by Holly Hearn
Cassandra waded through her malaise to the replicator. She ordered a chai latte, refusing to admit that this would be the most interesting thing she’d experience today. And the next day, and the day after, and the day after…
Mug in her thin hands, she shuffled over to the wall to wall glass windows. Outside, a white hot, tiny star was tethered to a spiral of plasma by its own life force, circling the drain and bleeding into an unknown.
Staring stoically into the abyss, she sipped her latte. There was no soundtrack for this spectacle, save the undercurrent hum of the generators, though she’d long since gotten used to those. The power for the station came from solar panels pointed at the lone star and its parasite; eventually it would run out.
Everything ran out in the end. It had been five years since her only companion died. Suicide, blew himself out of an airlock. She tried not to blame herself, but did wonder if he’d still be here if she’d been more accommodating.
No one else would be along. The slingshot trajectory from the next nearest base passed directly through the black hole’s event horizon, making any approach impossible. It also made transmissions back home impossible. Nobody knew she was still here. Cassandra would have normally retired by now from her position as the station’s chief astrophysicist, but as it was she’d given up collecting data ages ago, and now pottered about aimlessly in a desperate attempt to drown out the ticking of her life, slipping like so many grains of sand through her grasping fingers.
Suffering the silence no longer, she put on some music to fill the air around her. It would be another day of basic maintenance on the life support systems, followed by existential poetry. Until the music faded.
“Don’t be silly,” she murmured. “Any transmission heading this way would get sucked in by that damned black hole.”
“Play incoming transmission?”
Cassandra halted, brushing a silver lock behind her ear. It was exactly this sort of interruption she’d longed for, and now feared. The moments slipped past. Her heart raced.
“Play incoming transmission?”
“…oh, fine, go ahead.”
Static filled the void she preferred to plaster with music, but eventually a voice struggled through.
Her heart stopped, lodged in her throat. The voice belonged to a stranger. She’d never heard it before, but they knew her.
“Cassandra, I hope you’re listening. I’ll start with the most important part, in case I get cut off: I love you. With all my heart.”
The stranger was female. Cassandra wracked her brain, but could not think of anyone who would have such a deep connection to her. She never married, never loved anything but her work.
“I’ll never give up, I’ll never stop searching. You’re my everything.”
Cassandra felt herself relax, a tension she’d barely realized unknotting itself as she warmed to the genuine feeling in the woman’s voice. She stood frozen, drink forgotten in her trembling hands. She wouldn’t risk missing a single word, the first thing said to her in five years and the first thing ever said to her that moved her.
“I know you could be anywhere in time or space, or maybe you’re everywhere in time and space. I don’t know. But I know I still feel you beside me when I sleep at night, I know you’re somewhere waiting. I love you, and I’m coming for you, Cassandra. I’m coming.”
“End of transmission.”
Cassandra’s insides were tangled, emotions she didn’t realize she had swirling and constricting her. Above the din rose hope. Someone was looking for her. Someone who would devote their life to finding her. A shaking hand released its grip on the mug to reach up and brush away the foreign object that escaped from her eye and raced down her cheek.
“Computer,” she whispered. “where did this transmission come from?”
“At what point did you detect the transmission?”
“Within one astronomic unit.”
“What? There’s nothing that close by…”
Her eyes drifted to the window, watching the molten spiral spinning lethargically as it sucked the life from the nearby star. The appearance of the black hole had cut them off from any supplies or chance of returning home, but had also opened up the possibility of jumping across time and space. Several expeditions had departed for the singularity in the name of why not, she remained behind…just in case.
What if something finally escaped?
Cassandra spent the rest of the day playing the transmission over and over again. She fell in love with the voice, heart full of hope and head full of ideas about who this person could be. Each day she listened to the transmission. Each day could now be the day she was found.