Chapter 07.5

Meanwhile, on the mid-deck Jackie was sipping a cup of herbal tea before bed, while Sally was lingering over her morning cup-o-joe. The creases on one side of her face and her disheveled hair indicated that she had been sleeping hard. “May we use the commons?” Valerie asked, referring to the mid-deck common area, as she stepped off the ladder and through the hatch, followed closely by Tom. “We have something private to discuss.”

“Sure,” Jackie said, picking up her cup and heading for the stateroom.

“I’ll go on down to the control center,” Sally agreed, as she grabbed her cup and juggled the hot toaster pastry that had just popped up.

“That’s fine, thanks,” said Valerie. “Oh, and Sally, I’d like to have a chat with you also, later on today.”

Sally shot Tom a worried look over her shoulder, then started down the ladder, but stopped to let Carl complete his climb, as he was on his way up. The puzzled glance Tom returned her way as he shrugged told Sally he didn’t have a clue as to why the doctor wanted to speak to him in private. His thoughts immediately focused on his medical exam from three days ago. “So level with me doc. How long have I got?” He tried to smile and play it off, but knew by the look on Valerie’s face this was something very serious.

“Pardon me, just passing through,” Carl announced as he headed off toward the other stateroom, barely glancing at Tom.

“I wish it were that simple,” Valerie told Tom. “I’m recommending you take the next few days off. You’re not even going to want to be here when I tell you what has happened. Sit down, Tom.” Valerie pulled out one of the stools to sit on. Tom followed suit. “Tom, I’m so sorry, but there’s no easy way to say this…” tears began to well up in her eyes and trickle down her cheeks, as she choked out the words. “It’s Penny. She’s gone.”

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