“Tell me a story Grandpa, please?”
The old man had been bouncing the little three year old on his knee and relishing her delighted giggling for about ten minutes, but he could see her fading into the fuzziness of sleep.
“Alright child, alright.” He settled her into his lap and she snuggled into his chest as he wrapped his one good arm around her shoulders. It reminded him that the other arm was missing, as it always reminded him for the last twenty three years since the day his escape capsule had crashed so ignominiously into the fetid swamp on the outskirts of the little town he had since called home.
His daughter appeared quietly at his shoulder, “She should already be in bed Papa, so make it a short one, okay?”
“Of course Tani, of course.” He smiled reassuringly at his lovely daughter, her face so much like her mother’s, another reminder he wished quickly away.
“So what shall I tell you about, my girl, hmm? How about The Tale of The Misty Mountain?”
“No grandpa, not that one again, tell me a spaceship story please.”
The truth was he couldn’t even recall what The Tale of The Misty Mountain was about and the girl had certainly never heard it. It was a little ritual they had, every night he would offer The Tale of The Misty Mountain and every night she would refuse and ask for a “spaceship story”. He only knew one, and it tore him apart to tell it. She needed to hear it though, to ease her own pain; the same pain he knew, though he hated the idea that a three year old girl shared his eternal agony.
“Very well, my little one, a spaceship story it will be then.” He felt her tense for a brief moment and then sigh, a sigh that was way too deep for one of her tender years.
So he began to tell the story. A story of a handsome young man who met a beautiful girl in the parkland one fine afternoon and how over the months that followed they gradually fell in love. How they were married and how the woman gave birth to a beautiful girl the very next year. The story went on to describe the second year of marriage, the immense happiness the couple and their child found in their cosy cottage by the lake.
The old man’s voice grew softer as he spoke of the coming of the people from far away, the men in uniforms and their stern faced commander. He described the young man’s joy at being told his exceptional talents and abilities meant he was eligible for the Capsuleer service. He was asked who his father was but he quickly said he did not know of his father, only his mother who was a local villager.
“Why did he lie grandpa?” queried the innocent young voice.
The old man’s voice trembled as he replied, “to protect his father, my little one. For he knew if the men in uniforms found out his father was a capsuleer and was alive in the village …” His eyes stared into the distance, bitterly contemplating choices made and consequences wrought.
The girl snuggled in a little closer and shook him from his reverie. He went on to portray the parting of the young man from his adoring wife and infant daughter. The hopes of fortune and adventure had blurred the clear vision of a happy family life together, just as the shuttle was hidden from sight by distance as it’s engine roar faded to silence.
He went on to describe the waiting, the long, long waiting. The holovids arrived regularly and the vidcalls were dutifully made every week, the infant child becoming ever more aware of her distance from her father as the first year passed. Her father told her tales of the amazing spaceships he could fly and the incredible battles he fought in. Occasionally expensive gifts would arrive, but the little girl showed no great interest in them. Until the golden bear arrived. A simple stuffed toy that became her talisman to symbolise her absent father.
That bear went everywhere with her, no one was allowed to touch it save for her. To her, it was her daddy no more, no less.
Then the silence, no news and no calls. He told her of the day the stern faced officer returned and how the news he brought made the childs mother cry for days. The news of the madness that had seized the young Capsuleer after a bad re-cloning had spread like wildfire throughout the town. The young woman and her daughter were ostracized by a community that would have mourned his death as a hero, except he had suffered a fate much worse than any death could bring. The stories were rife of his whereabouts. The most popular one was that he had been captured by the Sansha and made to slave for them. Others thought he had turned pirate and now haunted low security space, still others that he had flown into wormhole space, never to be seen again.
“No one ever heard from the brave young pilot again.” He tried as always to shut out the pain, but it washed over him until he fought it back to the dark recesses of his mind. He looked down at the little girl as her eyes slowly closed into slumber.
“Off to bed my little one,” he whispered to her. She stirred a little in his one armed embrace and pulled the golden bear a little closer as he carried her to her bed. As he kissed her forehead she stirred again.
“I’m sure Daddy will be home tomorrow grandpa,” the sleepy voice cutting his heart in two, as it did every night.
The old man’s tear splashed onto the pillow near her head. “Goodnight, my little one.”
It’s all in the mind, you know.