The Spaces Between by Josephine Sarvaas

Day twenty-seven. Minah wakes to a tepid dawn. Amay Patel’s skies are the colour of weak tea, the air pregnant with humidity. As sleep falls away, her heartbeat rises. She switches on her tablet and checks the news.


Her breath leaves in a knife-cut rush. Then, as usual, she opens the hologram.

Jade’s pixelated form blooms from the screen. Minah’s eyes trace her daughter’s dimpled smile.

“Hey, Ibu! You must be in the shop. Can you believe we’re halfway there already? It doesn’t feel real. Anyway, call me when you get this.”

The hologram winks out; a dying spark. She presses a button and replays it.

“Hey, Ibu! You must be in the shop…”

The shop is somewhere between jungle and abattoir. Mechanical limbs hang from the ceiling at disjointed angles. Piles of scrap, the mangled shells of automated rickshaws, form peaks and valleys. Minah flits about, mind filled with deadlines and problems and parts.

At noon she pauses, grease-stained and sweaty. She fills a cracked teapot with water and moves between the plants that break through the industrial grey in vibrant bursts.

I’m trusting you to keep these alive, Jade laughed before she left. They’re my babies. 

Her hands tremble. She sets the teapot down and traces the tender stems, the ridges of leaves.

The heat in Amay Patel is a physical force; when Minah heads out to collect a delivery, it pummels her, searing her lungs. The horizon is a blur, land and sky married in a dusty haze. The noise is constant: the humming force field that keeps them breathing, rattling rickshaws, the clatter of prosthetic parts in the crowds.

“Any news?” Rahim from the warehouse asks as he hands over her parcel. In the colonies’ tiny towns, everyone knows everyone. Few arrive and fewer leave.

“Not yet.”

“They’ll find something. State of the art ships don’t just disappear.”

Except they do, Minah thinks, trudging back into the heat. For all their tracking and signals and charts, things happen in the vast void of space. In distances so great they become incomprehensible; expanses so lonely they seem beyond anyone’s reach. In those gaps between worlds, the blank spaces between, the unknown can swallow you whole. 

She returns to the shop, to fragments of bodies, wounded machines. The hologram flickers to life as she begins rebuilding.

“Hey, Ibu!” If Minah closes her eyes, she can imagine Jade is here, tending to her plants, sorting invoices, spreading books out to study. “Can you believe we’re halfway there already?”

That night Minah sits on the stoop. In the distance she can see the closest planet, Hyperion, a gleaming beacon. Far enough to be a wish, bright enough to be a promise. She thinks of the days after her husband’s accident, when they’d sit, gazing heavenward.

Abah is up there,” Jade had said, still young enough to believe stars are souls.

“He is. Nothing’s ever gone forever. The universe rebuilds it in different forms.”

“Like you in your shop.”

Day twenty-eight. Minah rises, checks the news. Nothing. She feels numb, caught between dreaming, waking, life, death, hope, despair. 

In the shop she starts projects, sets them down, fumbles and loses track. She plays the hologram on repeat.

Hey, Ibu-

She remembers the first time Jade reassembled a drone. Her gleeful cry: “There’s nothing broken you can’t put back together!”

You must be in the shop-

She remembers Jade nurturing a wildflower growing through cracked pavement. 

Can you believe we’re halfway there already?

She remembers watching Jade study, and realising with sudden clarity that she was something better, brighter than this backwater world, would someday blaze away like a comet.

It doesn’t feel real.

She remembers the scholarship letter from Hyperion’s Dawnstar Academy. The way pride battled with selfish grief. 

Anyway, call me when you get this.

Minah stands on the stoop, checking the news. Still missing. The case is high profile; the Lightblossom is a trailblazer, a cutting-edge research vessel. Its mission is revolutionary: a long-awaited return to a long-abandoned home planet. Ecological restoration. There’s nothing broken you can’t put back together.

She stares towards the dusty city, with its clanking, whirring inhabitants. Suddenly she hates Amay Patel with a fist-to-the-gut intensity. This far-flung moon, named for an ancestral dreamer who ventured forth with a heart full of hope. The same story that’s played out for millennia; migrants with calloused hands working themselves bloody for the generations to come. This dead-end, putrefied rock in the galaxy’s bowels. The Malay Interplanetary Initiative set up their glittering city on Hyperion and sent the proles here to keep the cogs turning. It was this place that drove Jade away, this-

And she loves Amay Patel. She loves it, suddenly, painfully. City of gears, of half-men, city that wears the scars of labour and sacrifice. City where they have kept scraps of their old tongue, and name their young after the old charms. City of love, passed from parent to child. Oh Jade, Jade, why wasn’t this enough? Come back. Come home. 

She presses her hands to her face. Her leathered skin is wrinkled and scarred. An old woman, wrung dry. 

She watches the sky darken into black void. 

Where are you, my child? she thinks. Somewhere out there in the emptiness, something has happened. Someone must know. Are you afraid? Are you thinking of me? If we wish hard enough, in this same moment, could we reach across everything and find each other?

Day twenty-nine. She dreams of green bursting through grey ruin, of gentle hands guiding blossoms towards sunlight. Wakes to the sour aftertaste of reality.

When she switches on her tablet, headlines burst across the screen. The words blur; she cannot bring herself to read them. She thrusts the tablet aside, her fear a rabid, live thing. 

Hands shaking, she opens the hologram instead. Hey, Ibu. Jade’s voice and face bring her back to breathing. She clings to her, one last time, as they teeter on the edge of everything.

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