Corners of the Universe

By Adam McGechan

‘Isn't she simply gorgeous.’

‘The most beautiful little girl I've ever seen.’

‘Hang on... here's our young lad. Wants to be a soldier.’

Balancing it on the tips of his fingers, the man gingerly placed the photo on the glass tabletop and accepted the next print from his excited friend. A boy in a crude uniform stared out at him with a salute.

‘Little blighter. Turns eight next week.’

The man flopped the exposure onto the open folio in front of him and sighed. His friend gave a sudden obscure French exclamation and leapt over the back of the sofa across to the lockers.

‘Of course, you haven't even seen Charlotte yet, have you?’ he babbled as he struggled with the digital lock. A stack of papers flooded onto the floor from within. The man smiled politely as his friend sifted through the mess to retrieve another couple of albums before swinging himself enthusiastically back around the couch.

The man at the table glanced around the room, then picked up a narrow black wand from the mountain of photographs that lay strewn across the table. Pointing it vaguely at the far wall, a screen flickered into life.

‘...over Miami. The bureau today issued a statement attributing the hurricane to a temporary miscalculation on the Gravit...’

‘Here's the girl herself.’

The man dropped the control onto the floor as the screen clicked into blackness, and glancing across the picture, went to take a sip of his coffee. He paused as he took in what was obviously a wedding photo - the married couple, Charlotte eagerly clinging to his friend's arm...

‘You know,’ said his friend, ‘I just can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to going back. I just can't!’

The man's smile turned to a frown as he found his cup empty. ‘How I envy you.’

He rose and shuffled past the table to the bubbling pot.

‘Coffee?’

‘What? Oh... yeah. White, two sugars. I tell you, four months on the moon is enough for me...’

The man winced as a trickle of hot liquid caught the back of his hand. ‘Yeah,’ he muttered, wiping the coffee onto his tunic. ‘And tomorrow's the big day, eh?’

‘And I'll tell you,’ his friend agreed, ‘There isn't any thing in the universe that's going to stop me from getting out of this hole and back to my home.’ He turned back to his photos and stared at the image of Charlotte, shaking his head.

‘Oh, sorry.’

‘What?’

‘We're out of sugar.’ The man dropped the container back onto the bench.

‘Oh, it doesn't matter. I don't care! I'm going home, that's all that matters.’

The man placed two steaming plastic cups onto the glass of the table. Sighing, he dropped into the huge leather armchair.

‘So, what've you got planned?’

His friend looked into the distance.

‘Well,’ he began, ‘We're going to get a new place. Somewhere around the Cevennes, I think. Charlotte's always loved that part of the country. And of course, there's the little ones to think of...’ His eyes fell to the enlarged snap of his family. A wife, four kids...

‘And while you're going round living out your dreams, I'm stuck up here with bloody Hobson! Lucky bastard...’

There was a bleep from the wall.

‘Yep?’

A familiar voice echoed round the mess deck as the intercom sprang into life.

‘Jules? Franz? Joe here. Look, get up to the control room pretty sharpish Sam wants to see you about something.’

‘On our way.’

Franz drained his cup and made for the door. ‘Come On, Jules. Just one more odd job before you're off!’

Jules closed his photo albums, stood up and stretched.

‘Ah, well. They say a madman should be humoured. I wonder what he wants now...’

Space is silent. A thousand worlds sleep in its deathly spell.

A man is walking into the airlock. His friend slowly walks beside him, struggling against the low gravity.

They are checking their suits. A double tap on the shoulder...

Let's go.

They move up the ladder.

The damaged antenna. A man is leaning over, examining the torn pieces. His friend looks round.

The man rises.

It's sabotage.

From the blackness around him a silver flash strikes his body softly. The man gracefully falls...

Charlotte...

A blank metal face stares impassively.

A woman's face stares pleadingly.

There is a silver flash.

Charlotte!

Space is silent. A thousand worlds sleep in its deathly spell.

[Corners of the Universe]
Peter Adamson

This item appeared in Timestreams 5 (August 1995).

Index nodes: Fiction