Inspiration credit to "The Ballad Of William Robinson" by Billy Mumy.

If Only

"Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable." - Sydney Smith

If only...

The last time he hears those two words they're a murmured sound from his father's lips, half prayer, half regret. He stares in shock, because his father has never regretted anything. He can take any situation and find some good in it. The man's hands are clenched, knuckles white, shoulders heaving. His father doesn't know he's there and it's intruding to watch this deeply personal display of grief but he can't tear his eyes away or even breathe. The sound echoes in the center of his chest and he knows as long as he lives he will hear those two words.

If only...

The last time he sees the sun - not suns, plural, for he will see many of those - it's from the window of the Jupiter 2. At the time he's too young, still too optimistic, and looking forward to the next world, to press his face to the glass and fill his eyes with the sight until they burn. It's a somewhat brighter sun than Earth and in later years he knows a simple glance could have blinded him. But he knows now if he could see it again he would look at it until the world went dark.

If only...

The last time his father picks him up he's thirteen, much too old to be held, but it doesn't matter. He's hurt his ankle so his father has a perfectly good reason for carrying him but he knows it's more. The man's arms are trembling and for the first time he senses weakness in the strong frame. He holds around his neck as they go back to the spaceship, grip tight and warm. He doesn't know then that's it's the last time his father will ever hold him.

If only...

The last time there are eight of them he's flying the spaceship for the first time alone and he knows he's become a man, trusted. His heart swells with pride and his eyes are awed by the lights and the shooting stars as they pass planets and comets on their way. He sees the asteroid too late to swerve, and his mouth freezes ice cold, unable to even yell. There's a lurch of metal, an explosion of fire, and the spaceship is thrown sideways, crashing through space. His head hits the screen and he slides to the floor. When he wakes it's hours later and the ship is still. Around him he can see his family, tossed like broken dolls. There's one, against the wall, covered in blood and still. He crawls forward, touching him, a name forming in his mouth like a litany. But there's no answer because it's much too late.

If only...

The last time he teases Penny they're sitting on the beach and she's afraid to stick her hand into a perfectly harmless hole that he's fished clam-like creatures out of for supper. There's a sound to their left and they turn to see a stranger. Its a crab-like creature, shimmering blue, oddly beautiful and strange. Penny, with her gentle heart and love for all life, reaches out to it. Somehow, for some reason, he shouts, never even knowing why. Her eyes lift to him as her hand brushes the creature, widening with a sudden emotion. His eyes meet her's, framed in horror, in the instant when she knows that he knows...and then her eyes close.

If only...

The last time he annoys Don while he's working the pilot is fixing the pump for their fuel and too busy to answer his question but Don listens anyway. After a while he sees the line of frustration set into the man's face and walks away. He's halfway to the spaceship when the land behind him explodes, the mine sending bits of twisted metal into the air. A missing part, Dr. Smith says. He never knows if he talked too much and caused the part to be forgotten. All he remembers is the sound of Judy sobbing, and his own voice echoing two words inside his head.

If only...

The last time he sees flowers they're growing beside the grave as if an alien hand placed them there and nowhere else in this desolate world. It's a single patch of strange green stalks with tiny white flowers waving atop like flags of surrender. He hates them, and he loves them. But there's only a little water on this planet and too much sun and they quickly wilt and wither away. He can't bring himself to rip them up so he leaves them there beside the grave, buried with his family.

If only...

The last communication he sends out is a single, futile attempt to save the remnant of them still sane, still living. He only sends a brief message - location and save us - before the machine dies. When it finally runs down like a windup toy he slams his fists into the machine, beating on the metal until they're bloody. The others don't look his way, staring sightlessly ahead into the vaulted galaxy that looks just like any of the other millions they've seen over the decades. Only the Robot looks his way, machanical gaze strangely infused with a sort of sympathy.

If only...

The last time he flies the Jupiter 2 the craft is out of fuel and the world ahead has none for he's already been there, a week, a month, a year ago...he doesn't remember how long. The craft is falling apart and all the repair work he tries can't fix it. It's simply too old, too worn, and too used. Like him, it has seen too much. The landing is hard but he sets it down in one piece, sunken partially into sand and soon to be buried by it, a final grave for his home and prison.

If only...

The last time he cries it's morning and there's no sun. This world simply doesn't have one. He cries silently, and only two tears fall from his eyes, splashing without sound into the sand at his feet and vanishing without a trase. He no longer knows what he's crying for, whether it's his family, or for memory of Earth, or for the abandoned spaceship behind him. Perhaps it's for all of those things. And perhaps for one more...himself.

If only...

The last time he thinks it's not in words but merely snatches of memories - isolated images like postcards stuck on a scrapbook page or disjointed phrases from Penny's tapes, long broken and thrown away. Things such as fresh-cut grass and lemonade in crystal glasses, "Quoth the raven, nevermore." or "and deliver us from evil". They linger for a little while, meaningless, devoid of life, before slipping out of his mind and into darkness.

If only...

The last time he speaks it's the faintest thread of a whisper that seems unbearably loud in the still room. He speaks only two words, words that used to mean something but he can no longer remember what. He turns his face to the sky and says them as a prayer, a final plea. But there's no answer.

If only...

The last time he sees a star it's a cold and lifeless orb suspended between time and space and he wonders how he ever found such a thing beautiful. It's the only star in this entire galaxy and despite himself and out of loneliness he begins to look for it every hour, a last lifeline of sanity in the vastless depths and heights of space. He doesn't know where he is, and he no longer has any concept of where Earth might be, whether up or down, before or behind him. Perhaps it no longer matters. Sometime later he opens his eyes in what might have been night or morning, both are the same here, and sees the star flare up, more brightly than it has ever shone and more than it will ever shine again. His breath catches and heart lurches, mouth opening in a silent cry as the star explodes outwards, delicate silver shards bursting into fire. And in the next instant there's complete and total darkness.

If only...

The last time there is only silence and nothing more.