My co-workers were racing towards me with a look of terror on their faces! A loud “BEEP, BEEP, WARNING” penetrated my eardrums repeatedly making it impossible for me to hear anything else. I could see that their lips were moving aggressively in an up and down motion like someone screaming a message, but I just couldn’t understand what they were yelling about.
At the turn of the century overpopulation had reduced the food supply to a point that it was almost non-existent for lower income families, making any that could be found highly expensive. Every member of the family was expected to pitch in even if they could only put a few more scraps for the table. Strict child labor laws had been put in place because parents were having to put the youngest to work far earlier than they should have been. Chips had been installed at birth in our forearms so every reader we came within five feet of, would alert others that a juvenile was standing nearby. If it was any type of store or factory the authorities would be notified, and heavy fines would be issued should children be found on the premises. We weren’t even allowed inside a market to fetch food.
The day I turned fourteen would be a changing point in my life, I was now expected to find some type of employment to help with the food and shelter. Since jobs were at a premium the elders would have first crack at them leaving youngsters like me unable to find even the most menial type of work. Only one area of learning any kind of trade was guaranteed, work was always needed on the off-world colonies! If I signed up housing, meals and a stipend to send back to my parents would be provided, even though I was still only a kid this was a no brainer in my mind. My parents signed off on the legal paperwork, it truly was the best option for all of us, one less mouth to feed and some extra money coming in. Within three days I was embarking to a new home, I waved goodbye to my parents one last time as I walked up the gangplank into the belly of the beast ready to whisk me away.
Fifteen years later I now had a trade skill as a welder, one even able to work outside of a dome or ship which that made me a valuable commodity. It was no problem for me to don a pressurized suit, step out of an airlock and walk outside thousands of miles above a planets surface. Most others in my line of work were unable to handle the view of being upside down, vertigo would set in quickly and they were upchucking into their helmets.
I was in between shifts handling some paperwork for my father’s funeral back home, he had passed away quietly I was told. There was never a time I would be able to go back so all communications had been done through video calls, impersonal but the only choice available. Standing at the reception desk, waiting for some help at the legal agency, which was handling his affairs, a woman looking to be about my age stepped through a doorway which led to the back office and sat down. We hadn’t said a word to each other, but I got this strange feeling in the back of my mind that I needed to be with her. Being almost thirty I’d had my share of relationships but none of them ever made me want to be with that other person as bad as I was yearning for it now.
“May I help you?” Her voice had a tone of sincerity in it which fed those deep emotions even more. She looked up at me and I peered into her dark brown eyes.
“Yes,” I’m not quite sure how I got that out because my mind was elsewhere off in a place I had never been before. She somehow understood that I needed to sign off on a paper for my father, Jeffrey Steven Hawkins.
“One moment please,” she answered as she looked down and shuffled through a pile of documents on her desk. “Here it is, all you need to do is sign where your name is printed below. I believe your Mr. Jacob Hawkins, correct?” All I could see was that beautiful face looking back at me as I stood there frozen in the moment. “Mr. Jacob Hawkins?” She inquired again since I hadn’t responded to her first query.
“Yes, Mam. Mr. Jac…” I paused in mid-sentence feeling stupid at referencing myself using a title. “Jacob Hawkins that’s correct,” I finally replied.
My hand was shaking a little as I retrieved the piece of paper, she had handed me to sign. “Thank you,” was all I could spit out, even that had to be dug out of my wandering mind.
“Here you can use my pen.” She held out the instrument for me to use. “Just use the edge of my desk.” Once more I took an object from her lovely hand. Her fingernails were just the right length, neat with a light hint of mauve painted on them.
Pulling my self together I bent forward, placed the paper on the hard surface and began scribbling hoping I was signing my name, but just wasn’t sure what I was writing. “Here,” Picking up the document I handed it back to her. She retrieved it from my hand, which I swear was acting like it had a tremor in it. I watched as she set it to the side and looked back up at me.
“And my pen please?” Realizing I still had a firm grip on it, I reached out and put in in her hand. There had never been anything that touched my skin as the softness in the palm of her hand. “Thank you.”
Feeling like a schoolboy not thinking through what action I needed to take I began to turn and leave the office. “Maybe some other legal matters will bring you here again. Have a good day Jacob?” I heard her say in an inviting tone.
Git your shit together boy! That voice in the back of my mind cried out, so I turned around looking back at her with a newfound determination in my eyes. “Would you like meet for some coffee at your convenience?” Finally, I spit it out and felt like the weight of the world had lifted from my shoulders, but I found that she was already one step ahead of me.
“Here.” I took a piece of paper she was holding up to me. “Call me after your next shift, I look forward to it.” That would always be my Sylvie knowing what I wanted to do even before I did.
Her first name was really Sylvia, but she absolutely hated it, so I called her Sylvie which always brough a smile to her face. The only time we were ever apart from then on was when we had to work otherwise you couldn’t slide a piece of paper between us. Movies, dinners and a lot of cuddle time made the next six months pass like they didn’t even exist.
One night we sat down, created a plan then set it in motion. Both of us were children of earth torn away at an early age and had not been back, we were determined that our child would not be brought up on any other planet. However, things back home, as we liked to call it, had changed significantly, attitudes towards the off-worlders returning had taken on a sour tone. Many like us had returned with fortunes in their pockets having saved most of their pay since there really weren’t many places to spend it. This sent housing along with food prices spiraling upward making it even harder for those who stayed behind on the planet to make a living. Laws were put in place that only married couples below the age of fifty could return, what the reasoning behind this one is still a mystery to everyone. That was an easy rule for us to fulfill, we went to the chapel the next day and had a no frills wedding we wanted to have as much money as possible saved when we started our family.
Next on the list was that each individual had to have amassed fifteen points per person, so we needed a total of thirty to get back. Points could only be accrued by working for the government or a contractor doing work for it. One point could be accrued for each month of service, and you would have to donate one quarter of your pay to a charity servicing other individuals less fortunate than you.
Since neither of us currently worked for a qualified company, we had to secure those types of positions which were highly prized and difficult to procure. Sylvie was great at what she did and would receive glowing recommendations, but administration work was extremely hard to come by, I on the other hand was a desired commodity. I told those that I interviewed with that I would not take a position with their company unless a placement was found for my wife in one of their offices. Sylvie always had faith that I would get what we wanted even though I started doubting when we hadn’t heard anything back after a couple of months.
The dam finally broke, and the offers came pouring in, I would find out later the reason we never received any requests for work was because my skills were actually being auctioned to the highest bidder! We looked over the choices then determined the best course of action to get back home, so I took a job offer with a contractor doing new additions to existing space stations. His projects called for two months at stations which were lined up with the last stop in earth orbit, which was a nine-month stint. It was going to take us a total of fifteen months to get our feet back on the soil of our home planet, our plan was coming to fruition!
Between each station hop we had a week of travel time so we filled that void looking at places on earth where we would finally settle. If you lived in the city, where most people did, it wasn’t a bad place, but all of them were overly crowded. We finally decided our new home would be in one of the quieter villages, by village standards there were still several hundred thousand people that resided there.
Six months down, only nine more to go we sighed as we settled into our cabin at the last stop. Sylvie was doing some admin work for the contractor, she was the longest employee that they had held onto so she was called upon to keep track of major project expenses, the ones that would hit the bottom line the hardest. I was working on jobs which would take me outside to do work on the main hub, not out on the spoke which was far more dangerous.
Mother nature always has a way of getting what she wants whether you want it or not and she wanted Sylvie to have a baby. We had always been cautious both of us getting shots to protect from this sort of thing, the chances were one in a billion that both procedures would fail! A little over a month into our tour we found out she was one month pregnant. Okay so we did the math, one month down eight months to go, timing would be close, but she could still have it on earth, so we thought. Apparently, doctors would not allow an eight or even nine-month pregnant woman take a shuttle to the surface, previous cases had caused premature births sometime even still ones. It was explained to us that being exposed to the planets high gravity would put too much stress on the fetus that close to birth so they wouldn’t allow it. We had come so far and were so close to fulfilling our dream we desperately looked at all of our options.
My current job was difficult but not an exceptionally dangerous one, so points accrued were standard, one month service one point, but working out on the spoke gave you more points. Most workers would not even consider making a living out there, many lives had been lost so that reality put a scare into anyone even thinking about it. Working out on the spoke meant that you would be exposed to all types of flying objects from micrometeorites to junk from older satellites, you were a sitting duck! I knew we had to gain points faster and out there was the place to do it, triple points that could be applied to both husbands and wives, it was that deadly!
Once I signed on, I was given a one-month training session slowly moving my work area from the center of the station to farthest outer ring. Three months had passed, and we had lost two people, the longer you spend out there the more exposed you are.
This morning I sat with Sylvie, like I always did before I left for my shift. She knew the risks I was taking, and she thanked me every day with hugs and kisses before I walked out the door. We were holding each other in a tight embrace when I felt what I thought was just a rumbling in her stomach, she was always talking about the gas she was having.
“Did you feel that?” She asked me while looking up into my eyes.
“Yes, are you okay? Is that gas bothering you again?” I asked in a worried tone.
“Silly, it’s the baby, it wants to say goodbye this morning.” She giggled letting me in on her little secret. “He started getting rambunctious during the night.”
“Wow!” Was all I could say standing there stunned at the news.
“Go do you shift; you’re going to be late. We’ll be here waiting for you when you return.” I gave her another kiss then hurried out the door.
I had this odd feeling come over me as things were beginning to get hazy. How I got there I didn’t know but I found myself, still in my space suit standing in an open meadow surrounded by tall strands of green grass waving as the wind blew over them. I could see rows of tress in the distance and feel the heat of sun beat down on me. Looking down I could see that my work gloves were still on, then realized I was still wearing my full suit. How strange? I looked up and caught a glimpse of two fuzzy objects come into my field of vision. As I stood there they came into focus as they made their way towards me, soon they were standing within five feet of me.
It was my Sylvie just a little bit older but still beautiful as ever, but who was the tall young man standing next to her! He looked familiar to me.
“Dad, you need to come back to us!” I could hear his voice, but I couldn’t wrap my head around what he was saying.
“Jacob your son and I need you, its time to return.” I recognized the sweetness in her voice but still my mind was unable to get a firm grasp on what was happening. Slowly their forms began to fade.
“Wait!” I cried out.
“Hawkins! Hawkins! Come on man you can do it!” I heard the voice of my shift supervisor, Johnson, he and the others were standing around looking down at me. “Shit man, I thought we’d lost you.”
“Waa, what happened?” The fuzziness in my head was starting to clear and I realized that we were all still out on the spoke.
“A bolt broke off while Williams was tightening it down with his wrench. You never saw it coming because your back was to him. As it flew past you it nicked a small hole in your suit causing your air to escape slowly, you would have lost consciousness before the suit’s alarms would register the emergency. We barely made it over here before you lost all of it. Patterson slapped a patch on the hole and Williams put his spare cannister into your pack.”
“Wow, I don’t know where I’ve been the last few minutes.” I was now able to make full sentences, so I wanted them to know I was grateful. “Thanks guy’s I owe you one.”
“Hawkins my man, you just got the golden ticket!” Johnson said as he patted me on the back. “Rules are anybody coming that close to death out here gets all of the points they need. Your tour is over buddy so let’s get you back to the airlock. Sylvie’s on her way and will meet us there. Come on guys let’s get him on his feet.”
I was still in a bit of a daze when they helped me up and escorted me back. Once we were back in the airlock, I could see Sylvie standing on the other side of the pressurized door being supported by her friend Barb who had her arms around her. She held her hand over her mouth, and I could see the fear in her eyes. A final “Swoosh” sound meant that both sides had now been equalized so Johnson could safely open the inner door. Before I could get my suit off Sylvie ran to me and grabbed hold of me so tight, I almost couldn’t breathe. I was finally able to at least remove my helmet.
“Oh my god I was so worried, are you okay honey?” She asked kissing me then hugging me then kissing me again.
“Yeah, babe I’m okay.” It was then that I bent down and laid my head against her stomach. I felt Sylvie’s hands caress and cuddle it in her palms as her fingers ran through my hair. “I’m back to finish what we started son.” I said in a soft tone as I closed my eyes then felt a kick as if he had heard me.