It’s been five hundred and eighty-seven days since Kenneth last set foot on Earth. Five hundred and eighty-seven days since he cut ties with a father who called him daughter and took the first ship he could find for distant stars.
Now, through thick vacuum-safe windows, he watches the planet burn.
Are you all right? ♫◊♪ asks, speaking in pulses of light and colour. Ne lays a translucent limb on and around Kenneth’s hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze, and somehow Kenneth manages to smile back.
“I never thought I’d want to come back here,” he says. “I left all that behind me – it’s not home anymore. If it ever was.” He lightly twitches his fingers, an analogue for returning the squeeze. There are no scripts for his relationship with ♫◊♪ – they are so different, and their worlds are so new to each other – and so each gesture is a secret between them, learned with time and pain and patience, and each day together another victory.
Kenneth’s eyes turn back to Earth, sparking and smouldering so far below. They must have seen the meteor coming. They must have watched its approach, mapped its trajectory – but then, they would never have thought it was more than another shooting star. They wouldn’t have known that it was boarded. They certainly wouldn’t have anticipated the Thyrrans blowing a hole through the moon.
Almost certainly, they didn’t even realise they were at war.
“It’s just so – senseless,” he says. “Interstellar travel is still so new – for us – for them, I mean. They barely knew the Thyrrans existed. I don’t think they even knew it was an insult.”
♫◊♪’s grip tightens, and an electrical tingle strokes the back of Kenneth’s knuckles.
“There were good things on that planet too, you know. Forests and bears and lakes and things. Mountains. Sheep. Pizza. God, my sister – she always wanted to leave, like me, to go explore the universe. I hope she got out in time.” His eyes are hot, somehow, and he rubs at them with the palm of his other hand. “I would have kept contact with her if it weren’t for Him.”
We’ll search for her, ♫◊♪ assures him. Earth has left many survivors.
The worst of his thoughts go unspoken. Part of him wishes he could have spoken to his father again, that there could have been peace between them. Part of him is glad he’s dead.
Memories are easier to come to peace with.
He watches the flames, and thinks of birds and cheese and his favourite hiding place when he was a child. He thinks of his father’s laugh, of the times he spun Kenneth around and around in the air and called him my little princess. Carefully, almost reverently, he puts the memories into a box, seals it shut, hides it deep in his mind where neither flame nor thought can touch it.
“I’m ready,” he says at last, turning away from the window. “Let’s find another place to sit.”