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art by Ron Sanders

Till Death

L.L. Phelps lives with her husband, Rob, in Taiwan. This is her second story published by Daily Science Fiction. You can follow her on twitter @LLPhelps1.

We're falling fast through the atmosphere, what's left of the station shaking violently as it breaks apart.
"We have to get to the escape pods," Natayla screams at me. I can barely hear her over the roar around us, but I can read the words on her lips as fear dances wild in her eyes. "Now!" she screams, shaking me.
One glance at the monitors tells me it's too late. The pods on the outer end of the station broke away in the attack, along with our friends and colleagues and any others attempting to escape when the missile hit. I don't have the heart to tell her this, to explain there is no hope, no way to escape our fate.
"To the pods," I say instead, and surrender to her grip as she half drags me from our housing unit and into the hall where we will die. The oxygen is nearly gone there, most of it drained before the remains of the station could seal itself. We feel the effects of this right away, our minds fuzzy, our breathing strained.
"Hurry," she says, but now no words come, just the movement of her lips, waxy red on pale white, just like on our wedding day.
She had looked like an angel then, her gown of lace and pearls tight against her delicate body, her veil covering her face and sweeping softly down her golden hair. My heart had stopped when the doors opened at the far end of the ancient church, a relic of the 20th century, wood painted white, an oddity in the midst of the towering steel suburbs. The entire church hushed at the sight of her, all eyes on the woman they loved, the woman with the wild heart, brave enough to marry into the odd world of space dwellers. Brave enough to marry me and leave her home forever.
In my memory I see her walk towards me, her hair drifting around her in the light breeze of old women fanning their faces with nylon fans. It's a contrast to the present, in this nearly airless place, where her hair lays flat against her face as she pulls me along, not moving with grace like in my memory, but with urgency, with terror, with determination.
When she reached me on our wedding day, our eyes had locked, cool blue on amber. I could see them through the lace of her veil, just as I see them now through the smoke that rises around us. Her head turns towards me, her eyes frantic, checking to make sure I'm still with her, still conscious, still more than a ghost clinging to her hand.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the preacher says in my mind. "We are gathered here today to unite this couple in holy matrimony, in an oath binding before God."
Binding, I think, like the contract that kept us in space, even in the years that followed, when she wanted nothing more than to return home. Binding, like the quarters we were assigned to for life, not big enough for the baby we later decided we wanted. Binding, like the lines we signed that forfeited our chance of legally procreating, the lines that meant our lovechild was taken from us, brought back to the planet my wife wanted nothing more than to return to, then for her child more than anything. But binding meant I would pay if we broke our promise, and she would do anything, that woman with the amber eyes, to keep me from paying.
I draw closer to her now as we near the end of the hall, wanting to be beside her when she realizes our fate. I put my free hand on her shoulder, resting my fingers at her neck to feel her pulse. Wild, like my own on that day so long ago.
We took traditional vows, pledging ourselves to each other for better or for worse. We bound ourselves knowing this could happen, that enemies of our cause might one day live up to their threats and send us crashing down into the earth's atmosphere, returning us in a fiery display to the only home they believed humans should have. We bound ourselves, knowing that if that day came, we would die together.
"You may now kiss the bride," the preacher says in my mind. And I will, I think now, I will.
As we reach the final door and my wife sees the horrible truth of our fate, I put my hands gently on her waist like I did years before. When I pull her to me, she swallows her fears and lays her cool hands to my cheeks, remembering. In the last five seconds of our lives, we kiss. We kiss like on the day we were joined. We kiss till death binds us eternally in searing heat.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, March 24th, 2014
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