This story was first published in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination (Nov/Dec 2016) and was shortlisted for the inaugural Nommo Award for best African SF short story.
When she was four he found her in the back yard, holding a brick unsteadily above her head, poised to bring it down on a small heart-shaped clock he had bought her for her bedside table.
It lay face up glass sparkling in the afternoon sun.
“Sorry Baba, I wanted to see what’s inside,” she said.
So he took her to the garage, where he kept his tools, and they dismantled it, carefully removing every minute spring and cog from the casing. Almost a hundred pieces. She studied them for a moment and said “Oh, that’s easy,” and ran back outside to play on the grass.
When she was eight she would watch Sagan’s Cosmos on Sunday afternoons. After “The Lives of the Stars,” she asked him to help tie a sheet to the posts of her bed, so that it hung about a ruler’s length above the mattress. When she was satisfied that the sheet was sufficiently taut, she placed a ball in its centre, thus deforming it.
“I want to show you about gravity,” she said, smiling.
They spent the next hour rolling marbles and watching their paths twist around the apples, oranges, and golf balls she set upon their white, cotton space-time.
When she was eleven, her mother died. It was sudden and unexpected. She looked at her mother’s scans and traced with her fingers the branches and finer tendrils that spread outwards from the tumor’s central mass. She said that it reminded her of an orchid she’d seen in a book.
He’d brought home a model rocket. A project to distract them from their loss, if only for a little while.
When she was seventeen, he let her go for the first time. “It’s Stanford, Baba,” she said, which settled it. They called every second weekend. She would tell him of what she was learning and building. He would close his eyes and simply listen to her voice, chuckling inwardly at the Americanisms creeping into her vocabulary and warming with pride when he had to ask her to explain something that was so far beyond him that he couldn’t hope to understand.
When she was twenty-seven, he let her go for the second time. She called to tell him she was coming home, that she’d be flying into Harare as soon as she could.
He changed the sheets in her bedroom, bought a leg of lamb for roasting, and the next day she was there. As evening settled it was cooler outside, so they sat near the bird bath in wire mesh chairs.
“Baba, I was picked.”
She was leaving. She’d be one of the first.
He insisted on driving her back to the airport and, after watching her plane take off, he sat in the parking lot for a very long time before heading home.
It wasn’t just America this time. It was much farther.
When she was thirty-one he let her go for the last time. The initial phase was a success and they would be going to sleep soon. There was no chance of a phone call, that had been impossible before they’d even passed Mars. And so they sent each other messages, hundreds of them. Not a conversation but a torrent—of memories, of hopes, of anecdotes, and advice, anything that came to them, anything at all. Leave nothing unsaid. Or at least try.
And then, her last message. Her goodbye. She would not get his response until after he was long dead.
The old man had stopped by the maker-space to ask if they would mind helping him digitize some things. Stephen was surprised, and flattered, by the request. Lameck Muchatibaya’s daughter was a big deal.
“They have to be perfect,” Lameck stressed. “I need them to be reproducible, printable, in 3D, you understand?”
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Stephen said.
Then Lameck had shown him what he wanted to model.
“Okay,” said Stephen, “this might take a while.”
They met every Saturday for nearly four months, taking thousands of photographs, capturing millions of data points. Once done, they’d generated almost a hundred models. Minute springs, cogs, and screws. A digitized mess of old, miniature machine parts.
When she was two-hundred and seventeen she woke from stasis to the twin suns of her new home.
And a message.
“My daughter. My beautiful, clever girl.
I always knew that you’d do something important. And I am proud. So proud. But it is hard without you. When a man has a daughter his heart is no longer his own. And so I am sending you a heart, the heart you nearly broke, the heart we took apart together. Though you’re impossibly far away my heart is following, rushing after you at the speed of light, rushing to the only one who understands it, to the only one who can put it back together again.