On a good night the sky was black, out here in the Larkworth Hills. Better, some said, to be higher up, because the algae didn't bloom as well so high, because the pollution settled at lower levels. Larkworth was pink-zoned. Not bad after living under scarlet.
On a night like this you could sometimes see the stars. It wasn't the glorious vista of yesteryear: white, silver, soft gold painted from horizon to horizon. The stars were faint now, greyed, and the skin of ruin surrounding the planet hid the twinkle of her childhood. Erica went outside anyway, to sit in the grass, amongst the few straggling flowers, to look up at them. She knew which one Sean was pointed at. Sean, sleeping away her life, time coagulating around him as the fleet picked up speed. She couldn't say to herself: Sean is this now, or that, because their nows were different. Or so she thought she understood it.
Erica shifted her daughter in her lap. She pointed towards the star. “Can you see that, Bethany?”
The little girl nodded. She gave a melting, gap-toothed smile.
“That's where your Daddy is.”
“I know.” She said.
Because I tell you every night the star is there. I tell you his story so you'll know who he is. Would he forgive her for the choice she'd made? Would Bethany? Her father could have been there to watch her growing up. He could have held her hand, could have played with her, taught her colours or numbers. What would he have thought if he'd known Erica was sending him away from her, from ever knowing her, from ever knowing she lived? She'd kept them apart from each other, to save his life.
“Your father has wings,” she told Bethany, “he flies up there like an angel.”
“He's in a spaceship.”
“He still has wings. On the inside. He's going to have a new life up there. One day when he folds his wings, and they settle. He's very lucky, you know that?”
“Can I go to Daddy's Star one day?”
Her voice nearly faltered. “Anything's possible.” She shifted her daughter in her lap again, her young weight was painful on the infected thigh. She held Bethany against her, feeling the tug of degraded cartilage, honeycomb bones. There was no hiding. Not for very long.
Bethany flashed her the gappy, untutored smile. She was a little over three, and no teeth would replace the ones that were gone.