art by Jonathan Westbrook
The Most Important Man in the Universe
by Joseph Zieja
It stared back at me like a cataract, blue and bloated, the black canvas of space all around it. Half illuminated by the nearest star, I followed the line between light and dark with my eyes, staring at the face of dusk. Or dawn. I didn't know which way the planet rotated. For my home, I was woefully ignorant of its orbitology. I could describe the orbital elements of every planet in every system in the galaxy, but I did not know my own.
I rubbed the back of my hand to try and stop it from shaking. It didn't work. It never worked.
"Gregory? Greg, are you there?"
"I'm here, mom."
"Oh. Solar flares have been bad lately. I thought we got cut off."
The viewscreen next to my desk cast a shadow across the only document on its surface. At the bottom was my signature.
"I'm so glad you left before it all happened," my mother said. "Things down here have been bad since the quarantine."
"I know," I said. "I'm sorry."
Long ago, when she had laughed I had always thought of small bells ringing. Now, with the disease in her, it sounded watery and hollow as she chuckled.
"That's a silly thing to say. It's not your fault."
I tried to think of something to say to convince her otherwise, but nothing came to mind. I tore my eyes away from the planet and looked down at the screen. My mother's face looked back at me, a shadow of its former beauty. Through the maze of boils and sores, I could still see hints of that glamour, that spark of a glamorous visage stolen away by the biological terror. Yet, somehow, she still smiled.
"I miss you, dear," she said.
"I miss you too."