Disclaimer: This is a free work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2020 Rhea V. May. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form, by an electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except quoted brief passages in a review, post, article or other pieces of content. This work is intended for mature audiences only (18+).
Terran Prime Station—the Ark, 2398 TST
There. They’d dispatched the shuttle-drone to the small asteroid field orbiting the industrial station in the Far Reaches. “If the drone finds the Kalthera plants growing on those asteroids, it proves our theory.”
Kalon grumbled, crossing his arms over his broad chest. “We’ll see.”
“Come on,” she groaned. “You could be more excited about this.”
Over the past week, they finished building the telescope based on her father’s specs and connected it to the Union’s vast array of space probes, finding out several highlighted areas in the Union Space Territory. The brightest, in that specific location in the Far Reaches.
“Apologies.” He turned to face her, thumbs up in the air. “Yey!”
Luna glowered at him, causing him to chuckle.
“Now, what do you want for dinner?”
He sighed. “Fine.” Kalon rubbed his brow and grumbled again. “I suppose, if our premise that Kalthera plants feed on radiation is true, then that’s most likely where place we’ll find a bunch of them. It is an industrial station, after all.”
Luna sniffed and pushed past him, striding in the kitchen’s direction. “If our premise is correct? You know it is.”
“On the contrary. We know next to nothing about the Kalthera.” Kalon followed her into the kitchen and hugged her from the behind, halting her stomping progress. “I’m sorry, Luna. It’s just… I’m having a hard time switching the focus of my experiment.”
“I wish you wouldn’t be so reluctant to admit we’ve made genuine progress. It may not be the kind you want, but it’s still more than the other teams studying the Kalthera ever made.” Her shoulders slumped, the tendrils of hair that escaped her ponytail and clung to her forehead and cheeks flying off in every direction with the force of her exhale.
“Just.. give me some more time. Please.”
“Okay.” She nodded and straightened, turning in his arms until she faced him. She gave him a peck on the lips. “I can do that.” She was a very patient woman.
And she supposed it was true. Kalon wasn’t used to dead ends, while she has encountered nothing but disappointment all her life, while trying to explain her parents’ death.
Kalon blinked. He always wore a dazed expression after she kissed him. She grinned, waiting for him to snap out of his trance.
“Right,” he drawled. “Let’s celebrate. I’ll prepare you a nice dinner, while you sit back and relax.”
“But I want to help.” She feigned a pout.
Pots clanging together echoed in the room, as Kalon searched for what he needed. “You can help with the preparation,” he said after a second.
“But not with the cooking?” She jumped down from the chair she was sitting in and approached the counter.
Kalon sighed. “Remember what happened the last time you tried to “help” with the cooking?”
They almost burned down the kitchen. Luna scowled. “I’m a space girl,” she retorted, defensively.
Kalon grinned, nodding. “I know. Which means you have no idea how to cook. Proper food, I mean. Not the reconstructed sludge coming out of the food processor.”
Luna raised her palms to her shoulders. “Alright, alright. I’ll do as you order, Kitchen Commander.”
For the next hour, they worked amiably side by side. She helped in preparing the ingredients for the meal, trying to adhere to each of Kalon’s instructions. When she was done, and he moved on to the cooking, Luna poured them both a glass of Karssian liquor.
“This was delicious. Thank you, Kalon.” Luna pushed her empty plate away and leaned back in the chair, patting her stomach.
“I’m happy you liked it.” He took her plate and stacked it on top of his.
“No, no.” She hurried to remove them from his grasp. “I’ll clean up. It’s only fair, since you cooked.”
Kalon grumbled, but stepped back, reclaiming his seat. Inwardly, she smiled. She knew it was something he struggled with—idleness. Kalon rarely took a break.
“It’s still early. What do you want to do?” she asked, turning as she bent to shove the dishes into the washer.
“I suppose we could browse the feeds, see if it’s anything worth watching.”
Cuddling with him on the couch while a movie was playing sounded like heaven. The last time, it ended in a hot make-out session.
She wondered if they could replicate the results… “That’s a wonderful suggestion, Kalon.”
He activated his Correslink and pulled up the correct feeds. “What are you in the mood for?”
You. Luna cleared her throat and shrugged. She used a disposable towel to dry out her hands, then swiveled in his direction. “Whatever sounds good to you.”
They ended up watching a documentary about the modular molecular gene and its isolation in patients previously inoculated against the virus. Toward the end, Luna dozed off, while Kalon’s eyes remained glued to the screen, his lips slightly parted. She supposed it made sense, as he was a bioengineer who has stated before that “microbiology is one of my hobbies”.
All hopes of more enjoyable pastimes were dashed. Instead of watching the movie, Luna found herself drawn to Kalon’s profile. Her eyes studied each small change in his expression, from the way he frowned whenever he didn’t agree with something, to the faint smile he wore when he approved of the findings.
Her mind wandered to the shuttle-drone. In just one week, it would reach the field of asteroids and descend on the first marker they programmed into the courseware.
Luna had no doubt it would find the Kalthera plants in every location they proposed. Which raised the uncomfortable question: how did the Kalthera plants linked to her father’s telescope (designed a long time prior to the first plant’s discovery), and therefore, to her parents’ death?
She sighed and let her head drop to Kalon’s shoulder. His arm, which was slung across her back, tightened.
“Are you alright?” he asked, pausing the vid. Then he turned to her, wearing a worried expression. “Was the dinner too spicy?”
“No. The food was great. I was just thinking.”
His eyes swiveled to the holoscreen, then back to her. “Is the movie boring you?”
She shook her head. “I’m fine, Kalon. I promise. Here,” she waved her hand in front of the entertainment console, restarting the movie, “let’s keep watching.”
Kalon cupped her cheek, using his free hand, forcing her to look up at him. “I’m not very good at the guessing game, Luna. So, until you tell me what’s wrong, I can’t fix it.”
“There’s nothing to be fixed.” She closed her eyes and sighed. “I was just wondering how the Kalthera plants and the death of my parents are related.”
Kalon frowned. “You think they are?”
Luna pulled back. “Are you crazy? Why else would my father design a telescope, which is basically a Kalthera detector?”
Kalon’s fingers caressed the skin of her cheek. “I don’t think that’s what he intended. He intended to find a specific type of radiation using the telescope. That it matches the Kalthera signature could be a simple coincidence.”
“Do you really believe in coincidences?”
Kalon sighed, lowering his gaze. “No. I can’t. I’m a scientist.”
Her nostrils flared. “See?”
It appeased her when he nodded. “We’ll find the answer to all of your questions someday, Luna. I can promise you that.”
She blinked, oddly touched he was placing such importance on her problems. “Thank you, Kalon. But you don’t have to help me—”
“Nonsense. I want to help you. You’re helping me with my research.”
The smile slipped off her face. “Oh. Is that why you want to help me? Because you owe me?”
“No,” Kalon drawled, frowning. “I want to help you because we’re a team now. Right?”
“A team?” She was baiting him, pushing him out of his comfort zone, even if she knew he had a lot of trouble expressing feelings.
“Yes. A team. We work together, and we’re also… somewhat involved.”
She feigned outrage. “Somewhat involved? I consider us a couple!”
“Well, err…“ He cleared his throat. “I mean, of course we’re a couple. But we haven’t… you know… yet, so it worried me you wouldn’t see us as such. And also, we never had this discussion. Is there a discussion? Or do people, you know, just dive in and…” He trailed off when he saw her broad smile and scowled. “Oh.”
She threw her arms around his neck and pulled him closer. “Don’t get mad, Kalon. I’m sorry, I was just kidding.” Then, after a pause, “That’s not to say I don’t enjoy watching you squirm.”
Kalon growled. “Careful, little Luna. Don’t poke the beast.”
A thrill went through her body. “And what will happen when the beast’s in control?”
Kalon canted his head as he pondered her question. “I don’t know for sure. But there’s definitely punishment involved.”
Luna barely swallowed her girlish squeal. “Punishment, you say?” she asked in a hoarse voice. “What kind of… punishment?” She rumbled the last word.
Kalon grabbed Luna by the hips and lifted her up into the air, then let her drop into his lap when she laughed in delight. It was the first time she got to witness this passionate, playful side of him. And she loved it.
Usually, he was much more reserved during their intimate moments, which never got past second base. Out of respect, Luna never pushed his limits, and always stopped whenever he said he needed a break.
Intimacy was hard on Kalon, and she knew it was because of his Null designation. Even if he’d worked hard to distance himself from his society, which he openly acknowledged it was oppressive, compared to the rest of the cultures in the Union, the term was etched too deeply into his self.
She was grateful he was determined to fight his rearing and gradually embrace his true nature. Which was a lot more dominant than she pegged him for.
His lips descended on hers with a furious passion. The kiss was almost bruising in its intensity. Luna abandoned her musings and focused on the feel of him, struggling to keep pace.
She could feel one of his hands inching upward, toward her breasts. She moaned and arched her back, silently encouraging him. His kisses dropped to the column of her neck, and she jolted when he nipped her sensitive skin.
Suddenly, she froze, because his fingers were undoing the buttons of her shirt. “Kalon?” They never undressed in front of each other during their tentative explorations.
“I want to go all the way,” he announced in a mumble, his lips still tasting her skin.
“Are you sure?” she whispered.
“I’m sure. I realized only stupid reasons were holding me back.” He ground his hips into hers, letting her know how convinced he really was.
She intended to protest, to tell him his reasons weren’t stupid, but his lips descended to places they’ve never been before, and she lost all conscience thought.
A high-pitched alarm sounded from his Correslink. Kalon swore and stopped the wonderful things he was unleashing upon her body.
He swore again when he checked the device, then stood abruptly, flinging Luna onto the couch. Dazed, she watched him hurry out of the room.
What just happened?
“Kalon!” She got up and struggled to put herself to rights while running after him. “Kalon! What’s wrong?”
Arriving at the door leading into the lab, she was shocked to find it locked. She pounded on the door while yelling his name.
“Stay back, Luna. It isn’t safe.”
“The plants are acting strange. They’re giving off way too much radiation.”
“Let me in right now!”
“No! Stay back!”
Fuck that. He didn’t know she got her hands on the override codes, but he was about to find out. She reared back as soon as she stepped into the lab.
The Kalthera were as bright as a supernova. In a nanosecond, it fried her implant. She cried out in pain and doubled over.
She’d seen this weird light before. Just before her parents’ shuttle disappeared into the Void.
“Luna! Are you alright?” Hands grabbed her, pulling her into a firm chest.
“My implant’s fried. So, I can’t see.” She paused to growl. “Other than that, just peachy.”
“I told you to stay back!”
Luna winced. “I’m blind, not deaf. Stop yelling. Why are the plants doing this?”
“I don’t know. All I’m getting are mixed readings. The radiation replication sensor’s off the charts. The central confinement console’s fried.”
“The primary flux stabilizer?”
“Still in place.”
She heaved a sigh of relief. “And the Transference Node?”
“Intact. You’re right,” he exploded. “I should copy all data before we lose more equipment.”
She felt him step away, so she turned in the same direction and clumsily followed. She could do this. She remembered enough of the floor plan. And it wasn’t the first time she went blind (and probably not the last, either), even if she hated it.
“There,” Kalon said, his voice helping her adjust the direction. “It’s almost done.”
“Good. After, we should get the hell away from the lab and seal the wing. I know you hate abandoning your work, Kalon, but it’s the smart thing to do.”
“You’re right, we have no idea when things are about to get worse—”
His words were drowned out in a gigantic explosion. She felt a wave of searing heat just before she got sent across the room into the wall.
The back of her skull connected with the unforgiving surface. She felt rather than heard the loud crack. Her body turned limp, and she fell in a heap down to the floor.
She tried to yell Kalon’s name, but everything went black.
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