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January 2019 Prompt
The Journey Ends
By D. A. Ratliff
Dalton reached the pinnacle. The spot he loved more than any other on this miraculous world. Day after day he made the arduous trek to the top of the mountain to gaze over the vast valley always covered in thick rolling clouds. Their colors stark white to deep gray and ever changing. What lay beneath the clouds was anyone’s guess.
His father had taught him to ski on these slopes. As a small child, he had relished the freedom of sliding across the snow as the wind chilled his cheeks. While other novice skiers marveled at his prowess, he was proudest of how his father’s chest puffed out each time he mastered a new skill. Long before the others, he moved to the intermediate level where he traversed among the valleys and ancient trees.
The sensation of being free encompassed him. Breathing crisp, chilled air, the glare of sunlight on the pristine snow, days when the sky was a brilliant blue or days when thick snow fell and the world was silent, brought joy to his existence. As the years passed, he became the master. On his seventeenth birthday, he had skied to the top of the mountain, an expert trail, and had stood with his father overlooking this incredible vista. On that day, his father had given him the skis and poles he now used. The old-fashioned equipment once belonged to his great-grandfather who had brought them with him the day he left home.
He shuddered as he thought of his father. He had lost him the year after first scaling the summit. A freak accident had taken his life and left Dalton alone. He had lots of friends his age, even younger, and his dad’s best friend, Hal, was trying to be a father to him, but no one understood the bond that he had with his father when they were skiing.
His mother died when he was two years old, killed by marauders. It was then that his father had taken the job that brought him to Argus. His childhood was spent with the children of the families who made a living transporting minerals. They attended school together and then he had chosen training as a tech engineer, but the only time he felt alive was on the point where he now stood.
The silence at the top of the mountain, save the soft howl of the blowing wind, filled him. Here he was happy. Here he was at peace.
Then the alarm on his com sounded. He closed his eyes to savor the image for as long as he could. When he opened them, the mesh gridded walls of the rec chamber surrounded him. The hologram tucked back into the server.
The attendant’s voice floated from the com. “Sorry, Dalton. I know you had thirty minutes left, but there’s a problem in the mineral testing lab. Hal sent for you.”
He gave a small salute to the attendant in the control booth and headed four decks above to the lab. Hal was tinkering with a piece of equipment the geotechs used to determine mineral purity. He looked up, grinning as he watched Dalton enter.
“You’re gonna turn into a popsicle if you keep hanging out in that cold hologram. Went once with your dad, told him he should turn the heat up.”
“Has to be cold for the real effect, Hal.”
“Yeah, well, give me the beach hologram that the captain added. Hot sun, hot sand, warm water, and nearly naked women, some of them not human. My kind of afternoon.”
Dalton took the cover off the malfunctioning machine to look at the internal drive. “I’ll admit, I like the beach too, but the slopes of Parendor are my favorite place.”
Hal stared at him for a second. “Dalton, I know you think that Parendor is going to be like the hologram, but word has it civil war broke out there. It may not be the place you think it is. Besides, the Argus won’t arrive there for another eight months.”
“It’s where my dad said we could leave the Argus and not wander from mining planet to mining planet for the rest of our lives. I have to do what he wanted. He wanted our journey to end.”
“Son, I just don’t want you to be disappointed.”
“Dad created that hologram from a holovid he bought on Xandora when I was nine. The Argus had just added the rec chamber.” He turned to Hal. “Not sure I want to leave the Argus, but I have to ski the real Parendor for my dad.”
Hal squeezed his shoulder. “Martin was the best friend I ever had. He’d be proud that you love skiing as much as he did.” Leaving him to repair the device, Hal departed saying he was heading back to the ship’s engineering department.
Dalton smiled, glancing at the old skis leaning against the workbench. Skis his great-grandfather brought from Earth decades before. It didn’t matter what the conditions on Parendor were, he would find that slope and discover what lay beneath the clouds, and he would make his father proud. It was time for his father’s journey to end.
Please visit D. A. Ratliff’s blog. the Coastal Quill and follow her! https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/2019/01/26/the-journey-ends/