Author : Asher Wismer
“When do you have to leave?”
“Is it set in stone?”
“You know I can’t stay in one place for longer than a month. Guild rules.”
She lay quiet, pressed against him.
“Maybe you could put in for a leave?”
He pushed up one his arm, looking down at her warm body, framed in blue lines from the ceiling vents.
“I can’t stay,” he said. “I have a job to do. I service this whole sector.”
“But I thought — maybe you wanted to stay?”
“With you, you mean.”
“We’re very good together. I feel–”
“For me? Or because you’re lonely?”
“I want you to stay.”
He settled back in the cushions. The blue star overhead glowed dimly, in its passive phase for a year before the flare season started.
“How long is your service here?” he asked.
“Fifteen years, and then I retire.”
“Do you know how long I’ve been traveling?”
“I don’t know.”
“Twenty years in personal-time. I stopped paying attention to real-time after the first month. Every time I get into the FTL pod the universe goes on without me. I can’t worry about it.”
“I’ve only taken the trip once,” she said. “To get here.”
“We don’t stay anywhere because we have to keep moving. I have a thousand more assignments to service before I can retire. That’s one per month, and I’m twenty years down. I have sixty to go.”
“It makes no difference. I don’t age in the FTL pod. I think I started my tenure over a hundred real-time years ago, but it doesn’t matter too much. All the out-system stations need us, and we can’t stay or the system breaks down.”
She was crying, silently. “But you could stay. We could send a tightbeam to your Control Network and they could take you off the rolls. We can live here together.”
“I don’t travel to settle down,” he said. “I travel to make sure none of you go mad from the isolation. We have no other purpose.”
“You have free will. You can choose to stay.”
“And the next station has to wait an extra month for personal and sexual contact,” he said. “It’s not possible.”
“So go now, then,” she said, a sudden surge of anger drying the tears. “No sense keeping them waiting. I’ll just wait here for the next gigolo to stop by. You have no other purpose, after all.”
“Whatever you want,” he said. “I’m here to service you and you alone. If you want me to go–”
“No! Don’t leave me!” She came up and clutched him, desperate, feeling for his face and pulling him down in a passionate kiss. They coupled hard and fast and she slept in peace. When she woke up, he was making breakfast.
“Are you ok?” he said.
“I’m sorry. It gets harder every year. I’ll be fine.”
“I can stay my whole shift here, if you want, so you only have three months to wait for the next one.”
“That would be nice.”
He brought her coffee and they drank together, looking up at the vents where the blue sun shone. Instruments on the asteroid’s surface constantly recorded and transmitted information about the star’s cycles, valuable information for the Collective.
“It’s not so bad,” she said at last. “I’ll get over you. But I’ll be dead long before you retire.”
“I’ll remember you.”
He looked out at the stars. A hundred lightyears to the next station, and a hundred more after that, and further and more and on and on.
“Forever,” he said, and smiled.
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