â€œAny personal belongings youâ€™ll need accommodated in your craft, Mr. Mercer?â€
â€œNope.â€ John shook his head at the distribution agent before him. â€œNo baggage.â€
It was John Mercerâ€™s last day on Earth.
Heâ€™d lived here for thirty-eight years, give or take a decade or so spent on Luna or the nearby outposts. Never once had he gone out of the solar system, not even on vacation. John Mercer had spent his life working, just like everyone else. Heâ€™d been a paper-pusher, a street cleaner, an asteroid skimmer, a window-washer, a cheap thug, and even a postman for a few months, but no matter where he went, she followed him. There was nothing he could do to escape her. Nothing except this.
As John climbed into the small craft the distributor had assigned him, he felt the weight of those thirty-eight years shifting, readying for flight just as he was. Her face lingered in the back of his mind, stern and matronly, as it had since he was a child hitting baseballs into solar panels. He grinned to himself as he closed the hatch and flicked the switches to prepare the in-ship lights for flight mode.
After today, heâ€™d never see the face of the Earth again. After today heâ€™d no longer be a paper-pusher or a street cleaner or an asteroid skimmer or a window-washer. Heâ€™d be a pilot, somewhere in the outer coloniesâ€”goodness only knew where. John hadnâ€™t specified. Heâ€™d just asked for a first assignment somewhere where heâ€™d never be able to come back.
The base doors slid open and John met the field of stars with the white of his teeth. He could feel the rumbling of the ignition through his entire body and made sure the IV drip in his arm was secure. He wouldnâ€™t want to wake up during the jump, after all. As the outpostâ€™s bulkheads fell away beneath him, he stared a challenge back at the blue-green planet he had once called his home. So long, Earth. Nice knowing you.
The drip started right on schedule, just as the engines shot him away from everything he wanted to forget. His consciousness dissolved in time with the drip of the IV, and he could feel her face dissipating as well, fading away as surely as the planet behind him. With his last moment of coherence before the three-year jump, John Mercer grinned.