When Tinesha left her Seattle suburban home to join the space station building program it was with a sense of excitement. She hoped for adventure and something greater to dedicate herself to. Helping humanity expand into outer space seemed like a worthy path for her life, one that she’d be able to follow for years, maybe decades.
But once she was on the station and had begun to help constructing it, Tinesha found that she was having a harder time adjusting to life in space than she expected. It wasn’t the work that gave her trouble or her fellow construction workers in space.
No, the problem was that she couldn’t adjust to the sensory differences in her environment. Just as Tinesha was about to give up and go back home, her new friend Kalila suggested a way that Tinesha could cope with the station. Taking her up on the suggestion opened up a whole new world for Tinesha. More importantly, it opened up a possibility between them that Tinesha would never have dared to hope for.
It was the smells that made it impossible to adjust to her new life on the space station. Tinesha had had high hopes when she joined the station building program. A new life in a new place with adventure and excitement were just what she’d been hoping for. She took all the tests and passed with flying colors, even the physical tests that made her sweat worse than weeding the garden behind her family’s home in the middle of August.
The trip from her home outside of Seattle to the training center had been a medley of stale air, bland food and the smell of too many bodies crammed into too small a space. Once at the training center, Tinesha had gladly thrown herself into the many things she needed to learn. She’d noticed that the center smelled of antiseptic and new plastics instead of rain or moss or even other people.
It was scrubbed so clean so often that there were no smells of anything else left. That made sense given that they wanted all the recruits to be as healthy as possible before shipping out to the stations under construction in orbit between Mars and Earth. It had been a minor irritant, that lack of the moist smell of rain clouds moving in, the absence of musty earth and moss. Tinesha would deal with it for the chance to do something totally new.
By the time they arrived at their assigned station, Tinesha had grown aware of a deep hunger for smells that she couldn’t find in her environment. There were no green growing things smelling of pollen and damp earth. All the plants were grown hydroponically and she wasn’t assigned to tending them. The food came wrapped in plastic, perfectly balanced and nutritious but the smells of it were off, bland, wan compared to what she was used to. Even the air made the back of her nose itch for the lack of dust.
“I don’t think I can do this,” Tinesha murmured as she sniffed the air in hope of something more than metal, the plastic wrap over her lunch tray and the scent of her deodorant.
“Can’t do what?” Riyad asked as he settled into the seat opposite Tinesha. “The food? Granted, this is worse than normal. I think they bleached it while they cooked it or something.”
His sister Kalila sat next to Tinesha, nose wrinkled as she pulled the plastic off her tray of food. They had both been on the station for several years, since construction began.
From the beginning, Riyad had worked in Engineering and Kalila in the hydroponic gardens that supplied the majority of their food and air. While Tinesha had joined the construction effort halfway through the build, both Riyad and Kalila had been here since the first sparsely furnished module was filled with stale canned air from the previous station in the growing ring between Mars and Earth.
They had watched the station grow from a tiny set of living quarters attached to a construction dock into the rapidly filling framework that it was today. Tinesha wasn’t sure that she would have been able to handle such an alien environment, especially when she was having trouble with the station as it was now.
At least now there were halls she could wander through after work, two entertainment centers where she could socialize, and enough room that she didn’t feel cramped. The earliest phases of station construction had to be hell. Everything would be plastic and metal, the scent of welding so heavy in the air that it stained the back of your throat.
Tinesha found herself leaning closer to Kalila simply to catch a whiff of the light fragrance that Kalila wore. It was such a nice change after the lack of pleasant smells that she didn’t realize at first that she was doing it. Kalila glanced sidelong at Tinesha, her cheeks going pink, but she didn’t comment. Aware of herself now, Tinesha settled back into her seat only to find herself edging slightly closer to Kalila again. Maybe it wasn’t a fragrance; it could simply be the smell of the plants that Kalila had been working with during the morning.
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