by Tegon Maus
"Are you sure?" she asked, staring at the floor.
"Yes, very," I returned.
"I think..." she began cupping her hand over her mouth for a moment. "I think it’s important that you understand this is an all or nothing situation."
"I do, I understand completely. I told you... I'm okay with it."
"It's my fault... I just..."
"Doc, look, I get it, there's no room for failure. I won't let you down. You'll see."
"I'm just not sure if you're ready, that's all," she said softly, turning her back to me.
"Are you kidding me? I've been a Marine for more than twenty years. I'm the top in my field. I've had the best training available. I've been on dozens of assignments far more critical than this, and I came out on top every time. You have to trust me... I can handle it."
"A Marine for twenty years? The best training? I'm not sure if that will be enough to guarantee your success," she said with a soft smile.
"Well, it will have to do," I said confidently.
"I guess it will. I would feel better if you had a safe word," she offered lightly.
"A safe word? For what?" I returned. I was beginning to feel like she didn't trust me or my abilities.
"In case you need backup."
"There's no shame in asking for a little help in a tough spot. A good Marine would ask for backup," She prodded.
"A good Marine is all the backup anyone would need," I returned proudly.
"Alright, have it your way. You'll have 3 hours... no more... no less. Synchronize your watch... we begin in 15," she said stiffly.
"Give’m hell, Marine," she said over her shoulder as she turned to leave.
I watched her until she was out of sight, only then did my true feelings come to the surface. I had misgivings... concerns that I dare not share with her. If she saw any weakness, any hesitation in me, even the slightest, all bets would be off, and I couldn't live with that. No matter how I felt about it, I had to pull this off... no matter what.
The sound of a door sliding open at the end of the causeway drew my attention.
"Ahh, shit. Here we go," I said under my breath.
Walking straight toward me, dressed in a pink tee shirt, blue jeans and barefoot, was the Doc's seven year-old-daughter. Her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail and tied with a pink ribbon. She was her mother's daughter, alright. I could see the doc's cheek bones and the shape of her nose from here.
"Hello... Sam?" I called cheerfully.
Nothing... no answer, no smile, no reaction at all.
"Damn it," I whispered. "This was going to be tougher than I thought."
"Hello," I said for a second time, stepping closer.
"Are we there yet?"
"I'm sorry. What did you say?"
"Are we there yet? It's a simple question. Mother said we were almost there. I'm awake now, and she sent me here to see you... are we there yet?"
"No. Not just yet. It will be a day or two longer. By the way, I'm Robert Wickham... my friends call me Bob." I said, offering my hand.
"You know she's smarter than you," she said with disinterest, refusing to shake my hand.
"Beg your pardon?"
"My mother. She's way smarter than you," she repeated. This time, her voice held a little arrogance in it.
"Yeah, I think so as well," I said honestly.
"Actually, she's way smarter than everyone," she bragged.
"Yeah, I think you might be right with that one," I agreed, hoping to find common ground.
"Oh, I am. Mother has an IQ of 125... the average is 92, so she's much smarter than almost everyone."
"Good to know," I returned, not sure where we were going with this.
"Mine is 183," she boasted.
"Your what?" I asked, trying to divide my attention between her and the bank of dials and monitors.
"My IQ... it's 183. Einstein's was 160," she said pointedly.
"You don't say... Einstein. Well, how about that? Your Mom said you were a smart little girl," I heard myself say. I was lost. I had no idea what to say next.
"Do you love her?" she asked suddenly, pushing to stand in front of me, separating me from the panel.
"What?" I gasped, moving backward a little.
"I said... do you love her?" She asked again stepping to stand in front of me again. "Are you hard of hearing or are you just slow?"
"It's complicated," I answered before thinking.
"That's not an answer," she scolded, folding her arms, stepping closer still.
"I don't think you would understand. It's an adult thing," I said trying to regain some authority, stepping back again.
"I'm 7, not stupid and I have an IQ of 183. I think I can handle it," she sneered, stepping closer, trying to stare me down.
My mind raced, searching for an out. I had to take control.
"Okay. This isn't going to plan. Let's start over as equals... 100% honest with each other... no holds barred. Agreed?" I insisted, offering my hand, stepping forward.
"Agreed," she said, taking my hand.
"Robert Wickham... call me Bob."
"Samantha Fremont... call me Sam."
"Good. Glad to meet you, Sam. So then, you first, ask what you want," I said, folding my arms.
"Did she give you a safe word?"
"No, but she wanted to."
"Are you planning to marry my Mom?"
"Yes, that's the plan... contingent on your approval. You okay with that?"
"I'll have to think about it."
"I love your Mom... I'm not looking to take your Dad's place."
"I have no dad... sperm donor."
"How did you meet?"
"Here on the job. She's medical, I'm transport."
"What do you do in 'transport'?"
"I'm a Sector Chief. I'm responsible for more than 500 pods."
"That didn't tell me what you do."
This was going to be tough. She wasn't going to cut me any slack.
"See these dials and these screens? They monitor the pods and tell me how each of them are doing and where they should go. This ship holds a little over twenty-five-hundred pods."
"Ahh, sorry. Each pod holds one person... each held in stasis... suspended animation as it were, to be able to handle the long trip here. The ship starts out from Earth orbit and makes a stop about every six months, refuels and picks up a new crew. Twelve crews and six years later, they arrive here. My crew and I sort them by occupation and destination, and help to send them on their way."
"And my Mom?"
"She usually rides the last leg... one or two weeks out before turning around. Our jobs cross... we met and fell in love."
"Why am I here?"
"To meet me and..."
"I have a couple of acres down on the planet. I'm looking to retire, and I've asked your Mom to start a new life with me there."
"I've never been on a real planet before."
"I know... your Mom talks about it all the time. I think you'll like it."
"You think so?"
"I do. My place has lots of grass... a couple of horses, some ducks and even a chicken or two."
"I've never seen a real horse either."
"You'll like them. They're fun to ride."
Silence... she just stood there.
Damn it. I screwed up. I said something wrong... I've lost her. The thought burned hot in my head.
"Everything okay?" I asked.
She only nodded in response.
"Let me ask one. Why are you barefoot?"
"I like the way the cold metal feels on the bottom of my feet."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. You got one more for me?"
"Sure... are we there yet?
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