The door to Sam ’n Joe’s bar slid away as the gruff captain approached and he stumped through. A quiet ding informed him that he’d passed the age scan. Ed grunted. That stupid ding just reminded him how old he’d gotten. And thinking about his age reminded him of how much he’d lost since leaving Earth. The people he’d lost. Well, one person. One impossible, one-of-a-kind woman.
He thunked into his usual seat at the end of the bar and rapped a knuckle against the grungy stainless steel. A holographic screen flickered on and he punched in his order, swiping his wrist over the scanner to pay. Most customers just told the smart bar what they wanted, but he never opened his bushy mouth if he didn’t have to. A minute later, a slot opened in the counter and his usual beer popped out.
“I swears over my memaw’s grave. She came floatin’ right up to the port window. I could hear her sweet singin’ all the way through the walls.”
Ed’s ears twitched. Without drawing any undue attention, he creaked his head around to peek at the unknown speaker. The young greenhorn waved his arms around in the small booth, nearly toppling his buddies’ drinks. They both grabbed the bottles and rolled their eyes at each other.
“At first I thought I was dreamin’ so I smacked myself to see if I’d wake up, but I didn’t so she must’a been real. She looked like a ghost woman only the most beautifulest woman I ever did see.”
His buddies turned to each other, then burst out laughing. Ed turned back to his beer with a twist to his lips. They didn’t know what they were laughing at. For that matter, neither did the greenhorn. Most beautiful woman, indeed. If the kid had seen her on the other side of the barrier, he’d have dropped dead of shock. Ed nearly did the first time he’d seen one of them in their incredible, natural form.
Her name was Savensa and she was the reason he’d stayed out in space longer than any other miner. Not long after getting fired at the bar back on Earth, he’d heard of an asteroid mining company seeking entry level workers. After all the jobs he’d lost, space had started to look like his last chance to do something fun. The novelty had worn off almost as soon as he’d gotten out there.
Then she’d found him.
He’d been out on an unauthorized spacewalk, watching the stars, trying to manufacture some semblance of adventure. She appeared out of nowhere and he nearly shit himself. She was glowing and hazy and a lot of her wasn’t even visible. Most of her was sort of bluish, but he could see traces of other bright colors, too. Like the greenhorn had said, she looked like a beautiful ghost. When their eyes met, his blood flowed south and his brain pretty much shut down. She cocked her head curiously and he got lightheaded, like that one time he’d drunk an entire bottle of rum in one night.
Then she disappeared. He blinked and looked around stupidly, as if there was a corner somewhere she could have ducked behind. He nearly emptied his oxygen tank waiting for her to appear again, but she never did.
After that, Ed made sure to get as many spacewalks as he could. Weeks went by, but the need to see her again never faded. If anything, it grew stronger and stronger the longer he waited. She appeared a few more times after that, but it was always too brief. All his free time he spent fantasizing about her, hearing her voice, touching her skin, tasting her lips. She was driving him mad.
He’d snuck out while the rest of the crew slept when she appeared that final time. He blinked a couple times, not quite trusting his own eyes. There was more of her this time, more definition. Her arms ended in fingers instead of wispy trails and her legs … well, that’s about when his brain shut down again.
Her head cocked and a ridiculous grin spread across his face. Then she spoke. It was like a jolt to his spine, so beautiful it struck him like lightning. He couldn’t understand any of it, but that didn’t stop him from reaching for her. His whole body ached to touch her, to hold her.
Her eyes widened as he neared. That tempting mouth started babbling a mile a minute and her hands fluttered around anxiously. All he could think was how adorable she looked, but he held back, not wanting to spook her. He waited as her rambling tapered off. She met his eyes, then seemed to take a deep breath and tentatively took his hand.
He felt a brief tugging before being sucked through her and into unconsciousness.
Later on he learned that he’d been pulled through the barrier to her alternate universe. When he came to, it was to smooth, bright colored trees which turned out to be huge strands of fur. Light fluff all over the ground that he eventually learned was dander. But what he’d truly never gotten used to was Savensa.
She’d appeared seconds after he’d first opened his eyes in that world. As if the world itself wasn’t amazing enough, seeing her in full form had nearly knocked him out. She’d begun rambling and fluttering again. And it looked so damn cute on her, he didn’t bother to check if he could breathe the air before ripping off his helmet and covering that pretty, golden mouth with his own. She froze, and he silently cursed himself for being too forward. Then like chocolate held too long in his hand, she melted against him, filling in all his cracks.
He swept his fingers into her glittering, silver hair, groaning when they tingled like cold hands under hot water. He pressed her to him, clutching a fistful of her petal soft dress. Finally holding her, finally kissing her; it felt like coming home. Which only made their abrupt separation some time later more painful.
He still had no answers for why he’d been ripped back through the barrier so soon after coming through. He hadn’t had nearly enough time with her. But he hadn’t given up so easily. He’d spent every minute since leaving her world looking for another way back in. Every spacewalk he lingered in the hope that she would appear. Every quadrant of the system in which they’d met he’d mapped and scoured.
And now, after all the years, he found himself listening to a bunch of knuckleheads scoffing at a fantasy he’d never stopped believing in.
He knocked back the last drips of his beer and tossed the empty bottle into the smart bar’s recycle chute. His sore muscles strained as he stood and turned to the greenhorn and his buddies.
“I hear you saw a siren of the void. Mind tellin’ me where?”
They all blinked up at him stupidly. After a quiet minute, the greenhorn stuttered out the coordinates. Ed nodded his thanks and stomped back out of the bar, suddenly tempted to throw out a fist pump. He was finally going home.