D. J. Belt
Copyright: Original story and characters, copyright 2015 by D. J. Belt.
Disclaimers: Short story. ALT. No graphic sex or horrid violence. Wisecracks abound, Cupid’s arrows fly, and there’s even some kissing. Ewwww! Gross! You can close your eyes during the kissing part. (You can tell I’ve watched movies with my grand-daughters, huh?)
Comments: I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to write! This was written specially for the RAOB Valentine’s Day Invitational, so of course, it’s a love story. What else? Hope you like it!
Space freighter pilots Jane and Diane have a most bizarre – and interesting – Valentine’s Day in a far corner of the cosmos.
“Neither be cynical about love; for in the face
Love is a grave mental disease.
I’m shy at first, but once I’m comfortable with you,
“Hey, Jane. Tilon is half an hour ahead. Wake up, Sleeping Beauty.”
A muffled voice replied from beneath a pillow and a blanket. “Come on, Diane. You said we wouldn’t be there until this evening.”
“I want a transfer.” The blanket stirred and a leg emerged, followed by a torso. “Where do I get one of those?” Jane hung her legs over the edge of the sleeping rack, then dropped to the deck.
“Girl, you’ve had four transfers in the last year. Nobody else wants to put up with you.” Diane cast a glance over her shoulder at her ship-mate and snickered. Then, she cast a second, more lingering, glance. Jane was rumpled and sleepy, but she still looked good. Oh, yeah. Damn good. I’ve been out here too long, Diane thought. Lock up the raging libido, girl, and focus on your job. “Go wash up and get dressed, sleepyhead. We’ve got work to do.”
“Yes, Mommy. What day is today, anyway?”
“What does it matter?”
“My father’s birthday is soon. I don’t want to miss messaging him.”
“It’s, ah – ” Diane looked at the chronometer. “It’s Tuesday, February Fourteenth, Twenty-Two Fifty C.E. by Earth calendar. Eight hours and seven minutes in the morning, Greenwich Mean Time. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Jane blinked a few times to clear her muddled thoughts. “Yeah. Lots of good that does us out here, huh? Your love life is as nonexistent as mine.”
“Tell me about it. No roses, no fancy restaurant dinner...”
“No nookie. If I stay out here much longer, I’ll be an honorary virgin again.”
“Tell you what. We got chocolate bars and a bottle of wine in the pantry. When we get our butts off that rock ahead of us, we’ll break them out and have a good mutual cry.”
“It’s a date. You really do get me, don’t you? Damn, I’ve got to see a man about a horse all of a sudden. ‘Scuse me.”
Diane grinned as she heard Jane’s bare feet slap across the metal deck, then disappear behind the slam of the latrine door. Ahead, in the distance, she could make out Tilon. She’d been here a hundred times before, it seemed. Crummy little planet, mostly desert and scrub. The only thing here was an Earth mineral exploration colony, and a tiny one, at that. She leaned forward in the pilot’s seat and scanned her instruments and screens. All was normal. She tapped a screen and spoke.
“Tilon, this is Earth Colonial Ship Omega Two-Zero, on approach to your location. Come in, please.” She waited for a reply. When none was forthcoming, she drummed her fingers on the console, then repeated her call. All she got in reply was static. She switched frequencies, then called again. Still, there was no answer. She muttered, “C’mon, Tilon. Where the heck are you?”
“What’s the matter?” Jane asked. She was standing behind Diane’s chair, pulling a uniform top over her head.
“Tilon’s not answering. I’d better report this.” Diane tapped at her console again. “Earth Colonial Ship Omega Two-Zero to Sector Control. Come in, please. Priority.”
After a moment, a blurry face appeared in a screen. “What’s wrong, Two-Zero?” the face asked.
“Tilon’s not responding.”
“Check it out. Proceed with caution, and keep us informed. Out.” With that, the face disappeared.
“Man, I could have told us that,” Jane said. “What a moron. How’d he get to be a major?”
“Hey,” Diane said. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you – ”
“Yeah, that’s what my older sister told me.” Jane shrugged. “It seems to work for her.”
Diane snickered. “Judging by where you are right now, you didn’t take it to heart.”
Jane rested a hand on Diane’s shoulder. “Nor you, huh?”
“Yeah. Nor me. That’s what makes us irreplaceable out here. Nobody else wants our job.” Diane rose from the chair. “Put us into the approach pattern, will you? I gotta use the can and get dressed.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jane said, as she seated herself. “Take your time. I got this.”
As Diane reached the latrine door, she stopped and pinched her nose. “Oh, girl!” she said. “That’s awful! What the hell just died in there?”
“Sorry,” Jane muttered. “That prefab food tears me up.”
The ventilation fans began whirring. “Now I know why you’ve been transferred four times in the last year.” With that, the latrine door slammed shut.
Jane directed her attention ahead as she began adjusting ship’s speed and course to achieve orbit. “Yeah,” she said to no one in particular, “I wish it was that simple.”
The ship thumped down onto the steel planking which constituted the landing pad, and the engines powered down. As the last of their whine faded away, Diane entered the cabin. “Try calling ‘em again.”
“I’ve been trying. No answer.” Jane gestured at the cluster of low, dome-shaped buildings nearby. “No movement. No people. Nothing. I’m gettin’ creeped out.”
“Let’s go take a walk around town, then. We’ll wear atmosphere suits. Maybe an unknown toxin got ‘em. We don’t need that.”
“Tell me about it,” Jane agreed. She rose and followed Diane toward the rear of the ship. When they entered the suit-up room, Diane pointed at the lightweight atmosphere suits. “These are what we need. Leave the deep space suits. Tilon has atmosphere.”
“Oh, nice place to eat, huh?”
“No, dork. I mean that it has – ” She heard Jane’s cackle of laughter and grinned. “You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, yeah. How’s the gravity?”
“Lighter than Earth. You’ll get used to it.”
After they stepped into their suits and closed them, they fitted the clear helmets on each other’s heads and checked their suit systems. Just before they walked into the airlock, Diane stopped Jane with a hand on her arm. “One more thing,” she said. She opened a locker and withdrew two pistols. “Keep it handy,” she warned. “We don’t know what we’re walking into.”
Jane shoved her pistol into a pocket on her suit’s chest. “In that case,” she said, “let’s go armed for bear.” She pulled a rifle from the locker, slapped a magazine into it, and snugged it beneath her arm. In reply to Jane’s surprised expression, she explained, “You can never be too good-lookin’ or too well-armed.”
Diane raised an eyebrow at the weapon, but nodded. “Okay, then. Let’s do this.” Jane joined her in the airlock, and the door shut behind them. They scanned the indicators on the wall, and Diane said, “Atmosphere is okay. Temperature is adequate. Everything’s green. Here we go.”
She pressed a button, and the outer airlock doors opened. A short gangway extended to the planet’s surface, and they stepped outside. Slowly, they began walking across the steel planking of the landing pad, familiarizing themselves with the lighter gravity. Diane said, “We got thirty minutes, then we need to be back at the ship.”
“Heard and understood,” Jane said. Diane shot her a quick glance and saw that her expression was, for perhaps the first time in the two weeks she’d known her, deadly serious. She must be in her combat mode, Diane figured. Good. No jokes now; she knows when to be earnest.
They reached the first buildings, single-story dome-shaped structures interconnected with raised tunnels, and tried a door. It opened, and they entered. All seemed in order; it appeared to be a workshop or lab of some sort. All that was missing was the humanity. The second building, and the third, was the same. Finally, they entered the communal building. It was the largest, and it contained the dining and recreation stations and the medical clinic. There, the scene was very different.
Mats had been laid out on the floor, and bodies occupied the mats. They were withered and yellowish, and empty IV bags hung above most of them. Diane and Jane stared at the scene for a long, silent moment. Then, Jane summed up both their impressions with her trademark eloquence.
“Holy freakin’ shit.”
“You said it,” Diane agreed. “Let’s get out of here. This is above our pay grade.”
“It’s gotta be a bug or something. Took ‘em all out. Look at ‘em. They all look like they’re a hundred years old.”
“Acute dehydration, I’m guessing. Let’s beat feet back to the ship. If this is a bug, we don’t want to be anywhere near this.”
They closed the doors and backed into the street, then began walking toward their ship, sitting in the distance. During the entire walk back, they did not speak, except for a grunt from Jane when she saw motion, whirled, and trained her rifle on what turned out to be a large lizard scuttling across some rocks. She offered an embarrassed glance toward Diane, who said, “Don’t worry about it.”
When they entered the airlock, Diane closed the outer doors and said, “We’ve got to do a level one decontamination. It’s the highest level. It’ll cook us a little, but it’s worth it if it keeps us from getting that bug.” She tapped the face of a screen in the wall, and red lights lit the closed airlock. They were buffeted with sprays of disinfectant, then water, then blasts of extremely hot air and low-intensity radiation.
After ten minutes, Jane said, “Damn, it’s hot in this suit. I’m sweatin’ like a whore in church.”
Diane laughed. “Or like the preacher when the whore shows up in church?”
“Yeah,” Jane said. “Or like a pig in a sausage factory.”
“Like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs?” Diane said.
“Like a nun at a cucumber stall.”
“Oh, that’s just wrong. How about like two rats gettin’ naughty in a wool sock?”
“I love it.” Jane shot Diane a twinkling grin. “How’s about, like Major Moron at a Mensa meeting?”
“I can’t top that one for alliteration,” Diane said. “You win.”
Jane gasped, “Jeez, how much longer? This is brutal.”
Finally, at the green lights, they stumbled from the airlock and pulled the helmets from each other’s heads. They were bathed in sweat, and their skin was tinged a little red from the organism-killing radiation. They breathed deeply of the ship’s cool air as they wormed out of their suits and hung them up, then entered the ship’s main cabin. To their left were their sleeping racks, one above the other; to their right, the galley and latrine, and ahead of them, the pilot’s seats with the expansive control consoles and the even more expansive windows. “We’re not done yet,” Diane said.
“What now?” Jane asked.
“Now, throw what you’re wearing into this decontamination bin, here. Everything. Then, we’ll hit the shower.” Diane pulled open a bin with a caution symbol on it, and she and Jane began shedding their sweat-soaked clothing.
Fifteen minutes later, they emerged from the latrine, freshly-showered and still damp, towels wrapped around their bodies. “So, Mommy,” Jane asked, “are we clean yet?”
“We’re clean on the outside. Now, we need to clean the inside.”
“I’m almost afraid to ask,” Jane said. “How do we do that?”
“Meds.” Diane opened a medicine locker and pulled forth two palm-sized bottles of liquid. She handed one to Jane, who considered it with a skeptical expression.
“What is this stuff?”
“I can’t pronounce it, but it’s good for what ails you,” Diane said. “Antivirals, antibiotics; you name it, it’s in there.” She saw Jane’s expression, and she softened. “Hey, doll. It tastes like hell, but it’ll kill the bad bugs, if you got any.” A moment later, she added, “It’s protocol for a level one decontamination. We gotta do it.”
Jane looked up. “Sort of like what they used to give us after shore leave, right?”
Diane grinned. “Yeah. Think of it like that.” She clicked her bottle against Jane’s bottle. “I call it ‘Nectar of the gods’. It’ll make you live forever. Bottoms up.”
Diane, now clothed in some floppy, multi-pocketed uniform pants and a t-shirt, sat in the pilot’s seat and tapped at her control panels. She mopped her face with a towel, then took a deep breath to settle her stomach. “Control, this is Earth Colonial Ship Omega Two-Zero. Come in, please.”
After some static, a voice answered, and a face materialized on the screen. It was Major Moron. “This is control, Two-Zero. What took you so long?”
Nothing, you freakin’ jerk, Diane thought. “We spent half an hour on the planet surface and half an hour in level one decontamination,” she said. And, she silently added, another fifteen minutes on the john from those blasted meds. “Everybody’s dead, the whole colony. It’s a bug of some sort, I think. We need the science types out here on this.”
“They’re occupied with an outbreak on Syris. It’ll be a while until they can get there.”
“So, what’s our orders, since we’ve got a hold full of groceries and nobody to deliver ‘em to now?”
Major Moron said, “You’re going into quarantine, effective immediately.”
Diane’s jaw dropped. “Say what, sir?”
“You two are restricted to your ship. Leave the planet’s surface immediately. Achieve an orbit around the planet, and stay there until further notice. What’s your fuel situation?”
Diane squinted at the control panels. “Good. Plenty of fuel. We can go at an easy pace for months.”
Diane looked over her screens. “Water recycling machine is full, and we’ve got plenty of food in the hold.” In her silent thoughts, she added, we’re hauling groceries, you moron. Of course we have food.
“All right. Execute your orders, Two-Zero. Remain in isolation and in orbit there until you’re thoroughly examined and released from quarantine by the medical folks.”
“When will that be, Major?”
He shrugged. “Who knows? I suspect that you two are looking at a month, at least. Maybe more.”
A moment of dead silence reigned. Yeah, Diane thought. He wants to see if we’re still alive in a month. Then, he’ll bother with us. Aloud, she said, “Understood, sir. Will comply.” With a nod, Major Moron’s face disappeared from the screen. The communication was ended.
Diane leaned back in her chair, mopped her face again, and felt her stomach tie itself into knots. Behind her, a strained voice said, “I’m not havin’ a good day here.”
“Join the club. We just got ordered into medical quarantine,” Diane answered.
She spun the chair around. Just outside the latrine door, Jane was leaning against the wall. One hand held her towel partially across her body, and the other hand gripped her abdomen. “No, I mean my gut. Jesus! You didn’t tell me that stuff would totally kick my ass.”
“If I had, you wouldn’t have taken it. Hey, it’s tearing me up, too.” She considered a partially naked Jane for a long moment, perhaps longer than she’d meant to, and then said, “Go get something on. I’ll whip up a drink to settle our stomachs.”
Jane looked down at herself. “Oh. Yeah. Sorry.” She tiptoed across the deck to her clothing locker as Diane rose, opened the medicine locker and began mixing a concoction of her own design. A minute later, Jane – now dressed in a tank top and some baggy uniform pants – tapped her on the shoulder. “What’s that?”
“A recipe of my own.” She poured two glasses full of chalky-looking liquid, then handed one to Jane. “It’ll help.” She saw the skeptical look in Jane’s eyes and added, “Really.”
“That’s what you said last time.”
“Honestly, I’m really sorry about not warning you. Forgive me?”
Jane’s expression eased into a grin. “Aw, that’s okay. You’re right; I probably wouldn’t have drunk it if I knew that it was gonna hit me this hard.”
“You’ll feel better after this. Scout’s honor.” She tapped her glass against Jane’s, then said, “Skoal.”
“Here’s mud in your eye.”
They tossed down the drinks and threw the cups into the trash bin. Then, they both leaned against the wall and faced each other. For a long, quiet moment, neither said anything. They just considered each other’s presence in a soft, quiet way, the way that friends do. Finally, Diane said, “It’s been an interesting day so far, huh?”
Jane managed a smile, in spite of her malady. “And it isn’t over yet, I think.”
“You heard what Major Moron said?”
“Yeah, in between my groans of agony in the latrine.” She raised an eyebrow. “A whole month in quarantine?”
“Just you and me, huh?”
“Looks that way.”
“Up here, cruisin’ among the stars.”
“Nowhere to go, nothing to do. Gotta love it.”
Jane looked down at the deck, then back up at Diane. “Of all the folks in the universe to get stuck with for a month, I’m glad it’s you.”
Diane tapped Jane’s shoulder with a fist. “Yeah. I’m glad it’s you, too.”
“Really? You forget I’ve been transferred four times in the last year.”
“Why?” Diane asked.
“It’s ‘cause I’m a pain in the butt. I rub people the wrong way. ‘Insubordinate smart-ass’ is what my last commanding officer said about me.”
Diane said, “I find you very likeable.” She raised an eyebrow. “Winsome, I guess is what I’m trying to say.”
“Wow. I’ve been called a lot of things, but never that. What’s that mean, anyway?”
“If you don’t know, I’m not telling. It’ll be a mystery.”
Jane snickered at the comment. “Nope. No mystery. We have a know-it-all computer on board.” She tapped a wall switch by her head. “Computer?”
A generic, pleasant voice answered. “Active. What is your request?”
“List synonyms for the word ‘winsome’, please.”
A moment’s silence reigned. Then, the voice said, “Appealing, sweet, charming, attractive, fetching, alluring, tempting, enticing, enchanting – ”
“Thank you, computer,” Jane said. “That’s sufficient.” She studied Diane, whose cheeks had suddenly turned beet red and whose gaze was fixed on some imaginary spot on the wall. “Wow. Me, sweet? Enticing, even?”
“You forgot ‘tempting’ and ‘alluring’,” Diane mumbled. “God, I am so embarrassed. I think I’ll go lock myself in the airlock for about a week.” She turned to leave, and Jane stopped her with a hand on her arm.
“Wait a minute,” Jane said. “Does that mean ‘winsome’ was wrong?”
Diane covered her face with a hand and stared at the floor. In a whisper, she said, “No.”
“Oh. I see.” She noted Diane’s covered eyes and scarlet cheeks. “Guess that means that you’re attracted to me, huh?”
“Guess so,” Diane mumbled.
“Whoa. ‘Massive case of the hots’ type of attracted?”
Diane seemed to wilt. “Yeah. Look, I’m sorry and I know that you probably don’t feel the same way and I don’t want to screw up our friendship and I’ll deal with it and just forget I said anything – ”
“I’m attracted to you, too.”
“What? You what?” Diane said. Her fingers parted, and an eye peered through the fingers.
“I feel the same way.” She hurried to add, “About you, not me, I mean. I don’t think of myself like that.”
Diane dropped her hand. Her gaze wandered everywhere but at Jane. “That’s good, I guess.”
“But I think of you like that.”
“You do?” Diane glanced up at Jane.
“Yes. I do. And you are so cute when you get all shy.”
Diane rolled her eyes. “Oh, shut up.”
“No, really. Girl, I could just hug you right now.”
“Well...I guess that wouldn’t be so bad, huh? I mean, that would actually be nice, wouldn’t it?”
Jane opened her arms, and Diane fell into them. They held each other tightly, silently, just relishing each other’s close companionship and touch, the only sound being the occasional growling of a tormented stomach. Then, Jane managed a coherent thought.
“That’s some pretty powerful chemistry, girl.”
“You feel it too, huh?” Diane asked.
“I was talkin’ about the stuff you mixed. My stomach’s better already.”
“But yeah, I feel that chemistry, too,” Jane said. “And I really like it.”
“Do you? Really?” Diane asked.
“Yeah. Nice, ain’t it?”
“Wonderful. I can’t remember when I felt like this last.”
“Me, neither. Hey, did you see a little chubby kid with wings and a bow and arrows flying around here?”
“I think Cupid just shot me in the butt with one of his arrows.”
Diane snickered. “Is that where you keep your heart? You’re such a romantic. Yeah, I think he did me, too.”
“That little brat,” Jane said.
“So, where’s the bug spray and a fly-swatter when you need it?”
“Well...” Jane lifted her chin from Diane’s shoulder. Her eyes searched Diane’s face. Then she spoke very softly. “Since the feeling seems to be mutual...”
“Yeah?” Diane’s expression reflected a combination of hope and caution.
“Is it okay if I kiss you?”
“I’d like that.” Jane leaned forward, and Diane held up a finger. “Oh, God. Hold that thought.” Then, she released Jane, hurried toward the latrine, and slammed the door. A moment later, Jane heard her groan.
“Boy,” Jane said. “Nothing spoils the moment like a case of the trots, huh?” She sighed in resignation, then wandered over to the pilot’s chair and seated herself. “I guess we’d better be getting our butts off this rock and into orbit.” She shouted over her shoulder, “Hey, Diane!”
A weak voice echoed from the latrine. “Whaaaaat?”
“I’m powering us up for takeoff. Hold onto something.”
“I already am,” the voice replied. “White-knuckled death grip.”
“That poor girl.” Jane snickered. “I shouldn’t laugh, but ... yeah, I should.” Then, she began manipulating the controls as the hum and vibration of the ship’s propulsion grew from a whisper to a steady drumbeat, readying itself for liftoff.
Diane collapsed into the chair next to Jane and watched as they settled into a high orbit around Tilon. “Man, I’m weak as a kitten.”
“Tell me about it,” Jane said. “I’m shakin’ like a leaf in a storm. Look at my hand.”
“It’ll get better.”
“That’s what they said about adolescence, too. It didn’t.”
Diane managed a grin at that. “You’re a pretty good pilot.”
“Thanks.” Jane leaned back and turned her chair toward Diane. “How’s the ol’ digestion doing? Are you over your gastric catastrophe yet?”
“I took another slug of my cocktail. I think it’s working this time.”
“It fixed me right up. Where’d you learn to mix meds like that?”
“I was a medic before I went to flight school.” Diane looked at the control panels. “Do we need to tweak the orbital course?”
“Nah. Computer’s got it. We’re good.”
Diane managed a smile. The color was returning to her cheeks, and she was sitting straighter in her chair. She was feeling better. She seemed in deep thought for a moment, then said, “So, where were we?”
Jane pointed at the planet below them. “Down there. Now, we’re up here.”
“No, doofus. I mean, before we were so rudely interrupted by nature’s call.” She rolled her eyes. “Nature’s scream, was more like it.”
“Oh, that. I think I was just about to put some moves on you.”
“I think so, too.” Diane asked, “Has the moment passed?”
Jane laughed. “I’m pretty sure that we can get it back.”
“I sure hope so.” Diane studied Jane for a moment, then said, “You look like hell, girl.”
Jane laughed. “Yeah. That’s what the midwife said to me just after I was born. I told her, ‘You’d look like this, too, if you just got shoved through somebody’s – – ’.”
“Sorry. I meant that in a sympathetic way.”
“I know.” Jane relaxed. “You look rough, too. We’ve been through the wringer today, haven’t we?”
“We have. We need rest.” Diane stood and held out her hand. “Lie down with me?”
“Wow,” Jane said, as she grasped the offered hand and stood. “You don’t waste time, do you? And before you go thinking that I’m some slutty chick that would jump into bed with you at a moment’s notice, be advised that I totally am.”
“I knew I liked you for a good reason. Let’s just sleep, for now. I’m drained.”
“Me too, and in more ways than one,” Jane agreed. “I think that I’d love to take a nap on you.”
“Don’t you mean, ‘With me’?”
“That, too.” Together, they walked the short distance to their sleeping racks. “So, your bunk or mine?”
“Mine,” Diane said. “Yours is on top. Farther to the deck if somebody falls out.”
“I don’t remember that being part of the ‘safe sex’ lecture we got in flight school.”
“Maybe it should have been,” Diane said. “That video they showed us was awful, wasn’t it?”
“It gave me nightmares. Man, they could have at least found an actor that didn’t have such a hairy back.”
“Which actor was that?”
“One of the girls, I think.”
They crawled into the bottom sleeping rack, squirmed around to get comfortable, and came to rest facing each other. “So,” Jane said, “are you comfortable? Got enough room?”
“Oh, yeah. Mmmm. You feel nice.”
“I’ve got a confession to make.”
“Oh, boy,” Jane said. “I love confessions. What is it?”
“I’ve been wondering for two weeks now what it would be like to kiss you.”
“What a coincidence. That’s how long I’ve been on this ship.”
Jane thought about it, then said, “Lust at first sight?”
“It wasn’t at first sight.”
“No. It took a good five minutes.”
“A cautious girl,” Jane observed. “You’re not the romantic type then, I take it?”
“Not at all.” Diane pulled Jane closer to her. “So, can I have that kiss now?”
“Mmmm. That was a really nice kiss,” Diane said.
“It gets better. Lots better.”
“Oh, yeah? Prove it. Ooooh, yeah. I like.”
“Well, in that case, let me do that again,” Jane said. “And again, and again...”
Diane said, “Listen, before you get too worked up, I’ve got another little confession to make.”
“Oh, God. Here it comes. What? You’re a dude? You’re a nun? You’re a virgin? You’re married? You’re an extraterrestrial? You’ve got a weird rash in a very unfortunate place? What?”
“No. We might have to wait on the sex for a couple of days.”
Jane sputtered, “What the hell? What, do you have a three-date rule or something?”
Diane laughed. “No.” She snuggled closer against Jane and said, “It’s that time of the lunar cycle for me.”
“Aw, Jeez,” Jane said. “The story of my life.” She released a melodramatic sigh. “It’s gonna be a long few days.”
“No, it won’t. We can work around it.”
Jane’s voice became suddenly hopeful. “You think so?”
“We’re clever girls.”
“Yeah, we are. Hey, we managed a month’s honeymoon on full pay, didn’t we?”
“Honeymoon?” Diane asked. “Ooh. Are we in a ... relationship ... now?”
“Ain’t we?” Jane asked.
“I don’t know. What’s a relationship look like? I haven’t had one of those in forever.”
“Me, neither. How’s it work again?”
“I’m not sure, but I think we’re makin’ a good start at it.”
“Me, too. So, where’s the part where we irritate the stew out of each other and fight over money and your crazy uncle makes a pass at me?”
“I think that’s right after we shop for furniture together.”
“Furniture? Neither one of us owns a place to live.”
“That’s us,” Diane agreed. “Vagabonds. Freighter pilots. One step above ‘homeless’.”
“How sweet,” Jane cooed. “We’re already not owning a place together. Hey, if we don’t have a place, then you can’t throw all my stuff out on the street, can you?”
“I wouldn’t ever do that,” Diane said. “‘Cause I really enjoy your company. Besides, your stuff might be better than mine.”
“So, is it official? Is we or ain’t we?” Jane whispered. “In a relationship, I mean?”
“Oh, yeah. We is.”
“In that case, Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetheart.”
“And a very happy Valentine’s Day to you, too.” Diane snuggled closer to Jane, reached down with a free hand, and pulled a blanket over them. “Our first Valentine’s Day together. How romantic.”
“I can’t wait to message my Dad about this,” Jane said. “He’ll be happy for us.”
“What are you going to tell him?”
“I’ll tell him that I met a girl just like the girl that married dear old Dad.”
Diane laughed. “Isn’t that what Oedipus said? And look at how that turned out.”
“You are so demented! I love that in a person.” The wheezes of laughter died down, and they became quiet and still. After a few minutes, Diane’s whisper broke the silence.
“I have to know. Do you snore?”
Jane snickered. “I don’t think so. Do you fart in your sleep? Wet the bed?”
Diane laughed. “I don’t think so. Although after enduring a level one decontamination, I can’t promise anything.”
“Tell me about it. Hey, you’re not one of those lovers who gets all psycho, are you?”
“Mmmm,” Diane purred. “Depends on what you mean by ‘psycho’.”
“I mean like freaky weirdness and stalking me and trying to murder me and stuff.”
“No, dear,” Diane said. “Only if you ever try to leave me.”
“Don’t sweat it.” Diane smiled innocently. “You’re safe – – for now. We haven’t had sex yet.”
“Boy, I feel a lot better,” Jane said. “I was worried for a minute, there.”
Diane closed her eyes and snuggled against Jane. “What’s to be worried about? Just you and me, locked inside this ship for a month, no one else around, no place to go, no escape for you...”
“Gulp. So, what happens after we have, ah...?”
“Oh, you’ll see. Sleep tight, love. Sweet dreams.”
Diane’s eyes flashed open. She looked at Jane’s expression and laughed. “I had you going for a minute, didn’t I? Come on, admit it. You were worried.”
“Me? Nah.” Jane studied Diane’s face, so near her own. “I knew you were foolin’. You are foolin’, right?”
“Jane darling, the only thing that you’ll ever have to fear from me is my cooking.”
Jane relaxed. “Okay, then. Your cooking won’t have the same effect on me that a level one decontamination has, does it?”
“No. Usually, it’s only about level three.”
“Hey, I can cook, and we’ve got a hold full of groceries.” Jane touched her forehead against Diane’s. “I’ll cook you dinner tonight?”
“I’d love it.”
“Okay, then. It’s a date. And that way, I can keep control of the kitchen knife, too.”
“Girlfriend, you’re gonna spoil all my fun. Shh. Sleep, now. Sleep,” Diane said. She closed her eyes and sighed in contentment.
Jane said, “There’s one more thing I have to know about you.”
Diane’s eyes opened. “Oh-oh. What’s that?”
“You got any kids?”
“A few of ‘em,” Jane confessed. “No stalkers, though.”
“You got any weird, obnoxious pets that I’m gonna have to put up with?” Diane asked. “You know, that shed fur all over the place and dribble on the carpet?”
“Just my ‘panty tarantula’,” Jane said.
Diane’s head lifted from the shared pillow. “Your what?” she exclaimed. “Oh, my God. I’ve gotta check this out.” She hooked two fingers into Jane’s waistband and pulled it out as she glanced down. “Man, you weren’t kidding, were you? That sucker’s in full bloom.”
“I hope that you don’t mind. If you do, I’ll shave.”
“Hell, girl. We’re in space. Nobody ever shaves anything out here.”
Jane raised an eyebrow in question. “Is that a fact?”
Diane laughed. “Yes. That’s a fact. And yes. I’ve got one, too.”
“A real doozy, huh?”
“The Amazon freakin’ rainforest.”
“See? I just knew that we were perfect for each other. Now try to sleep, cutie.”
“Cutie? You really think I’m cute, huh?”
“Oh, yeah. Say, are we going to be calling each other those sickening, saccharine pet names?”
“You mean like, ‘Darling’?”
“Yeah. Or ‘Sweetie’?”
“That one’s for later,” Diane said. “After we get the lawyers involved.”
“Oh. Right.” Jane kissed Diane on the forehead. “I like your name best. ‘Diane’ is music to me.”
“Mmm. You charmer. I like your name, too. Let’s sleep now. Say good-night, Jane.”
“Good-night, Jane,” Jane said.
Diane laughed. “Dork.”
“Yeah,” Diane said. “We’re gonna get along great.”
They snuggled beneath the blanket and fell silent. After a moment, Jane said, “Winsome, huh?”
Diane sighed. “I’m never going to live that one down, am I?”
“I’m so glad.”
A hand emerged from the blanket and patted the wall next to the sleeping rack until it found the lighting control. The light dimmed in the freighter’s cockpit until it simulated night. Only the faint glow of the control panels kept company with the myriad stars which glittered beyond the planet in the black immensity of space, as the aged freighter designated “Earth Colonial Ship Omega Two-Zero” settled into a comfortable orbit around Tilon carrying its cargo of groceries...and two human beings.
– djb, January, 2015