Time Slip (Sheffield Short Story Competition – October 2016)

Nearly three years since I last visited her…somehow I always knew it would come to this.  Knew they’d take my precious child and show me her demise. 

The serene luxury of the Hallamshire’s private penthouse ward wasn’t the backdrop I imagined though.  I’d expected a more primitive and brutal scenario, like my incarceration.  They’re messing with me, of course.  Showing me what I’m missing before they send me back.  Confusing me, lying probably, by saying this is my daughter.  The last time I saw my precious green-eyed button-nosed little girl she was only 5.  This woman, button-nosed I’ll grant you, comatose on the starched white hospital bed is…

“How old is she?” I ask my guard. 

“She’s 112.”  A nasal voice comes from the open door behind us.  “The cryogenic anaesthesia is still burning out of her system, but she should be with us again in…” he squints at the screen hovering above her bed, “97 seconds.”

112?  My daughter is 62 years older than me.

I move towards the window.  3 years for me, but 107 years since I was taken away from here.  No wonder I didn’t recognised the cityscape, had no idea I’d come home.  Sheffield has matured and changed as much as my alleged daughter. 

Familiarity reawakens.  The New Park Hill skyscraper still towers over the cityscape with its gleaming steel frame and coloured inserts, but it’s hundreds of floors tall now, stretching up to snatch at puffs of cloud passing by.  It’s the daddy of the other metal and glass columns filling the city, reaching out in all directions, as far as Totley, Chapeltown and Oughtibridge by the look of it.  None towards Beighton though.  To the east urbanisation’s march has been halted by an opposing force.  Sheffield is now a coastal town, global waters having risen as predicted.

Did Best achieve this?  Is he still ruling over it as Chancellor of Middle England?  Still silencing people by jettisoning them into the furthest reaches of space in the name of exploration?  Observing me even now?  My jaw tightens.  I will not show him any weakness. 

“When she hits consciousness she has 3 minutes,” the doctor says coolly, still focusing on his screen.  3 minutes?  My heart skips, then pounds his countdown.  “She’ll be here in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.”

The woman’s eyelids pop open and her jade irises swivel wildly before focusing.  On me.  Tearing the sinews of my hard heart apart like a loaf of freshly baked bread.

“Da?”  Her voice is gravelly, but nothing would stop me recognising it out of billions in the universe.

“Anna,” I choke as my throat constricts so tightly I can hardly breathe. 

She lifts a tired, wobbly hand towards me.  I reach out to hold it, tears pricking my eyes at the simple unexpected pleasure of holding my daughter’s hand again.  The forcefield cuffs binding my wrists stop me short.

“Free him.”  I’m startled by her request and the confident authority in her voice.  Before my eyes can flick to the guards to see their reaction, my hands buzz and move apart for the first time in weeks.  How did she get them to do that?  Is this all part of their game?  A miniscule taste of freedom for a few minutes before taking it away again?

“I’m so glad they managed to bring you back, Da.  They weren’t sure they could reach you, with the wormholes and space gennels still so unknown and dangerous.  How are you?”

“Better for seeing you.”

“Seeing you again was all I ever wanted.”  Her eyes flick up to the screen.  2½  minutes.  “Even a glimpse of you in my last few seconds would have been enough.”

“What happened?”

“Radiation sickness.  You remember how much I loved being outside?  Even when the solar flares started, it was a habit I could never break.”

“Why am I the only one here?”

“I’ve already said goodbye to everyone else.  Ma lasted 20 years after you were convicted, but she missed you every day.  We sent her stardust into space.  She wanted to go where you’d gone.”

I nod, my throat now caught in a vice grip.  I knew I’d never see my beautiful wife again, but the confirmation of her death is still a consuming blow.  My son is surely dead as well.

“Rob’s alive though.  He’ll be waiting for you downstairs when I’m gone.  Between us we have so many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  A huge family who can’t wait to meet you.”  She squeezes my hand.  “I’ve lived a long and productive life, Da, and now you will too.”

I shake my head in confusion and denial of her words.  “I don’t think so lass.  Life expectancy isn’t good on the prison, sorry, exploration ship.”

She frowns.  “But you’re free, Da.  They’ve told you that, haven’t they?  You’re free.”

I shake my head again.  “But Best?”

“Oh Da.”  She bites her lip as tears leak out the sides of her eyes.  “He was overthrown within a year of your exile.  The Resistance proved your accusations against him and he was imprisoned for life.  We thought your pardon had been granted immediately, but when I became Chancellor at 33 I discovered it had never been actioned.

“All this is thanks to you, Da.”  She gestures towards the city outside.  “Ma showed me and Rob your writing, your dreams, your plans.  He became Business Secretary in the same election I got my Chancellorship and together we refocused the city’s businesses and manufacturing on titanium and space.  Sheffield and its metalworking became great again.”

A beep signals her last 20 seconds.  Tears cascade freely down my face, but I can’t speak. 

“I love you, Da.”  She smiles.  “Live your life.”

Our eyes stay locked as her life support beeps again.  5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  Her eyelids slide shut.  Her hand relaxes in mine.  She’s gone.

Live your life.  Her words echo round in my head.  I thought her mother and I gave her life, but she’s given life back to me, having lived her own so well.  Time has slipped.

I kiss her fingers.  “Sleep well, precious girl.”