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Man of the Stars

science fiction by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

First came the hiss, like water on hot metal and the windows rattled. I lifted my brush from a half-painted toy train.

Outside my workshop, light flashed across the sky. Impossible. The sun would not peek over the horizon for another four months. I wiped my spectacles on my apron and looked again; the light now emanated from the ice close by.

I whipped off the apron and peeled out the workshop door, clearing the steps with a leap to land with a soft crunch. Snow soaked my pants. Mary would scold me for that later.

The light had gone out, but the impact point was easy to spot. The snow had melted in a funnel shape, and at the bottom was a rock. I poked it — cool now — and picked it up.

Fist-sized, pockmarked, metallic sheen.

A meteor.

I took it back to my workshop, sat on the porch and puffed my pipe while ice crystals formed on my pants. I contemplated the myriad tiny lights that populated the night sky. So much of the human race had gone out there. First to the moon, then Mars; baby steps before they could run.

Now they awoke each morning in orbit around alien suns. At night, they named constellations I had never seen. Yet I remained tethered to an increasingly empty and used-up Earth.

That night, I said to Mary, “We should take a vacation.”

“Las Vegas is nice. It’s right on the beach. Or maybe the Texan rain forests.” A fire crackled merrily beneath the mantle, but it never warmed Mary’s bones. She was always cold.

“I was thinking farther away. Much farther.” To sweeten the idea, I added, “Somewhere more exotic.”

She gave me a look. After centuries of marriage, she had that look down to an art. “I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no. Christmas is only a few weeks away.”

“I know. But besides that, what’s keeping us here?”

The look, again. “This is home.”

But the idea would not go, no matter how I tried to put it out of mind. I busied myself with making dolls, trains, yo-yos, puzzles, building blocks, scooters. Did children in interstellar colonies have such things? If not, they should.

Christmas Eve. I packed the sleigh. The air was sharp, with a hint of cinnamon wafting from the house. I settled my hat over my ears. The meteor lay nestled in the pocket of my suit.

A clear night for flying.

“Time to go,” I yelled.

Mary stood at the door, wrapped in a wool blanket. “I’ll skip this year. I’ll have some tea, sit by the fire and read.”

“Come.”

“Why?”

I winked. “Trust me.”

She donned her flight suit but kept the blanket, and boarded the sleigh. With a flick of a switch, the engine roared to life. Long ago, I used reindeer for primary propulsion, but they rather disliked going airborne –- against their nature -– and a nuclear engine required no apples to keep it happy.

We lifted up and up and up.

“What are you doing?” Mary asked as we rocketed toward the stratosphere. She clutched the blanket around her shoulders as the frigid air grew even colder. Hair whipped around her face. “Norway is that way.” She pointed.

“We’re not going to Norway.”

“But the children …”

I grinned. “The children of Earth have had me for centuries. It’s time they shared.”

We accelerated. Gravitational forces pushed us against our seats. The air grew thinner, so I closed a dome over the sleigh.  We would need its ultraviolet shielding soon enough.

We hit the mesosphere.

“Enough games.” Mary reached over to engage the brake. The sleigh lurched to a halt and hovered. “Where are you taking us?”

I pointed to the moon, no more than a sliver but not so impossibly far away. “Space port. From there, we book passage.”

“Where?” she asked, incredulous.

“Anywhere. The whole galaxy.”

Below, the Earth curved into a patchwork of land and water – much less land than there used to be. This was no longer the planet of my youth.

“You’re not thinking straight,” she said.

“I’ve thought about this for a while. It’s what I want.”

“What about what I want? I’m not a prisoner or a slave, to follow meekly behind you. I put up with the Arctic. The snow and the cold and six months of dark. But I won’t be carted off to some place even more forsaken than that.”

Her words cut like knives. She was right. She deserved better. “What do you want?”

“Someplace warm. With a beach. And no reindeer.”

“Just for you.”

“Promise?”

I kissed her. “Yes.”

She disengaged the brake.

We burst through the ozone and into space.

Days ago, I had researched databases of near space objects, so I knew where to go. The meteor was round, pockmarked, the size of a house. Perfect.

I set down the sleigh and extended hooks into the rock. A few nudges from the engines, and the meteor would change course. Its current speed, coupled with that of the sleigh, would have us traveling much faster than before.

I turned to Mary. “Are you sure?”

Her answer: “Shoot for the moon.”

So we did, and blazed a trail of light across the sky.

Copyright January 2011 by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

Jennifer Campbell-Hicks lives in Arvada, Colorado, where she finds time to write between her two full-time jobs as a journalist and a mother of three. Her stories have also found homes at Every Day Fiction, Science-Fiction Trails and the Western horror anthology, Six Guns Straight From Hell.  She blogs at Jennifer’s Musings.

[return to the January 2011 main page]

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One Response

  1. Nicely done! Engaging, evocative, spare without being bare. I enjoyed it.

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