A strange noise pulled Penny from the lull of sleep and the cocoon of darkness she hesitated to leave. Prying her sleep crusted eyes open she peered blearily at the muted ceiling, a dim beep fluttering ever presently in the background.
“What happened?” She rasped.
“What happened is that you decided to walk on a sprained ankle and them collapse, turning your sprain into a messy break.” Judy’s scathing voice floated over the room. Turning her head to the side Penny blinked her eyes as the world sharpened and cleared around her.
“Who peed in your Cheerios?”
Twisting suddenly Judy angrily reached for Penny’s shoulders as if she was about to shake her.
“Don’t you know we can’t afford to loose anyone? Things are already dim enough, and we may be the last of humanity that will ever exist anywhere other than earth.” The earth that is dying and dead and nearly on its final breath/ Judy thought, her desperation a raw wound in her own mind.
“We all could die out here. Thats just reality.” Pausing She bit her tongue. “When can I get out of here?”
Huffing, a look of annoyed disbelief fluttered across Judy’s face.
“You’re just like Dad.” Judy nearly spat, something hollow and tragic in her eyes. Penny glanced down at her hands.
“Is that a bad thing?” She whispered, a sardonic half smile twisting her lips.
A vivid memory of Wills panicked expression and erratic breathing flashed before her eyes, and his desperate confession. Time Travel .She barely held back a snort as an incredulous panic beat like a drum inside her chest.
“Have you talked to Will lately?” She whispered, carefully eyeing the ceiling, avoiding the heavy weight of Judy’s gaze.
Snorting Judy stalked to the side compartment, yanking open the doors to the cabinet roughly.
“Time travel?” She asked, glancing over her shoulder “As improbable as it sounds, he isn’t wrong.”
“How does that—“
“Penny!” The small cry tore through their discussion. Pulling her groggy attention toward the large doors Elizabeth appeared in the space between, smiling brightly. She rushed forward, pausing at the edge of the bed to glance nervously at Judy, who eyed her as she arranged medical instruments in a neat line.
“Hello to you too Little Oreo. ”
Huffing Elizabeth rolled her eyes, then hopped on the bed, crawling into the hollow of Penny’s side as she watch Judy through dark slitted eyes encased in suspicion.
“Are you going to tell me I have to go away again?” She challenged.
Penny snorted as Judy’s shoulders crawled higher, back tense and taught.
“No,” she answered shortly.
Nodding to herself Elizabeth closed her eyes and snuggled deeper into Penny.
“Where’d she come from?”
Smiling Penny eyed Judy as she watched Elizabeth, an odd expression flickering across her face.
“I don’t know, didn’t mom tell us kids grow on trees?”
Poking her tongue out of the corner of her mouth Penny resisted the urge to laugh at her sisters expression. As if she wanted to be amused, but was too frustrated to allow it.
“Get some sleep.” Pausing at the door she cast her gaze back towards the narrow bed. “Do you want me to take her back to the others?”
Peering down at the mop of hazel colored hair Penny smiled softly.
“She can stay.”
Playing with the ends of her hair she met Judy’s eyes, grim expression flickering across her face.
“A three of us need to talk about Will’s declaration .”
“Not too much later, or should I go to the Fortuna and look for answers myself?”
Judy grit her teeth. “You can’t. Besides, the ship was already here. How could it have anything to do with our journey.”
“I hate to tell you this Judy, but you’re not mom, and you’re not the only one with the capability of making decisions, or the only one who wants answers. Besides, it may have answers to our impossible journey, or at the very least, it can tell us where exactly we needed up.”
“Just let me look for answers.” Judy almost begged. She hated the weak, thready thing that her voice had become. Hated how pathetic she sounded.
Penny smiled at her, tired eyes softening. “I’m sorry Judy, but no.”
Clenching her hands into fists, Judy could feel the bite of her nails in the flesh of her palms.
“Mom told me to look after you all. You’re my responsibility.” She grit.
“And I, as a human being capable of rational thought, release you from that promise.”
Exhaustion, more than bone deep swept across her, settling into her skin, and making itself at home.
“Just leave it Judy,” Penny whispered pinching the bridge between her nose.
“Fine,” Judy grit “Just don’t come whining to me when you get yourself killed.” Twisting she vanished from the makeshift med-bay, leaving Penny to her own thoughts and the soft breathing of Elizabeth as she drifted further into sleep.
3 Months Later
Breathing deeply Penny squeezed her eyes closed, then pushed from the metal hull. Beneath her lay stalks of wheat and rows of vegetables, swaying in the artificial air. From the corner of her eye she caught the fin of the Fortuna, reflecting an amber light. Twisting she curled herself in a ball, rolling across the floor until she landed on her feet. The straps secured to her chest rattled as she began to unclasp them.
“Is it that time already?”
Vijay appeared from behind, a crooked grin splitting his face.
Penny grinned back, flitting her eyes across his entire frame from his sweat soak coveralls and booted feet to the white tank that clung to his chest. When she met his eyes and single raised brow her cheeks flushed.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“How are our babies?”
“I didn’t know you wanted to move that fast?” An impish grin lit Vijays face.
Brow raised she held her hand out. “Give it here.” Pausing as she unlocked the tablet she risked glancing at him from the corner of her eyes. “Stupid.” She muttered at the smirk pulling at his lips and the smug look on his face.
When she resolutely kept her gaze on the tablet Vijay sighed, running a dirt crusted hand through his unruly hair.
“They’re fine. Happy with the new fertilizer we’ve been using.” He gestured to the perky stalks of corn to his left, reaching up to the top of the glass and chrome ceiling above, giving way to all that lay beyond their ships.
“Good,” biting her lip she squinted her eyes at fear side of the cavernous space. “Where—“
“Penny” A squeal erupted, followed by a small burl of dark locks and a large ratty shirt hanging down past a delicate pair of knees.
“There you are Mini-Oreo.”
Crashing into her Elizabeth buried her face into Penny’s side.
“Oomph,” she huffed teasingly, tossing her hair, head tilted to the side. “You must be growing like a beanstalk.”
“I’m not that big,” Elizabeth huffed, glaring up at her before burying her face back into Penny’s side.
“What took you so long?” Elizabeth whispered as Penny shared a humorous glance with Vijay.
“I don’t know… I guess I’m human enough to need sleep, Mini-Oreo, unlike some superhuman we all know.” She reached down tweaking Elizabeths nose, a gentle look fluttering across her face.
“Judy and Grant want to see you about the filters.”
Vijay sighed, digging his fingers into the back of his neck. “Great,” he muttered under his breath.
Biting her lip Penny resisted the urge to reach out, and run a hand across the warm skin of his cheek.
That would be a monstrously bad decision. she thought, not without a pang of longing. Mostly for the comfort of human touch, of intimacy, of family.
“Penny…” Hand outreached he stepped towards her faltering when the crackle of her sisters voice sang across the air.
“Vijay, Grant and I need to talk to you as soon as Penny comes to relieve you.”
“On my way,” he said, annoyance slathered across his face. Stalking to where Penny had left the harness and steel rope, he strapped himself in and hefted himself to the ladder poles above his head.
With a jaunty salute he began to crawl, vanishing into he small opening far above them, shaped like a triangle.
When they’d first been stranded Vijay at been her lifeline, a piece of normal in a place of chaos, despair and uncertainty. But then _it_ had happened, and as much as she still cared about him, Penny didn’t think she would ever trust him again, no matter how small and insignificant that instance had been in the long scheme of their lives that stretched out before them, unable to leave, unable meet anyone new, or feel the sun on their faces, or smell the fresh tang of ocean water as it crashed against the shore.
“Did you bring it?” A mischievous grin lit Elizabeths face as she danced away from Penny. Rolling her eyes Penny reach inside her jacket, grasping something cool and square.
“You mean this?” She shook the blue package of Oreos, grin curling her lips as Elizabeth threw herself in the air like a rabid cat, eyes glue to the package.
I wonder if this is how mom felt when I lunged for the Oreos when I was Elizabeths age.
“Yes!” Punching the air Elizabeth danced around Penny’s feet, joyous grin lighting her face.
They passed the afternoon amidst the fragrant soil and lush greenery, enjoying the minuscule bit of earth that they were afforded. When her armband beeped, Penny pulled her fingers from the soil, swiping at the sweat beading on her forehead.
Sighing, a small smile pulling her lips Penny punched the glowing _accept_ button lighting up the screen. The mood was light and arid, and so wonderfully calm.
“Come on, it’s time to leave,” she called to a giggling Elizabeth, waving her toy in the air, a world unseen splayed before her eyes.
“Do we have to?” Elizabeth whined, arms falling to rest on her stomach as she craned her head to pout at Penny petulantly, as she dipped her hands into a bowl of water, dirt running from her skin, spooling like black thread through the clear liquid.
“You know the answer.” She replied, eyebrow arched as she turned to look at Elizabeth.
“But I don’t want to go to school.” She whined.
And I don’t want to meet with Captain Grant the creep and my sister who seems like more of a stranger every day. She though, frustration swiping through her. It wasn’t as if the man had done anything overtly strange or peculiar, but Penny thought he seemed…unhinged, obsessed and strangely disconnected. She could never pin him down, and maybe that’s what had frightened her. She was reminded of Smith on his bad days, and that set her teeth on edge.
Judy wouldn’t hear any suspicions, founded or not. She was too overjoyed at the fact that he’d lived and was there, a living, breathing, human, to consider how strange he seemed. It made Penny wonder, because she’d been perfectly militant in her idea that they survive, that they leave the others behind.
Still bitter, aren’t you? a taunting voice echoed in her mind, sounding like Smith in its subtle glee and sick enjoyment. Gritting her teeth she vanished the apparition and walked to the dangling straps.
Elizabeth followed behind her, pout still etched in her small face. Crouching Penny began to strap her in, carefully pulling the buckles and slack rope tight.
Grabbing the opposite end of the rope she settle the girl on her shoulders, walking to the far wall.
“Grab onto the first bar and pull yourself up.”
“I know.” Elizabeth sighed dramatically, and Penny could almost feel the roll of her eyes.
“Hush, or I’ll have Vijay assign you extra history homework.”
Elizabeth crawled up the ladder and into the triangle, a pale faced girl waiting for her at the top, a long snake of black hair pulled across her shoulder.
Penny forced her shoulders to relax as she approached the sliding doors, trying her best to think of what her mother would have done. What anyone who knew what the hell they were doing would do. Grant was lovely… Well as lovely as suspected psychopath could be.
Letting the door swish open a practiced smirk curled across her lips. Grant and Judy were bent over the large flickering screen that took up the table, displaying their blinking place within the cosmos. The images made space look simple and straightforward, maybe even beautiful, with its glimmering stars and little spheres that contained life scattered across the black. It divorced it from the terror and cold and nothing it was so capable of, like claws reaching out to rip those that dared entered its clutches apart.
“You demanded my presence?” She drawled, throwing herself casually in the chair, legs thrown across the side. Her sister pursed her lips in disapproval. Raising her brown Penny remained as she was, watching with growing satisfaction as Judy sighed raising her eyes heavenward. It gave Penny hope, that Judy was still inside there somewhere. In the madness and chaos and fear, and the tug of Grant on both her mind and heart Penny sometimes wondered if she was still in there. It was as if loosing their parents had removed something vital and living within her; she was there, but like half of her had been tugged out, and only something pale and wan and without her desperate hope and love of humanity had gone alongside wherever their mother and father were.
Oh, and what about Don? Isn’t he just like family? her thoughts poked. Keeping her expression deliberately cool she ignored the memory bright and vivid that flashed before her minds eye. Don being carted away in handcuffs, the rich taste of chlorate turning to bitter ash in her mouth as he smiled at her before vanishing beyond the small room she and Vijay were ensconced in.
Stop. she begged her own mid, wondering if she was beginning to grow as crazy as she knew in her gut Grant had become.
“We need to get the power needed to make another jump.”
“Oh,” she drawled, eyeing her short clipped nails. “How are you going to do that?” Glancing up she straightened her spine. “Without the loss of over half the people on this ship, and no food to feed those who aren’t lucky enough to suffocate quickly.”
Grant and Judy eyed each other.
“We’re going to use robot.”
Tensing, hands balling int fists she crouched forward, face contorting into a snarl.
“The robot we need to run the damn alien tech to make the jump.” She spat. “Besides, we don’t even know if whatever powers him would even be compatible with our system on the ship. Or did you forget the little mistake called scarecrow and how humans little abusive stunt nearly cost us our lives until Will talked some sense into them. A man had to die to make up for that little mistake.”
“Sometimes the means outweigh the—“
“And who are you to say that means outweigh the costs when you only ask for sacrifice and sacrifice nothing of yourself.” She growled, nails digging into her skin, blood welling in her palms.
“We have to do something Penny, we can’t survive here forever.” Judy pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Can you give us a minute da-“ Glancing hastily at Penny’s furious “Grant.”
Glancing between the two of them pushed from the worn metal chair.
“Just remember Penny_if we don’t act soon the luxury of choice will be taken out of our hands.”
“How noble of you to want to kill us off to spare us the inevitable.” She hissed under her breath as the door snapped shut behind Grant.
Whipping around to face Judy she barred her teeth. “How could you possibly forget our father so soon. And if, if you had the slightest bit of sense you would realize that whatever is left from Grant in that…man, whoever he is, he’s not your father. I thought Dad had taught us better than that.” She growled.
“Do you think I like this Penny?” Judy whispered, voice like jagged glass. “That I take pleasure in the fact that our food supply will never be enough for more than a year or two at most? That I constantly wonder how close we are to the precipice every day we overtax systems that were never meant for long term tenure is space?”
“No, but before you sacrificed our parents and then blindly followed a stranger I thought I knew you well enough to be the Robison that never left anyone behind, and did their damnedest make sure nobody was left behind.”
Growling, Penny tugged on the edges of her flowing hair. “Even if someday, at sometime, we won’t be able to save everyone, we can sure as hell make sure we never stop trying. I though you understood that.” Biting her lip she glared sharply at Judy. “Hell, even Don figured that out. Did you forget he’s the only reason that I’m alive.”
“Get your priorities straight, and for all that is holy, start _trying_ again. Besides, even if we could get the power needed and make the tech jump, I somehow doubt we could force it to travel though both space and time.”
Stalking to the entrance Penny paused, glancing over her shoulder.
“Stop looking at us like we’re already dead.”
Judy’s face paled as she stumbled back, as if Penny had landed a physical blow.
“Don’t make me start reacting Judy. I’d hate to see what all the children and crew thought if they knew you already were leading them to the sacrificial alter.”
“You wouldn’t.” She breathed.
“Don’t test me Judy. I’m not the girl that was forced to leave her parents behind. She died when her sister sacrificed them so that she could live.”
“Goodbye Judy.” Her sisters protest slammed uselessly against the metal door as she exited the room, snaking through the curving halls, children and scar faced adults scattered around the hubs and large thick wires that trailed down the sides of the halls, connecting their ship to the Fortuna.
Closing her eyes she paused, leaning against an entrance to a tiny supply closet shoved between two square stations, the monitors flickering with stats and bobbing green and multicolored dots.
“Subtlety was never your forte.”
“Shut up Smith.” She grit, head beginning to pound a dull melody in her temples.
“You sound just like your mother and father.”
Twisting around, eyes slitted Penny glared. “I said…shut up.”
Shrugging Smith sighed, a secretive sort of smirk twisting her narrow lips.
“Have it your way Robinson.” She sang as she danced down the corridor, her voice echoing against the metal as she hummed an oddly familiar tune that sounded eerie and forlorn.