Derel Larsen sat bolt upright in the bed as his ear-roll chimed. He was halfway to Meriam’s room before he realized that the chime wasn’t her security alert. It was just a phone call.
“Larsen,” he said, thumbing the connect. He kept going towards Meriam’s door.
“Larsen?” a voice said. One of the controllers at flight. Jamie, Larsen thought. Nice woman, even if she did have to confirm his name right after he’d said it.
“Medical leave is over, sport,” Jamie said.
Larsen pushed Meriam’s door open. She was asleep on the bed, white sheets pushed back down around her feet in the humidity. The painted readout on the armature above her head was all blue. She was sleeping normally. He went in and pulled the sheets up over her, staring at her face for a moment. So sweet and angelic. How had five years turned this bubbly academic elementary school achiever into a semi-suicidal wreck?
“Larsen? You still there?”
He stared for a moment longer, then went back out to the hallway.
“I’m here,” he said. “I was just checking on Meriam. Didn’t want to wake her.”
“Sure, yeah. Anyway, I’m sorry to tell you that the flight director has cancelled your medical leave. You’re to report to the pads at China Lake first thing.”
“You call me in the middle of the night to-”
“It’s seven am,” Jamie said. “Normal alert time.”
“Seven.” Larsen thumbed up a wall display. 7.03am, July 20th. His sleep was so messed up these days. He headed for the kitchen
“Sorry, sir, but Director Richfield says that you’ve been gone long enough and this is a priority run.”
Larsen was quiet for a moment. “Jamie?”
“Sir? Please. He said they’ll send a car for you if they have to. Then he said that they would make all the arrangements for your daughter while you’re off-planet.”
He could feel his anger rising. Technically they could call him back, anytime they liked. But Richfield had promised him as long as he needed.
At the bottom of the stairs, Larsen turned and went and tabbed open the kitchen door. As he came in the lights flared on and the morning panels slipped up into the ceiling. The coffee cylinder started brewing.
“You still there?” Jamie said. “If you hang up on me, they’ll send a car.”
Larsen thumbed for toast and cereal. Cancelled the cereal and thumbed yoghurt. Protein bacillus crazy-making tasty keep you alert yoghurt. He missed the old days when he could run on just coffee without some medical spiker at the base running his blood and censuring his diet.
“Sheesh,” Jamie said. “I can hear you doing your breakfast stuff. No wonder Richfield said he wouldn’t call you. How naive am I to be the one on the end of one of your silent tantrums?”
Silent tantrums? That sounded like one of Richfield’s terms. He’d probably said that to poor Jamie when he gave her the work chit. “It’s not a tantrum,” Larsen said. “I’m just processing the details.”
“What’s to process? Get to base or get court-martialed. A medical team will be-”
“My daughter tried to kill herself again two days ago.”
Jamie didn’t say anything. The coffee cylinder flashed a bead of blue at him and filled the cup. This was Centauri Coffee. Off-world. And it still amazed him that here was coffee from light-years away. It was within his lifetime that it had changed. The kids today just accepted that their produce came from anywhere, but when he was a boy all these new worlds were the frontier of discovery. Columbus sailing for the West Indies. The domestication that had happened in thirty-odd years astonished him. It was becoming hard to find anything except fresh vegetables that was made right here on Earth.