Out of the Black
by KC Myers
The year EarthFed discovered hyperspace sickness was the year Jace McCallister's father never came home from outer space. They brought him back Earthside wrapped up in cotton and gauze so he wouldn't hurt himself, but his mind was still out there, caught in that strange between-place that nobody really understood, but into which spacegoers were expected to fling themselves so they could traverse the otherwise non-traversable distances between solar systems. No one knew how to treat him; no one knew why the jump had affected him that way in the first place.
Jace was six. She was too little to understand why Daddy had gone out into the black, or why she couldn't visit him in the hospital now that he'd returned. She didn't understand that he hadn't returned at all. Not really.
Eventually, they put a variety of safety measures in place to prevent this new malady--hyperspace sickness, they called it, for want of anything more imaginative. Baffle plates, medications, dietary modifications, psychological prep by trained counselors. All this seemed to help prevent the phenomenon, but once you'd gone down that road, past the mild discomfort of a cross-dimensional leap and into the genuine psychosis caused by staring into that abyss that wasn't really an abyss at all--by that time there wasn't anything anyone could do. Some spacers made their way out of it after a time. Most didn't.
When Jace was twelve, they let her visit her father. He wasn't trapped in gauze anymore; he seemed to have lost the desire to hurt himself. They'd given him a small room--to Jace it looked like an apartment. She went in, her mother just behind her. Mom had been sad through the long trip to the hospital.
When Jace sat down next to her father, he looked at her and smiled. He lifted a hand and stroked her hair.
"You'll go soon," he said quietly, "into the black. You'll be okay. Don't be afraid."
A small sound came from Jace's mother, standing just behind her. Mom didn't like her to talk about joining EarthFed, though Jace had decided that was what she wanted to do. Space called to her, for so many reasons.
Mom made another small sound, and Jace realized her mother was crying. Her father's gaze turned, looking over Jace's head.
"It's okay, Annalise," he said, his voice so quiet, so careful. "Go ahead and marry him. You'll be happy."