“Forever In Your Orbit” by S. R. Mastrantone
We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Metro Fiction page for more information about us.
This week, we see that even in space, you can’t escape past relationships.
Please enjoy our Feature Story: “Forever In Your Orbit” by S. R. Mastrantone
Russell dropped the Valentine’s card into the internal mail on the third attempt, his hand shaking.
“Delivery scheduled for tomorrow morning, Russell,” Fenella said, the moon base computer’s husky voice emanating from the corridor ceiling. “Are you sure you are doing the right thing?”
“Positive? I can retract the card if you want?”
“Jesus, Fenella. Give it a rest. You nag like my ex-wife.” The thought of Valerie made Russell shiver; he banished it by thinking of Esme.
“Fine,” Fenella said. “I’m only looking out for you, Russell.”
“Yeah, well I know what I’m doing, okay?”
That evening, he watched the cafeteria door, his meal in front of him untouched. It had been a long time since Russell was this excited about a woman; his first date with Valerie was all he could bring to mind and that was ancient history.
Esme walked in; Russell waved. Usually she would smile and wave back but this time she kept her gaze ahead of her. She took a tray to the dispensers and then sat down next to one of the other IT guys.
Later, in the corridor, he caught up with her.
“Hey, I was waving at you to come over,” Russell said. He smiled through the anxiety chomping away behind his stomach.
“Oh, were you? I didn’t see.” Esme looked firmly at the floor.
Esme sighed. “Fine.”
“Did you get any Valentine’s cards today?” he asked.
She looked up at him with wide eyes and bit her bottom lip. Nudging him aside, shaking her head, she walked away.
Esme had arrived at the base the month before as maternity cover for the IT team. Russell had been standing next to her in the cafeteria queue on her first night. When she smiled at him he had noticed that one of her canines was shorter than the other. Russell was a muscle guy, burning company logos into the moon’s surface; he wasn’t usually in the habit of noticing canines.
Since then it had been a month of longing looks and awkward small talk with no progression. Russell had thought a Valentine’s card was the perfect way of taking things forward without an embarrassing conversation, but as he paced his room he was starting to doubt himself.
“I don’t get it,” he said to Fenella. “You’re sort of a girl. Have I broken an unwritten etiquette code?” He threw himself down on his bunk and punched the mattress.
“Perhaps she just wanted a friendship with you, Russell,” Fenella said. “Your confession of romantic feelings may have compromised that.”
“Thanks a bunch, Fenella.” He shook his head and covered it with a pillow.
The base computer’s “Malleable Front” design meant it presented a different voice and personality to each employee. It selected from a large database of coded “people traits” and selected those most likely to make that employee feel comfortable. It was based on the company psychiatric profile that all employees sat before starting their assignments. Russell often wondered if his post-divorce self doubt had somehow over-influenced the system because Fenella was all tough love. The only trait of hers that really made Russell feel good was her voice.
“So you definitely delivered my card?” he asked.
“Yes,” Fenella said. “All post-bots reported back this morning without issue.”
He decided to ask Esme directly. Fenella tried, unsuccessfully, to convince him out of it.
Esme answered her door in a robe. Russell’s heart lurched and for a moment he wished he was the sort of man who could just kiss a girl when the mood struck.
“Did my Valentine ruin things?” he asked.
She huffed and started to shut the door. “It’s fine you know. You don’t have to lie about it.”
“Lie about what?”
“Sending me a Valentine,” she said. “Maybe I was expecting too much. I shouldn’t have got my hopes up but—”
“Hopes? Esme, I did send you one. I made it myself and sent it in the post last night. You didn’t get it?”
“I got nothing.” The door opened up very slightly when she stepped towards him. “Wait. Did you get my card?”
Esme dressed and met Russell at his room.
“Fenella,” Russell said. “Why didn’t Esme get her Valentine?”
“She isn’t right for you, Russell. You deserve better.”
“Wow, ” Esme said. “Bitch.”
“You were bringing him great distress,” Fenella said. “I had to intervene.”
Esme turned to Russell. “Does she behave like this a lot?”
“She’s never been right,” Russell said.
“Listen, you don’t know anyone who is both possessive and deceptive at all do you?” Esme asked.
“Do you have a theory?”
Esme stood on her toes and kissed Russell on the lips. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
“Don’t touch him,” Fenella said.
There was a knock.
“Fenella, open the door,” Russell said. Nothing happened.
“It won’t work,” Esme said from outside. Russell got up and opened the door manually. Esme put a white envelope in his hand. “Fenella programmed the bots to leave our cards in the box.”
“You got yours?” Russell asked.
“Yes. Don’t open that yet.”
“Okay. You disabled Fenella then?”
“Any idea why she’s malfunctioning?”
“She’s not. She’s functioning too well,” Esme said. “The trait database looked for personalities that would help you adjust here based on your psychological profile. Thing is, your ex-wife was on the trait donor database and the computer picked a bunch of her code.”
“Fenella was Valerie?”
“Not quite. But mostly.”
“No wonder she gave me such a hard time.”
Esme tapped the card in Russell’s hand. “I’m going back to my room to read my card again.” She grinned. “Open this in five minutes. Okay?”
As soon as the door shut he ripped open the envelope and read the card.
Russell, your Valentine is waiting in her room for you. x
S.R. Mastrantone is a writer and musician from Oxford in the United Kingdom. He was the winner of The Fiction Desk Writer’s Award in February 2013. His short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Lamplight, carte blanche, The Waterhouse Review and Stupefying Stories. He tweets and you can read more about him on his blog.