Jardel studied the crack in the stone wall carefully. It originated somewhere below the old hyper drive console and ran diagonally upwards until it disappeared behind the empty tool cabinets, extending god knows how far beyond. In all probability, she thought, it was centimeters away from splitting the ship in half.
“Dad,” Jardel said, “I think this crack has doubled in size since last year.”
There was no response from the ships computer. Jardel stuck a small ruler into the crack, marked the depth with her finger and pulled it out.
“Dad!” Jardel said.
No response. Jardel looked around the room. She was alone.
“Dad,” Jardel said, “this crack has tripled in size.”
From nowhere, a sigh filled the room.
“No,” the ship’s Computer said, “it is only marginally bigger. Not big enough for you to notice and what is to be expected of normal expansion and contraction.”
“No,” Jardel said, “I can tell the difference. I bet it’s deeper too. Probably to the edge of the ship’s hull.”
“No you can’t,” Dad said, “and no it isn’t. It follows a natural fault in this wall, 120 meters to the other side, over by Ned Tilley’s old room.”
“I bet that’s a different crack.”
“No it isn’t!” Dad said. “I know and monitor every crack in the ship.”
“How many more cracks are there?” Jardel said. “This dilapidated ship is going to collapse and squash us all.”
“The ship is almost indestructible. You should stop worrying about the jump and go to bed.”
“Bed?” Jardel said.
“You’ve been awake for forty-eight hours.”
“These are dangerous times. Someone needs to watch the road,” Jardel said emphasizing the word someone.
“You’re two clicks deep inside an asteroid,” Dad said. “You couldn’t see the road if there was one.”
“You want me to die.”
“You are one of my favorite humans and I would not like to see you die. I will do everything in my power to prevent such a thing from happening.”
“Like last year’s jump when you accidentally drove the ship into another universe?”
“That was no accident,” Dad said.
“Even worse.” Jardel said. “You knew we were gonna wreck and you didn’t bother to…”
“We did not wreck,” Dad interrupted. “We gently probed the other universe, as was my plan.”
“I can’t sleep because of what I saw that night.” Jardel said.
“You needn’t worry,” Dad said.
“Easy for you to say,” Jardel replied. “You’re not alive and you don’t…”
“Go to bed,” Dad said. “I’m sending your funsuit down.”
Jardel started to say something but feedback, like the kind you get from a microphone too close to a speaker squawked loudly, followed by a loud ‘CLICK,’ cut her protest short.
“Dad?” Jardel said.
Of course Dad needed no microphone to speak, but Jardel got the message. Dad would not respond to her neurosis unless it was an emergency. That little bit of feedback was a nice touch though.
Jardel sat down on the old maintenance cot and regarded the empty, cavernous room hewn out of stone. Decades ago, she had spent many nights in this room monitoring the engines, fuel efficiency, and anything else that would keep her mind off the fact that she was going to be stuck on this giant asteroid for two hundred years. It used to be the most important room on the ship, back when they used ordinary means of propulsion. She rubbed her foot along a smooth indentation in the floor where the large command desk had stood for hundreds of years.
Back in the day, when all the other engineers and their short sleeve shirts and thin little ties had fallen asleep at their desk or retired to their quarters, Jardel would stand at the command desk and pretend she was in charge. She imagined a more exciting mission than just driving to a new world. She imagined chasing down evil aliens and engaging them in all sorts of mental and physical challenges. She imagined beating them with her human wit and blowing their ships into billions of tiny pieces and the crew loving her and cheering for her and praising her talents. She imagined giving wise council to her stupid shipmates. She imagined many such things, but alas, there were no evil aliens. Most of the alien races they encountered were pretty cool and happy to join, or at the very least ally with the commonwealth and it’s unfathomable technology.
So Jardel remained in IT. Managing and helping the plebes with their interface issues. Checking the maintenance tubes for broken or leaking pipes. Resetting passwords.
Jardel closed her eyes and saw all the engineers of past, each working in their own little space, intent, hardworking, manically tapping a series of keyboards and touch screens, all the while focused on the giant main screen at the bottom of this little amphitheater-like room. There must have been a hundred of them she guessed. And the thing that made her pang a little bit for the past was that she remembered the engineers always happy at the end of the day. Happy that their little effort had gotten them past an asteroid field, or positioned themselves perfectly for the slingshot around a star they’d never seen or even just collectively hacked the coffee machine to double the caffeine.
She opened her eyes and looked around. The room was stripped bare, most of the equipment scrapped and recycled with no regard for nostalgia or provenance.
“It’s really just a giant dirt clod, this ship,” Jardel said, “and we’re all gonna die.”