The OFFICE: such a stupid name for the largest space station ever built. It was a nickname really, short for Orbital Facility for Interplanetary Commerce and Engineering – a big name for a big hope. With the moon base only starting to be built, we were not exactly interplanetary. Not yet at least. They kept saying it would be ready next year. I think I was in middle school the first time I heard that line, “Next year, next year.” I didn’t really care about that. It isn’t a passion for me, just a job. I scored high on some sort of three-dimensional spatial awareness aptitude test my guidance counselor had us all take, and next thing I knew, I had a recruiter offering me a contract to spend two years in orbit flying engineering pods. I didn’t jump at that so much as fell into it. It was my chance to get away from… well… from everything. A chance to leave my hometown, a town that had to rent a horse just to be a one-horse town. A chance to get away from Bobby, who blamed me for shoving him down the stairs just before the big game. I didn’t shove him, at least not hard, and it was his fault. He was standing too close to me, and he refused to go to Prom with me. It was a chance to get away from my family, who I always knew were holding me back, always saying I needed therapy or to pray more or I how should get along with people. Maybe people need to get along with me! Why should I have to change? Maybe the Bobbys and Terrences and JoAnns of the world needed to change.
“Rae,” the voice said, almost too quietly for me to hear.
“Leave me alone,” I said. “You aren’t here.” How dare he interrupt my thoughts.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
I leaned over and turned on the radio. “What did you say?”
He sounded clearer now, louder, “I said I am sorry.”
I shrugged, “For?” I asked – no, demanded.
“For pushing you away earlier. I didn’t want to, I wanted to kiss you as well. I was so excited at the chance, but this just felt like the wrong place,” he answered.
I stared at the radio and composed myself. I counted my heartbeats while I waited to ten, eleven, twelve. “You are lying,” I answered. I reached to turn the radio off again.
“No! Rae, I swear,” he answered quickly, “I’ll prove it!”
I hesitated, my hand retreating from the button. “Go on,” I replied.
I heard him breathing, a few deep breaths as he prepared to pour his heart out to me, “Ever since arriving at the OFFICE, you were the only thing I looked forward to seeing. Spending time with you was the only thing that mattered in my day. I was already away from my wife. That was most of the reason I took this job to begin with, but I never expected to see someone, to meet someone like you, up here.”
“Go on,” I said again. I tried to fight the smile, but I could feel one forming on my face.
“You were everything I was looking for, everything I had given up on finding when I settled…settled for HER! You are smart, and funny, and creative, and just seeing you lights up a room. I could see you enter the conference hall from where I was sitting that day, and it was like I had been dreaming my whole life of that moment, and only now awoke. You were… you are… everything I need, everything I desire.”
I was smiling now, I could not help it, I could not stop it. I didn’t try to.
“Look, I hurt you, and I am sorry for that. Leave me here in space. Fly back to the station. I deserve to die out here in the cold, but before I die, my one regret, my one wish, is that kiss. Let me have that one kiss, and then do what you want…”
I nodded. I pulled myself out of the chair and floated towards the airlock. Maybe I would push him back out after. Maybe not. I had not decided yet, but I would have that kiss. I wanted it as well, maybe almost as much as he did.
I tapped the button to reel him in and opened the outer lock. The winch pulled in the safety line, and I watched his suit through the small window in the hatch, his body so stiff as it bumped around before finally being pulled in through the outer door. I hit the seal and saw the outer hatch close, heard the hiss as air was pumped into the tiny room. When the light turned green on the panel, I knew it was safe and opened the inner door. He didn’t resist as I grabbed his helmet, twisted the seal, and opened it. His eyes were wide, unblinking. I pressed my lips to his. It felt like kissing ice.
The radio spoke again, “Darling, now we can finally be together.”
How come his lips didn’t move as he spoke?
It didn’t matter. This was perfect, PERFECT! He drifted past me in the cabin and – stiff-armed, legs unbending – he resumed his seat next to the console.
“I can’t wait to tell my parents,” I said, “as soon as we get back to the OFFICE, I’ll radio them.”
“Why wait?” the radio asked. “We could go there now, show them?”
“Show them?” I took my seat at the control. I was the pilot, after all, or technically the driver ever since someone who didn’t know what they were talking about called us drivers and it stuck in the paperwork.
He moved his hand and flipped a switch. I heard something begin to whine. “Yes, show them.
Let’s go visit your parents. We can show them how good you are doing.”
I smiled. I could not believe how big a smile my face could hold. “Yes, let’s do that.” Something in my mind seemed to be bothered by that idea. Wasn’t there a warning? “Won’t the OFFICE get mad if I take the OTV down to Earth?” Were Orbital Transfer Vehicles even capable of landing on Earth? I remember something in the training – something they said while I was daydreaming about him: emergency landing only. But this was an emergency, I had to show them all how good I had made it!
“Nonsense! You would just be taking it down for a little bit. We can land at your old high school… show them all how amazing you are doing. An astronaut, a pilot, loved by the man of your dreams.”
I nodded. It was perfect, and yes, flying down to the old school, showing JoAnn and Bobby and Terrence and all the others; it would be worth it! Even if the OFFICE got mad at me, it would be worth it. I quickly typed in the codes and plotted a course. The computer gave me a red warning, so I hit the override and another override after that. Why was the computer insisting on ruining my day to shine? The computer threatened something new, a “Final warning.”
“Yes, my love!” I assured him, “Let’s go show the world how happy we are!” I yelled as I hit another override and pushed the ignite button for the engine.
Red lights began flashing through the capsule, an alarm I did not recognize. The computer flashed warnings, something about a catastrophic reentry. What did it know? I was the pilot! Love would always conquer all!
The alarms went silent, and the capsule became dark as a tomb.
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