"She's... out there. Setting up camp. Alone, in a strange galaxy.
Maybe right now, she's settling in for the long nap.
By the light of our new sun. In our new home."
"You shouldn't have come, Dr. Cooper," were Dr. Brand's first words to Murph as soon as Murph had left the space capsule she had landed with.
Murph frowned at the words. She had closed her eyes during the landing, but when she had opened them, the new planet had seemed to greet her with a new sunrise, in a new, better world. Light flares made her blink and smile. She had made it. And when Murph looked out of the capsule, she saw someone coming forward, arm raised against the dust that was rising from where the capsule had hit the ground. Dr. Brand.
"Someone needs to do the work on the calculations from this side," Murph said. This had been what she had told Getty, what she had told her brother, what she had told NASA. And it wasn't untrue. "If we want to bring everyone here safely."
"I thought you solved it. My father's calculation." She didn't sound like much at all, but if Murph had to read something out of her words, it would have been bitterness.
Murph thought she had known Dr. Brand. She remembered Dr. Brand from when Murph had been a child, remembered being so impressed by an actual scientist and especially one so young and beautiful.
Murph had seen Dr. Brand's messages to her father, had talked with Professor Brand about not only his theories but his daughter as well, his plans and the future. But either Murph hadn't known Dr. Brand - Amelia - at all, or the months on the planet had changed her. Murph wasn't sure how to ask and she was pretty sure it was also not her place to do so.
"Orbiting Saturn--" Dr. Brand continued.
"Yes," Murph said, because what else could she say?
"That's why you should have stayed," Dr. Brand said. She sounded angry, but she stood still. Very still. Not losing her composure, even when her words cut. "We don't really need you here, Dr. Cooper. You should have stayed home."
'Home? In a station orbiting Saturn?' Murph didn't say. 'Or did you mean home? Where I spent my whole life hating my father? Where I don't even know my brother anymore? Where I can't breathe?'
"You didn't stay either," Murph said instead, "Dr. Brand."
"And look where that got me," Dr. Brand said, then looked surprised, as if she hadn't expected those words to come out of her mouth.
Murph wasn't a great people person. She used to blame it on her brain, how she liked numbers better, how equations fitted together way better than people ever could. She thought she should hug Dr. Brand, maybe, in some childish impulse. Or that she should say something at least, but she had no idea what, or how.
"I'm going inside," Murph said instead and left. "And getting settled in."
It wasn't like Dr. Brand was avoiding Murph, of that Murph was pretty sure. They just ate at different times, had different day time rhythms, different work schedules.
Still, Murph felt too old for these games.
She didn't need long to find Dr. Brand. As big as the compound was, compared to what Murph had imagined back on Earth, there were few places to stay alone. Which Murph understood -- they were here to work.
Dr. Brand was working in one of the equipment hangers, as far as Murph knew. She didn't bother to hide her presence, but it didn't seem like Dr. Brand had noticed her.
She was working on what seemed to be one of the marine surplus robots the Endurance had taken with them from Earth. It was damaged badly, by what Murph could see, with huge indents that looked like they came from falling rocks. Dr. Brand had the paneling open, twisting wires and adjusting its insides.
Had they been on earth, Murph would have told her to scrap it and get better replacement parts. Even here, working on it seemed futile, though Murph saw why the robot could be useful.
Dr. Brand looked grim, each movement short and abrupt. She had nothing of the grace and joy for her work that Murph remembered.
She was dressed down though, her white shirt stained with oil streaks, her forehead sweaty.
Suddenly, Murph was reminded of when she had met Dr. Brand - Amelia - for the first time. Murph remembered the easy camaraderie, despite their age difference, the light touches to steer Murphs towards the interesting parts in the NASA base, the first time Murph had ever met someone as fascinated by science as Murph was herself.
Murph remembered how Amelia had let her nap in her office. How she had offered Murph her couch and a blanket and how it hadn't felt like she was trying to be a mother to Murph. No, it had felt gentle and friendly, and Murph hadn't been able to forget her.
Murph still hadn't.
She remembered growing up without her dad, remembered hiding away in secrecy from her grandpa and Tom, remembered clinging to the memories of when everything had been alright. She remembered being a teenager, not sure if she wanted to be angry at Professor Brand or at herself or at everyone. She remembered touching herself at night under her covers, cupping her breasts and pinching her nipples, her pillow damp from her hot breath, all while she imagined that it was Amelia doing it.
Murph shook her head. That had been then. She turned around and left, without trying to talk to Dr. Brand.
Murph always felt a chill when she entered the chambers were they were storing the eggs, the fertilized ones and the ones which weren’t. It wasn't because the colder temperature in this part of the compound. At least Murph didn't think so. But rather, all these containers, all these promises for a new human colony, seemed just like the option when Murph would have failed.
But Murph hadn't failed. She knew she hadn't, she told herself as she made her way over to the rows R-2 to R-15. Little containers to check and eggs to watch.
Murph knew they needed the backup plan but she thought about all her work with NASA and she couldn't shake the feeling of uneasiness.
She heard Dr. Brand coming over from where she had been looking at row D-20. With these last weeks, Murph had no idea what to expect from Dr. Brand anymore.
"Listen, Dr. Cooper," Dr. Brand started without much small talk. "I just wanted to say that I hope we can work together. Now that you are here."
"I didn't expect that we wouldn't," Murph said. She put the small phial down and turned around. Dr. Brand was looking right at her.
"I know you came here expecting to find your father," Dr. Brand continued. "And I wanted to say that I am sorry."
"I didn't come here for him," Murph said. She wanted to add that she knew her father wasn't dead, but no one at NASA had believed her, Dr. Brand surely wouldn't either.
Dr. Brand looked at her blankly for another moment, then she said, with a bland voice, "I see." And turned around to head back to row D-20.
Like she thought Murph was lying.
Murph looked down at the watch at her arm, which had stopped moving so long ago. She sighed.
Working on the CASE robot was relaxing. Murph could admit it. She had had to wait until Dr. Brand was busy, checking the hypersleep controls. But that would take her some time, so Murph had snuck into the hangar with the damaged robot unit.
She could see why Dr. Brand herself had some problems putting it together. Murph knew Professor Brand's work and his shortcomings and from what she had been of Dr. Brand's education, assembling a former marine robot hadn't really been part of that. That she had that little progression in the last three months they had been there though, Murph almost couldn't believe that.
Murph also hadn't done this in years. She hadn't forgotten how to do it, though.
When she was halfway done, Dr. Brand's voice came from the entrance of the hangar. "What are you doing?"
Murph startled. She hadn't checked the time, too focused on the work.
"I'm repairing him," Murph answered. She forced herself to stay calm, to keep working and not look at Dr. Brand. "He will be helpful."
She thought Dr. Brand would say something, would protest, force Murph to let the work drop - anything at all. When Dr. Brand didn't answer though, Murph glanced at her. She was standing there stiffly.
"That's... Good," she finally said. "He discovered Edmunds just the day before he..." She broke off, but remained there. Murph thought about telling her that she had read all about that in Dr. Brand's report about the discovery. But she didn't think that was what Dr. Brand wanted to hear.
"I wanted to take him with me to check out the immediate area," Murph said gently, carefully only looking down at CASE's inner workings. "If you want to come with me."
Dr. Brand's voice sounded tight. "No, thank you," she said and left.
Murph sighed but she didn't bother to follow Dr. Brand. She wiped off her forehead and took a few steps through the room. She hadn't even noticed how fast the time was passing.
That the planet was so dusty, that was Murph's biggest regret. There was water, sure, more than anyone could still say about earth. But Murph had hoped she had left most of the dust deserts behind when she had gone to mankind's' new home.
Murph left CASE behind to wash herself off. The sand was everywhere, sticking under her arms and between her toes and behind her ears. At least Murph knew how to deal with dirt. And she wouldn't want to miss their discovery walks - holed up like they were in the compound, actual manual walking over a longer distance sounded so good. Murph didn't know how Dr. Brand could stand it. And on walks like these, when they stayed in the desert for multiple days, collecting data and setting up stations to broadcast signals.
Murph thought Dr. Brand would have liked the planet. Not even for its geography, probably, but because it was going to be theirs.
Murph was just finished with washing the shampoo out of her air, wet and naked still, when she heard the door to the washing room open.
"CASE?" Murph called out. "What is it?"
Murph used her hands to brush out the last of the shampoo and turned around. It wasn't CASE.
"You are back," Dr. Brand said. She sounded relieved but her voice was barely audible over the shower. Murph turned off the water stream and grabbed her towel to wrap it around herself.
"Of course," she answered. Maybe it was the absurdity of the situation, with Murph naked under the towel and Dr. Brand just standing there, fully dressed in her work clothing, like she had run over from where ever she had been at as soon as she had heard that Murph was back. The thought made Murph smile. Murph just had to joke. It was probably her father's genetics. "I wouldn't run off with someone like CASE. You don't have to worry."
Dr. Brand smiled at Murph, the first real smile she had given Murph since Murph had arrived. She had raised her hand, like she wanted to touch Murph on the shoulder, like she had done when Murph had been just a little child fascinated by someone like Dr. Brand.
"I wouldn't leave you alone out here," Murph added. "Dr. Brand."
Dr. Brand closed her eyes for a moment, took a deep breath and when she opened them again, she did step forward, to touch Murph's naked shoulder. "Amelia," she said.
Murph smiled and raised her own hand to put it over Amelia's.
The planet - and that's what Murph had been calling it, not even by its name, or by the moniker "Edmunds" that Amelia still stuck to - had mild seasons, at least where the base camp was stationed. Still, Murph had never really experienced temperatures like that during the night. She put on a jacket, wrapped a scarf around her face, which was habit from all the way back on earth, really. Her feet and toes and fingertips would be blue when she got back inside. But she couldn't just stay inside. She needed to look up into the sky, into the new galaxy that was her home now. She needed to breathe, fresh air, unpolluted by dust.
She tucked her fingers into the jacket. It was getting dark and with the two moons so distant, the darkness was really present.
Sometimes when Murph looked up, she swore she could see the wormhole in the distance, giant and black but not threatening, just there. That wasn't true, of course, and Murph wouldn't mention it to Amelia. There was no way her human eyes could see it from here. She stared up there, and wondered about what was happening on the other side. If the space stations on Saturn were functioning. If her brother and his family were safely up there. How old they were now, if they were even still alive. If it was worth sending them a message, with the time delay it would arrive. If they expected that of her, or if they knew her better. If she had made some mistake in the calculation and everything had crashed. Murph tried not to think about that. She had left. There was nothing she could do.
She looked away then. Took another deep breath of the air, and headed back inside. Soon, they would be done with all the work they could be doing. Soon they would rest and wake up when the rest of humanity followed them.
Murph tiptoed her shoes off and steps quietly, because Amelia was asleep. Murph slipped in next to her, pressed her cold nose against Amelia's back and her plain shirt. The room, despite the good air circulation system they had in place, was kind of stuffy and warm. But Murph knew she could stay a few hours and sleep, cuddled close to Amelia, before she had to go outside again.
Murph twisted her hands into the sheets as she rubbed herself against Amelia's thigh. It was wet, probably from earlier, when Amelia had come the second time. Murph knew there still would be marks from her fingers when she had gripped Amelia's thighs to keep her legs open. It was slick and warm between them, sweaty enough to make their bodies glide and Murph could even ignore the air, breathless as she was anyway.
Murph’s breasts rubbed over Amelia's with every thrust. Amelia was looking up at her, eyes closing every few seconds and her lips were puffy already from their kisses. Murph wanted to lean down again, bite her lips and lick them open. Murph's arms were trembling though, until she couldn't hold herself up there any longer. She collapsed out of her push-up position to fully lie on Amelia. Amelia just grunted. Her lips were moving against Murph's side of the head, mumbling words into Murph's hair, but Murph had no idea what she was saying. Murph just continued to rub herself over and over against the friction given by Amelia's thigh. The sweat that made it easier to glide almost felt sticky now, shaping their bodies close and merging them, like a space anomaly.
Murph's orgasm finally came over her in slow waves, pooling in her lower back. She groaned, couldn't help it and Amelia's fingers tightened on her hips. She heard Amelia whisper encouragement, louder than whatever she had mumbled before, but Murph didn't fully hear these words either. In one last act, Murph pushed herself off of Amelia, rolling into the balled-up sheets at the side of the bed.
She was tired.
"I'm going to sleep now," Murph said, her words already slurring. Amelia would leave in a bit, she always did, maybe because lounging around in bed felt too indulgent. Murph always missed how warm the bed was with her in it. The air tasted better as well.
She slipped off already and woke what felt like only a second later to warm breath at her neck and the bed slightly dipping.
"I always thought I would be fine here," Amelia whispered against Murph's side of the head. Her voice wasn't louder than her breath. "I thought there was no evil... just space. And I thought the nightmares would stop with someone else here."
Then Amelia slipped back under the covers, and Murph herself slipped back into sleep again.
"They're in time," Amelia said and it sounded more like she was trying to reassure herself.
"Yes, they are," Murph answered because of that. She took a break from watching the sky - from watching where the wormhole was supposed to be - to look at Amelia instead. Only her profile was visible, with her staring up into the sky intensely. She was biting her lip from time to time, blinked rarely, as if she was worried she might miss anything. She wrung her hands at her sides, twisting them. Those were small movements though and if Murph hadn't known Amelia as well as she did, she would have missed it.
The lines in Amelia's face looked more pronounced in the light of the day. Murph almost never saw her then, with both of them busy with their work, and maybe that was why they had lasted so long, because they avoided each other when their shadows, angsts and insecurities were brought to light by the new humankind's sun. Tiny grey hairs had smuggled themselves into Amelia's short cut; Murph had never noticed before.
Murph looked back up, squinting. The wormhole was somewhere, but Murph doubted they were actually seeing anything. Impossible. Too far away.
"I think I saw something," Amelia said suddenly. Quietly. Respectfully.
Murph didn't see anything, but she reached out anyway to grip Amelia's hand tight. They had done everything they could. It was time for them to sleep.
Eighty six years, seven days and twenty hours later, the first batch of transported equipment from the orbit of Saturn landed on the planet.