Good-bye Is Forever
In the morning’s serenity, as the windshield shutters automatically rolled back to let in the bright glow emanating off Rusty, the woes of the previous day momentarily seemed like a bad dream. Jett stretched out her long arms and legs to release the tension that had clamped itself over her body as she slept. Amoret, between tucking away her cot, threw Jett an icy scowl that sent a chill into her heart and made her stomach turn over. Yesterday’s reality sunk its claws into the morning and clutched away any promise of sanguinity.
Over breakfast, the little spaceship’s artificial atmosphere was heavy with a silence Jett couldn’t climb out of no matter how sincere her apologies, or how bad her jokes, were. She poked at the processed yellow globs and brownish crumbles pretending to be eggs and sausage, unable to convince herself to consume any of it. In contrast, Amoret finished her breakfast, whether through hunger or simple practicality, and then stood up.
“You need to clear away your mess and pack up. After I shower, I’ll do the final logs and then we’ll head back to base,” Amoret instructed her as she headed to the staircase.
Authoritative directives were not the words Jett had been hoping to hear from Amoret, and as much as she’d been pining all morning for conversation, her face grew dark and her cheeks burned. She hated being treated like a contumacious child, as if she always left messes and didn’t pack on previous patrols. She didn’t need to be told what to do just because her cabin back at the space station tended to deteriorate into disarray or because she accidentally almost lost the capsule. Literally, she had only accidentally almost lost the capsule this one time, and yet Amoret was acting like it happened on every single patrol.
Jett wasn’t given an opportunity to retort; Amoret didn’t wait for acknowledgement and left Jett to glower at her yellow and brownish mush. After sitting and stewing for several minutes, Jett finally gave up on breakfast and tidied up as she’d been instructed. Amoret reappeared just as Jett was about to zip up her carry-all, so Jett emphatically zipped the bag and then dropped it on the floor to make a point. The only praise she received for her obedience was a smirk.
She kicked the bag against the wall and folded her arms over her chest as she watched Amoret slip into the pilot’s chair. She stood there continuing to glower at her girlfriend, insulted and angry, but also wishing the whole thing would blow over soon. When Amoret finally glanced over her shoulder with her eyebrows raised with an unspoken question, Jett made a face and shrugged in response.
“Awaiting instructions,” Jett snapped. “Since I’m obviously not allowed to do anything without being ordered around.”
Amoret sucked in her cheeks and swiveled her chair toward Jett. “Well, when you behave like a sulking juvenile, someone has to be the adult.”
“I wasn’t even sulking earlier, and you still treated me like I’m a kid!” Jett exclaimed.
Sighing, Amoret shook her head. “You know what, I don’t have time to deal with your infantile attitude. Just sit down and buckle up so we can get moving.”
“Fine,” huffed Jett as she stomped to her chair and yanked on her seatbelt, causing it to stick instead of sliding easily across her lap. The uncooperative belt added to her anger, and she yanked on it harder, causing it to tighten and stick. After several repeated attempts with a growl growing in her throat, the stupid belt finally lengthened, enabling her to click it securely. Her heart rate had picked up with the increase in her blood pressure, and she tried to settle her nerves with heavy breaths through her nose as she bounced her knee and crossed her arms.
“Are you done?” Amoret asked.
“I was done last night, but I guess you aren't,” Jett retorted.
“Can we just do our jobs like proper professionals until we get back? This isn’t a vacation,” Amoret snapped back.
It was the term “professionals” that really cut into Jett: that snide suggestion, once again, that she was immature, careless, and, ultimately, unprofessional. Further, it rankled that Amoret implied Jett was only interested in leisurely pursuits while on patrol, even though Amoret herself had not only willingly engaged in it on previous trips, but she had also been the one to instigate it. Maybe Jett wasn’t as motivated to get ahead as Amoret was, but she did actually want to do her work well—it was just that the universe seemed stacked against her every endeavor.
Jett shifted her eyes to the rust-colored planet and glowered at it as if to blame the boiling atmosphere and wasted land for all her ills. She had a feeling that some part of her soul had been ejected with the capsule launch but hadn’t returned with the nail-biting retrieval process. Her blood pressure rose as Amoret fired up the engines.
As much as Jett wanted to reach across Amoret’s console and undo every action she did just for spite and to get some attention, she knew doing that would just be proving Amoret’s point. There was nothing else for her to do except shift her concentration to her own console and at least assume the pretense of a professional Astral Officer. She hoped that focusing on navigating the little ship back to the space station would take her mind off her anxieties with Amoret.
Hours later, back at JESS, Amoret expertly settled the ship on the exterior landing pad between communications with the Flight Control crew of their return. She was still silent or occasionally curt as the exterior landing bay doors opened and the ship was pulled inside the Decontamination and Decompression Tunnel with a massive conveyor system. How different this mood was from their previous trips when they had passed the time doubled over with flippant conversation or dancing to music in their happiness to be back from the two days of boredom, promises of a real dinner, and late-night sweetness with cake, cuddles, or something a little more. Her sadness and anger were devolving into a state of panic; Jett wracked her brain to find a solution.
All she could think about was cake. Any kind would work: Chocolate, Red Velvet Cake, or even carrot cake with a little carrot in orange frosting on the cream cheese topping. It wasn’t a cure-all, but it sure made life sweeter.
The interior doors of the tunnel finally whooshed open, and the silver ship was pushed into the expansive hangar bay. Through the windshield, they could see other ships just like theirs were also arriving or were parked. The hangar was busy with maintenance crew rushing to and fro with their utility belts, hard hats, and toolboxes or connecting hoses and fueling lines while science technicians in their lab coats were retrieving capsules or other items for their research projects. Amoret initiated the ship’s entry and exit ramp once they came to a halt, and Jett removed her seatbelt. Both women jumped up and collected their bags with a final glance around to make sure the ship was tiptop and tidy. Satisfied, they headed downstairs to exit the ship and check in for the final task in their patrol assignment.
Usually, their return was an exhilarating moment. Even though there had never been any excitement around the space station for as long as Jett had been living on it—no battles with wayward astral armies or scavenging thieves—their arrival always felt like a hero’s return when she walked down the ramp in her uniform next to her gorgeous girlfriend. There was always a buzz in the air that added to the adrenaline and gave her a sense of doing something important. Tonight, however, the hangar just seemed noisy and dull; she felt disconnected from it all.
And then just as Jett began to follow Amoret down the ramp, she came to a sudden halt, breathing out an “Oh, shit!” under her breath. She remembered the woeful message she’d recorded on the log and had forgotten to delete. If anyone heard that message, she and Amoret would probably get worse than a reprimand—Jett would probably be referred to the behavioral health clinic (again) to discuss her “problems” (again).
Amoret twisted her head over her shoulder, watching as Jett spun around, and ran back up the ramp. Amoret just shook her head and rolled her eyes. She could only imagine what disaster had Jett bounding back upstairs in a panic. She briefly contemplated going back in to double-check that Jett wasn’t royally screwing something up but decided that Jett could fix her own problem and continued to the check in desk.
By the time Jett had located the message, deleted it, then double and triple checked that it was officially deleted, plus checked that no other logs had been disrupted (not that she knew what she would do if they had been), and ran hastily back down the stairs and ramp toward the check-in, she was drenched in sweat, her hair was severely dislodging from her braid, and she caught a stitch in her side. Her hands shook uncontrollably as she punched the touchscreen on the tablet that a rather baffled Flight Officer behind the desk held out for her, who dared not ask questions knowing all too well the mistrials of Astral Officer Jett Moody. Finally, scribbling an electronic signature, Jett limped off toward the locker room with shallow breaths to calm herself and the pain in her abdominal wall.
Inside the locker room, Jett found Amoret’s bare legs exposed beneath an open metal locker with A. Yeong plastered to it. With a sigh, Jett flung her carry all on the ground and flopped onto the long bench situated in the middle of the aisle between the rows of lockers. She looked up to find Amoret standing in her underwear, staring back at her with her arms folded, eyes blazing, and mouth taut with anger.
“Should I be concerned?” Amoret asked with a sharp edge on each word.
Jett’s heart sank into her stomach as the fear climbed in and weighed it down. With a quiet and worried scoff, she mumbled in response. “No, it was nothing.”
“Right. And did you fix the so-called ‘nothing’?” Amoret’s eyebrows went up and the fire in her black eyes was on full blast.
Jett scoffed again and glanced away. “Yes, I just had to…do something. It’s no big deal.”
“If I hear one peep from the sergeant, or Lieutenant Hill, or Commander Desta…” Amoret started before resorting to shaking her head.
“You won’t,” Jett assured her before Amoret could think of something to threaten her with.
“I better not.” Amoret yanked a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt out of her locker, threw the sweatshirt on the bench and then sat down a distance away from Jett, thrusting her feet into the legs of the jeans.
Jett took a breath to summon up her courage. “Look, can we go to a restaurant and…I don’t know, like, talk about this over some real food?”
The headshaking began again as Amoret stood up, pulling the jeans over her hips. “I have absolutely no interest in going to dinner with you, Jett.”
“But I, uh…” Jett stammered, her heart rate picking up again.
Amoret held up the palm of her hand to Jett with eyebrows and face pinched together in anger. “You know what? Just stop. I’m just so done. I’m glad…”
Amoret reached for her sweatshirt and pulled it over her head, then put her hands on her hips while she stared at Jett in thought. Jett waited for her to finish what she had to say. Finally, Amoret sniffed, and her eyes turned cold.
“Look, I wasn’t going to say anything until later, but the whole reason I’m taking the lieutenant’s exam is because I’m being shipped out to—out of here.”
“Wait, what?” Jett was confused as she tried to wrap her head around the realization that Amoret was leaving the space station but hadn’t told her anything. Jett could feel her eyes burning and knew that the tears weren’t far behind. “For how long?”
“Forever,” Amoret snapped as she pulled a pair of sneakers out the locker and tossed them on the floor. Twisting her feet into each one, and just before slamming her locker closed, picking up her bag, and walking off, she repeated, “Forever, Jett. Freaking good-bye.”