Neal Spearwood wandered down the corridor trying to make sense of all he was thinking and feeling. He was concerned about Gardner, who wouldn’t be, but much to his shame, his thoughts kept drifting back to Laura Banks. It had been a long while since he’d spent so much time in her company. He thought he had gotten over his feelings – his infatuation. Apparently that was not the case. Today he had seen a new side of Laura – a very caring almost maternal side. Gardner’s injury had cut through her sometimes rough exterior and exposed a more tender interior, which really desired to care for people.
Knowing Laura as well as he did, Spearwood was familiar with this side of her, but he had never seen her display it so openly. Seeing her do so had made him think even more highly of her.
If he was going to work with Laura long-term on their new planet, then he was going to have to find a way to deal with these feelings. He couldn’t allow them to distract him. He couldn’t allow then to get in the way of their professional relationship, or their friendship.
As he walked, his thoughts drifted back to a memory of the time when he first began to realise that he was falling in love with her.
Berlin – Earth. April 2120
Tonight was going to be a big night. Doctor Banks was being honoured for her work studying the unexplained ecological and geological changes that were taking place on Earth. As a senior member of her team, she had asked Neal to accompany her to the reception.
“Would you come along to help me endure the night?” That was the way she had asked him. Laura seemed to consider the night a big sham. Despite her good work and the findings they had uncovered, they hadn’t found any real cause for the Earth’s changes. They had also not found a way to reverse them. Laura constantly said that there was still too much work to do, to be wasting time on ceremonies.
Spearwood pressed the door buzzer at the door to Laura’s room.
The latch released and he pushed the door open. Laura emerged from the bathroom wearing a dress that highlighted her attractiveness in a way that Spearwood had never seen. Her hair was done up and her make-up was spotless. She looked like she’d spent hours on her appearance. Never before had Spearwood seen her like this.
“I spend so much time messing about in the dirt that when I’m not in the field I like to make a special effort. What do you think?” Laura gave a little spin.
You look stunning. You’re beautiful. You’ve taken my breath away. These were the things that he wanted to say to her. Instead, he gulped nervously, waved, and said “Hey.”
“Thanks for doing this with me Neal”
“No problem. I’m always here for you. You ready to go?”
“Of course. Let’s get this thing over with. Then I’ll buy you a drink somewhere.”
That night the truth dawned on Spearwood. It wasn’t just because of how she looked – although that may have been the catalyst. He had considered her to be attractive since they had first met, but now, he knew that the feelings of respect, admiration and closeness that he felt for her more than he’d realised. He didn’t just admire her, he was falling for her – and he had no business doing so. Laura Banks was way out of his league.”
That night was both wonderful and torturous at the same time. It was a night he would never forget.
ESS Endeavour – The Present
Spearwood sighed. Nothing much had changed since that night back on Earth. He was still falling for her – and she was still out of his league. He looked at his watch. He’d been wandering the ship for a good fifteen minutes. He should go back and see if there was any word on Gardner.
He made a brisk walk back to the medical bay. Laura was still sitting on the bench where he’d left her. He took a seat beside her. Neither of them spoke.
A few minutes later the Doctor emerged.
“Well young Private Gardner is going to be okay. He’s sleeping now. The most important thing he’ll need in the next couple of days is rest so I might keep him in here. He’s not likely to get much rest in a bunkroom of rowdy soldiers.”
“So, you were able to counteract the poison?” Neal asked
“Poison? Oh, there wasn’t any poison.”
“But the mark on his arm, the pain.”
“The redness on his arm was a mild reaction – like a mosquito bite really, but more pronounced. That slug had a pretty big mouth you know.”
“And the pain?” Laura asked
“He had some kind of gastric bug. I’ve never seen one work that quickly before. It’s actually quite a fascinating discovery. Did he eat or drink anything on the planet?”
“Oh, he did drink a little water from the lake. We told him he was an idiot, but it was too late.“
“Well let me know the results when the lab results come back on that water. I think you’ll find it’s contaminated.”
Laura stood. “Okay, we will. In fact, I’ll send you a sample.”
“Now please go to your cabins and sleep. Gardner doesn’t need to be disturbed.”
As they walked from the medical bay toward the area of the ship where Laura and Neal both had their cabins, they considered the implications of what the doctor had told them.
“If that lake is contaminated then it won’t be a viable location for settlement. It looks like the secondary site might be a go-er,” Laura said. Neal had always found her Australian mannerisms charming.
“You’re right. We’ll have to go back down there and finish surveying it tomorrow.”
They had reached Laura’s door.
Neal bid her goodnight.
“See ya,” she replied.
Hamasa Tareen awoke to the sound of an alarm clock. He opened his eyes and rubbed them. No it wasn’t an alarm clock – it was the phone.
He jumped out of bed and picked up the handset. “Taren.”
“Lieutenant, it’s Kerensky here.”
“Yes, what can I do for you Lieutenant Kerensky?”
“You asked me to have a look at some spatial coordinates.”
Tareen had almost forgotten about that. “Yes, of course. Command Murphy programmed the computer to send an automated message deep into space during our trip. What did you find?”
“The message was directed to the star MA9982. It was the planned location for a second settlement. An expedition was planned for ARK-2 to take colonists there.”
“Yes, I remember hearing about that.”
“By my calculations, the message would have taken about 60 years to reach that system.”
“So, in theory, by the time it got there, the colony should already have been established.”
“Thankyou Kerensky. You’ve been extremely helpful.”
“No problem, I just hope this helps to exonerate the Captain.”
Tareen hung up the phone. This was truly interesting. Why would Murphy have sent a message to the second colony? At the time of the Endeavour’s departure, they hadn’t even finished building the second Ark. How could the man have even known who would be there? If only he could decode the message. It would undoubtedly hold so many answers.
Suddenly something dawned on him. Perhaps it was the benefit of sleep, allowing him to see the bigger picture. He remembered something that Bell had once told him regarding Murphy. The XO was as forgetful as they came. He was always writing things down. If that was the case then he probably had his private encryption key written somewhere.
Tareen looked to the sky in a mock prayer. “God, if I believed that you existed I’d surely thank you for this one.”
He dressed quickly. He had to search Murphy’s room again, and he didn’t want to waste a minute. The answers were coming. He could feel it.