by Stefan Slater
It started with a deal.
She didn't look my way, but kept her eyes on the chart, making fuel calculations. Pen dancing. The ship, our home, hummed away, vibrations traveling through my feet as I listened.
There was an abandoned short-hauler--a short-range freighter. If I helped Supo strip it--pull the wiring, break down the engine--I could do what I wanted.
"Just like that?"
This felt too easy.
"And you won't... write to the training board? Not even once?"
Muted emerald light from a hundred displays washed over us, and her grey hair swept across the chart.
I tried to laugh. "I... really, Mom? I feel like I should get this in writing."
The pen froze. "Supo needs help, Ava. If you don't think you can handle--"
I backpedaled. "No, no, of course, I'll help."
The scribbling resumed.
There was balance once. I don't remember how old I was, but I remember waiting for Dad--sleeping with my head on Mom's lap, her fingers running through my hair. Waiting. Hollow moon and muted stars, smoldering coffee, eyes fixed on a wall clock.
And then he was there, picking me up, tucking me into bed. And he'd show me his new maps, fingers tracing worlds, pointing out everything he'd seen--everything he'd discovered while plotting new routes between stars and chalky moons.
Wonderful things: moons of green crystals; ocean-worlds like sunsets, mile-long shadows swimming beneath the waves; gas giants and brilliant-blue suns; broken worlds of jagged rock, petrified trees crumbling slowly.
I asked him once if he ever gets scared--scared of flying alone.
He shrugged, and said he missed us. But scared? No.