Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

It was June when Mark and Alicia kissed each other one last time before strapping in for the long sleep to Caltrani. “I love you”, Mark had said as the canopies had closed. “Elephant shoes”, she mouthed back, and giggled behind the glass that separated their two capsules.

Neither knew it would be their very last kiss, her capsule bleeding out in flight. When they came to wake her she was dried nearly to dust.

They would have no family. He was left alone.

Back home he knew his friends and family would have long passed on. Maybe there were nieces and nephews, or great to some incomprehensible exponent – great nieces and nephews, but they were as lost to him as his love.

Home would have to be where his heart was, where she was planted in the foreign ground.

He worked first as a labourer, helping build the colony up, then as a soldier defending it against those that would see it fail. He’d seen wars before, and was trained for them, but this was a profession he had looked to the stars to escape. Starting anew the cycle of getting close to people with a uniform in common only to see them die would prove too much to bear.

Mark became a nomad, losing himself in the rough jungle of this planet he’d been so keen to make peace with, a planet that had proved so vicious in return.

On a clear night, from the hilltops overlooking Panteran Gorge, he watched the landing lights at Keff, marveled as ships arced out into space, and others descended to take their place on the ground. The horizon was alight with evidence of prosperity. Brightly lit buildings, flying craft, the multicoloured aura of the cities and towns.

“Their prosperity,” he scolded the night, “not mine. Not Alicia’s.”

Slowly he made his way to the edge of the cliff, peeling off his clothing and equipment and leaving it in a trail behind him. Above him Gentle filled the sky, the low moon giant and grey, lighting the jungle and the water below. Beneath it Skittish streaked across the blackness in fast orbit. Less massive and straining against Caltrani’s gravity, it would pass many times before the sun breached the horizon again, desperately trying to break free of the planet’s grasp to fly away into space.

“It’s hopeless Skittish,” Mark spoke out-loud to the sky, “she’ll never let you go.”

Mark dropped from the cliff, barely feeling the water strike his feet, breaking the surface to sink like a stone into the icy depths. Above him the water rushed to fill in the space he left behind, on the surface barely a ripple to show where he’d been.

As he sank, he thought of Alicia, saw her through the water mouthing ‘Elephant shoes’, and giggling as she swam away. He thought of the children they’d never have, of how he’d been right there as she grew old and died, and how he’d been robbed of his chance to share that with her.

“Nothing left to live for”, he thought, as the moon faded out over his head. He kicked out violently at the water. “Nothing left to live for.” His heart pounding as he broke the surface and filled his lungs, “but I’ll be damned if I let that kill me.”

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