Editor’s Note: Continuing with our Eve Fiction Writing contest winners, here is our third installment.
Dreams of My Father
A short story by Signaleer Soup Atross
Her first wormhole opened like a wound in her brain. She hesitated outside its blooming mass. She couldn’t bear to dive in. But she couldn’t turn away. The ripe center was the color of blood, beating like a heart. Behind her cloak, she slipped through the event horizon and waited to come out the other side. Waited until it felt like the system’s star went out. Until her mother picked her up and took her away. Until the universe went to sleep and all the station lights went out and the clone of the last capsuleer rotted in its tube.
She told Claire he would come back. In her mother’s arms, she watched his ship go from the station, a semicircle with a line through it. The Nonni sun golden in her eyes. And when he didn’t come back that first year, her mother showed her his clone. No one’s ever really gone, she said. See? And she saw him behind the glass, like he was sleeping, his brow furrowed with the dreams of the void, the black beyond their small star, the clusters and jumps and systems she learned about in school, the way they came together after the first gate, the way New Eden stretched across the stars.
He’s not sleeping, she said, smoothing her curls. He’s not here. And the years passed. Her class in school went to the holoreels, the training simulator, the mission agents. But she just watched the great station window, watched the ships come and go, the long-barrelled freighters and the hooked jaws of the cruisers, and sometimes the big ships with all the supplies, ammunition, antidotes, ore. And sometimes a ship like her father’s would wink by, an explorer’s ship, with the telltale half-circle of blinking lights. And even as she became a young woman, she never was able to swallow the bright cold joy of what if. What if it was him, back from the beyond, with the pieces of the universe he promised to show her? What if it was him and his beard and his large hands, the way he held her at night, mother told her, and she tried to remember, rocking her to sleep while the noise of the station hangars breathed deep breaths in the background.
Fleet Commander Gaterau started to notice her. Watching the ships launch. Watching the pilots come and go. Walking past the clone bays. She knew Claire was the daughter of Graham Lennelluc, knew what it meant to wait for a ship to come back in from the stars. But her mother had warned the FC away. She thinks she remembers being whisked behind her mother’s legs in a station corridor when the FC tried to give her a model of father’s ship. I won’t let you take her away, her mother said. I won’t lose her too. And she remembers Gaterau’s face, the way her jaw set, the way her eyes cooled. Someday she will have the choice, Amanda. But she was too little to remember. Her mother told her this story, as a confidant, as if she agreed, as if they were both agreed. No other Lennelluc would be flying away to anywhere. Not ever again.
And the time passed. She’d stopped walking by his clone years ago, stopped trying to see his eyes behind his eyelids, stopped believing he was just asleep, even though mother had told her he wasn’t. But where did he go? I don’t know, she said, and she looked older now, the wrinkles and veins showing through as she put her face in her hands. I don’t know. And now she would have to be the grown up, and she would comfort her mother, and take her by the hand, and show her daddy’s clone, and tell her he would be back. He said he’d be back, she’d tell her mother. No one’s ever really gone. All the ISK in the family in that sleeping clone in Bay 38.
When mother was ready to die a citizen’s death, old age coming, no capsules, no implants, nothing funny, she said, because why do I need to live if your father is gone, Claire asked her again where daddy went. When she was a little girl in her mother’s arms, she would point out the station window and ask if daddy went that way, and her mother would nod. Yes, he went that way. But now she needed to know where. Claire squeezed her hand and tried to keep her voice strong and steady. Where did he go? Why can’t I follow him?
Her mother gestured for her keepsake container, the one she’d used for her jewelry and her favorite holoreels and her insignias and trinkets. And inside was daddy’s ship from the FC, still bright, still white and red like in the reels, the compartments and lights and antennae, the thrusters glowing. She knew the ship from her dreams. And she knew what she had to do. But she kept it to herself, even when mother’s body was at last biomassed and FC Gaterau gave Claire her first Corvette. Her first appointment with a mission agent. She was a natural scanner, said her FC. She had a knack, and even as she was learning how to quadrangulate the anomalies that appeared like ghosts in her probe view, she was scanning for him.
After that first wormhole, she knew where he must be. She knew enough about the universe to know he was in Anoikis, the empty place between places, unmapped and vast, except by the scouts and wormhole corporations, who could shed light on some places like a bulb swinging in the dark. In glimpses, the dark room would glow. A corner here, a corner there, and slowly, across her view, while she drank deeply from her ship’s dash, Anoikis became home. She took up with an exploring corp, ran a hundred thousand relic sites, put enough ISK away for a clone next to daddy, in Bay 38, Row 7, Seat 5. She was flying his ship, the one with the great crescent wings on each side and the long pointed nose. The one she remembered, in the golden light of her memory, warping out from the Caldari Navy Assembly Plant of Nonne. Warping away from home, while her mother held her and pointed off into the dark.
Claire knew there was a small chance he was really gone. There were tales of some deaths that you couldn’t come back from. The miniature moment between destruction and the neural scan, between brain death and the burst transmission to a clone. But Claire expected better of her father. Sometimes, when the probes wheeled across another system looking to tighten a signature, she could see his face in the lines, the face from her dreams, the face from the clone in Bay 87. Sometimes she saw his hand span a constellation behind another relic site whirring behind an obelisk. Sometimes she saw his heart beat in the center of a wormhole. He was waiting for her somewhere between the empty places. Somewhere in upside Anoikis, where even the Tripwire couldn’t follow. Somewhere he couldn’t come back. He could only wait.
My father told me she would come back. In his arms, I watched her ship go from the station, a circle with a line through it. The Nonni sun golden in my eyes. And when she didn’t come back that first year, father showed me her clone, next to granddad’s. No one’s ever really gone, he said. See? And I saw her and granddad behind the glass, like they were sleeping, their brows furrowed with the dreams of the void, the black beyond.