Australia: Four weeks earlier. . .
“Sweetheart, wake up,” Janice called to Alexa as she opened the door to her daughter’s bedroom and poked her head in, grinning.
“Just a little more sleep, Mom,” Alexa begged from under the covers.
“Well, I wouldn’t want you to miss your birthday, dear. I guess I’ll have to put away this gift then,” Janice playfully prodded.
Her daughter sat up quickly with her crazy blonde hair in disarray.
Janice shook her head and smirked. “Okay close your eyes, sweetie.”
“Come on, Mom, I’m too old for surprises.” Alexa covered her crystal-blue eyes but peeked through her fingers.
“Oh, excuse me! Seventeen-years-old! We should be careful of your old heart,” Janice scoffed, then scooted over and placed the present on the bed and sat next to Alexa.
Alexa delicately peeled back the tape off the present, careful to not tear the wrapping.
Janice couldn’t help but roll her eyes and sigh as she reached in and tore the paper off the top of the package.
“Mom, you know I like to save the paper!” Alexa scolded, giving her a light tap, shooing her hand away.
“Well, you can use this as your eighteenth birthday present as well, considering how long it’s taking you to open it.” Janice burst out laughing.
Alexa smiled back and dove into tearing off the paper and opened the box with force. She tilted the box, and a second wrapped present fell into her hand.
“Cute, Mom, how many boxes deep this time?”
Janice motioned for her to continue.
Alexa wasted no time unraveling her mother’s joke. Two boxes in, Alexa produced a silver necklace and gasped at the sight, knowing what it was.
“I figured it was time to pass it on. You do remember the story, sweetheart?” Janice asked and received an approving nod from Alexa.
The young woman sat upright, eager for her mother to tell her the tale of love once more.
“A long time ago, there was a scientist, the brightest of her kind. She had the highest degrees in physics, engineering, computer science, and more—all by the age of eighteen. With a grant from the world consortium, she was placed on a project to recreate the earth. As the chosen seeding humans orbited the planet in the great Galactic Refuge, she devised the first terraforming network.
“Each device was placed strategically around the planet, forming a network of fission and fusion devices that deconstructed and reconstructed materials. The network shared basic subatomic resources, sending them through channels so they could be used to recreate the mountains, rivers, plains, and all the facets of life before the human destruction. The project was a success, except for a small hiccup. Certain places on the planet refused to cooperate in the deconstruction phase. Some anomalies were not accounted for.
“Entering into this story was a pilot, deft and handsome. The two met briefly in meetings covering the reconnaissance mission. She and he, as colleagues, explained the plan to the soldiers—a delicate plan to fly in and take some samples from the two island chains causing the disruption. As she described the organization and apparatuses needed for the mission, she couldn’t keep her eyes off the attractive captain. He had trouble concentrating as well, with this amazing heart and mind, merely feet away from him. Obviously, there was a connection between the two.
“As time went on, they continued with mock missions and adjusting the equipment to reduce the risk of this critical opportunity. Their blushes turned to love with each encounter. He would steal her away from the lab on occasion to share special moments under the stars in the training pods.
“Finally, the day came when the crew left the orbit for the surface of the planet. The man and the woman met once more in the loading bay where they confessed their undying love for each other and kissed one final time before the departure. She set the terraformed network on pause and placed her hand on the window of the mothership as they neared the atmosphere. The transport ship hovered alongside and the mission captain boarded and the door sealed shut behind him. He turned, staring at his love, and placed his hand on the glass of the door of the transport ship.
“Both the man and the woman felt something was wrong, and she fell to her knees and sobbed. With a command from the admiral, the captain turned the transport ship, and it blasted toward the anomaly. The ship glowed with a fiery blaze as it pushed through the atmosphere. That was the last time anyone saw the crew.
“In the loading bay after their last kiss, he gave her something. This necklace. This promise. It signifies forever. It means undying love. She never married, for she longed for her love until her ashes were passed across the galaxy in memory of the savior of the earth. Nine months after the crew disappeared, she bore his child.
I am giving this to you because your father and I have found the greatest love that life will ever offer. May this token bless you, as it has blessed our bloodline for generations.”
Alexa passed the necklace to her mother and pulled her hair to the side.
Janice clasped it around her neck, and they both hugged deeply as tears welled in both their eyes as the legacy was passed on.
“Now, let’s make some muffins for dad. He’ll be home shortly, my dear,” Janice said with a wink as she wiped the tears of joy from her daughter’s eyes.
They expected John around noon, and they shared smiles while thinking of him as they prepared for his arrival. More often lately, he had been sent to train at the base, preparing troops for their engagements in the South Pacific. A gleam in Alexa’s eyes shined as her thoughts went to her father. She was excited to see him.
“Oven, set oven temperature to 450 degrees Fahrenheit,” Alexa called out as she looked up from her console and sent commands to the oven. She scurried around the kitchen gathering a mixing bowl, measuring cups, a beater, and baking tins. Arms full, she worked from left to right and laid out each device in the order they would be used. Mise en place is something Alexa was firm on practicing. She believed in always making sure everything necessary was accounted for before any action took place, a trait inherited from both her mother and father.
“Let me wash my hands, sweetheart.” Janice paused and said, “You do realize I love you, right?” Janice leaned over to Alexa to place a kiss on her cheek.
“Um, yes, Mom. I love you too. Are you making fun of me?” Alexa stuck her cheek toward her mother for the smooch and pouted, pretending to be hurt.
“No, I think it is cute how you are always so prepared. And you know, the important things in life are never mentioned enough. I wanted to let you know that I will always be with you.”
“Planning on going somewhere I don’t know of?” Alexa wondered, raising her eyebrow.
“No, silly. Like I said, I will always be around,” Janice answered with a smirk and poked Alexa playfully in the belly.
Alexa let out a hissing sound as she sucked in her belly as if it popped.
“Just like your dad,” Janice chuckled and stepped over to the sink to wash her hands.
Alexa’s cheeks reddened from the special attention. Looking over the island of kitchen utensils, she grinned and watched how graceful her mother was. Not a single wasted movement. All of her friends at school reminded her of how attractive her mother was, and while it certainly made her feel uncomfortable at times, they were right and she knew it. The light from the kitchen window caught the highlights in Janice’s long blonde hair. She turned to Alexa as she wiped her hands and moved a strand of hair out of her face, exposing her freckles.
“Mom, you look radiant today, I must say,” Alexa said, smiling.
A wave of nostalgia washed over her as she thought of the love between her parents. Alexa glowed while watching her mother. Maybe someday she would know that kind of love. Janice was always so thoughtful, always showing John and Alexa how much she cared for them.
Her friends were surprised that her parents were still together. Every one of their parents were divorced. Alexa imagined that people either never found the patience, or weren’t willing to expend effort in their relationships.
True love starts with a spark and continues forever with some elbow grease, Janice would always say. Alexa believed her mother was right, and by watching her, anyone would know how Janice applied her own teachings. Alexa always saw her mother welcome John with love.
Time and time again, Alexa witnessed her father returning showers of compliments to Janice. Alexa thought of how charismatic and gentle her father was, sweeping Janice off her feet every time their eyes met. When together, it seemed as if they were transported to a different world where only they existed, where everything else was background noise.
“We need flour, baking soda, and salt,” Alexa called to her mother, reminding her of the task at hand.
“Ouch!” Janice called out as she lifted the flour from the shelf. She shook her hand and placed her finger in her mouth to calm the sharp pain. A moment later, she pulled her finger out and inspected it. A single drop of blood formed at the tip. Movement on the shelf changed her attention. The flower bag hit the floor and a poof of white powder shot out. She lifted her wrist and mumbled “emergency” as she stumbled and knocked the bowls and beaters off the shelf.
Their eyes met in terror for a split second as Janice fell forward and bounced off the floor.
Alexa sprinted and crouched over her mother.
“Mom, what’s wrong? What happened?” Alexa screamed as she turned her mother over, supporting her head. Janice dazed and in and out of consciousness, trying to speak, but nothing came out.
Alexa grabbed the communicator and yelled, “Emergency!” Looking down to her mother, Alexa saw a distant blank stare in her eyes. Janice was fading fast. “Mom! Mom, please stay with me! Look at me! Please don’t go. I love you! Don’t go!”
Janice turned her head one last time and mouthed a single word to her daughter. Love.
Within moments, the emergency crew arrived. They assessed Janice’s condition and saw the wound on her finger.
“Snake!” one of them said. “It must still be here in this room. They cautiously searched and finally cornered the brown snake, identifying it as venomous.
Thrashing and bawling, Alexa screamed for her mother as the men pulled Janice from her arms. She flailed her arms and legs, trying to get loose from them as they forced her down to the ground. Something suddenly stung her arm. She looked over and saw a needle emerge as one of the workers pulled it out. Waves of reality slowly pulsed out of view as consciousness left her.
John arrived to witness the EMTs filling the back of the trauma craft with a hover-stretcher. He shot out of his government-issued Jeep and ran to the patient bay to see the body bag. His heart beat heavily in his throat as he tried to rip the bay door open, but the medical examiner pulled him back. Panting and screaming, he fell backward, tangling himself with the man. The doctor pulled a needle from his belt, but John knocked it in the dirt and struck the man in the chin. The man fell backward, knocked out. Puffs of dust rose around him.
As John turned to the vehicle’s door once more, he caught a glimpse of his daughter on the porch. She was laying on the deck next to the banister.
“Alexa!” he hollered as he pushed through two more medical crew members who were attempting to restrain him. As she raised her head groggily, John saw her tear-soaked cheeks.
The agony of loss crippled him and he collapsed in front of his daughter. Janice is gone! Gasping for air, he struggled to refrain from screaming and wrapped his arms around Alexa. Rocking back and forth, he embraced his semi-conscious daughter. No words came to him to soothe his daughter. The love of his life was just torn from his grasp.
Hours passed as John rocked Alexa in his arms on the porch. They sat in silence, holding on to what was left in their shattered world.
“John,” The voice of his best friend, George, woke them from the hours of silence.
“When did you get here?” John could barely think straight and was still holding his daughter.
George held out his hand and lifted John to his feet. Alexa stirred and her dad helped the girl sit up, and placed a kiss on her forehead.
George led John and Alexa in the house. Alexa sat at the table, and George motioned John toward the coffee machine and placed a cup underneath. Quietly George said, “It’s important you take her away from this house for now. She will heal better outside of her element. You still need to go on your trip.” He leaned in with a small smile as he placed his hand on his best friend’s shoulder. “Janice would have wanted you both to go on the cruise.”
John looked at his daughter and saw the pain in her eyes. He looked at George and he returned a nod. George was right, as usual.