David’s star, the mission. Forty years, the duration. Della King walked into the cavernous viewing gallery and gazed out at the unfathomable number of brilliant, glowing stars, feeling numbed by the vastness and mystery of space, yet knowing that every one of those sparkling, luminescent dots was catalogued and its complex code number registered in the ship’s computers.
“Hi, I’m Andrew Mokalis.” A white-suited man joined Della. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? I could look out of this viewing window for hours.”
They sat down on opposing sofas, a table housing a holographic image of the ship and its position in space, separating them. Della wore an identical white coverall.
“Drink?” Andrew asked.
He poured a red liquid from a carafe into two glass tumblers. “Cheers.”
Della raised her glass, smiling. “Thirty years to go, in ten-year intervals. Cheers.”
“Why are you here?” Andrew asked.
Della sipped her drink. She was a mature woman with smooth cheeks, lines around her chin and eyes and a neat white bob. “My kids are all grown up. They’ve lives of their own. Their kids too. They don’t need me. I don’t know, I just felt … an urge if you like. To go somewhere no one’s ever been before, journey to a dream, y’know? What about you? What did you do before?”
“I was a writer for a magazine. Euclid’s Alto Rhythm. It was a satirical musical thing. D’you ever hear of it?”
Della shook her white bob.
“Well, I suppose I felt a calling, something spiritual, I guess. Something that tells me there’s more to life than the Earth and its endless political problems.”
Della rubbed her glass on her thighs. “I don’t believe in any of that … God stuff, it’s just stars, planets and empty space as far as I’m concerned.”
Andrew gestured out at the myriad pinpricks of white light, the misty bands and glowing landscapes. “Don’t you think there’s something, some … intelligence, behind all of this?”
Della laughed. “Actually, no, I think it’s all … chance, if you like.” She sipped the red liquid. “What about you?”
Andrew smiled. “I believe – well, I know, if you like – that we are part of something much bigger, just a spark, maybe, but a spark of something of unfathomable intelligence.”
“And that we all reincarnate and live, forever, yeah, right,” laughed Della. “Come on, science has disproved all that, y’know.”
Andrew reached over for the carafe and poured himself another drink. Della held her glass out for a refill, saying nothing. “Well, do you believe that people who hold different spiritual views from you are mistaken?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, if not, how can you both be right?”
Della settled back on the sofa, sipping her drink, feeling the hum of the gigantic ship throbbing in her bones and groin, feeling safe and secure with this man, though a total stranger to her, just one of the hundreds on this sleeping ship, on an interminable journey to heaven-knew-what. Feeling the drink going to her head, she suddenly felt happy. She noticed he was good-looking, maybe ten years younger than her. But what was age anyway? Just a number. “Andy, can I call you that? Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong, it doesn’t matter at the end of the day, does it?”
Andrew likewise felt the subtle buzz of the precious red liquid. “Yes, and yes, I mean no!” He laughed, then gave a wry smile. “You know, I used to write articles for that mag, always went the extra mile. Had to be the best, write the best, most perceptive, cutting articles, trying to include all the clever words and phrases, show how great a writer I was, and you know what?”
Della crossed her legs. “What?”
“No one cared. No one actually gave a damn. It was just … just, ‘Here you are, Andy, here’s a hundred quid for the article, but can you knock two hundred words out?’”
“You know, Andy, I’ll be honest with you. All my kids, all my grandkids, they’re all lovely, but they just treated me like someone to help them out, someone with no feelings or life of their own, d’you know what I mean?”
Andrew reached once more for the carafe and it slipped through his fingers, shattering on the deck, a red pool, like blood, spreading out on the billion-pound floor. “Shit.”
Della laughed. “This stuff’s stronger than it looks. Look, let me help.” She got up and staggered, letting Andrew hold her and steady her old bones. She felt a comforting arm around her waist.
“You OK?” he asked.
She sensed Andrew’s warm breath on her cheek. “I’m fine.” She took out a bundle of tissues and bent down to mop the stain up, sweeping the broken glass into a heap.
“Why do women carry such big bundles of tissues?” Andrew asked, already knowing the answer. “Look, I think it’s time for hypersleep. See you here in ten years’ time – to the minute, OK?”
Della smiled and gave Andrew a long, lingering kiss on the lips. “It’s a date.”
Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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