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An Outlaw Galaxy short story
by Bill Smith
www.BillSmithBooks.com | www.OutlawGalaxy.com
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"Reid, hurry up!" Travus called. He chuckled as he looked back at his son.
"Coming, Dad," Reid called, his voice muffled. His feet stuck up into the air, kicking frantically as he dug around under the tarp that covered the truck bed. The truck rocked back and forth on its anti-gravity field as Reid searched.
Travus threw a couple of sticks onto the campfire, looked at his wife and shrugged. "He's gonna miss the show."
"He doesn't know there's going to be 'a show.'" She stuck a plump soutar sausage on a skewer and held it over the fire.
The smell of the spiced meat got Travus's attention. "Fix me one, will you?"
"What? And miss the show?" She gave him a playful grin, then added another sausage to her skewer.
"Found them," his son's muffled voice called out from under the tarp.
"Good." Travus rolled his eyes as he kneeled close to the fire. He turned and shouted. "Hurry up!"
He looked up into the night sky. It was clear, not a cloud in sight. The moon was just a yellow sliver. The stars flickered and shimmered.
"I wish my dad could be here to see this," he said softly. "He would have wanted to tell Reid --"
A sudden gust of warm summer wind roared through the clearing. The nearby branches rustled and creaked while the fire flared up, flames rising high. The rich, sweet, almost-pine aroma of the throile trees filled the air.
She looked at her husband, gently caressing his arm. "Maybe he is here with us...somehow."
"Maybe he is at that." Travus nodded slowly as the gust died and the fire flickered down, the wood crackling and popping, tiny jets of flame firing up into the air before winking out.
He glanced up into the sky again, smiling. "It was a great idea to get out of town."
She looked up into the sky, her eyes dancing from star to star. There were so many. "I forget...what a difference. In town, there's just a few stars...but out here, it's like the whole galaxy is spread out before us. It's so beautiful out here."
She turned her attention back to the fire and grabbed the skewer. She plucked the soutar sausages and handed one to her husband. "Reid will never forget this night."
Travus's eyes settled on a dark spot of sky nestled between two familiar stars.
"Not even a flicker," he muttered.
Reid ran over to them, skidding to a stop in the dirt. Ten years old and full of energy, he never walked when he could run, never talked when he could shout. Travus remembered when he was like that not so long ago...and yet a lifetime ago.
His son was a solid boy, like himself and his own father. He was going to have broad shoulders, be strong and powerful...and yet he had the soft green eyes and gentle, good-natured ways of his mother.
Reid held up the shiny package, eyes sparkling with excitement. "Want any faman-crisps?"
Travus shook his head. The chocolate and crispy wafers weren't so bad...it was the crushed drihaj fruit filling that made his stomach queasy. "No. Maybe your mother wants some."
He smiled knowingly as his wife shook her head.
She smiled kindly at her son. "No, thank you, honey. You go ahead and enjoy them."
Reid ripped the package open and slid three of the treats onto a skewer. Travus grinned at his wife. She leaned back so that Reid couldn't see, then feigned a gagging motion.
Reid leaned towards the fire, playfully waving the skewer back and forth through the flames. "So why did we come out here, Dad?"
"You don't like being in the woods? It's quiet and peaceful --"
"It took us two hours to get here. It was a long drive. Just to go stargazing?"
"I wanted to get away from the lights. It's a beautiful night. I thought we could enjoy this as a family." Travus walked over to the telescope he'd set up away from the fire. He peered into the eyepiece.
There it is, he thought as he spied the dim star, tapping the scope's electronics to zoom in for a better view.
Then he turned to his son. "Tonight is a special night."
The boy frowned. "Really? How?"
Travus checked the chrono on his wrist. His heart fluttered. It was almost time. "Are those crisps done?"
"Good. Come on over here. I want to show you something."
His son scrambled over. Travus crouched down, eye level with his son, and pointed up at the two stars he'd spied earlier. "You see those stars?"
Reid nodded. "Yeah. Bijenhi and Ulsevois, I think?"
Travus smiled proudly. "Good. You've been studying your sky charts. Now, watch."
Reid's eyes narrowed as he looked at his father. Suspicion crept across his face. "Why?"
Travus turned the boy's chin back towards the sky. "Just watch."
The boy stared for a few seconds, but then started to fidget, glancing off towards the fire, into the woods, even frowning at his mother with a confused What's going on? expression. She merely shook her head and motioned for him to look up into the sky.
Travus leaned over and whispered to his son. "Patience. Keep watching. This will be something you'll never forget. Trust me, son."
And then, in the murky black between Bijenhi and Ulsevois, there was a brilliant flash of white light, sudden and unexpected. The flare filled the night sky.
Reid gasped in surprise.
Travus just looked up and stared. Memories of the past flooded back to him. He recalled a similar night, a long time ago on Laddenir, as a father showed a son this very same sight. He felt tears coming to his eyes as the memory rushed back, crisp and clear, untarnished with the passage of more than three decades.
"What is it?" Reid asked.
"A star. It's called Amurakke."
Reid frowned. "Never heard of it."
Travus smiled. "That's because it exploded a long, long time ago. That light you're seeing is one-thousand, four-hundred and fifty-three years old. The light took that long to reach us here on G'jarrica."
"Wow," Reid said softly. "That's neat."
"Yeah, pretty neat." Travus nodded. "Around that star circled a planet named Koekbaan. Of course, it's gone now, burned to cinders...but it was there once upon a time."
"That world was our home...not you or me, of course, but our ancestors. Koekbaan is where our family is from. Codin Karmmi was just four years old when they evacuated. He was your great-great-great-great -- well, let's say you'd need forty-six 'greats' in front of grandfather to get it right."
"Oh," Reid said softly, his eyes growing wide as he stared at the brilliant spot in the sky. "Why was his last name Karmmi? Our name is Niilo."
"About seven centuries ago, our family name was changed after...uh...." Travus paused as he blushed. "Don't go to Yarrito. They hold grudges something awful." He chuckled softly. "I'll...I'll tell you the rest of that story when you're a little bit older."
He looked up at his wife. She was her shaking her head and smiling. "Much older," she mouthed silently.
Reid stared up into the sky. "Over a thousand years ago...that's kinda cool."
"Yes, it is." Travus took a deep breath. "I've waited a long time for this night."
He stared up at the new light, so brilliant in the sky...and he recalled emotions and memories from that night so long ago. He could remember it all. His father pointing up into the darkness, telling him this same story. It was Fall on Laddenir that night, and the aroma of autumn overwhelmed the food cooking over the fire. The leaves crunched underfoot and the wind had turned chilly, warning of the harsh winter to come.
He remembered it all...especially the way his father rested his hand upon his shoulder and held onto him, like he was afraid to let go of his son.
Back then his father seemed like a giant, so wise and good, so...immortal.
If only that were so.
Travus looked down at his son. "You know, someday, twenty-five or thirty years from now, I hope you'll take your son someplace...far away from the cities and the lights and the craziness of everyday life. Point up into the sky. And when the sky lights up, just like it did tonight, I want you to tell him this story."
"How can I do that?"
Travus smiled. "Well, sure, tonight is the night we'll see that star explode here on G'jarrica...but the light we're seeing won't reach some stars for decades...even centuries. If you settle on a world twenty-five or thirty light years further out, you could get the timing just right. Just like my father did with me on Laddenir, back when I was a boy. This tradition goes back to my father, and his father, and his father before that...and well, maybe all the way back to Codin himself for all we know."
Travus took a deep breath. Only now did he know how much this night had meant to his own father. "I hope I can be there when you do this with your son."
Reid looked at his father, not quite sure what to say.
Travus stood and walked over to the telescope. "Want to see it up close?"
"Sure," Reid said, his eyes growing wide in genuine excitement. He ran over to the scope and peered down into the eyepiece.
Travus gently reached out and stroked his son's thick brown hair. His hand fell to the boy's shoulder.
"You're not just looking at a star, Reid. You're looking back through time. You're seeing our history...who we are, where we came from. You're seeing memories...echoes of things that are gone forever."
He smiled at his wife. "Not bad for a quiet night of stargazing, is it?"
She nodded, silent, letting her husband and son have this moment together.
Travus looked up, staring at the brilliant white light. It was a beacon in the sky. He squeezed his son's shoulder and realized that he didn't want to let go. He wanted this moment to go on forever.
"My father would have loved this."
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