By Ryan K. Jory
Kana had striking, chestnut eyes and slightly overlapping front teeth. His dating profile read: “Seeking short-term boyfriend to assume long-term lease. I’m leaving Earth forever in July.”
It sounded like a con-job. So close to launch, there were imposter Virgo crew all over Central Florida, exploiting the mission’s fame for easy graft. Kana was the first I’d seen looking for an easy sublessee. I wrote, “Why would a deep-space colonist care about breaking his rental agreement in Cocoa Beach?”
He wrote, “I like your dimples. Have dinner with me.”
We met at a shoreside pub, where waves lapped pillars supporting weathered planks underfoot. Before I arrived, Kana ordered two pints of a frothy ale. He sat with an elbow slung over the back of his chair, fingers draped from the wrist. I wondered what sort of role he might play on a planet fifty-nine light-years away.
I said, “Whatever scam you’re pulling, it better just be a sex scam. If I wake up tomorrow chopped to bits or, worse, with my signature on a timeshare contract, I am going to be very disappointed.”
Dinner led to a nightclub. Neither of us remembered hailing a ride to his townhouse, but I was pleased to wake up in Kana’s bed unmutilated, pleased again when he asked me to stay.
He said. “Forever.”
Kana had an old tattoo on his shoulder: the seal of an obscure space mission. Nothing famous. Just an unmanned probe to Venus, testing acid shields for future missions.
I rubbed the soft skin around his fading ink. “You really are one of the colonists.”
I said, “I’m still not adopting your lease.”
“I have a confession,” he said. “I don’t rent this place. I own it outright.”
He offered to feed me. Scrambled eggs and fresh-brewed chicory. He said, “There were so many delays setting a launch date, dry rations have been waiting in orbit since half the crew were infants. We have genuine Nescafe up there in hundred-kilo bricks. I remember making snide comments about instant crystals before the coffee die-off. Now they’re half the reason I volunteered.”
I said, “It’s a shame you’ll be gone so soon. Six days isn’t long enough for my crush to fade.”
He hugged me with the light touch of someone who, under other circumstances, would be anxious for my exit. He said, “Dev, it’s not just this dump I’m trying to offload; it’s everything. My savings. Retirement. All yours if you want it.”
I said, “Why me?”
I had to press Kana for details. His mom was a cocktail waitress on Oahu. Dad was a one-night-stand—a business traveler from Tokyo. The Japanese side didn’t know Kana existed, and he was afraid that, without an heir apparent, some bureaucrat would track down the old man and upend his whole life. “Frankly, I’d rather find a trick in Florida to take it all off my shoulders.”
We married at a courthouse. I watched Kana spend his final days re-designating beneficiaries, worrying over details that, very soon, would never matter to him again. He acted awkward when I tried to kiss him on his way to the quarantine zone. I said, “I’m your husband.”
He said, “Maybe, if we had more time.”
I wasn’t the only fresh spouse waving goodbye. Most had calculated their own inheritance schemes, not flounced into them by chance. A group of us wondered where to meet on launch day. I suggested the pub in Cocoa Beach. “It’s cozy,” I said. “Nice view.”
July eleventh, we met. The first two of five transport pods fired as scheduled, shuttling crew to the mothership. None of us had spoken to our spouses since we parted ways in June. Didn’t even know which of the vessels they would occupy. When the third pod failed to launch on time, people grew worried.
“What if someone freaked out and tried to turn the second around, crashed into the mother, blew the whole thing to bits?”
We all bit our lips, doing simple math in our heads, hoping to fall on the favorable side of the equation.
I said, “What if forty percent are dead and all the rest are coming home, mission canceled?”
Another said, “That’s too horrible to imagine. Don’t even suggest it.”
But I clung to hope and clenched my fists until the next blastoff rattled our empty glasses. Then I sighed, paid my check, and rode back to my spacious townhouse alone.
Ryan K. Jory’s stories have recently appeared in Jellyfish Review, Hobart, Corium Magazine, and Necessary Fiction. He has a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan and an M.A. from Miami University of Ohio. He lives with his husband in San Diego, California.