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The Harmonia

Angela Teagardner loves playing with words, especially stringing them into stories. She's currently working on avoiding the lure of contests so she can concentrate on putting together a short story collection. She lives in Ohio with her husband, daughter, and two entitled cats.

I was there when the airship Harmonia fell.
I try not to remember the gritty details - the screams, the crush of bodies, the trampling of feet. I don't linger on that aromatic cocktail of adrenaline and panic. It's no good to think about what it meant to fall thirty miles to a planet of brimstone and molten lead. What it meant to be millions of miles from anyplace safe.
Sometimes, I let myself recall the view through the escape pod window--the airship listing, its hull breached, oxygen strangely visible as it rushed, swirling into the carbon dioxide clouds. There's no sound in my slow-motion memory--just the tilt and fall, the huge glass windows shattering as the atmosphere's enormous pressure ravaged what had been, only hours before, the pinnacle of luxurious travel.
I don't think about Lyra.
There had been an entire fleet of Venusian cruise ships back then. The Harmonia was the flagship, the grandest of the line. She was a city in the clouds--her restaurants employing world-famous chefs and her casinos boasting the biggest pay-outs. She was a beacon for pleasure-seekers and fortune-hunters alike.
I was of the latter category. Back-alley craps in Vegas had become roulette on the moon, and still I craved higher risk, bigger wins. When I heard of the delights to be had on Venus, I booked passage on a freighter, willing to endure four dreary months' travel for the promise of what waited in that cloud-drenched alien atmosphere.
I'd been there long enough to lose big, and just when I started to consider getting out while I still had cash for the ride, I found my lucky strike clad in blue sequins and stiletto heels.
Her name was Lyra Antares and she sang like a bourbon-soaked angel. She was the headliner in a dim little club called Adonis, far enough below the main decks to avoid the notice of the well-heeled crowds. At the Adonis, we were all a bit shabby, a bit down on our luck. But Lyra's voice lifted me up, kept me sane during those luckless nights when the money just bled out of me.
"You wanna walk?" she asked me one night as late turned into early and her shift had finally ended. By then, I was a regular, always taking the table closest to the stage.
"Do you want to go outside?" I asked her, feeling like I should, even as I hoped she'd say no. The upper decks were open-air, but hazard suits weren't romantic, and the wind made talking difficult. There wasn't even a starry sky to admire. Venus didn't have a nighttime--the dense clouds glowed apricot 'round the clock--but the crew dimmed the lights and we all went along with it.
She laughed, sounding like old Hollywood, and I knew I'd follow her anywhere.
We ended up heading down, rather than up, into the bowels of the ship--brightly lit despite the hour. The laundries made the lavender-scented air humid, moisture gathering in her hair and across my forehead.
"You come to the Adonis every night," she said as we wandered the long corridors. "Are you a music lover?"
In spite of the cold sweat in my jacket, I answered truthfully. "I'll listen to anything, so long as it's your voice singing it."
She laughed again, and for a second I was sure I'd blown it, that she thought I was feeding her a line--or worse, that she was put off by my candor. But then she sobered, looking into my eyes. "I think I believe you," she said.
She slipped her hand into mine, entwining our fingers. Her skin was damp and hot and perfect.
Within the week, I was living in Lyra's quarters, a tiny room far belowdecks. She'd hung a macrame tapestry on one wall and a poster of Billie Holiday on the other. We listened to music on her old-fashioned record player and made love in the afternoons. Scarves draped over the lampshades painted violet shadows on her skin, which I kissed even as she dressed each evening for work.
She had a wardrobe full of satin and velvet, a jewel case full of paste. Only one piece was real - a diamond brooch that she never wore. "It was my mother's," she said, carefully tucking it into a tiny silk pouch. She threaded baubles of glass through her earlobes and kissed me again.
When Lyra was working, I kicked around the lower decks, my pockets too empty for the casinos but my hours too long to think of much else. I usually ended up at Adonis, filling up on peanuts and drinking in Lyra's voice. I wondered if she'd come back to Earth with me, what I would do if she wouldn't.
Restlessness gnawed. I thought about getting a job with the ship, but didn't want to be working the few precious hours I got to spend with Lyra. If only I were flush, I could take her upstairs to eat lobster and caviar with the high rollers. I thought of those last few losses--luck games like roulette were my drug of choice, but could I have won big at the poker tables instead?
I didn't plan on losing her brooch. I planned on winning--winning big--and taking her places where that jewel of hers could really shine. But one bad hand turned into three, until finally I was all-in with a pair of queens and an unforgiving bluff.
I skipped going to Adonis that night, just let myself into the room and threw myself onto the bed, wishing I had money for whisky.
The lurch woke me before the alarms. I sat up in bed, impressed that the famous winds of Venus had finally made themselves known. Lyra was still out, my confession stalled, and I was relieved. I was just closing my eyes again when the alarm sounded, a flash of red light above the door.
Hull breech. Evacuate.
I ran through suddenly-crowded corridors, desperate to get to Lyra. The club was two decks up--on the way to the evacuation level. I screamed her name as I got close, afraid to miss her in the throng.
I heard her voice, saw one gloved hand over the heads of the crowd. Our fingers threaded together and despite everything, I breathed easy.
The pods filled quickly, the lines unexpectedly civilized. Lyra held her shoes in one hand, so I stepped in first, reaching up to help her.
She froze, her eyes going wide. "My brooch," she whispered. "I can't leave it."
I opened my mouth to confess or to lie, anything to make her stay, but she silenced me with a kiss. A kiss goodbye. I held tight, but she slipped away, leaving nothing in my hand but one deep blue satin glove.
I was there when the airship Harmonia fell.
I try not to remember.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, March 12th, 2021

Author Comments

I loved writing this story. While I've written science fiction before, this was my first attempt at a noir atmosphere. I enjoyed it enough that I might just try it again one day. I hope you agree that I should.

- Angela Teagardner
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