To Love the Stars-byEighthSpan|
Leaning back in his desk chair, Noah interlocked his hands behind his head and sighed contently. Finally, after all this time, it was really happening!
A knock on his office door snapped him out of his daydreams. Sitting up, he welcomed his unseen guest to enter, and turned to face the door. A bulky, muscular man with a white office shirt and a red tie walked in, sporting a proud grin on his face.
"Noah!" the man beamed, giving a hearty laugh and clapping his subordinate on the shoulder. "I figured you would have gone straight home by now!"
Noah gave a tired smile, but returned the man's boundless mirth with a chuckle of his own.
"The rain is delaying air traffic," Noah shrugged. "I don't mind, though. Gives me a chance to spend a bit more time in here."
"Don't want to leave yet, huh?" Damien laughed, his voice booming mightily. "Heh! I kinda get that. But this is just a boring office, yeah? Nothing too fancy."
Noah nodded. Eyes falling to the side, he couldn't disagree - this part of the Arclight building really was just a plain, corporate office. Beige walls, cubicles, office desks, and coffee machines...nothing especially remarkable about it, except for perhaps the company logo, emblazoned on the wall - the words Arclight, with the dot of the I being a star symbol, sending out rays of light.
"But that's all about to change," Noah said.
"Got that right!" Damien nodded, his grin somehow widening even more. "This old building doesn't really cut it anymore. Bet you're really looking forward to that new research lab at the new HQ, huh?"
"I imagine it every night in my dreams," Noah joked with a longing sigh.
"We earned, this, pal," Damien nodded. "Every single one of us - but you and your team especially so."
Shaking his head, Damien's face grew serious.
"A functional hypergate prototype," he muttered. "Even I barely believe it, and I was there when you tested the damn thing!"
"Outstanding," Damien grinned, unable to contain himself. "Instantaneous FTL travel...a breakthrough fitting of our new Research Department Director!"
"I didn't do it alone," Noah said humbly.
"Bah, of course you didn't!" Damien guffawed. "Every one of your team of eggheads deserves a medal, far as I'm concerned. And I bet that wife of yours contributed a hell of a lot more than she'll ever admit!"
"No doubt," Noah nodded in agreement. "I think she'll accept your gratitude, at least. Just as long as you don't try to recruit her again."
Noah's boss had tried many times in the past to recruit Miska into the research team, but she had politely refused each time - she craved no other profession, she explained.
"Oh, I know," Damien sighed. "I don't think I'll ever really understand Abyssals, but I can certainly respect 'em."
"I suppose that's fair enough," Noah nodded.
A beeping noise and blue light coming from Noah's desk drew his attention. Noah swiveled his chair around and picked up his phone, the source of the commotion. With a tap of a button, the noise faded, replaced instead with the synthetic tones of Noah's personal assistant, Viri.
"Notification," she said plainly. "Your shuttle has arrived on the roof."
"Guess that's my cue," Noah shrugged, sitting up and gathering his things. There wasn't much - today was mostly a formality, and his real office was the laboratory downstairs, anyway.
"See you in a couple days, Noah," Damien nodded, outstretching his hand. Noah took it, and winced a little as the man's grip gave an unintentional show of strength.
"Oh, and seeing as we've got a whole week to settle in before work picks up," Damien continued, "We oughta go check out some of the local places on Veruna, get some drinks."
"Sure thing," Noah nodded. "Be seeing you, Damien."
"Have a good last night on Earth!" Damien grinned, clapping him on the shoulder and turning to leave.
With that, Noah strode out of his old office for the last time, humming a tune as he left.
Keeping in line with his exercise routine, Noah elected to take the stairs to the roof, instead of the elevator. With umbrella in hand, he stepped out into the pouring rain, where his shuttle was waiting on the landing pads. Noah's shuttle was a sleek, silver vehicle, slightly smaller than one of those old landlocked automobiles. The craft had no tires, and two anti-gravitation engines at the back whined continuously. The engines were surprisingly quiet, and were nearly imperceptible under the sounds of the deluge.
Hurrying forward towards his vehicle, Noah tried to protect himself with his umbrella, to mixed results. Thankfully, the doors of the shuttle slid upwards on their own as the craft's sensors detected him, and he climbed into the pilot's seat.
Not that he planned to do any flying in this weather.
"Autopilot," Noah commanded.
"Destination?" asked a robotic, masculine voice, belonging to the VI that controlled the shuttle.
"Lifting off," the VI agreed. The shuttle rumbled a little as its engines flared to life, and the craft rose smoothly into the sky before turning and zooming away. Despite the poor visibility, Noah could make out a handful of other aircraft, merely blurry dots as they raced towards their own homes. Thankfully, the weather made no difference to the powerful sensors of a shuttle VI, which kept the aircraft from crashing into anything - including other shuttles.
Gazing out of the window, Noah smiled to himself. He always loved this kind of weather. Rain was a commonality - it brought people together. There was a simple joy to be found in temporarily teaming up with a total stranger as you both tried to escape the rain. But at the same time, rain made things more personal, more intimate. People stayed indoors during rain, meaning that you did the same, and enjoyed a comfortable time with your loved ones, or you ventured out and enjoyed the quieter city from a different perspective. Even simply looking down at the sprawling urban infrastructure below him, admiring the towering skyscrapers...everything seemed slightly different.
In the rain, everything was just a little more interesting.
"Maybe we should take a walk together," he muttered to himself. It seemed too perfect an opportunity to waste, seeing as this was their last night on Earth.
"Viri," Noah said, rising from his thoughts and pulling his phone out of his pocket. "Call Miska."
"Calling Miska," his VI affirmed. The waiting tone chimed on for a few seconds, before a gentle voice picked up and answered.
"Barnes residence," Miska greeted, her voice coming through the speakers in the shuttle's interior.
"Hello, Miska," Noah sighed, his lips curling up in good-natured amusement. "But you already knew it was me. Why do you always answer as if you didn't?"
"I simply like saying it," Miska softly explained. "We don't receive many calls. It makes me sound like a proper maid, don't you think?"
"You are a proper maid, dear."
"Thank you, master," Miska said. Noah could practically hear her smile through the speakers. "Were you just letting me know that you were on the way, or did you need something else?"
"That was it," Noah said. "Oh, but what do you think of going for a walk after dinner? I figured we should enjoy the rain together."
"That sounds lovely," Miska said. "I look forward to it."
"Alright then," Noah smiled. "Guess I'll hang up, then."
"Very well. Dinner will be ready when you arrive home."
"Sounds good. See you soon."
With that comfortable routine out of the way, Noah ended the call and leaned back into his chair. What to do now? With the shuttle, his commute took only fifteen minutes or so. Sometimes, after a particularly intensive day in the labs, he would take a quick nap. But seeing as he hadn't done much today, Noah didn't feel tired in the slightest. Perhaps he could read some of the news before he arrived?
"Shuttle, activate holoprojector," he commanded.
With a dull flash of light, a blue node in embedded in the vehicle's interior opened and flared to life, spewing out a stream of colored light. The light reached out a few inches, then stopped, creating a hologram that Noah could interact with. Admittedly, the holoprojector was a rather indulgent item - Noah could have simply used his phone. But the shuttle had come with it installed, so he felt obligated to find some use for it.
Interacting with a hologram filled him with a tingling sense of childlike glee, if nothing else. The device was like some oddity out of an old sci-fi flick, a wonderfully superfluous display of mankind's technological mastery. One advantage the device had as opposed to its fictional predecessors was that it could portray an actual range of colors, instead of simply blue.
Outstretching his index finger, Noah tapped a few particles of light and interacted with the hologram, scrolling through a few screens and bringing up his preferred news source, the Galactic News Network. GNN was an organization that operated through the hypernet, the FTL communications network that crisscrossed the many colonies of the United Nations of Earth. While every planet had its own local internet, the hypernet was the only way to communicate with people in other systems in any kind of reasonable timeframe.
"Let's see..." Noah muttered, perusing through the articles.
Oh, here was one about Veruna, his soon-to-be home planet! Apparently, the planetary had seen a huge spike of investors, spurred on by the announcement that Arclight was moving its headquarters. The planetary administration was preparing to receive thousands of new immigrants, eager to fill a wealth of new positions. A pretty sound decision, Noah figured. Veruna was a relatively new colony, with a population under two million. But if the biggest communications company in the galaxy was setting up shop somewhere there, you better believe that people were going to take notice.
Noah wasn't sure if he was looking forward to the day where the successful hypergate trial would be made public. His team would be lauded by billions for their success...but on the other hand, that was a lot of attention, something he was generally comfortable without.
Damien was certainly thrilled, at least. Managing a majority of the hyperlight network already afforded Arclight a very powerful position in the galaxy. Becoming the leading group in FTL research would practically make them a pillar of society.
Another article described how an older colony would have to be completely evacuated sometime within the next century, as it was expected that a gamma ray burst from the recent death of a local O class star would threaten the colony's entire solar system. Moving more than a billion citizens and their assets off-world was going to be a massive - and massively expensive - undertaking.
Colonization Council election announcements...rumors of a new model of patrol frigate...
Another article featured video footage that was all over the hypernet last night - livestreamed footage of a moon crashing into its host planet. Noah smiled and pressed play, even though he had seen the event live with Miska on the prior evening. The camera drones captured the impact from multiple angles, including a few from the planet itself. As he watched the atmosphere burn as it attempted to stall the massive impact, Noah couldn't help but shake his head. To think that such an awe-inspiring event had been captured on camera! As far as he remembered, the exploration ship that recorded the event had only stumbled onto the planet a few days before the impact.
Noah grinned as he watched the moon impact, creating an explosive shockwave of unimaginable scale and sending up storms of dust into the atmosphere. Noticing a link to the continued livestream, Noah checked the current footage and saw the planet glowing red-hot, the dust storm spreading out and scattering across the entire world. Already, it was clear that the planet was utterly ruined. It would take millions of years, perhaps hundreds of millions, before the planet cooled and returned to its previous state. Noah eventually left and soon stumbled onto another article, which was almost more shocking than the impact footage.
"Cheshire delegate of the Colonization Council seeks private sector solution for Wonderland 2.0," he read aloud, eyes doubling back to make certain that he hadn't misread something.
Good lord, a colony made only of cheshire cats? What kind of fresh hell would that be? Noah silently offered a prayer of thanks that he wouldn't be one of the poor men dragged along if that colony ever came to be. Gods, the very idea made him shudder! Endless teasing and nonsensical joking...that seemed like mental torture beyond comprehension.
As the shuttle flew onwards, Noah chuckled and reclined his seat. No, he preferred a different kind of insanity...
The shuttle dropped Noah off on the roof of his twenty-floor apartment tower, then flew off to park itself. Covering himself with his umbrella, he hurried through the rain and made it to the stairs, finally getting out of the rain. From there it was just a short walk to the elevator, and once the doors opened on the seventeenth floor, Noah opened the first door on his left, and was home.
His apartment was largely barren, with almost everything inside having been disassembled and packed up into cardboard boxes. Nearly a dozen of the boxes were stacked neatly in a pyramid shape at the space where the couch had been previously. From the entrance, Noah could see out the living room window, which spanned from the floor to the ceiling, several feet wide. The rain outside had not dampened, blanketing the sky above the city with grey clouds.
"I'm back, Miska," Noah announced.
Silence, but only for a moment. The sound of footsteps reached him, coming from around the wall that led to the kitchen. Noah's face eased into a smile and he played his little game again, trying to guess which form she had taken today. A female figure rounded the corner and stood before him, interlocking her fingers in front of her lap in a pose of subservience. Dressed in a maid's outfit, Miska resembled a human woman, but was anything but.
The majority of Miska's body was composed of a dark, inky blue substance. Not quite skin, not quite slime, but something in between. The darker substance composed her hair, her shoulders, and her lower body, while the exposed 'flesh' of her hands and face were a lighter shade of indigo. A white material that resembled cloth wrapped around her front, covering her stomach and pressing tightly against her chest, mimicking the appearance of an apron. The two flaps of the 'apron' hung off of her and covered her waist, vaguely shaped like squid tentacles. Miska had her hair tied up in a long ponytail that hung behind her, and a maid's headdress adorned the top of her head.
The two pale, yellow orbs that made Miska's eyes, gazed at him calmly, glowing faintly. His wife had a wide, toothless smile, her favorite expression. Miska's substance rippled and slowly oozed across her, but did not drip onto the floor. Noticeably, Miska had legs and feet today, and her lower mass lacked any extra eyes, mouths, or tentacles.
Hmm. Noah had lost today, then. He had been expecting her to appear in her human form.
Welcome home, my star, Miska greeted, inclining her head and bowing politely. Her mouth did not move, yet her words floated into his mind all the same, sending tingles of sensation throughout his brain.
"You know," Noah chuckled, shrugging off his raincoat, "I think I've really started to like hearing you call me that."
It has grown on you, then? I am glad that you are more comfortable with it.
Closing the distance between them, Miska outstretched a hand and brushed it against her husband's coat in several long strokes. The droplets of water were absorbed into her hand, and her substance left nothing behind. Miska hummed happily as she dried Noah off, taking care not to miss any part of him.
"It hasn't bothered me for a long time, Miska," Noah sighed, offering her a smile of his own. "You can call me whatever you like."
Withdrawing her hand from Noah's now-dry coat, she covered her mouth and stifled a giggle. The sounds bounced around inside his head, filling the air with a faintly electric taste.
Hand reaching for his face, Miska wrapped her arms around Noah's neck and pulled him close, planting her lips against his. Noah returned her embrace and hugged her tightly, completing their little ritual. The sensations of Miska's substance were an eternally changing enigma, yet every time Noah kissed her, he felt he grew a little closer to understanding. As she pulled back from the kiss, Miska's smile grew even wider, her bioluminescent eyes shining with tender affection. Holding out an index finger, she brushed it against Noah's cheek, removing a few stray droplets of water from his face.
All better, she cooed. Shall we have dinner?
"Let's," Noah smiled.
Dinner was casual, tonight. They had already disassembled their dining table and chairs, so Miska and Noah chose to sit on the living room floor, looking out over the window together. Truthfully, the couple had little need for furniture, or even dinnerware, which Miska demonstrated by reaching her hand up her sleeve and pulling out a comfortable blanket for them to sit upon. The blanket was far too large to have actually been concealed inside her clothing, and the dark purple color betrayed its true nature. In a similar fashion, Miska produced their plates, glasses, and silverware, and headed into the kitchen.
As she returned, Miska's hands were gone, the tips of her arms instead ending in several tentacles. Her arms were spread out wide, balancing all of the loaded plates and full glasses with ease. Crouching down, she carefully deposited everything onto the floor. Miska's tentacles slithered back into her arms, and her hands returned as she sat down next to her husband.
You said that you wanted something simple for our last night here, Miska explained, gesturing to the two plates. Each held a serving of baby carrots, applesauce, as well as a homemade teriyaki chicken burger, on a brioche bun with melted swiss cheese and accompanying french fries.
I hope this will suffice, Miska frowned. Our selection of available ingredients was rather limited.
"It looks great, Miska," Noah smiled. "I didn't even know you had a recipe for chicken burgers."
A recent development, she nodded. I wanted to make something that was far healthier than the alternative source.
"Hey," Noah frowned. "C'mon, it's not like I get fast food that often. Besides, you like their food, too."
Ingredient quality had come a long way, after all. With the advent of food cloning, the fast food joints of today could afford ingredients that could rival dedicated restaurants of the previous century. Indeed, the very concept of a sit-down restaurant had been briefly called into question, seeing as how delivery drones had become so cost-efficient that practically any burger joint could afford buying a few.
True, Miska smiled. But there is never a reason to not improve one's diet.
With a flick of her wrist, Miska produced a wine bottle from her sleeve. The bottle flew an inch into the air, then stuck in place, firmly gripped by Miska's substance. She manipulated her hand, turning it at an angle that would have been impossible for anyone else, and easily popped off the cork, pouring two glasses full of dark, red wine. Noah picked up his own, and outstretched his glass towards his wife.
"Tekeli-li," he smiled.
Tekeli-li, she responded, clinking her glass against his own.