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“The night my father died, he appeared in my home and sat on my daughter’s bed and told her that he had died. Then my father just stayed around my home.” Beverly Litsinger 10/25/08
Walter Gibson walked into the main office of the SoftBell Space Station. The receptionist was surprised. It wasn't so much that he was there, he was always there on the dot at his appointed timeslot, but he was whistling.
“Mr. Gibson, we’ve been expecting you,” stammered the pretty young woman, smiling nervously. “So sorry to hear of your loss.”
Walter, a heavy, sturdy man in his fifties, allowed his whistling to subside into a hum and quickly mumbled, “Thank you.”
“We are preparing your booth, but Vice Presidents Aaron and Arnold asked if they could speak with you before you go in…which is why you were asked to come in early.” The working man nodded, continuing to hum to himself softly, and was led into a cozy yet efficient office area. As she was leaving, the receptionist touched the top of her skull with a stylus and her skin color turned from a peachy white to a dark brown with riveting green eyes.
Walter settled into a simple chair and slowly glanced around the room. He was the kind of well-behaved worker that would always be tolerated by the intelligentsia. Of course there was no up or down in the silent vacuum two days light speed from Sol – but his type had traditionally lived in the dirty bottom decks aboard luxury vessels. He was uncomfortable in the spotless waiting room – but he sat politely, his hands in his lap.
Walter jumped a little as the identical twin VPs entered the room. “Mr. Gibson, thank you for meeting with us, especially under these difficult circumstances.”
Walter nodded, continuing to hum slightly.
In the far past, the men would have shaken hands, but after the plagues of 2051 and 2179, that unfortunate custom was no longer in vogue.
“When can I talk with my daughter?”
The twins looked at each other, taken aback by the brevity of the statement. “The same time as usual: 3520.” The administrator on the right waved his hand and a holographic chart appeared in front of him in pleasant neon colors.
“The SoftBell corporation wishes to thank you for your eight years of service to this communications space station…” started Aaron Gates.
“…and we hope you will continue to stay with us, in spite of this sad event,” added Arnold Gates.
Walter nodded, still humming.
The twins looked at the chart again. “You’ve been calling Regene every Friday for these eight years…” started Aaron.
“…and to not talk with her this time might have been disturbing to her,” added
“Our sympathies in the death of your daughter, Mr. Gibson,” said the twins in harmony. They waited for some emotional response, but none was forthcoming.
“Can I talk to her now?” Walter inadvertently rolled his large calloused hands into tight balls.
Walter relaxed a little, sitting back into the bleak, little chair.
Aaron and Arnold crossed their arms and leaned against the only desk in the room. “This is an unusual situation, Mr. Gibson. Not unique, mind you, but still unusual.” The twins had spoken in perfect unity again. They smiled meekly, as though embarrassed by their cloned status.
Aaron began again. “As you know, the SoftBell Space Station was created a decade ago as an experimental object concerned with real time communication over light-speed distances.”
“But most mental communications were just vague feelings…unfocused thoughts in need of fine tuning and hyper-power. Ergo…this space station.” Aaron looked pleased with himself and smiled proudly before continuing. “The communication signals originating in this vacuum are accelerated towards Sol by powerful technologies only possible using the entire resources of this space station.”
“This is why signals produced in the weaker booths on Titan take two days to arrive in your booth, while you are able to respond instantly to her questions and comments.”
The twins concluded what should have been a sales pitch. “This station is only a prototype. We hope one day to have communication stations like this scattered throughout the galaxy.” The twins rubbed their soft palms together, having worked themselves into a kind of mild monetary delirium.
“I understand – sort of ,” said the working man of moderate IQ who sat in front of them.
The twins looked down at their shoes and crossed their arms again. “Your daughter is most certainly dead. She died two hours after receiving your call this past Wednesday. And there is nothing that you can do to change that.”
Walter Gibson nodded again, continuing to hum slightly.
“Even if you tell her what is going to happen – the hover accident and all – when a person’s time is up – it’s up. If you try to warn her – and others have tried with their loved ones – she’ll just die some other way,” said Aaron.
The twins paused briefly, shaking their heads sadly. “You don’t want that, do you Mr. Gibson?”
Walter stopped humming long enough whisper “no”.
The twins glanced at the glowing digital time-meters implanted in their wrists. “It’s time,” they said in unison and led Walter to his booth.
In a dozen booths surrounding him, uniformed personnel talked happily with family and friends on Sol’s planets. Walter Gibson waited nervously, trying to hide his anxiety. Suddenly, she was before him, holographically smiling that all consuming smile that could knock an angel on its ass.
“Hi Daddy, what’s up?” She was twenty-three, curly hair bobbed short with freckles she tolerated for her father’s sake.
“Nothin’ sweetheart. What’s new with you?”
“Nothin,” she echoed back. He noticed everything about her now, her long fingers, her sophisticated lack of curves. Obviously her looks had come from her mother’s side of the family.
“It’s fine. I still don’t know how I’ll pay off the loans when I get out…”
Walter almost choked on his words, but he continued on, a man on a mission. “Let me worry about the money, Regene.” He couldn’t help but sigh, and she couldn’t help but notice.
“Is everything okay daddy?”
“Yes, yes.” He drew himself a little closer to her holograph. “Do you remember that song I use to sing to you as a child?”
“You know, sweetheart…great grandpa’s song.” Walter began to sing, slowly and quietly the words of ancient lullaby. “Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda, you’ll come a waltzing Matilda with me.” He waited, his silence inviting her to join him. She did, although a little reluctantly. “And his ghost can be heard as you walk beside the billabong…you’ll come a waltzing Matilda with me.”
She was laughing now, his beautiful Regene was laughing. “I remember now that you can’t sing worth a damn!”
Walter Gibson smiled before getting as serious as he had ever been or would ever be again. “Well – I’ve always thought that if you ever needed to find me, no matter how far apart we were, you could just listen for that tune, and then follow it to me.”
Regene looked at him through those beautiful brown eyes. “You are in an odd mood, daddy.”
“Just remember the tune, sweetheart. Promise me you’ll remember.”
“Okay daddy, okay. I promise. When is your tour of duty up?”
She looked outside her booth. “I’ve got to go, but I’ll see you next week.” And she was gone.
Walter Gibson got up slowly and began to hum as he exited the communication department. As he approached his deck he noticed someone there, but not there, in a corner of the hallway. “Regene, you found me.” He smiled, she smiled, they began to walk together. No one noticed because men like Walter always go unseen even in plain sight.
Walter Gibson worked another sixteen years aboard the SoftBell Space Station, happily living life one day at a time, his beautiful daughter walking beside him.
Had Regene’s spirit truly been able to find her father across fifty-two billion kilometers of empty Space? Well, if you could have been there two days lightspeed from Sol, and have gotten close enough to Walter to ask him what he believed, he may have been honest enough with you and himself to tell you - that he really didn’t know and he really didn’t care.
I really liked the story - happy and sad but one person has said about the loop in the communications.
Nice story and well written. But there is an idea problem: if commiunication is instantaneous, then she died before he talked to her... we knew she was already dead, after all. Doesn't detract from the writing or execution, which were fine apart from a little to much exposition (difficult to avoid in a short piece)..
I like the story! I agree with the other comments - sad, but happy at the same time.
I loved the story, it was sad and wonderful to show that love lives on!
Looks like you were able to work out all the kinks - having the plot described as a type of "sales pitch" seemed pretty believable. :) Boogie
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