0176: Lucky Ten
My apologies for the impromptu hiccup, dear readers. I know everything hasn't been quite right with me, but I can assure you now...very confidently...that it's going to be all right again. I feel much better now. I really do. -ETT
Constance Beckett had made it a point to explore as much of Westward as possible, unlike most of her compatriots, who stayed mainly on the colonist deck unless duty compelled them elsewhere. She had spent hours in the crew cafeteria, had wandered into offices and computer rooms to be met by curious stares, had toured the hydroponics bay that was now leaking its atmosphere into space. She had even seen the cramped insides of a few crew quarters, not to mention a peek into the more luxuriant (and considerably less tidy) suite of Mr. Townsend. But one place she had never gained access to was the storage bay; this despite the fact that the large chamber’s space was directly adjacent to that of the colonist deck at the aft of the ship, and despite the fact that the bulk of the prospective colony’s starting supplies were stored there. For this reason, as she took the elevator down one level to the crew deck and followed the hall to the door of the storage bay, her trepidation was heavily balanced against a fluttering curiosity. This sentiment was shared, she suspected, by the four children among the company of colonists who were making this first trip to the alien tower outside, but decidedly not by the adults. There were to be ten colonists on this shuttle: Herself, Miss Anna, Barney and Betty Downs with their three children, Roy and Joan Howard with their one. The lucky ten, Constance thought sardonically to herself, who had apparently been deemed least crucial to the continued operation of Westward.
As Constance descended the metal staircase into the storage bay, she saw a small crowd of crew members, only one whom she knew by name. They all wore expedition uniforms, with many-pocketed silver coats and thick-soled white boots. They looked up at the descending colonists with expressions ranging from mild curiosity to gloomy resignation. The exception was a dark, muscular young man whom she had last seen wearing a black silk shirt at the ill-fated New Year party. He had singled her out for attention then and appeared eager to do so again, despite the fact that she had departed his company with a threat of physical violence.
“Señorita,” he greeted, meeting her at the base of the stairs with a white-toothed grin. “It is a pleasure to see you again.”
Self-consciousness was not something Constance experienced often, but she felt it now. She knew she wasn’t much to look at on a good day, let alone now, dressed in her most practical jumpsuit with her hair pinned hastily behind her ears. “Rico, right?” she returned, forcing herself to maintain an impassive expression. “I see you’ve been able to maintain your pompadour despite the difficulties.”
“It is hard as a rock,” Rico smiled, knocking a fist atop his shiny black crest.
“That, I believe.” Constance rolled her eyes. “What did y’all do to get numbered among the exiles?”
“I am doing my job,” The crew member explained earnestly. “Westward has two security officers, and I am one of them.”
“Lucky us,” Beckett quipped, but she wasn’t being entirely sarcastic. She had met the gentleman who must be the other half of the department not long before, and the impression he had made was distinctly unpleasant. “Just what do you expect to be protecting us from?”
“I have been in the tower before,” Rico assured her, “and there were no obvious dangers. However, we cannot be too careful.”
He was answered by a wry British voice that reverberated from the gangplank beneath the weird, insect-like craft that occupied the center of the bay. “Westward’s motto, if it ever had one.”
Constance’s mood brightened as the familiar aspect of Lamont Townsend emerged from the vessel’s interior. He looked even more haggard than usual, his auburn hair disheveled and gaunt cheeks unshaven. Added to his usual uniform of a wrinkled, old-fashion button-down and black tie was a utilitarian gray jacket that looked as if it had seen at least one apocalypse. Despite all this, his presence helped her to feel more at ease. “Mr. Townsend,” She greeted. “Are you going to the tower?”
“Going, certainly.” He affirmed. “Coming back—now, that’s the question.”
Next: Alarmingly Near and Disturbingly Small