Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Nano post 72

the next morning, the two made their way from the public transport to a large hangar at the launch pad. “I booked a private shuttle,” Nathan explained as they got closer. “I forgot to mention, I took flying lessons while you were gone. Needed to find a way to pass the time. Anyway, I'm fully certified for surface flights. Not very practical for traveling between Domes, but perfect for this trip.”

“It's not another Dome, then?” Dejah asked. Nathan loaded their bags into a small shuttle, and grinned, but didn't answer. He helped Dejah up into the small cockpit of the shuttle before climbing aboard himself.

“Buckle up. We're not going all that far, but I'd rather have us gett there in one piece.”

Dejah snapped her harness into place, and looked out the viewpane as Nathan began a cautious taxi out to the runway. In a few minutes, they were airborne, and passed through the airlock with no trouble.

The sky was a clear salmon color, and Dejah felt her spirits rise as the Dome fell behind them, shrinking into the distance. Nathan seemed fully in control of the small craft, and she leaned over to look down at the ground below. The surface of the plain was rough and pitted with craters, but from this height looked like a child's model, the textures of the dust and stones smoothed away by distance. She could see a few dust devils whirling away across the dust, leaving their distinct spiral trails, and smiled as she remembered coming across their paths in the northern deserts.

Then the craft started to descend, and Dejah looked ahead for any sign of their destination. “I don't think there's any where to land a craft like this this far out from the city,” she observed. “Are you sure you have the right place?”

“Absolutely positive,” he smiled, keeping his eyes on the instrument panel.

The shuttle came lower and lower, and Dejah began to feel a twinge of nervousness. Then she saw it. A tiny Dome, no more than one hundred meters across, sitting on the floor of the red dusty plains like a delicate bowl upended on the ground. There was a small landing strip just outside it, and Nathan put the shuttle on a course to land on it. In another moment, then had touched down and were slowing rapidly.

An airlock tube was set into the Dome, and it connected to one end of the landing strip. Nathan punched in a remote key, and the outer door of the lock opened to let them in, and closed securely before opening the inner door.

They taxied into a small hangar inside the Dome, and Dejah couldn't see what else the small area held. “Nathan, where are we?”

He shook his head. “Just wait.”

They climbed out of the shuttle, and Dejah waited for Nathan as he made sure the shuttled was secured to the floor of the hangar. Then he smiled and took her hand, and opened the hangar door.

In the center of the land protected by the dome sat a small house. It was sturdy and solid, and had two stories. The upper story had huge glass windows, opening on every direction to provide what must be a spectacular view of the red horizon. The doorways were highly arched, and Dejah recognized Nathan's distinct design.

On the far side of the house, Dejah could see that the land had been left largely undisturbed, a wide expanse of dusty soil, rough rocks, and rugged landscape. Nearer the hanger, the ground had been plowed, rolled, and flattened into an even plain; rocks had been arranged in swirling patterns, and the whole thing had the feel of a garden, though no plants could grow there.

“Nathan...” Dejah breathed. “this is amazing. Is this what you were designing for your client? I can't imagine being able to afford a private hab like this.”

Nathan put his arm around her waist and pulled her close. “Dejah, you're the client for this one.”

she was stunned into silence. “wha...what?”

“You're the one I designed this for. It's ours. If you like it, this can be our home. The shuttle is ours too, I bought it at the beginning of the week. I can use it to hop into Spirit City to check on sites. You can work for anyone you want to from here, or not work at all, if you want, and never have to see one of the big Domes again.”

Dejah felt as though her heart had stopped beating. It was so beautiful, the red brick house with the windows that would glow at sunrise and sunset, the rock garden, and the wide lawn of natural Aresian soil. “Nathan, we can't afford this. The materials alone, not to mention the labor it must have cost...”

He laughed. “It did. It did cost a fortune.”

“But we can't afford..”

he kissed her, and smiled again. “you remember my cathedral, the one I was so determined to make sure that they built right?”

She nodded. “The Phoenix Cathedral. It's exquisite.”

“I sold the designs.”

“You what? Did they finally sign the creative consultant clause?”

Nathan shook his head. “No, I sold it without the clause.”

Dejah protested, “But the cathedral has to be perfect! That design is gorgeous, you can't let someone mess it up just to bring the building in a couple thousand dollars under budget.”

“Yes, I can. Dejah, you're more important to me than any building. I realized, when you left to check out Shackleton Hab, how incredibly important you are to me. And I thought I'd lost you then. I didn't know what to do. I called all the agents I could, trying to see who would give me the best price for the designs—I don't know what I was doing, I didn't know if you would ever come back. But I wanted to do something to show you how much you meant to me, even if I never saw you again.”

He grabbed her shoulders, and spun her around to face the house again. The morning sun was warm on the red bricks, and the windows caught the light and sparkled like gems. Dejah felt her throat constrict as she looked at the house. “can...Can I see what it looks like from upstairs?”

Nathan silently pulled a key on a chain from around his neck and handed it to her.

She folded her hand around it, feeling the warmth it had picked up from his body. With a shaking hand, she unlocked the door and stepped inside.

The floor was a dark red wood, expertly laid, and she wondered how much he had paid for real wood. It was expensive to ship across the solar system, since it was bulky and took up a lot of space. But the floors gleamed in the light, and she moved into the living room.

It was a round space, and reminded her of the common rooms at the University; the chairs were upholstered in vibrant warm colors, and thick rugs covered the floor. Imitation oil lamps were set into sconces on the walls, and several windows filtered in the daylight.

The kitchen was of polished Aresian rock tiles, and Dejah ran a hand over the uneven surface of one of the stones. It felt smooth, but almost soft, like suede.

“go see the bedroom,” Nathan whispered, standing in the doorway. In a daze, Dejah got to her feet, and walked down the carpeted hallway on the other side of the living room. The hallway turned a sharp corner, and the mustard yellow walls were hung with photographs of Aresian landscapes.

She opened the door to the bedroom, and her face broke into a wide smile of delight. There was a large bed in the center of the room, two large closets set into the wall, and a bathroom in one corner, with a large stone bathtub built into the floor. The carpet was thick and a deep chocolate color; the walls of the room were a warm buttery color, with a band of burgundy around the top of the walls. “Beautiful,” Dejah whispered.

“Check behind that door,” Nathan prompted, nodded to the door that appeared to lead outside. Dejah turned the knob, and stepped out into the sunlight.

A tunnel of clear material surrounded her, and she found herself at the foot of a curved metal staircase leading to the second story. As she climbed, she looked out over the plains toward the horizons. No sign of the Spirit City dome, though she knew it was only a few minutes away.

She reached the top of the stairwell, and pushed open the door to the second story. It was all one large room, rounded to allow a three hundred and sixty degree view of the landscape. A circular bench was built into the wall, transforming every window into a window seat. The floor was the same deep red wood, covered with rugs and pillows. Across the room was a work desk, and several painted screens were set up, on which work could be pinned and hung.

Dejah found herself sinking to the floor, and leaned against the bench, letting her eyes roam over the landscape outside. She heard Nathan come up the stairs and looked up as he knelt beside her.

“I don't know what to say.”

He put his arms around her, and they both turned to look out across the red plains. “Don't say anything, then. Just be here with me. Live here with me.”

She nodded. “It's the most beautiful place I've ever seen.”

“you gave up freedom for me, Dej. Don't think I didn't figure it out. I know how badly you wanted to stay at Shackleton. I saw your face when you got home. I couldn't stand to see you hurting like that. You need the freedom, the wide open spaces. You need the wildness that Mars has in abundance, once you get away from the Domes. I couldn't deny you that. More than anything, I want to see you happy.”

“I gave it up for you,” she whispered, letting her fingers trail across his face. “I couldn't bear the thought of breaking my promise, to always come back. I thought you wanted to be safe, to hold on to everything we had. And you gave it all up for this.”

Nathan looked at Dejah's face, her profile lit by the early morning sun. the lines of tension that he'd seen around her eyes and mouth for so long were gone, and there was a light in her eyes that he had once thought he would never see again.

She stood slowly, eyes still fixed on the huge red world outside the windows. The morning sun beat against the dust and rocks, and the land looked hot, like bricks baking in an oven. On the western edge of the land, outside the small dome, Dejah could see a thin line, like a canyon, breaking the plain. She pointed it out to Nathan.

“Yes,” he commented, “it is a small canyon, I forgot to mention it. The site scouts I talked to said that it's not big, but there are some really wonderful updrafts there, if you get familiar with the winds. I think it should be more than enough to fly the Valkyrie by.”

His words were cut off as Dejah launched herself at him, knocking the breath from his lungs as she embraced him, laughing like a school girl. “I can fly the Valkyrie here? I can really fly again?”

“As long as you promise to avoid face planting into Mars again. The medical centers of Spirit City may be only a few minutes away by shuttle, but I'd rather not have to take advantage of that.”

Dejah was hardly listenign; she could feel her heart pounding, and felt as though a great weight had been lifted from her back. She leaped into the air, whooping wildly, and tried to turn a cartwheel, but slipped and tumbled to the floor.

“Ha!” she laughed, scrambling to her feet again. “Ouch! I guess I should get into practice again before trying that.” She turned back to Nathan. “How soon can we move in?”

He grinned, and held up his comm. “I commed the movers as soon as you set foot on the staircase. They're going to pack our stuff up and have it out here tomorrow. You never have to set foot inside a Dome again, Dej, if you don't want to.”

She hiccuped, caught between a sob of joy and a laugh, and coughed for a minute, then laughed. “I don't even know how to respond.” she walked over to his side again, and wrapped her arms around him.

“I love you, Dej,” he whispered, stroking her hair. “More than anything on this world. And it's alright if you love Mars more than you love me—I can live with that. As long as we can both live with it, live here.”

She let her head fall forward, resting against his chest. “Thank you.” She let herself rest there for a moment, feeling a whirl of emotions that all ended up in joy.

They turned back again toward the windows. The sun was still rising, pulling itself up across the salmon colored sky. Dejah watched it for a minute, then turned away. “i want to go outside again, I need to be in the sunlight for a little while.” They quickly descended the stairs, and threaded their way through the house before coming back out to the stone garden.

Dejah knelt, running her hands through the dusty soil, relishing the feel of the tiny stones in the sand scraping against her skin. The dust coated her arms up to the elbows, and she laughed to see how much of it stuck to her. Brushing it off, she turned to the garden, casting an eye over the perfectly arranged stones. One section had been curled to form an intricate labyrinth, with a path that wound around and doubled back on itself until it formed a stylized flower in the middle.

The shadow of house stretched wide and black across the ground, shrinking gradually as the sun rose. Dejah walked around the house, examining it from all sides, shivering slightly as she passed into the shadow and out on the other side. She could hardly wait to see it at twilight, with the light purple all around, and the lights shining out of the upper windows. It would be like a lighthouse, she thought, visible to anyone in the area for miles around, a beacon for wanderers.

She heard the hum of the air filtration systems, and finally spotted the filters and compressors hidden behind an artistic pile of stones by the wall. She grinned, knowing that unless one knew where to look, the mechanism would be completely hidden. Nathan had spared no effort in creating the illusion of living unsupported on the barren red surface of Mars.

She walked around the rest of the house, and found Nathan still standing in the front of the house, watching her with a beaming smile. She joined him again, and turned toward the clear wall od the dome. The world was open before her feet, Dejah felt, and she turned her face toward the light to meet it unafraid.


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