Congratulations, you found the secret page containing the 53rd story in my Other Worlds collection! The story is below. After you’ve read it, and before you go, please leave a comment. I’d love to know who finds this page…
And many thanks for reading my collection of stories. I hope you enjoyed them. If you did, I’d be eternally grateful if you left a review of the book…
Markus stood before the gleaming, silver gravemarker. A long and happy life, he read.
Well. That was something.
The agent who’d flown with him from Indus Ground Station and hurried him out past the jostling drones of the Earth’s media placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll leave you alone, Commander.”
Markus nodded, didn’t reply. He still wasn’t used to talking. A screen on the gravemarker, detecting movement, began to relay images of Jen. As a baby, as a girl, then as the young woman he had known. Scene by scene, stepping through the years, he watched as it displayed older and older versions of her. Always the same smiling face, but each time different, too. The Jens he had never known, growing old here on Earth as his ship hurled its way through the void, out of reach, out of touch.
The sun burned the top of his head. He had grown too used to the controlled climate of the ship. He sat there wondering, once again, whether he’d made the right decision those years ago. Which mattered more: his boyhood dreams or his grown-up. Why wasn’t it possible to have both?
He’d been two years into his training when they’d met. She was a psychologist, detailed to ensure the first VoidShip astronaut understood all the implications of FTL travel. They both knew their relationship could never work. The time-dilation he’d experience made that obvious. Still they stayed together, living day-to-day, enjoying the precious final year of his training.
They’d said their goodbyes in private, two hours before the ovoid, silver VoidShip, Earth 1, slipped out of its cradle and turned from the sun for the darkness. In former days, those left behind at the ocean’s edge could whisper promises into the wind. Vows to await their lover’s return. That hadn’t been an option here. Either the VoidShip mission would work and she’d be long-dead when he returned. Or, somewhere far from Earth, the craft would fail and he would never come back.
“She talked about you a lot, you know.”
He squinted up to see a grey-haired woman standing beside him. He’d never met her before – hardly anyone on Earth had even been born when he’d left – but, still, he seemed to recognize her. Her eyes, her mouth. He couldn’t speak, confused, as he looked up at her.
She sat down next to him with a sigh and gazed at the headstone, as if this was a favourite spot of hers to sit. “She would never let anyone criticize you for leaving. Wouldn’t hear of it. Of course, you didn’t know about me, and perhaps that would have made a difference. But I grew up knowing you were … out there somewhere. Always out there. She would show me the stars at night and tell me you were just away, travelling. That you’d come back, eventually. When I was a girl I liked to think you were watching over me.”
“You’re…” His throat suddenly wouldn’t work.
The old woman smiled and hooked her arm through his.
“Yes. I am. And I’m sixty years older than you are. But I suppose I have to call you father don’t I?”