by Molly Glinski
Home was a void for Anna. This huge, unblinking, dark mass that stretched out as far as she could see. In places it was punctuated by clusters of light, stars she’d never get close to in her lifetime. Different to Earth, so different. She’d traipse the metal flooring of her craft and imagine it was dirt beneath her feet. Having spent years away, she found it easy to replace the feeling of something so long forgotten.
“Planet exile” was a relatively new concept. The past decade or so, maybe. Anyone who was deemed by the supreme courts to be ‘irreparably unfit for societal re-integration’ was simply removed. Anna was fairly sure she was part of the test run and that’s why they’d been so keen to throw her out as quickly as possible. Most people died a couple of months into exile, colliding with rogue craft rubble or debris. There were times- days, not days, no light to make it a day- she wished she’d met the same fate. During her time on Earth, she’d been an activist. The way the government neglected human rights had pushed millions into poverty, famine, and mental unrest. Herself and her girlfriend had been tried for high treason for uncovering confidential documents while impersonating civil servants. They distributed the documents via social media, their first mistake. If only their plan had been watertight, they could have fled to somewhere still on Earth. But, as Anna reminded herself, corruption follows. There would never be a gloss of green on any country or continent that hadn’t been tainted by greed or selfishness. Perhaps they had blessed her with the cleanliness of space, a hardly touched field that accommodated her conscience so well. At the sentencing, the judge had only asked her one question,
“Knowing now that you could be cast from society forever, would you do it again?”
She’d left Earth in her craft in the year 2036. They’d given her a vague crash course in how to drive it and given her enough food for 15 years. 15 years would be more than enough, they told her, because it was likely she’d die around 7 of those. She’d laughed at that even though it wasn’t meant to be funny. The only person she’d miss was Elira, she was being exiled too anyway. For the first few weeks they’d stayed as close to each other as possible in their crafts. They could communicate that way, their comms signals only just reached to one another,
“What are you doing right now?”
“Can you read me something?”
“What did you eat today?”
Sometime in the third week, Elira had disappeared. Anna had woken up, gone to the window, and realised that she was long gone. Well, maybe she was just hiding. Anna ran all the way up and down the craft searching for her out of every window. All she was met with was the expanse of nothingness. So, Anna chose to hypothesise. But nothing sounded right. Nothing sounded like Elira. If she’d gone back to Earth, then she’d be shot from the sky. If she’d taken another course without telling her then they’d simply never see each other again. If her craft had crashed, then Anna would know about it. After she’d ripped her own heart out searching for answers and grieved beyond the point of functioning, she realised that Elira must have just chosen to leave.
Anna knew she could’ve lied. It was the reason why she felt Elira’s sudden disappearance to be such a betrayal. Looking back to the trial, Anna could have said she had nothing to do with the enterprise. She could have claimed she’d never leaked or even seen those documents in her life. She’d only gone through with it because she was so sure that Elira had held the same beliefs as she, that exile wouldn’t matter because they’d make a home in one another’s company. Her grief was only marred with frustration with herself for feeling so lulled into a false sense of security. She questioned why she thought she was enough to keep someone in the first place. Because who would want to stay tethered to one person when they have all this freedom? She felt foolish to think that she could even contain someone in a Universe expanding so fiercely, that she could be a home to somebody who was already their own.
It had been approximately 6 years for Anna. 6 years spent entirely alone. She realised that acceptance wasn’t always the loving response she’d thought it had been. Acceptance was often forced yet presented as an honourable gift. It was a gift that was barbed in bitterness, and that was exactly how she felt. Floating through space with an ‘acceptance’ for what she had been dealt, engulfed in enough rage to make the Sun shy. The only thing that changed her monotonous existence was the solar storms and meteor showers. If she had to describe them to someone who had never left Earth, then she’d struggle. It was so unlike anything she’d ever experienced before. The first time she experienced a solar storm, she felt as though she had been liberated from the monotony she’d been trying to escape for years. It was her experience to watch the solar storms, so uniquely hers and hers alone.
But euphoria fades after a while, a lack of sustainability. Anna had been searching for Black Holes for years. Her aim was to charge toward one the minute she was close enough. And yet, she hadn’t seen anything in such a long time. Save for the stars and the slowly approaching edge of Jupiter, and the-
Craft. Decaying in parts, revealing the creator’s lack of earnest like a badly kept secret. It was suspended with no sign of movement as though it were waiting on the precipice of something. As though it held out a hand to wait to be joined. She’d seen it from the window while eating. Well, sod the Pot Noodle. That could wait.
“Is that you-?” She felt herself filled with meliorism, lifted with the possibility that it could be Elira after all. There she was, waiting for her. She’d never left, she’d simply taken a different path to be with her again.
But Anna was met with static feedback on the other end of the comms. Nothing wanted to return itself to her like she had anticipated. And days passed. She had travelled around the craft five times over, trying to conjure up any image or understanding of life. She had a hard time believing that she’d been presented with the chance to be with the person she’d not stopped thinking about for 6 years. 6 years of nothing. More days passed of frantic orbit, she thought she was descending into a spiral of desperation. She’d only just become aware of the silence that filled her existence in its entirety. Upon reflection, Anna supposed she’d gotten used to it after a while. Silence becomes an all-encompassing normality that Earth dwellers can only dream of. Her thoughts were interrupted by the screech of static,
“Thing won’t- bloody-“ The speaker’s voice cut out again as abruptly as it had entered. It returned again with trepidation, “Anna?”
She wasn’t big on emotional milestones, Anna never cried when she was hurt, she never liked to make a scene about anything. Besides her cold disposition, she found herself shaking as she reached to the speaker to respond,
“It’s you, isn’t it?”
And there they were. Together again. Anna watched as she approached the window as Elira raised her hand to wave,
“You look beautiful.”
“I look bloody old,” Anna faltered, almost forgetting the thorn-laced ball and chain of grief and rage she’d been carrying with her, “What the hell happened to you?”
“I don’t know. Fuckers put us on these things without proper lessons. I think they want us all to just be apart.” Elira answered simply. What more was there to say, after all? Years had passed and they were stood staring back at each other in silence, affirmed with the same love for one another they had always felt. They were here now, together. Anna had always felt more at home with Elira than she ever did on Earth. Her birth planet was a physical footprint of everything she’d wrestled with mentally, a corrupt planet she had struggled to find a sense of belonging in. Anna was reminded of what she’d said to the judge all those years ago. She’d do it again, yes, again. Again, if it meant to spend the rest of eternity with her. And Anna had never felt comfortable anywhere. She wasn’t able to say she had a home until she realised what it was. The crushing horror of disappearing into the abyss didn’t matter anymore. There was no place she could return to with more ease than she could to Elira. It was only because Anna felt safest when she was with Elira, even in the expanses of the unknown. Fake food that wouldn’t last forever, traveling debris, strange weather, and darkness as far as the eye could see, but home. Always home if it was with the woman she loved, “I’m so happy to see you again Anna. I just-somehow, I thought I’d find you again here. I just had this feeling for months.”
“Yeah yeah. I’ll wait for you if it happens again. Just don’t make it six years this time.” She said dryly, though she knew she was crying. A pause, and then, “I love you.”
“I love you, too. You made all of this bloody worth it.”
“All of this- we’ve got nowhere to go.” At once, they were reminded of their own hopelessness. There had never been a future for them.
“Doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy what we have.” Elira rebutted, attempting to fill the silence. Suspended in front of each other in a dimly lit and disillusioned state, they felt forced to make choices that were never theirs to make. Anna glanced out into the great perhaps. Time was running out and so was food. She could tell that Elira knew as much too. It was from the twitch in the corner of her mouth where her smile seemed to stall, “Well, shall we?”
“I don’t see why not.” They shared a fleeting smile, and slowly turned their attentions back to their crafts.