0228: No Place Like Home
The young medic stumbled forward as if she meant to embrace Francis, but then thought the better of it, glancing at Lamont and Ed with stiff self-consciousness and pushing a strand of hair behind her ear.
Ed’s babyface was tight with concentration as his hands danced over the controls, matching the asteroid pod’s trajectory to the larger ship’s slow spin. They were uncomfortably close to Westward’s aft when the door of the hangar finally slid open, revealing the gloomy red of the bay’s airless interior. Lamont felt the now-anticipated turn of his stomach as the artificial gravity of the pod gave way to that of Westward.
“There’s no place like home,” Ed remarked.
The trio left the cockpit and filed into the rear cargo area of the pod, waiting with palpable impatience as warm air was blown back into the vacuum of the landing bay. While Ed and Rosemary glared at each other from opposite sides of the cargo area like two caged tigers, Lamont paced around its perimeter. He lifted storage panels and kicked lockers, idly trying to find a place where Clifford might have hidden himself for some reason, rather than making a wild escape back into the tower.
The moment the interior lights of the bay turned from sullen red to warm amber, Ed punched a button on the wall panel and the cargo door opened. They were already descending it before it was open enough to allow them egress, crouching to maintain balance.
As he stepped out onto the metal floor of the bay, Lamont was surprised to see the slender figure of Francis Carter silhouetted against the brighter light of the entrance from the engine deck. He made his way toward them as quickly as he could with his long, loping strides, using his cane for balance.
“You’re later than expected,” He said, his deep New England accent echoing tinnily in the cavernous chamber. “We were getting worried.”
Lamont felt his lips involuntarily twitch in a lopsided smile as he noted that the captain walked directly to Rosemary. The young medic stumbled forward as if she meant to embrace Francis, but then thought the better of it, glancing at Lamont and Ed with stiff self-consciousness and pushing a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Well, they took their time getting back to the…” Ed started to say.
“Clifford’s missing,” Rosemary blurted. There was a dull thud as her medical satchel dropped to the floor.
The captain stepped forward and stooped to pick up the bag, using his stick for support.
“He slipped out the back of the asteroid pod just before we took off,” Lamont explained. “Spratt wouldn’t go back for him.”
“You look exhausted, Miss Wells,” Francis observed.
“Fair knackered,” Rosemary agreed.
Standing straight again, the captain crooked his arm in the medic’s direction. “Let’s get you to a bunk,” he said.
Smiling faintly, Rosemary took his arm and walked with him toward the exit, leaning against him for support. For a moment, Lamont was back in a rough-hewn cavern, watching as the two supported each other in the eerie dim glow of phosphorescent pools.
“What about Clifford?” Lamont asked.
“Talk to Milo,” Carter answered without stopping. “It did occur to us that this might happen.”