An entry for the TwiSciFi Contest.
Many thanks to MeadowC for brainstorming with me on gchat (more like me babbling), and my absolute gratitude to AFalcon for patiently giving me her ear and time to beta this story.
Twilight belongs to SMeyer
Captain I. Swan, Selene Hudor of the UEA
September 23, 2407
Mission: Water Collection of GJ667Cc
Log entry: 355 of 730
"So far everything is working like a well-oiled machine with the crew on the planet. Water containers are half full and expect another three weeks before we make our way back to Dione for the drop-off. No reports of pirates or any other disturbances in the area. Here's hoping to a smooth run for the rest of the trip. End entry."
Isabella Swan switched off the recorder and leaned back in the chair she was currently occupying on the edge of the command center. She glanced around at the evening crew, making sure that everything was working like a well-oiled machine. Things had been relatively clear sailing for this trip, but that didn't mean they would stay that way. Vigilance was mandatory. Collecting water was a hazardous occupation as the demand was more than what could be supplied of the precious commodity.
As she took in the viewing screen before her, she noticed her new second-in-command standing off to the side in the dim light taking in the view of the planet and scattering of floating rock beneath them.
Isabella could understand the fascination. It had knocked her for a loop when she first encountered it.
All that water. All that life.
She had seen pictures as a child of what her home planet of Earth looked like in the early 21st century and felt incredible sadness over the changes that had happened since that time. Water had become virtually poisoned and the planet could barely sustain any sort of plant life. Scientists had been able to take back small pockets of land and water to grow food and animals, but Earth was too damaged to sustain life as it once did. Only military and the very rich could live there.
Humans had to create colonies on Mars and Dione, one of the moons around Saturn, in order to survive. Both had little to sustain growing civilizations, and needed help to continue to grow. Many moved beyond the Milky Way to find another "Earth." Some were never heard from again, but others returned from long missions with news of worlds that contained great amounts of vegetation and water, which had found the United Earth Authority ship, the Selene Hudor and its crew orbiting the exoplanet, GJ667Cc, aka Waterworld to gather water to distribute on Dione.
Isabella stepped up beside Deputy Webber to take in the vibrant blue of the planet.
"Wow, all that water," the younger officer admired.
"It's quite beautiful," the captain agreed.
"Does Earth look anything like that?"
Isabella frowned, remembering the last time she saw her home world. It looked more brown than blue. Patches of green and white were few, but visible as she transferred to the ship on the Moon.
"Uh, no…no, it's mostly brown."
Deputy Webber glanced over at her with tears brimming in her eyes and nodded her thanks, watching her Captain with hope for something more; something akin to what could only be a fairy tale answer which Isabella couldn't give.
Isabella, feeling uncomfortable under the girl's growing emotions, gave the bridge over to the Deputy's command and excused herself to her quarters.
Emotions were too messy for Isabella. They brought complications.
She believed in structure, organization, and a duty to follow through to the letter. Outside of her job, she had known only chaos. Her early life had been filled with destruction as her parents were anything but respectful of their duties to her and their own lives. They had lost everything they had as they let too many emotions get in the way.
The moment she became of age, Isabella signed on with the United Earth Authority. It provided her with the structure and security she felt was lacking in her young life. She had quickly climbed through the ranks, and earned her first Deputy position on a ship by the age of nineteen. Two trips to the Water planet later and she had been given her own command of the Selene Hudor.
As Captain, Isabella made sure that her crew understood the duties they were being hired for before they signed on for the two year mission. It was not an easy job to be separated for years at a time from family. Many joined anyway as they were much like their Captain: without family, and grateful to be assigned a job that gave them purpose.
"Incoming call from Deputy Webber," came the soothing, feminine voice communicator.
"Let it through."
"Captain, there was a problem with the voice recording. Your daily log did not save or go through to command. The problem has been fixed if you would like to resubmit the report."
"Thank you. Out."
Isabella sighed in frustration. It was the second technical glitch in a week. She trusted the crew to fix a problem when it arose, and they did, but it was not something they could afford when they were this far away from a space dock. Any glitch could lead to bigger problems.
She turned her head towards an inconspicuous door in the corner of her neat cabin. Grudgingly, she walked over to it, awaited the soft blue panel of numbers to appear and typed in her personal code. The door slid open with a low swooshing sound, revealing a blank white room that was the standard eight foot by eight foot for all captains' cabins, with a clear plastic chair and vid table in the center.
The blank room gave her the creeps. It was too sterile and cell-like.
Striding over to the desk, she waved her hand over the center to activate the video control panel. A series of keyboards appeared and she typed in another code to access the Captain's Log.
"This is Captain Isabella Swan of the UEA Selene Hudor. Begin recording Captain's Log," she commanded in a strong voice, ready to get out of the room that felt like it was closing in on her in its starkness.
The feminine voice communicator responded, "Affirmative, begin recording Capta-"
The lights in the white chamber flickered as the ship's voice communicator stopped abruptly. Isabella growled in frustration and banged her fist on the center of the table causing the lights to pause and then return to normal.
"Selene, start Captain's Log recording," Isabella commanded, feeling the rise of annoyance over another glitch.
She'd take care of her report and then have a word with the computer techs. This needed to be fixed! The Selene needed to be in prime working order. One mistake and they could all lose their lives and starve the people back on Dione.
"Would you like to set up your personal hologram first, Captain Swan?" was the ship's response.
"What? No! I want to record the Captain's Log and then see why you've gone crazy on me!" Isabella practically bellowed at the computer.
"Starting Hologram program, please choose your personal avatar," the ship continued in her melodic voice.
"Override set-up and start the Captain's Log!" Isabella yelled, now standing and hovering over the desk, ready to do violence.
"Confirm, male avatar activated."
"Shit! Selene! Stop program!"
Isabella walked over to the door to punch in the code to leave, but was greeted with a mocking red light stating it was incorrect.
"Selene, open this fucking door!" Isabella yelled into the barren room, feeling it become smaller and smaller to her eyes.
"Running male program," was the only reply.
"Male? If I get my hands on you, I'm having you neutered!" Isabella continued her tirade, striding over to the table to see if she could shut down the program that way, but found it was locked.
"Selene!" she started but was cut off by the change of voice and the appearance of a man standing two feet in front of her with a calm smile on his face.
"Welcome, Captain Swan. May we get started?" the man asked.
Isabella just stood there and took in the solid-looking handsome male in front of her. She knew it was all an illusion, created by the Cullen Institute, but she had never witnessed one of their holograms up close. She was speechless at the level of detail provided to make the image appear like a real human being.
"Uh- I need the Captain's Log," she stated, coming out of her momentary shock. She took a seat in the chair behind her; her anger giving away to curiosity.
The male smiled in acknowledgement with a subtle duck of his head before the blue glow of the keyboard on the table returned to proper order.
"Please begin, Captain Swan," he replied as he kept his eyes on her, his hands clasped before him as he awaited his next order.
Isabella returned to business and gave her report, but did not move to leave when she finished. She was intrigued by the program standing before her. Without thinking, she stood and walked over to the man to get a closer look.
He was tall, probably over six feet she guessed. He was dressed in a non-descript long-sleeve knit shirt and black pants. His skin was pale with hair that looked like it could be a mix of gold, red, copper, and some brown. She stepped around to face him, stunned by the brilliance of the green of his direct gaze and the strong, but pleasant, features.
She reached out with a finger and they both watched as it went through his body.
"I am a hologram, Captain Swan. We can begin with changing my features to one of your family members if you so wish."
Isabella stepped back to gain some distance and put her mind back on track of her responsibilities. This whole thing was getting out of hand. She needed to return to her duties and find out why there were problems with the ship.
"No, there will be no further need to change anything. Unlock the door and shut down the hologram program," she commanded, pushing away from the wall and walked over to the door, expecting it open.
"Captain Swan, your stress levels are higher than most other members of the crew. The hologram room is beneficial to your down time. May I suggest a change in environment?"
"No, thank yo-"
Before she could finish her response, the room changed to a tree-laden area with the sound of bird song and rushing water in the distance. Isabella's eyes widened in wonder at the accuracy of the simulated surroundings of her childhood.
"My god, it looks like the North Western Preservation," she whispered as she turned in astonishment.
Tall trees reached high above her, up into the cerulean blue sky. It was her favorite place when she was younger. Birds flew free instead of in cages at the zoo. Water was pure for the animals like deer and rabbits to drink. She had even gone swimming in it. If there was anything that gave her happiness from childhood, this was it.
But it was a lie.
She faced the man and returned to her authoritative stance. "Close program and unlock the door. That is an order."
The hologram looked disappointed as he nodded in acceptance.
The forest disappeared and the door unlocked. Isabella practically ran through her cabin as if the holograms could give chase. She was almost to the technical office for the main computers when she realized where she was. She looked down at her hands to see them shaking.
"This won't do. This won't do at all," she said quietly, promising herself to find a way to erase the hologram programming in her cabin.
She closed her hands into tight fists and let out a sharp breath before entering the office. It would do her no good for the crew to see her acting less than her chosen position: As Captain.
After three hours of working with the tech team to fix The Selene's computer system and run a dozen scans over every piece of hardware she possessed, Isabella dropped onto her bunk and fell into a restless sleep that switched from nothingness to dreams of being surrounded by woods with a pale, handsome man at her side. He never said anything to her in the dreams, but was near her with a concentrated look of expectation at every step. It was like he could see every part of her, and not just bodily. It was like he knew every secret she possessed and wanted her to admit to all of them out loud.
The morning brought another round of computer checks and scans as the crew on the surface continued to collect water. Isabella wasn't really needed to supervise the majority of the work but stayed busy with giving surprise inspections to various work stations. If most of the crew was surprised by the Captain's visits during this part of the mission, they said nothing as they chalked it up to the recent problems with The Selene. Only a few, like Deputy Webber, wondered if it could be something more when they saw the dark smudges under her eyes. Still, none stopped her unexpected presence.
"-and the computer glitch seems to be fixed, but will keep vigilant. Water collection is still on schedule. End entry." Isabella finished at the side consol in the commander center.
She closed the Captain's Log and looked over at the night crew to see if they had finished running the last of the diagnostics on the control room's computers for the day. All was in its last stages as Deputy Webber finished speaking with the ground crew on the blue planet below them.
Isabella must have dozed off in her chair as she had waited for the final report because the next thing she knew she was being called. She looked up from her slumped position to see Deputy Webber looking down at her with concern.
"Captain? Are you alright?"
"Sorry, please report," Isabella asked, sitting up straighter in her chair, ignoring her Deputy's silent invitation to share something personal.
"The planet crew is on schedule and started their shift rotation thirty minutes ago. The recent computer scan showed everything to be clean."
"Thank you, the ship is yours for the evening," Isabella said, standing to retire for the evening, feeling some relief that the glitches from the past day had been fixed and looking forward to resting her now protesting, sluggish limbs.
She didn't bother to raise the lights in her cabin as she removed her uniform and cleaned the day's grime from her body. Her bed was a welcome haven and she quickly fell into a deep sleep.
"Captain Isabella, would you like to continue setting up your holoroom?"
"Huh?" Isabella sleepily replied to the formal request, barely raising her head from the pillow bunched beneath her face.
"We did not finish your holoroom and I suggest completing the program for your beneficial comfort," the male voice explained from somewhere to her right.
Groggily Isabella turned her head in the direction of the voice and practically leaped for her personal gun as she saw the male from yesterday standing in the doorway of the connecting room to her cabin.
"Fucking shit! I thought I deleted your ass!" she yelled as she dove to the opposite side of the bed, and rolled to a kneeling position with her gun pointed to the man's head.
The man stood calmly with hands folded in front of him and replied: "I am part of the programming of the ship and am used for your health during these journeys."
"My health is great, just had a physical before the mission, so whatever you have in mind is not necessary," Isabella said, standing and placing the gun on the table next to her bed.
"Your stress levels are extremely high and considered a possible danger to your health."
"My stress levels? You've got to be kidding me! The only thing stressing me is you. Now shut down and let me sleep!" she said, crawling back onto the bed.
"Your sleep patterns-"
"Oh for the love of God!"
Isabella got out of bed and walked to the doorway, but firmly stayed on her side as she did not want a repeat of being locked in like last night. She gave her best "death stare" with arms crossed over her chest.
"I am a good listener, Isabella. I will make no judgments," Edward calmly implored.
She sighed and stepped through the door way into the small space, falling onto the clear chair. Raising her knees to the chest, she wrapped her arms around her legs.
"This better be good, hologram man," Isabella said in sleepy defiance.
"I am Edward created by Cullen Industries. If you would like to change my appearance I can become the image of a family member or friend."
With those words, Edward turned into Isabella's Mother.
Stunned, Isabella jumped up from her seat and yelled, "Don't! Don't ever do that!"
The image turned back into Edward with a contrite expression. "I apologize, Captain. I thought seeing a family member would give you comfort. I have two other possibilities for your personal avatars if you would like to choose one of them."
Again, Isabella lowered herself back in the chair after the nasty shock from the hologram, Edward.
"I can guess who the other two are and I do not want to see them standing before me," she said, waving her hand in Edward's direction.
"Who may I project for your comfort?"
"No one, just stay as you are."
"Noted for records. May we continue to the next phase and set up the atmosphere of the room? Would you like for me to project the woods from yesterday?"
"Yes…yes, that will be fine," she replied hesitantly.
"Would you like to set a time for each day for the woods program to run for your relaxation?"
"Uh, I don't know…look, this is strange for me, Edward," Isabella began as she leaned forward and placed her elbows on the table between them. "I'm used to being alone at the end of the day. I prefer it. I don't know how you were activated or why it's happening now, but I really don't need some sort of computer program to act as my babysitter or doctor."
Edward stood before her with his calm demeanor and clasped hands, taking in all of her words and reading her vital signs. The room adjusted to the Captain's unspoken needs by changing the room's interior to the comfort of a sunrise in the woods from her home on Earth.
Entranced by the visuals, Isabella sat back and watched the world unfold around her.
The virtual sun was peeking through the mountains in the simulated background as birdsong followed. Life was awaking and beginning the day as the sun moved higher, kissing the mountain tops golden-blush on its journey to the cerulean blue sky painted above Isabella's head. A slight breeze brushed against her cheek as it moved past her and ruffled the leaves in the near-by trees. A doe and her fawn passed close by, causing Isabella to hold her excited breath at seeing such beautiful creatures up close.
Edward faded to leave the Captain alone for the sunrise, but keep watch of her levels, which were lowering and maintaining a peaceful state. At least he felt that he had created something right for her.
Isabella kept the good feeling with her throughout the day as she went about her duties. As much as she had fought against the use of the holoroom, she was grateful for another glimpse of the moments in her life that had made her happy. When she retired for the evening, she moved the table and chair from the holoroom and replaced them with a soft mat on the floor. She instructed Edward to play the woods, but this time to watch the sunset.
As the sun finally sank behind the mountains, Edward appeared, sitting on the ground next to her.
"Would you like me to switch to something else?" he questioned softly, keeping the Captain's state of relaxation his first priority.
She rolled her head towards him and looked up at his handsome face with a peaceful smile. "I think that's enough for the evening. I better get to my bunk before I fall asleep in here."
"Noted," he replied with a smile. "Rest well, Captain Swan."
"Isabella. I want to leave Captain duties outside of this place," she said quietly, feeling herself drift towards sleep.
Edward's smile widened as he repeated her name and wished her a good rest.
For the next week, Isabella had Edward play the sunrise in the morning and the sunset in the evening in the holoroom. Each time she left the room, she left behind another piece of the wall she had built around herself.
The crew noticed the changes in her attitude. She had always been fair, but sometimes on the gruffer side of things when dealing with them. The stiffness in her posture was gone and there was a softening in her speech. The Captain still demanded that they remember their duties at all times, but she would treat them with a smile or a polite thank you after addressing them.
Deputy Webber, who was the Captain's right hand person, and the one who was up close to all the changes, was the one who noticed it the most and wondered at her change. By the end of the week, she had even worked up the courage to ask after she gave her evening report.
"Yes, Deputy?" Isabella responded, her mind already on back on Earth.
"You're acting different. I mean, not in a bad way…god, that's not what I meant to say," the Deputy stumbled as her face turned a bright red in embarrassment.
Isabella looked up to see the anxiety in the Deputy's face. Behind her competency at her job, the Captain spied a shy, awkward girl underneath the uniform.
"What did you mean?" Isabella asked with an amused grin.
"I just meant that you seemed happy. That you seemed relaxed and not as caught up in every detail with the ship," Deputy Webber shrugged, completely flushed with her body practically tucked into herself as if awaiting a serious blow from her boss.
"New relaxation techniques," Isabella explained as she stood from the side desk in command center to leave, a little voice nagging at the side of her thoughts.
"Really? Like meditation?" Deputy Webber asked eagerly, loosening her body now that she felt that she wouldn't get her head handed to her.
"Yeah, something like that. The ship is yours for the next watch." Isabella ended the conversation as she felt the nagging thoughts turn into prickles of unease along her back.
Walking into her cabin for the evening, the side door to the holoroom slid open with Edward standing on the inside of the doorway with a greeting.
"Good evening Isabella. Would you like me to prepare the sunset?"
Agitated, Isabella removed her jacket and shoes, but did not respond except for a mumbled "gimme a sec." Edward remained silent as he watched her pace a few steps around the cabin.
She finally approached the door, but stopped short before she crossed the threshold. Her eyes were firmly on the smooth floor, but her faintly-spoken question was directed at Edward.
"How? Why?" Isabella asked, uncertain what she needed to ask as the more she thought about the whole program with the forest of her home, the more questions popped into her head.
"If you are asking how the room is able to replicate the forest from the North Western-"
"No, I meant how did you know that it was one of my favorite places?"
"Your files are downloaded to the ship's computer including family, places of interest, and any details that can help the holoroom create a space just for you to enjoy."
"Why now? I've been with the Selene for many years. Why did you make yourself known now?"
"I was activated," Edward replied.
"I do not know. I was activated and proceeded with my programming."
Isabella was confused and wasn't anywhere close to having the answer she was seeking. She walked back into her cabin and sat at her personal desk to activate communications. As soon as it was ready she haled Deputy Webber.
"Captain?" came her attentive reply.
"Webber, the glitches last week activated my holoroom. Please run a check on the operating systems that it would be attached to, and report back to me as to how it was activated," Isabella ordered, returning to some her former, steely ways.
She deactivated the computer and rested her face against her hands, frustrated with herself for letting the seduction of her home-world and a handsome face side-track her from her duty.
"Isabella, your stress levels-" Edward began again, sensing her extreme discomfort in both body and mind.
"My stress levels, my stress levels…yeah, I got it. I'm stressed," she said, suddenly tired.
"Can I offer another place that you might enjoy?" Edward continued.
Isabella turned her head to look at him. Really look at him and thought of why he was chosen to be her guide in the holoroom. He wasn't someone she had met before, but he certainly was handsome with a soothing, masculine voice. Like something that she might imagine for her own personal ideal man. She hadn't experienced a personal holoroom before and found the level of realism involved disconcerting. It all felt like she was being set-up for something.
"Why are you here?" she asked in a whisper.
"To give you joy," was Edward's simple reply.
"What if I said that I don't need it? Or you?" she continued, keeping her voice calm.
"Humans need joy to survive; to keep them balanced in their professional lives and in their personal. It keeps them healthy and active," Edward said as if he were reading from a dictionary; dispassionate.
"Interesting," was her only reply as she stood from her chair and crossed to the door of the holoroom.
"I think it's time to put an end to this Edward. I see no point to continue this program. Shut down the holoroom."
Edward stared at her, reading her senses and found that she wasn't as sure of herself as the tone of her voice conveyed. Instead of respecting her order, he changed the holoroom into the forest once again.
"I sense that you are unhappy and what you humans call paranoia. I am simply here to be a friend to you and to help you know joy," Edward told a shocked Isabella.
"I ordered you-" she started, but was cut off by the look of sadness on Edward's face and further pleading.
"I am a good listener, Isabella. I am here for you as your friend."
"This is very strange, Edward. I don't understand why this is happening."
"Would you let me try to make you happy?" Edward asked, standing to the side with a sweeping gesture towards the woods behind him.
Isabella looked at him and his human-like emotions, feeling torn between wanting to return to duty, and also wanting the peace she found this past week. She had never let anything of the sort confuse her in making a decision in the past, but this Edward was giving her something she so badly desired.
"Okay…but just for a little while," she conceded and walked through the door.
Nothing had come up during the scan of the holoroom in the Captain's cabin. All seemed to be as it should in regards to the programs and the room. Isabella tried to take the glitch that triggered Edward's appearance as nothing more than that.
The following evening found her back in the holoroom with Edward at her side discussing what else she would like to experience. She ended up overlooking a lake near the woods. Edward had started to fade, but Isabella asked him to stay.
"When I was young, my Grandma brought me to this place to sit and be 'part of nature,' as she would call it. Everything on Earth was poisoned in some way. I knew of life in tall buildings that were like rock and there was no nature for miles. She would take me to this Preserve and show me all this green and blue. It was beautiful, and I knew only happy times in this place. Grandma would pack a picnic lunch for us and we would spend the day there. She would impress on me how precious the life was in the Preserve."
"Was that why you joined the UEA?" Edward asked, sensing she might welcome questions.
"Not exactly, but it was a part of it. I wanted something stable," Isabella answered with a frown developing on her face.
"You wanted something stable?"
"Yes, I needed stability," Isabella responded a little testily.
Edward remained quiet by her, knowing that when it was time, she would speak again. It was his hope to draw her out more so that she could find more peace within herself.
The next night found them in the same spot and Isabella shared more with Edward about her Grandmother and their time in the Preserve. She didn't mention her parents, but it was clear in her voice that she held a great love for the older woman.
More days progressed and the Captain made sure to keep her head during her work. Her moments with Edward needed to be saved for just that time. The crew was almost finished with the water collection and now was the time to keep their eyes open. Anything could happen, including a surprise raid by pirates. They couldn't afford to lose their cargo, so vigilance had to be the norm at all hours.
Four days later, Isabella was reclining on her mat on the forest floor with Edward next to her. Their conversations had progressed slowly over the past few days, but still remained stilted. Isabella was slowly opening herself up to Edward and the program designed for her. He had her back to a relaxed state during their evenings together. They had stopped meeting in the morning as Isabella told him that she needed to be Captain as soon as her alarm sounded.
"Did you ever want the life that your parents had planned for you?" Edward continued with his questions while bringing to life a spread of violet flowers across the grass beneath them.
Isabella smiled in pleasure at the sight before answering. "No, I wasn't meant to be a society wife. My parents had shown me how shallow that life was. It was all about money and how you could show it."
"I don't see you being one of those people either. I think you were meant to be what you are now," Edward told her.
"What do you want for your future?" Edward continued after a few minutes of silence, wanting to continue their conversation.
Isabella's eyes opened slowly, feeling the weight of Edward's gaze on her. She looked at him to see that he was earnest in his questioning, but felt an unexpected weight in her heart.
"I don't think about it. I expect that I will keep on commanding the Selene until retirement," she murmured.
"Do you want a family? Perhaps settle on a planet or moon?"
She froze at the thought of having her own child. It wasn't an idea that she entertained.
Edward, sensing her rising emotions, tried to placate her in another way in order to give her the peace she so badly needed this time of day.
"I am asking as I think you should have anything you could dream of having."
"That's nice of you to say Edward, but the Selene is my dream. I belong here."
"I think you could have more. I think you have a lot to offer people other than as a Captain," Edward pressed.
Isabella turned to her side and propped her head up on a bent arm to look down at Edward. All his questioning seemed to come from some goal he had planned for her, but she didn't understand the what and why.
"Edward, your words are very pretty, but I don't know what you are getting at," she asked in confusion.
He mimicked her posture, looking over her face, wanting to take away her doubt. "I think you have a lot to live for and should not try to hide here in on the ship."
Isabella recoiled as if stung and sat up. "Hiding? I'm not hiding, I'm doing what I know I am good at doing. Why do you think I'm hiding?
"You said that you ran from a life of privilege for one of security in UEA. You are out here, far away from the closest outpost, and have no close friends. You allow no one to come close and your life has no joy. You are hiding from yourself, Isabella," Edward told her firmly.
Not knowing how to respond, she stood and walked out of the holoroom.
The time for departure came on the Selene and all hands were on deck for the removal process. It took two days to bring the crew and their equipment from the water planet back to the ship. All eyes were open for possible pirates. This was the best time for them to attack as the large water canisters in the hold were filled and guards with weapons were spread thin between minding the ship and protecting the ground crew.
Isabella had not returned to the holoroom no matter how many times Edward hailed her. He had even learned a trick by patching in to her ear piece like an incoming call from one of the crew. Her "real" crew witnessed her tear it out of her ear and stomp on it several times until it was broken.
She even went about locking the hologram room from the outside, but found it sliding open minutes later with Edward waiting for her on the other side. Frustrated, she turned her back on him and put in her earplugs to listen to music. It was rather pathetic since she could feel his eyes on her, waiting for acknowledgement.
Was it a juvenile move on her part? Most likely, she thought, but she didn't like what he'd said to her about hiding.
She kept telling herself that she was living the best life she could think of for herself. It involved space travel and visiting other planets. She was always a loner, so having close friends wasn't really something that appealed to her for the most part, even if she did ache for her Grandma every so often. She had been the one who had really understood her, and had loved her unconditionally. It just wasn't something Isabella felt she could have again in her life, so her duty to the Selene and the UEA took that needs' place.
Or so Isabella told herself.
"Webber, prepare for the final detachment from the planet and prepare the first stages of returning to Dione," Isabella order over her new headpiece.
"Confirmed, Captain. Proceeding," the Deputy replied over increasing static interrupting their conversation.
Worried about another glitch, the Captain alerted the communications team about the quality of the headsets and ear pieces. They promised to get right on it as the Captain made her way to the water containment center to make last minute checks on the stability of the cargo.
"All is well, Captain Swan," said the manager of the storage area, showing her pictures on his screen of the lock mechanisms that held the containers in place.
She checked and rechecked the area, never quite satisfied with her first look. The crew took it in stride as they knew it was her way. Usually it meant a bonus upon return, so they let her do as she pleased.
"Thanks, prepare for travel. We leave in two hours," she replied, then strode to the systems operations waiting for their okay to be able to initiate sleeping facilities on the almost year-long journey home. Given the all-clear she moved to the next post.
By the time she made it back to the lively command center, it was fifteen minutes away from countdown to return to base. She sat in her chair, running on adrenaline, watching over every detail. Nothing was certain until it was time to perform. Even then, anything could go wrong.
"Webber, report," Isabella cued over the headset, static less than before but still a nuisance.
"On my way to command. See you in five," she replied, sounding as if she were running.
After the line went quiet she was hailed again almost immediately.
"Isabella, I wanted to wish you a safe journey back to Dione. I hope that we can continue our meetings in the holoroom before you enter your sleeping chamber," Edward told her, freezing Isabella in place.
"I don't know. I have to think on it," she said as professionally as possible, feeling oddly exposed by Edward contacting her again over the headset. The fact that his words were being said into her ear as she sat in a room full of her crew made her want to squirm in her seat.
"I hope you do. There is so much beauty in you and I would like to help you see it."
"Thank you, out," she said, feeling her throat go dry over Edward's words of praise.
The Deputy ran in the room shortly after and all moved to their stations. Isabella ordered the timer to be displayed on a small space on the top right corner of their viewing screen. Five minutes until return.
With each second that passed, she felt the Selene working herself from half-sleep to full operation. As the clock counted down to the last minute she placed the straps attached to her chair over her shoulders and connected them in the center to keep her from lurching out of her seat when the boosters propelled them forward.
"Captain, we're ready." The Deputy gave the all clear for her command.
"Pilot, engage the first engines."
The Selene started to vibrate with the burst of power and Isabella waited until the count of five before ordering the release of the holding brakes that kept the ship stationary. The ship moved forward at a slow rate, as she pivoted away from the planet and towards the star field behind them.
"Pilot, engage the second engines."
Before the word left this mouth the ship rocked onto her side, as if she had been punched, sending alarms flaring in command.
"What the hell?" Isabella yelled.
"Something hit us!" the Deputy exclaimed, as she furiously typed in the keyboard in front of her.
"I know! Damage report and get weapons online!" Isabella yelled over the noise.
"A fire near the starboard booster rockets," she reported just before another hit sent the ship into another twist, this time short-circuiting some of the controls in the command center.
"Shit! Do we have weapons online?" she yelled into the headset and to the crew before her.
"Yes!" the Pilot responded.
"Great, now maneuver the Selene away from whatever is attacking us," Isabella ordered the Pilot before turning the Deputy to find out exactly what was targeting them.
"I have a visual!"
"Webber, throw it to side-screen."
What Isabella saw sent a pang of fear through her- an outlawed ship moving fast and with multiple weapons aimed at them.
"Shit," she said under her breath before ordering them away from the open atmosphere of the planet. They would take cover in the broken pieces of the extinct moon or planet that orbited the same sun nearby.
The Selene fired back in order to give her some protection, but it was becoming clear that she was out-gunned and the slower moving vessel as they took another hit, this time, destroying the starboard booster rocket completely and half of their vital systems.
Things were going to become desperate shortly as the Selene struggled to keep going. Isabella knew that she had to make the decision to save what she could.
"Webber!" Isabella called to the younger women who looked terrified. They were locked in an unwanted battle that did not favor their survival.
"Captain?" she questioned with wide eyes.
"I want you to prepare escape route Alpha. Do you understand?"
If it were possible, the Deputy's eyes grew bigger in shock at the extreme order.
"Move!" Isabella yelled as she released herself from her seat and headed to stand behind the Pilot. He didn't have a chance to glance back at her as his concentration was on saving the Selene and her cargo.
"You heard me, Pilot. I'm taking over, go with Webber," she said as she quickly changed places with him and resumed the flying of the ship, her ship.
"Captain Swan, it's been an honor," Webber said through the headpiece, but Isabella refused to take her eyes off the screen before her and gave only a nod in return to the sentiment.
Shortly after the crew from the command center left, the alarm changed to the evacuation code. The rest of the crew would be alerted to depart the ship to make an emergency jump through a man-made wormhole with the cargo to Dione. Alpha was only used when a ship was not going to make it and ensured the safety of the majority of the crew.
The majority except for the Captain.
The ship had lost too many of her controls to allow her to die gracefully. Isabella was going to giving her crew the chance to survive, which along with their hard, work would help feed millions back home. Every drop of that water they mined was needed to insure the survival of the human race.
Isabella flew the ship closer to the rocks and put room between her and the other ship in order to hide the separation of the bottom part of the ship with the crew. As soon as she found the window she commanded the drop.
The main part of the Selene, which was more of a shell at this point, a burning shell, maneuvered through the debris as the pirate ship pursued her. Isabella needed a few more minutes to make sure that Deputy Webber, the crew and cargo made it safely to the wormhole.
"Selene, just a little more…" Isabella coaxed as the metal protested around her, letting her know that time was almost up. She hoped to bring the space bastards close enough to take them down with her.
Isabella watched the monitor out of the corner of her eye to see the crew approaching their quick exit back to Dione. She mentally calculated that it would be another minute and proceeded to move closer and closer to the graveyard of twisted metal and rock. The pirate ship was in pursuit, thinking that the water was still aboard the Selene. Weapons fired across the hull and the starboard side, trying to slow down the ship, but it only fueled Isabella to continue onward, relieved that Selene's shields were still holding strong.
"Captain Isabella, there is still time for you to proceed to an evacuation pod." Edward's voice came over her headset. She gasped in surprise that he was still with her.
"There is not enough time, Edward. We need to give the crew the time to jump home," she stated, trying not to feel the emotion and concentrate on the survival of her crew.
"I have activated the pod on the port side of the command center. It will take twenty seconds to reach it from your position and I will disengage as soon as you enter."
"Edward, twenty seconds is too long," Isabella replied as she took the ship through another hard turn among the pieces hurling at her. The pirate ship shot another round of lasers across the back of the ship, jarring her. Damage alerts flashed before her screen, showing that the next to last of the shield generators had been destroyed.
"Shit, just a little more girl. Give me just a little more…" she whispered, taking them out of reach of more fire by swinging around a larger piece of rock, giving the ship some cover.
"Captain, you are losing power. I will not be able to keep the pod-"
"The crew is fifteen seconds away from the jump. I need just a bit more time to keep the focus on the Selene. Move all power to shielding until I give the command to self-destruct," Isabella interrupted, not even entertaining the idea that she had an option.
Edward was quiet for a heartbeat before his tone took on the more human aspects that had affected her back in the holoroom. The tone that made her feel something more than what she told herself she was only allowed to feel beyond her duties.
"Isabella, please. Your life is also important."
She swallowed hard, letting in the feelings that she refused so many times in her life but had recently let herself know.
"Edward, I am grateful to you. You gave me something so perfect," she told him, letting him know something of her heart; that his words to her were not taken lightly.
Another clearing between space junk and the pursuing ship gave them the opportunity to get in another shot, taking out another piece of the Selene. The fire in the bridge grew, causing a film of smoke to block some of Isabella's view.
But it didn't matter; the signal from the crew gave one last pulse on her screen before it went into a dull glow, indicating they had managed to escape. Relief flooded her as well as something bittersweet.
This was it. She was ready.
Isabella maneuvered the ship into an awkward resting space, knowing that she just had to lure the thieves close enough to blow them both into the next life. They were taking the bait, believing that she was surrendering, the thieves slowed to come along side the Selene.
She switched the self-destruct panel open and keyed in her code to begin the countdown.
"Isabella, please," Edward begged.
"I have just enough power to save you. Please, go now."
The Selene was ailing fast as the pirate ship worked to board her. Isabella never thought of surviving this attack, but Edward's plea sent her into some other realm of function. Her spirit felt as if it were watching her body work the controls one last time and moved over to the escape hatch. As soon as the door closed behind her, Isabella grabbed onto a safety strap to stay upright as the small ship lurched and detached from the Selene, spiraling away from the wreckage towards the wormhole to regroup with the others.
Before the pirate ship knew what lay in store for it, the Selene blew up and outward, taking all that was near her with it.
Isabella watched from the small monitor in the pod as a major part of her life gave one last white arc of light before it exploded and went dim. She collapsed onto the seat behind her, out of strength and the adrenaline that pushed her through it all.
Everything she had known was gone and she wondered if listening to Edward had been the right choice. She felt foolish for putting her faith in a man, no, a machine, a figment, a ghost, whatever Edward was and believing his words. His mechanical words.
Trembling, Isabella walked over to the controls to set course to meet up with the rest of the crew before reaching Dione. She proceeded to prepare one of the sleep chambers.
All the emotions inside of her were clamoring to the surface and she felt her eyes flood with tears that she didn't want. She hoped that in sleep she would find that she could keep the emotions under control, and maybe she wouldn't dream of her days in the forest with Edward.
"Captain Swan, how are you feeling this morning?" the kind, motherly nurse asked as she helped to adjust the pillows behind Isabella's head.
"Still sleepy, but not like yesterday," Isabella replied, running the tip of her tongue across her chapped lips to moisten them.
"Good, you're recovering nicely from space sleep. Only a day or two more and you'll be ready for your next command," the nurse encouraged with a kind smile as she replaced Isabella's fluids.
"Thanks," replied Isabella tiredly, knowing very well that the nurse was trying to give her a little hope. Isabella knew it took time to get over space sleep. Especially as hers lasted almost a year.
"Now, you have some visitors. Are you up to it?" she asked.
"Who? Deputy Webber?" Isabella asked sourly. Webber had visited her every day since she had awakened three days ago. It was getting repetitive and annoying.
"No, someone from Cullen Industries," the nurse replied, as she replaced her patient's IV bag.
"What?" she asked, shaking her head to clear it. "Why are they here?"
"No clue, but the gentleman wanted to talk to you," the nurse finished with a wink, letting her know that the man was good-looking.
"Great, sounds like fun," Isabella replied, knowing that she must look like shit and wasn't all that comfortable being in a discussion that could be business related when she was in a weakened position.
"Be right back," the nurse practically skipped out of the room.
Feeling drained, Isabella laid her head back on the pillow and closed her eyes. She was trying to gather strength, but really when she heard the name Cullen, her mind went straight back to Edward. She had hoped that time and sleep would ease something of her heartache, but it didn't.
"Captain Swan, may I speak with you?" asked a melodic voice that sounded awfully familiar.
She opened her eyes to see a formally dressed gentleman with handsome features and green eyes covered in glasses staring down at her with a kind smile. Isabella startled at the similarities of the man and the other she had spent time with in the small holoroom. There were differences as well, but nevertheless, it was him. It was Edward.
"Edward?" she whispered.
The man frowned slightly and then chuckled. "I didn't give you my name, but yes, my name is Edward; Edward Cullen to be exact. I wanted to know if I could ask you some question, Captain Swan."
Isabella stared back in a daze, unbelieving of the man before her.
"I don't know what you want of me," she said, feeling like she was back in one of her sleep-induced dreams.
"I was hoping that you could help me with something about one of my programs. It was on your ship the Selene," he started, taking a seat on the edge of the bed next to her. "Your holoroom gave off a higher level of energy than most normal rooms do. I was hoping that you could tell me a little about what you experienced in your interactions."
The more he spoke the more Isabella felt calm. Whether it was a reaction to his soothing voice or to the remembrance of her time with hologram Edward, she didn't know. Instead she reached her hand out to place on top of the hand of the Edward before her and felt a shock of something move through her that was more than the sensation of the warmth of his skin.
Edward looked as if he had felt the same thing as he had jumped as well. It gave him pause to take a closer look at the women before him. She looked so frail, but the expressions running through her deep, brown eyes belayed him to focus only there. He had never experienced any sort of connection with another person like he was feeling with the Captain. He turned his hand and clasped her smaller one in his, enjoying the sensation.
"I don't think-" she started, unsure if she could talk about that time, but her visitor's next words broke down the barrier she tried to erect.
"I am a good listener, Isabella."