By H. Elizabeth Remus
The gilded edges of the trophy felt cold and clean in Rayna’s hands. She clutched it close to her while she walked, unable to believe that she had just won it. Something about her own self-doubt usually held her back, but this time she had an object to prove her accomplishment.
“Where should we put that?” Jaren asked, at her side. They were walking back to the apartment together after the competition. The hall was clean, with a slate grey floor smooth as newly poured concrete and coated with a high gloss. The walls around them had a white, sterile clarity. It almost hurt the eyes to look around the fluorescent hall, but there was also art, posters, graffiti, and screens that flashed news headlines or ran an old comedy show.
Rayna shrugged. “Probably with all my other junk on my junk shelf.”
Jaren grinned. “Of course you will.” They both heard the sound of an old sitcom as the two of them passed. Someone had just made a joke; a laugh track played in their ears, and faded away as they continued. “You shouldn’t call it a junk shelf, it’s your souvenir shelf.” She gestured towards the end of the hallway. “Look, it’s the Moon side of the station. Let’s stop for a second.”
The women approached the end of the bright corridor, which emptied into a seemingly endless area. To the left, there were shops, apartments, escalators, people, screens of all sizes, and a large open place where hundreds of people mingled and sat around tables or on couches. Ahead, the two of them could see where the tunnel pointing towards home, continued.
“All right, but I want to get this thing back soon.” Rayna agreed. “And then I want to get some food.”
To their right, giant curved glass wrapped around the belly of the station like a belt. It stood a hundred feet high from floor to ceiling, disappearing into both. The huge panels of glass were cut off at the top and bottom by the beginning of other decks above and below.
“Wow.” Said Jaren. “It gets me every time.”
Rayna laughed. “Really? I’m so used to it by now.”
“Spoiled brat.” Jaren grinned. “It’s too bad you’ve never been to Earth. You should see some of the places there. It’s truly amazing.”
“I can’t fathom a horizon that ends.” Rayna shuddered. “I’d feel so trapped.”
“Space ends, somewhere out there.”
Rayna made a face and stuck her tongue out in disgust. “Blech, I’d hate to see that.”
They fell into silence as they approached a set of empty lounge chairs on the edge of the windows. The two of them had paused at the edge of the giant window-belt, and looked out at the moon, a few miles away in space. It was a planet unto itself.
“You can almost see the skyscrapers.” Rayna said.
“Ironic that they call them skyscrapers still.” Jaren looked out to space, to the void of sparkling stars and twinkling places they’d never been. “They should call them space-scrapers.”
“That doesn’t make any sense, Scrapers are another thing.”
“Well, that’s different.” Jaren sighed. “I do really miss Earth sometimes.”
“Don’t you have to go back for Christmas?”
“Maybe. I don’t know yet.” They fell silent again. Rayna could sense that Jaren wasn’t telling her something, but she knew better than to prod and poke. Being nosy was one of her less useful traits. She examined Jaren’s face, looking up into it and realizing that she didn’t want her to go away for Christmas.
“Well, I won’t be mad if you stayed.” Rayna smiled up at Jaren, trying to see if she could elicit a response, to distract her.
“You’re never mad when I stay.” Jaren broke out of the long stare at the Moon. “Come here.”
Rayna drew close, and the two young women wrapped their arms around one another. Rayna held the trophy in one hand and leaned her head on Jaren’s shoulder.
“Don’t go away for Christmas.” Rayna said. “Screw your parents, they’re just going to tell you how you should stay on Earth and you shouldn’t be in love with a woman.” She looked out at space and wondered how humanity could still be so self-obsessed in the face of such a beautiful, empty void.
“They just don’t know better.” Said Jaren. “They’ve never been to The ORB, or even left the Earth’s atmosphere. They refuse to leave because they’re comfortable where they are.”
They looked into each other’s faces, both people searching for meaning in the lines of their skin, in the patterns of wrinkles they both knew around their eyes, in the softness of their facial hair, in the glitter of light in their pupils.
“Well, I’m comfortable where I am.” Rayna broke the quiet and squeezed Jaren close, trying not to tear up at the idea of being apart from her for the holiday. “Please don’t go.” She looked away, back to the Moon. She knew Jaren would see pain if she continued their stare.
Jaren pulled Rayna closer, too, and squeezed back. “Don’t worry, my love.” Said Jaren. “I won’t go anywhere without you, ever again.”