It wasn't the first time Lieutenant Travis Daniels had been far from his wife and son. Leading an elite team on countless missions, dodging death at every turn-it was what he was trained to do. And returning to his family was always his driving force... but this time might be different. Imprisoned for an unsanctioned intrusion into a hot zone, Travis and his elite team took a deal to assist in the colonization of Mars to evade the death penalty. While stationed there, Travis' only source of sanity were the brief video conversations he was allowed with his family. When the last transmission received showed choppy images of the city in darkness and blurs of humanoid creatures running through the streets, Travis and his team must decide to either stay on Mars or find a way back to his family-unknowing of the hell that Earth has become.
Annie followed Mr. Sharp through the door to their left, passing an office with a very large man sitting behind the desk eating donuts. He briefly looked up as they passed, his mouth caked with powdered sugar. Annie smiled and continued on, feeling anxious as they passed a door with Room One written across the front. Mr. Sharp paused before the door on their right, this one being the third room. He opened the door and stepped back, allowing them entrance.
“Now the link has been established and your husband is waiting on his end. Just press the green button there and you’re good to go. Please remember that there is a three to five second delay.”
“We will, thank you.”
Mr. Sharp nodded and shut the door. Annie felt a bit uncomfortable around him. She could feel his eyes watching her the entire time he’d led them down the hall, picturing what her ass might look like in a black thong. Licking his lips like a predator. Annie shook her head, not wanting to give that prick another moment of her time. She took a seat before the monitor and lifted Logan up on her lap, her skin breaking out in bumps from excitement. She bounced Logie on her knee as the screen went from black to blue, an hourglass turning slowly in the screens center. Annie became overwhelmed with emotion as her husband’s face appeared. They both began to cry. Unable to contain the flow of tears as she looked at the man she loved.
“You need to shave,” Annie laughed.
“I’ll have to get around to it,” Daniels said after a three second pause. He wiped the tears from his eyes and looked at his son. “You have gotten so big.”
“Hi daddy,” Logan said cheerfully, waving with excitement. “Look, I have a new robot!” Logan held up the little toy his mother had gotten him, waving it back and forth.
“That is an awesome robot, Logie.” Travis took a deep breath and held it, feeling a fresh batch of tears forming. “Are you being a good boy for your mother?”
“Yes, daddy,” Logan said sweetly, looking down as he felt shy.
“Do you miss your daddy?”
“I miss you daddy,” Logan said, smiling.
“I miss you too, every day sweetheart.” Travis turned away from the screen and talked to someone out of view, nodding with disappointment. “I love you Logie, but I need to talk to mommy for a minute.”
“Okay daddy, I love you.”
Travis kissed his hand and touched the screen, unable to hold back the tears. Logie touched the screen and pressed his small hand to his father’s large hand. Annie helped Logan off the chair and led him out into the hallway and into the room across from them, set up as a little daycare with toys and videos. Knowing her time was incredibly short, she turned on a video and smiled at the young woman in charge of watching her son before hurrying back across the hall.
“He’s getting so much older.” Travis shook his head. “I’m so sorry you have to raise our son all alone.”
“I know.” She touched the screen and caressed the image of her husband’s face. The feel was of cold glass, not that of the rough texture of her husband’s face, his skin always carrying a five o’clock shadow. She’d gotten on his case so many times over the years to keep up his grooming, telling him his face felt like sandpaper. At this moment she’d take his rough cheeks in a heartbeat. To feel the warmth of his breath running over the back of her neck. “How are you carrying on?”
“It’s so very different here.” Travis looked about his surroundings. He himself was in a telecommunications booth, similar to the one his wife was in, only his room was dark and cold. Unlike her room, his would not lead to a hallway that ended in a sunny day. “It’s always so dark here. So very cold.”
“The nights have grown so cold here as well. Without you…” Annie shook her head, angry with herself. She’d given a little pep talk in the mirror before she’d come out, telling herself not to waste any precious time discussing things that might upset her husband. No point making him feel worse than he already did.
“That’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.” Travis leaned back and scratched his head, a nervous tick he’d had as far back as she’d known him. “I know this has not been easy for you and Logie. I bet it’s been hell. So I know how hard it can be to keep things together while being on your own. I just…I want you to know…” Travis cleared his throat, finding it difficult to continue. “If you need help raising our son, I want you to know that I won’t hold it against you.” Travis took a deep breath, holding back the tears to make his request clear and direct. “My only wish is that you find someone that is kindhearted and good with Logan.”
“Are you giving me permission to date?” Annie shook her head.
“I know how lonely you are.”
“And you’re not?”
“Please, this isn’t…”
“Stop,” Annie interrupted, holding out her hands. “I know what you’re trying to do, but it’s not going to happen. It is incredibly difficult to raise a small child on your own, to shield them from the negative criticism they get for having a father sentenced to life of hard labor. But you and I are husband and wife, for better or worse. You’re my husband, the father of my only son. And I will not find some temporary replacement just because the nights are a little rough.”
“I love you so much.” Travis touched the screen.
“I love you too,” Annie said, pressing her hand to his. Her attention was called up to a red blinking light in the corner of the screen. “They’re giving us the two minute countdown. I can’t believe it’s over so quickly.”
“Can I say goodbye to Logie real quick?”
Annie stood from her chair and opened the door, rushing across the hall to grab her son’s hand and take him from the nursery.
“Hi daddy.” Logie held up his red robot and waved it back and forth. “I have blanky with me.”
“I know. You’re turning into such a big boy.” Daniels leaned close and smiled. “I want you to listen to your mother and help her out with whatever she needs. Can you do that for me?”
“I love you both so much.”
Her husband’s face disappeared and the screen had gone black, broken by the words “Transmission Severed” in the screen’s center. Annie shook her head, agitated she hadn’t been given the chance to say goodbye. Machines weren’t known for their compassion. Annie looked to her son and smiled, gripping his chin while shaking his head slightly.
“You were a good boy for daddy.” Annie ran a hand through his hair.
Kevin J. Howard was born in Mission Viejo, California, moved to Seattle at the age of twenty-one, and now lives in Puyallup. He hand wrote his first novel in the fifth grade and has been writing ever since. His first published novel, Faithful Shadow, is a return to the classic horror novel. Since writing Faithful Shadow he has completed four additional horror novels that will soon be published. In 2012, he won an award in the Las Vegas International Film Festival for his screenplay, Identical Opposites. Kevin's latest novel, Precipice: The Beginning, is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The sequel, Precipice: The Retrieval, should be released in the summer of 2013.
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