The Coin Keeper, episode 11: Yet Softly Slipped They By

The coin gleamed from the dark case where it was displayed beneath a sheet of particle-free plexi-glass. Madseu're looked at it pensively for a moment longer before closing it into the safe again. A panel slid into place, hiding the spot where the coin was kept behind a large mirror. Madseu're examined his reflection critically. Many years had passed since the departure of the Big L. Twenty times the globe had circled her mother sun, circled in turn by the fragile life-forms who clung doggedly to her fringes for survival.

Those years showed their passing in his reflection. A rueful hand slid over his now-hairless pate. As soon as his hairline had ceased receding and had begun full-fledged retreat, he had taken to trimming the halo of hair that remained. Still, full head of hair or no, he decided, the intervening years had been good. In that time he had prospered; he was no longer a cook on space station RK237, but now lived on his own private ship- a vessel newly constructed from materials purchased from a new company that worked extracting resources from the dangerous territories of the asteroid fields.

With one last look in the mirror, Madseu're left the bathroom and made his way to the living quarters of the ship. He paused a moment in the doorway of the inviting chambers. His wife Alyana was nestled in the corner of their newly fabricated couch, a blanket pulled over her legs where they were tucked up close. She was quietly engaged in examining a priceless old book she had recently acquired. Collecting these rarities had been her pastime for twenty years; her gift from the Big L had been a particularly well-preserved anthology of poetry, and through years of shrewd trading with passing rarity dealers, she had built an impressive library from that one book.

As Madseu're entered the room, Alyana looked up at him, her eyes smiling gently as she tucked a stray hair back behind her ear. The pretty, gray strands that streaked her black hair only made her more beautiful to Madseu're. He came around behind her, and with a kiss by her ear, he whispered, "Ardan should be messaging soon, dear."

"Yes, I was just waiting for him to call," she said, returning the kiss and adding a gentle embrace with her free hand.

She moved her feet aside as Madseu're sat by her, and after settling in, he brought Alyana's legs back up across his lap.
Madseu're cast a glance at the chronometer to see the time. His son should be checking in at any moment now. Madseu're and Alyana had raised two children; their son Ardan was now studying in the Academy of Interplanetary Aeronautics, and their daughter Marele, who was 17, had just finished her primary education.

"Message incoming," Announced the personable voice simulation of telecommunication computer. "Coming online now."

A projection flickered on the wall opposite where the old married couple sat together; it flickered, and slowly came into focus. A young man, fit and well-groomed, smiled at them from across the thousands of miles of space that separated them.

"Hi, mom, hi dad!" he exclaimed happily. "You'll never guess what happened today!"

"You finally decided which one of those girls you're going to marry?" Madeu're deadpanned.

"Ha, no," Ardan laughed. "Not even close. Mom?"

Alyana shrugged. "Tell us, son!"

"I just found out something REALLY BIG!" Ardan insisted.

"And?" Madseu're asked.

"It's really BIG," Ardan repeated. "That's a hint- can you guess yet?" Now he was visibly hopping with excitement.

"Er, no, not exactly," Madseu're said with a curious move of his eyebrow. "Just tell us the big news!"

"Well, Pop, you know how I got that job in the communications department, the same one Uncle Tarwhal had when he was in the Academy?"

"Sure, go on," Madeu're slipped an arm discreetly behind his wife's waist and gave a squeeze.

"Well, today something really big came through. We picked up a radio signal from deep space; it was weak, but it came through, and guess what!"

"Afraid we're not very good at guessing just now," Alyana said to her son, while she poked a surreptitious finger into Madseu're's ribs.

The next words from Ardan’s lips brought his parents to full attention. "Mom, Pop, the message was from the Big L! He's finally returning from the mission to Terra Secunda! He'll be arriving in less than a month!"

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