It was dark in the can. Belly of a whale dark. Sam knew he was sitting next to her, but only because she could hear him breathing. The heavy sighs of an old man on a long trip.
Every now and then the hull of the transport would shudder and he’d brush against her. She felt the weight against her side. A casual embrace. It reminded Sam of sweeter days.
“How long has it been?” He cleared his throat as he asked. She thought he said it more to prove she was still there than to actually answer his question.
“Long time. That’s a long time. Did you think about me?”
She turned her head toward him. The shuttle was cramped. There was barely room to move. Squeezed in with the cargo. Lucky to even get off the moon when they did. They didn’t want passengers but Sam could be very persuasive. It was time to go.
She needed to see his face or at least pretend to see it in the darkness. “Yes, Dad. I thought about you every day. Then I didn’t.”
“You know why I left. I didn’t want to go.” He brushed against her. Was he trying to see her face, too?
“You knew what you were doing. Mom and I knew. Didn’t help. It’s not fun bringing your service bot to the father-daughter dance.”
“Samantha…” He croaked. Actually more of a whine. His old man’s throat made it sound deeper than it deserved.
“Let’s just play the quiet game for the rest of the ride. Enjoy the darkness.”
The hull hummed and they shifted in the can. It was slowing. Docking procedures. Conversation was pointless. It wouldn’t change what happened. The loud churning drone of the shuttle connecting with the station would have drowned out their voices any way.
What was he trying to do? They had both grown too old to make this reunion heartfelt. They were sitting together. That’s as close as they were going to get. Warm feelings turn cold over time.
The air hissed as the pneumatics clicked in. She started to see light between the seals under the cargo door. It rolled open and the pilot stuck his head in.
“We’re here.” He uttered, motioning a grimy hand for them to get moving. No, he wasn’t directing. He was holding his hand out like a server waiting for a tip.
Sam tossed the small heavy bag of raw ore into his waiting palm. The fee for the trip. She helped the old man to his feet.
“Let’s go. Get your stuff.”
He shuffled to his feet. Sam grabbed her pack with one hand and kept the other firmly on his arm. The last time she held onto him like this, she’d been was eight years old.
They made their way into the light and chaos of the landing bay. She kept them moving. Too much happening in the crowd. Too much noise. Too easy to get distracted. Things could get lost.
“You found me. That was impressive.” They were so close it was like walking as one. He was talking in her ear.
“Not now, Dad.”
“I’m glad you found me.”
They made it to the lift. Surprisingly, they were its only passengers. She shifted her weight. Readjusted the pack. It had been a long flight. A quiet one. Until now.
There were nights she laid awake as a child, pondering this moment. What would she say? Questions she would ask. Loneliness eating her insides like a cancer. Now, she just wanted him to shut up. Finding him was all she needed. There was nothing more to say.
The lift spit them out and they kept walking. Their boots stomped on the metal floor, clanking and shaking with each step. She was still clutching his arm.
Catching their reflection on the chrome wall next to her, she had to chuckle. Father and daughter, arm in arm. This was the closest they’d get to him walking her down the wedding aisle. She noticed that she walked like him. Weird.
“Do you hate me, Samantha?”
It took her awhile to answer. Not because it was two decades coming. Because she didn’t know what to say.
“Ummm, it’s hard to describe how I feel about you, Dad.”
“Actions speak louder, huh, kiddo?”
She gripped his arm a little tighter and led him through the portal at the end of the corridor. The light in the next room was brighter. She got a good look at his face for the first time in forever. Damn, he got old.
She saw herself in his eyes. No, Dad. I don’t hate you, she thought. You made me.
She stuck her palm on the sensor on the main desk at the end of the room. It lit a bright green as it identified her. A dull tone droned through the room like a tired alarm clock.
A door slid open and presented a short stocky woman in a black Consortium corrections officer uniform. She looked down at her tablet, reading off my ID from the registry.
“Sam Diego. License 557421-X. Who do we have here?”
Sam led her father to the desk. Retrieved the control from her breast pocket and released his wrist binders with a press of a thumb. She handed the docu disk over to the officer.
She plugged it into her tablet and a hologram of the old man hovered over it. His virtual self did a complete 360 as she read off the charges. His holo self was younger. Fitter. It was almost a heroic depiction.
“Arthur Camelot Diego. Theft. Smuggling. Forgery…what is political malfeasance?”
Dad shrugged. “The outer worlds take things way too seriously.”
The officer continued her report. “Not your biggest haul, but not bad. Can’t help but notice…any relation?”
Sam swung her pack onto the desk. It felt good to unload the baggage. “You’ve got the file right there. What does it say?”
The officer looked them over and then tallied up the bounty. She unplugged the docu dusk and handed it over. “It says I should mind my own business. Your fee has already been deposited in your account. Congratulations.”
The door behind her slid open and two stiff guards in helmets, heavy jackets and stun rods emerged. They came around and shackled the old man.
He turned to Sam and smiled. “It’s good seeing you, Samantha. I hope you come visit. You’ll know where to find me.”
“We’ll see….Goodbye, Dad.”
The old man winked and they pulled him behind the desk and out the door. It slid shut with a heavy thud. And it was quiet again.
The officer looked up from her tablet. “Until next time?”
Sam nodded and pulled her pack off the desk. Slung it over her shoulder. The weight was comforting.
In many ways, she’d been looking for that old man since he left a little girl waiting at school two decades ago. He’d turned her into a searcher. Now the search was over.
It was time to get back to work.