After Will’s wife died, he was lost. He felt like he was drowning, and the only thing that made sense to him was his daughter. Mary was only five, but she was his world now.
It all started innocently with Mary building a Pillow Fort and inviting Daddy into “her world”. She did this sometimes when the real-world got too much and the two of them needed to escape. She built a lot of Pillow Forts in those days. This particular time she described all the incredible animals they had there from ponies to unicorns to dinosaurs. He had laughed and asked her where she had gotten all these wonderful animals?
“You made them, Daddy,” she had answered, smiling and hugging him.
He had laughed at this, but the idea had been born.
You see, this was because Will could make them.
Will was a galactic biologist specializing in cloning and DNA manipulation. And he was a very good one. He was considered top in his field. He–or, at least, his company–had repopulated full planets with native and customized plants and animals. These jobs were typically won as sub-contracts to the terra-forming process while man expanded slowly through the cosmos, planet by planet.
Many years ago, he and his wife had started a small cloning company. It had fast become a success. It had grown beyond their dreams, and–to be honest–beyond their control. Full teams worked across the galaxies on tenders won by the sales department and overseen by executives, who then reported to the Board and, ultimately, to the rest of the shareholders in the stock market.
Although Will had all the knowledge, the company did not need him anymore. The company had its own AI now. Will and his wife had built its IP with all their know-how and the company used its processes and systems with teams of scientists figuring everything else out. Although he sat in Board meetings as the Chairman, he got a distinct feeling that they did not actually want him there anymore.
At least, after losing his wife, he had the luxury of time–with a great deal of money–to look after his daughter.
And, maybe, to make her unicorns…
Mary’s innocent comments had sparked an idea. And, the idea grew in scale and grand design. It grew and grew, until one morning after breakfast, Will called the Board and resigned as Chairman. Then he called his broker and began selling his shares in the company. And, finally, he called an estate agent and explained to her what type of planet he was looking for.
It was time to make some unicorns.
“Mary, come in,” Will called, “Mary! Where are you? The delivery’s come and I need your help to unpack.” He did not really need her, but it was a good excuse to get her away from her animals and spend some time with her.
He shook his head and called out again. She was always outside with her animals. He turned to the starship captain, smiled and began to direct the crew where to put all the supplies. Even with all the AI, smart housing and house-bots running everything sustainably on their planet, they still needed regular supplies. Luckily, they did not want for money and, like most things in life, if you had enough money then someone was willing to do what you wanted.
“Hi Daddy, I’m here,” Mary said running inside, “I was just playing with the unicorns. The lady-unicorn has a baby, Daddy, she has a baby!”
The Captain looked surprised. Will smiled at him and turned to his daughter.
“That’s wonderful news, dear, but you should have come when I called. Don’t worry about it now. It’s all unpacked already. Just please do come next time I call for you.”
Mary hugged him, smiling, barely looked at the Captain, and ran off back into her wonderland. Outside a flock of herbivore-adapted pterodactyls flew over, their cawing howls strangely calming. It was matched by a pegasus neighing nearby and the distant bellow of a brachiosaurus. He could feel the herds of unicorns trotting out of the midday sun and into the nearby forest’s cool shade. In the distance, the shiny, golden dragons began to take to the sky from where they had been warming up on the rocks all day. Soon their majestic calls would ring out across the sky adding to the magical melody of the planet.
The planet was magical. It was their planet–their Pillow Fort from the world and they could lose themselves in it.
“Say, Captain,” Will began on impulse, “You and your crew don’t want to stay for a drink? It’s been almost a year since we moved out here, and it would be nice to have the company?”
“Mary, you are already here!” Will commented, surprised at his daughter standing in the docking bay and manually directing the incoming starship, “Thanks, dear, that’s very helpful.”
“No problem, Dad,” she said out of the side of her mouth, as she concentrated on the landing. Will noted that she was wearing her favorite top and he was sure he noted a touch of lipstick on her. He smiled. His little girl was growing up.
Much later that day, after a fantastic three-course meal organized by his daughter for the crew, he watched as she interrogated them about their distant planets.
The sun was becoming long as the shadows dipped into the evening. Thousands of stars and planets of the nearby galaxies appeared in the night sky as their two, personal moons rose in opposing corners. They were sitting on a patio overlooking a herd of brachiosaurus grazing as swarms of glowing fireflies flickered through the air. In the distance, a red light flared up from the mountain before extinguishing itself for the night, as one of the dragons yawned and fell asleep.
The house-bots brought out another round of drinks and Will quietly watched his daughter. She continued interrogating the crew about the outside world. She was almost eighteen now. Well-educated and with plenty of access to the Web, he did not think Mary did not know about the outside world. He had never hidden the outside world from her, even here on their private planet. But, she did not play with her unicorns anymore and the details she asked the crew belied a greater truth.
His daughter was growing up. He was a biologist and he knew what that meant.
Will checked the old starship’s vital parts and got the house-bots to refuel it. It had been almost twenty years since him and Mary had landed it on this planet, but the starship seemed in perfect working order.
He felt a lump in his throat, but he swallowed and kept checking things. The planet would survive without them just fine. It was fully terra-formed and life would continue here. Besides, it had now been many years since his wife had died and his daughter wanted to build her own life. That much was clear to him.
“Father, I’m ready.”
Will turned around and his heart missed a beat. For the briefest second, he thought his wife was standing there. His daughter was wearing an evening-dress of red silk and, made up, looked the spitting image of her mother.
Will smiled, suddenly feeling the same longing that he suspected his daughter felt. He just suspected that his longing was for something different than his daughter’s. He missed his wife, but that did not matter. She lived on in Mary.
“OK, my dear,” Will began, as Mary sat down, strapped herself in and the starship’s pre-start engines burnt up a gear, “It is time that we leave this Pillow Fort of ours. Your mother would have wanted it.”
Will reached out and grabbed his daughter’s hand. The starship began to shudder as it rose slowly into the air; its engines were heating up as the geo-nav synched with their destination. His daughter squeezed his hand and he squeezed it tightly back. The lump in his throat was there again as he looked down at their planet. Outside, it was midday and the unicorns were trotting into the cool shade of the forest as a flock of pterodactyls flew overhead cawing.
Will turned to say something to his daughter and saw her eyes sparkling with wonder and magic. The words caught in his throat. She was not looking down at the planet and their wondrous animals there. No, she was staring upwards at the stars, galaxies and planets that loomed above and far ahead of her.