Northern Union, Earth
Lighting danced on the horizon as the Korolya Ptitsya lumbered over the Bering Strait. Martin Ranger watched as water spattered upon the cockpit windows of the outdated shuttle. Looking about the cockpit, Martin saw the patched remnant of a World War Four transport. Tools lay strewn about, many repair jobs were left partially done, and wires hung soldered together so many times they were unrecognizable.
Martin chuckled as he thought the wires looked more like the art from before the Third World War than they ought to have. The two Russian pilots, veterans of the Northern Union’s most recent civil war, sat in silence, keeping a watchful gaze on the gauges before them because the indication lights had long since gone out, or been salvaged for use elsewhere.
Once more, Martin found himself chuckling as he wondered why he even paid money for this flight back to Dallas. Sure, he did want back with his son, but he thought it would be better if he made it in one piece, this hulking junker was a death trap.
The lights flickered and the Korolya Ptitsya shuttered as it dove for the dark water below, the lights then died out altogether. Only the occasional lightning strike lit the cockpit, revealing that the two pilots seemed to be perfectly calm. Martin grabbed hold of his armrests and checked his harness for the hundredth time. He listened as the engines growled in protest to the pilot’s’ attempts to restart it. It had already stalled twice, but those were above land.
Sputtering, and wheezing, the engines finally turned over. Most of the lights flicked back on and everyone relaxed a bit. Martin lets out the breath he had been holding and he looked around the cockpit once more. Sure enough, everything seemed to still be at least partially working.
“Spokoynoy nochi,” Martin said to the pilots as he struggled against his safety harness. Breaking free from its stone grip Martin exited the cockpit.
Right before the doors slide all the way shut, Martin heard the copilot said something about “Outworlders” and “Beauty sleep”
With a laugh, Martin tried to recall a few of the directions the pilot had given him, as he searched among the crates and countless dead ends that made up the bulk of the ship’s cargo bay.
Eventually, as if by a miracle, he finally found himself in the passenger area. He looked at the sad faces of the sleeping refugees from all over Northern Europe as he made his way down the narrow aisle, occasionally tripping over an outstretched leg in the dark. After a far too long, Martin slid into his personal quarters.
Being wealthy, Martin had decided he wanted a cot and not just a seat to sleep in. He seldom splurged on much of anything, other than his travel arrangements. It was a nine-hour flight from Arkhangelsk, to Dallas, thanks to all the pit stops along the way. Once Martin was in Dallas, he would be off to his family, in Königsberg on the planet Vinn. Martin smiled as he thought of the first-class accommodations he would have for the rest of his trip.
Sitting on the threadbare sheets of the cot—which actually was just several boxes pushed together—Martin opened his suitcase and took out his dated laptop. His father had told him many times the countless stories that this laptop had lived through. He told him how it was good luck and would bring him home. He had told Martin of the time his great-great (and countless more greats)-granddaddy had bought it when he served in the army about two hundred years ago. As the story went, the laptop had stopped a bullet when his great-grandpappy had been ambushed in the jungles of Peru on a humanitarian trip—Martin paused to trace the pockmark the bullet had left.
His father had told him how it had even brought his parents together. His father had told him, ’Sometimes you gotta trust the old-fashioned ways…’ that speech like all the others were ignored by the arrogant twelve-year-old. ’Another long speech,’ was what Martin called them.
Martin tapped the laptop’s worn power button and it hummed to life. Although the laptop had likely been repaired more time than the trash heap Martin was flying in, it held much more value. With a buzz of protest, the screen flashed to life. A tear ran down Martin’s face as he looked at the screensaver, which was a short clip of his father waving goodbye on his last trip.
Martin had taken that video for his mother when he was sixteen. She had told him that even though she couldn’t see his father off that she at least wanted to have it filmed. Martin had protested for everything he was worth, Not only was it weird to see someone filming a video of a space shuttle taking off, but he had also grown apart from his father.
Despite his best efforts, Martin couldn’t help but feel so wronged by the fact that his father spent more time on trips than with him. He had grown to the point where he didn’t even go to the ball games his father had bought tickets for. The seats were in the team the dugout, which was supposedly some of the best spots out there. Martin didn’t dare to call his father daddy, or even dad. Father was what he called him in his own act of rebellion. He told himself every day that he hated his father. Everyone he knew had their dads with them at every school event, Martin’s father, on the other hand, never made it to one.
On his final business trip, Martin had finally broken, telling his dad that he hated him.
He screamed it.
Martin told his Father he would rather him not even come home.
In that moment, pain overtook his father’s eyes. The moment the words left Martin’s mouth he saw a piece of his father die.
After Martin had told him that he didn’t want him back, a lone tear fell across his father’s face. Martin pushed his father away when he tried to give him a so-long hug. All these years later he still remembered his dad telling him that he would always love him, no matter what. And with that, Martin’s father took his leave.
Martin remembered watching the broken shell of a man who had been his father moments ago retreat. He walked alone to his flight. Martin had created that broken shell, and he relished the pain that he caused his father.
Or at least he did.
Martin wiped a tear from his face as he regrets everything that he did to mistreat his father. Beneath all of his hate was an entrapped, neglected love. He didn’t truly mean anything that he said. Martin remembered wanting to race to his father and hug him and say sorry a million times.
But, as Martin considered apologizing, the shuttle roared to life. Martin remembered filming the take-off with shaking hands. He remembered getting home and calling his father from the in-home comm-station. Behind him, Martin had heard the telltale sound of his father’s laptop chirping with its call waiting sound. His dad had left his lucky laptop on the table.
In the weeks that followed, Martin had starved himself. He hated himself because his father was a great man. He had been going from one war-torn planet to another to deliver aid to exhausted people. People who had their lives ruined by the long civil war that went back generations. Martin had waited awake for hours at the home’s comm-station.
Martin had prayed for any messages from his father.
He waited for any type of news.
Finally, Martin remembered racing to the shuttle depot after the longest month in his life. He had planned out a week of what he had hoped would lift his father’s spirits and show him just how sorry he was. He had put together most of his money to take his father and mom to the nicest restaurant in the city.
Martin had planned to tell his father he did love him. He planned on apologizing. Martin had waited in the terminal for hours until his father’s shuttle arrived. He had stood to greet him, trying his best to see over the heads of the passengers and refugees. One passenger had stopped in front of him with an ashen face. The man had rattled something off to him in some language he had never heard.
And then he left.
Eventually, the rest of the crowd had also left.
More confused than anything, Martin approached the desk clerk, asking where his father was. The look she had given him was one he had never seen before. She had told him to go to the cargo hold. Martin remembered that he tried to clarify that it was his father that he was looking for and not a piece of luggage.
The clerk then said, “I know honey, I know. He’s down there though.”
Mystified and hopeful, Martin made his way to the unloading dock. He remembered marching through the maze of the spaceport’s innards in search of the right spot. He eventually found the man in charge and asked of his father.
“Martin Ranger? Humph. Your daddy’s dead, kid,” the man had continued, reading off this and that to Martin. He even stopped a few times to give out some orders to the rest of those around him like Martin wasn’t even there. Then, without any emotion, the man shook his head at Martin and demanded, “Now get out of my sight. I’ve told you where he is.”
A crewmember of his father’s flight guided Martin to the morgue. Martin was shown the broken shell of a great man. He had screamed in defiance. He screamed like his scream could bring his father back. For more hours than he could count, Martin had stood there. Lost. Hopeless.
A few people drifted in and out as he stood there. Martin’s mom had awakened him hours after he had cried himself to sleep. Tenderly, she had led him out, and after several months she had him as put back together as she could.
Martin closed his eyes and let the images of his mother play before his eyes. Her love for him is what kept her going while his love for her kept him going. She was too busy with him to care for herself, and after three years she died. However, by then Martin had grown acquainted with death. His counselor had told him forgetting was how to go on. Sure, forgetting didn’t truly work, but it was a defense mechanism, no matter how weak it was.
All these years later, Martin still woke up every so often drenched in either sweat or tears. Most of the time he would dream of what he could have done to save his dad if he were there in his last moments but there were other dreams as well that shook him to the core of his being. Forgetting wasn’t easy and Martin failed to see why his counsellor had tried to guide him down that path. Forgetting wasn’t a path to healing, if anything it was a path that left lifelong scars. But, until the day that he finally dealt with the buried pains from his childhood, Martin would just have to do his best to forget every day.
Martin touched the screen and the image of his father’s last moments disappeared. They were replaced with the image of his family. His beautiful wife and son—a son who somehow inherited both his mother’s blue eyes and a blue tuft of hair. The duo smiled towards the camera as they sat in the courtyard of their penthouse.
“Hello, Natallia,” Martin whispered.
Natallia had been dead for seven years. Martin’s son Clive was only a year old when she died, so he didn’t go through the pain of loss like Martin had. Martin traced his deceased wife’s face and eventually tapped the only icon on the screen. The laptop chimed happily for a moment before Clive answered the call on the other end.
“Hi, daddy,” Clive’s image said as it filled the screen.
“Hey, Clivey!” Martin smiled, forgetting his poor cabin accommodations as he looked at his strong young boy, “Where’s Lydia?” Martin went on to ask of the caretaker whom he hired after his wife’s death.
“But dad… I wanna talk to you!”
“Alright,” Martin immediately gave in. It had been weeks since they last spoke due to his hospital visits and the lack of adequate comm-arrays in Russia, “What do you want to talk about?”
Clive spoke for an hour, as Martin listened enthusiastically. He watched as Clive showed him what he learned at school. Smiled as he listened to Clive recite the last four meals he had had (surely with some embellishment, cookies and cake were brought up countless times). Martin had told Lydia, ’Only the best for Clive,’ and she saw to it. Lydia showed love in a way towards Clive that Martin thought only Natalia could show.
“Oh, sorry buddy,” Martin cut Clive off mid-sentence, looking at the flashing battery charge, “I’m almost out of batteries, I’ll call you back in the morning.”
The cabin lights flickered again, and Martin paused mid-word to search for a safety harness of some sort. The engine continued to hum in the distance. Martin felt the ground buck and heard a metallic thud as he was thrown from his feet. The lights continued flickering as Martin struggled to get to his feet. Then the lights shut off altogether and the only illumination in the room was the laptop with Clive’s face.
Martin looked up to his laptop, and saw Clive’s scared face, “I love you Cli—”