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The Space Between

Barbara Lund is the indie author of the Crowns Peak series fantasy novels, Platform Eight series sci-fi short stories (think Cops in Space), and Doomsday Ship series sci-fi short stories. Barbara reads DSF and is thrilled to contribute a story. She can be found at barbaralund.com.
Addy's physics lesson taught her that everyone and everything is made up of molecules, and the space in between them. Unfortunately for her test scores, quantum physics went over her head, but fortunately for the rest of the world, that lesson stuck with her.
Addy started noticing the space in between.
Her parents used to sit on the couch, shoulder-to-shoulder and thigh-to-thigh, and sometimes Mom would rest her head on Dad's chest, but not anymore. Now they sat with the whole couch between them. Addy sat between them, awkward and unhappy, and wished she could make the space between them smaller.
Her friends used to talk and talk and talk to her, but not anymore. Now quiet filled up more of their time together than words. She tried sitting between them, and filling up the quiet with her own words, but they avoided her altogether, and the quiet grew loud.
Her own thoughts softened and slowed until the teachers gave her failing grades and her parents took her for brain-damage tests. "What happened to you?" they asked when they weren't shouting at each other.
When the alien ships floated down out of the sky, and the doors took months to open, the rest of the planet rushed inside and was rebuffed. But Addy took months to notice them, and even longer to feel anything about them. Eventually, she lifted her wasted body off her bed and over the course of the day drifted down the stairs. Carefully, she ate a bite of yogurt, then slept inside her mother's car. The next day she forced the words out as quickly as she could. "Please... the... alien... ship."
Her mother called her father, but he was busy with his new wife and his new kid and the space between them was so small that it was easy for him to keep the space between his old wife and his old kid too large for them to cross. Addy's mother sighed and drove her daughter halfway across the state to the large field and up the road to where the ship waited.
Once the car stopped, Addy opened her eyes and examined the ship. It looked suspiciously like a huge granite boulder settled into the farmer's now-barren field. Addy ate another bite of yogurt and studied it while her mother studied her. Addy knew her mother had become mostly resigned to her behavior, but now that Addy had stirred herself to speak, new hope burned beneath the silence.
When her mother's hope became too much, Addy stepped out of the car and set her feet on the same path that thousands of feet had already trod to examine the space ship.
"It's empty," Addy's mother told her. "The scientists say so. They can only get so far inside before they're outside again."
"Too... fast...." Addy listened to the wind in the weeds next to her feet, listened to the space where the scientists would have been if they had not lost their hope, and listened to the silence her mother now refused to break, and ate another bite of yogurt.
Vanilla and strawberries; the chemical sweeteners popped uncomfortably against her tongue.
Over the next two days, she drifted closer to the ship, but the space between Addy and her mother grew. All her mother's hope that her daughter could come back from whatever trauma had destroyed her burned to dust in the wind and the silence, and as much as Addy wanted to comfort the woman who loved her beyond reason, she had focused her whole being on the ship.
Finally, at the dawn of the third day, she set her foot on the ramp the scientists had built. At midday, she ate her yogurt bite halfway up, and at dusk, she stepped inside.
A week later, when Addy's mother had forced herself inside that damned ship--as she called it--and found herself back outside again for the tenth time without seeing her daughter, she faced the farmer and the farmer's brother, who was also one of the top quantum electrodynamicists in the world, and told them she was done. Addy's mother settled into the driver's seat of her car, wiped her tears away, and started the engine.
Addy appeared in the doorway of the ship. Next to her stood something so... well... alien that the farmer and his brother would later have a difficult time describing it. Her mother simply shut off the engine and waited.
The alien and Addy disappeared from the doorway and appeared next to the farmer and his brother. After they babbled for several long minutes, Addy said, "Slow... down... I... can... translate...."
During the next several hours, as Addy's mother watched her daughter speak more than she had in years, and speak with an alien who had rebuffed everyone else, and translate for a world of scientists who wished to understand everything about the alien, she noticed that one of the alien's tentacles was wrapped around Addy's wrist, and there was very little space between its inside-out body and her daughter's.
And while she was happy for her daughter, the space between them continued to grow.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 9th, 2018


This story grew out of a discussion with my husband regarding molecules and the "space between" them being what make up our "solid" world. Being less scientifically inclined myself, I started noticing other spaces between, and wondering what that could mean to a character and her relationships.

- Barbara Lund
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