Two glittering trails of shuttles were ascending towards the rest of the stars. At that gleaming convoy's bottom, two lovers looked into each other's’ eyes with absolute certainty that it would be the last time.

"You've got to remember to write me, you know." Vadim said.

Adair released his embrace, smiled, and drew himself closer.

"Ten thousand letters. We both promised already. We don’t need to promise."


An hour later, alone with hundreds of strangers, Adair's handwriting fought against turbulence as the shuttle brought him towards space. The first of his letters to Vadim was completed before the shuttle docked with the Mystic. The second was interrupted while Adair was jostled through check-in procedures and inoculations. The third was stained with tears before he'd finally fallen asleep that first night. He dreamed of undermining the theories of warp travel to allow for communication between the two ships.

The Mystic and the Severe were two enormous tubes of concrete lined with aluminum and laced with steel beams, pulling themselves along the inhalations and exhalations of space by way of warp fields. The names of the ships abandoned all formality of military titling or nationalism to embody the ships' cargo:; twenty thousand colonists aimed at a new world to grace it with humanity's presence. The names might better fit the ships themselves; rough, stripped down machines that glided along on luminous wings that approached magic.

Adair woke, and began relaying his dream's beauty to Vadim before the pain of its impossibility forced him to tear the page out and stare at the blank one beneath it. He collected his thoughts, gauged his emotions, and started by writing a four in the upper right corner of the page and circling it. The letter was as close to the perfect truth of his love as he could explain. The nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-six that were to follow were all born from the same level of discipline and inspiration.

The mission of the ships was a multigenerational one, to preserve a wide base of genetic diversity amongst its "crew" until such time as it reached its destination, some dozens of lightyears away. The estimated travel time, as tricky as it was to predict warp travel's surges and stutters, was around three hundred and twenty years. The crew's mission aided by a full suite of amenities provided by the electronically- controlled habitat, was to simply procreate and survive.

After some years aboard the Mystic, Adair fulfilled the first aspect of this by allowing his genetic material to be combined with a suitable enough match. There was no relationship; even an exchanging of the personnell dossiers was merely a formality while the geneticists did their work. Most had heard of his eccentricities; the writing for hours on end, the trading of food and luxury goods for paper rations and ink. His isolation was reassuring enough, compared to the panic that overwhelmed some.

When Adair had finally failed at the second aspect of his mission, his personal quarters were to be cleared and his possessions recycled. This day was notable for the crew tasked with the cleanup only for discovering ten handbound books, each titled in bold.

"To the Severe

To Vadim"

with volumes arranged in groups of one thousand letters each. It was the first time in some years that any had considered the lives of those aboard the other ship. These ten books were regarded as a cultural curiosity for some time; a testament to the power of love during the stressful journey, and a reminder that there were others out there confined in the same way, and that they would one day be united to share a new world.

As the generations slipped onwards through space, the first volumes became an amazing look at what the early days about the Mystic were like. Everyone was strictly dedicated to their duties aboard the ship. Adair recounted several incidents which, though seemingly minor, must have held some special meaning between him and Vadim. A simple phrase might give the reader pause as it directs them to life prior to the Mystic: A mess hall's meal schedule being changed is likened to "academy days", or the recurring motif of cool nights on the beach. The letters, after a hundred years or so, were known as passages, and each was tagged and searchable. There was a wealth of knowledge to be learned about the struggles of Earth before the launching of the two ships. Vadim's features and mannerisms were common knowledge. His calm generosity and pride were to be aspired to. Adair's own devotion was unquestionable, the proof condensed into pocket editions and educational courses.

Hidden meanings were divined from apparently basic passages about the day they first met. Occasional "apocryphal" letters were found, examined, and cast off as falsifications. The names Adair and Vadim were common for children, even if the endless variations and diminutive forms were ignored. Those descended from Adair's own blood were thought to have a strong spiritual connection with those aboard the Severe, those back on Earth, and all humans everywhere. The practice of letterkeeping was their expected task, though many found themselves developing an obsession and writing about it or to it on a nightly basis.

In time, as the Mystic shook and swerved its way through years of emptiness, all living within its coarse frame had a favored passage with special meaning to them. All longed for the day that they would fulfill their destiny and live under a warm sun next to the people of the Severe. They wanted to stretch out and rest on cool sands with Vadim's people. There was a cultural void, a feeling of being half of a perfect whole. There was, after a point, no way of knowing how much longer the voyage would be, and the preparations were readied and re-checked every decade. The descendants of Adair were to be the ambassadors that would meet with the descendents of Vadim and usher in that perfect age. A pristine love from hundreds of years ago, known by thousands upon thousands who lived and died, would be reignited.

One day, the scintillating wings of the Mystic went cold and folded back. All was still above the blue sphere they were orbiting. Sensors detected the Severe, far beyond visual range. Radio signals were beaming between it and the surface. A call was made, and the reunion was scheduled for the next day.

Adair XI sat calmly in the shuttle, his hands folded over a lucite sealed copy of the first passage of "To the Severe" and a data drive of the complete works, with several sets of interpretations and annotations by the Adair line. His focus was split between the task at hand and restraining himself from pressing his face against the window as his honor guard were doing. He allowed them this first sight of the small grey city they were circling towards. The eddies of space and time are strange, and the Severe had arrived and gotten to work some eighty years prior. In this time, they'd achieved a considerable amount.

Adair XI was led through halls, his honor guard diverting foot traffic around him and clearing his path to the main administrative office. Leaving his honor guard at the door, he went alone into a conference hall. He sat and laid his cultural offering on the table before him. Meditating on this divine moment. The forces of centuries and the vast between stars had brought him here. He turned as the door opened, and a young man brought in a tray with carafes of water, tea, and coffee. This was not the moment. He allowed the man to excuse himself before he coughed to mask his frustration. Hundreds of years and there was nothing more celebratory here than the refreshments a host might offer their guest out of obligation. He stared down at the faded, hastily jotted writing made clean and hard by the lucite casing. He'd meditated on this passage for years.

"We both promised, but we didn't need to."

It was the spirit that had carried the Mystic all this way. And now, finally, the door clicked open again and a woman entered, seating herself directly across from him. There was no embrace here; this was still not the moment.

"Hello, welcome home. Adair, was it?" she smiled. "We were worried about you, you know, and the Mystic. Two for two, though, those're some fantastic results, given the odds. I'm kidding, though. We're all truly glad you've arrived in one piece. We've got people that say the Mystic was a myth, you know, to keep us in line. Can't say the doubt never got into me at times, but here we are."

She began pouring herself coffee, and gestured to an empty glass in front of Adair XI. He ignored this.

"My people...our people, have waited for this moment for generations. On the first night of the migration, Adair, my ancestor, wrote this. It is the first of the Ten Thousand Letters." He slid the tablet across the table and watched as she scanned it.

"Very touching. Yes, it's beautiful. The Mystic's commander informed me of this act of devotion." She was smiling again, and retrieved a small object from her pocket. "We were able to track down Vadim's own letters. We were previously unaware of his personal writing, though it was in the computer's drives." She tapped the object, and lines of text flickered and flowed above it. "I was only made aware last night that I am a blood relative of Vadim's, and it's charming to find that I had such a romantic in my ancestry. Here we have some five thousand letters, all addressed to your great-great, etcetera, grandfather."

The number sunk into Adair XI's bones. He stood up. "Five thousand? How were the others lost? Was there a malfunction?"

She set her coffee down on the table. "No, that was all he wrote."

"All? Surely there's, say, a personal diary or hidden data drive somewhere. There has to be!"

"No, this is it. It's all accounted for. The last one even states a final signoff. You are welcome to read them all in whichever format you’d prefer."

"Vadim broke his promise? Did he grow ill?" Adair IX cried. His voice filled the room as he stretched across the table, snatching back the tablet. "Only five thousand? What did Vadim do with his life? Did he become feebleminded with age? Did his faculties leave him altogether? Was his love a lie upfront, or did it wither inside him with the absolute knowledge that it was an unworthy match to Adair's?"

The descendant of Vadim nudged it towards him and stood up. "He wrote every day of his life." she said. "He dedicated his life to formulating many of the building and agricultural techniques we've employed in this last century of ours. He set aside time to catalog as much as he could about the world he grew up on, its peoples, its places. His love was not confined to a single person. I think you'll find that his work has created a more than suitable world for the people of the Mystic."

Adair XI could not listen to this. This was not the moment. He was realizing that he was born long past the moment. The moment was before Adair's first letter had been written in the shuttle. The moment had nothing to do with promises of letters or hopes for reunion. The moment was Adair and Vadim's, and it was unwritable. They’d both promised, but they didn’t need to.