"Good morning, Noah."

He looked up from his screen. Captain Sayers had entered the bridge with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and a tablet in the other. Her navy jumpsuit was wrinkle-free compared to Noah's charcoal grey one, which looked slept in. The gold chevrons on her sleeves glinted green in the low light. Her hair, the same shade as his, was pulled back in a tight bun.

He tapped his earpiece. "Mom, listen to this—"

She grimaced, cutting him off. "Noah, you're supposed to call me Captain when we're on the bridge."

He let his hand fall into his lap. "Sorry, I forgot. But there's no one else around except Pet."

His mother glanced at Pet over the rim of her mug, brows raised. "Why is there a dog on my bridge?"

"She gets lonely in the cargo bay."

His mother clucked her tongue. "The dog is a tool, Noah. I don't want you to get too attached. That's all. The dog is here for a purpose."

He nodded. "Yes, Captain."

She squeezed his shoulder. "Cheer up. It's launch day."

She strode to the captain's chair but didn't sit. She merely sipped her coffee and stood, straight-backed, as she watched the glistening orb on the viewscreen. Captain Beth Sayers was well-liked by her crew. Firm but fair. She was probably a great commanding officer if you weren't her son.

Noah suppressed a sigh and glanced sidelong at Pet, who sat proudly by the door, her golden paws together, her eyes closed as though she were meditating. Sensor dogs were all well-trained, and PET-1341 was no exception, though Daphne was so far away from the galactic front, Pet had never sensed anything that Noah could tell. Still, she was nice to have around. Their canary in the coal mine.

He looked down at the telemetry screen. There was no sign of the hissing noise in the logs. It had been so quiet it hadn't even registered as an event. Whatever it had been, it was gone, now. His earpiece emitted only silence.

"White noise," he muttered.


Noah shrugged. "Nothing. Just some static on the ILM."

His mother waved her coffee mug dismissively. "I wouldn't worry about it." She set down her tablet on the arm of her chair. "I expect to launch the rover around oh-six-hundred hours, once the others are prepared."

Noah leaned back in his seat with his arms folded, staring at his booted feet sourly. He'd asked more than once to go down to the surface with the away team, but the answer was always the same. He was to stay behind on the Julius with Koskinen, the ship's engineer, while his mother and the rest of the crew completed their survey of the moon.

He was about to ask again when Second Lieutenant Banerjee entered the bridge.

"Hey, Noah." Banerjee carried a mug of Earl Grey tea. Its scent filled the room. "You ready for launch?"

Noah nodded glumly.

Banerjee paused by the door, bent, and stroked the ruff of coarse hair at Pet's neck. She looked up at him with adoration in her eyes.

"Sense anything today?" he said to her.

She chuffed.

He chuckled as he straightened. "I'll take that as a no. You're not needed here, are you, Pet? We're lightyears away from the fighting in this star system." Banerjee gestured to the viewscreen with a nod of his chin. "And there's nothing on that rock but ice. Nothing to worry about at all."

Noah looked at the viewscreen and ventured, "If Daphne is so boring, why can't I come with you?"

Banerjee looked at Noah's mother, a wry smile on his lips. "That's not up to me."

Noah sighed.

The pilot clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't lose heart, kid. When we get back, if the captain allows it, I'll teach you how to drive the second rover."

Noah brightened. "Really?"

Banerjee shrugged. "Why not? You're sixteen, now. It's time you got some practice behind the stick." He sipped his tea, then pointed at Noah with one finger. "But if you dent my rover, I'll have you vaporized."

Noah grinned. "Yes, Sir."

The pilot's brown eyes twinkled. He strode to the captain, and they huddled together, speaking in low voices and gesturing to Daphne on the viewscreen. Noah leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs at the ankles, the smile still tugging at his lips. The rover! He knew there was a reason he'd always liked Banerjee.

He looked at the telemetry station, at the ILM logs, now dark. The screen cast a sickly green glow on his hands, making his pale skin look sallow in the low light, and his smile faded.


He looked up.

His mother was looking at him expectantly. "Would you mind checking in on Dr. Volkova? See if she needs any help getting her instruments down to launch."

He pushed himself up off his chair. "Sure, Mom."

She cleared her throat, and he winced.

"I mean, yes, Captain."

She nodded. As he turned and strode off the bridge, he slapped his thigh, and Pet followed, her warm, yellow body brushing up against his leg.

"Good girl," he whispered.

She made a sound of contentment.

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