'39

[Inspired by a Song Competition] Inspired by Queen's "'39". A sci-fi/ romance one shot for the competition.

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2. '39

    “Jonathan Clarkson,” the presenter called into the large microphone. Jon stood, back straight, feet together, as the crowd clapped for him. His eyes glazed over as he stared at the sea of faces. Perhaps his perception was distorted but it seemed as if there was something sorrowful in the cacophony. After all, it was a farewell. As the crowd’s attention moved past him, Jon slipped back into the reverie that had been interrupted by his name being called.

    Space. It was what he had dreamed of since... since forever, really. He remembered those early days, sitting on the beach of Cocoa Beach, Florida, watching a space shuttle launch. He remembered lounging on the couch in the living room of his family house, watching old reruns of Star Trek with his father. Space. Jonathan had never considered that his dream to enter the place of his many daytime, and certainly nighttime, fantasies would really come true. 

    Now, standing here on a platform in front of a sleek silver spaceship, it was becoming reality. His head spun. The prototype of this vessel had been developed only years before, simply a test, a collaboration of the brightest minds across the world. Warring countries had even come together to develop this beautiful piece of machinery. When they had called for volunteers, Jon, a certified Astrophysicist, had not hesitated to throw his name in the hat. 

    He wondered now if maybe he should have.

    “The launch will take place at zero nine hundred hours. We truly wish the best to the volunteers and can only pray that their mission be successful,” the presenter, the president of the space program, stated. “God speed.”

    Another round of applause and Jonathan was free. The twenty volunteers on the stage dispersed, moving amongst the crowd with shielded, numb faces. Jon’s was no different. In a daze, he pushed to the edge of the crowd, breaking into the blessed emptiness. From this vantage point, he could see the sea. The milky sea, so wild, was tame in comparison to what he was about to undertake.

    Jonathan knew she was there before he heard her approach. When those thin, familiar hands took his, Jon turned.

    “I thought I should come say goodbye,” Corrine said with a smile that split her face but did not erase the sadness from her eyes.

    “It would have been easier if you hadn’t.”

    Corrine shrugged, “I’ve never liked easy.”

    “I know,” Jonathan replied softly. She pulled him to the still damp grass and they sat there for several long moments, looking out at the sea. Finally he turned his pained eyes to hers. “Corrine-”

    “Please, Jon. Please don’t.”

    “You know I might not come back,” Jonathan said softly, unable to hold it in.

    Corrine leaned her head against his shoulder. “I wish you didn’t have to go.”

    “But I do,” Jon countered. “We are running out of land. Consuming the resources too fast. Overpopulatio-”

    “Yes, I know of course,” Corrine cut him off. “That doesn’t stop me from wishing, does it?”

    After a moment, Jon replied, “No, I guess not.”    

    The sun was bright and it warmed Jonathan’s face as he looked up at the clear sky. This would be the last he would feel the sun on his face like this for a long time. He couldn’t help looking over at the way the light glinted off of Corrine’s shiny brown hair. Another last for him. A pang hit Jonathan’s heart hard. 

    “Corrine, will you marry me?”

    Her dark blue eyes turned up to him in surprise. “What?”

    “Will you marry me?” Jonathan repeated, lips quirking in amusement. “I love you. I want to know you’re waiting for me. It may be selfish but-”

    “Yes,” she cut him off again. Where that habit sometimes annoyed Jon, today he found nothing about her that wasn’t endearing. “Yes,” Corrine repeated. 

    Pulling her in for a kiss, Jonathan’s heart was lighter knowing that she was his; she would be waiting here for him. 

    “I will come back for you,” he promised gently. “I swear it.”

    Corrine relaxed into his arms. “I think I’ll hold you to that.”

 

---{}-{}-{}---

 

    Corrine could still remember that day with vivid detail. The day she had watched her fiancé's ship sail, sail into the sky. June twenty third, the year 2039.

    “Mark this day, folks, and remember it. June 23rd, 2039. I get the feeling that this will be a day that the history books will remember,” the newscaster had said as the video of the sleek silver spacecraft launching into the sky played in the background. “Those twenty brave souls will either be marked down as heroes in glory or heroes in tragedy.”

    Corrine certainly knew which she was hoping for. Was still hoping for. She brushed her hair back from her face as the breeze whipped it about. Two small children danced in the waves, shouting cries of joy. They were not her children; she had been faithful. Her niece and nephew, now six and ten, had kept Corrine occupied for many years but had not been able to fill the void that told her she might never have children of her own. All in all, it was looking rather bleak. 

    As sunset came, someone approached, sitting down beside Corrine on the sand. The newcomer was quiet for a few minutes, simply watching her children play together. At last, she spoke.

    “You’re thinking of him again, aren’t you?” 

    “Leigh, you know I can’t help it,” Corrine replied tiredly.

    Her sister sighed, leaning back, hands digging into the warm sand. “It’s been thirty years. Don’t you think you should move on, before it’s too late? You’re still a pretty thing, you could marry, have kids of your own...”

    Corrine shook her head, smiling sadly. “I couldn’t do that. I’ll just go on treating your kids like mine.”

    Leigh shrugged. “Suits me fine. A free babysitter, and they certainly love you.”

    Another silence fell as the sun fell in the sky, creating a smooth transition into the starry night. The night was when she could imagine Jon up there, watching for her.

    “I still think he’ll come back,” she said quietly. “I know it’s foolish but I can’t help it.”

    Leigh laid a hand on Corrine’s arm but didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say.

    “After all, he promised.”

    Just then, the kids came running up, soaking wet and caked with sand. Leigh greeted them with a hug, not worrying about getting wet herself. Gathering their toys, she began to lead them back up to the house.

    “Coming, Corrine?” 

    “No, I think I’ll stay here a bit,” she replied. It was nearly dark now. Every day she waited for the night to fall, hoping that she would see the streak of fire in the sky that signaled his coming home. Soon, the children's’ voices faded and Corrine was met with the blessed cool silence of the night.

    “And there will be no way to talk to you?” she had asked, just before Jonathan stepped into the spaceship.

    “We’ll be too far out of range for that,” he replied, sounding resigned. When her face fell, he added, “Write your letters in the sand. Maybe I’ll be able to read them from space.”

    Though she knew it was impossible, she smiled. “I will.”

    He took her hand. “And when I come back, I’ll take your hand in mine and we’ll walk down the beach like we used to, into the sunset.”

    “Like a fairytale,” she said with a soft smile.

    “Like a fairytale,” Jon had agreed.

    Corrine hadn’t forgotten. How could she? Those were his last words to her. They had promised not to say goodbye; an unfinished ending left something to be completed later on.

    Standing and brushing the sand from her shorts, Corrine found a nice, long stick. She hadn’t done this in a long time, but now it seemed appropriate somehow. With long, deep strokes, she scratched out:

    COME BACK TO ME

    Satisfied, she threw down the stick and headed back inside, watching the stars as she walked. Somewhere up there, he could be looking down on her, reading this. It may be a fantasy, but it was one she refused to give up. 

 

---{}-{}-{}---

 

    “Look at it all,” Jonathan breathed through the small communication device. “I didn’t believe one existed.”

    “A planet with the same atmosphere as Earth,” Lt. Whitman said, voice holding the same amount of wonder. “It’s a paradise!” 

    Jon let his fingers brush a tall bush with beautiful flowers that looked as if they had been dipped in gold. He glanced down at his handheld reader. “All the plants seem harmless, most are edible.”

    “We’ve found Eden,” Whitman agreed. “Just in time, too.”

    Jon nodded in agreement. “Six and a half months was our limit, wasn’t it? Our limit on fuel?”

    “Yeah,” Lt. Whitman affirmed. “And we’ve found the perfect place in just under six. Six months to get home and we’ll be back on Earth before the year’s out.”

    Jonathan smiled, imagining bringing Corrine to this place of beauty. How she would love it! The flowers alone would take her breath away, but the purple tinged sky and glistening clear waters would be enough to astound any mortal. Just six more months and they could be married. Or maybe they could wait and be married here. Jonathan had been promised one of the first spots in the relocation plan to start a civilization here; together, they could be the Adam and Eve of a whole new planet. The thoughts ran wild through his head. Six months. 

    “Come on, let’s get the others down here. If we put our minds to it, we can get the tests run in a day or two and be on our way home, to spread the good news,” Jon said eagerly.

    “Agreed,” Lt. Whitman said. He plucked a golden flower. “Let’s hope those botanists can preserve this thing. I promised my kids a souvenir.”

    “Right now, I feel we can do anything,” Jon replied, grinning broadly.

    Lt. Whitman was the first to transport up, leaving Jon alone for a moment on the planet’s surface. “I’m coming for you, Corrine,” he whispered to the wind, hoping somehow that she would hear him. Not with her ears, perhaps, but in her heart.

 

---{}-{}-{}---

 

    The past six months felt like an eternity but he had endured. Staring out of the small window now as they plummeted toward Earth, the planet seemed different than Jon remembered it; less vibrant somehow. It was probably because it was, indeed, less vibrant when compared to the new planet they had yet to name.

    Right on course for Cocoa Beach, the ship landed in the water just as the escape pods jettisoned from the top. There were five of them, each holding for people. As they bobbed to the surface, a sizable boat approached, stirring the choppy sea water with its oversized engine.

    “Hey there! Need a lift?”

    “Please,” Jon replied after popping open the top of his capsule. He really didn’t fancy swimming back to shore. The ship he knew was safely under the water, designed to be as airtight as a submarine. It had a tracking device to that they could easily send a crew back to haul it back to shore for their research and personal items. With only a small duffle bag, Jon hopped aboard the stranger’s boat, helping his crew-mates on afterward. 

    As they sped back to shore, the man asked, “So what’re you guys doing out there? Trying to find fish?” he asked jokingly. After a rough chuckle, he commented. “Fat chance of that.”

    Jon looked at him oddly. He must have missed the crash of the spaceship. “No, we’re from the space mission Transpose. Haven’t you heard of it? We’ve couldn’t establish communication which is odd, because they should’ve been expecting us. We’re right on time.”

    The scrawny man’s eyes grew wide. “Transpose? You’re from the ship Exaciar?”

    “Yes...” 

    His face was white. “This can’t be. You can’t be. Launched June 23rd, 2039, right?”

    “Yeah, were you there?” Jon replied politely, hearing a laugh come up from below deck. His mates seemed happy to be back on Earth.

    “Was I there?” he laughed. “Goodness no. I-”

    “Land!” an excited cry came from beneath. Cheers sounded and Jon hopped onto the railing for a better look. Land, indeed! He was going home. He couldn’t wait to see Corrine’s face! He would surprise her, he thought.

    The boat was fast and they were coming up on the beach within minutes. Jon hurried back down to the driver. 

    “I’m not sure if you can answer this for me, but do you happen to know where Corrine Aldham lives?” Jonathan asked excitedly, voice breathless.

    “Aunt Corrine? Sure, 1334 Pinereach avenue. Right on the beach. That little beige bungalow,” he said pointing. Jon took no notice of the honorific; perhaps she had gained a reputation in the community while he was gone.They were nearly at the shore now and people moved out of the way so that the boat could be beached right onto the sand. They looked on in wonder, even confusion as the men started hopping out, still clad in their bright blue suits.

    Jonathan turned to hop into the gentle waves, not caring if he got wet, when the man grabbed his arm.

    “Listen, before you go-” he cut himself off, upon looking into Jon’s eyes, filled with hope and excitement. Suddenly he shook his head. “I don’t have the heart, don’t have the heart,” he muttered under his breath.

    Thinking that perhaps he was complimenting Jon’s bravery for going into space, Jon grasped his hand and shook it. “Thanks, and thanks for the ride. But there’s someone I have to go see. Have a good one.”    

    Jon jumped from the boat, landing with a light splash on steady feet. He ran down the beach, loving the feel of the sand beneath his feet. Sprinting past the bystanders, Jon didn’t notice their faces or their dull clothes. He had eyes for only one. Yards melted away and soon enough, he stood before her door. Shifting his weight from foot to foot, Jon knocked, hardly able to breath in anticipation.

    An old woman opened the door, looking worn and a little sad. “Can I-”

    “Oh, sorry, this must be the wrong house. I’m looking for Corrine Aldham-”

    “Jonathan?” she breathed, eyes lighting up.

    Jon’s breath caught. Those eyes. He knew those eyes. “Corrine?”

    He pushed the door open the rest of the way and stepped inside, placing his hands on her shoulders. “This can’t be.” Tears sprung to his eyes as well as hers. “What happened?”
    Corrine took his hand. “It’s 2139, Jon. It’s been a hundred years since you left,” she said in an unsteady voice. 

    He reached out and touched her hair. “It’s been but a year. I’m only a year older but you’re-”

    “One hundred and twenty,” she said with a humorless smile. “But even with all those medical advancements, they don’t give me much longer.”

    Jon could feel his life, his plans, his everything spiraling away, out of his control. Life suddenly seemed gray, dull, meaningless. And yet he still loved her.

    “The Earth is dying, Jon. Animals are going extinct, resources are failing, everything is changing. Please tell me you found a new place,” she said with a spark of her old hope and curiosity in her eye.

    Jon smiled lightly. “We did. You would have loved it. The flowers, Corrine, the flowers. They were so beautiful. And the trees and animals. The water was as smooth as glass and clear, with gem colored fish beneath the surface. You would have loved it.”

    Corrine smiled at the obvious wonder in his voice. “Come on in and sit down. I’ll make some tea and you can tell me more.” With a squeeze of his hand, she turned, moving down the hall to the kitchen. Jon found the sitting room and sat dow, trying to keep the tears from his eyes.

    He was not alone, he reminded himself. Whitman’s children... oh, goodness, they would be old now. He had missed their entire lives. He was older than Jon, surely his wife had passed. Jon felt a stab of sympathy and pity. Jon pitied himself too, he was sure. Before they set off, the scientists were unsure how fast the engines could take  them, not having had time to test it in space. Naturally they had pushed it as far as it would go, looking to get back quickly. By doing so, it seemed that they had broken the time barrier. One hundred years in the course of one. It was not only these people who had lived in ignorance of what happened to the starship that should be pitied. No, it was also the twenty with their lives still ahead in a world that they know nothing of, with no one they loved. They should be pitied. He should be pitied. 

    How cruel and ironic that in finding new life for a dying planet, they had lost the lives that they once knew. Corrine returned with the tea and Jon smiled at her. Corrine’s face wrinkled more as she smiled back. All was not lost. They may not have the lives they were hoping for but at least they could have these last few days, months, hopefully years together. And beyond that, Jon knew he would be okay. He may have lost his chance at a happy life, but he could make sure that he gave others the opportunity for it. He would help a new colony grow on that planet. He would give it the chance to hold life. He would not love again, however, for if love was strong enough to span the universe, Corrine would go with him, if only in the place it mattered most. In his heart.

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