The Theory of Forms

A little queer love story, not a philosophy lecture!

Energy doesn’t dissipate, it just changes form. Light becomes night, love becomes hate. At least, it does it you let a wound fester long enough. How long does it take to heal from a broken heart? It depends on what caused it. Death is one thing. Broken trust, quite another.

Rox sat in her seat in the shuttle, holding so tight to the straps that they would later leave a mark. She had no physical reason for her death grip. The trip to the space station was perfectly routine. But there was nothing routine about the spinning that was happening in Rox’s head. She didn’t want to go. Didn’t want to see her. But she had to, so she would choke down all those feelings that she thought she had left behind right up until she strapped herself into her seat. Watching the stars come ever closer had felt too much like falling in love, and the assault on her senses as they left the planet behind and raced towards the orbiting behemoth too much like how overwhelming that love was when it was returned.

People wrote songs about coping with unrequited love. Nobody wrote any about dealing with love when it was requited, but just too much. Bell had been too much for Rox, and when Rox couldn’t tell her why, she left, after Rox had broken her trust one too many times. Not in the way most people would assume when they talked about these things. It wasn’t something Rox had said or done. No one cared that they were queer either. Those days were long gone. The problem was purely with Rox herself, and what she hadn’t said or shared; how much she had held back, bricked up behind a wall of her own insecurities.

Rox realised only after Bell was gone what this broken trust had really cost her, and when the dam burst, it burst hard. Water also changed form. It was hydrogen and oxygen one day, and the next it was H2O. Or liquid, and then ice. Bell probably thought Rox was ice. Rox thought Bell was the sun. Even now, as she tried to make herself disappear into the material of her seat, half of her was screaming out for Bell, like a seedling seeking the sun. The sun was all energy, so it changed form too.

Rox wondered what form their reunion would take. She closed her eyes and held on.


The shuttle came to a gliding halt and Rox let the others disembark first to give herself time to calm her nerves. She wanted to hide in the back and scream ‘Take me back!’ but she also wanted to run, as fast as she could, down the corridors of the space station calling Bell’s name. For now, she just had to remember to breathe. Surely she could manage that much.

She did, but banged her head and swore when she stood up. Her hands shook as she gathered her gear then finally strode to the shuttle door and stepped through. Energy doesn’t dissipate, it just changes form. Rox took a breath and felt her fear turn to something else she didn’t have a name for yet. It was unnerving but it was a change, and that was enough for now. She joined the group who had been waiting for her and tuned out as they were given a short briefing on the layout of the space station and briefed on what to do if things went wrong.

The station was big and easy to get lost in, which was either a blessing or a curse, depending on what you were looking for. Rox had heard it all before but said nothing. Her mind was already elsewhere, remembering how she had met Bell here and how that woman had turned her world upside down, even as the space station spun around them. Someone had explained it to her once; how the great station created gravity. Rox had wanted to reply that it was irrelevant. As long as Bell was with her, Rox’s feet would never touch the floor. But she hadn’t. She had held it back, like everything else, and like everything else, its form had changed from unsaid sweetness to regret.

Rox walked on, her thoughts not with the guide, but on the sun.


The sun, and the space station, continued to spin. Familiarity flooded Rox with warmth as they made their way through its twists and turns. She could hear some of her group laughing, wondering how they would ever make it back to the shuttle bay, and others reassuring them.

Contagious laughter. Strangers becoming friends already. This place had a knack for it. Some places just had an atmosphere, and this station had a reputation for a reason. There was nothing hidden or forbidden here, and people flocked from far and wide for that very thing. Not for trade or transport, but for possibility, in all its forms.

For Rox, it had taken the form of a bell.

She thought she heard bells ringing as they took yet another turn and realised she was not wrong when a set of massive doors opened and a cacophony of sound poured towards her. The Great Hall. You could find anything and anyone here, and it was full tonight. Despite herself, Rox was drawn in, and quickly lost the others in the crowd. As their backs disappeared she wished them good fortune and good luck, whatever form they were looking for, then set out across the hall, searching for who knew what.

Rox knew who, and that she wasn’t here. But Rox was going to find her.


 She hadn’t wanted to come. When the call came in about a situation on the station that required an engineer with Rox’s expertise, she’d tried to palm it off to someone else. Sweat had beaded her brow just thinking about setting foot on the station again. Bell’s station. Now that she was here, however, Rox had never been so glad. There was something about this place. It was alive with possibilities that didn’t seem to exist down on the ground.

Maybe even forgiveness.

Maybe rejection too, but perhaps what was important was the asking. Telling Bell the truth at last about everything that she had been holding back; all Rox’s fears about flying too close to the sun. I am Icarus, she wanted to yell, and I couldn’t build wings strong enough to break free. I’m sorry. I promise I will build better ones next time.

Alone in the crowd, Rox knew there was a possibility that Bell would not even want to talk to her, let alone listen, but she also knew that if that happened, she would not blame Bell, and stop blaming herself as well. As long as she had done all that she could, that would be enough. She would let the weight that had been holding her down go finally and start looking at the sun again regardless of what form it took, instead of down at her feet.

Rox left the hall, thinking about the different forms that forgiveness could take.


It was a bell, of course.

Rox lay as still as she could, feeling the weight of her lover on her chest – right where that other weight had been, the one she had foolishly allowed to clip her wings for so long. All it had taken was the truth. Funny how such a simple sounding thing could be so hard. With every step towards Bell’s quarters Rox’s old instincts had told her to turn and run, but she had resisted. Her feet felt like lead, but she walked on. Energy doesn’t dissipate, it just changes form. Breathe. Fear can become courage; carbon can become steel.

When she knocked on the door, Bell answered.

Now here they were. A possibility had become real. Rox felt a happiness so strong it made her shake, as if she had somehow found the original form of joy itself. She was crying, she realised, and that was all right. Tears could be a form of courage too, and Rox was not holding anything back anymore. She let them fall.

Bell was, Rox sensed, not sleeping. She was just lying there, letting Rox do what she needed to. As she would have done before, if only Rox had let her. Rox could have dwelled on it, but she would not be dragged back to where she had been before. It was hard to let yourself love when you’re used to being alone, and easy to tie yourself in a knot instead of the pretty bow that was expected. Rox’s heart had felt so heavy for so long, but now she felt weightless, despite the station’s artificial gravity. She twisted her hand’s in Bell’s hair and breathed in the scent of her.

Rox stared directly up in the dark but she didn’t see the form of the ceiling above her. She saw the sun, and so many possibilities.

© Copyright 2021, Grace Penney

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