Though Chay'z's words were barely audible above the festive din, the entire crew
fell silent at the end of his announcement.
Joel's mind flipped into warp speed. "Where?" he demanded in a mixture of
excitement and panic.
The lieutenant's eyes scanned the occupants of the room, all of whom had their
eyes fixed on the small group huddled in its center. He smiled awkwardly and waved at
them before lowering his gaze and voice. "Come with me," he murmured.
They moved at an incredibly fast pace through the polished hallways, not saying a
word.
Suddenly, Joel's brain kicked back into gear. "Where did you find them? What
happened to them? Are they alive?" he asked in rapid succession.
Chay'z shrugged without turning to face him. "I don't know anything," he
replied, "and we'll need you to find out."
"Oh."
They made their way into the starboard docking bay where a small number of
high-ranking officials and doctors waited anxiously. Silence coated the bay as the trio
entered, and a path emerged to where Joel knew the shuttle was being held. He froze,
fear of what he would find twisting his stomach into knots.
Lenara placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and spoke for the first time since
they'd left the party. "Go ahead. We'll be right behind you."
The human took one step, then another, closing the distance between himself and
the fate of his planet as the Adidans filed in behind him.
Then it was before him. Dented and charred and falling apart. His breath
escaped with a shudder. Tremulously, he reached out and touched the ship. A cloud of
soot surrounded him for a moment, but when it had cleared, Joel could read the name of
the spacecraft.
"What is it?" a voice behind him asked.
"It's the Orion," he answered after a pause where he'd been searching for his
voice. A British shuttle, if that meant anything.
Moving down the body of the ship, the lieutenant found the bay doors. He sighed
in frustration; the doors only opened from the inside.
"Do you have anything to cut these away with?" he wondered to the crowd behind
him. Instantaneously, two technicians appeared and had the door opened before Joel
could even mutter his thanks.
Taking a deep breath, the man slowly stepped inside. Tentatively, he blinked into
the darkness, letting his eyes adjust. The air was cold and stale. He couldn't hear any
hum of machinery, not even a watch ticking. Stomach sinking, he put his hand out
through the doorway.
"A light, please."
He did not have to wait long for his request to be fulfilled, but he hesitated for
what felt like an eternity before finally pressing the button.
Joel's breath caught in his throat. The floor was littered with mechanical
equipment, parts of the shuttle, and random garbage. Could anyone have survived
whatever happened to the Orion?
Swinging the light around the room, the lieutenant's hopes faded. It looked as if
the shuttle hadn't even been manned.
"But that's impossible…" he spoke aloud.
And then, he saw it. A hand hanging limply from the pilot's seat. Gripped with
fear and disbelief, the man moved closer. Indeed, the ship had been fully manned;
however, Joel didn't need to be a doctor to know that the crew would never tell their
secrets. A sob escaped his lips. He knew every person before him on a first name basis.
Joel turned away from the scene, willing himself to move into the crew's quarters.
The rows of beds were empty, as he had suspected, but he checked each one anyway.
Nearing the last bunk, Joel suddenly stumbled onto a form so familiar his heart
nearly stopped. Grieved, he fell to his knees, tears running down his cheeks. But in such
proximity, he noticed now the slightest movement of her chest with her shallow,
desperate breaths.
Joel's mind emptied. Searching for words, he made a few unintelligible sounds
while racking his brain for something, anything, to say. The first thought that finally
came to him, he shouted for all he was worth.
"Help!"

Through blurred and fuzzy vision and eyes that weren't quite open, Joel watched
Lenara take a seat in the chair next to him. He stared absently at the clock, vaguely
wondering how long he'd been sitting there.
The captain's first question was voiced in barely audible tone. "Did you know
them all?"
He nodded slowly, trying to block the image from his memory.
A long pause followed before Lenara finally turned and queried, "Who is she,
Joel?"
He waited some time before responding, "Luke's wife, Anne."
The captain's face barely hid her distress at the news. Her eyes asked the man a
thousand questions, but she simply questioned, "Have you heard anything at all?"
"No, nothing."
"What's she like? I mean, well, sorry. You don't have to answer," the woman
blurted.
Joel ignored the statement. "She's sweet, kind, gentle… headstrong. She and
Carrie are great friends. I like her a lot, actually. Luke absolutely adored her."
Lenara was prepared to ask another question, but suddenly a doctor stood before
them.
"Lieutenant Brin," he addressed crisply, "I am here to inform you that your friend
will be fine. I am amazed that a human can survive what she did, to tell you the truth."
He paused, and his professional façade melted away to reveal compassion.
"Lieutenant," the doctor began, clearly unsure of the best way to phrase his next
question, "were you aware that the patient was… with child?"
Joel nodded. "Yes, I wa- Is the baby okay?"
"Oh, oh, yes. Fine. But you see, while it is relatively easy for an adult to be
adopted into Adidan society, no child can be born without a permit. You see-"
"I know the story," the lieutenant interrupted. "What are you saying?"
The doctor looked very uncomfortable. "Well, we are required to terminate the
pregnancy."
Joel's mouth dropped. "But she's nearly seven months pregnant! This is insane!
Can' you just wait until after the baby is born to adopt them into your society?!"
"I-I'm sorry. Really, I am, but if you do not begin the process now, we will no
longer be able to take care of her here."
The lieutenant sunk into his chair and placed his head in his hands. Looking up
at the two Adidans helplessly, he pleaded, "Is there no way?"
"You would have to get a permit. It's nearly impossible to be approved in under
six months," the doctor informed him.
Before he knew exactly what was going on, Lenara removed a slip of paper from
her jacket and placed it into the lieutenant's hands.
He read only a few lines before he knew what she'd given him. Understanding
spread across his features. "The party…" he murmured. Rising, he held out the paper.
"I can't take this," he told her firmly.
The captain held up her hands, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. "You
have to, Joel. Sign it, for Luke, and give it to his wife. I know that you and I are not at all
compatible and we never have and probably never will get along, but I could never live
with myself if I knew I let this child die. Please take it. There will be more chances for
Chay'z and me. Please."
With eyes as tear-filled as hers, Joel looked at her, eternal gratitude written all
over his face. He carefully signed the document and handed it to the doctor.
"Will this do?"
"Oh yes." The poor doctor was nearly as overcome by emotion as the other two.
"Would you like to see her?" he asked Joel as an afterthought.
The lieutenant silently affirmed the invitation and followed the doctor down the hall with
one long look back at Lenara. Their relationship had suddenly lost all of its clearly
drawn lines, and Joel felt rather lost without them.