A Diamond in the Rust

Dear diary,

The lonely sky became so much less lonely today. Like many days during this rather dark and depressing global dust storm, I found solace in rising above it, taking to the red skies in one of my favorite jets, a conical, almost capsule-like form evocative of one of the famous Rommel spaceplanes a century or so ago. My destination: the Tharsis range, those highest peaks of the solar system that stand alone in being above the roiling clouds of rusty sand, the only Martian landscapes still visible from the air.

Just feeling the sun again and seeing the open sky put a smile on my face. Spinning my aircraft round and round so I could see the brown clouds below me, I gazed upon them like a defeated enemy, thinking “Take that, Mars! You’re not going to ruin my stint!” Before too long I apprehended the gentle slopes of the long-extinct shield volcanoes, wistfully wondering if some other intelligence before man stood on the rims of those craters, looking up at the night sky in wonder when this was a lush and fertile world.

Turns out there was an intelligence of a more human sort close to me. I paid the distant blips on my radar no mind; moving at hypersonic speeds like me, there are always a few people in a given volume of the air traipsing about the Red Planet, especially when it’s the only refuge from a dust storm that’s been going on for months. But after a while, one of those blips started to come closer and closer, heading right for me in fact! The signature was unmistakably another airplane, and for the first time in my months-long stint of solitude at my mine it looked like I was about to have some company.

As the vehicle came closer to me, approaching visual range, it came closer and closer to matching my speed. By the time I apprehended it visually, the other aircraft was gently heading toward me, as if we were both almost motionless. The airplane was a different type from mine; rather than looking like the nose cone of a rocket, it was more of a wedge shape. I smiled as the aircraft came closer and closer to me, gently approaching to where I could get a good look at it, and its pilot, as it did a barrel roll right next to me.

The jet intakes were rather hulking on both our vehicles, and I beheld the other aircraft rev up his reactor, pulling just ahead of me before dropping back. I beamed a smile under my flight helmet as I got the message, radioing the other vehicle “Wanna race?” Then after a moment I thought out loud “First one of us to Olympus Peak wins.” The pilot radioed back “Challenge accepted”, revealing a male voice, and a rather intriguing one at that. He then said “On my mark. Three, two, one, go!”

At his “go!” we both throttled up our reactors and turned to face Olympus Mons, needling each other with close scissor maneuvers and barrel rolls in between gunning for more speed, pulling ahead and dropping back. His skills were honestly rather impressive, as was his courage in performing some rather risky maneuvers in the race, some of which got my blood pumping as it looked like he might lose control, but in the end he always kept it. It was the first air race I’ve done since I started my stint here, and I had no idea how much I missed it; thrilled, I threw myself into the speed-demon maneuverings as the finish line that was Olympus Peak loomed ever closer.

He spent most of the race slightly ahead of me, but in the last few tens of kilometers, after needling him for an extended period to wear down his nerves, I broke it off with the most sudden throttle-up I could muster and still maintain control of my vehicle, pulling decisively ahead as we crossed the exposed calderas, and the finish line.

Pulling back to allow him to catch up, and assuming a lazy circular course around the mountain, we both caught our breath. About a minute later the other pilot radioed and said “It would seem you’ve beaten me.” Intrigued even more, I radioed back “You say that like you’re not beaten often.” Then I got the most wicked idea; I hadn’t even seen his face, but I had heard his voice, and I really wanted to get to know him better, and I knew the perfect place to do it.

So I asked “I’d like to get to know you better. How about flying to my place?” After a moment, he asked “A house? A hangar?” I grinned and radioed back “All that, and a mine too.” He replied “A house, a hangar, a mine, and you too? I can’t resist all that. Lead the way.” Turning in the direction of my mine, I led him straight to my homestead.

After a while, although I couldn’t even see anything in the shroud of dust beneath us, my instruments told me we were approaching our destination, so, relying on them, I decelerated for a landing right in my underground hangar. Both of us made it in just fine. As the doors closed, sealing us off from the dust that had poured in while it was open, both our aircraft docked in the standardized ports, permitting us ingress into an underground part of my habitat, containing the storage rooms for all my tools, all my spacesuits, and some of my closets. I radioed him “Your dock directly connects with a guest closet where you can shower and change. Wait for me in the hallway outside of there.”

I then got out of my pilot’s seat and walked back through the dock into my habitat; a comforting familiarity, even if it was somewhat tiresome. At least there was no dust from the planet, though; it was all sealed. Indeed, the hallways of this part of my homestead were covered in bas-reliefs of classic science-fictional Martians, even maps of the planet depicting Schiaparelli’s and Lowell’s visions of canals.

Even here, though, I felt the loss over the past few months; skylights were put in to illuminate these reliefs with natural light, but there’s so little coming in from above it looks like just a slightly bright patch of diffuse brownish light. Rather depressing, but I dispelled that by telling the computer to put on my solar-spectrum lights to the brightest setting, which elevated my mood, especially in my walk-in closet.

This was a first date – and, the thought came to me as I showered and groomed myself, arguably the first real date I’ve ever been on in my whole young life! – so I wanted to look as fetching as possible. My flight suit having long been handed over to a robot for cleaning, I beheld my clean nude body in the mirrors, twirling myself around and posing, trying to think of what I had that would flatter me the best.

Summoning robots to hold up various articles of clothing and accessories to my form for me to see in the mirrors, I took my sweet time – if he really liked me, all his impatience would melt away as soon as he saw me. After a while I settled on an ensemble I really loved. The only undergarments I were a white lacey and slightly sheer thong, and stocks that were also white and lacey, but much more sheer. Both of their lace patterns depicted the planets and moons of the solar system.

My mid-sleeved blouse was solid white, slightly sheer, and button-up, a classically fresh, girly, sexy look, especially the way I wore it with enough buttons unbuttoned to show off my generous cleavage. All the white makes me look radiant – it’s that slight contrast with my olive skin tone, just short of the lightest brown – so I usually love to wear plenty of white. Today was no exception.

The blouse was fitted tightly to my figure, so snug, making my breasts look just on the edge of popping out even while it left plenty of their shape to the imagination. My hourglass figure was shown off even more by a copper belt snug around my waist, attached to a cute pleated white miniskirt, also solid white and slightly sheer, again fitting tightly on my figure but leaving enough to the imagination to be tasteful.

I slipped my feet into shiny copper-colored high heels, the straps around my ankles adorned with big white bows. Also copper, real copper metal this time, were my big (as big as each of my ears!) dangling earrings, circular in form with a map of Mars engraved on each disk, one hemisphere for each earring. They almost match my hair, which I arrayed into a long loose style, my reddish brunette waves cascading all the way down my back and then some.

The most striking part of my ensemble, though, might be my necklace, a big copper choker I wore right on the middle of my neck, studded with heart-shaped emeralds, emerald to match my green eyes which people have always told me are so beautiful, the heart-shaped patterns reflected in the rounded-off curves of the metal, making it rather soft and flexible to wear on my neck considering what it’s made of. I smiled as I attached the copper chain to the front of my necklace, for from it dangled a heart-shaped locket made out of copper, empty, but so, so ready for a lover’s picture to be put in it.

Doing my makeup, I went for a look that was understated, almost natural-looking but glamoured up enough to look fresh and girly, like I was ready to make love for the first time. Which I kinda was! Hehe. My fingernails and toenails were painted an emerald green color, to match and enhance my eye color, not to mention my necklace. The finishing touch was spraying myself with the lightest, most feminine, most youthful perfume I had in stock.

Once my look was complete, you wouldn’t even guess I had just done hypersonic piloting in an otherworldly atmosphere – I looked like a girl whose only role in life is to have fun and enjoy herself in a garden-like fantasy world. I felt like I was going to be irresistible, and I was so giddy, not even really being cognizant of the possibility that when I got my first look at my date I wouldn’t even like him.

When I did behold my date, though, waiting in the guest hallway, I wasn’t disappointed; I really liked the way my date looked: blonde, nearly white hair coming out in generous waves down to his clean-shaven chin; a youthful face betraying but a hint of chiseled features; icy blue eyes; and a very fair-toned body that had some substance to it but on the whole was rather slender.

He clothed himself in a black leather jacket closed up with a few metallic cobalt-blue buttons; between the jacket and his neck was revealed a blue necktie, matching his eyes, and a rather dressy dark blue vest over his necktie, with the underlying shirt being white. On his shoulders were epaulettes in the same metallic cobalt-blue material. His legs were covered by black dress pants, his feet by dark blue but rather metallic and shiny boots. More than anything else I was honestly rather surprised by how much his outfit paralleled mine; a good sign of the two of us having similar tastes! He even had a small bouquet of pretty and fresh flowers in his hand, along with a small gift box, wrapped in bright vivid colors with a cobalt-blue bow on it.

He smiled as he said “Wow, you look lovely!” I giggled and twirled around so he could see everything, before I strutted over to him, telling him “You’re looking good today yourself!”, before moving for the flowers and the gift box, asking “Are those for me?” He said “I always take some on every flight I take in case I meet a special girl, and that special girl is you.” I practically gushed as I went “Aww…”, taking the gift box in my hand and pinning the flowers in my hair.

“Now you look even lovelier” he said, and as I giggled I took his hand and led him deeper into my habitat – there was a connecting corridor that ultimately led to my abode, bypassing the mine shaft, which I had in mind to reserve for later, as it was the most spectacular part of my facility.

Clearly confused a bit but holding his cool, my date asked “It’s not every day I’m taken out by girls I don’t even know the name of.” I sighed and said “Is that so important? I’m really just a lonesome girl.” He asked, half-teasingly, “Is that what I should call you, then: Lonesome Girl?” I giggled at that, before saying “I have a question: are those cobalt insignia on your shoulders just decorative, or is it some kind of rank? Just what kind of a pilot am I taking out to my home?”

He replied “It’s my own, a unique pattern among the flyers I work with that denotes me. Think of it less as a rank and more like an arms in heraldry.” Quite a few thoughts surged through my head as I went “Ooh…that’s interesting.” He asked me, “So what kind of a mine is this?” I smiled a bit and replied “The best kind: a uranium mine. We even do our own refining. Nothing too complicated like what a lot of the larger facilities do on-site, but we do separate out isotope 235 from 238; we don’t ship out any of the depleted uranium, rather we transmute it into plutonium-239 and ship that out along with the U-235. The plutonium, especially, is useful for nuclear explosive devices, the same kind that take us to the stars.”

“And blow up an entire city” he quipped, a bitter note to his voice. Heedless at the time of how this was probably a sensitive topic for him, I commented “Which has never happened. And even if it does, so what? Without nuclear technology people wouldn’t be putting their feet up in their palatial space habitats watching their stock portfolios go up, they’d all be stuck on Earth having to sell their labor to survive. Besides, if we policed what everybody did with the supply line we wouldn’t have a supply line.”

He sighed and said “I know; it’s just that I’m in reactor manufacturing myself, and just earlier today I heard a rather horrifying bit of news about ‘reactor-dunking’ claiming another victim.” My eyes widened as I went “Yes, I’ve heard of that. A torture technique, isn’t it?” He nodded and said “A grisly one. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say it always hits you harder when it’s one of your own reactors from your own factory with your own family’s name engraved all over it.”

I felt horrible for him in that moment, feeling the urge to stop walking and embrace him slightly, saying as I squeezed his hand “I know.” Looking up to him, I told him “Look, no matter what kind of technology you make there will always be a few criminals who misuse it. The guilt is not yours, it’s theirs.” He sighed and said “I know.” A thought then popped into my head, causing me to grin as I said “Besides, if it’s any comfort to you, none of my reactors here are the kind you can dunk somebody in. We don’t have pools of water.” That caused both of us to laugh, which made me happy, cheering him up.

Sensing the topic had worn out its welcome, he changed the subject by asking, half-jokingly, “Who exactly is ‘we’? Is Lonesome Girl the only person I’m dating, or is there a whole army of minions at your beck and call I’m going to have to share our date with?” I laughed at that, saying “It’s just me here; that’s what makes me so lonesome. Well…there is the master computer. And my robots.” He said “Well, that’s different; a man may want his girl all to himself and not with any minions of flesh and blood, but any sensible man knows a girl and her robots are inseparable.” I laughed at that too.

We walked some more through the hallway, until at last we came to the glass elevator hewn into the rock, a transparent elevator car waiting for us, a polished silver feminine robot standing in it waiting for us, querying us, after she took my gift box out of my hand for me, where we wanted to go, to which I replied “the spire”, and she gently operated the glass lever that made the elevator gently accelerate upward. Observing his reaction to her – her form, while obscuring the most intimate areas, had all the curves of an unclothed and rather voluptuous woman – was most satisfying. “Like how she looks?” I asked him.

“Oh” he said as he snapped out of his reverie, “Yes, I do.” I went on, as I pressed my body next to his, “I modeled her after myself. Her figure is my figure.” That caused him to go so red in the face, it was adorable. I’ve never acted nearly that wickedly with a man before; maybe I’ve been more lonesome than I thought! Despite me being so forward, he seemed to be taking a liking to me.

I wish he could have taken a liking to the landscape we beheld as we breached the surface. “Woah!” he said as we emerged into a brownout all around us, beholding only the silhouette of a great wheel and a rectilinear structure mounted onto its interior, the whole structure stationary, companion wheels and similar cabins visible directly behind stretching a fair distance away.

He said “I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to get used to just how huge these road trains are.” I replied “I actually really like them. But you’re right, they’re huge, as are the robotic machines loading ore into them, if you can make them out in this dreadful weather. The whole perimeter of my mine shaft where it breaches the surface has these robots. You just happened to catch them in action.” He explained “Sublime sight. It’s easy to forget, but like, at one point there were skyscrapers claiming the title of Earth’s tallest building that weren’t as big as these monowheels. But it makes sense for the Martian environment; they can ride over any obstacle, spread out the ground pressure of their cabins, and it’s not like you need to brake or traffic suddenly on any of these roads. It’s not like there’s any traffic on them.”

The cabin faded from view as we ascended further up into the dust cloud, and he asked me “Do you get visited by any colonies here? I go to a lot of places here on Mars where there’s always a lot of people coming and going in their road-train-mounted colonies.” I laughed and said “Well, this isn’t one of those places. I never see anybody. But then again, I’ve just been here for a few months so far.”

After a few moments of silence, the road train mostly faded from view, leaving us with just swirling dust in what looked like a rusty sandy fog. “Dreadful view, isn’t it?” I asked, adding with a pouting note to my voice “It’s usually so pretty.” He said, squeezing my hand, “Aww…I’m sure it is. But I can use my imagination.” That made me smile a bit.

He went on “But I know how you feel. I’ve actually been spending most of this storm in orbit, or even in colonies further afield than that. But still nearby, mind you. The view of dust-enshrouded Mars now from Phobos is actually rather pretty. But I just can’t stand to leave my business here alone for too long without inspecting it in person, it’s just one of those things. So after a month off-world I came back, and I was actually just blowing off some steam when I first met you in that air race. I’ve actually got an appointment to keep later.”

“Oh!” I exclaimed, asking “Do you have enough time for me to show you everything?” He smiled and said “I think so.” After a few moments he motioned to touch my earrings, causing me to smile and say “Go ahead, you can touch them.” “Are these maps of Mars?” he asked. I nodded yes, and he went “Oh my. They are. Copper too, just like your hair.”

I sighed at that. I didn’t tell this to him, but although my hair is so pretty I’ve never been entirely satisfied with how brunette it is; I’d really love to have brilliant copper red hair, but I think it would look awful with my skin tone. I could have it whitened so it would look better, but I don’t want to do that either; it would be betraying my heritage. So reddish brunette it is.

At last we started to come into the part of the glass tube upward where it starts to curve in a spiral. He went “It feels like we’re spiraling in.” I said “We are. The glass tube goes up by several hundred meters then it spirals in closer and closer. Actually there are three such tubes, since they serve as the support structure for the house. And yes, the tripod shape is an homage to H.G. Wells’s ‘The War of the Worlds’. If the Martians can’t invade England with tripods, at least the English can invade Mars with tripods! Well, not exactly; I don’t even have any English ancestry, but close enough.”

He commented “That’s awesome; the H.G. Wells thing, I mean”, before asking “Lonesome Girl, this probably sounds like a stupid question, but why is your house so high up?” I answered “Because of what you saw earlier: the road trains. One of those wheels pulls up and it’ll obstruct a whole side of the view from a house on the surface. Mount the house at an altitude pushing a kilometer, and you can still see the view in all directions.” He went “Oh…” before I added to my statement “Such as it is”.

When we came to the first floor of my home’s spire, an even bigger glass tube, I escorted him out and ordered my robotic girlfriend to take the gift box to my bedroom. I showed him around; I think he was impressed by how my home was all-glass, so as to have a totally transparent view and let in the maximum amount of natural light, not obstructing the view from any side on any room. Thus each room was its own floor and vice versa, connected by spiral escalators made out of transparent glass that could be rotated around on my command to the master computer, which I demonstrated to my date a few times, much to his delight.

Each room-floor was divided further by robotic screens, foldable trellises containing thick greeneries of leaves, flowers, and various plants. He joked “It looks like you didn’t need any flowers to pin in your hair!” I gushed and said “These are so much more special, though, because they’re yours.” That was the truth: I was really liking him so far.

At one point, on the last floor before the penthouse, I sighed and went “I’m sorry you couldn’t enjoy the view today.” He said “Well, truthfully I haven’t even minded it much; you’ve surrounded most of the windows with those green-wall screens. Between that and those robotic solar-spectrum light fixtures you showed me you’d barely even know there was a dust storm outside.” “It gets confining, though” I said, to which he replied “Hence your wanderlust leading you out on your airplanes.” I nodded yes at that, before leading him up through the glass spiral escalator to the penthouse.

When he beheld that as it rose into view, his eyes widened. After a moment he said “You saved the best greenery for last, didn’t you? Wow.” Slinking through the woods on my heels, I answered “Yes. My penthouse. A greenhouse filled with a forest garden of picturesque trees, flowers, and other plants. A glass dome atop the glass spire. Honestly, as far as the house goes, this is my pride and joy! When it’s not storming outside I love nothing better than to lie under the tree branches swaying in the wind I have some fans make, and gaze up at the stars. Sometimes I can even see Earth and its Moon up there. They’re really pretty.”

Showing him around the habitat, walking him down the garden paths, I explained to him as we passed them by that some of the areas had a “more utilitarian purpose; that is, growing crops for me to eat. Well, not me necessarily. Actually I’m just the owner of this particular business; normally, I’d hire someone else to do it, but I wanted to take on a stint and experience what it was like for myself. Doubles as a money-saving measure too; labor is expensive, especially on the Red Planet.”

We were walking in some more of the wooded gardens at this point. He asked me “Tell me, Lonesome Girl, what brought you to taking on such a role in the first place?” I answered “One of my dearest hobbies from childhood – really more late childhood, but still childhood, so pretty early in life – was tourism to Mars. I fell in love with everything about the Red Planet. I loved spending time, a lot of time, on Mars, but I felt like doing all the regular tourist stuff was holding me back. I wanted to get beyond recreation, to scratch away that veneer and experience the real Mars. Helped too that I felt at that point in my life, and this was over a year ago when I first acquired this place, that I wanted to own something more tangible, a piece of my beloved rusty desert that serves a vital economic function in a basic industry. This months-long stint I took on was the perfect way to get everything I wanted.”

He asked me “Are you enjoying yourself?” I answered “I know you probably think I’m miserable here, with how much I’ve been complaining about the dust storm, but really on the whole I’ve loved it. Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t want to stay here and do this job of overseeing these robots forever, but it’s been fun to do this as temporary duty.”

Then I said “And speaking of fun, I think it’s about time I showed you the works of my homestead.” He asked “The mine?” I nodded and answered “The mine”. Sauntering onto the elevator again, hand in hand, a robotic companion brought us down into the opaque brown fog of the dust storm, a thin layer of glass all around us our only shield from a lethal alien atmosphere.

After a while we slipped underground, where we took a stop at a floor decked out in a more industrial style, which my date described as “sort of a metallic rocky Gothic catacomb, if that makes any sense”. There I took him to see my uranium refinery, as well as my facility’s primary nuclear reactors (well, the control mechanisms anyway; the actual core is buried even deeper underground), open floors filled with railings providing ample space for all my robots to work, both humanoid and non-humanoid alike.

One time my man just wanted to look at me posing on the railing as he beheld my refinery behind me, robotic arms zapping lasers everywhere as shipments of raw uranium ore brought in from adjoining tunnels and through the main mine shaft were enriched as the beams separated the isotopes, more robots going every which way on their appointed rounds. I obliged him for quite a few moments, knowing he was clearly really taken with me, and I with him; and besides, it seems I really enjoy modeling for someone special.

After a while, he said “I’ll confess: I’ve seen quite a few mines like this one before, but never with such a charming host.” I practically blushed at that compliment. As I sat against the railing, he came closer and closer to me, so he could speak to me more quietly, saying to me “I knew this mine of yours sounded familiar, but now after seeing the works of it – your refinery, your heavy equipment, your robots, your mine shaft itself – I’m sure of it now: you’re one of my suppliers. I’m one of your direct customers, I think.”

My eyebrow went up at that, with me saying “Really?” He sighed and said “Lonesome Girl, I don’t even know your name, you’ve never told me, but I guess I’ll have to tell you mine to be absolutely sure. My name is de Windt, Sverre de Windt.” My eyes widened as I asked him “Those de Windts? The family who’s been a big name and a big fortune in the nuclear reactor business for, what, 100 years?” He nodded and said “The very same, though the name and the fortune aren’t as big as they once were.” I smiled as I said “But still big enough to be my best customer. Small world, isn’t it? Amazing that we could just meet like this, though it might be even more amazing we haven’t met before.”

He said, as his face came closer and closer to mine, causing me to lean back a bit against the railing, “Believe me, if I had known that address on the blockchain was as gorgeous as you I would have gotten to know you a lot sooner!” Sensing that I was getting precarious against the railing, he wrapped my back in his arm. My heart started to race as he came closer and closer to me with his lips, the look in those piercing eyes making me sure he was about to give me a kiss. I was so ready! I would have reveled in it!

But no! He pulled away from me, leaving me so hot and flustered; my cheeks must have been blushing so much. I remember vividly how my mouth was open as if in invitation, as if I was the kind of girl whose only care was to inspire a man to take me, as if my purpose in life was to lose my maidenhood right then and there. Well, if that’s what anyone thought upon seeing me they would have been right – I certainly wasn’t thinking with my head in that moment.

I felt another surge of heat when he wrapped his arm around my waist and led me away from the railing. Taking the bottom of my face with his other hand, he turned mine to his and he asked me “Where to next?” I would have been embarrassed had I not been so hot, it took so long for me to think of anything, but I finally said “Next thing I…that I had in mind was…uh, I’ll take you there.”

I led him almost like an automaton myself to our next destination, an inflated soft transparent capsule that I had prepared so we could go down into the mine shaft together. Boarding it, we sat in it, and hugged each other as we were picked up by an arm of one of my giant nuclear-powered robots, in this case one of the machines that’s permanently attached to the mine shaft, which resembles a circular sinkhole extending deep down into the Martian crust. We had to use the capsule because, in contrast to the refinery, it’s an unpressurized environment, fully exposed to Martian atmosphere.

We enjoyed the motion as the robotic arm brought us to the very center of the shaft, giving us an excellent view of all the rock around the circular wall. Then there was a jolt as we stopped, the residual motion of the capsule, suspended on a chain held by the robotic arm, causing us to rock back and forth, back and forth in a soothing pendular motion, made even more soothing by my date guiding me with his arms to his lap, where I soon found I was resting my head looking right up at him.

As we looked at all the mining robots coming and going out of the side tunnels, the big robots doing their work in the main mine shaft, he silently stroked my hair as I luxuriated in his lap. It was so intimate for a first date, but it felt so, so right, like I’d been waiting for someone like him my whole life. Sverre is dreamy; he’s not just hot, he’s cute too!

How cute is he? Get this: he went to the trouble of ordering ice cream delivered the whole distance: to such a remote area, to me, during a dust storm no less. The delivery drones did fine, of course, even if it took them a few minutes to get it to us and for our robotic arm to slip it through the capsule’s little airlock system, but it was such a sweet thought.

It was a nice big ice cream too: four scoops for me, three scoops for him. My ice cream was white, in a pleasant vanilla flavor that I love – it’s my favorite, and I didn’t even bother asking how he knew. His ice cream was very curious, a dark black color. I asked him “Black ice cream!? How does that happen?” He replied “Charcoal.” I replied, wide-eyed as I licked my cone, “Charcoal-flavored ice cream? That must taste horrible. How do you stand it?” He laughed and said “It doesn’t taste like anything. The charcoal, I mean. I usually get the darkest chocolate flavor added to it to give it that dark taste in addition to the dark color. Packs quite a kick.”

So we sat there, with my head in his lap, for quite some time, contentedly licking away at our ice cream cones as we watched everything and he patted my head. It all made me feel so warm and loved inside – guess that’s how it feels when you’re on a date with someone you really like. I’ve gone without that for too long it seems, but my time came today!

After our cones were finished, we sent them out the little airlock for my robots to dispose of, and, among other items of idle conversation, I asked him “Sverre…what kind of name is that?” He grinned and said “It’s Norse. The original form was Sverrir. It means wild.” I went “Ooh…” before adding “No offense, but I think I like the sound of Sverrir better. I don’t know. If you can call me Lonesome Girl, why can’t I call you Sverrir?” He shrugged and said “Ordinarily I’d say no, but there’s just something about how you say ‘Sverrir’…you’ve got a lovely voice.” I blushed and said “Thank you.”

He went on as he stroked my hair “Sverre might be Norse, but as you might have guessed from my family name I’m Dutch.” I asked “Like, from Europe, or…?” followed by him answering “Western Michigan. Before we got into space, anyway; that’s where I come into the picture. We might have an estate next to the sea but I myself have spent a lot more time in Valles Marineris than Lake Michigan. That’s where our fortune was made, even if I was born on a space habitat.”

I disclosed “I was born on a space habitat too!” I sighed and said “I guess it’s silly to keep this from you any longer. My name isn’t Lonesome Girl, it’s Stefania Antara. Stefania Antara Bashirovna Samaa.” Sverre’s eyes widened and he went “Well, that’s more awesome than my name.” I replied “Aww…try me. What is your full name?” He revealed it was “Sverre Berend Joost de Wint”. I sighed and said “You were right; mine is more awesome”, causing both of us to laugh.

Then I went “Oh!” and remembered to tell him “It’s Stefania Antara. Not just Stefania. Though my friends call me Stefanka.” He asked “Can I call you Steffie?” I replied “Steffie!?” He said “Yes, I think it suits you, because you’re so cute.” I responded “Aww…” then I sighed and said “Well, I guess you can, but don’t blame me if I yearn for the days you called me Lonesome Girl!” But Steffie…Steffie. The more I thought about it the more I liked it, like it was something just the two of us shared; nobody ever called me Steffie before.

He asked me “Berend is German, and Joost is Dutch too. I suspect there’s a more interesting heritage behind your names.” I smiled as I said “Good guess. My father was Indian Arabian. Don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them, but there’s a whole nation of them, descending from the immigrants who came over to the peninsula in the 20th century and managed to woo the natives. Anyway, my family on my father’s side don’t live in Arabia anymore, we took to the stars; we didn’t really have a surname, so one of my ancestors saw fit to take the family name Samaa, an Arab name meaning sky. My parents honored my Indian heritage with my name Antara: it’s Indian. As for my mother’s side, she’s Russian, which is where Stefanka comes from, not to mention me having a Slavic patronymic.”

My man replied after a moment “Like I said, much more interesting. You know, I was wondering about that ever since I met you; I really couldn’t place what kind of ancestry you had. You looked like you had some kind of Caucasian heritage, but it didn’t quite add up to that.” I said “I get that a lot. Gives my beauty a touch of the exotic, doesn’t it?” He gulped his throat, looking like he didn’t want to say it, but finally he said frankly “Yes. It does.”

I said “You don’t have to be afraid to say it. A lot of girls who look hard to place, they don’t like the attention, they want to look the same as everybody else, or something. I’ve never understood that; I’ve always liked being kinda different from all the other girls who look like their origins are just in this one place, all wrapped up in this neat little domestic package. That’s not for me.”

Sverre sighed, and I knew what he was thinking: that I was describing someone like himself, with a more plain heritage. I said “I didn’t mean any offense.” Sverre said “Oh, none taken.” Liar. I went on “From my point of view you’re the one who’s a bit exotic. And besides, even if you weren’t, you’re awesome anyway!” That upped his mood. Aha.

Well, after a long while spent in our inflatable capsule, I saw fit to return us to the surface, ordering our giant robotic friend to bring us back to the airlock from whence we came, where we strutted back to the elevator, accompanied by more silver feminine humanoid robots; perhaps there were a particularly large number going about on their appointed rounds. In any case they accompanied us on the elevator.

When we breached the surface, our eyes widened in surprise. “The storm is clearing!” I said. “Wow!” Sverre said, at last being able to behold more of the view. I clarified “I mean, the dust is still hanging in the air, it will for weeks of course, but the visibility has improved markedly. It actually looks like daylight on a planet again, instead of being trapped in some hellish rusty fog.”

I said dreamily “It must be a sign from heaven that you’re good for me”, but Sverre was too occupied with looking out at the sand dunes to reply, putting his finger on his chin like he was thinking really hard, then smirking like he had the most wicked idea. When we reached the first floor of the spire, he said “I’ve got an idea. How would you like to do some tandem sand kiting?” I was perplexed. “Tandem sand kiting?” I asked.

After he explained it, I became enthusiastic and agreed to do it with him. Getting his equipment out of his jet plane, and with us putting our spacesuits on through our suitports – for some reason I didn’t see fit to put on an oversuit like I usually do, despite the skin-tight spacesuit exposing every curve of my figure to his gaze (or maybe that was the idea…) – I led him through a garage to the surface, where we set up.

His sandboard had four places on it to place feet, obviously two for each person, like a lovers’ sandboard. Strapping ourselves in, him in front and me behind, he strapped the harnesses on both of us, and with a quick burst of rockets the thing we were being harnessed to, a big multicolored box kite in the shape of a flower, was hoisted up far into the atmosphere, but not so far we couldn’t see it effectively. As it caught the wind it started rotating so serenely and beautifully up there in the dusty dull reddish sky, and my reverie was interrupted by Sverre saying “Hang on, Lonesome Girl!” right before I felt a jolt as we started to be drug across the sand dunes with their fresh coating of dust.

Cheering us on and going “Woo!” at each new sand-dune slope we rode, I threw myself into it as I learned to manipulate the sandboard in tandem with my date, eventually getting the hang of it somewhat, but throughout the experience having a really good time. Even when we were walking back after our fun – and fast! – excursion I felt like I was walking on air, I was so happy, as if it was just the beginning of an endless adventure with my dreamy Sverre. But was it?

When we got back inside, we had to change, so we boarded the elevator, where he fully embraced me in his arms and rocked me back and forth the whole way, kissing the top of my hair. That felt so nice. Then we both showered and changed in the spire, both of us back into the outfits we put on after we came here from our air race.

I said to him at last “I didn’t even know sand kiting existed, let alone tandem sand kiting! I can’t remember when I had so much fun with somebody. Thank you so much!” I just couldn’t resist giving him a tight hug after I said that thank you. As I looked up to him, though, he looked a bit sad; then I remembered and went “Oh!”

He took my face in both of his hands, and said “It’s that time: I have to go.” “But before I go…” he trailed off as he moved his lips closer to mine, me suddenly excited: he was going to kiss me! And my god, did he kiss me! It was so wonderful. I gave it my best and I’m sure he felt and appreciated my passion, but I’m sure my technique was terrible, for I’ve never been kissed by anyone before, not like that, not in the lusty fashion of a beloved.

But more than anything else it felt like a dam was breaking inside my very soul, the dam that separated the maiden I was from the woman I am to become, a woman who is showered with affection from someone she can love. It’s young days for me yet, but even with that in mind I couldn’t help but feel at once like I’ve waited far, far too long and also that the wait was worth it for this perfect moment.

Round after round we went, with me coming up for air and going right back at it; they say a girl’s first kiss is usually like dipping one’s toes into the water, but it seems today has taught me my destiny in love is to dive into the deep end on the first try. Like all the other ways I’m speeding through the approach of womanhood, it felt so, so right.

Our passions felt like they lasted forever in the heat of those moments, but at last he broke our kiss for good, still embracing me, looking me in the eyes one last time and saying “I will return”, adding the smallest of kisses on the lips to that, before pulling away again and breaking his gaze of me for good, turning his back and walking out to the elevator and out of sight as he descended to the surface.

I just stood there, drinking in the feelings of the most affection I’ve ever felt in my life, gazing wistfully as his wedge-shaped aircraft jetted off into the sunset. As I write this this evening I guess I should be worried if he’ll ever come back, consumed with thoughts and feelings of our next meeting, but no, I’m the picture of serenity, I’m content with whatever comes, whether he returns to me tomorrow or I never see him again for the rest of my life. Does that mean I don’t really care?

No, I don’t think so. Later today, after the sun had set and the spire was filled with the delightful glow of twilight for the first time in months, one of my robots presented me with the sweetest gift my date left behind: a picture of himself, to be fashioned by my robots for my locket. Putting it in there, the first time anyone’s image has been in my locket, it started to dawn on me that maybe that’s all I ever wanted: to be a girl with a picture of her darling resting on her beating heart.

For what I was blessed with today was more than a man, more even than Lonesome Girl not being lonesome anymore. No, what I was blessed with was something much more profound: now, tonight, for the first time in my life, I’m a girl in love.

Yours, Stefanka Antara

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