Fourteen-year-old Zachary Tyler, better known as Zac to family and friends, sat in his wheelchair before the Deep Space Exploration Vessel (DSEV) Gyrfalcon’s Medbay’s plexisteel observation lounge windows watching the planet slowly spinning below him.
Why do they call space, ‘space’ and Earth, ‘Earth’? I mean, I sort of get it about space. All I got to do is look outside the ship. Lots and lots of space, tons of stars. This new world below us where we’ve come to live, with its three moons and two super continents. That is, if the Tekys clear it for habitation.
But what about Earth, our home world. Why did we call Earth, ‘Earth’?
After all, our home was eighty-five percent ocean, I read somewhere it used to be seventy-five percent before the Arctic Circle, Greenland’s glaciers, and part of Antarctica melted back in the twenty-first century.
Why didn’t we call Earth, ‘Oceans’? Anyway, it’s a good thing that in space there are stars and planets. I’m so glad of that. That means we have another chance.
He turned his head to the side and caught a reflection of himself in one of the viewport’s plexisteel windows.
The shock of encountering his burn-twisted facial skin and missing hair in the plexisteel view port window of the colony ship’s Medbay snapped Zac out of his reverie and solidly into the present.
Weeks already, dangling my legs in the regrow tanks. Shame I can’t do the same with my face without drowning.
He leaned forward and pressed his forehead against the freezing glass, cooling the itchiness, attempting to make some sense of the blur of spinning orange and flesh tones on the surface of the planet below him. Two of the moons peeked over the planet’s horizon in his view.
Two stainless steel rods attached to his wheelchair supported IV bags and a heart monitor machine; the latter beat a steady staccato.
“Those are sandstorms in the southern continent’s desert, son,” his father, Tel Tyler, said, placing a hand on Zac’s shoulder. He had come up quietly behind Zac without his notice.
Zac’s eyes opened wider as he turned his head in question.
“No, we’re not going to live there; too hot by far, and lots of poisonous reptiles. For that matter, even the mammals have poison sacs.”
Zac raised his eyebrows. He picked up the slate on his lap, detached the chalk from its holder and scrawled a hasty three-lettered-word.
"Why are the mammals poisonous? Good question.” Tel smiled fondly at his son’s inquisitiveness.
“We think they evolved poison glands in that harsh climate as a strategy to conserve valuable body moisture. That is, so they wouldn’t have to chase down game over distances.”
Zac nodded, and then his face fell.
Tel stepped closer and put his other hand on Zac’s other shoulder. “Thinking of Mom, huh?”
Zac nodded again.
“We both miss her. She would’ve thought poisonous mammals pretty cool too.”
The heart monitor beeped faster. A MedTeky stepped forward, frowning at Tel. Tel raised his hands in supplication. “Sorry, I keep forgetting. Not time yet, I know.” The MedTeky quick-stepped away. Tel leaned over and whispered.
“We’ll talk about Mom later. Try and relax or MedTeky Vampirella will make me leave again.” Tel stuck his upper teeth over his lower lip in vampirical overbite. Unfortunately, Vampirella, otherwise known as MedTeky Richards; poor woman, needed an orthodontist…badly.
Zac bit his lower lip, smothering a grin, shut his eyes, and started taking deep breaths, willing his heart rate to slow, calling into mind the yogic deep-breathing exercises he and his mom used to do together.
The beeps slowed and then settled into a regular cadence. He opened his eyes to stare into his dad’s shocking blue orbs at close range, eyes like his own. His dad kept his expression impassive but slipped him the slightest of winks. Zac hid his grin again.
The MedTeky was called away by a doctor before she could follow up on chastising Tel. Tel watched her leave and then his expression turned serious, more serious, perhaps because his rugged face was framed by frosty silver hair. When did Dad go so grey? Zac wondered.
At the start of their voyage from Earth some ten years previous, Earth-time, before the family was put into cryosleep, he’d had raven hair like Zac’s own. Tel broke into his musing.
“Have you written in your journal yet?”
Zac shook his head, trying to put on a brave face. It was painful to even think about the stuff going on inside him, let alone write about it. Dr. Lieberman, one of the colony ship’s shrinks, required Dad and him to attend her grief counseling sessions. Zac lifted his eyebrows in question and pointed at his dad.
“A little,” Tel said, acknowledging the question back. “It’s hard for me to write in the journal she gave me, too.” Tel reached over and ruffled Zac’s hair, being careful to avoid the burned side of Zac’s head.
“I think it’s helping me organize my thoughts and deal with my feelings some, though.” He let his hand slide to Zac’s shoulder again and gazed at the walls, lost in thought.
Zac watched him for a while, neither of them willing to break the silence; his dad because he was somewhere else in his thoughts, and Zac because he couldn’t speak, and wouldn’t want to intrude on his dad’s privacy even if he could.
Zac could see his dad’s eyes fill with tears. His own eyes burned. Mom’s death was all too fresh for both. Before he allowed himself to become overcome with tears he tugged on his dad’s sleeve and pointed at what he’d just scribbled.
“I’ll try,” his slate said.