Dicey odds

by James

Edgbaston twisted the crystal goblet in the light overhead. With one eye closed he squinted through the other, glowing warm inside as the light danced from gold to amber and back and again. Whisky so fine, older than him, and it didn’t matter if you were counting the numbers since his birth, or his stasis sleep age. He set the glass down in order to plink in a single cube of ice. After a month of stasis sleep the crick crack sound of the ice cube fracturing was glorious music.

Welsh said, ‘That is a travesty.’

Edgbaston smiled. ‘When all that’s needed is a single drop of water to bring out the real depth of flavour.’

Welsh snorted. He was shaking his head. ‘Every time. Every time you do this. We teeter, trapped on the edge of the anomaly, not enough power to break free, but just enough to stop us being pulled down.’ He shook his head wearily. ‘And you sit there sipping whiskey, squandering our precious energy to make your ice. Power that could drive our engines a moment more, power that could-‘

Edgbaston snorted his disdain. ‘I worked it out, remember? Each cube of ice buys us point nought nought nought nought three seven seconds of extra time not being pulled into the black hole.’

Welsh slapped the table.

‘It’s a day of power for a stasis pod! Your precious ice is a day of someone’s life.’

‘Of someone’s sleep. Their dreamless sleep.’

‘It’s their right to life, that you steal.’

Edgbaston raised the glass to the light once more. He was not addressing Welsh as he softly said, ‘It’s the least of what I steal.’

Welsh nodded, and sat, and the anger slowly drained from his face.

‘Fetch the dice,’ Edgbaston said. ‘Let’s get this over with.’ As Welsh hesitated, Edgbaston smiled wryly. ‘All this power for the lights and the heat, all this precious power? Isn’t that days and days of someone’s life?’

Welsh shoved back his chair and stumbled across to the storage locker. He came back with the metal cup and the pair of dice. He shook the cup with vigour, over and over and over as Edgbaston sipped at his whisky. He had once taken crumbs of pleasure in needling the fool, but all games wear thin after too many turns.

Welsh slammed the cup against the table. ‘Damn your eagerness.’ He lifted the cup and read the dice. ‘Eleven.’ Edgbaston wrote it in the log. Welsh rolled a seven, another eleven, and finally a two. Edgbaston wrote them all down and then turned the pad for Welsh to read it out loud.

Ship section eleven, deck seven, deck section eleven, pod two.

Ten thousand souls, and together their stasis pods drew a month’s worth of engine power. Ten thousand souls the price for another month teetering on the edge of the black hole that had snared them. Edgbaston rose and took himself over to the Stasis Runtime Computer to enter the command kill the power to pod two. He raised his glass a moment before he hit the execute button.

Ten thousand souls. Surely they could spare a cube of ice.