Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pack It Up

“Yes.” Carbon didn’t hesitate, didn’t appear to think about it. She knew what she wanted. A moment later came a sigh and Carbon shook her head. “No. My people need me, I cannot just disappear. Not with this discovery.”

“You sure?” Alex slipped his gloved hand into hers again, fingers tightly intertwined.

“I am. I would like to stay with you, but I have many commitments that are more important than my happiness.” She shifted over and rolled onto her side, resting her head on his shoulder.

He mulled that over. “More important than us?”

She grimaced in the dim light and draped an arm across his chest. “I did not mean- I like the idea of being with you but this place unsettles me, I do not know if that will ever change.”

There was no small amount of relief in his voice. “I get your meaning now. Really, I was hoping you’d say no. I didn’t think that through, there are lots of things that I’d still like to do that aren’t here.”

The corners of her mouth turned up and she stretched out, planting a kiss on his cheek. “I have noticed that you will do that on occasion. It is usually appreciated.”

“That’s good, I’ve always been like that. Don’t think it’ll change.” Alex laughed and reached up to massage the base of her antennae.

“You wear it well.” Carbon nestled awkwardly against him in her armor, eyes closing as she laughed with him. “This is not as satisfying as I had hoped.”

“Take it off. Not like there’s anything here.”

Her eyes stayed closed as she shook her head. “It is still here and this armor requires an external frame for ingress. Trying to wriggle out of this without it would be troublesome as well.”

Alex grinned. “Oh? I’d be happy to watch.”

“I am sure you would. Despite that, I will not be getting out at this time.”

He waved a hand dismissively. “Sounds like a lot of trouble anyway. We’ve only got, what, 14 hours till the portal opens?”

“Mmm.” Carbon squeezed him gently, face pressed into his shoulder.

Alex looked down and watched her breathe - slow, steady and very asleep. He got smug about that. Despite being somewhere that made her uncomfortable, she still trusted him enough to fall asleep.

He checked his wrist monitor, a little under 13 hours left, actually. He dialed in an alarm for two hours ahead of the timer running down. No sense in being late, particularly if they could actually leave the parking garage. They still had eight days before the Search and Rescue ship could even arrive. It was still better to be safe when it came to getting a pickup with no FTL drives.

Which was problematic in that they no longer had any FTL communications, with the exception of the emergency beacon. Sublight communications still took time and the globule was not optimal for those. Well, there wasn’t anything he could do about it yet, no point in getting worked up.

His eyes turned skyward again, to the artificial stars and moon. Earth didn’t have nights like this in many places anymore. He’d never seen stars so densely packed and vibrant, even against the half moon. It was nice here. Peaceful despite the weirdness, silent save for the wind in the grass.

Alex woke up to his forearm being twisted about, a quiet beeping alarm coming from the speaker on his wrist monitor. In the dim morning light he could see Carbon curled around it, bleary eyed and poking at the screen. The alarm cut out and she let go, stretching out beside him again.

Then she remembered where they were. She pushed herself back up, surprise struggling through the haze of sleep. “Sch- Why did let sleep?”

“It had been a long day, I didn’t see any harm in it. Not like there’s anything else to do here.”

She shook her head, eyes clearing up as she stood and brushed grass off her armor. “That is not a good reason. Things could have happened. Have we missed the portal?”

“No, we’ve got two hours yet.”

Carbon relaxed visibly at that. “Good. We should head back, I do not want to take chances on how long the portal will remain open.”

“Soon enough.” Alex had the scanner out again, drawing the sensors over the fruit she had gathered the previous day. “Clean enough to be safe. Have some breakfast.”

“I am not hungry right now.”

He snapped the scanner closed and gave her a dubious look as he bit into one. The texture and flavor were both familiar, pear-like with a hint of cinnamon. “S’good. Real, too. When was the last time you had food that didn’t come out of a printer nozzle?”

Carbon avoided his eyes for a moment, then sat down across from him and picked one up. “Five years, fourteen weeks and nine days.”

He almost choked on his fruit. “Why so long?”


She didn’t reply, instead sinking her teeth into the ruddy skin and tearing away the white flesh beneath. She savored the hell out of it, closing her eyes while she chewed. It took her almost a minute to finish, finally swallowing with a smile. “When it became clear that our fresh food resupplies would be reduced, I stopped eating them so the crew could have more. Most of the command staff lowered their intake, only myself and the captain abstained fully.”

“Wow.” He didn’t have anything to say to that, now eating to keep his mouth busy so he wouldn’t have to talk. Dispenser food was perfectly reasonable, but you could tell it wasn’t real. It seemed to get more pronounced the longer you ate it, as well. He’d only been off fresh for a year now.

“It was a time of sacrifice, it was not a difficult choice.”

He nodded and they continued to eat in silence till they had turned the little pile of fruit into a pile of cores. Alex pushed himself off the ground and offered Carbon a hand. She likely did not need it, but this did not stop her from taking it. “Hour and a half left. Better get a move on.”

She laughed, her gloved hand once more in his. “We should. It may take us several minutes to walk back.”

Alex chuckled, then grew quiet. “Hey, when we get back to the ship...”

“Yes?” Her head tilted, inquisitive.

“I call first on the bathroom.”

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