It was 3:59 a.m. and he sat by the computer in the living room. Somewhere above him, his daughter was rocketing from Earth on a five-year mission.
Every two weeks, he’d be relayed an encrypted message from mission control. Since they were so far away, it was impossible to do a two-way conversation, so she’d send him a recording.
It was always sent over at 4 a.m., but it didn’t stop him from occasionally refreshing his screen to see if it had arrived early.
The videos were never long. “The trip is good.” “Things are boring.” “Growing plants in space is easier than I expected.”
Years ago, before she’d ever gone to space, it was his wife who had talked to their daughter. He’d always been too busy at work in his office. Then grew sick and passed away, his daughter quit calling. He considered picking up the phone, but he wanted to give her time. Losing a mother had to be a hard thing.
After four months, she called. She told him about her day of training, the stupid thing her girlfriend had said about her cooking, and how well her garden was doing. He told her about the book he was reading, the fence he fixed, and the apple pie he tried baking. Then they said their goodbyes, and two weeks later, she called again.
That was three years ago, and they had barely missed a single conversation.
It was 4:00 a.m. He refreshed the screen.
Nothing. He tried again.
There had to be a reason for the delay, someone must've fallen asleep at their station, or had stepped away to take a leak…
But wouldn’t it all be automated by now? If computers could send rockets into space, could they not also relay a message.
He refreshed again. The screen remained blank.
Could something have happened? Despite his daughter’s reassurance, that they had redundancies for redundancies, mistakes happened. Codes failed. Parts wore out.
4:01 a.m. He refreshed again.
He wanted to call someone, to find out what was going on, but who would he call? There was no one he knew at her workplace and no direct line. She was just one of many people on that ship.
Besides, if something had happened, they probably had a lot more shit to deal with than to keep him in the loop.
Standing by the computer was not hurrying along with the message, so he stepped outside and stared up at the night sky. All he saw were stars and darkness.
What else did he expect to see? An S.O.S. beacon flashing somewhere past Venus? Their ship was no bigger than the shadow of a pinhole on a blanket the size of a football field.
He moved back inside and reloaded the page.
He tried to persuade himself that it hadn’t been long, that it had only been two minutes, but this only tightened his chest.
He had never said it, hell, he had never even realized it, but when she started calling him, she had brought him out of a very deep hole that he never realized he’d fallen into. Sure, he was fixing fences and painting rooms, but it was only a busyness to ignore the silent, empty house.
But he also needed to support her and celebrate her journeys, no matter where they took her.
Beep. A message from his daughter. He played the video.
“Hey, Dad. Sorry. Things got busy around here. I was having trouble with a pump and got a little stubborn with maintenance. I wonder where I got that from? Anyway, I’m exhausted, so I’m cutting this one short. Love you. See you in two weeks.”
The video froze on her image. She wore a t-shirt and her hair was messy, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. No alarms, no smoke, no chaos.
He hit record.
“Hi there, sweetheart. Thanks for the message…”
This one didn’t go the way I had expected. It was supposed to be about a parent wanting to help their child but unable to due to the distance. Somewhere along the line, it became more about the parent’s worries and anxieties.
I also don’t think it’s the right ending, but I’m not sure what the real ending should be.