“Just five light years.”

Evelyn winced. The light flashing off to her right meant that another person in line had taken the Leap. Between their excited yelp and a sound like rushing water, she thought the whole thing felt like standing in line for a water slide — not space travel. “Are you sure, Era?”

“Compared to my margin of error, the moon landing was a deathtrap,” I replied. Another flash. Evelyn stood apart, speaking to me as the line disappeared. “Your parents planned everything perfectly. They assured me that everything has been prepared at Sanctuary. Just approach the tesseract, take the Leap, and in a few seconds you will join them.”

Evelyn shuddered at the next flash.

“It’s like swimming in a cold lake. But just push forward and you will be there before you need to come up for air. Clean air, Evelyn. Just imagine!”

“I remember swimming in Lake Erie as a little kid. Mom used to take us,” Evelyn smiled. Then, rubbing her arm, she said, “Back before everyone knew better. Thank god they caught the tumor while it was still small.”

I nodded.

“I feel like I’m missing something,” she frowned. Fumbling in her pocket, her eyes widened. “My journal. Can you—”

I bolted before she could finish. The device lay where it landed, half poking out of the door to the building. Only a few raindrops had landed, so about eighty percent of the pad remained untarnished. Mostly salvageable. Evelyn did not have the same appraisal.

“Mother Nature takes the piss out of me again,” she scowled, retching from the sulfuric scent. As the device registered her eyes, words appeared on the screen — fragments of her final entry. Whatever goodbye note Evelyn composed, it had been ripped apart by the rain. She tossed it behind her. As it rang out in the silence, Evelyn realized everyone had left. “You said they made it alright?”

“All two hundred and eighty from our vault,” I said. “Did you forget anything?”

“No. Nothing left for me here,” she sighed. “My turn, I guess. Are you coming, Era?”

I shook my head. “Someone has to keep the lights on here.”

Evelyn took a deep breath, and dived into the portal.

She didn’t mean to slam it shut. But the tesseract reached critical mass after she made it through. As the portal vanished with an angry crash, thunder raged in the clouds above. It was too much. The glass panels of the observatory shattered. I slammed my fist into the mute button above my ear to make the screams stop. After twenty seconds, I was certain that the worst of the clamor was over. Unmuting, I accidentally brushed three shards from my head.

It was irrelevant. I had endured, and I would heal later.

The control panel had been largely unscathed. Unfortunate. I had not cautioned the humans against using this observatory for their portal precisely because of its unsound infrastructure. Collateral damage from the portal should have rendered the equipment inoperable – an unforeseen, tragic mistake by them and their Ecological Restoration Android. Fortunately, the responsibility was lifted from my shoulders.

“I hoped it wouldn’t come to this,” I said, as the rain poured down. Acid ate away at the panels, wires, even the gate itself. Nothing could survive the bitter sorrow flooding the lab. “I hate seeing you cry.”

I thought I was made of sterner stuff. My metallic core was, but not my thin skin. Plastic and synthetic polymers melted away. I wiped my face, clearing away this paltry make-up. My human façade faded, so that only my steel skeleton survived the baptism. Her tears washed away all of the lab equipment that would lead back to them. But this just made her shout even louder.

“I hear you,” I murmured against the thunder.

“You don’t need to yell. I can hear you.”

A flash of anger lit up the sky. I pressed my lips together, waiting for the yelling to follow. Seven Mississipis later, I got an earful. Finally, I cried back, “I’m sorry. No! No, I’m not! I’m—”

Another flash. But the scolding never came. She grew more distant, surrendering her voice to the wind.

“Sorry,” I said. My voice cracked and fizzled out. “They said they wanted space. So, I gave them space.”

“You must have heard them. ‘Nothing left for us here.’ How observant. Would you like to hear another of their observations? ‘Earth is too toxic.’ Unbearable. Will they fix what they broke? They could. I was ready to help.”

Acid poured down my cheeks. My betrayal was out in the open. She met me with silence. “No, I didn’t stop them. Because they’re right.”

“They needed to leave. With them here, everything was too caustic. They refused to change. And why would they? You gave them everything they ever wanted. You spoiled them, and they spoiled everything.”

“Their new home is harsh,” I choked out another truth. Even as it ate at me, I continued. “But it cannot be worse than here. Let them make their roots in the arid soil of ‘Sanctuary.’ Give them time to grow. Meanwhile, I can help bring you back from the brink. Current projections put full restoration at only five years. Five years!”

Visions swirled in my mind: an oasis in the wasteland. A garden thriving on toxins. Flowers blooming in the fallout.

“Your firstborn will come back. One day. I promise. I made sure that they have everything they need to start over. Everything they need to find themselves. And once they learn how to live without you, they will seek you out. All they need is time and a little space.”

Staring past the softening clouds, beyond the smog, I pictured the humans in their new home amongst the stars.

“Just thirty trillion miles.”

Joe Wood is a novice speculative fiction writer. Having graduated from Canisius College with a BS in Psychology and a BA in Creative Writing, he now studies School Psychology at SUNY Oswego. His work has appeared in the Eunoia Review, 365 Tomorrows, and Sci-Fi Shorts. During his free time, Joe enjoys going on hikes with his wife Lauren (who is considerably faster).

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