“I know it’s my turn to help with this kind of thing, but… does it really have to be a cargo hold?” Belle groaned. She walked beside Greer into the large room littered with more of the same large, rusted crates that seemed to be in every cargo area. This area of the ship had been deemed safe enough to inspect without spacesuits, and though they were really just taking a poke around, she still didn’t like it.
“Don’t worry- we’re keeping the door open this time.” He smiled reassuringly. “Plus, you could stand a walk around, and this time Rush isn’t here to screw with the computers.” After realizing the room would probably take far too long to search on foot while navigating the maze of stacked boxes, Greer noticed a system of hanging catwalks running across the room. A more sturdy-looking walkway ran along the walls of the room.
Belle climbed up first, testing her weight rung by rung. For being so old, the ship was a sturdy piece of work in most places. The panels on the outer walk were grated, but the long hanging catwalks were made of smooth metal panels.
She tested her weight on the catwalk suspiciously, but it seemed to hold, even if it was horribly rusted. The view was good from up here, and it was easy to see the layout of the room. When she was sure the walk was going to hold, Belle’s stride grew more confident as she neared the middle of the area.
“What do you see?” Greer asked from the corner.
“Not much- just a maze of boxes. I don’t see any problems, tho- OH!” there was a loud creak as the panel below her shook and caved inward on unsteady screws.
“Don’t. Move.” Greer cautioned.
“What am I supposed to do?” she hissed. “This thing’s going to fall at any-” At that moment the panel under her feet gave way, clanking to the floor. Belle was barely able to grab onto the edge of the walk, the flat flooring leaving nothing to hold on to securely.
“I’m ok!” she called back. I’m dangling with my toes fifteen feet above the ground, but I’m ok.
“I’m on my way.”
“No!” she grunted. “You’ll fall, too.” Her grip was slipping- she barely had a hold on the slick flooring. She could try to jump… if she rolled with the landing it might work. However, there wasn’t any more time to think before her grip was gone completely and she fell towards the floor. Greer called out her name, and she heard urgent footsteps above her, as if running to her aid. Belle was positive that when she landed there was going to be a lot of pain, but she was wrong. There was a rough jolt, and yes, she eventually landed on the floor, but she wasn’t in extreme pain.
In fact, she was actually in the arms of one Nicholas Rush.
And honestly, the reason she was on the floor wasn’t from the fall, it was because her legs had given out upon landing. Rush was kneeling on the floor beside her, looking her over and probably asking if she was alright- all Belle was registering was this sort of roaring in her ears and an extreme amount of gratitude.
“Thank you.” She whispered, wrapping her arms around his neck briefly.
“I never thought the day would come when I’d be glad to see you.” Greer said as he climbed down from the walk, directing his comment at Dr. Rush. “That was a pretty good catch.”
“Yes, well, I was looking for Dr. French- we needed her help back in the control interface room. However, it seems you needed my help here.”
“No more cargo holds.” Belle breathed, shaking her head as she rose to her feet. It was the only coherent thought forming in her mind at this point.
“I think that’s something we can all agree on.” Dr. Rush brushed his hands off, stood, and made for the door. Greer shrugged and motioned for her to go with him.
“Sure you’re alright?” he asked as she turned.
“I’ll be fine.” Belle nodded and hurried after Rush. It took her a moment to catch up with him- the man was always in a hurry.
“We’ve got a pretty major problem on our hands, Dr. French.” He threw over his shoulder. “The Destiny’s power reserves aren’t looking good.”
“As in… we’re running out of power? Are we even going to make the FTL jump?!” This was possibly the worst thing that could happen. If they ran out of power it would be like a tin bucket floating through space.
“As in there’s been a rather stupid attempt to dial Earth, and at this point, no we’re not!” The sound reverberated through the corridor.
Oh, no. This wasn’t good. Granted, the Colonel was probably right to doubt the motives of Nick Rush, but Belle had learned very early on that it could be a grievous mistake to doubt his logic, especially the times that his logic actually had a sound structure. She’d never seen him this panicked before.
“No, no you’re right. You are right. It was your reckless, pointless attempt to dial earth that lost me the time I needed to solve this problem!” he cried, becoming more frenzied with every movement. Belle could catch the signs of what was about to happen, shooting the Colonel a very clear look.
“TJ, we need you in the gate room.” He said calmly into his radio. Rush didn’t stop carrying on.
“Destiny saved every last ounce of her reserves for life support! I tried- I tried to stop it but I couldn’t. In a few days, this ship will go dark. It will go dark, and cold…” He collapsed to the floor, Belle behind him attempting to slow his fall.
This was very, very bad.
It felt like someone had smacked his head with a hammer.
Maybe two hammers.
He didn’t know where he was at first, until two faces swam into view above him- Belle and Tamara.
“Hey.” Tamara said. Nicholas was aware of a pressure on his hand, and realized Belle was holding it, fingers laced through his own.
“What happened?” he tried to sit up, but TJ pushed him right back down.
“You had a nervous breakdown.” She said softly.
“How long was I asleep?”
“About ten hours.” Belle’s fingers moved gently over the back of his hand as she spoke. “And don’t you dare try to argue- you haven’t had any real sleep in months.”
“You’ve probably got a headache.” TJ said. “That’s normal. Judging by what Dr. French has told me you’re going through caffeine and nicotine withdrawal. Right now you just need to sleep.”
“No buts.” Belle said, wagging a stern finger. “You have to rest.”
“Alright. Fine.” He closed his eyes for a moment in what Belle interpreted as exasperation, but in all honesty he was too tired to think of moving at that point. TJ left them, assuming quite correctly that she could trust Belle to make sure he slept.
“Belle, you know we don’t have much time…” he started to try and get up again, but she wouldn’t hear it.
“No, Nicholas. Sleep.” Belle gently pushed a stray lock of hair out of his eyes, still perched on the side of his bed. She stayed there until his eyes closed and his breathing became steady, and she didn’t leave until he woke up and was able to walk out the door with her.
Gathered around the shuttle docks, the Destiny’s passengers waited in anticipation for the last three names to be called. Those who wished to have their name taken out of the lottery (presumably only Rush and the Colonel) had already been noted. They stood to watch anyways, if only to see who went and who stayed.
After all, it was nice to know who you were going to die with.
And, in some cases, who you weren’t going to die with.
The sound of the name was a relief to some, and a shock to others. Well, namely, a shock to one person, and that was the person who the name belonged to. She looked over at Nicholas, but he refused to meet her eyes.
“Dr. French?” the Colonel motioned for her to go up the stairs and board the shuttle. In only a few hours they would collide with the star- there wasn’t time to waste, but there was only one problem.
“I’m not going.” Murmurs immediately shot through the room.
“Dr. French, you need to-”
“No. I’m sorry.” She said, shaking her head. “My name was supposed to be removed from the lottery- I left you a message several hours ago. I guess we must have gotten wires crossed or something, but… just draw someone else in my place, alright?”
Before he could argue, Belle turned on her heel and walked from the room solemnly. She didn’t know where she was going until she made it to her quarters, sliding to the floor with her knees to her chest.
The way she looked at this situation, she was dead as soon as she was put on this ship. It had been a long time since she’d ever harbored any hope of getting home, and if any kind of possibility for that existed, it wasn’t on that shuttle. Belle wasn’t up for starting over again, not this time.
“Belle?” Rush’s voice came through from the corridor. She hadn’t bothered to close the doors behind her. It took him a moment to see her because she was out of his immediate line of sight, but eventually he spotted her.
“What are you doing?”
“I didn’t want to see their stares.” She admitted. “Did you have something to do with this?”
“No. No, I thought you were leaving.” He still wouldn’t meet her eyes, though.
“Why would I do that?” she asked, incredulous. “Frankly, from the minute were came on board this ship I knew we were screwed. I really don’t care as much about surviving any more if it means I won’t ever see the people I care about again. This ship is the only hope- not that it really holds out much hope now, but...” she stood, took his hands, holding them tightly in her grip.
“You have to understand that I’m keeping my promise. I’m not numb. I’m not disregarding my life… but I’d rather be dead than know that everyone I love is gone forever. I’m not scared to die… well, maybe just not as much as I should be.” Belle thought her argument was valid, actually. He was looking down, at the opposite wall, anywhere but at her face, and in truth it was starting to annoy her. “Why won’t you look at me?”
“Because I don’t know how I’m supposed to be expected to look at you anymore.” Nick’s eyes finally came to her face, and she wasn’t sure what she saw there. “I don’t know what to think when I see you. You know, that was probably the most sound logic I’ve heard in the past several days, and especially out of anyone who wanted their name out of the lottery, but…” he brought up one of his hands to cup her jaw, his thumb making gentle strokes across her cheek. “Belle…”
He didn’t know what to think. The Destiny was a powerful ship. Even if there was a chance they were going to survive, it probably wasn’t one she would stake her life with. When her name had been called it felt like betrayal. When she’d refused to go he felt like a selfish bastard for wanting her here.
“Nicholas, why are you really here?” her eyes moved by miniscule amounts, straying over his face and back up to meet his own gaze. She didn’t shrink away from his touch, however. His eyes closed for a moment, as if preparing to speak.
“Dr. Rush?!” Colonel Young’s voice came from the hallway, and they pulled apart quickly. There wasn’t time to talk or acknowledge anything, or even be embarrassed for that matter, because the Colonel was there in three seconds flat. “Eli wants to see you. He’s out on the observation deck.”
“Alright.” Rush nodded. The Colonel walked away and Rush followed him, not casting a glance back at Belle.
“Nicholas?” he looked up from his book, the end of which was proving to be significantly less than mediocre, to see Belle standing in his doorway.
“I thought you’d be out with the rest of them.” He said, closing the volume and putting it on the nightstand with his glasses. He wasn’t really all that interested in finishing it, honestly.
“Any prayers I wanted to make I’ve already said on my own. I prefer if other people don’t observe me during those times.” It was a fair point.
“So why are you here?” Nicholas asked.
“I don’t know how much confidence you’re putting in the Destiny’s systems, but… you shouldn’t have to do this alone. Everyone else is with friends or praying- giving themselves some company or some distractions.” She went over and perched herself on the edge of his bed.
“I don’t have friends here. You should know that by now.” Rush chuckled softly, but it sounded forced and even a little sad.
“You’ve got me.” Belle said, wondering what to make of his statement.
“Are you sure you want to spend your time with a cranky old scientist?” he asked, looking at her over the top of his glasses.
“No.” she shook her head, smiling sadly. “If this is the time I’ve got left, I want to spend it with someone who matters to me. The other people on this ship seem to be doing the same thing.” Her gaze was steady, honest, and he cracked a small smile.
“Alright, then.” Nicholas slid over a bit and patted the now vacant spot beside him. “Distract me from our imminent doom.” Even when facing death he was still sarcastic. Belle adjusted herself to sit beside him, laughing despite herself.
“Anything. Talking. Tell me about something.” He loved to listen to her talk. Most people talked without really saying anything, but when Belle spoke she could say ten minutes’ worth in a single word, even when she rambled.
“I was thinking earlier that Toby and Tina would love to have seen the view from here.” She said without thinking. Her mind was wandering, but perhaps the rambling was good for now.
“Who are they?” Whether he was genuinely interested or if he was just looking for something to pass the time, Belle couldn’t tell.
“My niece and nephew. Toby is the person I learned sign language for, actually. They love hearing about the stars, and I always hated I couldn’t tell them about Icarus…”
“Sorry about that.” For once, Nicholas actually looked apologetic.
“No need.” Belle shook her head slightly. “We’ve been through this once, remember?”
“Quite clearly.” He sighed. “But I owe you more than that. Your life, for one thing. Why the hell didn’t you go with them?”
“I told you that.” She said, settling into the now familiar position of leaning against him with her head on his shoulder. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life without the people I care about most.”
“Surely there’s someone you care about on that shuttle.” Nicholas whispered.
“I don’t really have a lot of friends here. I care about Eli, and Chloe, and Greer. I care about you.” She closed her eyes for a moment, concentrating on the physical feeling of having him beside her, and attempting to ignore the emotional jolt running through her veins.
“Even though I’m an arrogant ass?”
“You’re not. Not all the time, at least. You just… have to let people see that.” Belle thought of all the teasing and the friendly conversations, and all the things they’d discussed that might make them seem crazy to an outsider. He leaned down to kiss her forehead gently, and Belle looked up into his dark brown eyes, thinking that in the face of the present situation… well, she wasn’t really sure what to do next.
Thankfully, she didn’t have to act first. Nicholas leaned forward tentatively, and she copied his motion until he captured her mouth for a kiss, and then another. It wasn’t the deep, long, or dizzyingly passionate kiss that some couples shared, but it was loving and intoxicating all the same. It felt all too much like a long-lost dream.
“Belle… are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he asked softly, pulling away. Her mind was immediately back on the ship, shaking herself awake. They should have hit the star by now.
“Why are we still alive?” she looked around suspiciously, as if expecting the very walls to give way any second.
In the end, there wasn’t an end. They stood on the observation deck and watched as the Destiny flew through the heart of a star and came out on the other side. It was simultaneously the most beautiful and terrifying sight either of them had ever seen.
Life went on, in short, and Belle began to wonder if she’d been imagining things in her near-death experience. The glances she shared with Nicholas were nothing more or less than friendly, and even though he seemed as normal as ever, she wondered if he didn’t think it might have been a dream as well. One day she would ask him. Yes, one day.
Belle was brave, but she wasn’t that brave. Not yet.