"Whispers From The Shadowlands"
by HawkDMon

Letting Go

 She looked fantastic, standing there in her dress uniform and brand new flight jacket. Tana owned a similar, but much older, leather flight jacket. It had been her fathers, given to her while she was still in the Academy. He had been killed in one of the earlier attempts to settle beyond our own solar system. At least that was the theory. The crew and his spacecraft had simply disappeared.

 The death of a father gone missing from space might have stopped most people from following in his footsteps. Not Tana. Instead she worked harder, graduating from the Space Corps Academy with honors, as Valedictorian. She was one of the few given the new flight jackets. Not everyone received one. It was a tradition left over from the old earth bound days of the American Air Force.

 The uniforms were even similar. Except that now it's completely black and the emblems are all different with entirely too many small silver buttons down the front of the dress uniform. But the flight jackets are reminiscent of the old Ace days when pilots could only dream of reaching the stars someday.

 I glanced at her now, Lieutenant Tana McGuire, as she gazed out the window, looking up into the night sky. Looking at the stars, again. She had done so since the first time she looked up and saw them. I should know. We have known each other since the cradle. I always knew how her entire being yearned for flight, for reaching the stars and beyond. Not to go up and past the moon settlement would kill the part of her that made her alive.

 I knew that she loved me, but she loved the stars more. At least I wasn't losing her to another woman. I was losing her to a dream and an ideal. The exploratory party she was leaving with needed very few scientists, and certainly not too much call for Biogenetic scientists. My specialty was called on the lest, and generally they preferred to send the older seasoned scientists first. I tried early on to handle the rough military path that Tana had taken. I had abandoned it as it just wasn't me. Now I wondered if I gave up too early. Now Tana was going to space without me.

 But looking at her, standing so straight and tall. Blue eyes searching the stars, short and neat blond hair laying perfectly in place.
 "Long hair is a hazard in space" She once told me, "But I wish sometimes that I could grow it out like yours."

 I was over come with the pride I felt for her accomplishments. I nearly cried at her graduation speech. My pride though was over come by sadness. She was leaving in the morning, she was not expected back for 8 years. We would be 28 by then.
 I went back to my task of pouring two glasses of wine. It was early yet. We had skipped the rowdy graduation parties that most of the others had gone to. Instead preferring to spend out last evening alone, a quiet dinner in a romantic restaurant, and then home to my apartment.

 Tana looked over at me as I approached. She flashed me a smile and took a glass of wine from my hands. It pained me that I would no longer see that smile in person. We would not laugh together for a long time. Once that space ship took flight there would be no way for me to communicate with her. The Space Corp could, but they never passed personal messages.

 "I keep waiting for it to all seem real" She said simply. "I can't believe I'm going up tomorrow."

 I must have frowned. I was trying hard not to let her see any sadness on my part. I wanted her to be happy.

 "Amy, what's wrong?"

 I shook my head.

 "Nothing" I lied. "Have I told you how proud I am of you?"

 "At least six times hour,"

 "And that I love you?"

 "Ten times an hour. Daily. I love you so much Amy."

 Her lips brushed mine as she bent to kiss me. Five years as serious lovers and it still amazed me how the slightest touch from her could set me aflame with passion.

 "You're upset I'm leaving though." Tana said. A statement. Not a question.

 "I'll miss you so much." I said, {But I know you have to go. I've always known you would."

 "I'll be back."

 "Eight years. Will we know each other then? A lot can happen in eight years."

 "True. And I don't expect you go celibate eight years waiting for me." said Tana.

 "Nor you. We will meet others, I guess."

 She glanced back at the stars a moment.

 "Only one thing could ever take me from you. I'm sorry. I have to go." Tana apologized for the 11th time this hour.

 She looked back at me. I saw in her eyes...pain. I knew she was torn between pace and me. Just as I was torn over wanting to hold on and letting go. I wanted to beg her to stay. I knew she would if I did. 

 And she'd hate me if she stayed. A bird with clipped wings is never happy. 

 "I just thought we'd have more time together ...is all."

 "Me too."

 She took my free hand in hers and led me to our bedroom. Neither of us had even touched the wine. No toasts or anything, we had done that to death in the restaurant.

 Tana turned the bedroom light on low and then set both our glasses down on the nightstand. I looked around as she took the glass from my hand, noticing a bottle of my favorite massage oil and a single rose bud on both pillows.

 I looked back, an unspoken question in my eyes.

 "It wasn't easy keeping you out of here earlier. I had to be sneaky." She said.
 I couldn't stand it any more. I slipped off Tana's new flight jacket and laid it carefully over a nearby chair. I pulled her against me and kissed her, feeling her respond immediately. Our kisses starting as light teases and quickly turning to deep, passionate ones.

 I don't really remember getting out of my clothes, but I do remember fumbling with those damn silver buttons of Tana's shirt. Talk about overkill. With shacking hands I barely refrained myself from ripping her shirt open. But this was her dress uniform and she'd need it in the morning. Somehow in our impassioned state we still managed to lay out her uniform, neatly, over the chair.

 We fell on the bed and made love several times that night. The first time with a sense of urgency that we seldom had these days.  The love making that followed that initial release was our usual slow, teasing manner. Our lips, hands, and tongues leaving no part of each other uncaressed. We massaged each other with scented oil, watched each other intently though passion glazed eyes, determined, it seemed, to memorize every desire soaked expression and movement until we could finally only hold each other and drift down to sleep in the early dawn hours.

 Tana had to be at the landing bay at noon. I tried to stay awake, to gaze at her in sleep as long as possible. But we were both exhausted and had to grab a quick nap.

 We made love again when we awoke, slowly.
 Finally we could put it off no longer. Seeing her before me again in her uniform, her small duffel bag at her feet, the tears I had held off finally overflowed. Soon Tana was crying as well. We held each other tight, speaking between kisses.

 "I can't believe this is goodbye." I said.

 "NO. I'll be back. It's not goodbye."

 Tana was under a strict weight allowance on personal items. No one wore jewelry in space, against regulations. I was only able to give Tana several pictures of us and a taped message I told her not to listen to until she had left earths orbit.

 She disentangled herself from me a moment and edged towards the door.

 "I will see you again Amy. In this life or the next. But I will. Believe me."

 I found it hard not to believe her. I wanted to so desperately. A final long kiss and then she was walking away. She didn't look back as she walked down the hall. Which was good. I didn't want her to see the fresh tears spilling down my face.

 I shut the door after she turned the corner. She was gone. I walked to the couch and cried, for what must have been hours. I awoke into the dim light of evening. After checking the time I knew that Tana's flight must have left earth orbit already. I walked into our room, heading for the bathroom, when my eyes glanced at the bed.

 I stopped dead in my tracks.

 Her fathers old flight jacket lay on the bed. I thought at first that she had forgotten it. Then I noticed the piece of paper lying atop it. I picked it up, recognizing Tana's flowing script.

 I bet you think I forgot dads old jacket. I didn't. It's part of my promise to return to you. Keep it safe, wear it and think only good things of me. Think of the day when I will return to retrieve it. I will find you wherever you may be then. If not for this chance of a lifetime, I would never leave you. But this has been my dream since I first walked.

 I love you with all my heart and soul..
 Your soulmate

I held that jacket close to me as I curled up on the bed, breathing in the scent of leather and of Tana, and I cried again.

 Gradually I cried less. I wore the jacket often, caring for it reverently with special cleaning products as Tana always had. For two years I heard nothing. knowing that she was alive by the simple fact that the military kept track of messages from her party. They would have announced if the ship had gone missing.

 In the third year the announcement was made. An SOS was received reporting an attack by unknown craft and then nothing. Tana's ship was heard from no more.

 I was sure my heart and soul had been ripped out. So like her father, even in death. But they had both realized their life's dreams and died happier than those of us who still reach for our goals, and sometimes never reach them.

 I kept hope for two more years, but still nothing was ever heard from the missing craft. Only pictures and videos remained of our brief time together. That, and her jacket, which I still care for reverently. I have healed as best I could. My heart remains scarred. I often look up at the stars now and mourn the loss of my best friend, my lover, and my soulmate. And I look forward to the next life when we will meet again.

 After all...Tana promised she would see me again.

© Kim Elizabeth  Stewart  2/17/96

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