1 Chapter 1

It’s a little after midnight and I’m the only one on

the navigation deck when the call comes in. It’s a mayday signal,

loud and strong from the north sector, and I don’t even think it

could be him until I flip over the comm-link and his voice fills

the cabin. “Semper Fito Base,” he says, his voice young and

laced with static. For a heart-stopping moment I freeze, my hands

hovering above the instrument panel, my breath caught in my throat.

Dylan?My mind races and images of him tumble through me,

memories I thought I had long since buried, his dark eyes and his

full lips and the way his smile can eclipse the sun, it all comes

flooding back.My God, is that really you?

“I repeat,” he says, and I hear the

weariness in his voice, it makes my fingers tremble. “Semper Fi to

Base. Over.” You don’t have to answer, my mind whispers. You can go

get someone else, Tony maybe, just close the channel and go wake up

Tony and tell him to start his shift an hour early, he’ll do it,

he’s a good friend. Then let him come back here and hear the

signal, let him talk to Dylan, you don’t have to. A burst of static

fills the cabin and then I hear Dylan sigh, a lonely sound. I

remember the way he touched my face the last time I saw him, his

finger tracing the curve of my jaw when he told me goodbye. “Jesus

Christ,” he mutters, and I’m sure he doesn’t realize he’s still

broadcasting. “Where the fuck is everyone tonight?”

Before I can give it too much thought, I

lean on the transmit button and open the channel. My throat closes

and I stare out the window at the black emptiness outside the

station, the maw of space littered with stars so far away, I can’t

even believe they’re real. You made me feel like that, Dylan,

when you left,I think, listening to the open channel, the

signal I’m sending, listening to my own breath. That empty, that

unreal.I wonder what I possibly have to say to him now.

Luckily my professionalism kicks in and when

I hear the words in my own voice tumble from my lips, they’re

almost foreign, they’re that unexpected. “Semper Fi, this is

Base, standing by.”

I wait another two seconds and wonder if

he’s not going to reply before I realize I’m still leaning on the

transmit. When I release it, static fills the cabin, a solar burst

from the small sun just a few hundred thousand miles behind us. But

beneath that I can hear his voice again, fading in and out through

the static, cresting until I hear every word clearly and then

ebbing away like the tide. “Neal?” he asks, and my name in his

voice, I never thought I’d hear it again, it makes my knees weak

and I’m glad I’m the only one on deck because I sink back into my

seat and grip the arms of the chair until my fingers go numb. “Oh

Jesus, Neal? Is that you? It’s me, Dylan. Are you still there?

Remember—”

I reach for the transmit again, push it

harder than I should like it’s to blame for the blood rushing

through my ears, pounding in my brain. “Yes, I’m here,” I say, and

I don’t tell him I remember even though I do, I never forgot. I

don’t tell him it’s me and I don’t say thank God it’s him and I

sure as hell don’t tell him I was doing fine until I heard his

voice and now I don’t know if I’ll ever be fine again. All of that

is painfully clear in my own voice, tight and controlled, when I

ask, “What is it you need, Semper Fi?” I refuse to even say

his name.

Maybe it’s my tone, but when I release the

transmit again he doesn’t respond right away. Don’t ask me if I

still think about you, Dylan,I pray. You don’t need to know

the answer to that.After a minute of silence I wonder if he’s

not going to respond at all—the first contact we’ve had with his

unit since they’ve been out there and I’ve gone and pissed the

commander off, he’s ignoring me now. Should I even bother to log

the exchange? It wasn’t much but the computer’s recorded every

word, backups are automatically made of every transmission, and I

know myself well enough to know that before my shift’s up I’m going

to rewind the tape just to hear his voice again. I hate that.

What’s it say about me? About how far I’ve come since we broke up?

Not far at all.

Next chapter