After her off-world posting comes to an end, Sustainability expert Scylla Umberstone catches a transport back to Earth. Along the way she meets Boston, the intriguing, mysterious blond she saw on the station. When the ship malfunctions, they are forced to land on a scorching, desolate moon. But as they fight for survival, Scylla finds herself increasingly attracted to the enigmatic - and impossibly sexy - Boston. The nights begin to sizzle, and Scylla wonders if she really wants to leave that hot little moon.
The rumor around the station was that he was dauntingly forthright, and took his position very seriously. Boston Twayblade certainly looked like a serious young man, even now that he was going on leave. When Scylla saw him before in the station’s gym, he had his white-blonde hair tied back, but now that he was off duty the coils hung loose and well past his collar. He stood easily two meters tall and that, combined with the uniqueness of his hair, was what made her look today. He stood by a holdall, talking to another young man; like herself, he had nothing to do but wait for the docking room doors to open. Then she realized he was looking right at her and she smiled coyly at getting caught staring. A tilt of the head asked her to come over, so she picked up her bag and went to join him.
“Any reason you’re watching me?” was his not unexpectedly blunt question.
“Your reputation precedes you. I apologize if I was staring,” Scylla explained, and he nodded without judgment.
“I’ve seen you sparring in the gym. You’ve had some training.”
“I boxed for a couple of years at school, before I joined the System.”
“Did you compete?”
“No. It was just a fitness thing. It still is. Oh, and a sanity thing. When you’re stationed on an alien world for three months your sanity can get…misshapen,” she added, getting a grin from him. The grin lit up his whole face, and even the hardness in his unusually light blue eyes vanished briefly. Why hadn’t she heard of his smile’s beauty? Maybe it was seldom seen.
“Combat training’s definitely good for your sanity,” he agreed. “I don’t recall which department your grey and green uniform is for, though.”
“Habitation. I work in the Sustainability sector.”
“I’m not familiar with that sector.”
“Its primary objective is to research a planet’s flora and fauna to find ways to be as self-sustaining as possible, using natural edible resources, with the long term target being to have surplus to export but minimal import needs.” There was a pause as he took that all in.
“Food,” he said and she smiled again. Most people required further explanation.
“Real food. Not nutri-food from a reproduction source, dispensed in your quarters on command, which is what I’m guessing you live off?”
“I’ve been to the station’s mess hall enough times to know my way without checking the layout map,” he assured her. “The real food was good, but nutri-food’s handy when you’re busy. And gives you all you need nutritionally.” She understood that—a lot of people felt that way. Cooking was very much a dying art.
“Your primary department’s Defense.” She gestured at his red and black uniform.
“Unarmed Combat Instructor. Are you going on leave?”
“That’s right. We’ve got a month back home, then off to another station.”
“I got stationed with my sister Lilah. I’m meeting her here, but she’s late, as usual. You’re from The Europa Quadrant? Brittanica grid?”
“We are,” he replied, glancing at his friend. “How did you know?”
“My secondary department’s Communications, Linguistics sector. I recognize your accent.”
“I can’t pinpoint yours.”
It made her smile, because it was a common occurrence. “I’m from the Oceania Quadrant.”
“We went snowboarding in that Quadrant a couple of rotations back,” Boston’s friend said and her focus shifted to him. He was tall, but not in comparison with Boston, and he had an extremely pleasing face. It may have been the combination of his dark goatee and deep blue eyes.
“Did you snowboard in New Zealand?” she asked. “Which Island?”
“We boarded both North New Zealand and South New Zealand. Are you familiar with either?”
“I don’t board. But I’m from North New Zealand.”
“The best place to board in the Quadrant and you haven’t done it? You don’t know what you’re missing,” he said playfully, and then she saw his eyes focus past her. “I’m guessing that’s your sister.” Scylla turned to see Lilah making her way over, struggling a little with her two fully laden carryalls. Her dark auburn hair was up, but some had come loose in a disheveled way. She often managed to look disheveled somehow.
“What was the clue?” she teased. Lilah was her twin.
“Strong family resemblance. Are you clones?”
“Human cloning is still illegal in The Oceania Quadrant,” both girls said in unison, amusing the men and not helping their case.
“Your primary department’s Defense. I’ve taken a class with you before,” Lilah told the bearded man as she gratefully dumped her bags.
“I’m a Weapons Instructor. I think you had dart gun training with me,” he said. “Do you both work in Habitation?”
“Same department, same sector. Don’t assume there is nothing divergent about us though.”
“That’s true: Lilah’s way bossier then me,” Scylla teased, although there was more than a modicum of truth in the comment. The docking room doors opened; her sister had just made it in time. They gathered their luggage and made their way, with many others, to board the transit shuttle for the voyage home.
It was going to be a thirty-seven-hour flight at sub-light speed (SLS) back to Earth. Scylla wasn’t looking forward to the trek, as SLS travel made her feel out of synch with her surroundings. But she was looking forward to the destination, and maybe another chat with Boston. He and his friend chose seats behind the girls. After a few hours, she got sick of sitting and couldn’t sleep, so got up to stretch her legs, taking a walk down the darkened passageway between the seats. At the end of the cabin, she came across Boston doing the same.
“Not a person for sitting still,” he said.
“It’s not one of my favorite pastimes either.”
“How are you known?”
“Umberstone, Scylla.” It was System regulation to state your family name first, and she did it out of habit.
“Scylla. That’s an appealing name.”
“Thanks, but I didn’t choose it,” she said, making him grin. It was so alluring she could have swum in it. “Scylla was a many-headed sea monster in ancient Greek mythology. I’ve heard you’re known as Boston?”
“Twayblade, Jay. But, yes, I’m mostly known as Boston.”
“For what reason?”
“It’s a name I acquired when I was younger.” His tone precluded further discussion of the topic.
“What made you choose the Unarmed Combat sector?”
“I studied a variety of martial arts from a young age, but I didn’t think joining the System was something for me. So I didn’t apply for the position; it was offered to me. I decided to give it a try…and here I am 6 years later.” Scylla nodded, watching his blue eyes travel her face. There was a real hardness to them, and they were so pale blue that at certain angles they appeared almost translucent. It was extremely unusual.
“It’s not easy to convert from anti System to pro System,” she said casually. It was a bit of a cheeky comment, and Boston gave a slight smile.
“Hasn’t everyone been anti System at least once in their life?”
“My father’s always been very pro System. He’s a Chemical Engineer. My mother, who never worked for the System, didn’t have an opinion either way—at first. But as she learned more and more about what his job entailed she became an Ecoist and quite anti System. So growing up we were exposed to both aspects.”
“How does that work, a pro System Chemical Engineer coupled with an anti-System Ecoist?”
“It doesn’t. It uncoupled them.”
“I’m sorry, Scylla.”
“It needed to happen.”
Boston cleared his throat. “So your father’s happy you joined the System but your mother’s not?”
“My mother’s passed on. And my father ‘doesn’t see how the Sustainability sector could have much importance in the forward motion of humanity as a universal power,’ to quote from the man himself. What’s your designation?”
“Wow, level 3. So you’re a senior officer. That’s an achievement.” He didn’t look much older than her, maybe in his mid-twenties “Much more responsibility.”
“Scylla, the many-headed mythological Sea Monster, I don’t have a problem giving orders,” he assured her, and she chuckled. “And your designation?”
“Level 2.1. I didn’t join the System with the sole purpose to move up the ranks. I just want to make a difference while doing something I enjoy. Food is such an important factor in life. It’s so much more than just fuel.”
“Food is just fuel.”
“Primarily. But I think we’ve forgotten to view it as having a dual purpose. I like to think it can be a form of entertainment as well as giving sustenance. It shouldn’t just sustain, it should give a person…oral pleasure.” He smirked at that description, which in turn made her smile, inside and out. He really did have a nice smile.
The cabin lights dimmed then brightened, and there was an unfamiliar whirring sound. Scylla saw through the nearby window that they’d dropped out of SLS. Shortly after, the announcement came over the com link:
“We are experiencing propulsion difficulties. Please return to your seats and remain calm as our Engineers work to rectify the problem.”
The pilot’s voice repeated the message as Scylla looked at Boston. He seemed unperturbed, gesturing for her to go back to her seat. He took his place next to his friend behind her, and she listened to them speculate on what the problem could be. Scylla knew nothing about propulsion systems. Something to do with resonance? It was far too technical for her. Through the window she watched as they lurched into SLS briefly before dropping straight back out, again with that unfamiliar sound. Several passengers began to get slightly panicked, especially when the whole cabin shuddered and filled with a burnt plastic odor. It wasn’t a good sign at all. And then the orange “ABANDON SHIP” lights came on, followed by the announcement:
“Please evacuate to the nearest escape pod. Remaining calm will benefit everyone.”
Scylla and her sister stood up, grabbing their bags as the announcement repeated. She glanced over her shoulder to see Boston disappear feet first into the nearest pod. So she punched the unlock button on the pod next to her, threw her bag into the open storage bay on the floor, and shut the panel. Closing the floor panel activated the seat to lower. As she slid in horizontally, a harness embraced her, locking into place. The pod sealed, and launched into space. It wasn’t a smooth ejection either. She could see the console above her head calculating as it tried to stabilize the pod and locate its position amongst the stars. The process seemed to be taking a while and Scylla found it quite unnerving, but then the pod pitched forward as it entered SLS. She could see on the console that a path had been plotted. It was a shaky ride and she had to constantly remind herself this was what escape pods were built for; it wasn’t going to shake itself apart.
It seemed like a lifetime, even for someone who wasn’t either claustrophobic or pessimistic, but was probably less than an hour before the console bleeped and dropped out of SLS. Without a window or viewscreen Scylla couldn’t see the globe she was presumably heading toward. Considering planets (especially habitable ones) were few and far between in the vastness of space, it was a score to find one so quickly, even at sub light speed. She’d had escape pod training and so thought she had a fair idea of what to expect in the descent, but the simulator couldn’t compare to actually living it. She closed her eyes and tried to calm her thoughts and breathing. The whole pod rattled and shook and she began to feel nauseated as the atmosphere pulled the pod down. It was an eternity before the console beeped again. Over the noise came the calm announcement:
“Touchdown is imminent. Brace for impact, brace for impact.” She had been braced since ejecting. A whirlwind of noise and turbulence encompassed her tiny pod, followed by a huge jolt as the pod hit the ground. Then it slid, hitting the odd object which either changed her course or helped slow her down, until it finally came to a jolting, sickening stop.