Author: Justin Anderson
He watches her tiny arms cast the line again. She’s already working the makeshift fishing rod with ease. She beams a proud smile up at him, one with all the warmth of a miniature sun. A foreign little star. He smiles back, and she continues fishing.
Ripples play across the water. A tug on her line elicits a happy squeal.
“Fesh! Fesh, Dabbee!”
She plants her feet, arches her back, and heaves with all of her tiny might. Triumph! A shimmering fish wriggles in the air on the end of her line. Rainbow trout. Impossible. The fish shakes and bounces, as much from her quivering arms as from its own struggle. Her feet shuffle with excitement as she waits for him.
He removes her catch from the hook, and her wide eyes watch the treasure plop into their tall reed basket. Done. That fish isn’t going anywhere.
“Daddy,” he corrects, touching his chest with his finger. “Dah. Dee.” She watches his lips, soundlessly mouthing the word along with him.
“Dah… dee.” she finally whispers.
“Good.” He tucks the rod under his arm, holding it steady to bait the hook again. The instant he takes his hand away from the reed pole, she squeaks and casts the line back into the water. She giggles happily as the warm sun plays all about them.
How old is she now? Years pass so strangely here.
“Daydee! Fesh, Daydee!”
Impossible. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear that was another rainbow trout. Anybody would.
Fish comes off the hook, goes into the woven basket. He manages a numb smile. She waits for him to place another worm on the hook.
How long have they been here today? Feels like hours, but the sun’s still hanging so high above the horizon.
“Fesh!” Another beautiful catch that isn’t quite a rainbow trout. Not here. Another hook, another cast. He stares off at the mountains. This place is just like home, and yet… he knows it can’t be. He closes his eyes and hears the trees rustling, insects buzzing, his daughter’s giggles.
The giggles stop.
“Dad. Dee. Dad-dy,” he corrects, his eyes still closed. He won’t tend her fishing pole until she gets it right.
“Good.” He opens his eyes.
It’s heavy for her, but she’s doing her best to hoist her latest prize: a once-white boot smeared with green algae and brown mud.
The metal fasteners are corroded, but he knows them. Knows how to attach that boot to the rest of a white Mark 6 EVA-rated spacesuit. A spacesuit from a planet orbiting a similar but very, very distant star.
His hand scratches the self-inflicted scar on his shoulder, the one covering up a tattoo of his old unit.
“Good fesh, Daddee? Feshhh?”
“No,” he shakes his head, fighting to keep his voice calm. “Bad fish.”
Her eyes water. She’s scared, about to cry. The hanging white boot dribbles muck onto her little toes.
“It’s okay,” he says, taking the pole from her little hands. “Just a bad fish. Yuck.” He pantomimes eating the boot and then clutching his belly, tongue out in playful mock anguish.
Pole and boot and tears are quickly forgotten. She proudly strains to lift the basket of not-quite-rainbow trout. “Home!” she announces and begins marching.
“Right.” He nods and looks skyward… but levels his arm instead at their shack on the hillside. “Home.”
Eventually, another villager will find his ship. Can’t stay hidden here forever.
Once she’s looking away, he hurls the white boot back into the water, as far downstream as he can.