You wait for a girl at a New Year’s party in the center of the bustling interplanetary Station, strobing lights and throbbing bass and screaming people surrounding you. It is the turn of the year, turn of a decade, turn of a century; the people around you all foolishly believe that they will change, that with the changing of the year from 3099 to 4000, something will change them.
Maybe you’re just like them. Yearning not to be saved, but to be found; the poet longs to be the poem, and the star-charter aches to be the star-charted.
But you simply nurse a tumbler of champagne, tapping metal fingers against crystal, the discrepancy between the drink and the glass amusing you. Someone next to you slams his dance partner into the bar, lips meeting teeth and tongue and finding heat; champagne splashes over the lip of your glass, and you can see a perfect sphere of liquid suspended in the air before gravity takes its hold. And you are unbothered, disinterested, as you mop champagne from the tulle of your dress with a sleeve.
The gravity here is different, you find. It is different everywhere you go—some places it has a tighter hold, others less. Here, suspended hundreds of kilometers above the glowing surface of the nearest planet—Planet Alpha-87, although there are nine other planets connected to Station by glittering hyperlinks and suspension speedtrains—it is a little above baseline zero, the gravity of the old Earth. Things fall a heartbeat or two slower, although you stopped measuring things by the tick-tick of your heart a long time ago.
(Hearts are fragile things. Once, yours burst in your chest. They replaced it with a sleek thing, synthetic muscle and cold metal. If you are quiet, if a lover presses her ear to your chest, she will hear it tick-tick-ticking away like an old analog clock.)
Station, contrary to what its name suggested, was less of a space station and more of a hub. Everyone who was anyone found their way to Station eventually; somehow, hopping between stars and galaxies at the speed of light simply led to the club. So now you wait, hum along to the muddled lyrics of a song and tap the toe of your boot to its thrilling beat, feel your bloodless pulse throb against your skin, sip your champagne and delight in the way it bubbles against your tongue.
It is stifling in here, full of people and noise and raw emotion. You have noticed this, in your time, in all the corners of the galaxies you have been; emotion eddies in places like this, brought to the surface by the drinks and the dancing and the drugs. You simply watch. The girl you are waiting for will arrive; she promised she’d be here before the turn of the century, and you are two hours away. She will come.
(She always does.)
A flash of red, a wry smile you can hear more than see. “Want to dance?” And suddenly she is there, resplendent in a red satin dress. She has put new highlights in her brown hair, since you’ve seen her last. Little beams of sunlight, a halo, a crown. It suits her. She offers you her hand, palm up. You set your tumbler down, smile, forget that you aren’t human.
(She makes your skin feel a little more like skin.)
You are not much for dancing. But still you smile, still you nod, still you take her hand in one of yours and pick up your tulle skirts in the other. Once upon a time, you were never partial to pretty things; now, you have shaved your head and stopped reddening your mouth and redefined the word femininity. You adore the dress you are in now, the way it froths against your skin and moves with every motion you take. Vintage, the seller had claimed, like it was fine wine and not a garment. It was worth the exorbitant price you paid for it on Dwarf Omicron-734.
“You made it.” You find your voice as she puts one hand on your waist, and suddenly your breath hitches. (You thought that your ability to breathe was taken away; apparently, some human instincts cannot yet be unwired.) “It was surprisingly lonely, waiting for someone at the biggest club in the known universe.”
She tosses her head back and laughs, and the song changes. Suddenly it is slower, the voice singing it throatier. “I love how you say known universe, star-charter.” Star-charter. It is not your name, although she knows that too. Once, you and the girl you dance with were rivals, racing to stake flags on stars not yet seen. Perhaps you still are, and yet.
“Next year we’ll go to an intergalactic club instead,” you say, fighting to be heard above the noise, and you catch her smile, something fleeting and beautiful meant for your eyes and your eyes alone. It is funny—turn of the century, go somewhere merely interplanetary. Year 4001 of the Space age, where humans and now humanoids whittle void into whatever they need it to be, go somewhere intergalactic.
(They will always whittle void into time. You are no longer human, but you still hold a humanlike portion of selfishness within the metal in your bones and nerves and skin. Humans simply want time. Time to spend, time to waste, time to beg back.)
Here you both stand, your arms around her waist and hers around yours. She is smiling, and you realize that you are, too; you have only felt human a few times since your accident, since fire and shrapnel and blunt force trauma took your heart, a lung, a handful of vertebrae, a few fingers off one arm and the skin off another. Miles of wire race through your body along blood and bone and ropes of nerves. But you see her, and suddenly you are a child on Planet Theta-3092 again. You see her, and suddenly your flawless cybernetic heartbeat starts to stutter.
She is celestial, she is heavenly, and you are but a body of matter trapped in her endless gravity. You know things as laws, as the defined and the definable. It’s only orbital mechanics, after all, the way you are each other’s suns and moons and satellite systems.
You dance with her, dance and dance and dance until you can feel your fishnets printed onto the skin of your legs, the tulle of your dress clinging to the contours of your chest with sweat. She orders whisky on the rocks for herself, eyes glittering as she slides a mocktail down the greasy bar to you. The light of the bar changes, and suddenly her dress is a solar flare.
You sip your drink, slam it down onto the bar, grab her hand. You are laughing, you are whirling, you are jumping up and down to the beat of a song you cannot discern the lyrics to, you are falling in love with a girl who is your other half of a binary star. Eventually, you can see the light dim in her eyes, the oppressive light and heat and raw sensation of the bar too much for her humanity.
She had never been much of a partier, but she partied with you. You had never been much of a dancer, but you danced with her. A push, a pull, a gravity of your own design. You always ended up falling back into each other.
So you take her hand again and lead her to the coat-check, exchanging the sticky poker-chip token in your dress pocket for your coat, helping her into hers. At some point, you let go of her hand, and although you ache for it, she makes no motion to link your fingers again.
You let it be. The two of you board the speed elevator down to Alpha-87’s surface, brace for the sensation of zipping down from space station to ground at the speed of sound. Light-speed is still too expensive and too volatile for simply traversing a few hundred kilometers.
Outside of Station, the world is blissfully quiet and bone-achingly cold.
“Why are new years still even celebrated?” you wonder aloud, delighting in the way your words disappear into the silent dark, with only her there to hear them. “This isn’t the Earth, and we aren’t orbiting around that yellow dwarf. Yet here we are, celebrating.”
For what it was worth, you two could have been walking in the dark between stars; everyone is either at clubs like Station or at home with family members, friends. Star-charters have neither—it is a risky profession, one for children who dreamed of being pirates. You stood at crossroads for too many years, unsure whether you wanted to follow the promise of starlight or the easy ebb and flow of revenge and money.
Bounty hunter or star-charter. Before you became seventeen percent metal and wire, you believed yourself a romantic. You chose the stars.
(And the stars led you to this girl. Maybe you are a romantic, after all.)
“Everything in this world is so spread-out.” she says simply. World. What a small word for such a large place; you know that once world referred to the terraforms and vast oceans covering a single planet. Now there are hundreds of thousands of them, hundreds of stars and galaxies and paths in between. “Everything is so far apart, and I guess everyone needs some baseline zero that stays constant, wherever you are.”
“How pretty,” you muse. She turns to you, flashes that bright grin. It a lick of flame, the snick of steel against flint in a lighter. Alcohol has made you bold, and the turn of the century has made you wistful. “You’re pretty, too.”
She stops in the middle of the walkway and laughs as she spins around, lifting her arms like she’s a fairy. She is a sprite, a sylph, a fantastical creature meant for something more magical than this. Her laughter is starlight, and you want, for a moment, nothing more desperately than to bottle it and keep it forever.
You feel your mechanical breath catch again, your cybernetic heartbeat’s steady tempo falter. She stumbles, and you reach out and catch her. She beams up at you again, and there is no longer blood running through your veins, but you feel color rushing to your cheeks.
(They claim that you are no longer human, but they forget that all cybernetic technology is a feeble attempt to imitate humanity. Humans don’t want to be human, but human is all half-machines know how to be - until they aren’t.)
You keep watching, your still-organic eyes scanning the scene unfolding around you. There are blurs of light as streetcars race along antigravity roads, simply moving blots of neon beneath them. You are holding her hand, you realize. Sometime, between when she spun and your heartbeat stumbled and she fell into your arms, your fingers became linked.
One of your arms is flesh covered in technology’s best imitation of skin, a metal graft that covers muscle and bone like liquid silver. One of your hands has three mechanical fingers. There are circuits and wires attached to your spine, wires braided into your nerves that allow your legs to move. Every day, you catalogue the seventeen percent that separates you from humanity until you become numb to it. Her hand is currently nestled into the one with the mechanical fingers, and you can feel her body heat warming the cold metal.
“Let’s go here,” she breathes into your ear, lifting her hand and pointing to a pair of tennis courts tucked behind a shop advertising starbreach bonds—the irony is not lost on the pair of you, star-charters to the bone—and a bodega all but buried beneath a towering sect of glowing apartments.
So you follow her onto the fenced-in concrete. The only sports not obsolete now are e-sports and fantasy leagues; tennis courts are a relic of a former age, like the dress you are wearing now. You stand beside her, relishing in the heat her human skin emanates, watch as her clever star-charter hands point out constellations the two of you discovered, name galaxies that you both raced to pioneer.
Maybe star-charting is this: people like you and her plunge into the night like it’s an ocean, following where the current leads and plotting every island you wash up on upon a map. You write constellations, poetry across the sky. You are the sky’s muses, its translators; the explorers of that depthless, diamond-studded void.
You are a far cry from Station at this point, but perhaps all of Alpha-87 can feel the clubbers scream the ten-second countdown. All of Alpha-87 is certainly joining in. Ten trembles through the ground and the air, each number building and building until it inevitably crescendoes at one, Happy New Year!
And you feel her hand on your silverskinned one, her flesh-and-bone fingers trailing against your icy cheeks. “They say,” she murmurs at five, “to kiss someone on the new year, for luck.”
Four. “For luck.” you echo, your eyes meeting hers. They are brown, the brown of fertile soil and dark, sweet honey. Three.
She smiles, and your ticking heart skips a beat once again. Two. You bring your hands up to her face, bridge the distance between the two of you, until the space between your mouths is the void between stars that you once devoted yourself to traversing.
You are binary stars, you and her. You kiss, and the sense of something missing that has haunted you ever since you woke up seventeen percent other vanishes like blood in water. You kiss, and a century turns, and once, you were drowning, but now you can breathe.
So your mechanical lungs take in a single stuttering breath, and then another, and then another.
You smile against her lips, nuzzle your cold nose against her colder cheek. You both laugh. And because you’re here, because you can, you take her warm hand in your metal one and twirl her beneath your arm, lost in the devastating give of her when her mouth crashes back into yours.
And it’s good. It’s a little messy, a little imperfect, but it’s good.
Gravity is obsolete, and so are the girls you once were; you turn to the endless sky, to your solar-flare girl—your baseline zero, your constant, the gravity you succumbed to so long ago—and you smile.
You turn to her, your stardust and your soul, and for the first time, you feel found. Somewhere, somehow, her honey eyes and her flint-and-steel smile and her fierce tenacity found you, another star system to know and be known by.
Once, you both devoted your lives to charting the stars, and here a pair of them stand. A single creature, a mapped constellation. Binary stars and a baseline zero.
Cece Lu (she/they) is a mixed-race and lesbian writer and poet, currently in her last year of high school. She spends the majority of her time dually devoted to the slavering maws of academia and competitive tennis, but her first and most consuming love will always be for what is read and what is written. Drawn to art, music, psychology, and the beauty of humanity, she can be found yearning about kitchens and daydreaming about finishing her novels in either an art museum or the flower section of her local Trader Joe’s.