Graham got up from the table. Their conversation had gotten much heavier than he had intended. “There is one more place I would like to show you, if you are up for it,” he said.
“I’m up for anything.”
“Would you be interested in watching the stars?”
“Sure, but I thought that we were pretty much fogged in. Is there a place where you can look up at the night sky?”
“No, not the real sky,” Graham replied. “But we get a feed from Hawaii. Did you know that there is still an observatory there, high up on Mauna Kea? It was once the best place in the world to see stars, probably still is, now that I think about it. Government scientists remain out there to look through giant telescopes for other habitable planets. The rest of the islands have been reduced to dry and uninhabited wastelands. In the early 2070’s, the government put in a desalination plant and a system of pumps to move fresh water up the mountain. The scientists live side-by-side with a small group of die-hard, native Hawaiians who refuse to leave. Anyway, long story short, we display the feed in our little planetarium. Would you like to see it?”
They exited the cafeteria, stepped into a stairwell, and descended four flights to what used to be an underground parking garage. Graham led, catching glimpses of Peggy Lee’s slender hand on the railing each time they rounded a corner. Her nails were short, but neat with a French manicure. Funny how they still called it a “French” manicure, Graham thought momentarily. France was all but erased off the map during Russia’s consolidation of power campaign. Graham had read quite a bit about the French. French men had prided themselves on being great lovers. He figured he didn’t have a drop of French blood in him.
Right then, he decided that he wouldn’t make a move on Peggy Lee. It was not worth the risk. He’d keep it professional. He was a fool even to think about trying something. Yet he was dying to touch her, to feel her hair between his fingers, to kiss the soft curve of her neck.
They came to the bottom of the stairwell, and Graham swiped his access card to open the planetarium door. The room was completely dark, but Graham made his way easily to the control console. He turned on the floor lights so that Peggy Lee could walk over to the reclining chairs. It was not a big planetarium, only twenty seats, but Graham liked it because he felt like he was in his own back yard. None of the other soldiers came here except for the newbies, and they quickly got bored. But for Graham, the pace of the planetarium was perfect.
He turned a knob to “warm, summer breeze.” Silently, a fan unit began to replicate mid-July air, complete with the moist smell of fresh cut grass. He reached towards the switch labeled “crickets,” but then reconsidered. Perhaps the chirping of crickets, once the anthem of peaceful country nights, wouldn’t be as charming or soothing as it had been a year ago. Graham could not remember how many people had starved to death last summer in South Africa because of the locus infestation, but he knew that Peggy Lee had covered that story. Instead, he turned on the sound of wind rustling leaves. Finally, he turned off the floor lights and flipped on the night stars. The rounded ceiling lit up. Graham slowly and carefully walked over to sit next to Peggy Lee.
He pulled out his trusty pocket knife and opened a couple more beers. They sat facing the last, dim moments of daylight as it disappeared under the horizon. There was not a cloud in the clear, Hawaiian sky. Despite the overheating solar panels, the Minister’s confidential memo, Mirosevich’s potential exposure, and all the rest of the world’s problems, Graham closed his eyes for a moment and smiled.