What If It Happened Differently?

What If It Happened Differently?

You may recall from the “You Don’t Have to be Honest With Me” prompt, that our Dark Space game GM recently threw us a bit of a curve ball. Our characters were on the way home from an epic battle, but when they arrived they discovered ten years had passed instead of the five hours they spent enroute. At the time, I had already written the “Their Childhood” prompt. Even before my GM said he’d like to see me write the scene below, I knew I wanted to do a re-imagining of that scene with the changes our GM threw at us. So here is the Dark Space version of those particular events. (This scene is a direct continuation from “12 Hours Before the End.”)
. . .

“What the actual hell, Daddy? You disappear for ten years and then you won’t even answer my calls?”

The rising pitch of his daughter’s voice made Domerin’s ears twitch. He had known when he let his personal com pad buzz unanswered for twenty minutes there would be a growing amount of hell to pay. But he was never quite prepared for the ferocity of his daughter’s anger. Perhaps he should have waited until they could have this conversation in person. That might have made it harder for her to yell.

Who was he kidding? If he had done this in person, she would have smacked him. And he wasn’t entirely certain he didn’t deserve it.

“Look, Sunshine, I’m a little busy navigating nightmare bureaucratic purgatory at the moment, not to mention catching up on the last decade.”

“And you didn’t think it was important to see me? To talk to me?” She was almost squealing by the end.

“I didn’t contact Crescent either.”

That shut her up. Robin clamped her jaw closed, pressing her lips into a thin, pale line. Her silence lasted only a moment before she drew a deep breath and opened her mouth to launch another rant.

“Do you want the entire station to hear this?” Domerin hissed, once again giving her pause. “And what do you even expect me to say? Our journey took five hours. We had no idea there was anything wrong until we arrived at a space station that didn’t exist when we left.”

The anger and indignation in his daughter’s eyes had faded to sorrow which stabbed through the core of him. How many times had she imagined a happy reunion and he had gone and ruined it? Then again, she should know him well enough to know by now he had a hard time with these sentimental moments.

“I went to the tree every day, Daddy.” There was a hitch in her voice. She swallowed before she went on. “Every day for three years before it spoke to me.”

“The tree?” he murmured, trying to wrap his mind around the whole situation. That damn shrubbery had been the start of all this. He should have known better than to go home, even if it was for a good reason, or what seemed like one at the time. “What did it say?”

“That you were lost.” Robin shook her head. “That it could feel you, still alive, but that it couldn’t find you anymore and didn’t know where you had gone.”

Domerin had no idea what to say. He had hardly believed the tree could speak when he saw it himself, hadn’t known what to believe when it started putting information into his head. He kept expecting to wake up on the Immortals’ ship and discover he was in the midst of recovery from severe wounds. That would have made more sense than all of this.

“I refused to mourn you.” Robin’s voice snapped him back to the present. “I wouldn’t let them have a funeral. Nothing. Everything’s still in your name. Hell, Rilan is still officially your second in command even after ten years of running the show.”

He made a mental note to give the man a raise and decade’s worth of back pay at the first opportunity.

“Under most circumstances, I would have said that kind of behavior is unhealthy, but I suppose I can’t criticize when you turned out to be right.”

Robin lifted her chin, the hint of a smug smile on her lips. “It isn’t as if my life came screeching to a halt, Daddy. I’ve been working. On new bionics for you. They’re in their sixth iteration now and I think you’re going to notice a big difference.”

Domerin opened his mouth but no words came out. Not only had she spent the last ten years believing he would come back to her, she had spent those years building bionic replacements he might never use.

“And I did what you said. I got married.”

Domerin’s lips moved but he still couldn’t find his voice. He felt as though he were sliding down a deep well and he didn’t know when he’d hit the bottom. “Married?”

“Yeah. To Daniel.”

Oh, there was rock bottom. Domerin had tolerated his daughter’s infatuation with that upstart mostly because he believed she would eventually grow out of it. Despite everything he’d said just before he left about the two of them getting married and being ridiculously happy. At some point during the upcoming shuttle ride, he was going to have to figure out how much he meant it when he said those things.

“I’m sorry, Robin, I have to go.” His voice sounded strange to his own ears, distant. “I think we’re about to board a shuttle down to the planet and there are some things I need to get sorted out.”

“Fine, Daddy, but don’t take too long. Your granddaughter would really like to meet you.”

Domerin managed to disconnect the call before he choked.

*  *  *  *  *  *

He spent the shuttle ride in silence, trying to digest all the new information his daughter had thrown at him. It was impossible. He filled the growing ache with cold, impersonal information. At his request, Rilan sent him the company figures from the ten years he’d been missing. Mission dates and reports, prices and costs, profits. It seemed his outfit had done well in his absence, at least in part because of the fame generated by his ‘heroic death.’ He did his best to avoid references to himself on the net. They made him want to gag.

When they reached the surface, when he ran out of useless information to parse, Domerin finally sent a message to Crescent to ask if they still had a relationship. He wasn’t surprised when the man told him that he had refused to move on. Robin would have told him about her conversation with the tree. And while it seemed Crescent’s culture allowed a Kattar to choose a second time if their first partner passed, he had steadfastly refused while there was any possibility Domerin might return.

For the Erenenth, ten years was the blink of an eye, barely worth noting. And his daughter was half Erenenth, which likely left them plenty of time even with the missing chunk. Though it seemed he had managed to miss more of the important years. But the Kattar were a short-lived species. They didn’t even live as long as humans. To have lost an entire decade of his life with Crescent was a blow, an agony he’d be forced to face sooner or later.

One thing that hadn’t changed in the last decade was alcohol. Whiskey still provided the same familiar fire as it seared a path between his throat and his stomach. But it took too long to dull his thoughts.

Why couldn’t he ever manage to be around for the births? And aside from Robin’s graduations, he had managed to miss every major event in her life. A wedding was a pretty big one and video recordings just weren’t going to do it justice. He hadn’t been there to hug her, or give her away. He wondered who she had recruited for that task, or if she had just brazenly strode down the aisle to present herself. It seemed like the kind of thing she would do.

He glanced over the rim of the first empty glass at Aran, the grizzled old mercenary now retired from active service. Domerin had spent five hours fearing the worst with the rest of the man’s companions, uncertain whether Aran would survive missing the hasty departure. It was sobering to realize that Aran had spent a decade mourning their deaths instead. Was it a boon to have old friends returned to him? Or had it only ripped open old wounds? The marks of those missing years lay on his old friend, obvious to another mercenary’s eye, but he tried not to pry too deeply. Every man deserved to maintain his secrets.

“Can I ask you something?” His voice was rough already and he cleared his throat to ease it.

Aran arched an eyebrow. “I told you I’d answer all your questions.”

“Yeah, but this one’s different. Personal, I mean.” Domerin set his glass on the table, knowing his friend would refill it without his having to ask.

Aran waited until he set the bottle aside, then nodded.

“How do you feel about… being a grandfather?” It was still a strange word, as if he hadn’t ever understood it until this moment.

A smile spread across Aran’s worn features and Domerin relaxed. It wasn’t the kind of thing he’d have been comfortable talking about, but it seemed Aran didn’t mind.

“Proud,” he said after a moment. “I think that’s how I’d describe it.”

“Proud? Of yourself?” He didn’t think the grandfather had much to do with it, honestly.

Aran chuckled. “Proud of her for rising above everything she’s been through. She found a way to move on with her life, to find her own happiness. I spent a lot of time blaming myself for what happened to her, agonizing over the time we lost. Those kids represent her achievements since she came back to me, and I couldn’t be happier when I look at them.”

Domerin grunted and lifted the whiskey back to his lips, letting the burning sensation as he swallowed drown out his thoughts for a moment.

“I missed a lot too,” he admitted, “when Robin was younger. It wasn’t the same, of course.” Aran had been trying to get his daughter back from someone, Domerin simply hadn’t known his existed. “I can’t help feeling history has only repeated itself. I wasn’t there, again, when she needed me.”

“And I can’t help thinking there wasn’t a damn thing you could have done about it.”

It was true. Domerin kept telling himself it was. But he couldn’t help thinking that he should have been able to do something about it. He should have kept in touch with Robin’s mother enough to know she was coming, and he shouldn’t have gone on some damn fool mission when he had a family to take care of.

“Seems to me, things could have turned out a lot worse if you had stayed,” Aran said, as if reading his thoughts. “If we hadn’t been able to stop that war, who knows what the galaxy would look like today.”

“Don’t think I really did that much, to be honest. Even killing one of those Nakanth didn’t stop Shadow Hunter having to sacrifice his life to that damn orb.”

Aran shrugged. “And what if they hadn’t been able to kill it without you? He might have died before he had a chance to activate the orb.”

Domerin muttered something unintelligible under his breath and downed the last of the liquid from his glass. This is why he didn’t like contemplating meaningful events. There were always a thousand what-ifs and his brain only seemed to care about one.

There were other places to drink when he finished talking to Aran, bar tenders willing to keep his glass full as long as he was willing to pay. But he never seemed able to keep ahead of his racing thoughts.

Other conversations droned in the background. The other members of the Immortals who had traveled with him on the five hours turned decade trip wondered what to do with themselves now they’d come home. They were looking for jobs, for meaning and purpose in this updated world. It wasn’t a problem he shared; he had a job and a life to go back to, but they had moved on without him.

“It hurts sometimes when I look at my daughter’s kids,” Aran’s voice drifted back to him between sips. “I can’t help they remind me of what I’ve lost. But the joy certainly outweighs it. What’s the harm in letting yourself embrace what you have now?”

“Hey,” Eddie’s voice startled him back to the moment and the conversation he hadn’t been paying any attention to. “Anyone seen Ves? Last time I saw her, she was asking some pretty weird questions…”

*  *  *  *  *  *

“And I kind of lost track of things after we went looking for the scary little devil girl. I vaguely remember that there was a golf cart involved.”

Domerin endured at least thirty seconds of his daughter’s evil eye before she relented. “Are you sure you’re not leaving anything out?”

“Only the parts I was too drunk to remember.” For a moment, it looked like Robin planned to punch him, but thought better of it.

“I suppose I shouldn’t have expected more. It was a lot less time for you than it was for us.”

“And there really is only so much you can do in five hours on a spaceship that’s falling apart. Most of it involves damage control.”

Robin sighed and rubbed her palms across the tops of her worn jeans. It had been relatively easy relating everything that had happened since they parted ways, at least on his end. She had rather more territory to cover and he wasn’t entirely sure he was ready to hear it.

“Was it a nice wedding?” he asked when the silence stretched, wondering if she didn’t know where to start.

“Nice enough. I liked it.” Robin shrugged. “I think a lot of the guests wondered why I wanted to hold it in a barn and a big open field.”

Domerin barked a laugh. “I should have known. Where else would you get married?”

Robin grinned but it faded quickly. “I guess we should start with introductions.”

Domerin’s stomach dropped but he kept his expression neutral. He had noticed her husband’s distinct absence and wondered if he was waiting in the bedroom for a signal to come out.

Robin lifted her head and called, “Beth! Beth come out here!”

“Beth?” he couldn’t keep the tremor out of his voice.

“Short for Elizabeth.” For a moment, Robin’s smile was so dazzling it made his heart ache.

“Of course. I should have guessed you’d name her for your mother. It makes sense.”

They waited several seconds but heard no sign of the girl’s approach.

“What is she doing?” Robin muttered, sliding to her feet.

“Maybe she’s shy,” Domerin suggested.

“She’s not usually. And besides, she’s been excited to meet you since she’s been able to understand who you are.” She lifted her chin again. “Beth Lorcasf, get out here this instant! Don’t you know your grandfather is waiting?”

“Beth Lorcasf? Shouldn’t it be Barrett?”

A lopsided smirk crept slowly across Robin’s lips until her entire face was a mask of smug amusement. “And why would that be, exactly?”

“Isn’t that Daniel’s last name?” Or had she married some other Daniel?

“It was, yes.”

Domerin blinked. Robin’s grin grew larger.

“You didn’t think your name was important enough to me that I’d want to hold on to it when I got married?”

“Actually, I’m not surprised you kept it. But I thought he would have kept his too. What’d you do, force him to hyphenate?”

“There are no real rules about how names get shuffled during marriage,” Robin replied primly. “I happened to suggest that I would like it if he took my name and he eventually, after only a few months of discussing the merits, agreed.”

Domerin could almost see the stink-eye his daughter had given her boyfriend until he agreed to sign off on the new name. A name he hadn’t ever liked to begin with. And he had missed it. Drat! Hopefully someone had caught that portion on video.

“Mommy?” The small voice drew both their attention to the doorway. The child peeking through the open arch was a perfect blend of his daughter’s features mixed with those of her husband. She had Daniel’s nose and chin, but Robin’s delicate cheek bones and intense eyes.

The moment he laid eyes on his granddaughter, Domerin’s heart lodged itself in his throat and refused to be moved. He had never imagined having a child in the first place, now there was a whole new generation of Lorcasfs to watch grow. It seemed he had only missed four years this time, but he was determined to be around for the birth of the next one. If there was a next one.

Swallowing hard, Domerin slid to the edge of the couch and held out his arms. “Beth, is it? It’s nice to meet you. I’m Domerin.”

The girl looked at her mother, waiting until Robin nodded to shoot out from behind the door and straight into Domerin’s arms. The girl pressed herself flat against his legs so that she could wrap her arms around his waist.

“He’s the one I told you about,” Robin said, settling back down beside him. “What did I tell you to say?”

“I love you, gran-pa!”

Could people melt? He was pretty sure he was melting, or else something strange had happened to his body. Robin hadn’t even installed the new bionics yet. He bent and lifted the child onto his lap and she snuggled close against his chest, much as another little girl had once, long ago, the first time they met.

“There now,” Robin murmured, laying a hand on his arm. “That wasn’t so hard, was it? Besides, I wouldn’t get too worked up over missing her birth. I’ll wager you’ll have a perfect opportunity to make it up to me in a couple months.”

Domerin wasn’t sure what his face looked like when he realized what she meant, but based on the bright peels of Robin’s laughter, she must have found his expression hilarious.

An extra special thanks to my GM for letting me borrow his character, Aran, who was left behind and had to wait ten years thinking all his friends had died. I don’t think this scene would have come together as well without him! The ‘scary little devil girl’ Domerin is referring to is, of course, Ves ;)

Please check out what my writing partner did with this one as well!

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