***PLEASE NOTE! THIS IS THE FIRST CHAPTER OF A FIRST DRAFT! I WILL UPDATE IT AS I GO BUT EXPECT IT TO CHANGE!***
The darkness through the huge window was completely overwhelming. Little Zoe stared out in awe, her dark eyes reflecting back the points of light that were so much clearer now that Da’ario’s atmosphere and rings were out of the way. The floor vibrated beneath her feet and she looked up at the hulking man standing next to her.
“Dad, does the ship get any closer to this star than this?” Zoe had always wanted to walk on the surface of a star. Both of her parents told her it was impossible. Her teachers told her it was impossible, but she thought it would be the most amazing experience imaginable.
“No it doesn’t Zo-zo. But there’s another viewing deck with a bigger window; it goes all the way from the floor to the ceiling. Want to check it out?”
Zoe’s heart thumped with excitement and suddenly the prospect of an even bigger view made her nervous. There was so much out there, she could see more from the tiny porthole window in her cabin on the cruiseship than she could looking up at the entire night sky through the planet-belt on Da’ario. Her dad’s huge hand wrapped around her small cold fingers and she looked up at him. She trusted him. He looked excited, there was a gleam in his eyes that made her heart race even faster.
“Yes Dad, I would love to check it out. Could we take some photos? Mum would love to see what you did for me for my birthday.” Zoe and her mother had a special relationship; Katye used to make up stories about the constellations to help Zoe sleep when she was little and those stories still made her feel better, even though she was well on her way to being a young lady.
“I have my camera right here honey.” Max patted his lumpy right hand pocket with his free hand and then smiled a little wider down at his ten year old daughter.
“Come on, the big window is this way.” He saw Zoe so rarely these days, he wasn’t sure how to speak to his only child. At the age of ten she was probably capable of having an adult conversation but in his mind’s eye he saw a small child, lost and alone, attached to him by biology and the strong grip of his hand. She followed him like a little puppy, skipping a bit to keep up with his long strides. The wide doors they eventually stopped at had all kinds of warning symbols etched down each side; to avoid any language confusion the shipbuilders had elected to keep the warnings script-free, with universally recognised symbols used instead.
“Don’t those symbols mean it’s dangerous Dad?”
“Yes sweetie, but all windows on cruise ships that are this big are a bit dangerous, even the smallest crack could mean the whole ship is in big trouble. As long as we are careful, everything will be fine.”
“We’ll be careful dad, won’t we?”
Max nodded and pulled his daughter toward the doors, pressing the buttons below the warning messages until the door slid open. Inside the ‘viewing bay’ the floor looked oddly glassy and Zoe felt like she might slip. Her grip on her father’s hand tightened and he shook it a little, loosening it again.
“We’ll be very careful darling girl. You don’t need to worry. There’s all glass out there. Special glass. We’re perfectly safe. Just look at the view.”
Zoe had to agree, it was a wonderful view. She felt like the Creator, staring out at the most wondrous masterpiece she could have imagined. The shiny floor meant the entire tableau was reflected beneath Zoe’s feet and she shuddered but persevered, stepping out into the viewing bay without her father’s hand to hold her down. He stayed behind her, letting his daughter gaze out into the mighty universe on her own terms. He stood on the precipice of the viewing platform, watching as his tiny child tried to take it all in. The star filled quite a lot of the view, casting an odd glow but leaving the blackness clean and velvety with an unusual clarity. Because of where the star was in the window, nothing was visible around it, even asteroids were difficult to see with the star so close. And the belt would have been particularly stunning this time of the month. Max considered the disappointment Zoe might feel considering she was the kind of silly smarty-pants that would know about asteroid belt timetables, but decided that with the star so close she wouldn’t think about it. He didn’t want all this going down with her unhappy. That wasn’t the point. Max raised his hand to place it next to the door, but Zoe turned around.
“Thank you daddy, this is the best birthday present ever. Mummy would never do something like this.” Max felt his heart harden a little at the mention of Zoe’s mother.
“Can you take a photo? Please daddy?” Max nodded and smiled, retracting his hand from the door panel, reaching for the bulge in his coat. Zoe turned around and looked out at the star. Max pulled the camera out and turned it on. It couldn’t hurt to have one beautiful picture to remember his daughter by. He didn’t see her very often even before this trip. He raised it up and through the viewfinder he saw the light shining through the edges of Zoe’s stunning raven locks. Her frame looked tiny with the brilliant light of the star forming a crisp halo. Max wished his ex-wife had fed their daughter better, the girl was all skin and bones. The click of the camera, an old sound of a bygone era, caused Zoe to turn around and smile. Max took two more snaps and even smiled to himself as Zoe’s smiled became more natural. She was happy now. She felt safe.
“You look beautiful Zoe. Ten times more beautiful than the star through that silly window.” Max wasn’t faking his outward smile now. She was beautiful.
“How about you turn around darling; I’ll take some more of you looking out into the universe and you can imagine that you’re walking on it. Remember? You used to do that?”
“I did daddy. I want to walk on the star. Do you think it would ever be possible?”
“I think it will be darling, especially for you. Now turn around and I’ll take some more photos.” Max watched his daughter turn around and then put his camera back in his pocket. He reached out to the panel next to the door realised he had stepped forward into the viewing bay. He stepped back onto the brushed metal floor of the walkway and felt the panel for the button with the big hazard sign on it. He was two steps back from the doors when he found the button and pressed it. The doors made a little whooping noise, associated with the warning label on the button, and Zoe turned around. Her face was blank and dark, the light from behind her hid most of her expression. The doors slid closed and as Max’s daughter began to take her first step across the shining glasslike floor toward her father, she disappeared from view. The doors slid shut and Max placed his hand up against the seam, knowing what was on the other side. A sound like a balloon rupturing came from the other side of the doors and Max closed his eyes, envisaging the glass sliding away from the bay and opening it up to the vacuum beyond. Max waited for any other sound but until the glass sealed back onto the viewing bay there was nothing. Max smiled to himself and turned, walking slowly back to his cabin on the sleeping deck. Through the small porthole he stared out, smiling in the direction of Da’ario and its many colourful rings. His ex-wife was going to regret this for the rest of her life.