Title: "Eighteen Hours"

Author: FF.N user ID 381294

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: This is a fanfiction based upon Robert Zemeckis' film "Contact," which is adapted from Carl Sagan's novel of the same name. The characters are property of their respective authors; No profit is being made from this story.

Summary: A one-shot, recounting the event of Ellie's journey via the Machine in Hokkaido, from the perspective of Dr. Kent Clark.

Author's Notes: I am severely disappointed in the lack of "Contact" fanfiction on the internet. Therefore, I make my own contribution. Let it be known that I ship Ellie/Kent like nobody's business. Also, this is the first fanfiction that I've completed in less than twenty-four hours! I began it one late Sunday morning and finished it before I went to bed. Though I think my writing got more maudlin as the night wore on... Let me know what you think! And as a tribute to Carl Sagan, I've adopted the style of chapter presentation that was in his novel.

Dedication: This story is dedicated to William Fichtner, who is a babe. He does such an amazing job portraying Kent, the brilliant blind astronomer.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Chapter 1

Eighteen Hours

"For we walk by faith, and not by sight."
2 Corinthians 5:7

"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
Antoine de-Saint Exupéry
The Little Prince (1943)

.

"I'm okay to go… I'm okay to go…" The very faint and distorted whisper may be the last Kent Clark ever had of Eleanor Arroway, and he pressed the earphone to his skull to receive it as long as he could. The incredible howling and humming of the Machine that riveted every other person in the control room was just background noise.

"I'm okay… I'm okay…"

The system director a few meters away from where Kent was seated bellowed out the countdown, and every descending number filled Kent with regret-- regret that he hadn't been with Ellie sooner, for longer. Every spare moment should have been with her, regardless is she was the one to travel to Vega. For now, she was isolated in the IPV, at the top of that lonely gantry. He tried not to shiver, ill with anxiety.

"Five! …Four!"

Then Kent felt his chair sliding forward as the ship lurched to port side. A collective cry went up in the control room, and Kent's arms flew out, grasping the desk in from of him. His headset was knocked askew when a body fell into him from behind.

"No!" he choked out. The comm was lost, the drop sequence was completed, and Ellie fell.

* * *

Kent recalled his mother saying once that the greatest love was of that which would give itself. Without a doubt, he would anything in his ability for Ellie, to help her travel to the distant stars, even if it meant never being with her again.

Upon first meeting Eleanor Arroway at Arecibo, he marveled at her passion, her perseverance. To work with her was to be invigorated. He had fought Drumlin hard when he came to Puerto Rico to inform the crew that the National Science Foundation was cutting their program. He hadn't slept at all that night, dreading to break the news to Ellie. But he should have known by then that she, like a spitfire, would not be hindered. Over the course of those thirteen months appealing for funding, every time they spoke on the phone there would always remain that dogged strain in her voice. And it was only when her temper flared did she secure Hadden's bursary.

It was apparent that she didn't seem to need anybody. Often Kent would think with a smirk that Doctor Arroway could take on the whole SETI field herself. But the longer he worked with her, and the longer he lived alongside her, the more he loved her.

A month or so after the Argus team was established at the Very Large Array, on a quiet night, she let him trace her face with his fingertips. He had been so timid, Ellie had grabbed his wrists to bring his palms to her angular jaw herself. And then deftly, he memorized her features: The curve of her cheek, the slope of her pointed nose, the arch of her brows. Her eyelashes brushed the underbelly of his thumb when she blinked patiently. Her breath fluttered over his skin when he held her chin and touched her thin lips, which had been slightly chapped from the desert heat.

"Thank you," he whispered, withdrawing his hands to clasp them at his chest.

Ellie just smiled, and brushed her own hand across Kent's cheek before saying goodnight.

She had kissed him one Christmas, after everyone had exchanged gifts around the artificial evergreen that had been set up in the facility. Kent had given Ellie an embroidered garnet-colored scarf, and she had given him a new wide-brimmed hat, with a lariat which tied under the chin- his nose would often get sunburned. Ellie had been laughing at Willie and Fischer's attempts at stringing multicolored lights on the few scrubby plants. They took a walk for some cold fresh air, strolling to the base of the nearest radio dish. She draped the scarf over both of their shoulders and pressed her smile against his.

Kent cherished huddling over a stereo speaker, listening for patterns in the chaos of the radio waves with Ellie. When she found the signal from Vega, it was all she ever wanted, all he could have wished for her. That is meant so much to her fueled his fervor to decrypt the Message. Then it took her far away as so many others became involved with the signal, and she was with him less and less as she made to be the one to travel for the International Message Consortium. Regardless, he kept wishing her Godspeed as the incredible discovery unfolded.

Kent remembered the night when Ellie had returned to the VLA from Cape Canaveral, after the destruction of the Machine. He had been glad to welcome her, overjoyed to hold her again, but the sympathy for her sadness and disappointment cut into everything like a knife. His mouth had quivered when trying to say how sorry he was, and Ellie saw this and was content to embrace, she in her rain-soaked jacket.

Later that same night, she came to his quarters amongst the cinderblock residential outbuildings of the VLA. The rare storm had subsided by then. Kent let her in, and she didn't even bother to turn on the light for herself. Ellie told him about the second Machine in Japan while he sat in his pajamas on the edge of his bed.

He despaired when she left once again, this time to the far east, which was only a stopover in the farthest journey of any terrestrial life. With the encouragement of others at Project Argus, who saw the heartbreaking lines etched into his face, Kent contacted the International Machine Consortium and got a hold of Palmer Joss. The theologian was sympathetic and secured passage to the Japanese Machine site. Flying was nearly unbearable for Kent, with the combination of turbulence and air pressure fluctuation doing nothing good for his ears. But in this case, he was begging for an earlier departure.

Arriving on the IMC ship the morning of the launch, Kent managed to get to the main control room, though he couldn't recall another time when he had been so flustered. He nearly panicked when questioned at the door, but Joss had spotted him and helped him along. And then it was enough to hear and speak to Ellie again, perhaps for the last time.

* * *

The ship righted itself, and Kent clenched his teeth together, swallowing roughly, when a technician's voice rose above the clamor like a clarion call.

"We've got video on Ellie! Five by five!"

"She's through!" the director shouted. "She is in the net!"

Kent heart strained against his ribcage. He heard Senator Kitz rattling off irate instructions to someone; he caught him say, "She's alive!" Kent inhaled, he hadn't been breathing.

He felt Joss's hand push off from his shoulder, and his footfalls hurried off to his right, to the primary monitor. Without hesitation he got up from his chair and stumbled over. All of the muscles in his right arm were tensed as he gripped his cane in his hand. With his left, he reached out and found Joss's sweater.

"What's going on," he demanded, yanking the knit cable, inadvertently tearing a hole in the yarn. He almost pushed Joss over, huddling against his shoulder, so desperate for answers. Joss leaned backward, rejoining, "I don't know, I don't know."

Relief was swelling up inside Kent, and a slight smile pulled at the corners of his mouth.

"Ellie, just hold on tight," the director was saying. "We're still trying to determine the nature of the malfunction. But the important thing is you're okay."

"What?" Her voice came through the P.A., shaky and breathy, and Kent shuddered, trying to steady his own respiration as his own heart palpitated madly. She was there, she was still here!

"What malfunction?" she inquired, disorientation plain in her voice. "What-- What happened? What day is this? How long was I gone?"

"Ellie, the IPV dropped straight through the Machine. You didn't go anywhere."

Every scientific instrument said that the IPV was out of contact for only a fraction of a second. No, Kent thought, No, it had been much longer than that…

* * *

Ellie was quarantined in the infirmary as medical tests took record of her health. When nothing was found anomalous, others were allowed in her company. Palmer Joss beat Kent to the room when the doctors gave the clear. He didn't know what the preacher talked with her about for the amount of time he was with her, and didn't care. Once he was ushered into the room, he hugged her fiercely, and then listened.

"It was all so beautiful, and numinous!" she gasped. And she spoke of all the light, color and brilliance that Kent had never seen in his life. She caught herself, after describing the blue of Pensacola ocean that they had created for her, and she began to apologize.

"No, it's alright," Kent said, holding her hand. He sat on the edge of the bed, while she reclined against a stack of pillows. "I believe you."

When these words rested on her ears, Ellie drew in a ragged breath and started to cry. "You believe me," she said, sounding incredulous. "There is no proof! I have nothing! How could anyone believe this, my story?"

Kent shifted closer to the head of the bed, to lean in closer. "Because trust is what I depend on. You know that." He moved his hand up her arm to her shoulder, to lay on the side of her face. He felt the bandage over the small cuts she had received from falling hard onto the grating of the IPV interior with the drop. "And if after all these years-" his voice broke, and Ellie saw tears fall out of his blind eyes- "If after all these years I don't trust your word, then I trust in nothing."

Ellie sat further up, shutting her own eyes tight and wrapped her arms around Kent. "Thank you," she whispered into his ear, "thank you."