From the author: An astronaut and a rock star get tattoos that measure the strength of their love for each other.
We get the love lines tattooed on our wrists on our one-year anniversary. Twelve celestial orbits of the moon. 365 rotations of the Earth. 3.154e+7 seconds since we met in the biography aisle of the quaint little bookstore on Third Street, which smells like toffee and dust. Since that serendipitous moment when you flitted around the corner and I lost my balance on that wobbly stool and somehow gravity or fate or some force higher than either drew us together, colliding like objects in space.
The guy at the guitar shop where you obsessively buy strings--a brand-new pack on the first of the month--knows a good place to get the lines done. It's near my training base, and the artist gets his ink from a meteor that crashed in the desert some twenty years ago. He's one of the best, his lines the most accurate. They glimmer silver, like some mystical mood ring when your love for a person is strong and healthy but fade out of existence when it dies.
"Now our love is written in the stars," you say between gritted teeth as his needle slides into your skin.
"And from here to the stars and back, it won't fade," I say, failing to match the poetry of your words. Your gaze becomes distant and unfocused, and I could kick myself for bringing it up. "It's only a six-month mission. I'll be back before you know it."
The wall I'm leaning against contains 312 photos of happy couples (twelve rows of twenty-six) showing off the love lines on their wrists. You seem happy to be #313, but all I can think of is how it's the seventh prime whose sum of digits is seven, which seems like bad luck somehow. You laugh when I mention it and say you love the way my mind works, and I laugh, because you're humoring me, the way I do when you talk about Hendrix and Les Paul. Our love transcends the languages we speak, surpasses the sum of our knowledge.
I smile for our picture, and you kiss my cheek, your breath full of peppermint promises. The love lines glitter on our wrists--your name on mine and mine on yours, the 'i's dotted like tiny stars.
While you're signing the receipt, I pull the photo from the wall, fold it in fourths, and shove it in my pocket.
It stares back at me now, weeks and millions of miles later, wedged in the corner of the window that looks out at the diminishing blue sphere of Earth.
I call when I can, but our connection is sporadic. The last few times have been a struggle to make out your voice over the din and chaos of wherever you're playing your latest gig.
"I'll try to catch you next time," you say by way of apology. "I gotta go do a sound-check."
"I love you--" I say, but the call's dropped and I don't know if you heard me.
The love line on my wrist stings--a sharp, jabbing pain.
In my downtime while my crewmates are sleeping, I go online and search your name, just to feel some connection. Fans post pictures--selfies with your arms around them, with their lips to your cheeks, with the silver love line on your wrist partially obscured by your jacket sleeve. I wonder how many even notice it as they buy you drinks and whisper flattery in your ear.
I research the statistical probability that you'd cheat on me while I'm gone, the lines on my wrist itching the whole time. I scratch them blindly, not wanting to look, for fear that I'll find them faded.
The message, two lines long, starts with the phrase, "I'm sorry."
For weeks afterward, my love line flares pink with anger, then fades to a thin, melancholy blue. My crewmates leave me be, knowing it's better for me to bury myself in my equations. After all, math doesn't change. One plus two won't suddenly decide it'd rather be six than three. It's not fickle, like the lines of music, with its impromptu modulations and extemporization.
The error can't be blamed on the math, only on the melody in my preoccupied mind as I run tests on the shuttle's pod.
The explosion blasts the ship in two, and when I regain consciousness, I'm alone.
Alone with stars that look like the dots of 'i's and only enough oxygen to last an hour.
The math is hopeless. No equation can solve this problem.
With shaking fingers, I dial your number, praying that you're not on stage.
The voice is so familiar, yet not. It's been weeks since we've spoken, months since I saw you, light years since we last were together. Who are you now, without me?
"Hello? Who is this?"
And with that, I know. You're a stranger again. Just another celestial body spinning through space. We collided, and now we drift apart, further and further each day. My love line stings. Its ink is gray and dull, unable to glimmer but unwilling to fade.
I don't want to die alone.
The phone crackles, and I can't tell if you've hung up or if I've simply lost the connection. With blurry eyes and straining lungs, I fumble with the comm device. I can't have you anymore, and I know it, but at least I have our memories.
I open a video with you on a bare stage, guitar in hand and lights low. You're singing that song you wrote for me about the vastness of the universe. My love line throbs. It warms. It glows. And as I drift off to space, to my place among the stars, it glimmers, the dots on the 'i's twinkling like stars, burning once more for all that we were.
This story originally appeared in Daily Science Fiction.