Episode #34: “for she is the stars, and the sun revolves around her” by Agatha Tan

March 2, 2017

for she is the stars, and the sun revolves around her

by Agatha Tan

You watch from your corner booth as she settles down in the other corner booth, across the room.

It’s not the first time you’ve seen her around here, but the girl still manages to capture your attention. She’s tall and lithe and god, but those arms (you live for the day she wears a tank top, because) and you think she’s probably a dancer or a gymnast, because she moves with a grace that proclaims she knows her body well.

After the crazy week you’ve had at work, seeing the cute girl is pleasant. Today, her brown hair is topped by a maroon beanie, and her nose, which is sharp enough she could use it as a letter opener, is tinged red. You glance out the window as you take a sip of your tea. The world outside is a gorgeous snow globe, complete with the inconvenient white flurry. Still, you’re not complaining. You figure that if it’s this cold, even the girl dedicated to foiling all your business ventures won’t be flying around, so your employees might actually get things done.

 

[Full transcript after the cut.]

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode 34 for February 28, 2017. This is your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to be sharing this story with you.

Our story for today is "for she is the stars, and the sun revolves around her" by Agatha Tan.

Agatha Tan is a first year student at Yale-NUS College. She writes fantasy and sci-fi fiction and occasionally also pens poetry. In her spare time, she dabbles in fanfiction, modular origami, and video games.

 

for she is the stars, and the sun revolves around her

by Agatha Tan

 

You watch from your corner booth as she settles down in the other corner booth, across the room.

It’s not the first time you’ve seen her around here, but the girl still manages to capture your attention. She’s tall and lithe and god, but those arms (you live for the day she wears a tank top, because) and you think she’s probably a dancer or a gymnast, because she moves with a grace that proclaims she knows her body well.

After the crazy week you’ve had at work, seeing the cute girl is pleasant. Today, her brown hair is topped by a maroon beanie, and her nose, which is sharp enough she could use it as a letter opener, is tinged red. You glance out the window as you take a sip of your tea. The world outside is a gorgeous snow globe, complete with the inconvenient white flurry. Still, you’re not complaining. You figure that if it’s this cold, even the girl dedicated to foiling all your business ventures won’t be flying around, so your employees might actually get things done.

Thinking of work dampens your mood quickly. At the rate things are going, when the end of the year rolls around, you’ll have achieved maybe half an item on the to-do list you created in January. All because of a girl who waltzes in at the most inappropriate times and wrecks all your work.

(You consider cancelling bring-your-kid-to-work day because she’s always exploiting the relatively more relaxed security, but family is important, even in this business, and you don’t want your employees to forget that.)

Your eyes roam from your carefully drawn out plans—you’re designing a new machine to replace the one that someone blew up last week—to the girl in the corner, and you decide that, you know what, screw this. You neatly fold up the blueprints and shove them into your bag; carrying your tea in one hand and your jacket in the other, you make your way over to her.

“Hi,” you greet, and you hate that you’re one of the most powerful women in one of the most powerful industries, and your voice still quivers around cute girls. You flash her a smile, and you’re relieved when she flashes you one in return. Granted, her answering smile is nervous and hesitant, but it’s a smile nonetheless. “Do you mind…?”

The girl is perky and a little too enthusiastic and she seems to radiate rainbows, which really isn’t your usual type. But hey, she’s cute. “No! I mean, um, no, I don’t mind.”

As you set your tea down and slide into the seat, you introduce yourself to her. Your introduction is much smoother than hers, which tumbles out of her mouth and trips over her lips. You barely catch her name—Elle. For all the grace she exudes when she walks, she’s a pretty clumsy person. Still, that only endears you more to her, and you find yourself laughing at a stupid joke—her attempt at breaking the ice— even though you’ve heard it before and yeah, it’s just as stupid as you remembered. You talk for a little, and you suspect she’s into you too because you think her pupils are slightly dilated and she keeps leaning in. (Then she’ll catch herself and sit upright again. Rinse and repeat.)

She offers up information about herself to match the information you give her. When you tell her you work in engineering—given your talents, it didn’t make sense for you to go into anything else—she gushes about how cool that is and how smart you must be before telling you that she’s a chef. You mention tennis, and she reveals she dances on the side, confirming your suspicions. Not that you’re ever wrong, of course, but the validation is welcome.

It’s going well—you haven’t screwed up, and neither has she, and you’re beginning to think you might have a chance with her when your phone rings. You don’t want to take it, but glancing at the screen, you realize it’s your second-in-command, Tommy, so you excuse yourself and go outside.

“Boss, there’s something wrong with the machine,” he says immediately, once you’ve picked up. He’s learned remarkably swiftly that if you pick up at all, you know who it is, and he shouldn’t waste your time. Your last second-in-command took weeks to learn that lesson, and he’s still paying the price for that in Reykjavik, Iceland. “It’s making this odd purring sound and shaking like it might blow.”

You have to ask him to clarify thrice which machine he means, because god knows you didn’t hire him for his communication skills, but when you finally get it, you sigh because it’s not something you know how to fix without looking at it yourself. “Fine, I’ll come in,” you say, rubbing your temple with a finger that’s gone numb already. Electricity crackles at your fingertips, streaks of white and blue. “Expect me in half an hour.”

Not waiting for a reply, you hang up and head back inside. Elle has her nose buried in the book she was reading before you approached her earlier, and your arrival startles her, but she smiles. You grin back because she’s so jumpy it’s adorable. Not to mention normal. You could use some normal. Her smile falls when you tell her it was work and you have to go, but her face lights up again when you ask for her number. She keys it into your phone and you want give her yours as well, but she tells you her phone is out of battery. Shrugging, you scrawl your number in felt pen on a napkin—you feel like a cliché, but hey, your life is probably one giant cliché—and watch the lights in her eyes dance as she takes it, accepting your promises of soon.

It’s not going to last long, you know, because these flings never do. Sooner or later, your job will get in the way; you’ll have a screaming match at one in the morning and she’ll throw you out with your stuff because we never see each other anymore and it’s like you’re not even trying when I am, I am, but she won’t hear you and so you’ll go. You’ll feel drained for weeks afterwards, yet jump in again with the first cute girl who grabs your attention.

Still, it’s fun while it lasts, and you find yourself looking forward to seeing her again even as you trudge through the bitter snow to get to the train station. You might be one of the richest women in the country, but that’s only because you’re gifted and smart as hell, and this really isn’t the weather for driving.

 

Three months later, things have still not gone to hell.

You’re surprised, because usually it only takes one, but you suppose that your job hasn’t been as demanding recently. Your company is exceptionally quiet because your team’s deadline to perfect that next big machine hasn’t passed, so there’s a lull in the excitement. And the lull is good, because not only does it give your employees a chance to get some of the more legitimate work done, but it also means that no one is spying on you because you’re not actually stirring up any trouble. It’s pretty relaxing.

A bonus is that you’ve gotten to spend more time with Elle. Currently, she’s curled up on your couch, playing with Jam, watching a television special on the exploits of the supervillain Black Thunder and how her rival, the superhero Summer Wind, has foiled her every time. This special focuses on the time the superhero blew up Black Thunder’s entire lab three months ago. There are other villains and heroes, but those two are the top of the food chain. You watch these specials a lot, because how else will you keep up with the community?

It turns out that the weird purring sounds the machine had been making? Yeah, a cat, which had somehow gotten into the compound and into the machinery. You took it home with you because you couldn’t have left it in the compound to get stuck in all the other machines, and the next day you found it with a paw in your jam jar, hence the name. Jam took an immediate liking to Elle when she first came over two weeks ago, which is more than you can say for yourself. The cat spent an entire week hissing and clawing at you and the scars on your arms are faint but they’re still there to prove it.

You’re in the kitchen scooping globs of ice-cream on top of strawberries and Nutella when Elle calls over. “Hey, Van? Can I take you out next Wednesday? I know it’s your birthday.”

The words startle you, which is saying something because you’re nearly never startled. Not even when the skylight shatters and glass rains down on the warehouse floor just as you’re going to perform the start sequence, which is mostly unexpected and very, very annoying. The tall girl behind the mask whose life seemed to revolve around spoiling your machines has never been known for her subtlety.

But Elle, it seems, has never ceased to surprise you from the time you met her. She’s full of delicious contradictions—she moves with grace but speaks with inelegance, smart as a button but dense as osmium. She’s a chef at one of the top restaurants in the city, yet she loves McDonald’s takeout and canned soup. She loves beautiful things—art and music, sometimes literature—but she also loves you.

She’s said it only once, when you were cuddling in bed and she thought you were asleep. But you also see it in the things she does, and the words she says: the way she holds on just a little too long when you hug (you aren’t complaining; she’s warm and soft and smells like peaches), the way the corners of her eyes crinkle when you see each other (she also smiles with her lips, but those smiles are easier to fake), and the way she’s all over you when you come back with a bandaged hand after getting burned at work while working on finding a material suitable for the power core of a newer machine (how are you such a klutz you’re usually so careful). You say it back while she examines the wound because you mean it, you really do. Elle has become an anchor who grounds you even while you’re off plotting plans on the scale of world domination, and she’s busy enough herself that she understands when you’ve got a project you can’t tear yourself away from and cancel dinner plans. In fact, she’s usually busy when you are. It’s like the universe has extended an olive branch, and you don’t hesitate to take it.

Elle is too good for you, yet you hang on like she’s your lifeline.

In the confines of your apartment and the coffee shop and the space between Elle’s hands and yours when they’re interlocked, you both draft the blueprints of a small universe that’s just for the two of you. In here, nothing else exists. You’re not one of the most brilliant minds of the century and lightning doesn’t dance on your fingers unless you need to fix something insignificant like the stove or the phone, and she’s not a chef in a top restaurant. Your universe comprises pizza from the deli down the street and Chinese takeout that delivers in fifteen minutes, tops (you know the owner well and he doesn’t dare displease you). For the first time in years, your universe doesn’t include a sun that’s about to burst and take everything with it. This universe makes you feel safe and warm and normal and you love it.

Elle tells you she loves it too. In addition to you.

You hadn’t expected her to remember your birthday. You’d only mentioned it once, in passing, but it seems it’s a detail Elle has locked into her mind. “I’ve got to work on Wednesday,” you answer, wiping melted ice-cream off the counter because you’ve apparently been lost in thought for that long. You notice the kettle’s stopped working again, and you really should get a new one, but for now you give it a light zap from your finger and it promptly fixes itself. It’ll last at least another week; you’re still working on long-term fixes. “But I’m free for dinner, if you want?”

Elle agrees. You bring the dessert into the living room—lifting it out of Jam’s jumping range so he doesn’t get his paws into it—and she greets you with a kiss.

Her lips are sweeter than any strawberry could ever be.

You ask her to move in right after you pull away for air, and she agrees. Your universe gains a hundred new stars.

 

It’s Wednesday. As the machine powers up, you discuss these developments with Tommy.

He listens attentively, and when you finish telling him about how Jam got into some of her boxes and ripped up a tank top, he simply asks, “Does she know you’re an international supervillain?”

You sigh, glum. Jam is struggling in your arms, so you stroke his fur; you bring him in to work sometimes because you actually like the sodding cat. “I haven’t figured out how to tell her.”

“Well, you’d better figure out soon,” he says, and you know he’s right, but all you do is tell him to suit up and supervise the rookies because they’ve got a world to take over today and your girlfriend troubles aren’t going to get in the way of that.

You put Jam down so you can don your suit. Your hand finds electric currents in the air and you drag the pieces of your suit off the table and onto you. They click into place and start to hum with power, and when you’re satisfied that everything’s where it should be, you pull the visor of your helmet down, shielding your face and transforming into the villain everyone knows as Black Thunder.

The control room is entirely yours to work with. Well, yours and your cat’s. Your employees are on the ground floor, manning various power outlets and backup generators in case something happens. You get on your hover board and float around. You check the settings, and, satisfied, you’re about to hit the button that will make toast of Australia (this one Australian guy snubbed you once, and you’d never really forgotten it, so that’s where you’ll start), when lo and behold, the skylight comes crashing in and Summer Wind, her brown hair up in a ponytail and her face covered by a flimsy-looking mask (you know better—it’s actually a very sturdy but thin material she stole from your labs), comes flying in like she does every single time.

You don’t know how she does it. It’s not even a bring-your-kid-to-work day this time, but she still managed to sniff out your plot. This girl is infuriating.

“I really need to get that skylight covered with brick, or something,” you lament, throwing up your arm. Your voice comes out in a neutral robotic tone, courtesy of a small device inside your helmet. You weren’t a top-rated engineer or master villain for nothing. A metallic shield expands from your arm to protect you and Jam from the raining glass. “Can’t you let me toast Australia just once?”

“No can do, cutie,” Summer Wind says, and her voice is a robotic tone too, because she also stole one of those devices from your labs. She sounds way perkier than you do, though. Sometimes you wonder who the real criminal is, because she steals your stuff pretty much whenever she foils one of your plots. Unless, of course, she’s blown everything up, and you really hope she won’t this time because this machine was three months’ work.

She shoots down towards you. Your uttermost concern is, remarkably, to protect the cat, which has apparently no self-preservation instincts at all. It’s staying where it is and meowing like it expects to be petted. “Hey, don’t hurt the cat,” you chide, gliding over to it and scooping it up before Summer Wind reaches the ground. It’s not your usual behaviour, but living with Elle might have softened you.  “Give me a sec.”

You can’t see her face because of the mask, but Summer Wind pulls out of her dive before she can injure Jam, which is all you need. You’re about to glide over to the corner of the room where you put the cat carrier when she exclaims, “Jam?”

You freeze in your tracks. How would she know—and then it all clicks. Why your girlfriend always seems busy when you are, why there are days you both come back with scrapes and bruises and lousy cover stories. Why she doesn’t always smell like food when she comes home from work.

Elle has more than one job.

It seems to hit both of you at the same time. Summer Wind—Elle—is the first to take off her mask. “Vanessa?”

Her eyes are wide and vulnerable and she’s so open—there are so many ways you could use this opportunity to finally win. The button is right there. You could easily have Australia toasted in five seconds. You reach for the button—but no. You want to win, but not like this. You slip your helmet off, and look everywhere but at her. Because you’re not looking, you don’t see the punch coming. You guess you probably deserve it.

As her fist makes impact with your cheek, you swear you hear the universe—your universe, the one you planned from scratch and built with Elle—laughing, and the sun bursts into a supernova that blinds you and leaves a hollow ringing in your ears.

END

 

 

"for she is the stars, and the sun revolves around her" was originally published in the Hwa Chong Institution literary magazine in 2015.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

You can support GlitterShip by checking out our Patreon at patreon.com/keffy, subscribing to our feed, or by leaving reviews on iTunes.

Thanks for listening, and I’ll be back on March 14 with a GlitterShip Original: "Cooking with Closed Mouths" by Kerry Truong.

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