“Second Place” by Sarah A. Drew

Tripoli killed himself at the first curve of the Spiral.

Sure, they said it was an accident, but I knew better. When they pulled his body out of the capsule his hands were still clenched in tight fists, his nails digging into his palms. I’d done that myself. When you hit the first curve of the Spiral the pleasure knocks into you so hard and so deep, you want to rip your insides out. People these days don’t get to experience that. Their shuttles are shielded so they don’t feel the raw power of the curves pulling them down into themselves in ecstasy.

Back in the day we had to figure out some way not to lose consciousness at the curve. Raoul would clamp a pencil in his teeth, a few splinters imbedding in his tongue. As for me, well, I’d stick my hand under the handle to the hatch and mash it as hard as I could. One time I even broke my ring finger. Tripoli though, he’d always take it straight, with no pain to soften the blow. I still have no idea how he did that. That’s how I know he killed himself at the curve. There’s no way the pleasure could’ve knocked him out so his ship crashed into one of the walls. He was too damned good for that.

They blamed the whole thing on the fact he was too old to be piloting a capsule by himself. But he was just 44. Hell, I’m 61 now and I could still fly one of those things – if they’d let me. No, it was suicide. I was angry about it for a long time, but I’ve made my peace with it now. It’s how he wanted to go.

***

There was a lot of enthusiasm in the old days. I could see it written on Tripoli’s face, on everyone’s faces. Just before his first trip out, before they suited him up, I pulled him into the cafeteria for a little talk.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “Most of the probes came back without damage. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

Tripoli smiled. I thought he was being brave, putting on a show. But the expression was genuine.

“I can fly a tin can through that curve, Essie,” he said. “Without getting a scratch.”

I tapped the vodka bottle in my front pocket. “If you have a moment, I’ve got something special.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m good. We can have a drink when I get back.”

I moved to shake his hand, but he pulled me into hug. “You’re a beautiful woman, Essie. There’s no way I’d miss that drink.”

A few attendants appeared in the doorway, wearing those ugly grey smocks that made them blend into the walls of the station.

“It’s time,” one of them said.

Tripoli kissed me on the cheek and followed them out the door, smiling all the way, like a kid off to see Santa Claus.

There was no time for tears or goodbyes when Tripoli was getting into the capsule. The ship was kept outside, in the void of space, so he was fully suited up when he climbed inside. Me, well, I stayed in the loading bay watching the whole thing with Raoul. He was standing there with a book in his hand – he always had one of those things on him.

Raoul fumbled with his book and pointed at the window stretched before us. “I think he’s planning something.”

Tripoli was halfway into the hatch. He paused for a long moment then turned to us and waved. I could picture his grin behind the golden sheen of his helmet.

I laughed. “The Director’s going to be pissed.”

We craned our necks to look down into the media area, where the cameras were. Sure enough, the Director’s face was bright red. He was scowling so deeply it seemed as if the expression was chiseled into his face.

“This is going to push back the whole launch by, what, 30 seconds?” Raoul said.

Every movement Tripoli did had been written and rehearsed – who he looked at, what he said. The Wick Corporation wanted the whole thing to be impeccable for the live feed sent back to Earth. But his wave wasn’t part of the plan. Of course this ended up being the most popular part of the footage, ending up on t-shirts and dinner plates. I think the Director even won some sort award for it later that year.

Tripoli finished climbing into the capsule and shut the hatch. The ship was a small thing, shaped like a bell, with the yellow flame of the Wick logo emblazoned on all sides. Tripoli flew it out to the edge of the station on normal thrusters, almost out of our line of sight. He sat in the blackness for a full minute, blotting out the light of the stars. When the countdown started he fired up the engines – we could see them glowing white against the dark. His image wavered like a ripple in a pond. Then he was gone.

***

The engineers explained it to us once, when we first arrived on the station. One of them was gazing at a tablet in her hands as she spoke, never making eye contact.

“In order to travel faster than light, you must move in a curve,” she said.

Tripoli, Raoul and I looked at one another from across the table.

“I’ve flown shipments to the moon, and Mars, God knows how many times,” I said. “If you want me to go in a curve I’m sure I can manage it.”

The engineer poked at her tablet with a fingertip. “Not just any curve. This has nothing to do with banking left or right. I mean the way light curves, we need to reproduce that.”

They spelled the whole thing out for us, showed us an animation illustrating the concept of what we were doing. The engineer even looked up from her tablet a few times. But we didn’t understand a word. We were just pilots, the best in the Wick fleet. Of course we weren’t idiots. We understood physics, the gravity of planets and how to compensate for their pull, but this was beyond our level.

When the animation finished, Raoul looked down at the table and shrugged his shoulders. “Like Essie said, if you want us to go in a curve we’ll do it.”

***

Tripoli reappeared about 5 seconds later, a little farther out than where he left from. As soon as he climbed out of the capsule he went limp, floating in the void without a struggle. When the attendants got him into the loading bay, he took one step and fell to his hands and knees. I grabbed him by the shoulders and helped haul him upright. He must’ve weighed 400 pounds in his suit.

“Just breathe,” I said.

Raoul started working his helmet off, but Tripoli found the energy to finish the job and pull it off himself. His face was flushed white and his eyelids drooped like he was looking to fall asleep.

“We’re going to have to do that drink later, Essie,” he said.

Paramedics swarmed him, but he waved them away. “It’s the pleasure, it’s exhausting.”

We’d been warned about it by the probes, but no one had expected the effects to be so severe, so deep. The paramedics gave him a shot of something that perked him up, while makeup teams worked at making his face look flushed again. When they finished, the Director fixed a camera on him with a little flattering light.

“How does it feel to be the first human being to travel faster than light, and in a Wick ship no less?” the Director said.

“It’s a great honor.” Tripoli smiled. “I feel wonderful.”

***

I had found cameras in my apartment while we were still on Earth, learning to fly in simulators. They were tiny and delicate, no bigger than the tip of a pen. I had spent hours combing through my furniture, crushing each one I found. All I had to do was press one between my thumb and forefinger until I heard it pop.

“Wick put them there,” Raoul said. “They think we’re going to tell their secrets to Carmack,”

After finding the cameras, the three of us had agreed to meet in a pub, just outside of town. USA and Italy were playing the first game of the World Cup, and the place was packed. I could barely make out Raoul’s voice over the cheering and I doubted a microphone could do any better.

“I’ve been piloting their ships for years,” I said. “And this is the thanks I get. That’s it, I’m out.”

Tripoli took a sip of his beer. “You know how corporations are, it’s just paranoia.”

“I don’t even know what Carmack’s doing with their faster-than-light program. Hell, I don’t even know what we’re doing,” I said.

Raoul wiped spilled beer from the book he was holding. “There’s a rumor Carmack’s building a station in Earth’s orbit. It’ll make it easier for them to test equipment.”

“If it’s as poorly made as their ships it’ll fall out of the sky next week,” I said.

“I dated a woman who flew for Carmack,” Tripoli said. “They make some good vehicles.”

I reached across the table and took a sip of his beer.

“Traitor,” I said.

“I’m with Essie on this one,” Raoul said. “We should quit. This kind of behavior isn’t right.”

Tripoli leaned back in our booth. “Imagine being the first person to travel faster than light.” He spread his hands before him. “To open up all those possibilities to the human race. I’m not going to abandon that because of a few cameras.”

I folded my arms on the table. “You’d be remembered forever. Like Christopher Columbus.”

We sat for a while in silence.

“One thing’s for sure,” Tripoli said. “If Carmack has a station, Wick’s going to have one too. They wouldn’t let themselves fall behind.”

I sat up straight and looked Tripoli in the eye.

“I’ll stay then. At least a little while longer.”

He smiled. Raoul slumped in his seat and looked at the farthest wall. “Well, if you two are going to stick around I guess I will too.”

A man at the front of the pub, near the bar, had been staring at us for most of the conversation. I wouldn’t have thought much of it, except that the screens showing the game were facing the other way. He turned around when he saw me staring. I bounded out of my seat and sat beside him. When he refused to look at me, I slapped him across the back.

“Don’t worry, buddy, we’re not going to quit,” I said. “And tell the guy who’s watching the cameras in my bedroom that if I ever find him, I’ll kick his ass.”

When I returned to my apartment I found all the cameras had been replaced.

***

Tripoli only got two days off before Wick’s media tour started. Raoul and I were so busy training, hitting his curve ourselves, we almost didn’t notice he was gone. I’d just finished my third run and was lying in bed, trying to recover, when the comm rang. Reaching for the button with my left hand was a mistake – my fingers were still throbbing from where I’d jammed them in the handle to the hatch.

“This better be important,” I said into the comm.

“What are you going to do if it isn’t?” Tripoli said.

His words were slurred. I had to take my best guess at the last half of his sentence.

I slumped onto the couch. “Hey. What are you doing?”

“Nothing. I’m here in a hotel room. Alone. Well, not alone. I’ve got a bottle of vodka. And some friends standing outside the door.”

“Friend friends, or Wick friends.”

“The kind of friends who stand seven feet tall and have nerve implants so it’s easier to break your skull.”

I fingered a camera I’d found on the back of my couch. It crushed with a satisfying pop. “Try climbing out the window.”

Tripoli laughed. “Too high up. Besides, I’m drunk.”

In the background, I heard the sound of glass clinking.

“Where are you at?” I said.

Tripoli paused for a sip. “Vietnam, Korea or Taiwan. Could be any of those. I don’t even know what day it is. It’s been endless tours, press conferences and shaking people’s hands. I could make a very good politician. How about you?”

I combed my fingers through my hair. It was plastered with sweat.

“Raoul and I are trying to figure out how to deal with the curve. They gave us an autoinjector full of stimulants to deal with the exhaustion, but we don’t have any good way of fighting the pleasure. The medics wanted to fill us with anesthetics, but that’d cut down our response time.”

I heard the sound of glass clinking against teeth. Tripoli coughed and cleared his throat. “Then you’re just going to have to take it.”

“If I’m going farther than you, I guess I will,” I said.

***

As per tradition, I stopped to wave at Raoul when I was in the middle of my own launch. It was hard to see from outside, but the Director standing in the loading bay looked only mildly annoyed, his brow furrowed in concentration. Raoul was ecstatic though, waving his book in the air and grinning like he was the one who was launching off. I turned away from him and the cameras and closed the hatch behind me. It was dark inside the capsule, the only light coming from the myriad of screens that covered the insides. There were data feeds to tell me how I was doing, how the ship was doing, how everything was doing. But I didn’t need any of that. I’d practiced this day so many times, I could do the whole launch in pitch black.

There was very little room inside the ship, what with the engines and fuel. When I settled into my seat and harness it felt like I was climbing into a sleeping bag built for a child. I flicked on the thrusters and flew out to the edge of the station. It was a maneuver I’d done countless times since I’d learned to fly. To feel the ship move through the void as smooth as silk, to sense the slight pull as it stopped, there was a comfort in that

The countdown started as soon as I’d gotten into position. I fired up the engines slowly at first, then harder. If I timed things wrong, even by a second, I’d be ripped apart – my torso heading off to Earth and my legs to Venus. I thought about Tripoli, Raoul, and the man back on Earth – I’d rather not say his name – who’d asked me to marry him. He was a good guy, but I’d turned him down. My career beckoned. I wondered what he was saying to his friends now, how his crazy ex was going to be the second person to travel faster than light. We were together for a long time, so he probably wasn’t surprised I’d do something so stupid.

The countdown ended faster than I thought it would, faster than I could seem to blink. I launched the little capsule, so thin it could easily snap in two, and took a deep breath as I was pulled down into the center of my being.

***

After Tripoli left to tour the world, Raoul and I found ourselves spending more time together. With all the spying going on, it’s not as if we had a big circle of friends we could rely on. Hell, the only Wick employee I kind of trusted was the janitor. And that was only because he wasn’t paid well enough to bother watching me.

I found Raoul in the cafeteria one day, drinking a carton of milk with a book spread before him. His mouth was hanging open, like child absorbed in a good movie.

“What are you reading?” I pulled back the book in his hand. “And why are you reading off paper?”

He closed the novel and set it next to his elbow.

“I collect them,” he said. “My father did, and I’m carrying on the tradition. And besides.” He stroked the cover. “I think they’re beautiful.”

I pulled the book away and looked at the front. Greek Myths and Tales it said in ornate, looping letters.

“You should read “Pygmalion and Galatea.” It’s wonderful.” He gestured to the title. “You can take it if you want.”

“This looks expensive.” I pushed it back into his hands. “I’ll download it.”

“You sure?”

I had nowhere I needed to be, so I settled down beside him on the bench. “I was never much of a reader. Tell me what the story’s about.”

Raoul’s face flushed red. He cleared his throat. “It’s about a sculptor named Pygmalion. He makes a statue of a woman he names Galatea. She’s so beautiful and perfect he falls in love with her.”

“He sounds a little crazy.”

“Yes, yes. I suppose he is. He loves the statute so much, and is so tormented by his desire for Galatea to be real that he wants to die. But his love for her is so great that the goddess Aphrodite makes her real. And the two of them are together forever.”

He’d been so absorbed in the story, so delighted in his telling of it, that I couldn’t help but smile. When I returned to my cabin, I download it and read it myself. And he was right, it was wonderful.

***

A blanket of stars appeared on the view screen of my capsule, looking like pinpricks of light. I gasped as the last wave of ecstasy rolled through me before subsiding into nothing. The monitor to my left told me that I was at the edge of the solar system, just out of the reach of the comets that comprised the Oort Cloud. I was already drenched with sweat inside my suit, and I’d only gone through

the curve once. This was the same distance Tripoli had gone before, if not exactly the same place. It would’ve taken about 20 years to get this far by traditional space travel, but it’d taken me a minute.

I fired up the engines again and looked hard at those stars beckoning me, like lighthouses across a dark sea. With each curve I did they’d come a little closer, becoming more familiar, more like home.

“Hope you enjoyed your record, Tripoli, because I’m about to break it.” I laughed.

The darkness wavered as I launched the capsule into the void. The ship curved and curved again as I laughed, feeling the pleasure build up in my throat until I thought it would smoother me.

***

The autoinjector implanted in my arm filled me with stimulants as soon as I got back to the station. The attendants barely needed to do anything to get me out of the capsule. Between the drugs, the pleasure, and the adrenaline high, I felt as if I could rip the hatch off the capsule and open the loading bay doors with my bare hands. But I played the role Wick had written for me, the one we’d rehearsed so many times. Once I was inside the loading bay, I pulled off my helmet and gave the cameras my biggest, brightest smile. I must’ve looked like Miss America in a 200 pound space suit.

The Director trained a larger camera on my face. “How far did you travel in your Wick ship?”

I focused on him, feeling as if I could see through his skin, muscles, down to his very bone. “The capsule went through four curves, which took me to the center of the Oort Cloud. No manmade object has ever traveled that far in space, let alone a person.”

“So you now hold the record for the farthest distance traveled?”

“Sure do. Until Wick starts sending out more ships.” I winked at the camera.

The Director frowned. “That’s great. Thank you. And congratulations.”

The medics tried to take me away, to a quiet backroom with a bed. They wanted to hook me up to a machine to see if I was going to drop dead any minute. But I knew I was okay. If I was going to die it would’ve been out there in the void, with nobody but the stars.

“I want to see Raoul,” I said. “Let me see Raoul first.”

The crowd parted and Raoul was there, standing beside me. I pulled him into a hug and squeezed him as hard as I could. He felt solid, real, warm.

“Go to your cabin and wait,” I whispered in his ear.

He laughed as if I’d told a joke and slipped through the crowd, to the back of the room. I heard the sound of a door opening and closing as he left. The attendants removed me from my suit and helped me change my clothes.

“Tell the medical team to wait. I’ll be right back,” I said.

Before anyone could object I was out in the hallway, making my way to Raoul’s cabin. He opened the door after one knock.

“What is it?” he said. “Are you okay?”

I hugged him as tightly as before and kissed him. “Never felt better.”

We combed through his bedroom, crushing all the cameras we could find. The medics didn’t figure out where I’d gone for a good long time.

***

My own media tour was a long and exhausting slog, twice as painful as those curves I’d gone through. On my return to Wick’s home country, the United States, I was informed that a special event had been conjured up by Wick’s PR people – a joint interview between the first and second person to travel faster than light. It was a load of rubbish of course. After Tripoli had gone, Raoul and I had traveled through his curve many times as practice. But Wick wanted to keep up the image of brave explorers going one at a time. I think it made us easier to brand and market.

Our interview was supposed to take place in front of an audience of a lucky few. In reality most of the crowd was paid actors and relatives of Wick executives. I was ushered into a small room just before the taping, while the audience was still being herded into their seats. The clinking of glass greeted me as I walked through the door. It was Tripoli sitting on a couch, sipping vodka. His eyes brightened as soon as he spotted me.

“Essie,” he said. “You look beautiful.”

There was nothing to do but sit down beside him. I pulled the high heels off my feet and threw them to the other side of the room.

“How long has it been?” I said. “Eight months?”

“Eight very, very long months.” Tripoli took another sip of his drink. Up close he looked tired, and I could see he’d gotten a bit pudgier.

“You never called,” I said.

He waved his hand as if to dismiss what I’d said. “I’ve been busy traveling, talking to lots of people.”

“You never called to congratulate me.”

He paused over his drink. “I’m sorry, it slipped my mind.” He smiled, but it looked weak, faded.

I tried to pull the glass out of his hand, so I could toss it away like my shoes, or maybe gulp it down myself. I’m not sure which I wanted more. As soon as my fingers brushed his own he pulled me close and nuzzled my neck. He smelled of alcohol and musty suitcases. I pushed him away. The drink in his hand spilled on the floor.

“What the hell’s wrong with you?” I said.

He placed his glass on the nearest table. “I just thought. You know.”

There was a gentle knocking on the door. It opened and a man stuck his head into the room. He seemed unfazed by the position we were sitting in.

“We’re taping in 20 minutes,” he said.

As soon as he closed the door I sprang to my feet. “Don’t talk to me again until you’ve got your head on straight.”

I was out the door before Tripoli could reply. Of course, I’d left my shoes in there. I ended up taping the whole interview without them. But then, with all the rehearsed lines, fake laugher, and forced smiles, I doubt anyone noticed.

***

Returning to the station was a joy, a blessing. If I was a religious woman I would’ve been praising God. Raoul seemed as happy as ever to see me. We celebrated my return by having a big, fancy meal – in the cafeteria.

“You’re all right with this decision?” I stuffed a piece of cornbread in my mouth. It tasted like yellow construction paper and smelled a bit like it too.

“Completely,” Raoul said.

He looked at the book sitting beside his tray.

“If you have a problem, I’ll tell them no, I won’t go,” I said. “I’m already officially the second person to travel faster than light, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be the third.”

He took a sip from his carton of milk. “Wick has a good point. You responded to your trip better than anyone else, better than I would. You should go farther.”

“Beyond the Oort cloud,” I said. “If it’s even possible to get beyond it.”

“I’ll just be the backup, in case something goes wrong.”

The cornbread was hopeless. I tossed it back onto my tray where it landed with a solid thump. “Nothing’s going to go wrong with me driving that thing. I could fly it to one side of the universe and back.”

“I have no doubt you could.” Raoul laughed. It sounded hollow and dry in his throat.

***

My second launch wasn’t all that different from my first. The media area in the loading bay was already filled with cameras when I stepped inside. I was suited up with my helmet on, so it was easy enough for me to ignore them. The attendants ushered me to the bay doors that led to the capsule outside. I was about to step through when the man closest to me placed his hand against my chest.

“Hold on,” he said into the comm.

Before I could ask any questions, Raoul walked into the loading bay wearing his suit. He had a helmet cradled under his arm.

“I’m taking your place,” he said. “I’m sorry. I just got the order from Wick.”

I pulled off my helmet. “Who gave the order?”

“They won’t say. They won’t tell me why either.”

I started to use some colorful language but decided it wasn’t the best idea with so many cameras close by. It was probably somebody with a grudge against me. I hadn’t exactly been on my best behavior when I’d been on that media tour

“When I find out who did this,” I said. “I’m going to get their ass fired.” I shoved my helmet into the hands of the attendant who’d stopped me. “Look at me, making myself the center of attention. This is about you now. You get to go out there. Farther than any of us have gone.”

Raoul gave me a thin smile. “I’ll try my best.”

He unzipped the glove on my right hand and kissed me on the palm. For a moment I felt like Galatea – that he had made me real, that he was the only real thing right now. He put his helmet on and the attendants led him away, to the capsule waiting outside.

They made me wait in the cafeteria during the launch. Maybe they were worried I’d make a scene. I probably would have if they’d let me. I was sitting, looking at the shiny table tops, when a guard came into the room and slouched beside the door.

“What’s up?” I said.

“Please do not leave this room until further notice,” the man said.

“Why?”

The guard didn’t answer. I stood and walked to the entrance. He leaned his body across it.

“You can’t leave, ma’am.”

Somewhere through the walls I heard people shouting.

“If I want to go, I’ll go,” I said.

The voices grew louder. They seemed to be traveling down the hall. I lurched for the door. The man grabbed me by the back of my shoulders. It was a basic wrestling move. I’d been doing things like that with my brothers since I was a little girl. With one swift motion I pulled out of his grip and gave him a shove. He went down hard, banging his chin against the nearest table top. I stood watching him for a second. He didn’t move. The shouting came again, louder than before. I stepped through the door and into the hall.

***

There wasn’t much left of the capsule when I got to the loading bay. All that was left was the front – the widest part of the bell shape. The whole thing was twisted and charred black, but that damn Wick symbol was still blazing in the center of it like an evil eye.

“Where is he? Where’s Raoul?” I said.

One of the attendants looked at me. Her eyes were glossy and her face was drained of blood.

“We don’t know,” she said. “He’s not here.”

***

There was a memorial for Raoul. There were memorials all over the world, people calling him a hero, giving him posthumous medals. Me, I grieved in my own way.

I met the woman at a small restaurant just outside a tourist town. The place was full of chubby little kids with their chubby parents, stuffing themselves with French fries. I’d started on my third cup of coffee when the woman sat at my booth.

“You’ll be handling the check, I presume,” I said.

“Naturally,” she said.

I held the mug to my lips. “Carmack has plenty of money to go around.”

The woman looked uncomfortable but soon returned her face to a blank.

“You guys aren’t doing so good with your own faster-than-light program,” I continued. “You try to give things a positive spin on the news, but any idiot can tell. I doubt you’ve even been able to curve.”

The woman nodded. It was neutral – neither agreeing nor disagreeing. She turned her head to look out the window. “What do you want?”

“Some money,” I said. “To be honest, I’d do this for free, but Wick is going to find out about me talking to you. They always find out. And I’m going to need something to live on after they let me go.”

A little girl ran to the middle of the dining area and plopped onto the ground as if she owned the place. Her mother ran after her, cooing and fussing like an idiot. The woman from Carmack looked at me, paying no mind to the ruckus going on.

“We’ll place the money in an off-planet bank account. You’ll get more details about it tomorrow morning.”

“How?”

“It’ll look like a message from an old friend you haven’t spoken to in years, asking you for money now that you’re famous.”

I gulped down the rest of my coffee. “I’ve already gotten a few of those.”

The waitress arrived and handed me my check. I passed it to the woman.

“The check, as you promised,” I said.

She examined it while I put on my coat.

“Thank you.” She smiled.

As I left the restaurant she flipped the check over and fingered the camera I’d stuck to the back. It contained the animation we’d seen when we first arrived on the station, the one that described how light curved. It was a camera taken from Raoul’s room.

***

The statues they put up near the beginning of the Spiral didn’t look like any of us. I seemed thinner, more beautiful than I’d ever been in my 20s, more like a supermodel. Raoul and Tripoli were closer to reality, perhaps a bit too heroic though, like the figures in Greek statues.

The ceremony was small and quite dull. Only politicians and business owners bothered to attend. The statues had been placed on an artificial planet created from a comet in the Oort cloud. If I had superhuman vision, I could’ve looked to my left and seen the whole Spiral winding down away from us. Since ships had to travel in a series of curves to go faster than light, all the stations and artificial planets built along the way were placed in a corkscrew. I always liked the name the Screw, if for no other reason than because it made me laugh, but people ended up calling it the Spiral. I guess I don’t have any taste.

Tripoli approached me after all the fuss was done and the reporters had hopped ships for the nearest bar. His hair was greying along the temples and I could see his stomach was bulging beneath his jacket.

“Hello,” he said.

It was the first word I’d heard from him in over a decade. Wick had found out about my treachery of course. I’d never been officially fired, but I’d been removed from the station immediately and cut from all contact. They gave me a small pension. Every once in a while they asked me to come to a ceremony or press conference. Sometimes I showed up.

I didn’t know what to say to Tripoli, so I nodded. He seemed to understand.

“You’re wearing makeup. You never wore makeup,” he said.

“You were never fat,” I said.

Tripoli laughed and smiled. Everything came back to me. We were 25, meeting each other for the first time at Wick’s headquarters, trying to see which of us was cockier.

“I want you to meet Eury.” I looked across the garden the statues had been placed in. It was almost empty. “If I can find her.”

“Your daughter?” he said.

I’d named her after Eurydice – Orpheus’ wife who he’d tried to lead out of the underworld. Somehow, in the blackest years of my life, I’d managed to get married. The divorce had been swift and unsurprising, but my little Eurydice had come out of it. In the years that followed I’d realized I’d named her wrong. She was Orpheus leading me out of depression and death. But she never looked back, I never looked back, and instead of returning to the blackness she guided me on to the light.

“What about your marriage?” I said.

“Me and Emily,” Tripoli said. “We’re not speaking to each other anymore. But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been married enough times to know this is how they always end.”

We walked to the statue of Raoul. It was made of granite. He was standing on a delicate beam of light that curved upwards. His arms were spread outward and the grin on his face in no way betrayed the horror that had befallen him. The official report said he’d miscalculated the last curve back to the station – easy enough to do after enduring all that pleasure. The capsule had been ripped in two. The half with him in it had disintegrated, while the other had materialized as a charred mess.

“Wick and Carmack are merging,” Tripoli said.

“I’m not surprised.” I crossed my arms. “Carmack is building better ships. They can curve faster and farther than anything Wick can produce.”

“They’ve been doing that for quite a while. It’s interesting how they figured out that technology so quickly.” He looked at me.

I shrugged my shoulders.

“The point is that this has changed the terms of my contract.” He frowned and licked his lips. “I can sue them now. I’m going to find out what really happened to Raoul.”

I started to speak but the words didn’t come.

“There was no real investigation,” Tripoli continued. “You wouldn’t know because you left the station around that time. Would you join me? If nothing else the two of us suing together would bring more public attention to the case.”

“Of course I will.”

Eury appeared from the other side of the garden. She ran to where we stood, her brown hair trailing behind her in the artificial wind of the planet. With a quick gesture she grabbed me by the arm.

“Mom, you have to see this.”

Tripoli studied her face then looked at mine. “She’s a big one. How old is she?”

“Eight,” I said.

Eury pulled me away from Tripoli, to my own statue. I was standing on a beam that curved downward, but I still looked very happy about it. Eury ran her hand over the granite.

“You’re famous, mom, you’re a part of history.”

I looked around the garden. It was beautiful, but still, like the entryway to a park.

“Yes,” I said. “I suppose I am.”

***

Raoul’s father was a soft-spoken man. I’d always thought of his son as being mild and quiet, but I could see by the standards of his family he’d been wild. Our interview was being conducted in his living room, which was lined with paper books. I spotted a few from my own collection sitting along the walls.

“If you don’t want me to use this please tell me.” I held up the recorder in my hand.

“That’s all right,” the old man said. “It’s been long enough. We may as well get it out into the public.”

I flipped the recorder on and placed it in my lap.

“If you could tell us anything about the way Raoul behaved before the accident, or anything he said, we’d greatly appreciate it.”

The investigation wasn’t going as well as Tripoli and I had hoped. The newly formed Wick-Carmack Corporation had a formidable set of lawyers. Raoul’s father ran his fingers through his thinning hair. He had long, delicate hands, just like his son’s.

“We spoke over the comm often,” he said. “Every other day it seemed. He told me a lot about what was going on, probably stuff he shouldn’t have been telling me.”

He reached for a book behind him and pulled it off the shelf. “We’d pretend we were talking about stories and characters. We had a code figured out so his employers wouldn’t get suspicious. He told me there was a new capsule Wick had been building that could go farther than any of the others. But the work on it was rushed. Wick wanted to keep up the image that they were unstoppable. Raoul looked around a bit and found out that the construction was shoddy. He tried to persuade them not to use it, but they threatened to kick him out of the program if he raised too much of a ruckus. They’d continue to use the ship anyway after he was fired.”

The old man twisted the book in his hand. “All this was going on while you were on tour, back on Earth. When he found out you were supposed to fly the capsule he decided to keep his mouth shut.”

I felt myself growing cold.

“Anyway,” he continued. “He knew it would be useless to tell you about the faulty capsule. It wasn’t outright deadly, so you’d insist on flying it anyway. He said you were very, very stubborn.”

“He knew me well,” I said.

“The day before you were to launch, he went to the station supervisor and told him you had the flu, you’d been throwing up all night. But you didn’t want to tell them about it because you’d get kicked off the flight. He knew they’d send him instead in your place. He was worried you’d be killed and he couldn’t live with himself if he let that happen.”

The book twisted farther in his hands. It looked as if the spine would snap at any moment.

“He made sure he went in your place,” the old man said. “And it turned out he was right to worry.”

I flicked off the recorder in my lap. The two of us stared at one another for what seemed to be years. Raoul’s father placed the book back onto the shelf.

“I hated you for a long time,” he said. “That’s why I never said anything. You’d taken my boy away from me. But I can see now it wasn’t your fault, it wasn’t his fault either. It was the system. It was the human race, our drive for money, progress. Everybody’s to blame, but nobody is.”

The old man seemed shriveled, tired. As if this secret had been the only thing propping him up. I had no idea what to say. What could anyone say in that situation.

“Thank you for telling me this.” I placed the recorder in my pocket. “I loved him. And I want the world to know what he did.”

“He’d want you to know.” The old man folded his hands in his lap. It dawned on me that if Raoul had lived this was what he would’ve looked like. We would’ve grown old together and Raoul would have the same grey hair and long, thin hands. But the image didn’t stick.

Raoul would always be young in my mind- strong and beautiful. He’d be that way even after I’d become white and bedridden.

***

Tripoli couldn’t handle the news of how Raoul had died. He blamed himself, the fact that he’d talked him into staying on with the program back at that bar, when we’d found the cameras and considered quitting. We spoke to one another off and on after that. I got married, he moved on to other women. I didn’t see him again until the funeral. After he’d killed himself.

The way I look at it, he was Jason visiting the Argo, sleeping under the beams of the ship, dreaming about his old adventures. Tripoli wanted to go out that way, dying with his memories, and I’m okay with that.

They never found Raoul’s body, you know, even after all this time. Sometimes I wonder if he’s still out there. The universe is vast, maybe endless. Nobody’s sure what it contains. Maybe if I keep right on curving, out farther and farther, I’ll find him. One of these days I’m going to try. Perhaps even Tripoli will be there.


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About the Author

Sarah A. Drew graduated from Edinboro University with a bachelor’s degree in Writing. She currently resides in Columbus, OH. Her short stories have appeared in the anthology LocoThology: Tales of Fantasy & Science Fiction, released by Loconeal Publishing, and Crossed Genres Magazine. Her time with the North Columbus Fantasy /SciFi and Ohio Writers group has been invaluable to her.