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Star Maven Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Think you’re tough? The kind of hyperspace hero who calls a meteor storm “confetti?” I dare you to say “no” to my mother.

Tell her something just can’t work that way, and she’ll start to wonder why not. She’s good at untangling things — my girls will swear to that. And then — eventually maternal cunning will trump whatever technology you’ve got.

Wish she’d throw out some of the stuff she finds whenever she untangles her closets. Got her hands on a relic that turned out to be an ancient graphing calculator, and used it to ensure all of her birthday greetings to me make it through inconveniences like the time-space continuum.

Shippie, with his doctorate in Wormhole Coordinates, gets surly whenever I tell the story. “Explain,” he demands, “how a gardening grandma, using something not made in 50 years, busts algorithms that gave me nightmares at the Academy. How many digits could a thing like that carry, anyway?”

“Damned if I know,” I always answer, and remind him that she never throws anything out.

The rest of my crewmates think she’s great — even Shippie approves of her priorities. Mom discovered she could override our mess configerations from her own cozy kitchen, far, far away, and now they all get to eat her brownies.

But try not calling home every Saturday night, and see where it gets you. There’s some horrible irony here I really don’t want to explore, that my gray comes not from my children but from my mother.

“You know,” Donovan said thoughtfully one night, as he swept up his poker winnings, “You could ask her to train a whole flock of seniors, have ’em take over Base Command, and free everyone up for field duty. Save us a fortune.”

“Keep laughing,” I said darkly, totting up what I owed, “but one day I’ll let her know how you pick my pocket, and the next time you come down with vortex fever, you can damned well sweat it out without that chicken soup. And anyway,” I added, “it’s an innate gift. Could have saved me a fortune if she’d passed it down.”

“Sore loser,” he said, but I swear he blanched.

I’d done as well by her as anyone so often out in the field can do — got her a tidy little cottage back home in the Near Orbit, and not one of those maintenance-free synthetic wonderamas either. If I told you how often the moids broke trying to get the yardwork done, you’d understand why I’m always putting in for long haul.

If she’d just stop tinkering with them, the warranties wouldn’t keep getting invalidated. But you can see she’d never let sealed circuitry stop her.

My last time back on leave, I was letting myself in and nearly fell over the doorsill when I heard my own voice from somewhere inside, plaintively demanding grilled cheese sandwiches. Mom, who saves all my messages, had run a voice simulation program and then audio-looped the housemoid.

“For heck’s sake, Ma,” I’d protested, rubbing my shin.

“I know you can’t call as often as you’d like, sweetheart,” she’d said mildly, kissing me as she took my jacket, “and it just feels so good to hear you around the house.”

She wasn’t the type to mix with the burgundy-haired seniors at the Fleet retirement estate across the lake, and with Oon and the kids over in base housing, I’d worried a little bit about her being lonely. But she keeps her mind nimble.

We were making a cricket jump through the Outer Band, one of those routine maneuvers that you never even think about, when communications went dead.

The ship was a sleek new baby already setting records for her class, so we hadn’t bothered to request Lighthouse Navigating as external backup support. That’s essential for older vessels, of course, but a first-class beauty like ours, you’re expected to put her through all her paces. You get overly cautious, Command starts questioning your competence and your guts.

But we were transiting a notoriously unstable quadrant, where the Lanekeepers are run ragged keeping track of the hyperspace equivalents of icebergs. And because some idiot had failed to flag us on their roster, they’d gone right ahead and busted up an asteroid just before we entered the jump.

A couple million tons of fragments and your magnetic points are suddenly shot to hell, your gyros exhibit behavioral disorders, and inside the jump, of course, you have no visual.

We were all starting to sweat, when a Lighthouse beam locked onto our bridge and the relay came back on.

“Next time don’t be a smart-ass, and file your request on time,” the Lightsman said, when we did the report. “And advise us if you’re going to use a third-party transponder, OK?”

Once we’d docked, and passed round the Arcturian brandy to celebrate not being turned into space dust, I called my mother. She stopped me in mid-thanks.

“Oh, sweetheart, you know how it is,” she said, “I woke up and knew something just wasn’t quite right, that’s all.”

© Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Meet the Author

Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction (including several stories published at Every Day Fiction), cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable — the best of all possible worlds.

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