Jump to content

[Fiction] In the Light of a Stillborn Star (complete)

Doctor Nova Madigan

Recommended Posts

Nova "Flicker" Madigan rechecked her environment suit's gauges for the third time, and was finally satisfied that she really had a full charge or air and battery power. Safety in deep space is deadly business, but where she was going today this mattered even more than usual. Retrieving the helmet with its mirrored faceplate from its shelf, she paused and looked around the finished basement. In one corner, a pair of battered cordura "go" bags nestled together, one for her and one for Neil Preston, packed full of essential supplies. When the call came in to react to a disaster or an atrocity, she and Neil would grab their go bags and depart, recklessly disregarding the danger that waited there.

I guess we won't be doing a lot of that anymore, Nova thought. At least, not as a couple. Even so, their unique abilities would ensure that their paths would cross every time disaster struck. Neil was possessed of miraculous healing powers, and was an ace doctor to boot. Nova could teleport anywhere with astonishing accuracy, and had just completed medical school herself. She'd signed a contract to perform her internship with Doctors Without Borders, so she could count on being summoned at a moment's notice for some time to come. They'd made a hell of a team, she reflected. Together they'd dodged bullets and saved lives with frantic recklessness, in a way that only two emotionally driven novas could do as they sprinted from one peril to the next.

Do we have a death wish? she wondered. Do we throw ourselves into the jaws of death because we want to die, or is it the only way we know how to feel alive? Nova set that thought aside. The door monitor chimed softly, signalling Neil's return. She depressed the button on the wall-mounted intercom.

"Neil?" she asked, "I'm downstairs. Can you come here a moment, hon?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It was the reminder of just how little he had that was the second most painful wound. Everything he had got was really something for them. It was painfully obvious to him now. They had not accumulated too many things of monetary value - outside the house. There hadn't been time for things like that in the frantic lifestyle they led. Still, there were dresses from Afghanistan, necklaces (for both men and women) from Peru, and a few other keepsakes and good luck charms foisted on them at the disasters they had helped heal.

He didn't have that much stuff. He didn't want the things that reminded him of their time together and he knew that was stupid. Their lives would continue on and that meant they would continue to meet in various unsavory places. Still, he packed up only the things that were definitively his.

The meeting was over. She was back.

"Neil? I'm downstairs. Can you come here a moment, hon?"

Nova, I love you.

"Sure thing Nova. Be right there."

How come love isn't enough for us ... for me?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nova heard Neil cross the floor to the stairwell, then descend the carpeted stairway into the basement.

"Hi hon," she said, smiling weakly. She indicated Neil's atmospheric suit with a jerk of her thumb. "Suit up, if you will. We need to talk somewhere really private." Nova smiled more broadly, revealing that she was pleased about something despite the somber mood that had hung over the house for weeks. "Besides, I want to show you something new-- something really new, I mean."

Even at this late stage in their relatioship, Nova could not avoid the urge to surprise Neil pleasantly.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

He would face a thousand burning suns for that hint of a smile. She was going to do something special and wanted him to be a part of that initial experience.

Like it used to be.

"On it," he responded with his goofy grin. Despite his deepening sense of loss, despite his own sense of invulnerability, Neil followed the procedures to fully suit up his EVA. He had just under two hours of air. His heater and cooler would last about an hour longer, if it mattered. His glare shield worked properly and finally,

"Just about done," his voice system was operational.

Neil wanted to ask were they would be going. Would it be to share footprints with giants on the Moon, or perhaps Io? Nova wouldn't tell him. If she wanted him to know, she would have told him right off. It was her way. No, he would take the trip in relative silence and try to act surprised if it was somewhere close to one of the places he had already been.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nova watched Neil suit up, and had to bite her lip to avoid blabbing their destination.

"You're ready?" she asked simply.

"Ready and double-checked," Neil replied, nodding. The gesture was nearly muted by his bulky suit, but Nova noticed it nonetheless.

Nova took Neil's gloved hand in her own and closed her eyes. This would be the hard part. Clearing her mind, she added Neil and his equipment to her psychic load and felt her consciousness seemingly expand as she attuned them to her own personal resonance. Nova abandoned her sense of self and allowed her mind to travel freely, searching inside her own personal universe for a place mirrored in external reality. After what felt like minutes but had actually been seconds, she felt her mind arrive and lock into place. Nova released herself from reality, and allowed her body to be pulled to that new place. The waves of quantum energy which she had gathered to her flowed away, and she felt her body come to rest. Her suit's reinforced fabric crackled loudly as it suddenly flexed and bulged with the change in atmospheric pressure.

Nova opened her eyes, and was treated to a starscape of brilliant pinpoints. She hung weightlessly in deep space, hand in hand with Neil Preston. After a moment of looking around, she found her landmark. A dim red star barely larger than Jupiter hung in the near distance, no larger to her perspective than the moon when seen from earth.

"Welcome to Proxima Centauri," she said quietly. "We're four point four light years from earth."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Void.

The Great Emptiness that was Space and when he reached out for the life he knew was out there ... he found nothing?

And then she spoke into that Void that had become his perceptions.

"Welcome to Proxima Centauri. We're four point four light years from earth."

His first words came unbidden and were hardly romantic, or majestic.

"Holy Cow," he whispered back.

"For a million-billion miles around us we are the only things I can feel alive!" he added rather pleased.

"Proxima Centauri, huh? I'm no Astronomer, but I can tell you this is way ... WAY beyond the rings of Jupiter. Why did you bring us here?"

"Besides the serenity of the view, that is," he hastily added.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"That little star," Nova explained, waving in slow motion with her free hand, "never really had a chance to shine. It's made of the same stuff as larger and brighter stars, but there's simply not enough matter there to support a bright flame." Nova shifted her grip on Neil's hand, taking him by the wrist, and smiling at the feel of the squeeze of his hand on her own wrist.

"Every now and again, it flares up," she continued, "and for those moments it shines a little brighter; but it can't stay that way for long. It returns to its dim glow every time." Nova sniffled, and blinked back a tear. "It will glow like this for billions of years, though. Long after the brighter stars have spent their lives and disappeared, this little star will still be here, glowing steadily."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yeah, this is so what it feels like to be disemboweled.

He so didn't want to speak right now, but he had spend - literally - so much of their relationship not speaking that he had to let the words flow.

"Not every star is meant to have is accompanying solar system ... is that the lesson here?"

He said the words with a tear floating free of his eye.

"Who is going to flare up, you or I, like the real stars, but have to go back to our quieter, steadier selves the rest of the time? Be who we really are ... alone."

Neil shakes his head.

"I don't ever want you to feel alone, Nova."

Neil clumsily hugs her in his suit.

"Too many people love you and want to be with you."

Moving away so that their faceplates are touching,

"I've made my place in the world and I'll be okay in it. I'll miss you, but then," he motions to the little star, "I'll be here after all the others have given up."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"You're missing the point," Nova murmured gently, returning Neil's hug. "No matter what else happens, we're enough alike that I'll never stop thinking of you, and I'll never stop--" Nova choked, hating herself for what she had to say. She continued hoarsely. "I'll never stop being your friend. That's what I wanted to say."

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Now there's a word with finality to it. Well, it was better than I'll hate you for the rest of my life, or Seeing you makes me want to scratch the backs of my eyes out.

Friend was the change in how they would think about one another and act, and operate, and all else.

"Friends? I can live with that."

Neil took a deep breath.

"We can share the house. I'll be in the guest home and you and Mithril can continue to share the main house. Sound good."

The last of it was more mechanical, almost wooden. Neil was wounded and trying to move on ... somehow.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sleep in the guest house? Nova thought, despairing for the thousandth time since she'd fallen in love with Neil, Just put on a hair shirt and whip yourself while you're at it. Why do you hate yourself so much?

"We're moving out," Nova said, meaning herself and Meghan. "You don't have to go out and sleep in the doghouse. It'd be way too awkward if we stayed in Rio anyway."

"You know, you can't love others unless you love yourself first," Nova said, changing the subject. "What happened to you, Neil?" Despite the year that they'd been together, Nova had never known the answer to that riddle.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"We're moving out."

Neil nods in response.

"What happened to you, Neil?"

"I honestly don't know, Nova. I've always been going places, so I've never had to worry about were I was, you know?"

Neil shakes his head inside his suit. His tear drop hits the canopy and freezes.

"Why are you ..." the realization hits him, "you and Meghan leaving? You don't have to. Its not like I'm there all that often ... or is it because it reminds you two of me and our times there together?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

And yet again he doesn't answer that question, Nova thought archly. Does he really not know, or is the truth so horrible that he can't face it?

"Yeah," Nova replied. "It's the memories there. That's always been the house for Neil and Nova and sometimes Meghan. That's not how we're going to be living, so it's not really appropriate for us to be there. It'd be. . ." Nova trailed off, unable to find the right word.

Awkward? Difficult? Uncomfortable?

Nova stretched her arms and legs wide, embracing the sensation of total relaxation that could only be achieved in deep space. She let her anxiety bleed away, and focused only on the touch of Neil's gloved hand, and opened her mind. Like a pinwheel, she slowly turned, anchored only by her grasp on Neil's wrist.

Let's just get it all out, she thought.

"I'm still doing the internship with DWB," Nova said, meaning Doctors Without Borders. "We'll probably end up working together a lot. Hell, I'll probably even end up assisting you sometimes, now that I'm an intern." Nova smiled. "I'll bet you're a hell of a teacher." Nova craned her head to look at Neil. From her point of view at the end of his outstretched arm, the universe rotated slowly.

"You know when you really get going, in emergency surgery I mean; I can tell that nobody else in the room is able to follow what your hands are doing, they're so fast." Nova stretched again. "But I always have been. It's like normal speed to me. I can't move that fast, but my eyes can follow. It's really neat."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The conversation turns and the tension of personal exploration ends. Neil relaxes too and manages to mimic Nova's space-borne gymnastics.

"Oh, I imagine we will be seeing a good deal of one another, but you don't need to be assisting me. You've been past that for months now. You can and will lead your own surgical teams, just you wait and see."

Neil pushed off and was slowly backing toward Proxima Centauri, the ghost of a smile on his face.

"I'm sorry I couldn't be the one you wanted me to be, Nova. I'm not able to reach that level of connection that's normal in a healthy relationship."

Then, as he twisting off into space and his visor lost in the darkness, he added,

"If I ever get past this ... this thing about me, I am coming back for you."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"You are such a maniac," Nova muttered under her breath as she grasped quickly at Neil's receding hand but caught nothing but vacuum. She tapped a button on her left forearm and discharged a tiny burst of carbon dioxide from her suit's maneuvering thrusters, and pursued Neil in slow motion.

"Get back here," Nova called out with an undercurrent of alarm in her voice. "I'm your ride home, you goof."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Neil reversed his momentum with his own awkward push on his maneuver thrusters and bumped back into Nova.

"Yes Nova," he said. "Yes you are."

Neil didn't love her any less and his eyes showed it. He would miss her in a way he had never even felt a physical injury, but he knew he had to take surviving one day at a time. The two of them would go back and the world would want them. The world wouldn't care one way or the other. The world didn't weigh one's heart on the matter. The world needed and your choices were wether or not to go along with those needs.

Right now, his arms were back around Nova. She would keep tight hold of him until they got home and then she might be gone ... forever.

Neil didn't want to go there. Neil wanted a crisis ... a very selfish crisis to spare him from himself.

'I wonder what she's thinking about right now,' Neil thought.

"What are you thinking about right at this moment?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"How bad can it be?"

Nova can see the light fade from Neil's eyes as she says that. Neil can remember his mother not being his Mother - gone - murdered because neither he nor his father took the time to look after her. His Mother's screams as other of the faithful held her back as he was taken off to the woods to be purified. The look in his Father's eyes when he realized that nothing would ever be done about it, because that's not who his father really was.

Back farther to the screaming matches. His mother screaming and his father's stoney silence. His father was always without compromise and absolute; his mother so full of dreams. How they had ended up hating each other more so than they had ever loved one another.

"It can get pretty bad," Neil responds sadly.

Love turning to hate is pretty bad. Seeing someone you love twisted like that is worse. Not knowing any other way is worst of all.

"Let's go home, okay?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nova nodded and squeezed Neil tightly, wishing there was some way she could heal whatever it was that had hurt him so.

"Okay, home it is," she said quietly. Nova closed her eyes and freed her mind to wander the cosmos, letting the emotional attraction of home guide her to the spot from which they'd departed. She gathered ambient quantum energy into herself, and prepared to release it, propelling herself and Neil across the vastness of space in an eyeblink.

Nothing happened. Nova felt the energy rush out of her like air from a punctured balloon. Proxima Centauri stared at her like a sad red eye.

"Here we go," Nova said, pretending she was only now beginning the process. With more than a small amount of anxiety creeping in at the edges of her consciousness, she again sought home. She envisioned the paneling in the finished basement, and the way the sun shone in through the small windows mounted high on the walls. Again, she felt the familiar click in her mind that told her she'd locked on. Nova smiled and gathered up the necessary energy, then released it. This time she would--

The stars shifted abruptly, and she innately knew that she had teleported, but Proxima Centauri still stared at her. The stars around it looked different, and she realized that they had merely teleported to some other point within the little star's system.

For a long moment, neither of them spoke.

"Don't say a word," Nova said, fighting to prevent her voice from shaking. "I just need to think about this for a moment."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Neil nodded in understanding. Sincerely he wanted to help and was equally unable to help. He had to touch her to do almost anything to her and two well-constructed EVA suits were preventing that.

Sure, there were things he wanted to say. Small encouragements, jokes to offset any worry, and maybe some witty comment about what future starfarers might find, but he said none of them. Not only had Nova asked him to keep his words to himself, but Neil was keenly aware of how dangerous their predicament was. Nova had really reached out to get them this far, it seemed and now the strain of a return trip was telling. Inside her mind, she was trying to juggle the impossible mathematics of a constantly moving and diverging universe. Meeting the challenge of those kinds of equations kept most novas from ever attempting anything like this. He waited. Neil waited and prayed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nova turned around, surveying the sky. Countless stars hung in space, but none of them looked remotely familiar. She knew that earth circled a typical medium yellow main-sequence star. Unfortunately, from this distance that star now looked just like every other star in the sky. There was no way for her to pick it out from the myriad stars in the celestial sphere.

Nova closed her eyes and disentangled herself from Neil's embrace, holding only his outstretched hand. She floated weightlessly, with her limbs limp like a rag doll's.

Feel nothing, she told herself, not forcing, but allowing the anxiety to subside. Nova listened to her breathing, and took in measured breaths of cool air, concentrating on how the cool dry air felt in her lungs. The circulation fans in the back of her helmet droned softly, and occasionally she heard the faint click of a scrubber valve opening and closing. Nova floated inside the small universe of her space suit, shutting out everything else.

That done, Nova allowed herself to think only of home, but she kept her thoughts inwardly centered. She thought of the stack of textbooks on the kitchen table, the tangle of cables that snaked from Meghan's consoles under the coffee table to the entertainment center, the little balls of fuzz that Pookums shed onto the carpet, Neil's underwear piled up in the corner of the bedroom. Nova remembered everything about home and built it up inside herself, like a fire.

Now! she thought. Nova released her barrier and let the outside world flood back in. She saw the stars, she saw Neil, she saw Proxima Centauri, and impossibly, one faint yellow star in the background called to her.

"There!" she gasped, and the world swam madly.

A moment later, she and Neil were again floating under a star-filled sky. More precisely, they bobbed like corks in warm water. Nova laughed and splashed Neil with a gloved hand and pointed to the sky.

"I have no idea where we are," she laughed, pointing to the Southern Cross, "but we're in the Southern hemisphere!"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Neil breathed and released his senses. Nothing came at first, but the Void. Beyond that, he felt the first distant stirrings of life and then the tiny flash of biologic enterprise called Planet Earth. Neil hugged Nova back and pointed,

"That-a way. I feel life that way. Its home."

A moment later he added with more emotion,

"You shouldn't sound so relieved. I was scared shitless!"

Now Neil once more had that distant, continuous buzz off life that was with him every waking instant. In that never-to-distant corner of his mind he wondered about how he could merge that lifesense with Nova's sense to ... but things like that were in the past too, weren't they?

Right now, he could only rejoice in not being lost in the vastness of space.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nova laughed and did a lazy backstroke around Neil, her spacesuit as buoyant as an inflatable raft.

"That's exactly why I sound relieved!" she giggled crazily. Nova pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, and bobbed up and down in the water, watching the water engulf her helmet repeatedly. Impatiently, she kicked her legs and sprang onto Neil, splashing seawater everywhere. Face to face, she looked into his eyes again.

"Honestly, I'm just glad I hit earth, never mind that we're somewhere in the middle of the ocean," Nova almost shouted. She sobered briefly, but she still had a trace of an impish smile on her face. "Now, let's go home, for real this time."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As he wraps his arms around her, Neil can't help the slightest little jab,

"Yes land ... its the dry thing ... in case you've forgotten."

He adds a wink, though he will be sad to see the broad expanse of night sky disappear, he knows he has some running to do. He's not ready to stop yet no matter how much he might want to.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...