2179AD – Glasgow, Scotland
Sean Archer sipped his cappuccino. He looked over his food towards his young son. Matthew gazed back adoringly, mimicking his father’s lopsided smile. Sean winked and Matthew returned the wink without a pause. Sean shook his head lightly and they returned to their food without exchanging a word. Matthew started to hum quietly. Sean began to slice his haddock, enjoying the sounds of happiness and contentment.
SciTech’s Flying Saucer cafe was busy, even though it had just only just passed eleven o’clock. Sean preferred early lunches, enjoying the chance to avoid queuing, crowds, and people in general. The Flying Saucer café could be particular busy, and only six of the twenty-six tables in the dome-shaped transparent building were free. The other tables were all occupied by families; parents with two, four and five children. A teenage couple had pulled one table into a corner, and they giggled playfully with the excitement of young lovers.
A blonde-haired young woman caught Sean Archer’s eye as he absently surfed the the circular café’s patrons. Seated three tables across in the middle of the brightly lit room, she was the only person in the café who seemed to be on their own. She was wearing an oversized t-shirt with a faded but once-colorful floral pattern, and a loose-fitting pair of bright blue denim jeans. Her white Nikes were brilliantly white with the familiar red Swoosh. She gazed into an oversize mug as if its contents might hold the key to the universe itself. An antiquated brown leather bag with a heavy gold buckle was slung over the cheap plastic chair she’d chosen. She was just sitting there, passing the time of day, staring into the big mug of whatever. She was half his age – most likely – but her sad and somewhat distant expression belonged to a more seasoned individual. Sean found himself staring, coming to his senses only when her large eyes locked onto his.
Sean felt as if he might have been waking from a dream. He realized what he was doing and looked away, suddenly embarrassed. When he glanced back she was still turned his way. After dodging eye contact a few times, he realized she was actually looking at Matthew, not himself. Actually, it seemed that she was looking through Matthew. Sean glanced at the woman, but she made direct eye contact once more and he looked away just as fast. Matthew tugged his sleeve.
“Da–ad,” the little voice said. “Dad, you’re day-dreaming again!”
Sean smiled and looked across at his son. He automatically ran his fingers through Matthew’s thin copper-flecked blonde hair before cupping the back of the small head. Matthew was six and a half years old, a happy kid pretty well balanced for someone who’d grown up without a mother.
“Sorry, babe,” Sean smiled. “I was just thinking about something.”
“This macaroni cheese tastes the best,” Matt said, not hearing his father’s response. “When we get home, I want us to make macaroni cheese like this, dad. Together.”
“Definitely,” Sean said, nodding. “I definitely want to do that.”
They had visited Glasgow’s Science and Technology Centre five times together since Matthew’s third birthday. It was an enormous building built on the north bank of the river Clyde, housing a reality TV complex along with the refurbished Museum of Spaceflight and Transport. Matthew was fascinated with the museum’s collection of antiquated petrol-guzzling motorcars, his favorite being a cream-colored Volkswagen Beetle manufactured two hundred and twenty three years previously. He also loved the spaceflight section of the museum, and stared endlessly at the Virgin Ambassador Shuttle. Father and son would sit together inside the Ambassador’s cockpit, listening to a message recorded by the captain one hundred and fifty years previously. And squashed deep within the cramped bucket seats of the command section, Matthew would tell his father, time and time again, how he felt like a real space pilot. Fifty dollars well spent.
The young woman looked across again, this time Sean was sure she smiled at him and there was a warmth in her eyes, perhaps even an invitation if he’d been half his age. He smiled back automatically, but it felt strange to doing so. He shook his head slowly and returned his attention to his son. Matthew looked up at the same time, like he’d read his father’s mind. The young face looked particularly cute, his eyes wider than ever.
“Can I have my cookie now?” Matthew asked, his expression pleading. “Please?”
“Nope,” Sean said. “You have to have at least… this much.” He used his own fork to divide Matthew’s macaroni into two small stacks. “Eat this half, then you can have your cookie.”
Matthew frowned and shifted in his seat impishly. “Aw, dad!”
“Eat!” Sean smiled. “Healthy food first, then garbage.”
Sean sensed movement. The cafeteria had left the ground and was soaring upwards at incredible speed. This was the first time he’d managed to time their visit to the café to coincide with the café’s speedy ascent to the upper atmosphere. He was pleased to finally get it right.
“We’re going into space!” Matthew said. “You were right, dad!”
“Finally,” Sean replied, grinning broadly. “Sometimes dad gets it right!”
There was very little sensation of movement, just the clouds rushing by outside and the stars beginning to appear. It was a surreal experience, Sean thought, but one his son was really enjoying.
“Fantastic, isn’t it?” Sean said. “I wonder how high it goes.”
“Probably a hundred miles,” Matt replied. “Or maybe a thousand miles.”
The sky around the café was now a very clear blue as the structure soared through the clouds and into the thin air of the stratosphere, 35 miles up. A large spacecraft could be seen in the distance, almost fifty miles away. At least time times larger than the saucer-shaped café, the spacecraft was headed into orbit too. its bulbous nose rising upwards.
“Look!” Sean gestured to the ship. “Can you see the big cruiser?”
Matthew followed his father’s pointing finger. His eyes lit up. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen! It’s a Daedalus, dad!”
“Oh yes” Sean strained his eyes. “How can you tell?”
“We built the model together, remember?”
They’d built a handful of models together. Sean couldn’t remember the spacecraft he was looking at. “Really? We made that?”
“Yeah dad, it was great. Can we get another model when we’re here?”
The cruise ship seemed closer, growing to the size of Sean’s hand beginning a slow turn away from the flying café. The sky had changed to a clear purple blue, the moon a large milk colored disk to the right of the Daedalus cruiser. Matthew’s young face was lost in the the beauty of the beyond, his eyes wide with excitement. Sean enjoyed sharing the moment.
Matthew had stopped eating. He was watching the Daedalus cruiser as it sped away from the café, headed for the stars.
“I just wish mum was here,” Matthew said, not looking away from the spaceship. “I wish mum was still alive, dad.”
Sean exhaled slowly. He reached across to touch the back of his son’s hand, squeezing it with a gentle reassurance. “I really wish that too, son. But things just weren’t meant to be that way. I want you to know that mum loved you very, very much when you were inside her tummy. She tried really, really hard to stay with you when you were born.”
The precious cherub-face beamed up at him. “Are you sad? Dad? Did I make you sad?”
“No.” Sean smiled and wiped a tear away from his right eye. He laughed, embarrassed somehow, and leaned across the table to kiss his son’s forehead. “You didn’t make me sad, it’s just sad to think about mum sometimes.”
The woman with the sandy blonde hair appeared again. Sean smelled her perfume first and, somehow, he knew immediately that it was her. He glanced over his left shoulder and she was right there, disposing of her empty cappuccino mug in the receptacle an arm’s stretch behind his chair.
“Hi there,” she said. “I just wanted to say hello before I left.”
“Hello.” Sean smiled politely. “Umm, do we know you?” He turned around in his chair, his back giving a sudden twinge. Even after a year or more of intermittent karate training, his bad back still gave trouble. The doctor had prescribed weight loss and exercise and Sean had struggled for a long time to follow the advice, often losing the battle to late night binges of red wine and salty snacks.
The girl was looking at Matthew very intensely. “Not really,” she said. Her eyes were on Matthew. “My name’s Celeste, Celeste Foster.”
“Okay. This is Matthew, my beautiful son. My name’s Sean, Sean Archer.”
Celeste looked into Sean’s eyes. He immediately felt something incredibly ancient and lonely hiding there. He felt his own loneliness reflected in her gaze. But he was an old man, and if any connection existed between Celeste and himself it couldn’t possibly be the one his heart suddenly craved. Still, it was impossible not to bask in the energy radiating from this young and elegant vision that had breezed into his life.
“He’s a handsome young man.” Celeste said. Her long fingers brushed against Matthew’s face and Matthew smiled. He tilted his head to look up at her and she moved her hand away quickly, her expression changing.
“Are you alright?” Sean asked. “Do we know you?”
Celeste brought her hands to her face and her eyes welled up with sudden tears. Her mouth twitched, the corners turned downwards. She gave a thin, forced, smile her eyes not leaving the young Matthew. “It was nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you!” Matthew chirped, his eyes narrow and a big smile on his face. “You’re really tall, Miss!”
Celeste tussled Matthew’s hair lightly. Her hand lingered over the wild rusty-blonde locks on Matthew’s head as she turned to Sean. “Look after this young man. He’s a special boy.”
“Thanks,” Sean said, “I… I know that. Look, do you want to join us? I feel that I know you from somewhere.”
“No,” Celeste said. “I’m sorry I interrupted your lunch.”
“You didn’t.” Sean tried to think of something else to say, but it was too late. Celeste turned away from him. Before he could speak she was walking away, briskly. He watched her go as she quickly disappeared towards the exit. To Sean’s surprise, the café had reached ground level again and Celeste disappeared through the open sliding doors and out of the building.
“That was really weird,” Sean said. “We were barely up there for a minute.”
“She was nice,” Matthew said. “Dad?”
He reached out to touch his son’s face. Father and son looked into each other’s eyes. Sean smiled a tight-lipped smile and Matthew laughed shyly, pretending to grimace at the touch of the big hand. There was a very subtle shudder as the SciTech restaurant started back up towards the clouds.
“Tell me about The Starport Adventure, dad!” Matthew said, forking cold macaroni and cheese into his mouth. “Tell me the story, dad.”
Sean put the woman out of his mind. He reached across to Matthew’s plate and plucked a stray fragment of Macaroni sitting precariously close to the edge. He popped it into his mouth. “Well, it begins in Seattle,” he said, “because that’s where the Starport is. We’ll take the bus from Edinburgh and it’ll fly right over the Atlantic Ocean, over New York City, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, Montana, and right through Washington State until it reaches Seattle Starport. And the whole trip will take less than an hour in the new ultrasonic flyers they have.”
“Wow.” Matthew ate faster, glancing at the cookie. “Then what happens, dad?”
“Then we get off the bus and we explore the Starport.”
“Because we arrived early.”
“That’s right. We came a day before the ship leaves so we get to see Seattle, the Starport, everything.”
Matthew was chewing furiously, green peas rolling off the table in his excitement. “What’s the Starport like?”
The warm feeling inside was growing. “Oh, it’s big.” Sean couldn’t help but smile now. “Really, really, big. Some people drive around the Starport in little go karts they rent. But we’ll walk around, see everything on foot.”
“For the exercise.”
“That’s right, for the exercise. There are miles of it, so we’ll take our time. There are loads of spaceships there, and we’ll get to see them coming and going into space.”
“But maybe we’ll rent one of the go karts,” Matthew said. “Just for fun.”
“That’s right,” Sean said. “We can get one, just for the fun of it.”
“Tell me about space, dad,” Matthew said. “We go up in the cruise ship, don’t we?”
“That’s right,” Sean said.
“And it’s really big.”
“And then we meet the aliens!” Matthew spat out a mouthful in his glee. “Sorry dad.”
“It’s okay. You shouldn’t speak with your mouth full.”
Matthew shoveled the macaroni and cheese from the table top back into his mouth. “Sorry dad. Tell me about the aliens.”
“Well, there aren’t any aliens,” Sean said. “Well, at least there aren’t any that we’ve found yet. Remember?”
“I remember, dad, but you said we could be the ones who find them. When we’re out there. Anything could happen in space, couldn’t it?”
Sean kept smiling, cringing internally at the impossible idea. “Well, it’s not too likely,” he said. “The planets within range of the wormholes have all been explored – and none of them are places where people could live. Nothing lives on those planets. They’re just hot rocks, or giant balls of gas.”
“So maybe we’ll find a new planet,” Matthew said. “And maybe there’ll be aliens there and we’ll be friends and we’ll visit each other and we’ll be famous because nobody’s ever met an alien before and you’ll be the most famous man in the world because you found the alien and we’ll both get prizes and maybe be allowed to stay on the alien planet or back home – whatever one we prefer.”
“Well, we’d need to find a new wormhole first,” Sean said. “And nobody’s found a new wormhole in over fifty years.”
“Oh.” Matthew was still chewing, still spellbound. “But maybe we’d be the ones to find the new wormhole?”
“I doubt it.” Sean spoke without thinking. “The cruise ships just follow the same routes over and over. If there was anything out there, they’d have found it by now.”
Matthew stopped eating. His smile was uncertain, the wide eyes confused. “But anything can happen, can’t it dad? You’re always telling me anything can happen to anyone.”
“Yes,” Sean said. “I said that.”
Matthew bounced around on his seat, grinning broadly again. “Then we’ll be the ones who find the aliens, dad.”
Sean smiled back, nodding. “Yeah, maybe you’re right my son. Maybe we’ll be the ones.”
Matthew resumed his attack on the macaroni and cheese. He’d finished one half of the plate and was starting on the second. More peas rolled off the plate. Sean caught one and popped it into his own mouth. It was cold and sweet. He washed it down with the last of his cappuccino.
“This is the best Glasgow Adventure ever, dad.”