We are on our way home, Anderson and I.
The stars pass by, slow as dreams.
Our ship emits a constant low-frequency hum
and rattles because of meteorite strikes and weapons which tried
to erase us from the sky, if sky is what this is called.

We are on our way home, but home is just an idea to me,
just something causing a slight twinge in an unused nerve.
"We'll be there soon," I tell Anderson,
but Anderson is on the cot, dying, and besides,
I don't even believe what I say, myself.

Anderson and I came together, had a child, made this mission.
I know what he likes for breakfast, 
and what used to make him stupid with desire for me,
but I don't know why we are together, what Hand was at work.
Here is what I do know:
The prospect of being alone without him
makes me sick and terrified.
Home has sent out a beacon. I think. 
There was something, or maybe just the ship dissolving around us.
On we go.

I contracted a disease on Moon 57 that was so painful I wanted to die.
Anderson kept telling me, "Hold on," and I did.
What that got me was more travel and more diseases;
more scrapes and more missions. 
More time with Anderson.
I do what I can to ease his life, and he does the same for me.
He is sleeping, but groans and shifts.

I see it. I head for it.
It's a series of numbers, an end point, meaningless but beckoning like a siren;
a siren that's ghostly and can barely wheeze out a note from some forgotten libretto.
Progress from this vacuum to that.
Connections being made. 
Banging, joining.
We're here.

The door to the command module opens.
I check Anderson, who has died.
I want to cry, but I am like an old hose with a thousand leaks,
empty when it matters most.
I stand up, walk through the door and down a brightly lit tube. 
They are waiting.
I have no idea who they are.
They look at me, their eyes large and filled with a strange sorrow/joy.
We stand there, a foot apart, in silence for a long time.

I am home.
I feel nothing.
All of who I am and who I was is strewn out behind me in the fires and ice storms of all the places I have been.
There were many crew mates with me,
then fewer,
then a handful,
then just Anderson,
and now, only me to stand here gaping.

I am surrounded by strangers with their odd, almost familiar faces.
I'm having trouble breathing.
I feel like something crystallized and about to shatter.
There is an emotion I don't remember,
and this place is thick with it.
All that I know is the mission, which has burned me to a bone.

One of them reaches out and touches my face,
and I buckle inside.
Without words, I am flooded with revived things,
crazy impossible childish things,
like belonging and mattering and loving and being loved.
Even exhaustion can't stop it.
Then I am sobbing,
remembering that for Anderson, 
the crew, and even for me
there is this place to come back to who we were
albeit when we were so much younger
and couldn't imagine that we would ever forget 
how and where we really began.

for Sunday Muse #10

also for Kerry's spec fic at Real Toads. 


Carrie Van Horn said…
OMG....inspiration did not strike it exploded Shay!! This made me cry, smile, and wish I had written it!! So much depth in this, I did not want it to end. I especially love the line, "I want to cry,, but I am like an old hose with a thousand leaks, empty when it matters most" This is a new favorite for me of yours!! I love love love it!!!
Sherry Blue Sky said…
Wow, what an incredible tale this is. I resonate with so many of the feelings, especially when she comes home and some memories are reawakened. I was especially moved by her sorrow, and the sorrow in the eyes of all those looking at her. I so resonate with that right now. No one tells a tale like you do.
tonispencer said…
All that I know is the mission, which has burned me to a bone...this is so moving. You have written my life right here. The pain, the befuddlement, the burn out. Just like the day I walked out of the restaurant and said, no more of this shit. The day I stopped cooking as a professional.
Kerry O'Connor said…
Anderson kept telling me, "Hold on," and I did.
What that got me was more travel and more diseases...

This seems to me to be a metaphor for life. Shay, you have certainly risen to the occasion of this prompt and delivered your spec fic in all its true intention, which is to examine the human condition out of context so as to afford the reader enlightenment. I find the hopeless voice of the heroine to be most compelling.. here is the drive, the instinctive need to arrive home, the fearful loss of identity.. so many layers, and above all, an intelligent awareness of our very human fallibility.

Thank you so much for taking the prompt to the next level.
Old Egg said…
This is some of the most gripping, amazing, poignant and beautiful writing I have read for some time. I was blown away. Congratulations on writing such a wonderful short story.
Anmol (HA) said…
Ah, this is such a gripping and enthralling narrative. It's as if I have watched a Villeneuve movie, with its exploration of the nature of being human through fantastical metaphors and measures.
And I couldn't help but love this: "I want to cry, but I am like an old hose with a thousand leaks,/empty when it matters most."

Such an inspired penmanship.

Priscilla King said…
(I'm not Spirit, I'm Pris) This was painful to read. If that was the intention, it's excellent work.
hyperCRYPTICal said…
Your words are incredibly moving Shay, words of life’s oft daunting journeys, of its twists and turns, words of love and loss and trying to remember who we were/are.

Your closing stanza especially moving and it made me sad, made me think of how few of those I have known for a long time are left and that I couldn’t return to my startpoint, for it no longer exists, for those I knew then are gone…

Anna :o]
Margaret said…
I am so impressed - it's obviously a different time and place but the emotions are the same - aren't they? I've tried several times and this seems beyond my ability but you certainly have the talent!
grapeling said…

I'll buy the book when it comes out. seriously.
Jim said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim said…
Thanks for the ride, Shay. This is stupendous, brings back memories of when I used to work with NASA, Houston, Manned Space Center. I hobnobbed with astronauts, most of those I knew are dead now.
Also 'Anderson's' request, "Hold on", vibrated here. When Mrs. Jim and I were dating I rode a motorcycle. One day I took her into the boonies where the bike guys had ridden, making trails. Some of them were mogul-like, up and down. Except the down was through the air with a jump. She didn't know what "hold on" meant but she quickly learned.
brudberg said…
This is such a fantastic tale... I sense of homelessness, the last woman standing on a mission. This goes together with all the best of Sci-fi tales... as the darker side of, "to boldly go"
"Without words, I am flooded with revived things"

I love that line.

The whole piece is stellar, and so touching, but that line is the best to me.
Maude Lynn said…
"home is just an idea to me,
just something causing a slight twinge in an unused nerve"

That is incredibly vivid and unique. You do this sort of thing so well, Shay. Fantastic story.
Herotomost said…
Always pushing that envelope...you have a great sense of the way people think and react. Some of my favorite authors are that way. It makes everything you write pop out like its in 3D or something. Heavy sigh...I still think you are one of the greats. Love you!
Marian said…
Oh... Shay, this made me feel... it made me feel. Longing, I guess is the best word for what I feel. I adore this, just love it. Thanks so much for this.