The door to your sleeping compartment whooshes open, so I swivel in the pilot’s chair to greet you. But my “Morning, gorgeous!” dies halfway up my throat when I see your face. Your eyes are bloodshot, puffy. They gleam with anger and abject grief.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Your voice is a whisper sharper than any hypodermic.
In that moment, I realize that all my gold-plated intentions mean an empty-sector nothing in the face of what I’ve done. In my mind, I imagine shattered helmets, perfectly spherical ruby droplets misting, glittering in our shared air.
And then I remember Marta smiling at me wanly through the choppy video feed. Our first faster-than-light jump seemed instantaneous as far as you and I were concerned, but it was eight months back on Earth. Long enough for inflammatory breast cancer to sprout and do its worst. Statistically, anticancer viruses can cure 99.8% of cases these days. But that 0.2% is a deadly chasm, and Marta fell right into it.
A numb panic roils in my guts. Stupidly, I default to parroting official policy: “There was nothing you could do. I was advised that telling you might endanger your focus for the mission.”
Your eyes widen in blue fury. “Nothing I could do? I could have talked to her. I could have had that last chance to say goodbye. Did you talk to her?”
I wish in that moment that the hatch would explode and suck me out into the coldest reaches of deep space. “Yes. I did.”
Your voice rises like a December wind. “Who fucking advised that you would have one last chance to talk to our wife and I would not?”
“Dr. Hong. I scored a ninety-five on the last psych eval, but you only scored an eighty.” Raising a shield of facts is a terrible, cowardly response, but I can’t seem to stop myself. “You told me that yourself. He said that kind of score means a major emotional upset could seriously derail you. But they needed to contact one of us to confirm hospice and funeral details.”
I pause, remembering how gaunt and frail Marta had become. The cancer had gone into her brain by the time Mission Control allowed my single video chat with her. It broke me to see her intellect and personality crumbling away. I want to tell you that it’s better that you remember her before her illness. But I know saying so will send you over the edge. “They chose me because I can compartmentalize. Concentrate.”
“Right. Your power of hyperfocus.” You practically spit the word.
I flinch. Hyperfocus is good for astrophysics, lovely for some brave rocket race where cold equations rule the day, and emotions are for orphans and widows left squinting into blank skies.
You turn toward the galley unit and press the button for a hot pouch of black tea. “I should not have found out from a condolence email from my cousin.”
The intern assigned to censor your messages must have been asleep at the keyboard. “No. That should never have happened.”
I rub my forehead. There’s no manual here to tell me how to handle this. There’s no telemetry to predict the arcing crash of your plummeting trust. No geometry for the fracture of a single human heart.
“I should have told you, no matter what they ordered,” I say. “And I’ll be sorry forever that I didn’t. If it matters, I spent most of the session telling her how much you love her. She died knowing she was adored by both of us. Very, very much.”
My heart is hammering as fast as Armstrong’s did during his lunar landing. You pause at the galley, sipping your steaming tea.
“It matters.” You turn away from me and push off to your station. “But I’m not ready to forgive you. Yet.”
I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. You burn like the Pistol Star: bright, fierce, entirely justified. You could have left me adrift in blackout radio silence. Lost to cosmic dust.
Compared to that freeze-out, your fury is a gift precious as palladium. You haven’t thrown me from orbit. And that means we see a fresh dawn.