After never-ending months of traveling towards mankind's new planet, Nile managed to memorize all the nooks and crannies of the spaceship she was in. She’d walked — and sometimes floated — through all the wide, well-illuminated hallways that took the passengers to the communal spaces; but also through the narrow, dim others that were mostly used by the people from maintenance. All of them hold the same importance to her, as she’s used to thinking strategically and searching for easy ways out of every place she finds herself in. It frustrates Nile to no end that their transport to a new life is also like a cage, like a maze without an exit if you don't want to die in space. Or end up in an eternal living nightmare, if you were like Nile and her loved ones.
On this occasion, Nile’s feet are firm on the floor, making her way through one of those narrow hallways she’s so familiar with. She notices she’d been frowning only when she feels her face muscles relax at the sight of the man she'd been looking for sitting on the floor, with his back to the wall and a sketchpad in his hands.
“How you find the inspiration to draw here, after all this time,” Nile says as she approaches Yusuf and takes a seat next to him, “escapes me.”
“Bored of the stars already?” he answers without looking up from his work.
“I got bored the first week, to be honest,” Nile replies. A soft smile tugs the corners of Yusuf’s lips.
They terrify me now, Nile doesn’t say. They are symbols of everything that doesn't let me sleep.
“They are… less than I expected,” she adds instead.
The only lights of the hallway are near the ceiling, they are blue-ish and look like neon. Their only purpose is to show people the way out, not to invite them to spend their time there. Nile briefly wonders why an artist would choose such a dimly lit place to draw instead of the bright communal rooms, but she gets her answer before she fully formulates it. The lights are beautiful, or at least how they look reflected on Yusuf’s immaculate white uniform and on his face when he finally turns towards her.
“Yeah,” Nile looks at the hallway’s wall, the one that - alongside many layers - keeps them from floating into space. “I thought we would be able to see them up close. But it turns out, even here they are just sparkly dots that look far away.”
Yusuf nods, following her gaze with his eyes and locking it on the wall as if envisioning the outside, too.
“Doesn’t that make them even better, though? The fact that they are unattainable?”
“On some level, I suppose,” she says, “but I just wanted to see them, you know? Not the idea of them.”
Yusuf nods again, and after a few seconds of silence he angles his sketchpad to show her what he'd been working on: it's a drawing of Nile and Nicolò playing table tennis in the rec room of the spaceship. In the background, there’s only one person distinguishable among all the people watching the game, Booker, who’s cheering more fiercely than anyone else. The illustration makes something to Nile, something that makes a sad smile appear on her face. In the drawing, Booker’s muscles don't seem as tense as they appear to be since they boarded the ship, Nicolò’s eyes are focused on the game instead of being pensive all the time and Nile is positively shining with evident joy.
Nile is just about to say something about it, maybe that the drawing is lovely or that she wishes she’d look like that these days, when a familiar beep is heard.
Yusuf stands up, but Nile remains seated on the floor. Soon enough, she feels her braids starting to float and then her whole body do the same until her face is close to the blue neon-like lights. As she hovers above the ground and pushes herself off the nearest wall with a hand, she watches as Yusuf struggles to keep himself in a vertical position. Nile remembers very vividly the time it first happened and everybody thought they would die. It turned out that sometimes the gravity stabilizers overheated and they only needed a few moments to work properly again. It wasn’t the ideal, but it was apparently harmless. And it happened often enough that the passengers had become used to it.
Yusuf then pushes himself off the walls too and manages to stop right in front of Nile, managing to be in a position similar to hers, face unreadable. She’s about to ask him if everything's alright until he extends his arms and suddenly she finds herself wrapped between them. It’s sudden, just what she needs. Nile doesn’t move right away, just lets herself be held, lost in the feeling of their bodies floating freely but together and Yusuf’s warmth against her body. They get close to bumping with the walls several times and they end up in a weird position, but Nile can’t help but smile softly for a second. She wonders how Yusuf’s face looks like at that moment.
She thinks that if the usual gravity levels didn’t require only a couple of short minutes to be restored, she finally might have allowed herself to cry. She would have hidden her face in Yusuf’s shoulder, trying to keep the salty liquid globules from floating all over the place, and might have returned the hug desperately, clinging almost painfully like she wanted to.
As Yusuf holds her close near the ceiling, their bodies in a horizontal position, she remembers how much she loves him. Then, how much she loves Nicolò and Booker, too, and that the three of them are everything she has.
She also remembers that they can’t escape the place if something goes wrong. And so many things can go wrong if you are in a spaceship surrounded by people who you don’t really trust yet. Nile suddenly becomes deeply aware that instead of embracing the fact that Earth is in the past and the unknown is the future, she’s still as apprehensive and terrified as she was on day one. As Yusuf and Nile fly together, technically not that far from the stars but just enough that they are still an idea, she remembers her biological family and Andy and how much she loved — loves, perhaps — them too. She really wishes she could cry on Yusuf’s shoulder right then, but soon enough they start to feel gravity going back to normal.
Nile and Yusuf untangle from their embrace to avoid landing badly and hurting themselves. He doesn’t look her in the eye once they are both on their feet and instead turns around to pick up his sketchpad. He has known her for a century now and knows that she doesn’t want that, even though he thinks she needs it. He also doesn’t say anything as she starts walking through the hallway; merely follows her out. The blue of the lights reflects quite nicely on her skin and her hair, and then the same happens with the green-ish and purple-ish ones of the other hallways they go through. When they enter the cafeteria and the lights are almost too bright and white, he thinks that they make everyone look more vulnerable, bare. But that’s not the case with Nile, never is.
Yusuf watches her as she walks towards the impossibly thick, small windows that offer passengers a view of the outside. He sees her stop by one of them and watch the stars that failed her with a blank face. He turns around to go to the long table in which Booker, Nicolò and a dozen of other people are drinking their daily portion of water and taking protein pills. Nicolò greets him with a smile, which is evidently a sad one in Yusuf’s eyes after about a thousand years of being in love. Nicolò knows this, but he always tries to fool him, at least only a little. Yusuf grabs his hand under the table, signals to Nile with his head and then lets his eyes do the explaining. Nicolò nods, squeezes his hand and looks at Booker. As the other two men have their own silent conversation, Yusuf grabs his sketchpad once again because it's the only way he can see Nile with a wide smile these days.