By Hywela Lyn
"Jess, come down here now, will you please?"
"Oh Mother, just a few minutes more. The stars're so bright tonight, they’re so beautiful and the sky’s clear for the first time for ages!"
"Jestine Darnell, if you don't come down at once, I'll close the observation panel"
"All right. I'm coming'. You don't have to treat me like a child you know--after all, I am nearly fifteen."
"A great age--a great age.” The old man grunted, and turned off the holo-reader with an impatient flick of his hand. "Nothing in the news these days but disasters, scandal and politics. She's right, though Veynah, that ‘child' is growing up."
"Perhaps, but not as quickly as she'd like to think. Ah, there you are Jess. Your Grandfather and I want to talk to you."
"Oh! Granddad…have you said anything to Mother about--"
"About this ridiculous idea you have of going' to the Orion Training Centre?” Yes he has."
The girl pushed back a flame coloured curl with nervous fingers that Veynah noticed trembled ever so slightly. "Well, what d'you think Mother? Please, please say I may."
"I'm sorry Jess, it's out of the question."
"Oh, but Mother, why?" She turned pleading green eyes to her grandfather. "Please make her understand, you know how much I want to be a hyper- pilot, like Father was."
"That's just it, Jess. You were only two years old when he was killed. You're full of romantic notions but you have no idea of the dangers involved in hyper-flight."
"Oh, but Mother, I have. I know all about what happened to Father, but it's not like that nowadays. The time-distortion stabilisers are so sophisticated on modern ships that the kind of accident that happened to the Titan is practically impossible now, since the
"How come you know so much about such things?" Veynah interrupted. “I thought this fixation with space was just a phase, that you'd be into something else next year--"
"Oh Mother, you know I’ve always loved the stars, ever since I was a little girl and you used to tell me how there's a star for every person who ever lived on Earth. I'm just longing to travel among' them, to see strange planets, different worlds."
She glanced at her two elders, her expression mirroring her sincerity and longing. "I was speaking to Jaal’s father yesterday. He told us about all the different planets he's been to. On some of them. a person can even walk on the surface for more than a few minutes without an oxygen-suit, and they can build their homes in the open, and not under transparent domes--d'you remember Earth being like that, Granddad?"
He chuckled softly. "I'm not quite that old, m'dear. The domes have been up since the end of the twenty-second century, you know, but I've holograms in my library, of Earth before things got so bad. I'll show them to you."
Veynah tossed her head, not attempting to hide her impatience. "We're straying from the point. Jess, you know I’d hoped you’d go in for medical training--"
"But I could still do that. As a matter of fact, I'd need to have medical training if I'm to make a career as a hyper-pilot, and have command of my own hyper-speedster."
“Just a moment, come down to Earth, young lady, aren't you letting your dreams run away with you a little? Even if you could persuade me to give my permission, if we could somehow afford it, how can you be so sure you'll make the grade as a pilot--that the Orion Training Centre will accept you, even?”
Jess blushed. I--I didn’t say anything but I’ve just had confirmation that I passed all the Orion Scholarship tests and I’ve been offered a Scholarship for the next Session.”
Veynah gasped audibly.
"Hah! I told you that girl of yours was bright," the old man stated with obvious gratification. "The computer never predicts an absolute certainty, but that's about as close as it’ll ever to get through an Orion Entrance Examination." He studied knarled old hands reflectively. "I think you're being a bit unreasonable my dear. After all, you were a medical officer on an inter-planetary shuttle yourself."
"Mother, you never told me that!"
"It was a long time ago Jess, that's how I met your father." Veynah turned away suddenly. Even now the memories were like a wound that refused to heal. "It was my first trip out," she murmured casting her mind back to that moment that was still so vivid. “We met in the recreation lounge of the Spaceport on Mars. Tom was on vacation before taking command of the Titan. He'd just resigned as a shuttle pilot and his first inter-stellar mission was to be to Alpha Crucis. We got talking, and after that, we saw a lot of each other. When he returned from Alpha Grucis we were married." She paused. "It's not that I'm against a space career as such. I don't think I'd mind the idea of you piloting an inter-planetary ship, it's just the thought of hyper-space that scares me."
Jess gave her a long look, concern clouding her green eyes. "I think I understand how you feel, Mother, but hyper-speedsters are so much safer these days. I don't want to work on a big interplanetary shuttle. I've seen all the Earth Colonies. I know what to expect from our solar system. I want to go to other star systems, to see something of the galaxy."
"Supposing--just supposing--I allowed you to go to Orion, how long d'you think you'd have to wait after graduating and qualifying for your spacer's permit before a vacancy came up for a pilot--or even a co-pilot on a hyper-speedster? I know how long the waiting lists were for such vacancies when your father got his commission. The situation can't be any easier now. There'll always be more pilots than ships, that's why the Orion Entrance Examinations are so stiff."
"I don't want to pilot a liner, I want a small, one or two pilot hyper-speedster-- an explorer ship, or--”
Yes?" Veynah fixed her gaze on her daughter demanding that she finish what she had started.
"I didn't want to tell you just yet, not on top of everything else, but I was thinking of becoming a missionary. The Mission supplies their people with a small ship you know. Just lately I've had the feeling the Universal Spirit wants me to do His work --"
Veynah smiled without any feelings of warmth or humour. "Very convenient. It's strange how His wishes just happen to coincide with yours."
The girl looked shocked. "Mother! I wouldn't make up a thing like that! It's not just because I want to be a hyper-pilot. I really do feel I have a calling. to spread His Word to other worlds. Anyway, I have to qualify first, so there's plenty of time to think about it." The curling hair had fallen across her face again. She pushed it back impatiently. "I don't want to hurt you, Mother, but I know what I have to do. If you won't let me go now, I'll wait until I'm eighteen and apply for entry then - and you won't be able to stop me, I won't need your permission." She looked wistfully across at her mother. "Only I'd much prefer to go now-- with your approval. I don't want us to quarrel, and if I wait until I'm eighteen, it'll be three years of my life wasted." She walked across to where Veynah sat, and dropped a kiss on her brow, and one on her grandfather’s cheek. "I'm going to bed now. I'd like you and Granddad to talk about it, but please remember it's my future we've been discussing-- it's it’s not just a whim, I really need to do this!”
The old man waited until the hexagonal door slid quietly shut quietly behind her.
“Well, Veynah, you heard her. Are you going to make her wait those three years? If you do, I’m afraid you’ll lose something of her.”
Veynah regarded him questioningly.
“She won’t consciously build up resentment, there’s nothing petty or spiteful in her nature, but she has too much spirit to just give up on her dream. He smiled. “She inherited more from you than your red-gold hair!”
Veynah nodded. “You’re right--but what am I to do? I want her to be happy, but I can’t forget what happened to Tom--if I lost her as well--“
“You talk as if you were the only one who suffered a loss--I lost a son, too, remember.”
She reached out to squeeze his arm. “I know. But you had other sons. I had no-one but Jess. A part of me died with Tom on that ship.”
The old man took both her hands in his, “If you’d known what was going to happen, would that have stopped you marrying him?”
"No--of course not. Those few years we had together were the happiest of my life--"
"Then don't you think you ought to give your daughter the same chance of happiness?"
"But she's far too young--"
He smiled. "I wasn't talking of marriage. There's time enough for that. At the moment Jess is in love with the stars. Don't you think she should be allowed the chance to make her dreams come true -- whatever the risks?"
Veynah looked away, feeling tears welling up in her eyes.
"How long is it since you looked at the night sky?" he went on gently. “Take a look, try to see the stars with her eyes."
He rose to his feet. "I think I'll follow the example of Miss Darnell and retire for the night. Think about what I've said, my dear."
Veynah made her way alone to the observation tower and stood for a long time gazing at the stars set in the dark void of space.
"You're right, my daughter, I'd forgotten how beautiful they are."
She turned away slowly, knowing the answer she must give Jess in the morning.