Fiction Experiment: Last Chance

Wrote this a while back in a different form. Still not certain what to do with it, but it’s a complete vignette on its own, so here it remains.

Last Chance

It was another time, a century adorned sparsely with dreams. Populations grew, nations rose, economies rose and fell, technologies appeared, developed, and fell into neglect. Blessed and honored places flowered into gardens, less enamored places collected rubbish, rusted, crumbled, or fell apart.

In the midst of the typical triumphs and follies of this human era, a man convinced the world to build a starship, even when a depleted world was close to penury. It was just another long shot, another chance for the brilliant to show their master, the fortunate to grow their fortunes, and the jealous to seethe at the wasted resources that could have better lined their pockets. The effort brought hardship in pockets but opportunities in unexpected places. Poor nations with the right resources—elements, tools, brains—suddenly found themselves rich. Other, more established realms watched history pass them by.

The building took nearly as long as the convincing: two score years to make the case, another two score to bend metal, demonstrating on the whole that bent metal and living cells were worth the race. Yet the poets and philosophers were not satisfied. The old refrains of more worthy projects at home failed to sway them of the glory of extending life beyond this sun’s reach.

Halfway through the effort the convincer, a difficult man of many parts, met a woman who came to hold his heart in a pincer. He was not particularly young or easy to get along with, so it surprised him when an unexpected liaison became a partnership that became an inseparable bond. The woman became a part of him as he continued his quixotic quest, keeping his will steady when all seemed grim or turned against him. She could always help him do his best, even when she had no desire to go to the stars herself. She was an Earth creature, uninterested in venturing skyward.

But the convincer, the leader, the evangelist needed someone to look to the care of his soul, and the woman had been more than up to the challenge, so she stayed.

*

The crews were selected, professionals, all: scientists, engineers, and practical folk to make that far and distant landfall. Yet there was no room for the man, like some cruel joke. His skill lay in writing, speaking, arguing, convincing, wheedling, and politicking to keep the project safe.

And so, aging, graying, growing every weaker, the man kept speaking for the cause, even when angry crowds threatened him. The starship became a part of who he was.

Still, as the ship grew ever more real, the woman in the man’s life grew ill as humans do: a cancer vicious and painful to feel, growing ever stronger until her end came due.

In a sick and perverse twist of fate, the waiting lists finally cleared, just when he thought it might be too late, the barriers to space had evaporated, perhaps out of pity, perhaps out of respect for all that he’d done to keep the ship on its path to destiny.

Armed men came to the Foundation hospital, ready to take him to Luna and the ship orbiting in its shadow. However, his wife’s hold on life was too brittle. Even if she wanted to go—which she still did not—her weakened body would not last the trip, even the launch up the well from Earth.

And the man was steadfast: he would not flee and leave her alone.

“Sir, we can’t protect you here. The people outside the gate are likely to break through before the ship leaves. We need to get you to the spacedrome now.”

But the man sighed and shook his head. “No, go on, lieutenant. You’ve done your duty. It’s not your fault I didn’t cooperate. I’ve lived to see my dreams fulfilled. Go in peace, take the shuttle, join the others on the Ship.” He raised his hand in benediction as much as dismissal and said no more.

The soldiers left reluctantly, leaving the man and woman in the care of the hospital and trotted double-time to reach their lorry to the launch field.

The man returned to his love who lay dying, smiling as she was wont to do, even—or especially—in moments of crisis. That, as much as anything, was why he stayed.

The night of the launch drew nigh. The angry crowds knew now where he hid, and the Foundation’s perimeter security could not withstand them. They weren’t shy about their intentions as they stormed through the streets, makeshift and manufactured weapons at hand. They would not forgive him for what he did.

He had dared to convince the people with means that life in this fragile, contentious world deserved to live under the skies of another star. He dared think that human genes deserved to thrive in more than one little pond. He dared to take a portion of present riches to make a better tomorrow in which others did not believe and would never see.

From his wife’s hospital room, he watched the stardrive ignite beyond Luna. His wife followed his wet gaze toward the night sky. He wept with joy as the ship accelerated into the starry wastes beyond Sol. She wept for his willingness to stay. He need not have.

They turned to each other with silent understanding. The woman let go of her life, the man let go of her hand. The mobs were through the doors, storming up lifts and stairs to get to them now. But the man was content that he had done his best: for the Ship, for his wife, for himself, and yes, even for the men and women arriving with murder in their minds. He prayed for the safety of his starborne heirs and set down his pen, content.

/b

5/12/20

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s