Terry Wilson has had enough of Earth.
Nothing remains there for him but painful memories. So when the Wagon Train project offers him the chance to settle a new planet, he jumps at the opportunity.
But when important news arrives from Earth, and the space mission experiences unexpected challenges, Terry wonders if he'll ever feel at home again.
Mr. Wilson is a 10,000-word short story. No sex or obscene language. It does contain some mild violence. Rated PG.
“You understand, Mr. Wilson,” said the young bureaucrat in the cheap suit, “that once you sign this contract, everything is final.”
Terry nodded his old gray head. “I understand.”
The man wrote something on his notepad. “You will have no way of communicating with any friends or family you leave behind on Earth, even before you go in the pod.”
“You're absolutely certain? You have a son, correct? You can live without ever speaking to him again?”
“I said so, didn't I? I passed my psych test, didn't I? Isn't that enough?”
“It's my job to be certain. Tests aren't completely accurate. The government wants an element of human judgment before giving the final go-ahead. I'm that judge. And I don't like the idea of sending a family man into deep space. Familial bonds are powerful forces, and we need people who are going to be completely focused on the task at hand, not distracted by loved ones left behind.”
Terry leaned forward with a scowl. “Listen, kid. I know you're just trying to do your job, but you don't know anything about me. Yeah, I've got a son. But I haven't talked to him in years. We had a fight one day, a real blow-up, and he took off, and that was that. He wants nothing to do with me, and it's taken me a long time to come to terms with that. But I have come to terms with it. And your attitude isn't helping. I don't want to talk about Keith, and I don't want to be reminded of him. The whole point of this trip is for me to leave everything behind, including him. There's too much pain here. I want a chance to start over on a new planet. A chance to be happy, even if just for the few years I've got left. Do you understand what I'm saying here?”
The man nodded and wrote on his pad again. After a few moments, he stopped and looked up. “All right, Mr. Wilson. I'm giving you final approval.” He pushed a form across the table. “Just sign here.”
When the day came to leave for Layover Station, Terry was ready. His belongings, carefully chosen by size and weight, had been squeezed into his flight-issue backpack. He carried personal things only, things with sentimental value. Mundane items like clothes and toiletries and entertainment devices would be provided when he arrived. It was far cheaper to make those things in space than to ship them up from Earth.
He entered the waiting area near the hangar. The others were already there. Numbering fifteen total, they were young, in their twenties and thirties. He had known for a while that he would be something of an outsider due to his age, but stepping into that room with all those relative children really brought the issue home. Would he be able to fit in? Or would they think of him as just dead weight? Then again, the “wisdom of years” was supposed to be his unique asset, so perhaps they'd come to value him in time.
“Hey, Mr. Wilson,” said a young man. He extended a hand. “Glad to see you made it. We weren't sure they'd give you final approval.”
Terry shook his hand. “Thanks, Brent. Yeah, I wasn't sure, either. But here I am. And I'm ready to settle a new world. How about you?”
Brent grinned. “Absolutely.”
Terry made the rounds, shaking hands and greeting everyone. Good manners had never been more important. These people would soon depend on one another—and on him—for their lives as they eked out a living on virgin soil. He was determined to get every relationship off on the right foot.
“All right, people,” said a voice over the intercom. It was Jason Hurral, the manager of the Wagon Train settlement project. “Time to load up. The Surly Bonds is now boarding.”