Chilestone

By Zebuline Carter

sfgenreDawn hesitated at the door to her daughter's bedroom. There was no putting it off any longer. The day — that day — had come. With a final sigh and a clenched fist, she opened the door. “Sweetie,” she said, her voice trembling, “it's time to get up.”

A bundle of blankets shifted slightly in the darkened room.

Gathering resolve, firmly now, “Come on deary, it's your big day.”

Behind her, husband Doug was not so timid. Brushing past Dawn, he strode into the room, strangling a cry of pain as he stepped on a toy. “Debbie,” he cried, “get up!” and reached for the doona.

“Doug, must you be so rough?” Dawn whispered.

Doug whirled around to her, his face a halloween mask of shadows in the dimly lit bedroom. “For frack's sake, Dawn — ” he paused, completely lost for words. Then, exasperated, “When I was a boy — ”

“We know,” came a giggle from under the doona. With false bass, “You walked to school by yourself every day, and when you were eighteen you joined the army. You had your first drink when you — ”

Dawn shrank from the door; Doug glowered in the shadows, smouldering. Then it passed, and the remaining cinder seemed less, shrunken. “Breakfast in ten,” it muttered, the fight all gone.

***

At midday, the ceremony began:

On the kerb outside the family home, a representative from Family Services spoke solemnly to the assembled crowd of neighbours, family, and assorted wellwishers. There were people from the other end of the street that had never even returned a wave. Doug scowled: they were probably looking forward to the free kerb-buffet after the ceremony. Then Dawn's grip on his arm tightened — the Family Services rep had finished speaking, the trial was to begin. The throng stepped back from the kerb as though it were a single organism — they had to be behind the grass council strip before the first vehicles appeared.

Only Debbie remained at the kerb, sunday-school innocent in her plain white dress.

Then the traffic began, and Dawn stopped breathing.

There was no way to game it; no special strategy for a safe pass: Family Services saw to it that an assortment of vehicles, different sizes and types, travelling at different speeds, approached from both ends of the street. It was up to Debbie now. Any bystander movement, even a mere utter of encouragement from her parents, would result in a fail. And there were no resits: at best, Debbie would become a ward of the state.

Dawn knew that in the next ten minutes, Debbie would be guaranteed three safe chances to cross the street. She only needed to cross once — and she must cross, and in a safe manner, in order to pass, but how to choose the right moment? There was a world of difference between practising with parents or on the computer sim in the safety of the loungeroom.

Doug swore quietly — Debbie had missed the first break in the traffic. Strike one.

Then the next break came, and right on the heels of the first. Doug admitted that it had only been a short lull in the traffic, but it was still sufficient to cross eight metres of tarmac. Too much dithering checking left and right again. Strike two.

The same organism that had stepped back from the kerb now breathed as one. If Debbie missed the next and final chance —

— she stepped from the kerb. With serene confidence, she crossed the suburban street, safely. Later, she would joke that she'd planned it this way all along, but no one would really believe her. And given that today was, naturally, also her birthday, who would take her task over that?

The crowd applauded, and even the Family Services rep was relieved. No one wanted to take a young lady into state custody, and no one wanted the other outcome either... “Well done, young lady!” he cheered, “and may I wish you a very happy twenty-first birthday...”

***

Much later that night, after even the non-wavers had left the party, Doug sat quietly in a corner, nursing a stale drink. Looking about him, and recounting the events of the day, Doug wondered, “Is this really what I fought for? From an eighteen year-old sitting in a fox-hole in the middle east, listening to the sounds of incoming mortar fire while pissing in an empty ammo box, how did we get to here?”
Oblivious, Debbie chattered excitedly with her uni friends about the prospects of graduate school while they sipped red cordial from non-breakable plastic cups.

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About The Author

Zeb Carter

Zeb writes:

Last week, on a whim I submitted some of my own musings to ‘Nuke’, and when I checked back today — my time in my ‘verse, which is plus six years comparative to you — I saw that he had published some of them! I wasn’t even sure the contrived email and attachment would get through, let alone end up published on your internet of things. (BTW - We have nothing quite like your ‘net, but we’ve gone far further into the solar system than you have. Figure that!)Now that I know a connection is possible, I thought I’d tell you a little more about myself and where I’m from. So, from the beginning…

Hi. My name is Zebuline Carter — that’s Zeb for my friends or Zeb-you-leen if you want to get formal — and I’m a forty-two year old former astronaut now working as an administrator at Farside, on Luna. Farside is a research base, where innerscopes are just starting to peel back layers of our sheath of the local multiverse. Because our work is so sensitive to em influences, Farside is situated within a one hundred klom diameter exclusion zone.

In my late teens I earned a double major in aerospace and business but passed over grad school for civilian astronaut training. As a kid I collected coupons from cereal boxes until I had enough for my first telescope, and built scale models of all the commercial shuttles and orbiters. Growing up, I’d always felt slightly out of place, like I was meant to to be somewhere else and part of me already was — until, that is, I had my first trip into low orbit aboard a high-riding intercont-cruiser, or ICC. That was a high-school graduation present from my Uncle Jim, and during the fifteen minutes of freefall I found that other part of myself, grabbed it tight, and never let go since.

Did I also mention I’m 180 cents tall with bobbed chestnut hair? Or that because of heart damage from a bad landing, I’m also marooned in low gravity? But heh, there are now six bases around Luna, supporting a permanent population of around twelve thousand Lunans, and a transient population of several thousand tourists and stopovers returning form the outer system, so it never gets boring and I don’t get lonely. And living in low G means I won’t age or sag as fast, either.

Until next time —

aus25grn

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A Last Supper
by Phillip Berrie

A Reluctant Zombie
by Natalie J.E. Potts

Pandora's Smile
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Retirement Is Not The Last Word
by Laurie Bell

Square Musing
by Soar

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To Serve The Master
by Zeb Carter

The Master
by Robert David

The Passengers
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When I Was God
by Kevin J. Phyland

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Melbourne International Film Festival - SciFi Marathon & Retrospective
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