“Damn, I have to go!” Mrissa said suddenly.

“How come?” Yarec asked, surprised.  “Aren’t you off the clock?”

“Yeah, but there’s an important meeting that I really shouldn’t miss,” she said as she looked hurriedly about for some notes she had taken earlier.  “It’s about—Never mind, I shouldn’t tell you.”  She found the scrawled sheets and headed for the door.  “It might be a while, unfortunately—maybe a few hours.”

Yarec nodded.  “Have you got anything to read?” he asked as she headed for the door.

Mrissa let the question hold her there a little longer.  She stopped by the door and thought, then said, “I’ve got some stuff on my hand device.”  She gestured toward a palm-sized unit tucked under the foot end of the bed.  Yarec bent down to pull it out and wiped the flexible screen clean of mattress dust with his bare arm.  As the screen lit up, Mrissa added,”There’s a bunch of random genre fiction on there.  There should be an adventure story or something you’d like.”

“Thanks,” Yarec said.  He started flicking through the device’s controls with his middle finger.  Then, remembering Mrissa was about to go, he hopped up and walked over to give her a kiss.  He pressed his lips softly against hers.  Then she ducked under his attempted embrace.

“Got to go,” Mrissa reminded him.  Then she was out the door and gone.

Yarec closed his eyes and checked the time—as it seemed it had become his habit to do whenever he was left alone.  Once again, just like at Station Westerly, he had almost a whole day to spend cooped up in a small windowless bedroom, while Mrissa was out and around, working.  At least I know who she is this time, Yarec told himself.  Back at Westerly, he had not even had the comfort of knowing his wife was there.

He sat back down on the bed and punched up the lamina’s library of reading material.  He opened the first story he found in one of the sub-menus and started reading.  It turned out to be an old-fashioned historical romance, set in a classical resort on the Mediterranean Sea.  The plot was populated with standard character archetypes—a noble poet, a lazy gamester who made his living gambling off his friends, and a sinister Egyptian foreigner.  Yarec read for a while and found he was getting bored.  The story seemed to be missing something—as if it were supposed to have illustrations, but there were not there.

Yarec yawned.  He had been stretched out on Mrissa’s bed, head propped up on one elbow as he read.  Now he tucked the device under the pillow and let his head dip down on top of it.  He yawned again, then sneezed.  Something around here—South American pollen, or mining fumes, or maybe even just the dust in Mrissa’s quarters—was irritating his sinuses.  He pushed the heel of his palm against the tip of his nose and wiggled it around, trying to dislodge the mucus collecting in his nostrils.  Then he closed his eyes, and before he even had a chance to read the time, he was asleep again.

Mrissa found him asleep and settled down beside him.  She did not sleep herself but merely watched him breathe, the far traveller returned to her side.  When Yarec finally woke up, the light was getting dim.  There were no windows in Mrissa’s little room, of course, but the overhead fixtures were programmed to bring the light levels down slowly as dusk approached.

Yarec rubbed his achy eyes, and Mrissa got him a drink of water.  She took one gulp from the cup herself, then handed it off to him and sat down again on the end of the bed.  Yarec drank what was left, but neither of them really felt hungry.  Mrissa patted her thighs, and Yarec, like an obedient housecat, rested his head in her lap.