So, Sarah from Twitter requested a Sci-fi, so here you go.
The airlock closed behind them with a fwoosh.
Of all the stupid things! Getting stuck in quarantine for twenty-four hours because she’d been chosen to work with Marcus for the day was completely unfair. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the gray room seemed to be eating Isabelle’s soul, her ego was in real danger here.
Marcus was the one time she’d asked a guy, a coworker, out only to have him say, “No, I can’t. I’m busy.” He’d said it in that way. Yeah, he wasn’t busy.
“Do you think we have to strip down and shower?” Isabelle asked Marcus. She could be professional. She could act calm. She could fake it anyway.
The room had six things: two beds with plastic-fiber sheets, an attached bathroom, a provision closet, a shower head in the corner—at least it had curtains around it, one regulation brushed metal table with attached swivel chairs, and a sensor bar on the wall that they’d need to check in with frequently.
“Don’t know. Probably,” he said, going to the provision closet. Inside, were several orange jumpsuits. “Definitely.”
Great. Well, this was capping the experience as being despicable. There was nothing like getting naked with the one guy on your team who had expressed a desire never to be that way with you. Okay, just act like it doesn’t matter. She forced a lot of “I don’t care” into her walk. Hopefully it paid off. “Okay. I’ll go first then.”
“We could share, Izzy.” His mouth tipped into a half smile.
Funny. Real funny. Hilarious even. “Don’t call me that.” Not because she didn’t like it, but because she did. It was that stupid nickname that had made her bold enough to ask him out.
Watching that invitation fall flat between them—it had been tangible. It might have even made a sound.
It was only three weeks ago, so it was still this raw wound. “Hey, I’m going to this symposium, Marcus. I was wondering if you were interested. It’s at the Metcaff center near the base’s ice cream parlor….” She’d trailed off suggestively.
He’d looked stunned. Then, he’d murmured, “No, I can’t. I’m busy.”
Her invitation had just thudded to the ground between them. She’d swear it’d smacked the ground with an awkward thwack—or maybe it was her heart caving in—or maybe her ego disintegrating—whatever it was, it was a surprise he hadn’t heard it.
“Okay, fine,” Isabelle had said with the biggest, fakest smile this planet had ever seen. It was brighter than those lithiumdragons she loved so much. Her cheeks still hurt from that smile. “It’s not a big deal.” Then, she’d turned away and left for the day…in spite of the fact that it was only noon.
That was then. Today was a new day in which she was immune to Marcus’s charm. Today was the day that she didn’t wonder what it would be like to kiss him. Today was the day that even the suggestion of a shower together didn’t make her shiver—well, okay, it turned out today wasn’t that day. She shivered, but reached forward and grabbed the jumpsuit marked “small.” Ignoring the shower suggestion seemed like the best idea.
Stepping into the shower stall, she pulled the curtain around. There wasn’t a bench in there for the jumpsuit, so she stuck her hand out and dropped it on the ground nearby. Hopefully, it wouldn’t get wet. There was a dip in the flooring that seemed steep enough to prevent it. That left the quandary of what to do with her current clothing. She looked at a small sign above a metal door in the shower. “All clothing should be disintegrated upon removal.”
“Nooooo,” she moaned. Could this day stub to hell more than this? No. It couldn’t.
“What?” Marcus asked. He sounded concerned.
“It’s nothing. This is just my first time wearing this shirt, and it’ll need to be disintegrated.” Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. She shouldn’t have worn this new shimmery green shirt that, she thought, matched her eyes. She should have asked for reassignment last night when she’d seen she was on sample collection with Marcus.
“This was my fault. I can buy you a new shirt if you just let me know where you got it,” he said.
“No. It’s nothing, really.” She’d had it designed in that color. Designed. She’d just as soon get sucked out an airlock as tell him she’d paid to have it designed and shipped to the colony, and that she’d poured over color samples for hours before picking “frisky fern” green. Frisky fern? There wasn’t a single fern on the planet that’d be considered frisky among her fellow botanists—unless you counted the ones that bit you—and they weren’t green. The mockery would never end.
The first thing she removed was that stupid contamination indicator badge. She dropped it to the ground and stomped on it. Hard. There was something so satisfying about it breaking into pieces, and its digital guts spilling out. Yeah, it wouldn’t be beeping like crazy ever again. Ever.
“Are you okay, Izzy?” His voice sounded strangled like he was trying not to laugh. Well, whatever.
She scooped up the pieces and opened up the small metal door to the disintegrator and shoved them in. The moment the door slammed shut, a red light flashed to the side of it. Gone. Then, her shoes and socks went in. She shimmied out of the beloved jeans that she’d finally worn enough for them to be soft. They’re just clothes, Isabelle. Just clothes.
When her underwear hit the ground at her feet, there was a quiet wolf whistle outside at the red silk. Isabelle peeked out of the shower to see Marcus, sitting at the table just watching the curtain. His brown eyes were crinkled with suppressed laughter, and he was biting his lower lip to avoid smiling—probably all at her expense. She hated how tan he looked in the gray room with its penetrating lab-grade lighting. It even brought out the lighter streaks in his blonde hair. It probably made her look sallow and pale.
“Enjoying the show?” She tried to glare him into penitence, but that just made him smile wider. Stupid, stubbing, rotten day. Why him? Why here? Why today?
“Yes.” He nodded at the curtain. “Just waiting my turn, Izzy.”
With an exasperated groan, she tugged the curtain back into position, flush with the metal gray wall. He wasn’t getting any more of a show than he’d wanted three weeks ago. Whatever game he was playing to amuse himself wasn’t going to be at her cost. Snatching the underwear off the ground, Isabelle shoved them into the disintegrator.
The green shirt she rubbed against her cheek once. This should teach her not to endow a mere article of clothing with special properties beyond function. Like a shirt would somehow make him think he’d lost a chance at something great.
Her red silk bra met its match in the metal compartment, and she slammed it shut.
The red light of the disintegrator said, “Hey, that was a yummy shirt. It must have cost a fortune. Did you know it was the exact shade of your eyes and set off your brown hair’s shimmer? Oh, did you buy it three weeks ago after getting turned down? Loser.” When she opened the compartment, it was empty—much like her life.
The hot water helped ease her tight neck muscles, and the shower seemed a good time to remind herself over and over that she was going to be cool and professional.
“Do you need help getting to any hard-to-reach spots?” Marcus called, ruining her “cool and professional” inner monologue.
Okay. Enough was enough. “Stub off,” she retorted. She scrubbed down quickly and turned on the air dry on the shower head. The minute-long, manufactured wind blew at the curtain, but she watched to make sure it didn’t move even an inch. Leaning down carefully, she stuck her hand out to get the jumpsuit. She felt around. And around. Peeking her head out, she stared at the empty ground.
“I want to talk to you,” Marcus said, drawing her attention.
Her jumpsuit was next to his on the table.
“Give me back my jumpsuit,” she ground out. She narrowed her eyes to slits. It was hard to look properly livid when you were naked and hiding behind a shower curtain. Also, the air dry was imperfect so rivulets of water dripped along her face into her eyes and dropped from her chin, tap, tap, tapping on the floor. She probably looked like a drowned rat. She wiped water from her eyes before narrowing them again.
“No,” Marcus said, leaning forward, completely serious. Wow. She’d never seen him so serious. His trademark grin and sense of humor were gone. “I want to know what game you’re playing, Isabelle.”
“Game?” she repeated. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Why did you ask me out three weeks ago?”
She shoved the curtain closed and leaned against the wall. Her stomach ached, and she just wanted to melt through the floor—if only there’d been enough radiation in those damn plants for her to do that. Her cheeks were hot enough to finish off what the air-dry hadn’t.
Was there anything to throw at him? If only she had something to throw at him. It was too bad she’d disintegrated all her projectiles. What did it matter why she’d asked him out?
Secretly, she’d been hoping he thought maybe it was a purely academic invitation that he’d turned down. They were fellow retrieval botanists—going to a symposium. Who thought of a symposium as a date? Well, besides fellow scientists. Still, what did he want to hear? ‘I like you a lot. Sometimes, I catch myself staring at your hair when you lean down to procure a specimen and imagine running my fingers through it.’ Is that what he wanted to hear?
“Momentary insanity,” she called out finally. Clearly, it made more sense than the truth.
“So, you’re still with him then?”
Huh? “With who?”
Marcus growled in irritation…as if she was being coy. What was his problem? He was the one asking weird questions.
“I have no idea what or who you’re talking about.” Not that she had to defend herself to him.
“Campbell. Your fiancé. The guy you’ve been with ever since you came to this planet. The guy everyone knows you’re with and the guy you’re living with. The reason you won’t date anyone you work with.”
Isabelle choked on air…which suddenly seemed thick as soup. Oh crap. How on earth had her “living space/transport” files become public knowledge? Those were meant to be private. One of her fellow scientists must’ve hacked into her files, because she’d never mentioned the legal documents. Never. Not in all this time.
What could she say? What if they were being monitored? If she told Marcus the truth in here, Campbell might be deported. Of course they weren’t “together.” Not like that. You had only to see her and Campbell together to know that.
With the planet being at maximum occupancy, it had been the only way for both of them to come. Crap, she’d known Campbell since he was in diapers. They were nearly siblings. Eww. The mere thought of “being with him” made her feel this gagging reflex in the back of her throat. They’d never bothered acting like anything more than friends knowing that “not flaunting it” was enough.
They were just roommates. Sometimes they went a week without even seeing each other due to different schedules. Hell, she’d left a digi-note for him this morning to stop being a blasted freak and leaving rehydrated food packets all over, or she’d sterilize his bed with him in it. That was their relationship. That was their type of love notes.
Actually, the last three weeks she’d been a real sweet fake fiancé even. The number of ‘clean up or I’ll kill you’ digi-notes had prompted Campbell to start leaving her contactcodes for cybertherapists.
Still, what could she say to Marcus? In here, nothing—nothing that would contradict the papers that were meant to never be public knowledge. Whichever one of her colleagues had hacked those files was going to be getting some stubbing, pissed-off digi-notes and lava leech juice in their collection gloves.
“That’s between Campbell and me,” she said finally. Her heart sunk into her stomach. He had to ask now? Here? If he’d asked in a few weeks, even, it would have been okay. Campbell had nearly reached residency status. At two years residency, the maximum occupancy ruling wouldn’t apply to non-scientists.
The curtain opened enough for Marcus to hold the jumpsuit out to her. The fact that he didn’t say anything…said it all.
He didn’t get her. Isabelle was known as off-limits with their team. He’d known that for the eight months he’d been here. Marcus had got the low-down finally from one of the other guys who’d scratched her records.
She had a live-in fiancé, and he’d even come to the planet with her. The fiancé worked in finance or something.
The fact that she’d always been so sweet to Marcus, just had to be her personality…even if she treated the others differently. Up until three weeks ago, he’d sworn she’d pulled strings to work with him, and smiled just a bit more for him. Okay, so they were close friends, but just friends. He made her laugh. That was it.
Then, she’d asked him out, and there was no way he’d date someone who was engaged. With Isabelle, sadly, it had nothing to do with morals. He’d never be able to share her. Plus, dating her would be something he’d want to tell the entire planet’s population of seven thousand, eight hundred and twenty-seven souls. No way in this universe or any other that he’d hide it.
Why had she asked him out? He’d been looking for signs of attraction—any signs that she wanted more than just friendship. He’d watched for her scratched papers to say anything other than engaged. He was checking daily when he got home—it was a stupid stubbing ritual.
Then, out of nowhere, she’d asked him out. So, he’d turned her down and waited to see if she was breaking it off with…Campbell. That made sense, right? She’d realized she was attracted to him, and she was breaking it off with her fiancé. According to her official status, she hadn’t. She was still with Campbell, still living with him, still engaged.
What kind of a name was Campbell? Didn’t it used to be a soup?
Add to that, she’d started avoiding working with him and even looking at him. Did she think he wasn’t interested? Oh, he was interested. He wanted Izzy more than he’d ever wanted anything or anyone. He dreamt about her every night and then he’d come in to work and see her and feel that dull aching desperation for her. He should have asked her three weeks ago, but he’d just been so surprised.
She slid out of the shower stall, full of nervous energy, and not meeting his eyes. He took her place without saying anything. After disintegrating all his clothes, he turned the shower as hot as it would go.
There was still time to stop this plan of his. He didn’t have to go through with it. She probably thought it was just bad luck that they’d stumbled across the patch of radioactive Ithychai he’d found last week. He could just hang out with her for the day and get back to his old way of teasing her. They could repair their friendship. Maybe work together again. Only a complete bastard would try to seduce her into breaking it off with her fiancé.
He was that complete bastard.
This was Isabelle. He’d already established he had no moral code prescribing resistance to her. Crap. He’d thought she’d looked like a breath of real oxygen in that jumpsuit, and that whistle when her panties hit the floor…that had shocked him too. He’d been in the middle of brooding when the red silk had caught his eye. It was a shame that it had to be disintegrated.
She was engaged. She was living with this idiot, Campbell.
Don’t do it, Marcus. Be a good guy. Don’t do this.
Leaning his head against the wall, he tried to think of all the reasons he shouldn’t do this. In the end, he had one good reason to do this: she was Izzy, his Isabelle, and he was in love with her. He banged his head against the wall, winced, and gave up. He was going to do this. After he’d finished air-drying, once he’d shut off the shower, he closed his eyes and said, “Izzy, I think I left my jumpsuit on the table.”
He was such a bastard. Still, with a name like Campbell, the guy should have been trying harder to keep Isabelle. The guy never even came to see her at work. They never went out in public together. In fact, Conner had thought he’d seen this Campbell guy with some girl in the established tree park. It was like having praseodymium in your hand and just setting it on a shelf to go to oxide. Isabelle deserved better. He’d give her better.
When she held out the jumpsuit, a twinge of guilt hit his conscience before he reached out, grabbed her wrist, and pulled her into the shower with him.
Isabelle held out the jumpsuit on the edge of tears. Was the whole time going to be like this? They both sounded uncomfortable and miserable. In three weeks, when she explained about Campbell or even when they got out of here, would he even care? Geez, did he even care now? Just the way he’d mentioned his jumpsuit casually as if….
The shower curtains hit her face, and she closed her eyes as she tried to process what had happened. Uhh. The jumpsuit was still in her hand. Marcus had his fingers around her wrist. She was pressed up against his naked chest. Wait, what?
His other hand slid around her waist, and his mouth touched hers. His lips teased hers with small kisses before his tongue nudged her mouth open. His mouth was warm and insistent. His hand had slid to push her firmly against him. For a guy who hadn’t been interested then, he was interested now.
Mmm. He kissed her like she was earth sugar and he couldn’t get enough.
Maybe this was a test…or a joke. His kisses were so soft and tender, but….
She jerked out of his arms, shoved the jumpsuit against his chest, and bolted back through the curtain.
Taking a deep breath, she noticed the sensor bar was flashing green. Just breathe. Act normal. She moved out of habit rather than conscious thought and pressed a hand against the sensor.
“Contamination level 5%. Histamine response within tolerable limits. Heart rate elevated. Adrenalin detected. Blood pressure elevated,” it announced to the room in a pseudo-calming voice.
Marcus chuckled on the other side of the curtain.
Great. Way to be obvious, Isabelle.
Isabelle lay down on the plastic sheets on the bed, turning toward the wall when she heard the curtains open. She closed her eyes. Maybe he’d take the hint that he’d have to find amusement some other way.
“Contamination level 8%. Histamine response within tolerable limits. Heart rate elevated. Adrenalin detected. Blood pressure elevated,” the voice announced again. Well, at least he felt the same way physically.
Why did they have to stumble through one of the few patches of Ithychai radiation on the planet? If they’d approached from any other angle, they would have noticed it and been able to avoid it. It was so stupid too because it was the lamest thing to be quarantined for. It only seemed to affect those with pacemakers, and there was only one person on the whole planet with one. At least Marcus appeared to have found a way to entertain himself. It was a shame that it was at her expense. Her whole body was vibrating with longing. She kept having the dumbest thoughts flit through her head. “What if he was serious about that kiss just now…?”
Stupid, Isabelle. Really stubbing stupid.
The bed dipped beside her. “Go away,” she said.
“Where?” he asked, his fingers skimming her shoulder. His voice was soft without mockery.
“I don’t like being teased.”
“Sure you do. It’s one of the things I like about you.” His fingers traced patterns on her bare arm. He was being awfully nice. Maybe the joke’s punchline was yet to come. “You’re too good for him.”
“Who?” Mmm. It felt nice to have his warm hands on her.
How long had it been since she’d been kissed or touched? Three years maybe. She and Campbell had been so careful at first about not contradicting the legal paperwork. Dating had never crossed either of their minds. Campbell had a girlfriend now, though. She wasn’t a scientist either, but she’d been here before maximum occupancy had been reached.
In three weeks, Isabelle would break their engagement, and Campbell would probably ask Siana to marry him.
“That’s right. Forget everyone but me,” he whispered. His hand moved to the dip at her waist. It tickled a little, making her squirm. He laughed softly, and his other hand tucked strands of hair behind her ear. “I liked your shirt today. It matched your eyes perfectly.”
He sounded sincere.
Isabelle cleared her throat. “Really? I’m surprised you noticed.”
“I notice everything about you.” His hand moved to her hips. He traced her hip bone with a finger. Ohhh. That felt so good.
She snorted. “Yeah right.” Eww. She’d just snorted.
“You don’t believe me?” There was a note of challenge in his voice.
“No. You haven’t seemed to notice that I want you to go away.” Total lie. If there was lightning on this planet, it would make a special point to come through the walls to strike her dead for that lie.
He stretched out behind her. His mouth was level with her neck, and his warm breath made shivers of excitement jump down her spine. “I noticed that’s not true.” He nuzzled the nape of her neck, pressing kisses intermixed with soft bites. “No one kisses like that if they’re not interested, Izzy.”
Mmm. Her body was selling her out, one delicious shiver at a time. Was that a moan? Had she just moaned? She tipped her head forward just a bit so he had better access, arching when he bit harder into the base of her throat. Okay, she’d definitely moaned then.
His hand flattened on her stomach, pulling her against him. “Clearly, I’m interested.” Leaning back for a moment, he said, “Lights. Fifty percent.”
Even with her eyes closed, she noticed the lights obeyed. “I didn’t know you could do that.” She opened her eyes and looked at the ceiling. Marcus took the opportunity to start kissing her mouth again. Heaven. She’d found heaven…right here in hell.
He felt the moisture on his cheek, but assumed it was her wet hair…or his, but no, it tasted salty. Pulling back, he cursed himself as seven times a monster. She was crying. He’d made her cry. His gut twisted at seeing how shiny her eyes were—her eyes that wouldn’t meet his.
“Izzy?” he asked, pressing her onto her back and rubbing at the tears on her cheeks with the back of his finger. “You love him, don’t you?”
What was he doing? Why had he never considered that as a possibility? His ego. He’d been so sure that she wasn’t interested in this Campbell really just because she’d invited him to go somewhere. Hell, maybe she’d been thinking they could just go as colleagues, and he’d really jumped to conclusions. Maybe her fiancé had even been planning on coming with them.
“Who?” she asked, chewing on her lip while staring at the wall. She sniffed tears back.
It took a second for her question to penetrate his self-recriminating mutters of, “I’m an ass, Izzy. I’m such an ass.” Then, it did. He blinked. “Who?” he repeated.
Instead of explaining, she said, “I don’t want to be your way of passing time in here…your way of amusing yourself.”
“Amusing myself?” She was making no sense. “You’re not having a reaction to that Ithychai radiation, are you?” Then, he’d really be a monster for dragging her right into it. He felt her forehead.
Her nose wrinkled at this, and she glared at him.
“What? You’re not making any sense.”
“I’m not making any sense? You blew me off three weeks ago. Then, you accuse me of having a fiancé. Then, you start kissing me just so you can laugh at me.”
Actually, she was finally starting to make some sense. It was the way she’d said, “You accuse me of having a fiancé.” It was as if he was being outrageous. He should have thought of it before really, but he’d been too busy despising Campbell. It happened on the colonies because space was limited but the opportunity was worth a white lie. It’d be easy enough to tell if his guess was right. Izzy’s face was a clear porthole to her emotions.
Clearing his throat, he asked, “Izzy, are you in love with Campbell?”
Her eyes went wide, and she blinked at him. Big, huge blinks of astonishment. It was nearly comical. Then, her eyes darted around the room, paranoid. “Do you mean like “love” love or just love or…?”
“How long have you been here on the planet?” He fought a grin of relief. She didn’t love Campbell…at least not in the way that would make her off-limits.
“Almost two years.”
“How close to almost?” If he’d checked with the sensor now about his vital signs, it would tell him calmly that his heart was about to pound out of his chest. This must mean what he thought it meant. She was behaving too cagey otherwise. No, it did. They had a total “transport card” engagement. Those typically ended right at two years. Hopefully she was close to that.
“We’ll have been here two years in three weeks. Well, two weeks and six days.” Her correction sealed it for him…even before she added, “Twenty days.”
“That’s four hundred and eighty earth hours.” He did smile then.
Her smile in return was shy, but she did meet his eyes. “So, you understand?”
Her relief was palpable. A huge sigh and her shoulders relaxed.
Three weeks. He’d have to wait three weeks before he could start dating her obviously. Maybe it was just as well he hadn’t known this when he’d first arrived and seen her bending over those lithiumdragons that had nearly snapped her finger. Eight months ago, she’d laughed and looked at him, and he’d been sunk almost immediately. Nine months would have killed him.
“Three weeks,” he repeated. “I don’t suppose you feel like being galactically wicked for an engaged woman on the brink of breaking it off in a few weeks?”
Her eyes flew to the walls again. She had a point. They might be monitoring them in case they needed a longer quarantine. Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that. Being trapped in here with Izzy when she needed to publicly behave as an engaged woman for three more weeks would kill him.
“Okay.” He kissed her cheek and slid back.
“Where are you going?” she asked as he sat up. Her nose was wrinkled up in confusion. Yeah, he had to get away from her. He wanted to kiss that expression off her face.
Gesturing at the shower, he said, “My only hope for surviving the next twenty-four hours and then three weeks will be very cold showers.”
The smile that spread across her face was like the sun coming out from behind an asteroid field. His plans for seduction had so entirely backfired. Now, he was stuck in here with someone who he had to keep his hands off of—and with Izzy that was a near impossibility.
As he stepped into the shower area, he asked, “Care to join me?” He was joking, but if she went for it—he wouldn’t be. The next three weeks were going to kill him.
His Izzy sat up with a grin. “No thanks. I think I’ll just watch.”
With a groan, he yanked the curtain closed. Next time he set about seducing Izzy, it would go much, much differently…he hoped.
Copyright © 2013 by Wendy Sparrow