He entered the rocket ship determined to make his mark on the world. He tried not to think of the future, or the past. What is gone, is gone, and can never be again.
A melancholy settled over her as she recalled his youthful figure stepping into the entryway. The large metal door sealing shut; shutting him away from her life forever.
Some told her that he didn’t really love her. If he did, he wouldn’t go. She knew this was important to him. This trip into space was always his goal. She was the unforeseen unplanned accident. And while she liked to think he may give up his dream for her, she also knew she didn’t have the strength to ask it of him. He might resent her, loath her even. She might feel guilty every time she saw his gaze wander aimlessly, searching for the stars.
Instead, she chose to suffer. He might come back early. It was possible. Of course, life on earth would move as it always had. But for him? Everything would be preserved, and prolonged. Would he still want her?, she wondered.
He strapped himself in the cryogenic chamber carefully. To study the nearest solar system even from a distance would require a long sleep. Miranda was dead to him. He had to think of her that way. There was a chance he could come back in her lifetime, but he felt that he should prepare for the worst case scenario. He locked the hood which would fill his sarcophagus-style bed with cold. He would sleep a while, unless an accident happened to the craft, whereas he would be awakened. Assuming, that was in working order.
He knew the dangers. Being an explorer has always been fraught with disaster and near-death. It was this that made up part of the appeal for him. Even if he wasn’t frozen, time would be slowed for him compared to the frenzy upon the earth. Freezing him just gave him more years to get into the proper position.
The craft was designed to send signals to earth once a year to relay its progress, and to remind the earth that it was there and would return.
At first the days were long, and filled with loneliness. She missed him, and life became a matter of routine. One ate because that was expected. One worked to help fill the hours. And the nights were for dreaming, her favorite time of day.
He was awakened by the sensation of warmth spreading through him. He felt like he just laid down and now was cheated of a decent night’s rest. He was beyond sleep, more like the eternal sleep of the dead, and now he was resurrected to serve his purpose.
He glanced out the port window and gasped at the apparent closeness of the binary star system. Two suns sharing power equally over what looked like an expanse of nothing. He panned the lenses further away and verified the few planets. They were rocky and small in appearance. He guessed there may be a gas giant further out, much like his own system. He didn’t see the paradise of water and clouds, but then he hadn’t been expecting to. One sun was too hot, and the other too cool.
This mission didn’t have to be manned. He knew that, but he wanted to be the one t o see it with his own eyes. He had to know that space travel, albeit limited, was still possible. Strange, a thought of Miranda’s smile crept into his mind. He dismissed it easily. He felt he had only said “Good Bye” yesterday. He knew this wasn’t correct, but his body’s system of time couldn’t mourn her yet.
He took many pictures, and sent probes to gather samples of soil from the planetoids. He requested that one be named Miranda, then destroyed the request. This was larger than any unqualified sentimental feeling. He never meant for her to get that close. He never meant to hurt her. He shifted the guilty feeling away. She knew of his plans. She knew how important this was to him. He calmly waited.
The day came when she couldn’t quite remember what his voice sounded like. She couldn’t cry anymore. It all seemed so vague, like it had happened to someone else. She looked at photos in an attempt to refresh her memory, but she could no longer conjure up a scene, or see the glint in his eye which she had suffered so much for. Sometimes he haunted her dreams, but in the dream nothing had changed. She knew it was all ready too late.
He returned earlier than expected. His rocket was carefully received. He had sent the information back and the earth got it shortly before his own arrival. The last ten years or so for him felt like little more than a week. He knew that more than ten years of time had passed here. The people dressed differently, looked at him with boredom and disinterest despite his long journey. The crowd was small, mostly comprised of scientific minded academics. He stepped off the launch pad in a state of fear. It was as if he had landed on an alien planet.
No one knew him, no one cared about his achievement. They had mathematically deduced the location of the planets around the binary system he had viewed. The pictures were nice, but the people had seen artists’ renderings which were more stunning.
He had no real home, and no friends. He thought of Miranda. One of the more zealous academics had arranged a hotel room for him, and he gladly accepted. He slept as if he hadn’t slept in years. The rest of the dead doesn’t have the satisfactory drowsiness, only an emptiness and lack of dreams.
He awoke and was handed some artificial tasting coffee by a sudden robotic arm. He had clothes in the new free flowing style laid out for him on the bed. Perhaps by another robotic arm or an apologetic maid who carefully avoided waking him from his deep slumber?
The academic waited for him in the lobby with an old woman, who looked ill. The academic stared at him like a child in a museum filled with dinosaur bones. He stood, and cleared his throat noisily. “I would like to introduce you to someone. She has given most generously to the scientific community, through endowments and organizing some awareness of your particular program.”
The woman looked about to faint, and not at all pleased to be making his acquaintance. Her eyes stared in horror, as if his visage was that of a monster, or a ghost. There was something vaguely familiar about her, but he couldn’t place it.
“Miranda,” the academic was the only one smiling now, “Derrick.” It all made sense in a horrible sort of way. He had known this might happen, but he had hoped she would be dead. He wanted to remember her beautiful. He didn’t know this lady. She had her hand on her heart, and slipped to the floor. The academic ran to get help, while Derrick stood dumbfounded. Her hand reached out toward him. He backed away from it like it was some sort of sentient lizard groping toward him.
“I don’t know you. You aren’t her.” His mind swirled in confusion. Hadn’t it been only days since he saw her radiant young face? He knew this would happen, yet there was no preparing for this moment.
She felt her tears slide down her tired face. The pain in her chest returned. This young man before her, looking at her in disgust and fear appeared the same as when she last saw him. His face brought back the dim memories. The lack of recognition caused her long dry well of tears to miraculously renew. She had been dead inside all the years he was away, and now that he was back she had forgotten how painful life was. He looked ready to bolt from the room, yet he didn’t move. She reached out with the strength left in her, and he yelled at her some words that her mind could no longer translate.
This act of dying was long overdue, and the kind professor did all he could to save her. What the doctor and the professor, and all the nurses and robots didn’t know was that she didn’t want to be saved. She didn’t want to picture that awful look on his youthful face.
She wished the professor had let her remain anonymous, yet seeing Derrick one last time was something she had to do. He had ceased to be a real person to her, but more of a dream. A loving, kind dream. The reality of the strange boy was all it took to bring back the pain, and the loss.
They named the first verified planetoid of the binary system Miranda in her honor year’s before. Her name would always come up in discussions about the expedition, and he would be reminded of the frightened old woman instead of the Miranda he wanted to remember.
He tried to live life as normally as he could, but he felt he hadn’t ever quite made it home. Too much had changed while he did not. He was isolated in this foreign alien world.
The professor thought he would give Derrick a long overdue visit. No one answered, so he knocked louder. Finally, getting concerned, he called the police to open the door. They found him seated at an old fashioned wooden desk, with an antique gun in one hand, and his bloodied head on the desk, laying sideways as if he was taking a much needed nap from some taxing academic endeavor. He had been dead for some time, but not having any close friends or loved ones no one thought to stop by until the professor.