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Vacation Station

Nina Kiriki Hoffman is a prolific virtuoso of the short story form.
Trevor and I were sitting in our favorite niche at Rube Cube, watching, hearing, and smelling the stream of people flowing toward and away from the bar. Trevor held my hand under our microtable. Our knees touched because there wasn't enough room for them not to.
People bumped us as they passed, because space was at a premium. It always was, everywhere in the city. The mutter of conversations people were having with other people or devices wove into a mat of sound around us, with the bar's trance music soundtrack lying under it.
We were eating truffle fries with Green Goddess dressing.
Someone who smelled like feces bumped my knee. I put my hand over my nose and mouth. An odor-police drone swooped down and ticketed the person, who hung her head and changed direction toward the freshers by the bar door.
Trevor said, "Hey, Amanita, why don't we use all that money we've been saving for our honeymoon to do a beach vacation in space, one of those private bubble habs? They're clean, so you're not bumping into sewage and trash when you swim. You don't have to worry about sharks or other mutant predators-- unless you ask for swimming things that will do sexy stuff to you while you're floating in the water in low-grav, but do we need anything but each other in our own private beach ball?"
Trevor and I had dated for more than a year before we decided to marry. Six months into the fiancee part of our relationship, I was having second thoughts. Not that there was anything wrong with Trevor; he just didn't excite me anymore. I think he noticed. Maybe I didn't excite him either.
Did I want to spend a weekend in a beach habitat alone with Trevor? Vacation Station had a lot of vacay habs hanging off it like grapes. As long as you could pay, you could choose your environment, secure in the knowledge it was clean and safe, that the air was the best money could buy, not like the stuff we breathed on Earth's surface, that the water was the perfect temperature and free of particulates. Sure, it had been recycled a trillion times, but we did that on Earth, too.
Best of all, you could be alone.
"Let's go," I said. "I want the sexy stuff, too. Let's have some real fun."
Trevor gave me the Look. It was sort of the "Who are you, and what did you do to the woman I planned to marry?" look. He gave me the look, and he said, "Ohhh-kaaaay."
So we took the elevator up to VacayStay, and an escort led us to the hab entrance. "There's a food and drink dispenser between the palm trees," she said. She wore a blue-black bodysuit with shifting diamond patterns on it, which was distracting. Her white-green hair was totally short, and her skin was dark, with a lavender sheen. "Just program whatever you want and it will supply you. Don't eat the swimming things. They're AI, and so is the sand. Interact with them and they'll learn what you like. Your safe word is 'boob job.'"
"What?" I said.
She smiled. Her teeth were kinda pointy. "Say 'boob job,' and everything will freeze. There's a panic button on the food dispenser-- it's big and red. Don't push it unless you really want to end your vacation early."
"Boob job," said Trevor. His gaze met mine and we both laughed. That felt good. It had been a long time since we'd laughed at the same thing.
"Your orb is programmed for night and day-- summer night and day, so a long day and a short night. Your tour guide can adjust that if you want." She handed me a small flat device. "Press this button and someone will talk to you about your accommodations if you find anything unsatisfactory." She opened a shimmery, circular door. "Here's your entrance tunnel. Enjoy!"
Trevor and I gripped our softbags and walked through the door. The tunnel snaked down in darkness. I lifted and lowered my shoulders, then sat down and slid into its gullet.
The slide took a while, and then I plopped out onto golden sand, blue sky all around, palm trees and philodendrons behind me, blue water lapping gently at the sand's edge in front of me. The smell was plants and salty water, delicious because so simple. No ash, no fumes, no smoke, no reek of too many people in too small a place. And not a single other person in sight.
The sand lifted me and shifted me sideways just before Trevor plopped out of the tunnel beside me. I patted the sand. "Thanks," I said. Trevor thinks I'm nuts to thank machines, but hey, we spend most of our time interacting with them. Might as well try to get on their good side.
A snake of sand lifted from the beach and patted me on the back. Then I realized the sand under me was moving. Pulsing, kinda. In a rhythm that matched my heartbeat. Which speeded up. So did the sand.
"Let's go swimming," said Trevor. He tossed his softbag under a palm tree and stripped off his clothes, dropping them on the sand, which swallowed them.
I clenched my fists and my teeth. What was he thinking? Nobody stripped where anyone else could see. It was antisocial!
But there was no one here but us, and the glass ceiling was opaque to anyone outside our bubble, I was pretty sure. At least, that was what the literature said. A VacayStay might look like a fishbowl, but it was private.
Only us!
I pushed up, and then the sand lifted me to my feet. There was still a warm weight of sand against my butt. I looked back and saw a face in the sand. The face winked at me.
I took off my clothes and stood naked in daylight for the first time in my memory. I felt warm and delicious and aroused.
Trevor smiled and ran into the water, splashing out toward the rounded edge of our world. "Whoa! Hey! What-- ? What-- ?" He treaded water, looking down. Then he stiffened and got sex face, mouth open, eyes rolled back, a vein throbbing in his forehead.
"Honey?" I said. The sand rose up and wrapped me in a cocoon, all except my head. It tilted me over until I was lying on my back, a castle spinning out of sand on my stomach, and lots of stuff happening under the surface that drove me wild.
We had booked two days in the beach ball.
Later, back on Earth's surface, when Trevor and I had married and moved into a room together, making sure our schedules were different so we each had a little time alone, I took out the finger-sized vial of sand I had stolen from the beach, even knowing it was AI and could tell the station administration what I had done. It writhed in its plastic prison, then formed tiny shapes of things it knew I loved. We had learned so much about each other. I kissed the container and tucked it back into my top, longing for impossible things.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, December 27th, 2019


"Vacation Station" was another short-short I wrote for a challenge from my local workshop, the Wordos. We have four read-aloud meetings a year where people bring in thousand-word stories on a suggested theme, and there are treats and good cheer. We listen without critiquing.

This was a summer story.

- Nina Kiriki Hoffman
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