Chapter 22: Gone
‘She’s gone,’ said Veggie.
They sat at their old regular café table, mugs of tea cradled in their hands. Rain dripped from Veggie’s nose into his mug, splashing droplets onto his hands, but he didn’t seem to notice.
Beside him, TM took a sip of his own tea. It was terrible, as usual, but somehow it tasted even more terrible than he had come to expect. Across from them sat Marty, Dominika and Derrida: despite it being so late that it was now more accurate to say it was early the next morning, all had dropped everything when TM had called. It was astonishing really that the café was still open, but TM supposed it was probably just one of those places that defied all time and space.
‘What do you mean, she’s gone?’ Marty said after a few moments.
Veggie reached into his pocket, and dug out the two officially licensed Surviving O’Ryan keyrings he had won at the fair. He held them up for a moment, looking at them, grinding his teeth. Then he seemed unable to look at them any more, and dropped them in his mug of tea. TM picked up the mug and put it on another table, lest Veggie decide to break it.
‘Ziggy was…’ TM began, then paused. ‘She was special.’
‘She was a star,’ Veggie explained, to which the three shared a look of confusion.
‘We know,’ Derrida said with some hesitation; TM shook his head firmly.
‘Nah, not like… how you call people stars, you know?’
‘Not… really,’ Marty said.
TM sighed. ‘You know how there’s been those stories on the news lately, about how stars have been disappearing from the sky and stuff?’
Derrida and Marty looked vacant; Dominika nodded, leaning forwards, her eyebrows lowering.
‘Well, one of them was her,’ TM finished.
‘And there were some darker ones, and they’re fucking Al Tyer and Riegel O’Ryan,’ Veggie added, slamming his hand down on the table. TM’s mug shook in distress; he picked it up and put it beside Veggie’s on the other table. ‘And they came down, and they took her away.’
‘I don’t follow,’ Marty said helplessly.
Derrida looked about, thinking hard, holding his chin in one hand. ‘So… you’re saying Ziggy was literally a star, from space, who came down to be in human form. Somehow. And a local weatherman and a survival show host were also stars, and they… what, killed her?’
‘I don’t know,’ said TM, unable to look anyone in the eye. He could feel a burning in his throat and behind his eyes, and in the centre of his brain, and then it was all over his body and he stood up as a prickling hotness stabbed him in every inch of himself and he could not sit still. ’I don’t know if she’s alive, or dead, or if alive and dead are even words that can be meaningfully applied to someone who’s literally an enormous ball of burning gases, but she was my friend. And she’s gone.’
Dominika stood, then grabbed TM and pulled him in, resting his head on her shoulder and wrapping her arms around him. TM stood there, finally letting the tears fall onto Dominika’s shoulder, shaking in her arms. He was vaguely aware of Veggie standing up suddenly, running his hands through his hair, pacing about, and of Marty putting his hands on Veggie’s arms and whispering to him, and then Dominika could no longer hold him and he fell to his knees there in the middle of the café.
‘She’s really gone?’ Derrida said quietly, but TM barely heard him. ‘Can’t we… report her as missing, or something?’
‘She’s gone,’ Veggie said, shaking free of Marty’s grasp. ’She never really existed in the first place, Jack, she was a star. She doesn’t have a National Insurance number, or any kind of record, or even a fucking birthday.’
Derrida looked down at the table.
‘What would we say?’ Veggie said helplessly, holding his hands up. ‘Hello, police? It’s me, Veggie, and my friend who came from outer space just got kidnapped and probably murdered or rocketed back to space or something by two TV personalities and their dog. Oh, you’ll get on that? Thanks.’ He gave Derrida a poisoned stare, then shook his head and left the café, slamming the door behind him.
‘I’m sorry,’ Derrida said quietly as the echoes of the slamming door faded.
‘He’s just upset,’ TM said from his position on his knees, wiping the tears and ugly mucus from his face with his sleeve. ‘Sorry I got bodily fluids on your top, Nika.’
Dominika, dabbing at her shoulder with a napkin, gave him a quick thumbs-up.
TM got slowly to his feet, rubbing his eyes with his thumbs, and slumped back into his seat. ‘She’s gone,’ he said finally. ‘Whatever they did with her, they wanted to put her back up in the sky where they think she belongs. She’s not coming back.’
‘Come on, man,’ said Marty, pulling uncomfortably at the neck of his T-shirt, as if it were strangling him. ‘We’ve got to… I don’t know. Put on some sort of rescue mission.’
‘What, you want to build a spaceship and go up after her?’ TM said, shaking his head.
‘What the fuck are you on about?’ said Dominika.
TM stared at her.
’You’re all like oh no, I’m so sad, she was my friend, and yet you’ve instantly just given up and said well shit, she’s gone so I guess I’d better just immediately accept that she’s gone forever and move on.’ She slapped TM in the face. ’Don’t be fucking stupid.’
‘You can talk?’ TM said, rubbing his cheek.
She shrugged. ‘Don’t tell Veggie. It’s easier having him assume I can’t.’
’But we’ve got to at least try,’ she said imploringly. ‘I don’t know how, but we’ve got to.’
TM sighed. ‘I don’t suppose you can read the stars?’
‘Of course I can,’ she said, hands on hips. TM led her outside, and pointed up.
‘Is she up there?’ he said, not sure which answer he was hoping for.
She looked up into the night sky, sidestepping to avoid the light pollution of the café’s gaudy sign. ‘Theta Aquila was the one that went missing, right? And Altair went dim, and so did the whole of Orion.’
‘Theta Aquila,’ TM said, the name feeling alien on his lips. ‘That’s her.’
Dominika peered up, revolving slowly. ‘She’s there,’ she said eventually. ‘She’s back.’
TM pressed his hands to his face, his fingers slowly rubbing down his eyes and cheeks down to his chin. ‘They took her back,’ he said.
‘Looks that way,’ she said. ‘Altair’s back at the head of Aquila, and… Orion’s fully lit again, too. They’re gone.’ She peered curiously around for a moment. ‘Oh, and Sirius is back in Canis Major, too.’
‘Yeah, the Dog Star. It’s a pretty big deal, but it only got a few points of visual magnitude darker, so it didn’t make the news as much as the other ones that went AWOL.’
‘Dog Star,’ TM said. ‘Of course.’
Dominika dropped her gaze from the heavens to look into TM’s face. ‘You can’t just give up,’ she said.
‘You’re an inventor,’ she told him, tweaking his cheek affectionately. ‘Invent something.’