“Mrs. Anderson? There’s a message for you, visual included. I can play it inside if you—”
She rocked back in her chair, the antique with the wooden runners, and tilted her head. The porch creaked when she moved, the porch she’d made them keep.
“Never mind about the message, Alice. Why don’t you watch the stars with me?”
Alice laughed, the polite laugh they were both used to. “Mrs. Anderson, you watch the stars every night. This is a message from Sam.”
She looked away from the pinpricks of light. “A message from Sam? Doesn’t he write me?”
Alice nodded. “Yes, ma’am, but he’s given you something to look at this time.”
She stood up, creaking almost as much as the porch. “I suppose that means you can’t get that fancy machine to give me a piece of paper with his writing on it, can you?”
Alice smiled and turned to open the screen door. “No, ma’am, I can’t. The computer can retranslate code into handwriting, but visuals are visuals.”
She held up her hands. The porch light outlined every crease crisscrossing her skin. “Well, I grant the machine that. Let’s go see what Sam looks like now, shall we?”
Alice held open the screen door for her, and she walked into the kitchen, trying not to shuffle across the battered linoleum. A light flickered on when they entered, but she ignored the automated readout that announced the inner climate controls. At the door to the living room, she stopped with her hand on the warped doorjamb.
“Alice, can’t we keep that off? If I’m expected to live with these newfangled gadgets—”
Alice laid a hand on her shoulder, guiding her into the room and across the worn carpet. The automatic lights blinked on, but Alice switched them off and circled the room to turn on the lamps instead.
“Mrs. Anderson, these ‘gadgets’ are over two hundred years old. Even you—”
“Aren’t that old,” she finished, with a wry smile. “I know, Alice, I know.” She settled into her understuffed armchair and reached for her usual afghan, lacing her fingers through the knitted holes.
“Are you sure you don’t want to give that to a museum, or maybe one of our research teams?” Alice asked. “That’s really where it belongs.”
She blew out her breath, sharply. “It belongs with me. You know I don’t like these synthetics, Alice. When I die—”
Alice smiled. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep it for you. I’m only asking because I have to.”
She tucked the afghan across her lap. “I know, my dear, I know.”
As the visual transmitter powered up, she tried to ignore the insistent hum of machinery. Alice’s fingers skated across the control board, pressing here and there until the screen turned from dead black to uncertain gray.
“Alice—” She shifted in her chair.
Alice pressed another button, and a timestamp formed on the screen. “Do you need something? We can watch this another time, if you’re tired.”
She shook her head. “No, I’d like to see Sam. But Alice—” She searched for the right words. “I’m sorry that you have to do this. I’ve gone on long enough not to be sorry for myself, but for you to be here—”
Alice turned away from the transmitter, towards her, and smiled. “Oh, I don’t mind. Would I have requested this assignment if I didn’t want it?”
She smiled in return. “I suppose not. But a bright girl like you, you should be out there.” Glancing up at the peaked ceiling, she added, “Up there, like Sam and Loretta, exploring. An astronaut.”
Alice laughed, the one she used when she really meant to laugh. “They don’t call them that anymore, but I never wanted to be one. I like the old things, you know.”
She chuckled, a creaky laugh. “So caring for this living piece of history is just your cup of tea, isn’t it?” Reaching for the lamp beside her chair, she pulled the beaded chain to extinguish the light.
Alice pressed the transmitter’s last button, and Sam’s face replaced the timestamp.
“Hello to the word’s best Grandmam from GT-937!” His voice scratched and creaked almost as much as hers, but she smiled. “Cadet Sam Robinson reporting.”
She leaned forward in her chair. “Reporting, are you? Well, go on.”
Sam grinned. “I’m sorry we can’t do this in real time, but the communications delay would be ages. We’re pretty far out—you know that already.” He glanced down at his hands, and she stared a little harder at the screen.
“You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just write you,” he continued. “I thought about it, but I also thought you might want to see this. Remember the Lucians I told you about?”
She nodded, forgetting that he couldn’t answer. “Those aliens, the ones that have their own shine.”
“They’re called ‘life forms,’” Alice corrected gently, “and they emit light, Mrs. Anderson.”
Sam laughed. “Alice is probably correcting your terminology, so I gave her a second.” He glanced down at his hands again, and then back up. “I had an adventure with these Lucians. The details aren’t important, but it changed me.”
She clutched her afghan a little tighter. “Sam—”
“I’m fine, I’m really fine,” he assured her. “Loretta can send you all my scans, if you want. There was a time when I—wasn’t, but I’m fine now.”
He held up his hands, and she blinked, hard. “Sam, are your hands—”
“Glowing,” he finished. “Yeah, they are. I’m still as human as you are, but I’ve turned half-Lucian too. I have a shine like they do, and I can see them easier.” He dropped his hands and smiled. “Dad calls it a great scientific breakthrough.”
“Well, does he?” She sat back in her chair. “Jacob calls plenty of things scientific. He was always the grandson messing with—”
“You’re probably grumbling about Dad,” Sam interrupted. “That’s okay, he doesn’t mind. We all think you’re wonderful. But Grandmam—”
“Yes?” She sat forward in her chair, and the afghan slid to the floor.
“The Lucian part of me makes it hard to see the stars.” He smiled again, but without his grin. “There’s so much light, and their sky can get cloudy as fast as an April thunderstorm. So I was wondering—could you send me some of the stars from your place?”
She laced her fingers together. “Sam, I don’t—”
“It isn’t that hard, Grandmam.” He clasped his glowing hands behind his back. “Just head out to that porch of yours. Alice will help you send the transmission, and all you have to do is say, ‘Hello, Sam. Here are the stars.’”
She stood slowly, still watching his face.
“And Grandmam?” He leaned forward. “It would be nice to see you.” Then he dropped his hands to his sides. “Cadet Robinson, reporting out from GT-937. Lots of love, from Sam.”
The transmitter screen faded to gray. She drew a deep breath as Alice reached for the lamp. The light clicked on, and they blinked in the warm glow.
“Well, Alice?” she said. “I suppose you are going to watch the stars with me, after all.”