"Houston, this is Dr. Danielle Stevens aboard the ISS Pegasus. Do you read?" She paused, listening intently for several moments and then repeated the transmission. Nothing but dead air greeted her each time she switched from send to receive.
That was all any of the ten-member crew aboard the international space station had heard for weeks now. Dead air.
The news reports they'd picked up before had been frightening--the reported death tolls from the pandemic staggering, but the news had grown steadily worse as panic gripped the world and violence escalated.
The silence was more frightening than everything that had gone before.
Releasing a pent up breath, Danielle propped her arm on the console and her head on her palm, closing her eyes. They burned, feeling grainy from the little sleep she'd had ... not that she was by any means alone. No one was sleeping. Everyone was wrestling with the big question.
What do we do now? Wait here to die? Go home and die with everyone else?
Swallowing past the painful knot that rose to wedge in her throat, Danielle lifted her head. It was too late, she thought, for the last option.
No one wanted to admit it. She didn't want to accept it, but there was no getting around the fact that, the more time that passed, the less likely it was that anyone at all was left.
Impossible. Unacceptable. Unbelievable. And yet, what else was there to think when they couldn't raise anyone at all?
Danielle swiveled her seat and stared at her friend, Dr. Lindsey Peterson, watching the faint hope in the other woman's eyes die.
She swallowed with an effort, shaking her head. "I've only been trying for about an hour, though. With the delay ... and there could be interference."
They both knew she was grasping at straws.
Unable to bear the desolation that flickered through Lindsey's eyes, Danielle swiveled around to face the console again. "Houston, this is Dr. Danielle Stevens..."
"Give it a rest! You're using up battery power we can't afford to waste."
Danielle twisted to look at the doorway to the com room again. Clancy Morton stood next to Lindsey now, scowling at her. Danielle's lips tightened. "What the fuck are we going to use it for?" she snapped.
Clancy's scowl deepened. "Watch your mouth, Doctor Stevens," he growled. "I'm still the head of this mission."
"What mission, for Christ's sake?" Danielle demanded. "They're all dead! What the hell are we doing up here?"
"We're doing our jobs!" Clancy snapped. "Some of us, anyway!"
"What the hell do you mean by that?" Danielle shouted at him as he whirled and stalked off. She transferred her attention to Lindsey when he didn't respond. "What the hell did he mean by that?"
Lindsey shook her head. "Raging at each other isn't going to change anything."
Danielle swallowed her fear, anger, and grief with an effort. "It makes me feel better," she muttered, looking away.
Danielle dragged in a deep, shaky breath and let it out slowly. "No," she admitted reluctantly.
Lindsey was silent so long she thought the other woman had left. "Do you really think they're all dead?"
"I don't know." She did, she just couldn't bring herself to repeat it. She wouldn't have said it all if Clancy hadn't made her so furious. It was almost as if, as long as she didn't say it, accept it, it might not be true.
"As long as we don't know there's still hope, right?"
Defiantly leaving the com open, Danielle thrust herself away from the console and shoved herself to her feet. "Hope?" She shook her head at Lindsey. "The very last communication we had was from Robert Rawlins. He said not to come home until we got an all clear because the pandemic was completely out of control. Don't you think somebody would have contacted us in this length of time if there was anybody down there who could?"