Author : Garrett Harriman
Marigolds blossomed in the Evermore courtyard, tiny manes preening in the light.
Alongside them, Halley proofed her math. She knew it took eight minutes–ninety-two million miles–for sunlight to blanket the void of space and peck their tender flames. She knew the distance to Gliese 581d was forty light-years roundtrip. She knew her kid’s fears, her husband’s favorite teacher. And she still recalled how Russell Wood’d smelled on the hot April night he’d been drafted.
All of it factored the same: zero. Over two hundred and thirty-four trillion miles preparing what to say…and nothing, nothing, had surfaced.
To the contrary, she scrutinized her hands. They’d grown blanched and baggy. Shadowed with inclinations of liver spots. She lamented how short a jaunt even one AU had proven to be. How light played tricks at seventeen.
Halley stroked her sun hat lower, watching the ember blooms gorge more time.
Massive sound gained precedence. Soon a USF transport hovered over the lawn, graciously coming aground. Its door unfurled, freeing pilots, wingmen, gunners–triumphant young veterans of the Glieseian Uprising.
Halley’s breast tripped down a stairwell. Her promise rushed back, rushing here, to Evermore, mere hours after his fleet breached the HZ. She’d pledged to him and sacrificed for an instantaneous future, one with minor age discrepancies, friends and family long deceased. Those misty cryonic snakes redoubled her cold feet. A trepidating toe braved the Bite before the realization pelted her sensible:
It’s a crush. An infatuation. I am not in love.
Now, second-to-last out the pod, Russell O. Wood returned to the deep freeze, his miles of sunshine culminated. He’d served his planet well–time dilation, him. The United Space Force’d suppressed the Glieseian factions in six Earthen years. Discounting travel, he clocked in at twenty-five sharp. Shaven, impermeable, his decorated flack bottled bountiful joys.
Behind him the shuttle spat pneumatics and wafted gaily over the street. Russell smiled. Followed his brothers. When he passed the old lady on the bench he tipped his starchy hat.
Recognition didn’t shoulder him. It fled the other way.
Halley sulked after him, remembering: He’s not here for Halley Cross, girl. He’s here for Halley Wood.
Sure as Sunday, Russell joined the defrost cue. Just like he’d always sworn.
Halley watched nakedly. A dozen war heroes flashed receipts–puppy love–or recited cryo-chamber numbers by heart–true love.
Wood’s turn. Halley bunched up, praying she wasn’t the only service fiancée to ever burn the Bridge of Time or deny being some spaceman’s icebox leftover. Maybe he’d forgotten that she was all he’d left behind.
True love. Russell Wood rattled off her lost chamber number.
The name’s wrong, sir. Confusion. Dismissal. Well check again. Miss Wood isn’t enrolled with us. Bullshit–she’s waiting. God bless you, sir. Now listen here! I’m so sorry, Captain.
Russell Wood withered to a bench. The last of the pilots embraced him. He promised different words, then jogged through the booth to reclaim his Bitten sweetheart.
Wood sat alone. Unaged beyond hope, he cried into his hat.
Halley didn’t interject for eleven point five million miles. She thought back sixty-three years. On her family. Marrying Albert Cross. New friends and a life lived outside of frost and waiting.
Reawakening today, dated seventeen, would it have been fair pretending to love Russell back?
Answers didn’t come. Just rays, memories.
Standing to leave, Halley stooped and plucked a gilded flower. She approached and pressed it to his lapel.
Russell jerked at her gesture, then softened. “Ma’am?”
“Wear it, soldier,” Halley soothed, straightening florets. “With a sun like this she’ll find you.”
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