“Come on. Turn the light out.”
I did. “Why.”
I sat down next to her in the storeroom. We were sitting on a compressor and it hummed a little in my spine.
The window wasn’t the best view on the station but it was the best view away from where all the people were. The port, the bridge, Cafe C. Cafe B had a crap view.
“View’s good,” I said.
“Give it a minute.”
“My eyes adjust fast.”
“Give it a minute.”
It was dark as it gets on the inside and no big lights in the way outside. Most other places are bright, Cafe C looks full on the bridge which is lit up through all shifts, it’s a good view of the station and even a bit of the rock and the decks all the way up to 14.
“I saw my da today and I asked him about the green stuff,” I said.
“Yeah, what’d he say.”
“Said he didn’t care. Not straight out, he said he didn’t know the name of the fungus and didn’t think anyone did. All he knew is the brown stuff is fine don’t worry about it and the green stuff is trouble.”
“You knew that, right.”
“Course I knew that, I’m the one telling the quartermaster when it shows up near the fan bays.”
I couldn’t find the kinds of mold we had in any books so I wanted to know if they were new species. True we didn’t have many books.
“Must be nice seeing your da,” she said.
I almost said it was. Most kids on Chauhan didn’t spend much time with their dads, they worked on other decks or were out mining or maybe they just had different shifts than the kids, kids all had shift A. But me, I knew what my da looked like and when I saw him in the halls I could say hey da and he’d answer like he knew me. He was a type of engineer that could be anywhere around so I saw him around.
I almost said that but didn’t cause then she’d get to thinking about her family and then what would I say. So I said nothing, which was the same thing in the end.
She said nothing too.
She pointed out the window. “There, you can just see it.”
I looked. “You can’t see Sciannameo from here.”
“Yes you can, it’s still close.” She had her hand pointed out and even if I could tell where she was pointing there still wouldn’t be anything there.
“It’s been a month, it’s long gone.”
She went quiet. I was good at making her quiet. Why did she keep talking to me.
I squinted and tried, I really tried to see Sciannameo, the tiny asteroid where she was from. Which no way you could see from here.
She dropped her head on my shoulder and I almost jumped. Her head shot back up.
“No okay, it’s okay.”
“Why are you so fidgety? Someone should tie you down.” She put her head back on my shoulder and this time I didn’t jump. I didn’t move at all actually.
“You could try to tie me down but I’d get right out, I’m good at knots,” I said.
“No I am I went through a book on em. School’s been out so long they told us to read whatever.”
“How long’s it been out.”
“A year, abouts. Ever since Lady Paulinei died like that.”
“How’d she die.”
“I heard she just burst. Happened in the airlock between deck 12 and 13, right near the bathrooms that smell like bad meat. You know those.”
“Well it was closed for a week at least. I heard they had to clean her off the walls with fire foam.”
“I know, right.”
She was quiet again.
Two more stars were in the sky and they were going from left to right like glowy ants or your eyeballs when you’re reading. Gap runners on the way to the outer or back to Mars would be faster, these were local.
“Must be going to Bruch. Or Vancitters.”
“How do you know.”
“They’re pretty close and they’re not coming here. And Michta’s behind us so.”
“So Bruch or Vancitters. What’s the other one.”
“I can never remember Koremori.”
She looked up at me from my shoulder, I saw it out of the corner of my eye but I didn’t dare look back.
I held my breath as the two lights passed out of sight.
She looked down.
I looked down at her. The starlight made her hair brown and grey and black, the edges of the shadows like violet. She looked up at me again. Her eyes were green, still green in that light. Green in any light. Could never tell if she was sad or not cause whether she was or not the sad was still there.
“Say Chauhan again,” she said.
“Say it. Cha-u-han.”
“You say it funny.” She looked back out the window.
“I say it how it’s said what do you mean I say it funny.”
“I don’t mean anything. You say Sciannameo.”
“See, you say it funny. It’s Sciannameo.” She put more vowels in it than I thought existed.
It was well into shift B and C was just getting going, which meant bedtime for all us in shift A. But she still wasn’t used to the shifts, not in the month since she was brought here. When they brought her here she slept three days but then she was up and about and didn’t sleep much after that. Three hours here or there like at random then awake. Maybe that’s why she liked me, I was the only kid up during shift C.
I was up in shift C cause I never did sleep all right. When school was still going Lady Paulinei said that when I was 17 and got assignment I should petition for shift B cause I was always late.
Now I slept whenever.
“Is that why you like me, cause no one else is up in shift C.”
“What makes you think I like you.”
“I don’t see you talking with other kids.”
“Other kids don’t talk.”
Now our eyes were used to the dark, about as open as they get, and she was right, the view was better than Cafe C. There were so many stars if I started counting em I’d lose my place and count em all over again. The constellations disappeared there were so many, familiar lines just gone in all of it. There was so much white there hardly seemed room for black and yet there was as much black as there was white.
“How many stars you think would be too many stars.”
I could hear her thinking. It sounded like breathing only more so.
“More stars than this. But not much more.”
“One an a half times more?”
“About. One an a half times more stars would be too much stars.”
“And how much black would be too much black?”
“Oh I don’t know.” She sighed. “What if there was just one star, one tiny star and all this black. Wouldn’t you love it that much more.”
“Like the sun.”
“No, imagine there was no sun. There was no sun and no more asteroids. Just this one. Not even the family asteroids whatever their names. Just Chuahan. Chuahan and one star. One little star.”
“We’d die though. No sun.”
“Sure we’d die but loving that little star. We’d each give it a name of our own and we’d die whispering it, oh Pularicci, oh Pularicci I love you, nothing matters but you Pularicci.” She turned her face into my shoulder.
“Oh. They let you have cats.”
“Yes there were cats. I don’t want to talk about it.”
Her nose was pressed into my shoulder and I could feel its soft hardness and every time she breathed the little veins in my arm felt like they caught fire then slowly burned out.
“Brown. He was brown and had a white spot by his ear and his belly was lighter brown.”
“Maybe he’s fine.”
She wrapped her arm around my arm like she was going to squeeze into me.
“You don’t know, animals like that, they survive. I heard once this transport docked at an abandoned station that had been empty for years and years from radiation or tremors or something. And they open up the hatch and there’s like a million rats living there all rolling around each other to stay warm.”
“Gross,” she said into my arm.
“I know, right.”
“What did they eat.”
“God knows. Bodies. No not bodies they all got out. Must have left storerooms open or something. So what do you know your cat might be fine.”
“No, Pu-la-li-tschi.” This time she put more consonants in it than I thought existed.
I didn’t try to say it again.
She went quiet. What is it about silence that just holds on to you, gets in your lungs and even when you want to talk you can’t cause there’s not even air to talk with.
I wanted to reach out and touch the window and feel the coldness in it, that stillness in it hinting at the stillness on the other side. I wanted to but I didn’t. I didn’t move.
The compressor hummed. A slight vibration in the walls came and passed like it does from pipes or ducts or someone’s drills on the other side of the rock.
“I’d name the star after you.”
“The star, the empty sky star.”
“Oh. No,” she said. “That would be lonely.”
“I could give you some star friends. I could give you a constellation, a cat or a sailing ship or a penguin.”
“What’s a penguin.”
“It’s a swimming bird on Earth. It slides down mountains on its belly and jumps into the water and swims and catches fish.”
“How does it get on the mountain.”
“I dunno, flies.”
She unwrapped from around my arm and it felt like heavy copper tubing pulling itself off me and I didn’t know if I’d survive without it. She brushed her hair away from her face and looked back out the window.
“Tell me more about fungus.”
“What do you want to know.”
I took a deep breath like I was going to give a speech but it all sort of evaporated. I’d been watching the fungi in the tubes for years now, if you showed me a patch of mold no if you just told me its shape and color I could tell you exactly what it would look like in a week, two weeks. Mold’s like people, in a way people notice about mold but don’t notice about people. It changes, mold. It spreads out and when it gets to places it’s different from when it started.
“I don’t know.”
“I’m at this point where I can look at things all right but do I see them. I tried to get some equipment but they look at me like this when I ask at consignment.” I made the face of someone being asked for something by someone who has no place in asking. She giggled sleepily. “What I want to know really is are there all these different species making each color or is it just three. Cause it could be just three types of mold making all these colors. Or . . . I don’t know.”
“Or who cares.”
“Or you care.” She yawned.
“They haven’t been named so maybe I’ll name them.”
“Oh.” She slumped against my side again.
“The green I’ll name Trouble.”
“And I’ll say when you see Trouble, that means Trouble.”
“Cause Trouble gets into the air ducts and in the filters and then there’s trouble everywhere. Then where are you. Not here no more I hope, when Trouble’s there you just got to go.”
“Yes.” She was breathing slow.
“What does Trouble mean.”
She was nodding off.
“The brown one I don’t know, it starts as brown but then it’s brownish-red then more upright like these little stalks. Then it turns greenish, then there’s violet and red-white . . . and pale blue . . . and white. . . . When you look at them real close they’re like tiny branches, all these forests that change so fast you don’t even know what they are, don’t even know what they are when they’re there. And they move and sometimes won’t and then they’re somewhere else. It’s something, it’s really something. You should see.”
She was asleep.
The humming was still behind my neck and it wasn’t comfortable where I was sitting but the stars, the stars were all there.
I reached down and slipped my hand in her hand and it was just so slightly warm and I squeezed a little and she squeezed just so slightly back.
It wouldn’t last long I knew but her breathing was a sort of peaceful and so little of her was peaceful it felt like, I don’t know, a revelation.
“That star, is it really alone.” I whispered. “A star in an empty sky or a star in a full sky. Does it feel full or feel empty. Is it a constellation if sometimes the lights are too bright and it looks like a single star alone out there. Is its family hiding in the sky behind clouds so black they’re blacker than black. Is it two stars holding hands but you only see one from far away. Is it ever alone. Millions and millions and millions of miles away from everything, is it ever alone.”
She stirred next to me.
“Shut up,” she said.
She was gone in a week, refugees don’t stay long when they don’t have kin, once they’re healed someone’s got to take care of them and there’s no one on Chauhan to take care of anybody. I should have known and I guess I did.
I kissed her as she left and it was short and awkward and I don’t know if she just let me because she’d never see me again. It took me hours to tell myself I’d kiss her and I did and after that I didn’t know what it was supposed to mean. Why did I want to so bad when I didn’t even know what it was supposed to mean.
I asked my da if I could name the fungi and he said he didn’t care in so many words so I set about naming them. The green I named Trouble, I didn’t keep a sample because what if. The brown I named after myself with some Latin-sounding stuff at the end so it would stick. The red I named after my da.
But every so often there’s a violet-green-brown that spreads out in little dark green waves, the deeps of the waves like purple and the crests tufted white, like a splash in an oily puddle only alive and living. I don’t know if it’s a different species or a phase or a burst of color or maybe a coincidence of lots of different stuff, but it doesn’t last long and what comes after is a different green-brown and after that a sort of black. I named it after her.
I named it after her cause it means it’s not going to last. So when you see it you know it’s not going to last, don’t go tell anyone. Just sit with it a little. Sit with it so when its not there anymore you can remember it and you can wonder what it could have been.
I started to put my notes in a black binder that I keep all neat and professional, there’s a lot in there like drawings and charts and journal entries, everything I know about stuff. When I hit 17 and get assignment I’ll petition to leave Chauhan and give the binder to the archive.
When I’m gone people can read it and they can know what stuff means.