Genre: Science Fiction
Word Count: 1473
Origin: I wrote this story for the Women Destroy Science Fiction submission call. It didn’t get accepted, but I still have a lot of love for it.
The sound of surf drowned out everything else. Eyes closed, Millie considered the support structure again. She needed another square meter in the compartment for mechanical equipment and she just couldn’t find it.
From somewhere beyond her haze of concentration, a voice broke in, “You look like you’re sleeping on your feet.”
When she opened her eyes, the schematics of the compartment scrawled over her dad. He stood with his hands in his jacket pockets, casually fashionable. Her grease-streaked coveralls were embarrassing, all of a sudden.
She gestured to toggle the overlay off and silence the wave-noise generator. “Do I need to revoke your entry access?”
He stepped closer, and she let him envelope her in his arms. The irritation of a puzzle she couldn’t unravel melted away. When he released her, his lips twitched like he was trying look stern, but couldn’t help smiling. “You were late so I decided to come to you.”
She glanced at her display. The conch-shell logo of her company glowed over water vapor falling from jets anchored in the ceiling. “Sorry. I lost track of time trying to solve a last minute problem with the habitat.”
He held out a shiny box smaller than the palm of her hand. “Happy birthday, Jellybean.”
Grinning, she grabbed the gift and shook it next to her ear. Something inside clicked. “What’s in here?”
“Something that’s going to change your mind about Triton.”
She sighed. “Dad, I’m not going. Carl didn’t pass his physical.”
“But you did, so why are you giving up?”
“I’m not spending ten years on the ocean floor without him. I thought you’d be happy. It means ten birthdays I’d otherwise be indisposed for.”
A frown darkened his expression. “You’ve been dreaming of this for longer than you’ve known him.”
She didn’t want to have this argument with him again, so she lifted the top of the box and upended it onto her palm. A data crystal tumbled out. She slid the crystal into the port of her display.
After a few seconds, a woman with skin the color of good espresso and cheekbones that could have carved marble appeared. It wasn’t like looking in a mirror; it was more like someone had taken Millie’s face and sharpened the curves.
The woman floated in front of the bulkheads of a two-decades-old space transport. She smiled, lighting her face from within.
“Hey Jellybean,” the image said. “I’m sorry you have to find out about me this way.” The woman looked out the porthole for a moment. Beyond the quartz glass there was only blackness.
“I couldn’t stay on Earth. Every day it grew more like a prison for me, the thin atmosphere more confining than the bars of a cage. Out here, this is the new frontier. This is where I belong.
“If I’d been alive when boats first set out across the ocean, I’d have made the same choice. Although, they probably wouldn’t have let me. Women were bad luck.”
She chuckled. There was something in the sound that reminded Millie of her childhood. “When I volunteered for this mission your dad was angry, but we both thought a clean break was best. I knew going in this was a one-way ticket.”
Her mother’s eyes glistened, but she didn’t cry. “Earth’s faded to a pinpoint of light now, but I still look back every day. I’m telling you that so you know my leaving wasn’t because I don’t love you. I left a piece of my heart with you the day we lifted off.
“Your dad is great, but he doesn’t know the really important things about being a woman. So with the short time I have I’m going to impart some feminine wisdom.”
The stranger that was her mother sat forward with a conspiratorial grin. “Do it. I don’t know what it is or if I’d agree with your choice, but regardless, do it. There’s no room for should or could in that sentence.
“Sometimes the choice seems impossible, but you should follow through, no matter where it takes you. Even if it’s 140 million miles away from everything you’ve ever loved.”
Her mother shrugged. “That’s all I’ve got, baby. I love you.” The image of her mother froze after a few seconds, and then the video faded to black.
Millie wanted to scream. Instead she looked down at her hands, clasped tightly in her lap so she wouldn’t punch anything. “All these years and you never told me.”
“We agreed it was best for you not to grow up with that baggage.”
“So you made up a lie instead?”
“No, I told you the truth. She left.”
“She went to another planet!”
“You robbed me of my entire life.”
“Your life would have been the same, only you would have been pining for her instead of moving on.”
She glared at him. “Why did you show me this?”
“Because you turned out more like her than I could have ever hoped or feared.” He scratched the nape of his neck. “And you’re making a mistake.”
“So you think showing me the mother that abandoned me would make me more inclined to leave my fiancé? What if I don’t want to, does that make me less than her?”
“No. No matter what you decide, you’re just as unique and audacious as she is. You’ve already proven that.”
Millie took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds before letting it out. “Do you hate her for it?”
“For a while I thought I did. I was angry that she left us.”
“So, why did you forgive her?”
“I realized she belonged exactly where she was. If she hadn’t gone, the settlers would all be dead, and we would have most likely abandoned the Mars colony.”
Millie blinked a few times, and then gestured toward the display to roll the video back. Stopping on the final image of her mother, she stared at her nametag.
“My mother is Josephine Barrett?”
“She’s a legend.”
“She wasn’t when I met her in grad school.” A slow smile spread over her dad’s face. “There are so many things you could do or become. I just want you to make this decision for the right reason.”
* * *
Millie was still staring at her mother on the display when Carl got home.
He wrapped his arms around her from behind and kissed the top of her head. “Who’s that? She’s foxy.”
She laughed. “She’s also old enough to be your mother, because she’s my mother.”
“Where’d that come from?” He rested a hand on each of her shoulders and rubbed his thumbs along her trapezius muscles.
“Didn’t he say there were no pictures of her?”
“He did. He also failed to mention she was Josephine Barrett.”
His thumbs stopped. “Huh. Well, that explains a lot.”
“How do you mean?” She tried very hard not to sound as curious as she was.
“You’re the smartest person I know, and your dad isn’t exactly a genius.”
“Don’t be mean. He’s an artist.”
“Well it’s obvious now where you got your brains, and your looks.” The gentle caress of his thumbs began again. “So she left you guys for Mars? That’s rough.”
“Yeah. Having a hard time processing it.”
“Is that because you’re in the same situation now?”
“Right to the source of the problem.”
“Well, I am a troubleshooter by trade.” The smile in his voice was obvious. “You never asked me.”
“If you wanted me to go alone? I assumed you wouldn’t.”
“What if you failed? Would you assume I wouldn’t go?”
“I would assume we’d talk about it.”
“So how come you never gave me that opportunity?”
She lifted one shoulder so her cheek brushed his hand. “The opportunity to make the noble sacrifice?”
“Yes.” His other hand trailed up her neck.
Millie closed her eyes to enjoy the sensation of his fingers gliding over her skin. “Because I don’t want to go without you.”
“And you think she did?”
“I’m not her.”
“You should go.”
His hands fell away when she turned around. “Why?”
“Because I don’t want you to resent me.”
“Would you resent me, if I failed and you stayed?”
“I wouldn’t want to, but I think so.”
“We can do something else together.”
His mouth tensed before he answered, and that little tick was enough. “Would it be as amazing as living in the first long-term undersea habitat?”
She wasn’t sure which broke her heart more, that he would let her go, or that she was already packing in her head. Something in her face must have given her away, because he pulled her into his arms and hugged her fiercely.
Her eyes stung, but the tears wouldn’t fall.
“I’ll wait for you,” he whispered into her hair.
The Long Wait by Coral Moore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.