Tuesday, December 1, 2009

nano post 69

Dejah lay in her bed, in a room loaned to her by one of the other Shackleford residents. The room was small but clean and sturdy, and she looked out of the window. In the distance, she could see the horizon, lit by starlight. It seemed so close, she thought sleepily, as if she could get out of bed and simply walk there in a few minutes.

She rolled onto her back and looked up at the ceiling; there were too many things going through her mind for her to sleep. Everything at Shackleford felt exciting and new, like the University had felt, and Bradbury Dome during the two years she had spent in the intense training there.

She exhaled sharply and sat up. “I can’t sleep like this,” she muttered. She slipped out of the bed, and walked over to the window. Half of the small town lay between her and the edge of the wall, and the rough plastered roofs looked like rows of miniature hills in the starlight. Several windows were still lit, and the yellow light bounced off of a few brick walls, casting odd pools of warm light in the cold chill of the night.

Dejah breathed in deeply. It wasn't that the air here felt any different than in any other Dome, she mused, but somehow this tiny hab had far more room to breathe.

“down there,” she pointed out a small mound to herself. “that's where I'd live. A nice little set of rooms, in this fantastic brick. And as many windows as I can get without losing too much heat from the building, windows that would look out directly on the Dome so I could see all the way through to the horizon. East facing, so I could see the sun rise every morning. And there might even be enough of a draft in that gully to get the Valkyrie airborne again.”

She was swept up in memories of flying high, soaring over the Aresian landscape, and closed her eyes. If she really thought about it, she could recall the way the wind rippled over her suit and swept bits of dust across her helmet. The wonderful sound of the thin atmosphere filling the wings with a sudden whoosh when she banked hard for a turn, and the sudden shock to her legs when the ground came up just a little too fast during a landing.

Unbidden, the image of Nathan's face rose up in her mind, and she frowned. She tried to push the thought away, and recapture the memory of flight, but the moment had passed.

Dejah sighed and opened her eyes. “Can't I dream, just for a few minutes?” The silent city gave her no answer.

She settled into a chair, and sat, still facing the window. “Nathan really is a good man,” she whispered to the sleeping town, as if the buildings could answer her. “It's not like I'd be leaving him for someone else. I don't have any interest in anyone else. I just...” she paused, searching for the words. “he was right, after all. I love Mars more than I love him, more than I could ever love him. But he just doesn't understand, I can't live without this red dust, without that beautiful orange sky. I'd rather rip open my suit myself out on the plains than live for another forty years in that stifling Dome.”

The stars passed quietly over the town as she struggled to make her decision. She wished that Max was there to talk it over with, but he had been offered a room across town, near the hangar, and she wasn't quite sure which building it was. “And anyway,” she muttered, “I don't think his hosts would be particular happy to answer the door at three in the morning.”

she glanced over her shoulder at the mirror that hung over the simple dresser. Her face looked odd in the cold light; the dim illumination that lit the scene came from the window behind her, and her face was shadowed, though her mussed hair created a glowing aureole around her head. One cheekbone caught the light, turning her face half purple. She didn't look tired, she mused, so much as desperate and confused.

“You shouldn't be confused,” she told the face in the mirror. “This should be simple. It's the answer to all of your problems. You can let Nathan go find some nice girl who's happy to stay in the Dome, and he'll be happier. You can go back to doing the kind of work you love—surely there's a med center here that's robust enough to take care of any injuries that might happen. And this Dome's so small, it would feel almost like living on the bare surface, and you could be closer to the surface than ever.”

But the face in the mirror refused to relax, and she turned away, irritated. “Why isn't it enough,” she muttered. “It really would be easier.”

“But since when did you take the easy way?” she answered herself, getting out of the chair and pacing the room, as she always did when frustrated or confused.

“It's not like life here would be easy, in and of itself. It'd probably be a lot harder, and I'll die a lot younger than I would in the Dome. But...” she groaned with irritation and ran her hands through her hair, mussing it further. “It would be too easy just to leave. I've never backed down from anything I said I would do.”

The room grew colder as the night progressed, but Dejah didn't notice, pacing until her legs were sore. Finally, exhausted, she dropped into the bed just as the sun was beginning to rise. Shivering, she pulled the covers over herself as she fell into an uneasy sleep.

A few hours later, a knock sounded at her door. “Ms. Sorenson? We're sorry to wake you, but it's getting rather late, and your friend is here to fly you home. Are you alright?”

Dejah sat up, head muddled and thoughts still whirling. “Yes, I'm fine. Thank you for checking—please tell Max that i'll be down in a few minutes.”

She lay back in the bed and stared at the ceiling for a long moment, then exhaled and rolled off the bed.

“Hey, there's the sleepyhead!” Max called as she came downstairs, holding her overnight bag in one hand and brushing her hair with the other.

“ha ha, very funny. Says the man who never woke up on time for school a day in his life.” She grinned, and set the bag down at the foot of the stairs to pull her hair back into her customary ponytail.

Her hosts bid her farewell after she turned down their offer of breakfast, and she and Max made their way back to the hangar. The Silver Hammer was quickly loaded, and Max waited until Dejah fastened her harness to start the engines. They slowly taxied through the airlock, then Max pushed the spacecraft forward, and they launched into the sky with a roar.

Dejah looked into the rear view pane, watching the city dwindle quickly in the distance, until it looked like no more than a soap bubble that had landed on the red sands for a moment before bursting.

They flew in silence for a few moments after leaving the Shackleford airlock. Then Max checked the instrument panel and asked, “so, what did you think? Gonna make it home any time soon?”

she didn't reply for a moment, looking down at the dusty plains as they passed below the ship.

“Dej? You ok?”

“Yeah, sorry, just didn't get much sleep last night. Spent a lot of time thinking. If you'd asked me that question last night, I probably would have asked how quickly you could fly all of my stuff out here. I mean, it really is perfect for me, isn't it? I wish it had been an option after school. Seems awfully cruel to have gotten married when I just can't be what Nathan really wants. Maybe we shouldn't have married; he was right when he accused me of loving Mars more than I love him. Can't really help that now; it is what it is. But I got to thinking last night.” she paused, trying to clear her head and get her thoughts in order.

“Max, you've known me since I was ten years old. Have you ever known me to give up on anything once I put my mind to it?”

He shook his head emphatically. “No, I have not. I would, in fact, say that sheer pig headedness is one of your most distinct traits, for better or worse.”

“That's pretty much the conclusion I came to last night. If I came here, Nathan wouldn't want to come, even if he could. This place would drive him crazy, at least as crazy as Spirit City drives me. That's not fair.”

“Pretty sticky situation, Dej. You always did have a knack for getting tangled up in things and needing my expertise for getting you out.”

She leaned back against the seat, letting her head rest against the cushion, and closed her eyes with weariness. “Yes, it is. But I should have known better. I should have seen this coming. But I wanted Nathan so much that I ignored any of the problems. And I made a promise. I've never gone back on anything before, and I don't intend to do it now.”

Max kept his eyes fixed on the view out of the front window, but she could tell that his attention was on her. “So you're not going to take their offer?”

Dejah shook her head. “No. It would just be a kind of running away, and I'm not going to resort to that sort of thing. I'd never be able to look at my face in the mirror again, knowing that I'd run out on something I had been determined to do.”

“does Nathan know yet? Did you talk to him on the comm this morning?”

“No, I figured that it was the sort of thing that I should probably tell him in person. If he still wants out, I'll let him. I don't want him to feel trapped in the marriage. But I really do want to make it work, if possible. Maybe I can just take a vacation to a small hab once a year or something.”

Max turned and studied Dejah for a moment, noting how tired she looked. “You really think that will be enough for you, Dej?”

She laughed bitterly. “Of course it won't be enough! But, there's more to life than just being happy. If I stay with Nathan, maybe I let myself down, let go of my dreams. Whatever. If I moved to Shackleford Dome, I'd let down Nathan and myself, by refusing to honor my promise. This is the only choice. And I think you knew that before I did.”

He nodded. “I thought it might be the case. You made me pretty nervous back there, though. I thought I might have been wrong, that you would actually throw everything away and start over there.”

“would you have thought less of me if I had done it?” she asked.

“Yes. You would still have been one of my closest and dearest friends, but yes, I would have thought less of you.” He looked her in the eyes, and she saw the depth of feeling in his gaze. “You truly are an incredible woman, Dejah. All of your new fans out there will never know just how amazing you really are.”

dejah was asleep when the Silver Hammer landed, and Max carefully shook her shoulder until she woke up. She groaned and stretched before loosening her harness. “Argh, I hate falling asleep on those long flights! I'm always so stiff when I wake up later.” She hopped off the ship, and caught the bag that Max tossed to her. “Hey, watch it, do you handle all of your passenger's luggage like that? Premium shipping, like hell.”

He grinned. “Oh, bugger off, you crazy Aresian. Get some actual sleep tonight, will you?”

She nodded, and turned to go home. The sky was dark, and the stars swung overhead; Jupiter shone brightly down on the city.

The door creaked slightly as she opened it. She winced, and closed it quickly, hoping that it hadn't disturbed Nathan's sleep. She tiptoed into the living room, planning to sleep on the couch so as not to wake her husband.

But to her surprise, the light over the kitchen table was still on, and the table was covered with colorful designs in brilliant red, orange, and yellows. She recognized the phoenix colors of Nathan's cathedral design.

Nathan himself was slumped over the table, half covering the drawings, and Dejah couldn't help smiling at the sight of the thin line of drool that escaped from the corner of his mouth. The silence of the house was occasionally broken by a soft snore.

She laid a hand on his shoulder, and shook him slightly. “Nathan, dear, you can't sleep here, you'll throw out your back. Come on, wake up and let's get you into bed.”

“Huh?” he muttered as he woke up slowly, looking around in confusion. “Dej! You're home!” He quickly began gatehring up the scattered papers and stacking them on one of the kitchen chairs. “I thought you'd stay for a few days, see what life was like over there.” he paused, setting down the stack of papers in his hands. “but...are you staying? Or are you going to go?”

she sighed, and grabbed his hand. “Here, let's go sit on the couch, where it's comfortable, and I'll tell you more.”

Nathan sat down heavily on the couch, and Dejah lowered herself onto the cushions beside him, curling her legs underneath her and leaning on the back of the couch so she could look him in the eye.

“Nathan, I've made my decision.”

He looks scared, she thought with a pang, scared that I'm going to say something to hurt him. She quickly continued, “I'm not going to take the job. I want to stay here with you and try to make this work.”

He let out a breath quickly, and exclaimed “really? You're really going to stay?”

she nodded. The next moment she found herself wrapped in his arms, with his face buried in her neck. “I missed you so much,” he said, “I missed you so much!”

Dejah woke again in the middle of the night. Nathan's arms were around her waist, and she carefully disentangled herself and went to look out of the window.

Phobos was passing overhead, on its journey down to the horizon, and it added a pale white light to the city, turning the shadows more blue than purple. The streetlights outside dimmed the moonshadow, but she could still see the faint shadows that moved across the ground as the moon sailed by.

It's still beautiful here sometimes, she thought sadly, but you have to know where to look for it.

She stared out of the window until the moon had dropped out of sight, and her skin was cold from the night air. Shivering, she climbed back into the bed, and turned her back on the window.

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