Atop a pillar of smoke and flame, the rocket rose into the blue October sky. The vibration of its engines shook the ground three miles away, where Arthur McLaren stood watching his wife leaving the Earth.
“It’s only five years,” she had said as they embraced one final time beneath the launch platform. A crowd of others saying their own goodbyes surrounded them, and the scent of kerosene and metal was heavy on the air.
“I know,” he said, and smiled to disguise his pain. “Five years of hopping over Martian sand dunes looking for fossil bacteria, while I sit at home running conference calls and weeding the garden.”
“Don’t pull all the weeds. They’ll be a rare sight when I get back,” she joked.
You better come back, he thought. “I will miss you,” he said, and kissed her fiercely, pulling her orange jumpsuit–clad body tight against his for a long moment. Then it was time. She had waved to him as the elevator took her and her nine fellow voyagers up to the shuttle, and he boarded the bus to return to the observation center to watch the launch.
And now the shuttle was gone, and the trail of smoke drifted away in the wind. A bell sounded, and a voice (was it human? Or computerized? It was hard to tell nowadays.) announced that the shuttle had achieved orbit. The time was 10:43 am, October 5, 2041. Arthur left the observation center, took a cab to the airport, and caught a flight back home to Virginia.
He ate a lonely dinner that evening, knowing it would be the norm for eighteen hundred nights to come. He was making tea afterwards when a call came in. Samantha McLaren, read the message on his watch. He went to the viewscreen overlooking the kitchen counter and turned it on. His wife’s image appeared. Continue reading