Looking for Love on the NebulaNet

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Depression and Dinner

The latitude and longitude coordinates that Jett was supposed to watch for as the Astral Patrol Squadron rounded the planet looked like a bunch of gobbledygook to her. She could do math when pressed, but the subject wasn’t really her forte. However, she had enough aptitude to be able to recognize a match in the sequence of numbers and letters as they rolled by on the console’s main computer screen with the sequence outlined in the electronic duty orders displayed on the secondary computer screen in front of her face. In addition to guarding a planet that no one alive wanted to visit, except for perhaps the scientists of the allied nations’ Collaborative Air and Astral Defense and Exploration (CAADE, as if it were somehow more concise), it was also part of Jett’s job to launch a data and specimen collection capsule to a specified location on the planet and then retrieve it on the second pass of their two day orbit. Only someone with a bigger brain and higher rank than Jett’s knew why the data was wanted, but Jett figured it wasn’t really her place to argue with big brains about the pointlessness of such exercises or ask why they couldn’t just launch and retrieve the capsules remotely from the space station, or loads of other questions that rumbled through Jett’s little human mind every patrol. The truth of the matter was that Jett didn’t really care what the answers were because she just liked flying in the squadron, and tasks like orbiting and collecting data from a boring planet were what gave her that privilege.

Launching the collection capsule was a very exciting task which entailed highlighting the proper coordinates on the main screen with her finger, flicking open a menu with a limited set of option—one of which was LAUNCH CAPSULE—touching the LAUNCH CAPSULE option, touching the Y option when the application then displayed LAUNCH CAPSULE. ARE YOU SURE? Y/N, and then watching through the patrol ship’s clear windshield with her chin resting in the palms of her hands in massive boredom as a cylindrical capsule, barely visible only by a blue light stream that trailed behind it, zipped out of the ship’s base and toward the planet’s surface. Usually, it was Amoret who did the first four steps and Jett that did the last step of staring mindlessly at their achievement. Jett was slightly put out by having to perform all the steps herself, especially because she had to carefully read the coordinate sequences, which she hated, but she reminded herself that she was doing it to help Amoret with her exam. Jett’s military career was on a highway to absolutely nowhere, so Amoret’s career was more important.

Jett double and triple checked the line of numbers and letters that she believed was the correct match, and then, while hovering her finger over that line, flicked her eyes back and forth between the two screens twice more for good measure. With a deep breath, she highlighted the line, and proceeded with all the remaining steps as if she held experienced precision, particularly the last step. Even after the blue stream disappeared from her line of sight, she checked the coordinates she had highlighted again with those on the duty orders. She was pretty sure they were a match, but if they weren’t, Jett would hear about it later. She knew that because she’d launched to the wrong coordinates before, and she heard about it later from her superior, Lieutenant Nelson Hill, and that was why Amoret usually handled the task. She couldn’t help it if her brain registered something different than what her eyes saw. Anyway, it’s not like she messed up every time, and nobody could tell her what the acceptable margin of error was, so she didn’t know why Lieutenant Hill got so upset about it, shaking his head as he rubbed his temples, his hair and mustache looking greyer than the last time she had seen him.

Unless his distress was because she was practically in his office every week for some infraction or another like a wayward student at primary school in the principal’s office. But usually it was for a completely different violation than the one before, and it’s not like she did any of them on purpose. Jett loved being in space and she really was trying her best. She didn’t know what else she would do with herself if she weren’t in the astral force. She’d already had to give up any dreams of being an important high ranking official like she thought she would be when she graduated from university, but as long as she could still fly in starships and travel the universe, she didn’t care about awards and promotions. Lieutenant Hill, despite his every attempt to assume an intimidating presence over his crew by hovering in their workstations with long silent stares eyeing them for laziness or insubordination, found it hard to berate Jett. Her inevitable visits provoked him to emit long sighs and groans that sounded like real physical pain. He’d told her once she reminded him of his own daughter. Jett didn’t really know what that meant, but it made her feel like an even bigger disappointment every time she screwed up.

Her professors at university had all been profoundly confident in her, frequently gushing over her performance and lavishing her with highest marks. Yet she’d bumbled one post-graduate assignment after the other until she was lucky to still be enlisted in the astral force and assigned to the most boring space station in existence, patrolling a rusty planet. She’d been more depressed than ever after being demoted, especially when she found out she was being transferred to JESS. To make matters worse, her colleagues got wind of it, subjecting her to laughter with sidelong glances of eyes glittering with giddiness at her misfortune. However, Jett was grateful that, at the very least, she wasn’t sent to some arctic planetary station on the ground and was still assigned in space. Then she’d met Amoret and life on JESS became better.

With the capsule launch completed, Jett hoped this patrol trip wouldn’t end up with her in Lieutenant Hill’s office. All that was left to do until the retrieval on the next day was the hourly logs requiring reports on her observations of any weather abnormalities on Rusty, its moons, any unusual space phenomenon, or possible unauthorized expeditions. It wasn’t a difficult task. It was just that there usually wasn’t anything to report except uninteresting words like normal, average, and uneventful, and the tedium made it hard for her to resist the urge to make up absurd scenarios like UFOs and crisis level asteroids heading straight for one of the celestial bodies. While Amoret often allowed her imaginative narrations to be recorded with the understanding that the fictional logs would be deleted once Jett got them out of her system, making up stories wasn’t fun without an audience. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Amoret still perched at the silver table, engrossed in her reading, and knew that Amoret was no more likely to listen her wild tales later any more than she would want to be interrupted in the midst of her studies.

Jett set a timer for the next report due and took a tablet from her bag with the intention of playing a game as she waited. Instead, she slumped in her reclined seat and stared at the titanic sphere suspended before their tiny ship. Iron rains over countless millennia left the virtually lifeless planet’s surface and atmosphere slathered in rust like the carcass of a corroded metal machine. The deep russet hues swirled with ecru blotches and patches of bright white over the dry and burning pockmarked rock. Jett thought how ironic it was that her tarnished existence had brought her to an equally stained and desolate destination out of all the possibilities in the universe, as if she had already begun to decompose without every fully blooming into life. Her dark eyes glowered at the planet with her gloomy thoughts until the computer quietly chimed, impelling Jett to reposition her chair so she could log yet another tedious observation of the planet’s enduring but uneventful existence.

Her long single braid fell over her shoulder as she stood up and bent over to put away her tablet. She tucked long strands of her brown hair that had come loose behind her ears. She had rushed to plait it at the nape of her neck earlier that morning and it had begun to rebel against the lazy styling. Like her hair, Jett began her shifts assembled in relative order but before they ended, she was fraying inside and out. As she glanced over at Amoret, still immersed in reading, she once again wondered how her partner managed to maintain a seemingly constant state of perfection. Jett wished she was more like Amoret, and she had hoped just a fraction of her girlfriend’s flawlessness would manifest itself in her, but, if anything, Jett’s shortcomings only seemed to become magnified next to Amoret’s abilities.

Setting another timer for the last log of the evening, Jett’s stomach reminded her of a need for sustenance, so she ambled toward the back wall where Amoret was seated. The fabric of her uniform seemed to swish loudly as she walked, making her cringe inwardly. In fact, every movement Jett made and each task she performed felt amplified as she endeavored to keep distractions minimal for Amoret’s studious labors. She grimaced as her partner glanced up, but Amoret didn’t seem irritated as she leaned back, stretching out her back and fingers.

“Dinner?” Amoret didn’t even really need to ask the question because she was so familiar with Jett’s habits.

“Yes, I’m starving,” Jett admitted as she pulled open a wide drawer on the wall adjacent to the table. The interior of the compartment was filled with slim rectangular packages of shiny silver, which Jett began to rifle through.

The two women, wise to the lies of the three-dimensional holographic package printing that attempted to suggest far more appetizing meals than the actual contents provided, both frowned as Jett twisted and tilted each package in contemplation of their disappointing options. Settling on what promised to be wholesome whole wheat ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and drenched in a savory seasoned sauce but what would probably turn out to be food shapes with a distinct powdery flour flavor dipped in something wet, Jett touched a button that slid the door oven wall open, inserted the disingenuous packages, punched in the suspected amount of time required for heating on the digital touch pad, and sighed while Amoret found utensils along with compostable napkins.

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