Laura was in something of a daze. The thought that she had somehow travelled into the past was a chilling one. How could it have happened? Surely time-travel was not possible. Nobody really took the notion seriously. There were plenty of theories as to how temporal mechanics might work if time travel were possible, but it was all supposition. The main idea that Laura remembered from her high school physics classes was that you couldn’t change your own history, if a person were to go back in time and interfered, they would in fact be creating a new time-line – a duplicate universe that would run parallel to the one the traveller had come from. At least that meant that there was no danger that she would cause problems for those she had left behind in the future.
She walked slowly through the corridor until she came to an exterior wall. There was a small porthole, through which she could see space. Laura found that if she looked out the window at the right angle, she could see a tiny blue planet in the distance. Presumably, that was Xinju. She stood there for some time, strangely captivated by the site. Laura had stood on the soil of Xinju, in fact, she had been the first human being to set foot on the planet (at least from the Endeavour), so why seeing it from this distance would captivate her so much was a mystery.
The high-pitched intercom noise sounded again. The female announcer spoke up. “All passengers with surnames beginning with the letters A or B may now move to the mess hall to get a meal. Please proceed in an orderly fashion and be patient. Thank you for your cooperation.”
“Well, I guess that’s me,” Laura said. Again she was surprised at the odd accent that came out of her mouth. She had to be really tired. Laura found herself wandering purposefully through the corridors. She had no idea where the mess hall was, but nobody would know to look at her.
It wasn’t long before she found herself standing in the doorway to a large room, in which people were already lining up. It seemed that instinct or destiny had drawn her to the right place.
“ID Card?” a grumpy middle-aged American woman glared at her expectantly.
Laura pulled a small plastic card out of her pocket and handed it to the woman, who barely glanced at it.
“In you go.”
Laura joined the end of the line. She wasn’t sure how the card had come to be in her pocket, or how she’d known that it was there. This was all very strange.
The line proceeded quicker than Laura had expected. Soon she found herself holding a plate with a serving of pasta bake. It contained a little beef mince and some vegetables. Laura knew that she would have to make this meal count. Unbeknownst to everyone else on this ship, there was no colony waiting on Xinju to welcome them at this point in history. The Endeavour was still out there in space somewhere, crawling along at snail’s pace.
Laura found a quiet area in the busy room to eat her meal. The food tasted better than it looked. She felt like she hadn’t eaten in a very long time.
“Mind if I sit with you?” A male voice with a familiar Australian accent asked.
Laura looked up to see quite a handsome man standing over her. She judged him to be in his late twenties or early thirties. He wore fashionable glasses and had short black hair.
She nodded and beckoned toward the seat opposite her.
The man sat and extended his arm. “Kenneth Baily.”
It would probably be unwise to give her real name here Laura thought suddenly. She needed to come up with a back story to explain her presence here.
“Janicka Bauer,” she said, taking his large hand. His grip was firm but gentle.
Janicka Bauer? Where had she come up with such a name on the spot. It was quite exotic, and not at all what Laura had expected to say, given her limited creativity regarding such things.
“Very nice to meet you Janicka.”
She smiled, and continued to eat in silence for a moment or two.
“You’re Australian?” she asked.
“Yes. Born and bred. I grew up in a town called Geraldton, in Western Australia, then I ended up down in Perth where I made a life for myself.” Kenneth sampled his pasta. “Not quite my thing but it fills the stomach eh?”
“Yes, I’m starving.”
“It’s coming out of stasis you know. Your body hasn’t been fed in decades. Anyway, what about you? Your accent German?”
“Austrian.” Again – more creative than she had expected from herself.
“Really. Now there’s a part of the world I don’t know much about.”
Laura shrugged. “There’s not a lot to say really. We have history. It’s a sad state when a nation is most famous for its past.”
“Ah I dunno. There’s something appealing about an ancient land with a story behind it.”
“So what did you do for a living before making your way onto this ship Mister Baily?”
“Oh, Kenneth, please. Mister Baily was my granddad. A funny old bloke he was too. Anyway, I ran a Naval Architecture firm. Built the whole business from scratch right after I finished Uni.”
“Yeah, we supplied boats to a lot of big companies, and to a few navies as well. That’s how I was able to afford to buy a ticket off that old rock. It made me a wealthy man. How about you? You must have been pretty well off yourself.”
“Oh, I had a rich Aunt. She didn’t have any children of her own so she used her money to buy me a ticket. She was convinced that nobody left on Earth would survive.”
“Yeah well that’s why I sold up. I started to think, all this money is gonna do me no good if the planet stops producing oxygen. I realised what was really important. There were still plenty of money-hungry people out there who were eager to snap up my company for the right price, and here I am.”
Ken leant forward toward her.
“Look, I don’t wanna be too forward here Janicka, but I don’t think I know anyone else on this ship, and I’d really like to get to know you.”
Laura smiled warmly, despite herself. “I’d really like that too Kenneth.”
* * *
When the sun had gone down, Neal had taken some samples inside the boat to study. He’d set up the camp light that they brought with them. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been working. Time had a tendancy to run away from him when he was making discoveries. He had catalogued several new species tonight.
He took a look out the window at noticed that it was really quite dark out there now. Laura should be getting back soon. He hoped that she had some light with her.
There seemed little point in setting up the tent now that they had found more permanent shelter. The thought of spending the night with the human skeleton wasn’t particularly appearling however. Neal decided to take a blanked from the bed and lay it over the man’s remains. It seemed a sign of respect. Staying in here would keep them warmer than outside, especially since there was a wood fire in here. There were a few logs inside that had remained over the course of time that this boat had been here – protected from the elements. He would light the fire later, but first he decided to sit on the bed and rest his eyes – for just a moment.