Looking for Love on the NebulaNet

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Starwaves and Silence

Jett’s hopes for playful banter over dinner were dashed when she saw Amoret set her pre-packaged heated meal aside to cool and went right back to her reading. Although she’d laid out utensils and a drink for Jett and thanked her with a quick peck on the cheek for cooking, she hadn’t said a single word after that. Sitting in silence across from her partner, Jett thought it was an awkward change from their patrols that were usually full of lively conversation, dancing, and other shared mischief. But she brushed aside any negative thoughts, reminding herself that Amoret had plans for her career and needed a good score on the lieutenant’s exam to accomplish her ambitions.

The log timer chimed just as Jett closed the door to the machine that would vaporize any food particles on their utensils and then sanitize them. She’d already dumped their food packaging and napkins into the ship’s onboard composting and recycle bins that would be emptied by cleaning crews when they returned from their two-day patrol. As she approached the ship’s main console, she gazed out at the changeless Rusty and watched a large ecru cloud swirl across the planet with surprising speed. She could never remember what caused the different colorations, but they commonly appeared with variations only in size. For once, despite all the fantasies she’d envisioned unfolding on the planet, she took a little comfort in Rusty’s reliable monotony.

It didn’t take her more than a few minutes to review the computer’s tracking data and record all the standard observations. She saved the log and set the digitized tracker to automatic so it would record the sensor data on its own while she and Amoret were officially in their downtime. There was nothing else she was required to do the rest of the evening, so she decided that a hot shower would help wind her down and convince her mind to sleep.

Amoret had finally shut down her tablet when Jett climbed back up the steps from the showers below the main deck, but she was only interested in showering as well and disappeared down the curve of stairs with a flat smile. Jett decided to set up the sleeping cots, pressing the lever on the ship’s side wall that activated a long cot to extend from within it. It had an attached blue vinyl mattress that wasn’t especially comfortable or very thick, but never left them with aches or pains either. Plain bedding and pillows, printed only with the CAADE acronym and emblem, were stored above inside another stainless steel cupboard. Jett pulled them out one at a time as she covered the mattress with them, smoothing them out and turning down the blanket near the pillows in a triangular shape just for Amoret. Though the cots were wider than a standard twin, they weren’t designed to accommodate couples, so Jett went to the opposite wall and repeated the entire process for her own cot. While they could cozy up together on a single cot for cuddling or a little more, it was too cramped for shared sleeping.

Jett knew from experience that Amoret would be a long time, especially because, unlike Jett, she always thoroughly dried her hair and went through an entire ritual for her face and skin. To entertain herself while waiting, Jett retrieved her tablet again and stretched out on her cot as she powered it up. Opening the Ambit browser, she signed in and connected to NebulaNet, the most reliable and wide-ranging computer network in any part of the known universe. The patrol squadron was too far from the space station to use the free service provided to everyone onboard, so she had to use her own pay-per-use account. She didn’t mind, though, because it was quite affordable due to her steep military discount.

Once connected to the NebulaNet, Jett signed in to Starwave, her preferred social media app. She was addicted to it: visiting it on and off during her shifts on the station, and even more when off-shift, to the point that Amoret would suddenly grow silent, waiting for Jett to notice the quiet and lift her guilt-ridden face up from whichever device was extracting her brain cells and, more importantly, usurping attention that Amoret felt she deserved. Jett wasn’t even sure why she felt such a compulsion to use Starwave when all she did most of the time was blindly scroll past posts and updates, barely even reading them let alone responding to them. She was more of a lurker when she did pause on something that caught her eye, and she had long since given up on posting very much because she usually didn’t receive any responses. She felt like she was simply throwing words out into a gigantic digitalized black hole that sucked them up and collected them like space dust. Besides that, she didn’t know many of the several hundred people on her connections list in real life, except for a few distant relatives and a handful of old university professors. She used the account under a pseudonym as well because she didn’t want any of her former or current colleagues to find her.

After scrolling past an endless stream of photos posted by her Starwave acquaintances depicting them at happy dinners with their friends on exotic planets seated next to expansive windows offering otherworldly views, cuddled with their partners or pets, or showing off some achievement or another (like climbing the dangerous, arctic mountains of some frozen planet just to take a photo next to a weather-beaten and icicled flag), or any number of other exciting, aspirational, or wholesome endeavors that she never did, Jett began to feel even more depressed than she had earlier. She touched the dialogue icon at the bottom of her screen and on the keypad typed out:

Is it weird to feel lonely even when you’re in a relationship?

As soon as she posted the question on her social media timeline, she regretted her rash response to her emotions. At the same time, she also realized that she’d never felt quite so lonely with previous partners. Usually, she was too busy trying to make amends for saying stupid things or behaving inappropriately, or, alternatively, being too mad over her partner-of-the-moment’s dishonest behavior to feel lonely. Of course, she hadn’t stuck with anyone for the length of time she’d been with Amoret, so she was unsure if her feelings were completely normal as relationships stretched out over time. The more she thought about it, the more anxious she became about her impetuous post. Plus, she assumed no one would answer her anyway, and even though Amoret almost never signed on despite having a Starwave account as well, Jett was also afraid Amoret might see it or hear about it from someone else. Hoping no one had already seen her query, she tapped the screen, navigating back to her main page, and deleted her post.

“You didn’t have to set up my bed.” Her partner laughed as she walked back up onto the main deck smelling like freshly washed apples.

“I wanted to.” Jett’s voice was shaky from being startled. She hadn’t realized how much time she’d spent on Starwave.

She turned her head on the pillow to look up at her partner. Amoret’s dark black hair was shinier and softer as it fell forward luxuriously every time she bent to put away all her skin care supplies. Her tawny skin was scrubbed of make-up and she looked more relaxed. She had changed into lounging shorts and a tank top; she looked and smelled perfectly edible.

Jett absently placed her tablet next to her pillow and slid off the cot, creeping up to Amoret as her back was turned. She slipped her arms around her girlfriend’s slender waist and pressed her lips to the back of her bare shoulder. Although Amoret put her hands over Jett’s, she felt rigid inside Jett’s embrace. Jett tried to soften her up by kissing the base of her neck and making a show of inhaling the skin behind Amoret’s ear.

“You smell delicious,” Jett whispered.

Amoret laughed. “Jett,” she warned, dragging out her name. “I just showered.”

“I know,” Jett murmured in her ear. “That’s exactly why you smell so delicious. You probably taste even better.”

As if to sample Amoret’s flavor, Jett placed her tongue behind Amoret’s earlobe, nibbling on it gently before making tiny bites along the curve of her neck. Jett’s hands migrated upward from Amoret’s midsection until they landed on the small, soft rounds of tissue perking out beneath the cotton fabric of her tank top. Amoret’s hands followed Jett’s, tracing the shapes of her fingers as she let her body relax against Jett’s. Whatever else Jett might screw up, she was very good at releasing tension with her tender touches, and she knew that Amoret had just turned into very pliable putty. All that was left was to walk Amoret straight to her cot and mold her into a plethora of pleasure…

Later, as they lay contented on their own separate cots, Jett whispered her girlfriend’s name just as the cusp of sleep was working its charms to lull away her consciousness. With the windshield shade activated to block out the bright glow of the planet and the interior lights flipped off, the ship floated in a pitch-black sea with only the low hum of its engines to remind them they were adrift in space. Amoret didn’t answer, and Jett’s mind coasted into a dozy haze, unsure if she were speaking out loud or in a dream. Still not quite asleep a few minutes later, she intoned her partner’s name again a little louder.

“What is it, Jett?”

Jett had meant to tell Amoret she loved her, but the irritation in her girlfriend’s voice vaporized the words and filled Jett with a vast and heavy sense of emptiness that made her heart sink deep down inside her chest. She rolled over on her side, facing the wall, not responding to Amoret’s question. Sleep took a long time to return to her, but in her dreams, she kept hearing an echo of Amoret’s chastising tsk in reaction to Jett’s silence.

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