Author's Note: I generally do not write this type of fiction, however I thought I would do myself good to experiment a little more with the literary/realistic side of things to improve my range. So, please be extra harsh! However I did choose to stick with a general SF setting, so I hope that element is clear (and contributes to the plot) as well. Note that I am already working on a much longer, violent, SF heavy version that is much more plot based, with the same characters and similar themes. I plan on releasing that is short segments, but I am still developing it so nothing is definite. If you have any ideas on how you would like to see that happen, and things you would like to see happen, let me know, as I still am a ways away from writing it and would appreciate any input!
Every so often, my thoughts wander to memories of Earth, and memories of Kate. I get to thinking about life in Tokyo, and how in the end, the two of us left it behind, in one way or another. I think about the night that she told me it was time for her to go, how that living room looked, still and silent, and the days that followed, wandering aimlessly until I finally remembered home, and looked up to the stars in the sky.
Facing the idea that I was so suddenly alone was a hard thing to recognize back then, in the moment when it happened. Kate came home later than usual, around midnight, her hair wet and her clothing drenched in rain. I was curled on the couch, my eyes still glued to the television. All of the lights were off, and they were running a mildly interesting piece on the news about the 15th anniversary of an electronic music festival taking place in Toronto. Not really an interest of mine, but we always waited till the other got back from work, so I was trying to pass the time.
Of course when I think about it now, maybe I remember it differently, maybe my mind has run over it far too many times, over so many years, for what me remember everything perfectly. Maybe I have warped it, but still I can recall the essence of these moments- like the defining, timeless frames that are the heart of a film- how she shut the door behind her with a somewhat forceful slam, and set her bag and coat out on the table by the door, then strode across the room to the other end, where out kitchenette was.
The lights above the kitchen table flickered on without being asked as she sat on one of the stools, facing in my direction. Kate was silent, motionless, as if pleading that I be the first to speak. I remember her looking especially beautiful, in that moment, how the lights from above reflected off her still water covered skin, illuminating her face in a way that made it almost impossible to look away from.
“Long day at work, it looks like?” I said, muting the television and walking over to the table. “It must have been something important for them to have kept you till now. Was it the the review for the SerpentV6 launch procedures?" I waited a beat, then a couple more, but she said nothing, just staring at me, impassive. "Unless, of course, you were out with that boyfriend, or something.”
I grinned lewdly, because I knew that when not talking about the rockets, which we both could only tolerate so much of, rude references to her mysterious sex life would most likely get her attention. "Am I right, or what?"
“No, not that,” she said, looking away from me. “It's Warren.”
“Warren?” I said cautiously, knowing that she was upset. “Your father, right?”
She nodded her head. She almost said something right then, but her voice cracked, and she burst into tears. She didn’t have to tell me anything more in that moment, and so for a few minutes I just let her cry, while I microwaved a meal for her.
I guessed the worst, and I was proven right, she was moving back, to be there for who knows how long. Her father was finally sick enough that there was no way that she could not be there for the final months.
And I wanted desperately to believe that she would be back, but by that time I was old enough to know she would not.
And the week after, I stood in the center of that apartment, at that same time, a little after midnight, in shock, just listening to the rain collide against the earth, and the city beep and honk.
I try to remember Kate and the tall white rockets, shiny with rain, and the life we shared, and it comes back to that moment, in that empty room.
It was the room where we ate our meals together, with a kitchen that had a pantry and a stove and a fridge. The two of us would sit around that table for hours, talking or watching the TV screen that was fixed into the wall.
It was where we put all our clothing, where we changed, and where we slept, in the reclining chairs or on the couch. This is where everything between the two of us happened for those few years. It was where we read our books and our magazines, complained about how hard we had it or how great it really was, where we played video games late into the night.
The memories can be distilled there, but I distinctly recall how none of it seemed to be left, as if all of it had vanished the moment she was gone for good. It was as if the illusion that our young lives abroad had created, ignoring our families and crashing on couches and drinking, suddenly ceased to be. The sensation that nothing was there, when the apartment was truly silent, was when I knew that things were finally falling apart.
I had left for Tokyo 5 year prior, when I was so frustrated with where my life was going that I saw no choice but to leave my hometown of Seattle. I had this idea in my mind that all I really needed was a dream to chase.
That was what I began to tell myself, as I struggled day after day with the everyday things in my life, as I began to see them lose their meaning.
They said what I needed was to get a boyfriend, but the last thing I was looking for was another person, at that point. The other popular recommendation was that I find a real, stable job, but anything I tried out had no meaning tied to it. I had never had the chance to see what a real job was. The way I was raised, I just saw what my parents did as what you were meant to do when you got kicked out of the house.
None of the things I did had much of a purpose, nothing in Seattle anyways. So I made up my mind when I was entirely alone and bored out of my mind that I would leave the city for somewhere completely new, to do something I had the courage to do.
In the back of my mind, I knew I would realize I had made a mistake in at some point, and that I would come around and my family would welcome me back with open arms and poorly concealed, smug smiles, knowing that this was meant to be, that their little girl was finally growing up and getting herself together, that she was realizing her place in the world, and the role she had to play. It was a simple thing to tell myself and to believe. That was what I thought as I bought my ticket and packed my bags. I told myself I could always come back.
What I never thought about was all that would happen along the way, from the day that I left to the day that I finally set foot in Seattle, all that would happen through those years on the other side of the world.
None of us, my parent, my brother, especially not myself, could foresee how long that moment of homecoming would have to wait to happen, and the price we all had to pay for it. It sounded easy in the back of my head, like a place that I would get to at some point, after following a set course that had long been decided. I told myself I would come around soon enough, I just needed take some time to grow up a little.
The fact that I never really came home in truth is what nobody could predict, because even as I stood there, back home again, my dreams of Kate and Mars had taken me too far away to ever be really back.
It was a silent morning when I left, or so it seemed. Probably loud, like any moment in a airport, but I could hear nothing, I was so caught up in myself, caught up worrying and fantasizing at the same time.
While I waited for that flight, with that black suitcase and backpack, I had no idea what was gong to happen next, and that in itself was something new. I had only been hired for 2 months of minimal pay at that point, a sort of test run of the job, but I was just excited that I finally was going to have to make it on my own. I wondered what I would learn about myself and about the world, what another country would be like.
Back then I had something of a fascination with Japan, because it always seemed like it held the lost, almost unattainable part of me. I am only 1/8th Japanese, but for that very reason Japan was all the more fascinating because it was a represented something I still did not know about myself. I knew who I was in the States, I had known that for a while, but who could I be in another part of the world? I wanted to meet a whole new facet of myself there, a new Hanna Morris.
The dream that I was chasing, what gave me the courage to go across the world in the first place, was more than just discovering a part of my lost heritage. It was to see history in the making, and be part of it.
2059, was the year when I left, and that was the year that Orbital Enterprises went global and opened to world’s largest spaceport in Tokyo. It was a monstrosity of a thing, able to launch up to 23 rockets and 6 space planes a day when it first opened, and by now the numbers have doubled and tripled far beyond my counting.
It was running rockets and orbital planes at a little over the cost of a commercial jet, and suddenly, everybody wanted in. The idea that you could make thousand of flights a year, from just one location, was very appealing to the people with the money to take advantage of it, and things took off in a way that nobody saw coming.
With that, they needed an unprecedented amount of workers to do the everyday jobs, and so I took the risk. This was the dream, the goal that I was chasing, something that would lead me somewhere. Perhaps space, at some point, but right then I just wanted something new. Where it all led me I figured I would find out later. I applied for a basic internship, flew over, and in the end hired me full time. At that point Orbital was smaller, compared to their current size, but they were caught in the middle of the explosive genesis of an entirely new economy based around their rocket system, and somebody had to do the dirty work for them.
That meant hours driving fuel and supplies from checkpoint to checkpoint, cleaning off launch pads and runways in a constant cycle. It was grueling, labor intensive, but we were all caught up in something new, something big. They hired a couple hundred of us in that year, and Kate and I were some of the first ones there, both of us eager to be on the forefront of something that seemed full of endless potential. Everyone had the same sense of optimism at the time, when we all were anticipating where those rockets and space planes might possibly lead the world, and where they might take us.
They were monolithic, some of them tens of stories high, and every time we saw them break gravity in a flash of light and vanish into the sky, they forced you to imagine all of the possibilities, and you dreamed about what it would be like if you were inside.
It was a sort of illusion, a mental trick to me, to everyone in some way, I suppose. Just seeing it up close, flying away from the earth and your problems, you couldn’t help but feel that it was you going away as well. That was what haunted every one of us when we looked at these pillars of fire, lines in the sky, and so it became something that in the back of your mind would always find you.
I would catch myself imagining of glorious rockets the size of 20 story buildings, pure white and symmetrical, so massive it seemed that it never could quite fit entirely into your vision. They would always be there, just out of my grasp, even though I could touch them every day if I desired.
It was the money and the consequences involved in such of life defining trip that stopped me. Even with thousands of vehicles going into orbit every year by now, the price for a crewed flight was still expensive for anyone without an above average income, especially with the money I was being given. We all had life savings at Orbital, a 20 year plan for the lowest earning worker, less time the more you moved up. It culminated in 2 tickets to the companies’ fledging Mars colony of New Pacifica, or 4 tickets for to orbit. It was retirement, in a sense. You never came back.
It was painful, being in front of all of this for 12 hours every day, touching them and helping lift them into the heavens, all the while anchored to the ground.
The way that we first met was not entirely prophetic, or romantic, just lucky. The two of us only happened to arrive on the same day at the airport, and by chance we sat next to each other during the orientation session. I didn’t think much of it then, I just remembered the face and the few brief words we exchanged at some point, but I did remember her when we were assigned to the same group for our internship.
We hardly talked all that time. Those were 8 weeks I hardly remember at all, we barely got a break at all, and the whole time we kept moving, never having the time to talk. Near the end, I was positive my prediction would be fulfilled, that I would come back to where I started, in Seattle, and all I would have to admit that I was the fool, to have the arrogance to run off on my own.
It was the fact that I worked up the courage to talk to her near the end of my stay that changed the course of things. It was a cold, soft morning, one we were given off, and 10 of us were walking between launch sites, going over to see a large Serpent rocket have it's weekly launch to one of the new mining ships in orbital assembly.
I wanted to see something like it for myself before I left for home, and a lot of the newer people had been talking of going, so I tagged along, even though I didn’t know most of them all that well, past their names and their faces.
The silence that the few of us had been sharing since the beginning of the walk had been at first been comfortable, but at this point was wearing thin, and making things rather awkward. Then I saw her, walking right next to me in gym shorts and a grey hoodie with the purple and red Orbital logo plastered on the front. She had a baseball cap and sunglasses concealing most of her face, but I still remembered who she was, and so I struck up a conversation, just curious to get to know some of these people a little better before I left.
I was pretty sure that I would leave, at that point. There had been a novelty to living in a small dorm and being in a new place, but there seemed like no reason to stay, and in a way I was already missing Seattle and how simple things were back home. Maybe it sounds like a weird thing to say, given how bad things were for me, but I really was ready to leave. I had lost sight of things, and then we got talking.
“So, where are you planning to stay?” were her first words to me, after I had introduced myself as Hannah, and she had introduced herself as Kate.
“Planning to stay?”
“Yes,” she said, enthusiastically, “where are you going to stay once your internship ends, and you have to find an apartment?”
The question caught me off guard, because I had no answer for her at the top of my head, so I simply directed the question back at her, and that’s how I got to hearing her story.
By the time that the Serpent was upright and facing the sky, she had finished.
I’m not going to say I was in love or something like that right at that moment, because I wasn’t. But when she said she needed someone to room with, I was seriously considering it. She was so passionate about it all, especially about the future, and where she might go, that I couldn't help but be drawn into her excitement.
We stopped our conversation for a moment and just then the rocket lifted into the sky, and we watched in awe as it climbed to the stars, lifted by the most mesmerizing flame.
Tokyo changed then, as I saw that this be beautiful, unearthly thing taking flight, and then I saw dismal, dirty Seattle, and my parents and my brother whom by then I hardly knew, and it was then that I saw what I would be able to do if I just took one more risk. Sure enough, a few weeks later I was moving into a two-person apartment owned by Orbital with Kate, determined to make my way in the world.
Those next few years were a blur of constant movement, out of that apartment and in. So many of us came and went, and we watched rocket after rocket ascend, and all the while the spaceport increased in size, and we stayed put.
Every time, it came back to Kate and I, in that apartment, just the two of us, no matter who else passed in and out. It became such a pattern, such a truth, that it began to feel like it would always have to be that way. We would sit in different chairs to read, the same couch to watch TV, and it was as if during that time the world stopped turning.
It became second nature to be able to deny that other things were going on in Seattle, Chicago, words that had almost lost their meaning, things that most likely involved my family, and people I used to know. I had forgotten so much about all those people, and when I remembered them, each and every time, it became harder and harder to call them, and so it became easier to shut the idea out. I came back once or twice, emailed back and forth when something big happened, like Dave getting married, but such a long distance and lifestyle would make it hard for even the closest of families to stay together. We were not a very close family.
Live at the spaceport had a certain quality to it that made the outside world obsolete, in a way. It was monotonous, in a sense, because you went to work at the same time and generally did the same things. Yet, there was also something very dynamic about it that kept on drawing me in. New rockets, new projects, new places to go, and it was all in a vibrant city that was an adventure in itself.
Kate was there for all of it, and even though I never got the chance to tell her it in all that time in the ways I would want to have told her, looking her in the eyes, she was what grounded me; she was what made me stay. I know all this now, but it was in no way clear to me then, and I only saw what she was to me far to late.
Describing my feelings towards her then, right up until the moment she left, is something that does not come easily, because many people never really understand it. Before her, I would have never known that I was attracted to women in that way. It was maybe our third or second year living together, when some of the excitement and the intensity had died down, and we finally had a chance to look around. We finally started to grow separate in subtle and noticeable ways, all the while living the in same house, and that was when I realized whey she had always kept my attention is such a way.
In the back of my mind I began to call her my partner, but how could I tell her that when we had simply been the closest of friends for so long?
So I waited, while she got her boyfriend, while family seemed to get more important, and there I was, one night, all of the sudden alone in a silent apartment. I opened the door, walked out side and breathed in the dirty air and the noise. I called her the next day, and the next, until I finally could realize how it really was, how the last 5 years had been, what the decisions I had made back then really made, until I finally realized how blind I had been.
I visited home, just to make sure. I talked to Dave and met his kids, had dinner with Mom and Dad and promised I would be back.
I went back. I decided to keep in touch more, I went more back more than ten times in the next few years, probably. Except I didn’t. And when the day came, to go forever, I packed my bags and had my last meal in Tokyo, in that noodle shop where the two of us used to go all the time. Then I was off, in a rocket, just like I always said I would be, just like Kate always said we would.
Thanks for reading this melodramatic train wreck that hope nobody who knows me irl ever reads, and stay tuned for the actual SF action/adventure reboot that is in the works! This will have explosions and people being thrown out of airlocks, I promise! This will not be told in a never ending first-person monologue in the past tense! This will also feature characters that are *slightly* more proactive about doing stuff, whether that be getting laid, or handling firearms!
(Plus there may also be a *bit* of kissing, because lets be real here, this one really did not have nearly enough!)