During his absence, Fanaka had stopped shaving his face and head. The hair on chin had sprouted and begun to go grey. Over the years, these grey hairs had spread across his jaw and up his sideburns, almost reaching his hairline. The shirt and slacks that he had worn when he left Earth had long since worn away, and he wore some undergarments that he'd stolen from a Zalgon starcruiser under a worn camelhair dressing gown that he'd been given by an old friend.
He walked down the steps of the saucer shaped craft that had brought him home and tested the ground with his foot. Yes. Earth. He had a satchel full of equipment that he could use to test this hypothesis. There was no need. Every fibre of his body said 'Earth'. More to the point, he could see a little shack with a sign that read 'South Hertling Cub Scouts'. The shack shook slightly and a deeply unpleasant music issued from within. Highland Dance group. That made it the second Wednesday of the month.
Fanaka turned back. "We made it," he said. "Earth."
Sgt. McKenzie-Plod poked his head out of the craft. If anything, he had changed even more than Fanaka. He had abandoned his uniform in favour of a Trezanian dashiki and a set of Blezononian artillery goggles. His hair had grown down to his shoulders, and his moustache had expanded into an enormous horseshoe.
"I'm not coming, Fan," he said.
"What? But… but all those years of searching…"
"Oh, Fan," the sergeant said, laying a hand on Fanaka's broad shoulder. "That was for you, man. It was so important for you to get back home to that robot gal of yours. But what's there on Earth for me?"
"I'm not going back to being a pig, man," the Sergeant said. "I can't go back to that repressed button down scene man. Not after I've seen the wonders of the universe."
Fanaka's brow furrowed. "Weren't you mostly high when you were on duty?"
"Well, true, but…"
A pale, slender figure emerged from the door and turned her enormous, black eyes on the Sergeant.
"Coming, honey," the sergeant said.
And with that, the penny dropped for Fanaka. He clasped his old friend in a big hug, then turned and marched down the steps. At the edge of the reserve he turned to see the saucer take off, leaving him alone on the quiet suburban street. From his satchel he took a flannel towel, dried his eyes with a corner, and walked around the corner to block where once and again he shared a flat with Nalda.
Nalda wasn't home. That was as much a relief as a disappointment. If Fanaka's calculations were correct then relative to Earth time he had barely been gone. Nalda hadn't had time to go cold on him while he'd been away. He was more worried about how he would feel when he saw her. For the last ten? fifteen? years, he'd been searching for Earth, motivated by his desire to see Nalda. This desire had made him escape Drilbanian prisons, race black hole singularities, to challenge lava flows and vacuums and Alderbaranian quicksand. He had staked everything on seeing Nalda again, time and time again and the thought that seeing her might be a letdown terrified him more than anything.
Fanaka made himself a cup of tea and took a seat on the sofa. Real tea. Just cheap English Breakfast, but so much better than that swill they served in the Horsehead Nebula. As he sat and he sipped, he looked out the window, seeing the peak of the Pyramid in the distance. A shiver ran down his spine. He still didn't quite know what the Pyramid was. But after what he'd seen on Deneb VII, he had a much better idea…
His eye was caught by a white square on the coffee table. It had been so long since he'd seen a paper note, he'd almost forgotten what they looked like. Picking it up, he focused on the unfamiliar script. His heart almost skipped a beat as he recognised Nalda's precise handwriting.
"Prison break?" he muttered. "I missed all the fun."
He turned on the TV and clicked around channels. The multiple breakouts from Sydney gaols was all over the news channels, including lots of interviews with a bikie looking guy identified as Zobek the Hunter who had apparently been hired by the prison authorities to track down the escapees. Fanaka frowned at this and kept clicking until he hit House Finders.
"…ouse number 2 is okay, with five rooms, two bathrooms, off street parking and access to transport, all well under budget. But the mailbox was a really weird colour, you know…"
"Oh, Planet Earth," Fanaka sighed. "Out there, there amongst the grandeur and mystery of the cosmos... out there, I really missed your stupidity and pettiness."
And then the door opened. Fanaka sat bolt upright in his sofa as Nalda strode into the lounge room. When had she seen him last? The day before? It was unfair, unfair that he should have missed her so badly while she…
"Vat happened to your hair, Liebchen?" she said.
"I… I let it grow out."
She nodded slowly. "Time dilation accident?"
"In a way. I got thrown out of space and time when the Watch and the Measure…"
"No exposition," she said. "Not now. How long… how long?"
"Hard to say. Ten years. Fifteen, perhaps."
She locked eyes with him. He could tell, even through her dark sunglasses. He could always tell.
"Fifteen years," she said. "Do… do you still love me?"
And then he was on his feet, and his arms were around her. The whole galaxy was gone from his mind and there was no place but the flat and no one but them.
As they fell back to the sofa, Fanaka butt-pressed the remote, bringing Zobek the Hunter back onto the screen.
"Turn it off, Liebchen," Nalda said. "Turn it off."