Jemai’s skin was the color of water, which is to say it was hardly a color at all. Her body was a milky grey that took on a blue or green tint in certain lights, and when Thomas’s warm fingers traced her hip bones they left a trail of amber in their wake. He loved the way her skin reacted to heat. If he moved his finger slowly enough he could trace words across her stomach, and when he couldn’t sleep he wrote love songs into her one letter at a time.
Jemai read them, but she never replied.
As Thomas touched her she stared at the ceiling, her dark eyes searching out the darkest corners as if she had left something in their depths. She inhaled once for every five of his breaths, and the oxygen-drenched air forced its fingers into her lungs the same way his fingers forced their way into her stomach. Everything on Earth left a heavy residue, she’d learned. When she watched her skin change color beneath his fingertips, she imagined that her body was rubbing away. If he kept at it she might disappear. Sometimes she wished that she would.
On Ayta, the dark sky danced with the colors of a healing bruise when solar flares licked its heights. Behind them stars poured out across the thin atmosphere like beads of oil on water, and some days she slept outside to keep watch, as if all of it might be gone the next morning. “Don’t be silly,” Daik used to tell her as he pulled her body against his and stroked her forehead with his slender thumb. Her skin hadn’t changed at her lover’s warmth. Their bodies had been the same temperature.
When the Terrans came for Ayta’s fuel, Daik had been among the first recruited to defend their resources. He left without ceremony, smiling his usual knowing half-grin. “Keep safe for me,” he’d said.
Shifts changed, but Daik never came home. Three years later, the ceiling of Thomas’s room was starless and still, the room’s silence broken only by the sound of his rapid Terran breathing. She’d been saved from the fuel mines, she told herself, and repeated it like a mantra as his fingers traced their usual path around her navel. She was safe. She was safe.
Thomas sighed blissfully and settled his body against hers as he prepared for sleep. Jemai exhaled for as long as she could, forcing every atom of the thick Earth air from her lungs. She was safe. Thomas’s room had no windows, but in the darkest shadows she pretended she could see Ayta’s sun shimmer like a pearl in an oily sea.