Milner paced back with unease. The campfire cast orange-black flickering light on the cave walls. Milner focused on his makeshift calendar, long ago scrawled on the cave wall using red ochre.
“Nnn-Niigh. Nine years… th-three months.”
It was hard to get the words out. The scope of that was now astonishing. It was also hard to get the words out because Milner had not said a word in at least three years. Why talk when there was no one there to respond? Milner had no company being marooned here. With the passage of enough time, he came to that old realization—we speak aloud alone only to remind ourselves we have a voice: a voice others will hear.
After the fourth year, Milner gave up any inkling that he would again see another human being. The approaching ship was ambivalent, both giving him hope and terrifying him. Here came the vessel that could again carry his voice to others. Would what he had gained be lost in the process of speaking only to relate?
Milner stepped out of the cave.