Kass and Red fall in love as teenagers, but Red leaves Kass behind to go to space. Kass is called to talk to Red and find out how she survived an accident on board her ship, and what happened to the rest of the crew.
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Smashwords: Seeing Red: A Short Story
Kaseem and Red were star-struck kids growing up and falling in love, but then she chose her dream of going into space and left him behind. While exploring the vast emptiness of space, Red's ship suffers a catastrophic accident, one that only she survives. Kass is called to meet with his old flame to learn the truth about what happened. This is that story -- the story of Seeing Red.
Kaseem met Rory Donner early in high school, as pretty and smart a girl as he’d ever seen, and all he ever wanted was for them to be together forever. Even though she’d left him behind, he’d never forgotten his old flame. Now he was about to find out if she had forgotten him.
Her hair was still as rich and bright as he remembered, even after an unkind hand had shorn it short, nearly to her ears. The splash of it was the only color in that lonely room, and Kass’s eyes locked onto it. Her pale face was still touched with freckles, but now it was also lined with exhaustion. Other than the white hospital gown she wore, her only adornments were a pair of Velcro straps at her wrists binding her hands to the bars of the bed.
“Hello Red,” he said. She looked nothing like the woman he remembered: once she had ambition and drive, and her eyes were firmly set on the stars as her ultimate destination. It was impossible to look into those eyes now since she kept turning her face away from him. Perhaps it was shame, or perhaps it was something more than that. Her vision seemed to be shadowed by some unspeakable horror, something only she could see.
“Didn’t think you’d come,” she said.
“Of course I would. It’s been so long since I’ve gotten to see you, but …” Kass’s voice faltered and stopped for a moment. That viewing room was uncomfortably bright. Glaring fluorescent lights washed out the walls and ceiling overhead into a blob of formless, unshaped emptiness. There were countless sets of eyes staring through a glass window behind him, and another camera was monitoring them from a nearby corner. It felt dehumanizing, degrading. He felt naked in front of them. In front of her.
Red had been ambitious ever since he’d met her, back when they were a pair of starry-eyed kids. The next Space Race was on, the fastest push to interstellar exploration seen in a hundred years or more, and all Kass had in mind was the prettiest girl he’d ever met. They dated on and off during those years, but it was obvious that Red had something much bigger in mind for herself. She became the youngest M.D. to ever graduate from the Reed-Hastings Space Academy, boarding the E.S.C. Pearce as Chief Medical Officer. It was the hardest day of Kass’ life when she said goodbye.
“But what?” For the first time since he stepped into that room, Red finally looked at him. Her eyes twitched, shifting back and forth imperceptibly at and around him, as if he wasn’t quite in focus. “Didn’t you want to come?”
Kass knew he wasn’t as smart as Red was, could never be as smart as she was. When she’d succeeded in school, succeeded in life, he’d faltered and failed. She had conquered the world, and Kass had let it pass him by. Maybe that explained why she’d left him behind, but he’d never been able to lie to her, and he couldn’t start now. “Yes, I did. It’s just been so long since you responded to my emails or answered a vid-call. They … the Academy doctors said I should ask you what happened. On the Pearce.”
She turned her head away again, shaking it quickly while biting her lip. “Don’t want to talk about it,” she sighed. “Hurts to think about it. It hurts, Kass, it hurts. Make it stop hurting,” she said with a whimper in her voice.
Kass felt uncomfortable for the first time since he’d met Red. She’d always taken charge and control, and that had been a comfort to him. Now she was looking to him for guidance, and Kass had no idea what to say.
After Red had left Earth behind, the communication between them dwindled and slowed to a trickle, but every nugget of information was a treasure for Kass as he learned what life was like on-board a real space cruiser. Then contact broke off completely. No one seemed to know where the Pearce had gone when it suddenly vanished without word or warning. All of Kass’s questions about Red to the Academy were ignored. His emails and calls to her either refused to go through or -- even worse -- vanished into the emptiness of space completely, never to be heard from again.
News reports announced that the Pearce was found floating derelict on the outskirts of the Luyten system, whose star was known for its solar flares and unpredictable activity. A few pictures and some static-smeared video managed to leak out onto the ‘Net, but for all his frantic and worried searching Kass couldn’t find out anything about a list of survivors. The Academy superiors obviously knew something, but they weren’t talking -- not to the government, not to the news reporters, and certainly not to Kass. “No Survivors!” the newscasters had shouted at long last, sick of the Academy’s repeated denials.
But now Kass knew the truth. No survivors except for her. Except Red.