By THOMAS STEVENSON

 

“Sooooo Mother,” I asked in the cautious manner of a peeking meerkat. “Where would you say is the most romantic spot in the Void? Just out of curiosity.”

Mother had presented her side to me as she stood by the benchtop, straining corn pulp. Once the word ‘romantic’ crept from my mouth, all movement ceased. For a moment she held the strainer still, allowing yellow liquid to drain into the bowl underneath. Her expression was calm as always, but a near-imperceptible twitch betrayed her thought processes. Her newly fitted vicaress’ robes swished as she turned to face me and asked: “Man or lady?”

“Pardon me?”

“Is it a man or a lady you’re thinking of asking out?” She cocked her head as an inquisitive bird would. Her right hand still supported a dripping strainer.

“Oh. She’s a lady, Mother.” And what a lady. Agile, brainy, cheerful and many, many more words across the alphabet. My mind conjured a picture of her wearing her flight suit. Sleek and silvery, an energetic face shrouded in magnificent black hair that blended into the fabric and fullerite.

Being with her gave me a rush not even skydiving could beat. For months I’d been wondering if she felt the same way about me. Hoping. Praying. It was time to find out.

“Somebody you know well, I trust?”

“Oh yes. Very well. It’s-“

“Nup!” Mother eloquently interrupted. A stern finger split her face. “You plan to ask for her hand in marriage, do you not? This is not something to be taken lightly.”

“You don’t even want to know her name?”

“You wanted to know where to take her to ask the big question. The most ‘romantic’ place. Well sweetheart, it really depends on the person… and on you. You can’t absent-mindedly let somebody else make your decisions.” A sideways dekko made her realise she was still clutching the cornplant strainer. It was returned to the benchtop with a soft squelch. “I want you to think about this lady and think about where she would most like to go. If you truly feel for her, in your heart, that will be the right place. It is not for me to direct your adventures or determine your destiny.”

“Not even a tiny suggestion?” I squeaked.

She smirked and placed a hand on my chest. I sighed and closed my eyes, concentrating on the image of my friend. My friend with her shy smile, her quiet voice and her really quite amazing hair. It shimmered and glistened in my head, and swayed just like… like a…

“Got it! Where she’d most like to go is the breloom forest, of course.” I beamed up at Mother. “Thank you!”

She beamed back and patted me on the scalp. “It will be a great pleasure to see the Palekana family name passed to the next generation.” A wink and a nudge. “Go get her, Kopra.”

***

In the Void it is customary – some would say necessary – to accelerate the courtship process as much as possible. That’s not to say that love and healthy relationships aren’t a priority!

Ever since the battle that took Father and nearly destroyed New Honolulu, I’d been thinking long and hard about the matter. All through the intensive rebuild and the resettling that followed, I had explored my deepest feelings for this woman. We were both changed people, in our different ways, but our bonds had only become stronger.

Yes, I had decided, she was the one for me.

An orange circle appeared in my vision, revolving around the enlarging outline of New Rakiura, the floating forest. Immediately I relayed commands into my headset to deploy stabilisers, flick out airbrakes and slow my descent from fifty metres per second. If I’d timed it right, she would already be down there, admiring the brelooms and pondering why I had invited her. Little did she know what a life-changing day this could be.

Could be. Hmm. There was always a possibility of rejection, but I had accepted that fact. Even if she didn’t share the ‘squeee’ I felt inside whenever I thought of her, it would hardly be the end. We would find other partners… somewhere… somehow. We just had to be pragmatic. Anything is possible in the Void, after all, but you still need to keep up with reality.

“URGENT – DECREASE SPEED!” flashed the headset.

Whoops. “Sorry computer,” I gasped. “Maximum retrograde, disable navigational highlight. Thanks.” The orange circle disappeared, replaced with a flat pad of green at the edge of the forest. Thousands of blue lights twinkled up at me from the canopy. My jetpack powered up and shrowded it all in a storm of vapour. Moments later I landed, perhaps a bit less gracefully than normal. My suit and face were coated in condensed steam that felt like sweat. That was okay. If she thought of me the way I thought of her, looking sweaty wouldn’t be a bother.

This time I didn’t bother to remove my jetpack or check its fuel levels. Nor did I pay attention to the person departing from a neighbouring grass pad. I charged right into the forest, toward the unforgettable Rainbow’s Arch. Scaly ferns slashed my ankles. Breloom vines swatted my torso, their glowing fruit casting blue blotches across my path. I gave them no attention. I was becoming giddy with excitement and lactic acid.

Rainbow’s Arch presented the usual vibrant greeting. Locals had only recently discovered how to make the breloom fruit change colour; the result was a horticultural display fit for any Earth gallery. Each corner of the expansive, hexagonal clearing was bathed in a different hue – red, orange, yellow, lime, blue and pink (they hadn’t figured out violet yet). Tongues of light reached across the ground and blended at their edges, creating a whole myriad of kaleidoscope colours. In the centre of the clearing stood a much older archway, left by the first settlers on New Rakiura, as a monument to their endurance. And under the archway stood…

My stomach leapt. It was finally time to meet my (hopefully) future wife. There she was, reading the mossy inscription on the arch, presenting me with a curtain of long, straight and simply incredible hair. It was no longer dark, but a dancing rainbow draped over her skinny frame. One of her feet tapped rhythmically on the earth. Thump, thump, thump, thump. Like a heartbeat.

I tried to approach, but my legs numbed with every step. As if they were weighted down. At the same time my stomach lightened. This was a new feeling for me. I’d spent weeks preparing, visualising this encounter, meticulously planning our entire conversation. I was the Falcon of New Honolulu, the champion of sky racing, member of the Engineer’s Stronghold and survivor of the Order of Silence. Why was I nervous, all of a sudden? Why could I not simply stride over and kick it off?

She spun right around and I froze. We must have been ten metres apart but her grin was easy to pick out. From my perspective it made the breloom rainbow dimmer. All other sights faded as she walked closer, fronds shivering in her wake. Then, all too quick, she was within range of an embrace. There was nothing for it but to take a deep breath and start talking.

“Hi, Jovumi.”

“Hi! How’re you, Kopra?”

“I’m… I’m fine. Thank you.”

“Sure about that?” Her head tilted to an extreme angle, as if she were trying to deliver an upside-down smile. “‘Cause it looks like you’re sweating.”

For a second I stood there, blinking like a paranthropoid. Then I remembered. “Oh yeah… it’s just steam! Had a slightly rough landing back there.” It pained me to lie, even in part, for I knew fully well that real sweat had become involved. Not all of it from the run, either.

“Huh. Well, thanks for inviting me out here. I love this place!” She clasped her hands together upon her chest. “It’s so quiet today, too. Did you invite anyone else?”

“No, just you…” We were indeed the only people in the clearing. That was how I’d wanted it, back in the planning phase. Just the two of us. Now that we were actually there, together and isolated, it made me no less jittery. My legs began to wobble, and in a skin-tight suit that’s a hard thing to conceal.

Jovumi seemed not to notice, fortunately. She just kept on chatting, as always. “Been too long since I dropped in here, with the rebuild going on and everything. It’s so nice to get a decent break, don’t you think? I’ve been working with Chiara most days and she’s fine, you know, but she’s not really talkative. Not that I’m complaining, it’s just… you know.” Her grin embroadened. “So how are you?”

Telling the truth could throw this operation off, but total lies were a sin. “Been better,” I mumbled, feeling increasingly wobblier. Best to shift the conversation back to her before details were demanded. “How about you? How’s your arm feeling today?”

“It still clicks.” She squeezed her forearm to demonstrate. Somewhere between being shoved out of the infirmary and learning to pilot a Suppressor, her fractured ulna had set in a slightly awkward position. “I’m starting to think this might be permanent. Nothing the nurse can do about it, unless we manage to break it again!”

“Heh,” I forced. Jovumi stared at me, her smile unfaltering. We stood there and stared, saying nothing, for a few seconds too many. This was the break I’d sought, when I planned the conversation. I knew exactly what I had to do to fill it. So easy. Yet here, the two of us in the flesh, my emotions had taken over and my mouth refused to open. My teeth felt as if they’d been welded shut.

That would not do at all. I was no mute paranthropoid, I was the Falcon of New Honolulu. Unbeaten champion of sky racing and so forth. Was I there to impersonate a statue, or to ask for a lady’s soul in marriage? My next words took some effort to push out, but I did my best to sound casual, perhaps coming off as determined.

“I suppose you’re… wondering why I invited you here.”

“No, not really.” Another unexpected response. Was everybody today out to disrupt my carefully rehearsed dialogue? Jovumi cocked her head again and said, “I think I have a pretty good idea.”

“Oh. Right. So… what do you reck-“

“I reckon my future husband should be able to speak without sounding like he’s constipated.” Ouch. “I understand though, it’s normal to be nervous. Shall we talk about it?”

“Umm… er…”

“Please, will you sit down with me?”

Sitting would help with the shaking legs, I figured, so I obliged. Our jetpacks clanked against our backs as we lowered into the rainbow-splotched ferns and crossed our legs. We sat facing each other, our knees nearly touching. Still she grinned a toothy grin at me. As a predatory mammal might grin upon its helpless prey.

“You’re right, Jovumi, I… I’m sorry, it’s just…”

“Kopra, it’s okay.” Something warm pressed against my left knee. Her hand. Dirtied from weeks of labour, yet smooth and soothing. I watched it rub little circles around my patella. “It’s okay. You don’t have to be afraid.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be sorry! I know what it’s like, believe me. I had a boyfriend once… do you remember him?”

“Of course.” How could I forget? That slimeball had kicked off the tradition of flying through the church spire, the activity that fractured Jovumi’s arm in the first place. It was fortunate for us that he’d relocated to New Bristol before even worse antics emerged. “But I seem to recall he didn’t want to marry you.”

“We were too young. And he never wanted children.” She removed her hand from my knee. “Do you want to have children?”

A round, heart-sized object nearly sprang from my throat. Or so it felt. My friend was seldom so direct. Mother was normally the one to fly straight to the point, while Jovumi contented herself with idle chatter and jokes. How time and emotions could change a person.

“Maybe a matter for later,” she giggled. “Sorry if I’m making you uncomfortable.” It must have been written upon my face. “Why don’t you say something? Don’t be afraid.”

“Alright.” Alright, I’d decided. Time to go all in. Don’t think, just say it. That’s what Chiara always said. Don’t think, just say it.

“Jovumi, I love you.”

I held my breath. Waited for my skin to burn, my limbs to fall off, my head to explode. Anything. But nothing happened. Nothing outwardly bad, at least. Jovumi just kept sitting and smiling, and when she next spoke, her voice wafted to me as the warm smell of yeast would from a fresh loaf.

“I love you too, Kopra.”

Her hands were in the air, palms toward me. As dictated by wedding traditions. All of a sudden, I had no fear. My legs stopped trembling. My breathing slowed. This was right, I knew it. There was nothing to be afraid of, nothing at all. Jovumi and I were together, sealing the bond in the shade of the brelooms, and nothing else mattered in that moment.

I met her palms with mine. My dark, bony fingers complemented her dainty, milky white ones. We closed our eyes and prayed. I prayed for her, she prayed for me. We prayed for our safety, our happiness and our prosperity.

Then we leaned forward and kissed. I’d never kissed anybody before, but she had, and it showed. I squirmed my lips around a bit, then gave up and let her take control. She sucked on my top lip. Moved to the bottom one. Released with a smack. Rush of hormones.

I blinked, my eyes wide. My lips tingled. My lungs heaved. “Wow… fantastic! Sorry I’m so unpracticed…”

“Don’t apologise, sweetie. Just means we need to practise more, right?” Our noses touched. “Come on, I’ll show you how to do it. It’ll only take five minutes.”

Six minutes later we were finished, panting for breath and clutching each other’s hair. I realised there was no more fear at all. This was natural. This was how it should be. So I said, without hesitation, “You are truly amazing. An absolute angel. Will you marry me?”

Jovumi blinked and smirked. Her reply was in a tone half tender, half smug. “At this point, I think it’s a given that I’d say yes.”

“In that case,” I said, “how about we haul ourselves to church?”

She giggled at that. “Haul ourselves in front of your mother? Just like that? We need to go spread the news first. Tell all our friends… tell Chiara… But there’s no rush.”

“Of course not,” I replied. For the first time in ages, I looked up at the parabola of Rainbow’s Arch. From this position it framed Jovumi’s head perfectly; her shining halo. A vision of Heaven.

And we would be together for the rest of our lives.

“No rush at all,” I continued. “We can stay here as long as you like… darling.”

Her grin grew even wider, threatening to cleave her head in half. Fingers ran gently through my hair. “Sweetie,” she whispered.

For a long time we lay there in the grass, tangled in each other’s arms. Neither of us said another word. At least one of us fell asleep at some point, only to wake up and find nothing unmoved. Nobody disturbed us. Each of us was simply lost in their own happy thoughts. Thoughts of each other, of our memories made together, of our future.

Back then we had only the vaguest idea of what the future might have in store for Jovumi and I. Hardships on the ice, the metal mountains and the living caves were far off in time. Earth was a long way away still. An adventure for a different age.

No, for that day we found only pleasant thoughts and imagined a bright future for ourselves, for our children and for the Void. Nothing was of concern but our love. Our ultimate adventure had just begun.

 

THOMAS STEVENSON is a tryhard geologist and sci-fi author who spends much of his time roaming the Otago wilderness with his pet ferrets, François and Cuvier. Check out more of his work or follow him on Facebook for all the updates!

Downfall: Prologue

The Mask of Perception

The Buzzer’s Lair

Supremacy

The Crystal Brain

SHARE THIS POST...
Facebooktwitterpinterestmail

FOLLOW US...
Facebooktwitteryoutubeinstagram