By R. F. Gammon
An entire universe lies between us now. And I just want to touch him, one last time.
I sit in the window of my berth. We’ve been drifting through space for six months; the panorama of stars beyond is the same as it’s been for most of that time. We survived because we fled. Because our parents were willing to shell out money to get us on this ship. The finest, strongest, most eligible young people. Someday, when we arrive in that far-off world, I will marry a man who isn’t him and bear children for the good of the human race.
But for right now… I imagine reaching across the stars to him.
“Are you okay?”
I look over my shoulder. Alicia, another of the chosen survivors, stands behind me. Our world has not died entirely yet, and while it lives, while the news still reaches us from light-years away, she and I stay awake. Most of our peers have already embraced sleep, letting themselves dream away the long journey and remain young. Not us.
Both of us left someone behind.
I shrug. “Same as always.”
She comes and sits at my side. “I miss David, too,” she murmurs. “Nothing for it now.”
No, there isn’t. But I close my eyes and think of the deep brown eyes I left behind. Already I miss their twinkle. More than that… the moments I can’t recall clearly enough. His hand brushing against mine. The sparks that raced up my arms. The first time he kissed me. Feeling like I could fly afterward. Lying close together under the stars I soar through now, our hands clasped as he pointed out constellations. His arms tight around me as the fire fell from above, consuming buildings and charring Earth to ash, and he shielded me with his own body.
I lean my forehead against the cold glass of the window and let the pain wash over me. The end of Earth is here. Everyone is dying.
And I have to live somewhere else, far away from him.
I fall into bed that night with my empty heart pulsing against my chest. It’s for your own good, Mara. You’ll be okay in the end. You have to be. You’re unmarried, you’re young, you’re healthy. You can have children. You can help further the future of the human race. Think of the greater good for once! That boy cannot go with you! We can only afford to pay for one journey, not two. And you’re our daughter.
I curl up under my cold sheets. My parents’ words reverberate in my mind, a harsh reminder of the truth. I’m alone in deep space.
A whimper escapes me, but I stay curled into myself and imagine his arms around me. I’ll never see him again. Never.
I close my eyes and drift off to sleep.
It’s no darker when I jolt awake—the stars never fade. But when I sit up, I find a light hovering a few inches from me. It swirls in the center of the room, golden, growing larger and larger as an opening grows in the middle. A portal. It’s a portal.
I gasp, and my hand goes to my mouth. Maybe I’m dreaming.
Something emerges from amidst the gold light. A hand.
Then a voice. A voice that sends butterflies fluttering in my stomach, sparks racing down my fingers, and makes my heart turn over in my chest. I can’t see him, but I can hear him. Heavens above, I can hear him.
His voice, saying my name.
“Mara? Are you there?”
My voice is a murmur compared to his. “Alex.” I’m out of bed a moment later, racing to the portal, falling to my knees before it. All I can see is his hand, floating before me. I can’t see him.
It hardly matters. I reach out and seize his hand. Our skin connects, and he’s there and with me and real. I tangle my fingers through his, reveling in the soft pressure, the squeeze that follows my touch, the way he grips me like he’s never, ever going to let go. My body trembles with the feeling of him.
“I love you,” I whisper. “Why… why can’t I see you? I miss you so much.”
“I guess it won’t let me come all the way through.” His voice is breathless. “Too far to go, maybe? It’s brand-new tech.”
“Is the world going to recover, then?” I whisper. If they sent me away for nothing…
He pauses. Too long.
“It isn’t, is it?”
“No.” His voice is a whisper. “We’re holding on, Mara. But you… you deserve to grow old. You deserve a life of happiness.”
“I don’t want a life without you.” I cling to him tighter. “Please, don’t make me go.”
He squeezes my hand harder. If that’s all of him I can have, I will accept it. We whisper through the night—about us and my journey and the world and more of us—until he has to let go.
“Please stay safe,” he murmurs. “Earth has only a little while left—maybe five years, tops. You deserve a long life.”
Five years. Six months to get back there. I’ll have been away for a year.
I pack my things and rush to the escape pods.
Alicia is already there with a bag. “I saw David,” she whispers. “Did you—” A smile splits her face when I nod.
I grab her hand. “Let’s go back to Earth. Back to them.”
Maybe it’ll be less than five years. Maybe we’ll only have one day with the men we love.
But as Alicia hits launch on the escape pod and we explode back into space, our trajectory set for Earth, I know:
I don’t want to survive without him.
I want to live.