The bell chimed in its usual, sparkling tones and Carina looked down from her precarious position balanced on a stool. She was trying to nudge the display case high above her just a little to the left to bask in the inky spotlight but it was proving to be more difficult that she had anticipated. With an internal sigh of relief, she registered a couple that was more middle-aged than the usual demographic and quickly abandoned her attempt.
“Oh, don’t worry dear, you don’t need to rush,” The woman said kindly, undoing the shawl around her neck. “It is a lot warmer here than it is outside,” she added in remark to the man who was presumably her husband.
He nodded, hands in his pockets as he peered around the shop.
“This is quaint,” He said bluntly to Carina, who had hopped down to join them at the counter.
“Yes, the owner designed it to be so,” She supplied helpfully. “He felt that it really helped to put people at ease when it came to making such er…decisions.”
As she said that, she waved her hand over the sensor located on one of the legs of the table and the mahogany top faded to reveal the shimmer of the world underneath.
“He got that right,” The husband tapped the table. “Is this real?”
“Some of it. But the more unique pieces are displayed accordingly,” She gestured to the domes above her, each twinkling gently under their lights except for that one dratted display that refused to budge. It wove in and out of the light like an elusive butterfly, its wings flittering in defiance.
“I see, I see,” The woman nodded.
Carina looked at them expectantly but when both were still preoccupied with looking around in wonder, she debated whether she should interrupt their reverie or leave them be. There were some who came in just to look, and their gaze usually became unfocused after awhile. Carina couldn’t blame them; when she first started working here, it had taken every ounce of control not to just look at the main table and drift off into dreams. She turned off the censor when it was just her in the shop, so no accidents would happen. Even though they were equipped with the safest alarm system and in truth, any thief would nova before they would even be able to take another step, Carina preferred to not have any rude interruptions to her otherwise quite lovely life.
Just then, the woman took a step closer the domes arranged neatly in the gold shelves on the left wall and made to reach out to touch one of them.
“Ma’am,” Carina quickly moved over to gently touch her arm. “I would advise you not to touch them. They can be…volatile.”
Immediately, the husband strode up and grasped the woman firmly on the shoulder.
“Perhaps we should tell the young lady what we’re looking for?” He asked in a low voice.
“Yes, yes,” She shook her head and gave an embarrassed laugh. “I’m so sorry, I was quite awestruck.”
“No worries, Ma’am,” Carina gave an understanding smile. “I can quite understand the allure of it.”
She smiled back in a wavering sort of way that concerned Carina, but she put that out of her mind as they settled into the green, velvet chairs in front of the table.
“So, how can I help you?” She settled opposite them and watched as their eyes followed the shifting patterns on the table.
She had fixed her gaze on the woman, because she seemed like the one who was more likely to make the purchase but it was the husband who cleared his throat, rubbing his palm against his stubble as he thought of what he wanted to say.
“What do people usually get?” He asked.
“Hmm,” She pressed her fingers into the powder set in a clean, porcelain dish at the side and swept her fingers over, making the stars follow the comet powder.
“It depends on the age range, and what they’re looking for. Usually, those who are younger come for something more explosive so they tend to take up the clusters. Of course, I would not advise that if your pain tolerance is on the lower end as it is quite a jarring process. There are those who prefer solitary patterns,” She leaned over and extracted the orion belt. “Most popular are the ones in the orion belt, because it has a cleaner finish and people quite like the idea of a…direction.” She looked up to see the woman transfixed by what she was holding in place. She was definitely the customer of the day.
The husband glanced at the shelves behind Carina.
“And I suppose…those are the ones that the more explosive customers purchase?” He said uncomfortably.
“Yes,” Carina leaned over to wave her hand over ‘The Pillars of Creation’ and it swirled brighter. “The nebulae have become quite popular over the past few years, especially since it promises the creation of stars so it’s technically a transition piece. There have been customers who come back to show us what have been formed, and we have some images stored there,” She pointed at the screen to the right of the door.
“It’s okay,” He shook his head. “I don’t think we’re looking for that.”
Carina glanced at the woman again and turned back to the table. Her sleeve dragged against the table and the woman’s gaze shifted, her blue eyes drawn from the table to the swirling patterns glowing in the skin.
“Is that yours?” She asked in wonderment.
Carina glanced at the husband, and she could detect a kind of judgment in his eyes. Shrugging it off, she pulled her sleeve up. If it helped her make her sale, why not?
“Yes,” She tapped at the swirling blue greens shimmering under her skin. “It’s the Carina Nebula, and I got it because my name,” She smiled at the woman. “It felt like a sign, when I came in here the first time. Look,” She directed her to a point in her forearm. “I specifically asked for the Carina OB1 stellar association, and this cluster is known as the Trumpler 14 – I know,” She added when she saw the husband react to the name. “The stars have been scientifically identified after all, so the names but might quite…cold and dead, but I like preserving the accuracy of the names. It’s the same as telling people that I have the Andromeda, or the Cygnus. It doesn’t change the fact that I have the stars in me.”
“Was it painful?” The woman asked.
“I’m not going to lie and say no, because it is the process of putting something of heavenly substance into you,” Carina said seriously. “But my boss always said that we were all made of the same thing: space dust. Whether it is the comet,” She raised her finger to show the grains that have been painstakingly collected. “Or the swirling winds, or the stars. But it is safe, as you can see. I’ve had my nebula for ten years now and it does not affect me.”
“Naturally,” The husband interjected. “You work somewhere where it is your job to sell these…stars to people. Those who enter don’t judge. But if you’re somewhere else…”
“I understand. And I would like to correct you on that, because there are people who come in and shout at me and my girls for doing this. It’s quite like the tattoos of the past, right? People judge when you make any changes to the body. But out of all the changes that we have been making, this is at the bottom of most invasive procedures already,” Carina tried her hardest not to sound too defensive.
Ultimately, this was still easier than trying to convince some young upstart that no, you cannot put the entire milky way into your body the first time. When they started complaining that other people had done it somewhere else, she’d direct them to the same screen by the door that had reports of supernovas; it wasn’t just a momentary shock and illumination of novas that happened when someone unprofessional removed the stars without proper care and procedures. Supernovas, once so removed and far away in light years from our paltry planet, were now real instances where the stars clouded and burned up within the body, splintering out to general chaos at the end. Very few survived it. This room of wonders was a great big bomb essentially, space brought down into tangible, commodifiable products.
She snapped her attention back to the husband who had started another refrain.
“…not enough tests have been done. I don’t understand why no one is putting a ban on this.”
She swallowed a sigh. Stealing a glance at the woman who was still transfixed by her arm, she decided that it was definitely going to be easier to win the man over by giving the facts without hiding anything.
“Sir, I don’t deny that this is dangerous. I take my job very seriously here, I studied for four years in order to get into the business and even then, I had to pass difficult tests in order to be qualified to do this. The government regulates this strictly, and there is no way that I would be allowed here if I wasn’t one of the best. And,” She took a gamble and pushed forward with her spiel even when he opened his mouth. “It is not that no one is putting a ban on this. But between you and me, Sir, we both know that the revenue generated from this is astronomical. It is more than just a cosmetic procedure now, there have been studies to show that it does do something to our bodies but in startling, wonderful ways that we have never been able to conceptualize.” She glanced at the woman again. “Which is why I’m guessing you’re here.”
Immediately, it was like she had deflated him. He sank back and covered his face with his hands. This time, Carina let him take his time. When he finally came around, he looked at his wife, who had turned back to the stars within the table.
“There isn’t much time. And she always liked the stars,” He said quietly.
Carina felt a pang inside. She had served a few, who said that they weren’t going to be around for much longer and would like to have something beautiful be a part of them while they were still here. Her boss had capitalized on that, saying that maybe they should even run a ‘heavens discount’ but the current manager talked him out of making such a promotion. It seemed a bit too cruel.
He sighed and leaned forward to look at the stars again.
“So…these are real stars?” He asked.
“Yes, brought down from space. The mechanics are…difficult to explain. Of course, stars are suns and much bigger than this earth and everything we inhabit so it is not so much of the whole stars in definition, but bits. Little bits that still illuminate and grow with a life of its own,” She pointed back at the nebulae still glistening behind her, waiting and hovering with bated beauty.
“So when you say you sell constellations…”
“Of course, we do not sell the actual constellations. There are methods and ways to construct them, and we have perfected it all. If they were not real,” She held up her finger again. “The comet dust will not react with them as they have. You can even take some to sample and test when you leave. And you have heard of how star catching is now even more regulated than it was before. It was a huge deal just a month back.”
“Yes,” His face darkened. “Virgo has disappeared and they said it was because too much was taken from her.”
Carina nodded again.
“This is the real thing. And I think your wife will love it.”
At this, she looked up and Carina could see a smile so beautiful, it almost hurt to watch.
“I know what I want,” She announced. She turned to her husband and gave him a little, excited nudge.
He looked at her in surprise.
“Oh? What is it?”
She tapped the orion belt that had just whisked around the corner and Carina brought it back immediately.
“Alnilam. I always liked how it was one of the stable anchor points used to classify the other stars.”
“I see you know your stars,” Carina beamed.
She turned back to Carina and nodded.
“You never regretted it?”
“Never,” She said resolutely. Feeling quite emotional suddenly, she added, “On my life, I promise.”
The woman nodded, and Carina brought out the pad for the signature of authorization. As she signed, Carina scanned open the drawers and brought out Alnilam, shining resolutely. Catching sight of the husband’s face again, she was compelled to try and reassure him, to let him know that this was more than just some transaction or money-grab. That she knew what it meant to this woman.
“Don’t worry,” She thought hard about what could be the most comforting. “After all, we are all made of stardust.”
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