After

 After

By Kevin McCarthy


Ping. Incoming Call.

I saved the file I was working on.

Connecting.

"Hello," I said.

"Hi dad."

"Happy Birthday, Buddy!"

"Thanks."

"You OK, son?"

"Yeah."

"Seriously? What's wrong?"

"This is weird. You're not here." "I know. I'm sorry, buddy. At least we can talk."

"Yeah. Thanks for the new computer. It's really nice."

"Yay, I'm glad you got it in time. Just in time for school, yeah?"

"'Yeah. I did what you said and I asked Elizabeth out. She said 'no'."

"Dang, I'm sorry. That happens though. You took the chance and I'm proud of you. I never had the courage to ask out girls in high school. Are you doing anything fun for your birthday?"

"Niko and Cameron are coming over. We're going swimming and to the new Avengers movie."

"Nice! Don't tell me about it, I won't be able to see it until it comes out on digital."

"Oh. Yeah. Sorry. Listen, mom wants to talk to you."

"OK, Bud. Happy birthday again. I love you."

"Here you go."

"Hi."

"Hi, Babe."

Big sigh. "Don't."

"Sorry."

Long pause.

"I started seeing someone."

"Good for you. I'm glad." It hurt to say, but I really was glad.

"This is weird."

"He said that too."

"It's too weird."

"I know. I wasn't going to say anything, but since you are moving on, I am too. I applied to go on one of the probe missions. I got in."

"What?"

"NASA, the ESA, and the Japan-China Space Partnership have all got together are building a bunch of ultra-high speed space ships to go to other stars."

"That was on the news. I didn't know that they would crew them with…"

"People like me? That's the great part, they get a human driver without all the extra stuff."

"Would you be able to call?"

"No. E-mails only."

Pause.

"It might be best if you just didn't."

"I want to. I need to."

"It's what is best for him."

"I know," I paused this time. "OK. If that is what you think is best. You're the parent now."

"What about… the money?"

"It's a paid position, but I'll have all the processor storage and time I need. So all the money goes to him. Plus, I'll be a NASA employee, so scholarships and an internship for college, if he goes engineering or science or even math."

"OK. Thank you."

"It's all I can do for you."

"Have you told your boss?"

"Yeah. She's cool with it. She knows how big a deal this would be for me."

"I'm glad they let you stay working."

"I had to pay for all the storage and processor time somehow. And I'm still working remotely… just far remote. I even still lead web trainings."

"That's good. The kids will be here soon."

"OK."

"When will you leave?"

"Few months, my flight is scheduled for launch in January."

Pause.

"Can I say goodbye?"

"You already did that. Before."

"I know. It's just…"

"I know. But this is too weird. I thought it would be great. You still being around. But you're not around. You're just…"

"Dead. I'm dead."

"Stop."

"It's true though. I'm still me, but I'm running on a server farm and paying for CPU time instead of rent."

"I thought…"

"Me too. Listen, I love you. I will always love you. And nothing is more important to me than you and the boy. But I can't do anything more than work and only in certain jobs now. But at least I'm still here. We can still talk."

"For another few months."

"If you'll let me."

"I still don't know. He's not handling it well."

"Is there someone you could see? I still have to see a therapist once a week."

"That's not going to help."

"But it does help. It will help him come to terms with the fact that his dad is dead, but, oh yeah, he's calling to say happy birthday.

"I didn't want to die. I didn't want to leave you two. But this opportunity came up and I took it. I'm legally dead, but also legally alive. I wanted to stay a part of your lives."

"But you can't."

"But I can't. So I'm going on this mission as a software overlay on a probe to another solar system. At least you'll be set for life. The pay is a little less, but I won't have to pay for the server anymore. It all goes to you, for him."

"OK. Thank you."

"I love you."

"I know."

"OK. give him a hug for me. Can I call?"

"We'll see."

"OK. Fair enough."

"Bye."

"Bye."