper and reached over to put it in front of Dayna.

Looking at the paper, she started reading aloud. "Twenty-seven years ago, they received your transmissions and notified the next ship to arrive there. They found Mr. Harmon, but he seemed insane. He kept babbling on about Sarah Monroe being there, but of course, she wasn't."

At this, Dayna paused briefly, her eyes flicking in my direction before she continued. "The I.S. Hawthorne was locked, but pressurized as if someone had been there. And they found the record transferring Cynthia Roland to your ship. They found and identified the remains of each of the crew members from the empty ships, except for the one. They were all buried in the back of the ice mine. They left Janice Belmont where you said she was, considering it far enough off-site to qualify as a burial. Mr. Harmon ended up on earth in an asylum for criminals, but he died soon after that."

She glanced at me again, just before she turned her attention to Billy on the screen. I could tell that by now she was very curious why my name kept coming up in this discussion. Why would they say my first two names when wanting to set up the trusts. Why was my name mentioned in the same breath as some insane man, twenty-seven years ago? Who were these people, and how did I know them, or how did they know me?

"Oh," Billy said. "Well, Eric Harmon said to me that every single crew had smashed its first block of ice coming out of the mine. But he also said that he would have a crew re-cast the broken ice for shipment. But none of our crews ever returned with a re-cast block of ice. So, how was it that the other company was still bottling and selling space water for years after Ice Station 3 had been closed down?"

Dayna's face got an Ah-Ha look as she said, "That's it. They were receiving water from the only source available: Ice Station 4. The other company was bottling and selling our water, stolen from our Ice Station. We can sue them for that."

Except I would have to tell her we couldn't. I stood up and went to the spreadsheet on the computer.

Billy was saying, "Also, that means that Eric Harmon was acting as agent of the other company. Which means that your company is not quite as legally liable for what he did."

And I started figuring. 963.6 million credits per year, minus 10 percent is 867.24 million credits. Divide it by seven people, and each person would get almost 124 million credits per year. I started shaking at the thought of getting that much money, and then I started thinking about my kids. This could totally ruin them.

Dayna was saying to Billy, "Thank you very much, we will contact you later today about the other things you asked for," as I scribbled a quick note and passed it to her.

She looked at it, looked shocked, and then looked back at the screen. "This says that if the price of the water remains this high, your trust funds would be receiving over one hundred million credits each, per year."

"Oh, yeah," said Billy. "About that? Please limit the trust funds for my kids so they can't use more than half of that income from each year, until they're over twenty-one years old?"

Dayna looked surprised. "You're giving them access to fifty million credits a year?"

Billy smiled. "I think they can handle it." Then the screen went black.

"No!" I shouted to the empty screen. "You can't give them all that money, it could ruin them."

Both my hands slapped my forehead and covered my eyes as I threw myself back in my chair and groaned. "Men! I don't think he has a clue how much that really is." I said.

Dayna interrupted my pity party by asking, "How do you know these people? And who are those two girls? They almost nailed us to the wall with that negotiation."

I realized that I really owed her a full explanation or, at least, a comprehensive summary. After all, she has only been working here for ten years, and she doesn't know all the old history of the Space-Water program.

"The girls, Linea and Andy, are my sisters," I started.

"What? Never mind, just go on." Dayna said.

"Or, I should say, my adopted sisters, since Billy Caulfield, the captain, adopted us all over twenty-seven years ago. I was on that Ice Ship with them, twenty-seven years ago. But I made a mistake, actually a series of mistakes. It started with my idea of going outside the ship. I compounded it by not telling anyone, and it ended with my pushing the wrong button on the Airlock. I was blasted out into empty space. As far as I know, they still think I'm dead."

"I somehow ended up hiding out on one of the other company's Ice Ships, and got back to the Moon. This is why we can't sue the other company for stealing our ice. We already settled with them over twenty years ago for 150 million credits and a confidentiality clause."

"Meanwhile The I.S. Janus landed at Ice Station 4. Long-Story-Short, the Station Master, who had been there for five years was a serial murderer. He was not only stealing the ice, but killing the occasional crew, mostly women. Billy found Captain Roland and took her back to his ship. Eric Harmon, the EWMAN (Evil, Wicked, Mean And Nasty) station master, didn't know I was not on the Janus, and he thought Billy had left me there on the I.S. Hawthorne. So, he went crazy trying to find me. But he had also sabotaged the navigation module. So, after twenty-seven years in Hyper-Sleep, the I.S. Janus finally reached the Moon, which is where I have to go now."

"Dayna," I said. "I really need your help. I have to take a leave of absence for about two months. Will you take over running the day-to-day operations for me? You can reach me by phone any time. And I can help you with anything except this Space-Water deal. Can you handle this for me?"

Dayna smiled. "I would love to. Can I sit in your big leather chair, behind your presidential desk?" She asked.

I laughed as I stood up. "Of course you can."

I pulled out my cell phone as I left the room, and left a voice-mail message for my admin, my administrative assistant Jake.

"Jake. This is Sarah. I'm taking a two-month leave of absence starting immediately. I'll be on the Moon for a while, and then back here. Put out a memo for me, delegating everything to Dayna Severensen as acting president while I'm gone. I'll be available by phone or email if you have any questions."

Then I arranged for the shuttle, as I was leaving the building, by dialing the man in charge of it, who was also the pilot, John Watson.

"John, how soon can you be ready to launch the shuttle to the Moon? I need a one-way trip for myself, and fresh supplies for seven people, for two weeks."

"Way-all," He drawled. "Ordin-airly I can take off in twenty-five minutes. But fresh supplies for seven people, for two whole weeks. Now that'll take me an extra fifteen minutes to load. So, we can take off in forty minutes, if you can get here," he replied. It's John's joke, to speak slowly, and then move so fast that no one can keep up with him.

"You are amazing." I laughed. "But it will take me an hour to get there and get ready to go. So, I'll see you shortly."

And then I started running.

***11

At my request, John landed at the cafeteria loading airlock. The empty airlock reached out and sealed itself to the side door of the shuttle. Then we filled the airlock with extra air from the shuttle, opened the shuttle door and John helped me to unload about twenty boxes of supplies from the shuttle into the airlock.

"What did you say to announce our arrival?" I ask John.

"Company president arriving in 30 minutes." He replied. "That's about ten minutes from now. They're probably planning on meeting you over at the main entrance on the other side of the base."

"Thanks, John. You know how much I hate protocol. I'll talk to you again soon. At least before we pick up the water for delivery. I'll see you later."

"Take care of yourself," he said. Then he went into the shuttle and sealed the door, leaving me in the airlock.

I opened the inner door of the airlock and started moving the boxes into the cafeteria kitchen. When I was finished, I closed the inside airlock door from within the kitchen, then pressed the button which pulled the air out of the airlock, compressing it into canisters. This signaled the shuttle to release from the airlock, and it began to pull away, taking off for the return trip to Earth.

This whole airlock process --- moving air from the shuttle into the base --- prevents pathogens, like viruses and bacteria, from moving from the base into the shuttle and being carried to earth. It also contributes extra air to the base air supply. This is good, because the base always loses a little bit of air every time the airlocks to the outside are used.

My first task was to turn on the oven, and open a package of ready-to-bake cookies. Twenty minutes later, I had just finished putting the groceries away and there were fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies cooling on the counter, when I heard someone coming.

"What's cooking?" I heard, and Andy came through the kitchen door, looking the other way. She stopped a meter away, looked around, and froze when she saw me. Her eyes widened. Then her mouth slowly opened, wider and wider. Then, just as she started to look happy, the loudest, most ear-splitting shriek I ever heard started coming out of her mouth.

I reached over, picked up a warm cookie, and popped it into her mouth. The screaming stopped. But then she grabbed the cookie with one hand, swallowed the bite in her mouth, and immediately began saying, "You're alive! You're alive! You're alive! You're alive!" So I moved over and hugged her. Then she sobbed and said, "Don't you ever do that again. We thought you were dead."

"I'm sorry," I said. "I missed you for so long."

Andy leaned back and looked at me closely. "Oh, Sarah. You're so much older." She said. Then she smiled and took another bite of the cookie.

At this point, I guess you might say the cavalry arrived. You know, soldiers on horseback, coming to the rescue? Joe and Dave bounced off each other coming through the door at the same time. Then Linea and Cynthia Roland came in right behind them.

I heard Cynthia say, "What happened? What's wrong?" from behind the others. But they were just standing in front of her with their eyes wide, gaping at me.

I moved forward and hugged Joe and Dave, and then Linea; Saying at the same time, "I'm sorry. It's been so many years since I've seen you and I missed you guys so much." They mostly just kept staring at me, as if I was dead or something.

Then I turned to Cynthia and introduced myself, shaking hands with her. "Hi, I'm Sarah Monroe Caulfield and you must be Cynthia Roland."

"Call me Cindy," she said. She looked me up and down and then noticed a kind of frozen stillness coming from the others. She was still holding my hand when she said "Sarah Monroe," slowly, as if she were thinking. "You were the First Officer on the Janus. I was told you were lost out the airlock."

"Well, yes." I replied. "I did make that mistake. But I was wearing a Pressure-suit. And I did have a jet-pack, and a turbo-booster. Still, it was less than a one in a million chance that I made it back. The kids on the base kept calling me 'The Ghost,' after that."

"I didn't know you had on a Pressure-suit." Dave said softly. "I thought you had died. But I'm really glad you didn't."

"And I am really happy you didn't die," said Cindy. "It makes me feel so much better that I didn't take the place of someone who had died, after I lost my whole crew." Then she finally let go of my hand.

"Look guys. Warm cookies." Andy said, as she started passing out cookies to the others. That brought back some smiles.

"Wait a minute," said Linea, in between bites. "You said your name was Sarah Monroe Caulfield. On the company's web page, the president of the company is listed as S.M. Caulfield, are you the president?"

"Well. Yes. That's my day-job." I said. "I changed my name many years ago."

"Mmm." She said. Swallowing a bite of warm chocolate-chip cookie. "If that's your day-job, then what's your night job?"

I laughed. "My night job, as you so delicately put it, is to make sure we all have a place to live. You can all come and live with me while you finish school." I smiled. And all of them, except Cindy, groaned.

"Where's Billy?" I asked.

"Oh," Joe slapped himself on the forehead. "I forgot. I have to go take his place watching the bottling machines in five minutes." He turned to leave.

"Joe, wait." I said. "I really want to tell him myself. You know. That I'm here. And that I'm not dead and all. Should I come with you now? Or, can you wait for me to tell him?"

"Oh, you want to keep it a secret, and surprise him?" Joe said. "I can do that. He'll be in the West viewport room for about half an hour right after he leaves the bottling room. He's been going in there a lot to watch the stars. Why don't you go talk to him then?"

"Thanks, I will." I said. Then my insides started fluttering. It felt like I had a vibrating cell phone in my stomach. Just thinking about seeing Billy again after all these years was making me nervous.

"See you later," said Joe. And he left the Kitchen.

I looked down at the cream-colored Ship-suit and brown jumper I was wearing. "Does this look all right? I feel like I should change clothes or something." I asked.

"Yes!" Linea said. "You should change. Do you remember the outfits we were going to wear on landing day? The blue denim, wraparound miniskirt over the peach-pink Ship-suit? Well I wore it. It was just day before yesterday to us, and Billy said, 'That qualifies as special.' You should wear that outfit. I think he'll love it."

Then Andy interrupted. "And you still have that outfit in your bunk-bin. When we got here everything was still here, and still usable. So, we figured out that someone had been supplying the base every year. We even had clothes for each of us in our bunk-bins. So, I looked in all the other bunk-rooms, and you still had clothes in yours."

Andy and Linea and I started toward the bunk-rooms, leaving Dave and Cindy munching cookies in the kitchen.

"I'm so nervous," I said. "I'm so much older. Will he still like me?"

"Oh, that's right, you had this monster crush on Billy." Andy said. "I think he still likes you. But maybe the question is, do you still like him after all these years? Now you are almost as old as he is. You haven't found someone else, or gotten married or anything have you?"

"No, I still love Billy." I reply.

"Here we are," said Linea. "You do a quick change. Then we'll send you in to the West viewport room to meet Billy again. And you had better come out after twenty minutes, or we're coming in to get you.

"Okay, Mom." I reply with false sarcasm. But inside, I feel like my nervous vibration is reaching a fast buzz. Why do I feel like a jar full of bees?

***12

This is day 9932, since I've last seen you Billy Caulfield. That's Twenty-seven years, two months and nine days. I am forty-four years old. I tell myself, trying to convince my body to calm down. But my hands are sweating and my heart is racing. I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Be still, my heart. Then I open the door and step inside. I'm so afraid. What if he sees me, and doesn't love me anymore? What if I look too old?

There he is, wearing his black Ship-suit and leather pants. He's looking out the window with his back to me. Out the window, the moonscape is dark, and the stars shine like diamonds on a black velvet sky. I can see his reflection in the window and the reflection glances at me and then away. He's looking at the stars. There's a glimmer on the face of his reflection, like tears.

"I miss her, Linea." He says. His voice is a hoarse whisper.

He thinks I'm Linea. It's because of the clothes. He doesn't see me. He just saw the clothes. What should I do now? Should I go over to him? Should I say something? I start forward. One step and stop.

Then he says, "In a moment, in the blink of an eye, she was gone. I remember how the stars seemed to shine just for her. But now when I see them, they remind me of Sarah, and it hurts."

"Billy…" Is all I can get out past the painful lump in my throat.

His back stiffens, then he turns to me and blinks the tears out of his eyes.

"You were dead." He says. His eyes look surprised, but the rest of his face can't seem to decide whether to laugh or cry.

"I was lost," I manage to reply.

And I must have blinked, because the next thing I know is I am in his arms. I have tears running down my face. And his voice whispers in my ear, "I thought you were dead."

I whisper back, "And they said you were dead. For twenty-seven years, they kept saying you were surely dead. But I didn't believe them. I waited for you to come back to me."

Billy sets me down at arms-length and looks down at me. My fear of being so old comes out and says out loud, "I know I'm older now. I'm not young and pretty any more."

"No," He replies. "Not just pretty. You are the most beautiful person in the world to me."

Then, he is on both knees in front of me, holding both my hands in his. Looking up at me, he says, "Sarah, I love you with all my heart. Will you please marry me?"

I wonder briefly, how anyone can have so much pain and joy in their heart at the same time. Then I lean over and kiss him. Or maybe I should say, start to kiss him, my Billy. It tastes salty, I guess because we're both still crying.

When I come up for air, I find myself sitting in his lap. But I manage to say, "Any time. Any place. Just promise me one thing. That we will always go out the airlocks together."

But all he can say is "Umm-Hmm," as an affirmative reply, because we are kissing again.

The End.

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#3 Logan1949

Logan1949

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Posted 05 June 2012 - 12:19 AM

I love this story. I still cry at the end.
Logan
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