First appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of On Spec. Copyright 2011 Kristin Janz.
For the first time in the two weeks since they’d met, Rob found himself alone with Nasrin, here on the space station’s observation deck. Although he had imagined this moment, now that it was upon him, he didn’t know what to say.
Nasrin broke the silence.
“It is not real, is it?” she asked.
“No,” he admitted, entranced as always by the faint sing-song lilt of her accented English. “We have the materials that could make something like this, but it wouldn’t be considered a wise use of resources.”
He watched as Nasrin traced her hand along the curved wall. He wished he’d said something else, something that didn’t make him sound so much like a pedantic engineer trying to instruct her.
When the elevator rose through the floor of the observation deck, it seemed to emerge into a transparent dome a hundred feet across and fifty feet to the highest point of the ceiling. The recessed floor lights were kept low so as not to distract from the view of a thousand million stars. To complete the illusion, as observers looked down, the outer surface of the space station appeared to extend around the dome in all directions. Even when one knew that the dome was merely a screen and the observation deck buried deep within the bowels of the space station, the view was breathtaking.
“It is still so beautiful,” she said.
Not as beautiful as you, Rob thought. He watched her take one step after another, the long, narrow fingers of her hand on the smooth curved screen. None of her dark curls had fallen out from under her embroidered headscarf today, but the dress wasn’t cut so loosely that he had to imagine the shape of her body.
“Come and see,” she said.
He joined her at the window, or screen, trying not to seem too eager. When he stood beside her, he could smell the floral notes of some perfumed soap or lotion, the sandalwood and pepper spice of her skin.
Stealing a glance at her profile, Rob wasn’t sure Nasrin noticed anything but the stars. Even after two short weeks, he loved that about her, that single-minded, almost childlike, enthusiasm for whatever had caught her attention. That was the quality that had first attracted Rob to her, as he watched her scream for Iran in the televised World Cup finals, not caring who saw or what they thought of her.
On the curved screen in front of them now, Hydrus hung in the sky, suspended among the southern constellations. Right now, the station was full of Beta Hydri bound colonists; tomorrow, after they’d departed, the observation deck would display the more familiar stars of the northern hemisphere, in anticipation of the Beijing delegates.
“It doesn’t look like it should take 250 years to get there,” he said.
“No,” she agreed. “It looks much closer.”
Now, why had he said that, bringing up the very last subject he wanted to talk about? He should have said something witty about yesterday’s soccer game. Once again, he cast his mind back to when he’d met her, watching that Iran game in the less rowdy of the station’s two sports bars. They’d been the only two patrons not drinking alcohol.
He edged closer. His hand grazed her hip, entirely by accident. But she didn’t flinch or pull away.
He wondered if she knew that “going to the observation deck” was a euphemism, among Rob’s engineering compatriots. Would she have come here with him, if she had? Was that why she had come here with him? He had always imagined that approaching women would get less awkward as he grew older, but somehow that didn’t seem to have been the case. He still felt like a sixteen year old.
He wouldn’t see her again. Even if the colonization mission failed, he would be long-dead by the time she returned.
He didn’t try to kiss her, after all. Instead, he watched her watch the stars, like watching a child’s joy on Christmas Eve. They talked comfortably about sports and astronomy and interstellar travel. They continued to talk until another couple arrived to claim the privacy the observation deck offered. Rob and Nasrin took their places in the tiny elevator, and returned in silence to the main deck.