Freebie Mondays: Beyond the Grey (Story 6 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Freebie Mondays: Beyond the Grey (Story 6 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Since I write roughly 22 stories every year, I thought it might be fun to do a project for 2022.

In 2022, the 22 shorts I write for my blog will be taken from prompts related to the 31 stories in 31 days project from January of 2022. Each will relate to the multiverse that all of my stories take place in, and I will try to keep the main characters that appear on my blog to the background (unless I get a super cool idea). This time, one of my main characters does appear in the short. But he isn’t narrating and is just kind of in the background, so I figure that fits the ‘rule’ (loose though it is).

I’ve written each of these stories on stream. If you want to witness this installment as it was crafted, the VOD is on youtube!

The prompt for this one was: incomparable fear envelopes your character like a tsunami.

This story features Robin, Domerin’s daughter in the ‘space’ setting of the multiverse. Learn more here!
. . .

The road stretched before her; the same road it had always been, paved with tiny dark stones, sealed with sticky black tar. The lines were faded and cracked since no one had bothered to repaint them for as long as Robin could remember.

Only a dozen or so cars drove on this road every day until it joined the intersection which fed downtown city traffic. The city almost never slept; people crowded its streets day and night, shopping or socializing – whatever it was people did when they didn’t have to tend cattle and muck horse stalls.

Once a month, Robin’s mother and aunt used to  make the journey into town with her, so she had long since grown accustomed to the wares available in the street markets. Most of what her guardians were interested in was produce, but Robin often stopped to gawk at clothing and other contraptions brought from off world.

One thing she had never really paid much attention to was the space port, a massive, flat spit of land that lay at the far end of a road that swerved to the left just before the road that led to her aunt’s ranch joined the city’s main streets. The only ships that ever put in here were cargo shuttles, bloated ovals that bore cracked paint proclaiming the brand of product they carried.

Robin had long since grown used to the crack and thunder of the cargo carriers ascending or landing. They provided her little backwater world with the resources required for survival – or so her aunt always said – and so they were a necessary evil. They were, however, the main reason her aunt’s ranch lay so far off the beaten path – sounds like this tended to spook horses.

The car carrying them to their destination had pulled to the side of the road just before the turnoff – at her new guardian’s request – so the two of them were making their way down the final path on foot.

Robin’s suitcase bounced over each of the tiny cracks carved into the pavement’s surface, causing little jerks and tugs against her arm, but she tried to ignore them. The walk was actually quite pleasant, though she couldn’t help wishing she was on horseback.

Her eyes trailed across the landing strips, mostly long, flat, empty spaces occasionally occupied by squat, brownish vessels waiting for reloading or refueling.

One ship stood out from all the rest, gleaming black and silver, its edges sharp and its curves elegant. It looked almost like a Cadillac that had just rolled off the assembly line. Robin knew just enough about spaceships to know that this shuttle was not built to carry cargo – it was built for speed and maneuverability. It could cut through even the busiest of spaceport traffic or, she suspected, a battlefield – which was most likely why it was so well maintained.

Her gaze shifted from the ship to the man who owned it. Like the ship that brought him to ground, he differed from the other occupants of this sleepy city in every way from the clothing he wore to the way he walked. Most of the people who lived here were farmers or craftsman. They wore simple unadorned, practical clothing slightly tarnished by the dust of the road or the debris of their daily efforts.

Domerin Lorcasf – the man to whom this strange ship belonged – looked more like a businessman. His clothing was cut like a suit and embellished with delicate embroidery at the cuffs and collar. Smooth, shining black leather gloves covered his hands, and his midnight hair was bound in a tight braid that trailed down his back.

He hadn’t brought anything with him to the farm. He hadn’t even intended to stay, though he had graciously agreed to spend the night after delivering his news.

This man is my father.

It was still hard to believe, even with the striking nature of their resemblance. When she looked into his face for the first time, she found a darker version of her blue eyes peering back at her. Her dusky skin was only a shade or two lighter than his, and they both had the same glossy black, perfectly straight midnight hair.

Yet it was strange to think that the same blood that coursed through his veins rested within hers because he was a stranger. And not just any stranger – one that seemed to come from an entirely different universe than the one she grew up in.

For the briefest of moments after Domerin spoke that awful truth, Robin hated him. All her life she had wondered where the other half of her had come from and what the man that helped conceive her might be like. All that time he had been out there gallivanting through the galaxy in his space ship completely oblivious to the fact that she existed.

But it wasn’t his fault. Her mother made that abundantly clear during the last few months of her life. And if there was one thing Robin needed more than anything right now, it was family. She needed that comforting tether that reminded her of who she was and where her roots were. Until a few months ago, she always received that reassurance from her mother. But now her mother was in the ground and Robin’s tether was cut. She was adrift in a world that made far less sense than it should have.

Domerin was the only person who could provide her a fresh rope – which was why she so readily grasped his hand when he offered to take her with him.

Ever since her mother died, Robin’s world faded to grey. The store fronts and street stalls that once felt vibrant now seemed rusted and dull. Food didn’t have the same flavor. Even the sun seemed to shine differently, as if it somehow bounced off the roofs and trees surrounding the ranch, leaving a dark pool of shadow around the land where she and her aunt lived.

She wasn’t the only one who noticed. Even the horses seemed to droop when she took them out for a run. They could sense her mother’s absence, she was sure. Her aunt was careful not to say anything, but Robin suspected that she too had begun to examine their home with a more critical eye, noting all its cracks and flaws.

Domerin’s spaceship was a spot of brilliance among the dull contrasts of her mundane life, and not just because it could carry her to some place she had never seen. Robin was sure if she ran her fingers along its contours, she would find no peeling paint. She doubted such a fine thing even bore dents or scratches.

Her suitcase bounced over a particularly large crack, and the handle slid from her fingers. Spinning, she grasped for the edges of the bag, barely managing to sink her fingers into the plush surface before the whole thing fell over. For a moment, she could only cling to the densely packed bag, afraid it would lose its balance as soon as she let it go.

Aside from the horses and the hay-filled loft where she lounged when she needed private time, the whole of her life was contained within this sack. Most of it was clothing and a few books, plus the stuffed horse she never left home without. There were a few things that wouldn’t fit, of course. Like her bicycle – though she doubted she’d have much space for such a thing on a spaceship. She’d had to leave her potted plants behind in her aunt’s care, along with her dog.

Though really, it wasn’t her dog. He had been her aunt’s dog all along, even if he curled up every night at the foot of her bed.

Suddenly she was looking back down the road in the direction they had come, eyeing the familiar curve that gave way to the distance. The space between here and the ranch was largely flat, allowing her to see far enough that she could just make out the distant bump that represented the roof of her aunt’s farmhouse. With the sun spreading its light above the horizon, the farmhands would be rousing. The horses would be starting their morning exercises. The cows would soon receive their morning milking. Her aunt would be just about finished with the breakfast dishes by now, and soon the schoolhouse bell would ring, summoning her down the road in a different direction to attend her lessons.

Some of those things – the schoolhouse and the stall mucking – she was perfectly happy to leave behind. But what would she do tomorrow morning when she woke and didn’t smell her aunt’s pancakes beginning to simmer on the stove? How would her favorite horses cope with losing a second member of the family? And what about the trails? How long would it be before she had a chance to roam them again – not to mention visit her mother?

A sudden wave of fear crashed over her like a wave smashing across the rock on shore during a storm, and Robin’s limbs locked in their positions. She wouldn’t have been able to stand if she tried.

Had she made a terrible mistake? Yes, this world was dull and grey. The same things happened over and over without change. The cattle roamed, the horses foaled and the same products were sold every month from the unchanging storefronts. But this was the place her mother chose to live. She knew this place like the back of her hand, small and unexciting as it was.

If she could have plucked the farmhouse, the horses and cows, even her mother’s grave from their current resting places and carried them with her into the dark void that waited above, things would have been different. But her aunt made it clear that she couldn’t have both. It was Domerin or the ranch, and Domerin was a sea of unknowns.

He was her father, but aside from the fact that he owned a mercenary company and lived largely in his distant spaceship, Robin knew next to nothing about him. Up to this moment, she assumed they would eat the same food on spaceships that they did at the ranch, but what if they didn’t? What if they ate nutritional paste? She didn’t even know if spaceships had proper windows.

Her heart pounded so heavily it filled her chest and ears and seemed to rock the suitcase she still clung to. When Domerin first extended his hand and offered to take her with him when he left, the answer seemed simple and easy. She wanted family. If he wanted her, she should go. Adventure surely awaited her among the stars – at least if all the television shows and books she consumed were remotely accurate.

But now she wasn’t sure she wanted adventure. She wanted the safety and comfort of her aunt’s loft and the sensation of a canter beneath her as she rode her horses down the familiar trails that wound out back of the ranch. She wanted the blanket that sat atop her bed, and the rain pattering off the round window next to which she slept.

She had already said yes. She had given this stranger who was her father her word that she would spend the next portion of her life with him. Her mother taught her that promises were important. She couldn’t offer one and then break it, certainly not the very next day. But how could she possibly leave all this – grey or not – behind?

A feather light touch graced her shoulder, breaking the trance that held her. Her heart skipped a beat, then began to slow as she shifted her gaze upward.

Domerin cast a shadow over her with his tall, muscular frame, but his dark blue eyes were soft even against the sudden gloom. “Are you all right?” he asked, his voice heavy with concern. “Do you need help with that?” he indicated the suitcase.

In a rush, Robin realized she was still clutching her bag as if it were a lifeline. She released it and pushed it backwards. It wobbled unsteadily on its two little wheels, but she grabbed the handle before it could topple over. “I’ve got it,” she insisted breathlessly.

What must this man think of her right now? How childish she had just behaved! Her cheeks were still hot with the realization. Half of her wanted to lift her chin and act more womanly – like her mother would have – and half of her wanted to skitter back to her room at the ranch to hide beneath her covers.

Domerin smiled. Robin found amusement in the expression that made her deflate slightly, but there was fondness there too, and that made her relax.

“Are you sure?” he asked, though he lowered his hand back to his side. “I don’t mind helping.”

“It was just a bump,” Robin insisted. As if to emphasize her point, she reached up and brushed several stray locks of her dark hair out of her face.

Smooth.

But Domerin accepted her explanation with a silent nod and continued his journey up the road.

Robin drew a deep breath, cast one more glance over her shoulder, then fell into step beside him. Each time she lifted one of her legs, it felt a little heavier than the last, as if leaden shoes weighed her every step. The spaceship, which seemed like a glimmering beacon only a few minutes ago, now fostered a deep sense of dread deep in the pit of her stomach.

How long, she wondered, did she have to stay away before she could safely come back? And was it terribly unfair that she now wanted to turn back before she even actually left?

“You know…” Domerin murmured as they came to a stop at the base of the ram that led up into the shuttle. The interior was still shrouded with shadow, making it impossible to tell what it might look like, though Robin expected to find comfortable couches arrayed inside as well as a place to stash her suitcase. “You don’t have to come.”

She was so preoccupied with trying to catch a glimpse inside the shuttle, she almost forgot the start of his statement. The last word made her jump and a fresh blush crept across her cheeks.

“I said that I wanted to,” she protested. It felt like the right thing to say.

“I know.” And Domerin smiled again. “But you can still change your mind. I’m sure your aunt wouldn’t mind if I drove you back to the ranch.”

He paused for a moment, and the space between his words felt heavy with unspoken sorrow. Robin’s stomach twisted with guilt, but the thought of stepping onto the shuttle in front of her was still so terrifying, she wasn’t sure she could manage it.

“We could write for awhile,” Domerin suggested. It was clear he was trying his hardest not to sound sad, though Robin noted the creases at the edges of his eyes and mouth. Sadness had visited her household a lot lately, which made her sensitive to even the tiniest nuances of its expression. “I could come back when you decided you were ready to live with me. If you ever do. You don’t have to.”

The way he spoke reminded Robin of the schoolyard, of the way boys and girls talked to each other when they approached a crush, as if they half-hoped the person they were speaking to wasn’t paying enough attention to notice how nervous they were. It seemed odd to her that a man with so much confidence and poise would ever feel uncertain about something, but it relaxed her. Somehow, his uncertainty made him seem far more human than he had a few minutes ago. She felt that brought them closer, despite the decade wide gulf that sat between them.

She sensed that this was her last chance to wriggle out of boarding the spaceship. If she rejected this offer, she would have to live with the consequences of her decision. Domerin could not, after all, halt the spaceship mid-ascent to deliver her back to the ranch.

She glanced over her shoulder back in the direction they had come. The warehouses that lined the edge of the space port now blocked her meager view of her aunt’s farmhouse and, somehow, that was a distinct relief. It put some distance between her and home, allowing her to think a little more clearly than she had on the road.

It was true that she had led a somewhat sheltered life, having never ventured beyond the tiny rock on which her aunt’s ranch dwelt. She was aware of a greater galaxy, she had learned all about the other stars supporting planets in school. There were far more of them than she could name, and many of the cultures that occupied those distant rocks and oceans bore little resemblance to the kind of life she knew.

But none of that had ever seemed important before now. She never believed she would leave this place, so there seemed little point in learning about what took place beyond her own doorstep.

Suddenly that sentiment felt as childish as running home after she promised to give something new a chance.

This was her mother’s world. In many ways, it was always going to belong to her mother even though her mother was gone and not coming back. Everything Robin had experienced here, everything she knew or encountered would be forever tainted by her mother’s absence because there was no way to separate it from the time she spent with her.

But out there in the vast, in the places where Domerin was going, she could start fresh, see the world through brand new eyes and start writing new memories that need never turn grey.

She loved her mother, her aunt, the ranch and everything that came along with it. But she didn’t want that love to strangle her, especially not when her greatest chance to discover the other half of who she was lay out there, with this stranger who was her father.

She had mastered her mother’s world. Now it was time to experience her father’s.

The fear that swirled in her gut did not fully vanish. Even as the clouds parted and the winds stilled, a dark hand gripped her chest, threatening to drive her back into the sheltered cove where she once tried to hide.

That lump of discomfort might never disappear. But that was okay – as long as she didn’t let it control her.

She looked into her father’s dark blue eyes. His expression was uncertain but also sincere. This was new territory for him too, she realized, which would further allow them to explore and discover it together.

“I’m sure,” she said, even though she was the farthest thing but. “I want to get to know you. I want to go into space and see how you live.”

Then, before she or Domerin could second guess her decision farther, she spun on her heel and wheeled her suitcase up the ramp until the shadows issuing from the shuttle’s interior swallowed her.

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