The Last Word
by Roger Ley
Other stories by Roger Ley
We were all staring up at the sky, waiting for the Dawn Treader to light up her Hawking drives and start the journey to Alpha Centauri. There were hundreds of us, all members of the Design and Construction team with our partners and children. We were partying at our complex, near the foot of the Kisumu Space Elevator. A fair proportion of the world would be watching.
I pulled the letter out of my back pocket. Estella had given it to me after the pre-launch ceremony two days ago, just before she and the rest of the Dawn Treader’s crew entered the space elevator and began the first leg of their journey to the stars. She hadn’t spoken, she’d just handed me the letter and walked away.
We’d both worked on the project for eleven years and had been ‘together’ for six of them, the first six. We’d married, had two kids, I thought we’d been reasonably happy, but then came the horrible business of finding out about her affairs. Everybody seemed to know about them except me. Nobody tells you.
It wasn’t an amicable divorce. She never forgave me for getting custody of Hank and Cliff. What was I supposed to do? She would be leaving when the ship was finished a few years hence, it made sense that I have them and give them a stable home. She was absent half the time anyway, either training or supervising up at the Synchronous Space Station where the ship was being assembled.
The time we wasted with solicitors, judges, social workers. The anger I felt at her infidelities, which she seemed to regard as just good healthy exercise. She was gone now, not dead, but unreachable. It wouldn’t be possible to communicate through the blizzard of elementary particles leaving the rear of the ship. They’d be accelerating for eighteen months subjective time and achieve a significant fraction of light speed, but forty-seven years would pass, back here on Earth. By the time they shut the drives down and turned the ship around to start decelerating, I’d be ancient or dead, past caring either way. The boys would be older than their mother, and I wonder what she’d say to them given the two-year time delay on her transmissions. The boys would have sent their messages two years before so that they arrived after the drives shut down. I expect they’d send pictures of themselves, their wives and children, Estella’s grandchildren. The next time they’d be able to ‘speak’ would be when Dawn Treader arrived at its destination. The boys would both be well over a hundred years old, but Estella would still be in her late thirties. When she finally returned to Earth there wouldn’t be a single person left alive who she knew, and the planet would be in God knows what state. A big sacrifice to make for the sake of being the first woman to leave the Solar System.
The brazier of glowing charcoal crackled and sparked, a sudden roar from the party-goers. There, exactly on time in the night sky, the Hawking drives lit up and blossomed like a three-petaled flower as big and bright as the Moon. We’d be able to see it for the next year or so.
I looked at the letter. Would Estella want to put things right between us, or did she want to have the last poisonous words, make accusations I had no opportunity to refute, say things that would leave me bruised and angry for months or years? I paused for a moment, then threw the envelope, unopened, onto the brazier, watched it crisp and curl as her words turned to smoke and ashes.
Hank and Cliff were both staring up at the beautiful multi-coloured bloom of energy fields, they were both crying. I knelt down, laid my arms across their shoulders and pulled them into a family hug.
‘We have to remember the good times, boys, that’s what we have to do, remember the good times.’