“You’re right, May. I should find someone who will make me happy.”
“Then I guess this is goodbye.”
“No, not goodbye. I’ve already found that someone.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“It’s you… I feel the same way you do. I was too afraid to face the truth.”
“But Tara, you know as well as I that this will be a distraction. What of your quest?”
“The quest means nothing if I can’t be with you. I would die for you, May.”
“That is exactly what I was afraid you’d say. You can’t put my life ahead of your own, there’s too much at stake.”
Caroline blinked and rubbed at her eyes, cursing under her breath for weeping over Tara and May’s love for one another. She tried to continue on but her blurry sight left her struggling to find her place on the page she was reading.
Finally she blew out a frustrated sigh and set down her book, sniffling as she tried to hold back the tears.
This wasn’t the first time she had been apart from her wife but it seemed like every time they said their farewells, they were unsure if they would see one another again. She could still remember the warm and loving embrace of Wilma’s arms as they hugged and cried together.
Her tear-blurred gaze came to rest on the holo of Wilma which stood proudly on top of the bookcase. The snapshot smile of her wife was heart-warming of course, but no matter how long she stared at the holo she still felt lonely.
Interrupting her almost sob-fest, she stood from her armchair and crossed the room to the comm unit, thumbing it on and calling a friend.
“Hi Rhona, are you busy?” she inquired.
“Not really, just doing a bit of maintenance in the armoury. What do you need me for?”
“A shoulder to cry on would be nice.”
“Say no more, I’ll be right down.”
Caroline and Rhona had a long history, starting with Caroline’s first deep space assignment as a security officer. They worked well together and over the years they had kept the hides of many an away team safe from harm. Their friendship was a source of great comfort during each long hyperspace journey.
It had been six months since they had first engaged the Orion’s hyperdrive, with the goal of exploring parts of the cosmos that until now had seemed too far away to send a manned expedition. In the shipyards back home, other starships were being retrofitted with some of the Orion’s technology but by the time they were ready, Caroline and her crew would already have quite a head-start.
As part of their mission, they had already deployed a number of hyperwave communication relays along their route but even so it would now take weeks for a report or letter to make it back, and the same for a reply. Caroline had already received several letters from Wilma and replied.
Of course, video messages were rare and limited due to the bandwidth requirements, but now and then when Caroline was on an exploration tour, she would get a new and amusing or risqué holo to add to her collection.
The door to Caroline’s quarters whooshed open to admit her visitor. ”Here I am,” Rhona said as she stepped in and made herself comfortable on the sofa. She was dressed casually, but still had her long red hair tied back.
“You were really maintaining the armoury when I called?” Caroline asked, raising an eyebrow at Rhona’s attire.
“My duty shift was over hours ago. I was bored and needed something to do,” Rhona answered with a dismissive shrug. ”What’s that you’re reading?” she asked, noticing the discarded book.
“Tara Morgan and the Mausoleum of Mordilon.”
“Really? I thought you weren’t all that interested in fantasy stories.”
“I’m not, but it’s got a romantic sub-plot and I’m dying to see how it turns out,” Caroline explained. Then she canted her head to one side and amended, “Well it’s more like torture at this point, but I’m three books in now, I might as well finish the series.”
“So, how are you feeling?” Rhona asked delicately.
Caroline sighed. ”Lonely, as always.”
“You should have said so sooner. I’m happy to come by any time, you know.”
“As much as I love having you here, you’re not really the woman I married.”
Rhona laughed softly. ”No, I suppose I’m not. Though I wonder sometimes why you took this assignment, if you knew you would miss her so badly.”
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. There was some tense competition just to get this command. Unfortunately as much as I love deep space assignments, they also sort of drag on for a while.”
“They do at that. I remembering thinking that I would like to spend more time with my wife and I was all ready to turn down your request to transfer me here, then I remembered how lost you would be without me.”
“What do you suggest I do then?”
“I’d suggest that you retreat to the bedroom with those racy holos and make the best of it, Caroline.”
“Believe me, I have. But a holo can’t give you a cuddle or a kiss.”
“Well, I can’t help you there. Will a hug be enough?”
“I guess it’ll have to do.”
Rhona wrapped her arms around her friend and squeezed gently. ”You could be a little more enthusiastic about it, you know.”
Caroline returned the affection and gave a sigh. ”So how are you holding up, Rhona?”
“Actually, I’m feeling lonely as well,” Rhona admitted. She pulled back and slouched sideways against the back of the sofa. ”You’re not the only one missing someone back home.”
“I guess we’ll just have to find some way to amuse ourselves.”
“I hope you’ve got something here besides books then.”
“Well let’s see,” Caroline said as she opened a box full of assorted games and devices. “Oh, look how about these?” she suggested, holding up a pair of lightweight headsets.
“What are they?”
“Headset interfaces for a virtual reality entertainment system.”
“What, really? You couldn’t have mentioned this about five months ago?”
Caroline turned back to the box and tugged out a slim rectangular device as well. She shrugged and explained, “They’re new and I was worried in case the novelty wears off quickly.”
“Well, worry not. We can have lots of fun with these,” Rhona assured her, then exclaimed, “Oh, I know! We could go on a adventure, just like in that Tara Morgan book you’re reading.”
“I don’t know…” Caroline started, with an unsure expression.
“Come on. I’ll let you be the dashing heroine,” Rhona said with a soft chuckle.
“Oh all right then.” Caroline offered Rhona one of the headsets, slipped hers on, and relaxed on the sofa. “Now I have to warn you, according to the specifications we’ll only get a couple of hours at a time. In between, they need to recharge.”
“I guess the manufacturer also didn’t want people stuck in virtual reality for so long that they starve to death, huh,” Rhona commented, sliding her headset on and taking a seat. “Ready?” she asked, glancing across.
“Let’s do this,” Caroline said, turning on her headset. Gradually, her quarters faded out of her field of vision, replaced by blackness and then by another world entirely.