She never knew why the dinosaurs on the bridge were off-limits. The plastic toys were tantalizingly out of reach of her tiny fists and whenever she would grasp for one, her mother would pull her away.
"You leave those be, little one," she would say in that calm, but firm way her daughter knew meant she was serious.
None of the crew ever mentioned them or even acknowledged their presence. They were just part of the ship. If one ever fell out of place during a rocky take-off or quick getaway her mother would always put it right back where it had been without a word.
The little girl could tell they were special and she wanted to touch them.
And so, one night, when she was big enough to wander the ship without needing someone to guide her, she crept out of her bed and snuck up to the bridge.
A shuffling sound woke Zoe from her sleep. Instinctively she glanced over at her daughter's cot. A wave of panic swept over her when she saw it was empty. She slid out of bed and up the ladder of their bunk. The trouble a four-year-old could get into on this ship made her shudder.
It didn't take Zoe long to find her. Once in the corridor, she heard the sounds of giggling coming from the bridge. She breathed a sigh of relief.
Thank god she didn't stray far, she thought before making her way up the stairs. Best make sure the child hadn't messed with the controls and sent them spinning off into the black.
But the sight that met Zoe at the door made her heart stop.
Her daughter sat comfortably in the pilot's seat, tiny feet dangling off the edge. In her lap was a small pile of plastic dinosaurs. At the moment, the T-Rex and stegosaurus were locked in a deadly battle. She was making little explosion noises when they crashed together. She looked so content.
Just for a moment, Zoe imagined someone else in that chair. She saw a smiling blond man holding his little girl in his lap. Together they arranged the toys on the console, planning their next great battle. He would make the funny voices and she would squeal with delight, pick up another dinosaur and ask its name. Zoe could imagine the hours they would have spent together up here under the stars.
There was no way the dinosaurs could stay off-limits anymore.
At that moment, the little girl looked up and saw her mother in the doorway.
"Momma?" she said with eyes wide, expecting a scolding.
Those big blue eyes that were all too familiar.
Zoe said nothing. Just smiled at her girl and made her way to the console, leaning on it easily as had once been her way. She picked one of the dinosaurs from her daughter's lap and stomped it along the console, making crashing noises of her own. The little girl laughed and together they played until she fell asleep in the comfortable chair.
As Zoe carried her back to their bunk, she vowed to tell her the story behind the dinosaurs tomorrow. For now, she just tucked her daughter into her cot, kissed her on the forehead and left the girl to dream, T-Rex clutched in her little fist.