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Gamma Ray Magazine

Science Fiction | Science Fact | Science Future

15 GAMMA RAY By Adam

15 GAMMA RAY By Adam Goldberg

The old man sat on the rock near the top of the small hill as he had for many years now and watched the first stars begin to peek out of the deepening purple sky. The boy at his side, watched solemnly, as he had for most of his young life. They sit in silence. The boy speaks at last. “Grandfather, may I ask you a question?” The old man looks down at the solemn faced boy and smiles and tousles his dark hair. “Of course.” “Why do you come up here at night? Mother says you’re looking for ghosts, but I’ve never seen any ghosts up here, and I’ve been looking.” There’s a faintly accusatory tone in the boy’s voice. The old man’s grin widens. “Your mother is a fiery one. She got that from your Gram. No. I’m not looking for ghosts up here.” He gestures at the gentle, grassy slope around them. “There are no ghosts here. The ghosts I look for are up there.” He gestures towards the stars above. The boy considers this for a moment and then speaks. “Well, what are you looking for exactly? Maybe I can help. I can see pretty good, you know.” He is staring into the sky intently. The old man smiles ruefully. “I know you can. But you can’t see what’s not there. That’s why your mom says I’m looking for ghosts.” The boy regards him dubiously for a moment and then goes back to looking at the stars, which are now fully visible. The old man sighs, and stares into the sky wistfully, then pokes the child in the arm and points at a faintly red star high in the sky. “Hey, did I ever tell you about that one?” The boy squints at it, and slowly shakes his head. “I don’t think so…” “Well, there’s quite a story about that one. It’s why we’re here.” The boy looks at him again skeptically. “What? Here on the hill? That doesn’t make any sense, Grampa.” The old man laughs. “No, goofball. On this planet. This world.” He gestures around them. “We’re not from here you know.” The child is clearly not convinced and regards the old man hesitantly. “What do you mean we’re not from here? I’m from here. That’s my house right there. And mom’s, and dads too. Even yours.” The old man shifts on the rock, feeling the hard stone in his lower back. “Well, that’s all true. You were born here, as were your mother and father. We’ve all been here for many, many years now. But I’m not from here.” He looks back up at the sky. The boy is silent, thinking about this. Eventually he speaks again. “Well, where are you from? The next valley over?” The old man smiles. “No. Look up.” He points to another section of the sky. “See that bright white spot there? Now go down. Those three stars in a row? That’s called a star cluster. My home is on the other side of them, very, very far away.” The boy squints at the section of sky for a moment. “Is it further than the river?” The old man laughs quietly. “Yes, Blake. It’s further than the river. It’s so far away that unless you have a special way to move, you couldn’t get there in a dozen lifetimes of being as old as me.” The child looks at the old man, trying to picture this. After a moment he speaks. “Well, how did you get here then?” The old man smiles, remembering. “Well, I joined the Navy. The Navy had these starships…which were able to go from world to world, like taking a canoe across the lake. Much faster than walking around, right?” The boy nods slowly, trying to understand. “Well these ships the Navy had could go from star to star in hours instead of centuries. They held thousands of men and women, and there were as many of them as there are tadpoles in the pond.” The boys eyes widen. “There’s a lot of tadpoles in the pond!” The old man nods solemnly. “Yes, there are! And each ship had as many people as there are tadpoles. Do you understand?” The boy is concentrating fiercely and then slowly nods. “Yes…I think. If we had five ponds, with as many tadpoles, each pond would be like a ship. And there were more ponds than your could count….so more people than you could count?” The boy beams at the old man, proud of his logic. The old man smiles. “You got it, Blake. Very good! You’d have made a fine astrogator!” The boy’s brow furrows. “What’s an astrogator?” The old man sighs. “The astrogators were the ones who knew where to tell the ships to go, so they didn’t get lost. It’s what I did.” The boy considers this. “So, how did you get lost, then?” The old man is startled. “Who said I was lost?” The boy looks at him seriously. “Well, you said you were not where your home is. If you weren’t lost, why aren’t you there?” The old man 16