The Promise of Space
This story was first published in Clarkesworld in September of 2013. You can read it in its entirety off site or preview it here. In addition, you can listen to the audio version, starring the fabulous Kate Baker and the author, on the Clarkesworld podcast
Capture 06/15/2051, Kerwin Hospital ICU, 09:12:32
. . . and my writer pals used to tease that I married Captain Kirk.
A clarification, please? Are you referring to William Shatner, who died in 2023? Or is this Chris Pine, who was cast in the early remakes? It appears he has retired. Perhaps you mean the new one? Jools Bear?
No, you. Kirk Anderson. People used to call you that, remember? First man to set foot on Phobos? Pilot on the Mars landing team? Captain Kirk.
I do not understand. Clearly I participated in those missions since they are on the record. But I was never captain of anything.
A joke, Andy. They were teasing you. It’s why you hated your first name.
Noted. Go on.
No, this is impossible. I feel like I’m talking to an intelligent fucking database, not my husband. I don’t know where to begin with you.
Please, Zoe. I cannot do this without you. Go on.
Okay, okay, but do me a favor? Use some contractions, will you? Contractions are your friends.
Do you know when we met?
I haven’t yet had the chance to review that capture. We were married in 2043. Presumably we met before that?
Not much before. Where were you on Saturday, May 17, 2042? Check your captures.
The capture shows that I flew from Spaceways headquarters at Spaceport America to the LaGuardia Hub in New York and spent the day in Manhattan at the Metropolitan Museum. That night I gave the keynote address at the Nebula Awards banquet in the Crown Plaza Hotel but my caps were disengaged. The Nebula is awarded each year by the World Science Fiction Writers . . . .
I was nominated that year for best livebook, Shadows on the Sun. You came up to me at the reception, said you were a fan. That you had all five of my Sidewise series in your earstone when you launched for Mars that first time. You joked you had a thing for Nacky Martinez. I was thrilled and flattered. After all, you were top of the main menu, one of the six hero marsnauts. Things I’d only imagined, you’d actually done. And you’d read my work and you were flirting with me and, holy shit, you were Captain Kirk. When people—friends, famous writers—tried to break into our conversation, they just bounced off us. Nobody remembers who won what award that night, but lots of people still talk about how we locked in.
I just looked it up. You lost that Nebula.
Yeah. Thanks for reminding me.
You had on a hat.
A hat? Okay. But I always wore hats back then. It was a way to stand out, part of my brand—for all the good it did me. My hair was a three act tragedy anyway, so I wore a lot of hats.
This one was a bowler hat. It was blue—midnight blue. With a powder blue band. Thin, I remember the hatband was very thin.
Maybe. I don’t remember that one. Nice try, though.
Tell me more. What happened next?
Jesus, this is so wrong . . . No, I’m sorry, Andy. Give me your hand. You always had such delicate hands. Such clever fingers.
I can still remember that my mom had an old Baldwin upright piano that she wanted me to learn to play, but my hands were too small. You’re crying. Are you crying?
I am not. Just shut up and listen. This isn’t easy and I’m only saying it because maybe the best part of you is still trapped in there like they claim and just maybe this augment really can set it free. So, we were sitting at different tables at the banquet but after it was over, you found me again and asked if I wanted to go out for drinks. We escaped the hotel, looking for a place to be alone, and found a night-shifted Indonesian restaurant with a bar a couple of blocks away. It was called Fatty Prawn or Fatty Crab—Fatty Something. We sat at the bar and switched from alcohol to inhalers and talked. A lot. Pretty much the rest of the night, in fact. Considering that you were a man and famous and ex-Air Force, you were a good listener. You wanted to know how hard it was to get published and where I got my plots and who I like to read. I was impressed that you had read a lot of the classic science fiction old-timers like Kress and LeGuin and Bacigalupi. You told me what I got wrong about living in space, and then raved about stuff in my books that you thought nobody but spacers knew. Around four in the morning we got hungry and since you’d never had Indonesian before, we split a gado-gado salad with egg and tofu. I spent too much time deconstructing my divorce and you were polite about yours. You said your ex griped about how you spent too much time in space, and I made a joke about how Kass would have said the same thing about me. I asked if you were ever scared out there and you said sure, and that landings were worse than the launches because you had so much time leading up to them. You used to wake up on the outbound trips in a sweat. To change the subject, I told you about waking up with entire scenes or story outlines in my head and how I had to get up in the middle of the night and write them down or I would lose them. You made a crack about wanting to see that in person. The restaurant was about to close for the morning and, by that time, dessert sex was definitely on the menu, so I asked if you ever got horny on a mission. That’s how I found out that one of the side effects of the anti-radiation drugs was low testosterone levels. We established that you were no longer taking them. I would have invited you back to my room right then only you told me that you had to catch a seven-twenty flight back to El Paso. There still might have been enough time, except that I was rooming with Rachel van der Haak, and, when we had gotten high before the banquet, we had promised each other we’d steer clear of men while our shields were down. And of course, when I thought about it, there was the awkward fact that you were twenty years older than I was. A girl has got to wonder what’s up with her when she wants to take daddy to bed.
I am nineteen years and three months older than you.
And then there was your urgency. I mean, you had me at Mars, Mr. Space Hero, but I had the sense that you wanted way more from me than I had to give. All I had in mind was a test drive, but it seemed as if you were already thinking about making a down payment. When you said you could cancel an appearance on Newsmelt so you could be back in New York in three days, it was a serious turn-on, but I was also worried. Blowing off one of the top news sites? For me? Why? I guessed maybe you were running out of time before your next mission. I didn’t realize that you were . . . .
No, I can’t. I just can’t—how do I do this? Turn the augment off.
You hear me? That was the deal. They promised whenever I wanted.