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Claxon Needs Children
Tomás put his hand on Sara’s shoulder. She was hugging their young son Samuel. Though she wasn’t making a sound, Tomás could feel her sobbing. He looked at Sara's father, Martin, and gave as genuine a smile as he could muster. Martin, a tall heavier man with brown hair that had only succumbed to gray at the temples, stood several feet away, apparently happy to stay outside the circle of family intimacy. He smiled back at Tomás, but Sara's mother, Karen, who stood rigidly next to her husband, looked away. She couldn't understand their decision and probably never would. And she couldn’t help but make her disapproval known. Tomás didn't think his own mother, who also stood nearby, understood either, but if she ever judged her son's decisions she never let him know it. Sara inhaled deeply and sat back on her heels as she wiped tears from her cheeks. Her mother saw it as an opportunity.
"In my opinion, he is just far too young. What parent in their right mind…"
"Karen," Martin jumped in, "Sara and Tom have made their decision. This isn't the time."
"I don't believe that. They can always call it off…" Martin directed her away toward one of the large windows that looked out on the space port. With the noise of the terminal, her protests became only an angry pantomime. Tomás gritted his teeth. Sara should have dealt with her mother before this. In frustration he turned to his own mother and made the argument by proxy.
"We're committed to this. I wish she would just let us say our goodbyes." There was a catch in his voice. He had to look away from his mother's face, fearing that he might detect some hint of disapproval.
He felt the doubt well up again. The Claxonians assured them everything would be fine. For Samuel, it would be like going off to a boarding school for a year with 39 other kids his age. The only difference was that this school was on the planet Claxon orbiting Gliese 581, 20 light years from Earth. Because of the speed of the Claxonian ship, only three years would seem to pass for the children and their chaperones, a year to travel there, a year spent on the planet Claxon as emissaries of Earth, and a year to travel back. Since the travel time aboard ship would be in suspension, the children would only experience one year. But the round trip would take 41 years from the perspective of someone remaining on Earth.
Of course there were conspiracy theories, but Claxonians had made first contact with Earth 53 years earlier. Tomás and Sara were employed by the International Space Agency where they worked side by side with Claxonians. When their son was chosen to be one of the first humans to travel to Claxon, they even hosted a Claxonian in their home for a year in preparation for Samuel's trip. Zagran was a kind and gentle soul, an artist as well as a scientist. His large oval black eyes and his small grey body, not much larger than Samuel's, were not menacing at all. Tomás and Sara both regarded him as a member of their family.
Sara finally stood up. Tomás knelt down and looked into the bright eyes of his boy. Samuel looked back with a face full of excitement and anticipation. Tomás thought about what an amazing opportunity this would be for him. He was young enough and his mind was flexible enough that he would be able to appreciate Claxon. That is why the Claxonians needed children. The adult human mind was too rigid to handle the experience.
"Don't worry, Dad," Samuel assured him. "I'm ready. I've been ready for awhile." He adjusted the collar of his suspension suit. "Cool suit, huh?"
"Yes, Sam, cool suit," Tomás said while wiping away tears.
Zagran walked up and patted Samuel on the back. Zagran had a broad smile on his face, but Tomás noticed some nervousness.
"Dad, Mom. Zagran says it's time," Samuel said. Of course the adults couldn't hear Zagran. Only children could learn to telepathically hear Claxonians.
Zagran looked to Sara and Tomás. He placed his grey hands on their hands and squeezed them firmly. Tomás looked into the deep black pools of Zagran’s eyes. “Protect my son… my only son,” he thought. Zagran’s chin quivered and he nodded.
There was a flurry of hugs. The three grandparents took their turns. Then Sara gave Samuel one more hug. Then he was gone, running off, excited, half skipping with Zagran walking alongside him, both in white suspension suits.
Tomás turned now to his mother. She looked immensely sad. "I don't know what to say Tomie," she said. "41 years…"
Tomás looked at her. He knew what she was thinking. It was then that Tomás regretted that they had put off the obvious until this point. They both immediately knew what this meant, but neither had come right out and said it. They couldn't. He wondered why they hadn’t gotten this out sooner. Why?
"I know, Mami. I know," he said. He hugged her close. She kissed him on the cheek. He put his face in her hair and tried to memorize the smell. He heard a door whoosh. Four Claxonians approached. Sara was being hugged by her parents. Tomás looked his mother in the eyes. "We'll be right here," he heard himself say lamely. He and his wife would be there, at the space port, frozen in suspension waiting for the return of their son. It was a gift from the Claxonians. They would go to sleep and awake when their son returned. They would awaken 41 years in the future, be reunited with Samuel, and continue their lives. Many things would be different though. Tomás realized he would probably never know, but he wondered now if his mother would ever learn to forgive the Claxonians for taking her son away.
micheledutcher - I like the use of light-year differentials in the story. I also like the multi-generational loss. Nicely Done!
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