The Last Word

Author: Roger Ley

We were all staring up at the sky, waiting for the ‘Dawn Treader’ to light up her Hawking drives and start the journey to Alpha Centauri. There were hundreds of us, all members of the design and construction team with our partners and children, partying at our complex, near the foot of the Kisumu Space Elevator. A fair proportion of the world population would be watching.
I pulled the letter out of my back pocket. Estella had given it to me after the pre-launch ceremony two days ago, just before she and the rest of the ‘Dawn Treader’s’ crew entered the space elevator and began the first leg of their journey to the stars.

We’d both worked on the project for eleven years and had been ‘together’ for six of them, the first six. We’d married, had two kids, I thought we’d been reasonably happy, but then came the horrible business of finding out about her affairs. Everybody seemed to know about them except me; nobody tells you.

It wasn’t an amicable divorce, she never forgave me for getting custody of Hank and Cliff. What was I supposed to do? She would be leaving when the ship was finished, a few years hence, it made sense that I give them a stable home. She was absent half the time anyway, either training or supervising, up at the Synchronous Space Station where the ship was being assembled.

She was gone now, not dead, but unreachable. It wouldn’t be possible to communicate through the blizzard of elementary particles leaving the rear of the ship. They’d be accelerating for eighteen months subjective time, but forty-seven years would pass, back here on Earth. By the time they shut the drives down and turned the ship around to start decelerating, I’d be ancient or dead. Past caring either way. The boys would be older than their mother, I wonder what she’d say to them, given the two-year time delay on her transmissions. The boys would have sent their messages two years before so that they arrived after the drives shut down. I expect they’d send pictures of themselves, their wives and children, Estella’s grandchildren. The next time they’d be able to talk would be when Dawn Treader arrived at its destination. The boys would both be about a hundred years old, but Estella would still be in her late thirties. When she returned to Earth there wouldn’t be a single person left alive who she knew. A big sacrifice to make for the sake of being the first woman to leave the Solar System.

The brazier of glowing charcoal crackled and sparked, a sudden roar from the partygoers. There, exactly on time, in the constellation of Centaurus, the Hawking drives lit up and blossomed like a three-petaled flower, as big and bright as the Moon. Visible from Africa to Norway.
I looked at the letter, would Estella want to put things right between us, or did she want to have the last poisonous words? Make accusations I had no opportunity to refute, say things that would leave me bruised and angry for months or years? I paused for a moment, then threw the envelope, unopened, onto the brazier and watched it crisp and burn as her words turned to smoke and ashes. Hank and Cliff were both staring up at the beautiful multicoloured bloom of energy fields, they were both crying. I knelt down, laid my arms across their shoulders and pulled them into a family hug.

‘We have to remember the good times, boys, that’s what we have to do.’

It was, after all, my choice in the end.

20 Comments

  1. Vick

    This gem made me well up a little.

    • rogerley

      These characters are extracted from my time travel novel ‘Chronoscape’ it will be free to download this weekend.

  2. Marduk

    A sad but probably smart decision. It’s always terrible how one sided vitriol to which you cannot even reply to can ruin everything. It’s better that way. Nicely written. Props

    • rogerley

      You can download my novel ‘Chronoscape’ free this weekend and read more about Martin and Estella.

    • rogerley

      You can read more about Estella and Martin in my novel ‘Chronoscape.’

  3. SimonJM

    A fair bit going on there, deftly told. Good job.

    • rogerley

      Thanks Simon, Martin and Estella are two of the main characters from my time travel novel ‘Chronoscape.’ You might like it and it’s on free download this weekend

  4. Jae

    Throwing that letter away is going to haunt him.

    Good tale.

    • rogerley

      He couldn’t take the risk. She may have told him things he didn’t want to know.

      • Jae

        I got that. I just feel that in years to come, as the edges of strife dim with memory’s blurring, he’ll wish he’d had the courage to read it.

        • rogerley

          I think you’re right and he’ll know that, as he ages and memories fade, the same will not be true for her.

  5. Jatayu

    Your story is lucid and believable, with rich characterization. I liked it, but I have to agree that the details- the ineradicable facts- can’t be ignored. We incur a debt to our readers with every word we write and that can only be paid by diligence. Science Fiction is more than art. It is also and always science.
    Keep writing!

    • rogerley

      Please read my reply to Tom, I believe that my science is correct, as far as relative time differentials are concerned.

      I can only apologise to the citizens of Norway.

      Thanks for the comment

    • Hari Navarro

      I would disagree. Science fiction, in my interpretation, is not science. It is beautiful wistful fiction that is derived from a core of scientific fact (or perceived fact). This attention to textbook detail, I believe, limits the expanse that this genre can expand to. Numbers are for accountants and scientists, words are for us all.

      • rogerley

        For me it depends on the author. I enjoyed Arthur C Clarke’s scientific accuracy but I also enjoy Tolkien and all stations in between.

      • Vick

        I agree. It has to be imagined first. And fiction writers have imagined things that are unheard of in fact. The scientist finds a way of making the artist’s dreams come true.

  6. Tom Mazanec

    47 years to Alpha Centauri world time but 18 months ship time? Good for a star 43 light years away, not for one 4.3 light years away.
    And Centaurus is below the horizon all the time in Norway (and a good way to the south).

    • rogerley

      Extract from Wikipedia: ‘According to the theory of relativity, time dilation is a difference in the elapsed time measured by two observers, due to a velocity difference relative to each other. ‘

      The Dawn Treader accelerates for eighteen months ship time, attaining a fraction of light speed, then shuts down the Hawking drives. It turns around ready to start decelerating towards Alpha Centauri. At this point time forty odd years have passed on Earth because of the velocity differential. DT drifts at high speed for a couple of years then spends eighteen months decelerating. Elapsed time on Earth about 100 years but on the ship about six years. the exact time differentials would depend on the ship’s velocity but with a limit of 600 words it’s asking a lot of a chap to explain it all.
      I bow to your superior knowledge vis-a-vis Centaurus, a mistake on my part.
      Thanks for the comment.

  7. zieman5

    Roger Ley continues to prove himself as an all-around writer. This touching piece of a failed marriage, in its brevity, truly pulls at one’s heartstrings. Should the planet survive, scenes such as this will inevitably be played out in our future. I like the idea of incorporating characters from previous works. I remember Estelle from Chronoscape; she had that promiscuousness about her. Keep them coming, Roger!

    • rogerley

      Thanks very much for mentioning my time travel novel ‘Chronoscape’ Mr Zieman. It’s available on Amazon Kindle.

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