Hardwired

WARNING. ADULT CONTENT

M+ rating

 

Author’s note:

This was written several years ago as part of an assignment. Please forgive the unwieldy prose. 😉

 

HARDWIRED

A UFO Story

By

Lightcudder

©LtCdr. 24.08.2013

Disclaimer: All publicly recognisable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners.The original characters and plot are the property of the author of this story.(Plot? What plot? And call yourself an ‘author’? I could chew a pencil and spit a better story than this.) Go ahead then. I dare you. Meanwhile, back to the disclaimer…..The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any previously copyrighted material. No copyright infringement is intended. No. But you sure as hell intend infringing my privacy. This has gone far enough!  Bugger. He IS in a bad mood. Anyone know where I can get a bullet proof jacket?

 

The laptop was tucked away at the back of his safe. No need for explanations, not that he would have given any. It should really have gone back to the IT department, but they would destroy it and although it was no longer of any use, he would not allow that to happen. It held too many precious memories. He sipped his coffee, wondering where she was right now.

It had all started after the trip back from Moonbase. He’d travelled back with Lake, just the two of them and no passengers. It made a change, piloting for once, though he knew that Paul and a couple of the staff thought he was past it – too old to fly. Piloting a module was a young man’s task. He declined the offer of a spare pilot with a few curt words, but it was obvious that the flight was being monitored both on Earth and Moonbase and he wouldn’t have been surprised to find a trio of Interceptors escorting him as far as re-entry into Earth orbit. The discovery of a small comet, so small it was not worth investigation, on a long journey through the solar system was an added inconvenience, dictating a slight delay in take off while they verified that it was merely that; a comet and nothing more sinister, nothing to concern SHADO or force the postponement of the flight.

Lake was quiet for once, no doubt still annoyed with him, but he was not going to argue the point. He’d said his piece in the privacy of her quarters and made his position clear. A couple of months’ rotation in Headquarters would be beneficial and give her a break from Moonbase. He shook his head. The psychologists all agreed that woman were better at dealing with the stress of living on the Moon, but there were occasions when things didn’t work out like that.

He completed the course corrections and took his hands from the controls, stretching his fingers and relaxing. Five hours to E.O.I. She ignored him as if she was alone in the cabin, not even offering to monitor the controls when he took a brief trip to the head later. He made no comment, just put the ship on auto-pilot and was back in a couple of minutes. He shrugged. It was going to be a long flight.

The ‘in-flight’ meal was eaten in silence. Straker sipped his coffee and watched the screens, aware of the tension in the cabin as Lake collected her wrappers, tidying them away before moving to the rear of the cockpit. “Permission to take a rest break. Sir?” The words were spoken in a monotone, no hint of friendship or even respect.

He nodded. It would be a relief to have her out of the cockpit anyway. “Take as long as you want.” There. It might placate her a little, but it was unlikely. After all, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, or in this case, moved sideways to a different posting. Not a demotion – she was far too good for that and the infraction had been minor, hardly meriting a reprimand; it was just unfortunate that he was visiting Moonbase when it all broke loose, otherwise he would have read it in the reports, given her a quiet verbal warning and that would have been that. But there was no way he could ignore her behaviour, not when he was there in the room to witness her exploding at Harrington for no other reason than Joan’s admittedly sexist comment about Foster.

Straker wondered if he would ever understand the vagaries of women. Certainly not the ever-efficient Colonel Lake, who only had to bat her eyelashes for some men to fall under her spell. He scanned the dials, drained the last dregs of his coffee, crumpling the polystyrene mug and putting it in the bag for trash. Nothing on the sensors to cause concern and he had another hour to kill before re-entry. Lake was still in the passenger cabin; he guessed she wouldn’t reappear until the last moment and opening his laptop with a sigh of exasperation, began flicking through the never-ending list of tasks, immersing himself in work.

The flash of light that filled the cockpit was so brief that for a moment he thought it was his imagination until he blinked and saw the afterimage of an incandescent streak of light darting across the prow of the module. What the hell? There was nothing on the sensors or dials. No warnings from Moonbase or Earth and yet they must have seen something. Or was it his imagination? He could still see that light when he closed his eyes, even rubbing them made no difference. He reached out for the intercom, fumbling for the switch, blinking unexpected tears away.

“Colonel. In here. Now.”

There was a muttered reply, the sound of a book being tossed onto a seat and the cabin door opening. “Sir.”

“Take over. I’m going back. Advise Earthport that you’ll be landing without a co-pilot.” He unfastened his seatbelt and stood, eyes closed to a mere slit, even the small light from the aft cabin stinging.

“Sir? I mean…. Commander?’ There was a touch of concern in her voice now. ‘Is something wrong?”

Straker grimaced, resisting the temptation to rub his eyes. “Flash of some kind, outside. At least I think it was. There was nothing on the sensors or any sign of it now. Whatever, I’m declaring myself unfit to pilot. Tell Jackson I need to see him when we get back.” He fumbled his way to the passenger cabin and sat down in welcome darkness, putting his head back and pinching the bridge of his nose in a futile attempt to dispel the persistent glare and the headache building behind unfocussed and burning eyes.

***

“Hold still and watch my finger.” Jackson peered into Straker’s eye. “And follow….. yes. Look up. And hold still again.” There was a brilliant flare of light and Straker pulled away, with a short yelp of surprise and discomfort. “Sorry Commander. I find it’s easier if I don’t warn my patients in advance.”

“What was that?” Straker’s fingers found the tissue Jackson held out and he scrubbed his streaming eyes, more infuriated at his own reactions than the subterfuge.

“I merely photographed your retina, Commander. Standard procedure. Hold still please, just the other one.” Another blinding glare and Straker jerked again. “One moment.” There was a pause. Straker dabbed his eyes. It was annoying, having to stay here, feeling somewhat useless and yet knowing that he could not go back to work without a proper medical assessment. At least Col Lake was in HQ to help out if things went…. “Well, Commander, I can see no sign of solar retinopathy or damage to either of the macula. Whatever you experienced in the Lunar Module, it has had no adverse effects on your vision, and all other tests have come back negative. You have my permission to return to work in the morning.”

“That’s it? Nothing else?”

“Do you require anything else? You said yourself that the after-effects have gone. Be assured, Commander, there is no damage. It was probably one of those singular and inexplicable events. It happens. Space is far more mysterious than even we know.” Jackson began tidying his desk, looking up with a frown at Straker, still there. “Go home, Ed. And, for once, forget about work for at least twelve hours.”

He gave in. No point in arguing; his vision was still blurry and would be until the drops wore off. He put his sunglasses on to ease the glare from the lighting though it felt foolish wearing them indoors.

It was only sensible to take a detour through the Control room to check on things once his laptop was downloading to the mainframe. Lake was busy, trying to ignore the occasional glances from curious staff, but she looked up as he came through, and walked over.

“Are you alright? What did Jackson say?” She reached out as if wanting to touch his wrist before she withdrew again, and for a moment he craved the feel of a woman’s hand in his. He crushed the feeling down, as usual.

“Fine. No damage. I’ll leave everything with you. Call me if there’s a …” He paused. No need for that. She’d proved her competence enough times, and she’d taken over the flight with her usual efficiency. “No. Forget that. Call me only if it’s a real emergency.”

She looked at him. “Henderson on the prowl? Stroppy leading ladies? That sort of emergency?”

He turned round, shaking his head. “Colonel Lake.” That slightly exasperated sigh and a raised eyebrow were enough to make her grin. She turned back to her work and Straker headed home, content in the knowledge that she was there.

***

It was late morning before he made it back in after a restless night worrying about lights flashing in his eyes and why none of SHADO’s units were able to detect the anomaly or the string or flare or whatever it was. He entered Control to find Lake and Keith pulling out one of the mainframe computers and disassembling it.

She gave him a quick look and stepped aside to talk. “Didn’t think it was necessary to call you in. It’s nothing more than a minor blip. Isn’t affecting operations, just … appeared. One of those things. We’ll track it down soon.” She gave him a questioning glance as if expecting another reprimand.

“Want a hand?” He unfastened his jacket.

“Please. I’ve got it confined to the interface here, but any extra input would be helpful. Could be a loose connection – I’ve not had chance to do a complete overhaul on this machine for a few months.” She gave him a genuine smile of welcome and they settled to work.

It took longer than he anticipated and the three of them were up to their elbows in circuits and diagrams and motherboards, Straker checking one of the connectors, when it happened. Not that big an explosion really, more of a soft fat ‘phutt’ followed by a shower of sparks, but it was enough of a shock. Lake somehow avoided the spark but Keith caught a flash across the back of one hand. Nothing serious though. Straker had the sensation of coming into contact with a live wire for a millisecond, as if someone stamped on his fingers, hard. He shook them, wincing as the sharp pain subsided to insistent throbbing and tingling.

They stepped away from the casing and looked at each other, checking to make sure there were no serious injuries. The alarms had gone off and everything had shut down and he could hear people running towards them but they were uninjured. No damage done, nothing to worry about. At least that was what they said then. It was only afterwards that he began to have second thoughts.

Once the power was back and everything restored there was no further trace of the ‘blip’. The consensus was that the computers wiped it out when the circuits shut down. Anyway, the systems looked fine, sensors and tracking working, all communications online. Everything was operational and there was nothing to worry about so he left the two of them running a full maintenance check.

He walked into his office, his laptop on the desk where he had left it yesterday, but when he started typing in his password the screen flickered and went dead. He swore and paused, a little embarrassed by the outburst, aware that Commanders were not supposed to use language like that. It showed a lack of decorum besides setting a poor example to staff.

He looked round, relieved. No one would have heard him; the office door was shut, although he hadn’t closed it. He didn’t worry. Residual power after any emergency shutdown played havoc with basic operating systems such as doors and elevators. But the laptop was annoying. He knew these things happened, and he had enough backups and files to be able to transfer everything straight over to a new machine, but he liked that one. He’d got used to it over the last months, and although it was only a piece of technology it had its own particular quirks.  It didn’t like external drives in E. They were fine in other ports, but try putting one in E and it sat there, sulking and refusing to load for a few moments. He was accustomed to its other foibles as well; the ‘N’ key that had lost its transfer, the deep scratch on the cover from when he dropped it once. As he told Ford when the Communications Chief tried to fix the drive, it wasn’t a problem. It worked well enough. At least it had done, until now.

Damn.

He pressed keys with fingers tingling from the after-effects of the short-circuit, half-hoping the screen would close down and restart but in reality knowing that it would have no effect at all. Complete failure. Terminal. Heading for the great dumping ground where redundant technology was buried. He pulled the stick out of Drive F, hoping it was undamaged, slipped it into his briefcase and put the laptop on the conference table to be dealt with later.

It was after six by the time he had finished reading reports and arranging meetings and all the other minutia of his daily humdrum life. He stood up and remembered the laptop, still there, taking up space.  He shrugged with annoyance and carried it back to his desk, with the intention of calling the IT department. Someone could collect it and bring a replacement before he left for the night.

The screen lit up.

He sat there, half-expecting it to go dark again, but it didn’t. It stared at him; a black screen with that white cursor tapping away at the topmost corner. Waiting for him to type. Nothing to lose.

Nothing.

The cursor blinked. He sat there, impatient and restless, still-sensitive fingers resting on the keyboard while he ran through various codes. The cursor moved, leaving a trail of letters that faded so quickly he thought they were a figment of his imagination. “There you are. I was searching for you.” The screen blanked. Just a little flashing line. Taunting him.

He slammed the lid shut, staring at the neat rectangle of technology. Tiredness, that was all.  He looked at his watch. Later than he had thought. He should go home, to face yet another evening of discontent, sitting watching television with unseeing eyes. Waiting for time to pass until he could justify going to bed.

The laptop slid easily into his briefcase and he walked out, noting that the mainframe computer was operational again. Colonel Lake efficient as usual, but he would still get her team to run a full scan tomorrow, just to be on the safe side. He signed the logs, checked to make sure that all was as it should be and left.

He put his briefcase on the passenger seat. Safest place. He didn’t like the thought of it being in the trunk, out of reach. Even with the safety engaged, it required his fingerprint on the slider to nullify the ‘destruct’ mechanism. A necessary evil. The case was just large enough to take the basic items: folders, laptop, lunch. That was all he needed. A simple life, no distractions.

The alarm beeped as he was driving towards the motorway and he cursed again. Low on petrol. A stupid oversight. He should have asked one of the drivers to get the car refuelled earlier, but it would give him an opportunity to stock up on food. The supermarket was still open, its bright lights drawing customers even at this hour of the evening.

He pulled in, parked, and killed the engine. Sat there for a moment and thought. Something easy. He couldn’t be bothered tonight for some reason. Couldn’t be most evenings if he had to be honest, but cooking passed the time and kept his mind occupied. He usually made an omelette on nights such as these, except he had run out of eggs. It was always the same. Whatever his good intentions, more often than not he ended up one evening trawling the aisles and queuing at the checkout. Another sad single man, stocking up. He took the briefcase along. Force of habit and it was safer than leaving it, even locked in the trunk.

He kept one hand close to it while wandering the aisles and picking up odd items to stack them in the trolley. Pre-packaged meals for the most part. He was sick of spending time preparing meals for one, eating alone in the silence of an empty house. It would be frozen meals from now on. Chicken in tomato and olive sauce. Lasagne. Fisherman’s Pie. The containers mocked him but he was past caring. A bottle of wine and then the check-out. Meals for one, and a single bottle of Shiraz. It said it all. He looked down at his fingers, still aware of a remaining quiver from the earlier shock. Barren of jewellery, just a watch on his wrist. A life governed by time and the restrictions of work. He reached for the thin plastic carrier bags.

The shallow smile on the checkout girl’s face went no further than her lips. The usual pleasantries: do you want a bag do you want some help packing do you want some cashback enter your pin code remove your card thank you have a nice day. She turned to the next man. Straker walked out.

He refuelled, wondering whether he should get an electric car instead of this faffing about each week at the petrol station. Fifty-seven litres, the car running almost on empty and then paid at the pump unwilling to face another bleak and meaningless conversation with another bored checkout girl in the kiosk.  He stuffed the unread receipt into his coat pocket. The radio filled the car with noise as he drove; Radio 4, not that he was interested in the shipping forecast or weather or even the news but it was preferable to the silence surrounding him and its constant reminder of his isolation.

He unloaded the car and put everything away, grabbed one of the meals without any thought read the instructions and put it in the oven, realising that he would need to get a microwave if he was relying on convenience food in future. Fifty minutes. Enough time to take another look at that laptop and see what was going on. He set the timer, having learned from past experience how easy it was to get distracted by work and forget that something was cooking.

It didn’t take long. At least he didn’t think it took long. It was only afterwards that he realised something was amiss. The screen was still black and the cursor was still flashing and then … well then he must have dozed off for a few moments. When he woke up he was head down on the desk, fingers still on the keyboard as if he had dropped off in the middle of typing. It could only have been a couple of minutes. But then he heard the timer pinging in the kitchen. Nearly an hour. Impossible.

He’d had the most intense dream as well. Not one that he really wanted to recount. Certainly not to admit to, openly. He shuddered. A long time since he had allowed himself to acknowledge that need.

He poured wine, carried the plate and fork and glass through, the cursor blinking as it watched him eat at his desk. After all, why waste time sitting at the dining table when he had work to do? He read through a couple of reports, wiping drops of bolognaise sauce from the cover of a folder. No one would notice. No one else ever read them anyway. A waste of time, of paper, of …. life really. Page after page of reports, stored away to moulder, forgotten in the archives.

He’d been there recently, on one of his regular inspections. An eerie subterranean vault, the rows of shelving in darkness, the constant hum of pumps circulating dry air the only sound apart from his own footsteps. Row after row of archive boxes, labelled and sealed, reaching up to the ceiling of the cavernous space. Thousands upon thousands of them, collected over the years, now unread, and only kept as back-up for the worst-case scenario. He’d walked to the very end of the vast storage area before turning around and staring back at the rows, disappearing into the distance. So many reports, so many incidents. He shook his head and then walked with brisk steps back to the stairs, keeping his eyes lowered to avoid staring up at the walls closing around him. It was a relief to get back to the brightness and bustle of headquarters.

He finished the last scrap of lasagne, drained his glass, put it down and stared at it, one finger tracing round the base. A long time since he’d had wine with a meal. There was always that hidden fear of becoming a solitary drinker, the lonely drunk, seeking solace and friendship in alcohol. He pushed the glass away, reluctantly.

The plate was stacked in the dishwasher, the carton in the bin and cardboard in the recycling container. He tried to do his bit for the environment. Every little helped as they say. He sometimes wondered what the alien homeworld was like. If it was a barren and dying world, with no natural resources left, then he didn’t want Earth to end up the same way. The bottle of wine was still on the worktop in the kitchen, and he was tempted to have another, just to help him relax. So easy. To give into temptation like that. He’d seen it before. Just one glass, just one more. He put the bottle away, out of sight, and went back to his desk, to the laptop.

Nothing. No cursor, no words. The imaginations of an over-tired mind. Surely. He closed the lid, half-hoping for the letters to re-appear. Disappointment, or was that relief?

He showered, dropping clothes on the floor of the bathroom before drenching himself, cool water pouring over his face to wash away the intrusive memories of that dream. A final burst of hot water to warm him and then he stepped out, drying limbs with an unforgiving brusqueness, skin reddening under the rough towel as he scrubbed.

His bedroom had changed little since moving here, years before the divorce. Ten years of white walls, a navy blue blind and matching carpet. White bedlinen. Once a year his calendar automatically ordered three sets of sheets and covers and pillowcases. New pillows when necessary. Nothing else needed attention, or received it. No rugs or flowers or pictures on the walls. No curtains. Masculine in style. No. It would be more truthful to say that it was the absence of a woman’s touch that made it distinctive, and he preferred it this way.

Nothing to remind him of how once, a lifetime ago, he shared his life and his bed with a woman. With Mary. This house held no memories of her. A clean slate. And that was how he liked it. No distractions. Work was enough. It was a deliberate act to keep the house enclosed and simple and private; it made it easier to suppress the treacherous desires and needs that crept into his thoughts when he was alone at night. He had no time for intimacy or love. They would tear him apart. Again. And he had no energy to spare, not if he was to do his work.

The book on his bedside table was bound in red leather, tatty and dog-eared, his grandfather’s faded signature on the frontispiece. One of the few treasures from his past that he allowed to intrude on this life. Man’s Place in the Universe by Alfred R. Wallace. The science was old and outdated for this modern world, but the book was well-read and he welcomed the luxury of leaving the stress of this world and losing himself in familiar words, allowing them to push those disturbing incidents of the day into the locked recess of his mind. A decent night’s sleep. That was all he needed. He closed the book, laid it down and leaned over to check his alarm clock, not that he relied on that to wake him. Duvet tucked around his shoulders, he stretched out and slept.

Christ. He jerked awake, gasping, legs and arms shuddering with exhaustion, or exhilaration? The sheets damp with sweat. And more. It took time for the blaze of sensations to wane, for him to waken fully, and realise that he was alone. No one in the room, or beside him in bed. Alone. She had been a dream. Or perhaps a desire.

He shuddered again, but not from weariness of muscles, rather from the recollection of her touch and of his response, the way he craved that contact, aching to feel her pressed close to him. Mary, but not Mary. Mary had never made him feel …

He rolled onto the cooler side of the king-size bed, the only concession to personal comfort in this room, and stripped off his damp jacket, wadding it in his hand to wipe face and body dry. He tugged constricting trousers from legs that were shaking, tossing the garments to the floor and lying down again, trying to calm his breathing. The searing and troubled nights of his adolescent years flooded back to haunt his mind and he pushed the memories away, shuddering again, but not from weariness of muscles, rather from the recollection of her touch, of his response and the way he ached to feel her pressing close to him.

Welcome coolness enveloped him, as did, eventually, the innocence of sleep.

***

The alarm woke him from yet another vivid dream and he lay there, heart thudding, before dragging himself from the bed, legs tangling in damp and crumpled bedcovers, the warm scent from turbulent dreams wrapping around him, enticing him back into sleep and further delights. He forced himself to stay awake. It was all he could do to sit on the edge, sapped of all strength, hands trembling and head aching as he recalled waking over and over from those intense visions that were so physical, so believable.

The face that stared back from the mirror was grey with exhaustion. Nothing he could do about that; he couldn’t phone in sick, not in his position. He would take it easy if possible, maybe even have a word with Jackson, see if perhaps there was a virus going round. The start of something; flu maybe. That would be the most logical explanation. He shaved and showered, drying himself in silence, not looking at himself in the mirror, half-ashamed of his behaviour yet all the while thinking about her. The woman. He closed his eyes. She was there. He could feel her breath on his face, her lips against his, her tongue …. He took a breath. Enough. This had to stop.

Listless and fatigued, he went back into the bleak bedroom to dress, the familiar routine bringing some respite to his feverish mind, setting him straight for the long day ahead. He reached out for his watch where it lay on the…… He stopped. What was the laptop doing on his bedside table? He didn’t remember putting it there last night, but he must have. A silly thing to do, and yet, even now he wanted to pick it up, hold it, wrap fingers around the case, see if he could get it working again. Later.

He turned away, fastened his jumpsuit, sliding feet into ankle boots, and pulling up the zips, combing already sleek hair into place. A single splash of cologne and he scooped up the laptop, for once closing the door on an unmade bed, too tired to bother with the mundane task of shaking the duvet and straightening pillows. And anyway, he had his hands full.

Coffee would help more than anything, but his hand shook as he lifted the mug, splashing hot liquid and a couple of drops spattered the surface of the laptop. He grabbed a cloth and wiped over the case, a last lingering touch of his fingers on the metal, and a sudden awareness of how it reminded him of her skin. Sleek, satin smooth and just that one flaw, that one slight scar across her shoulder blade. He had kissed that scar, had tasted her, had nuzzled the nape of her neck as she moaned with delight and turned around to embrace him, hot and welcoming. And he had…… he was….

No. This was ridiculous. This had to stop. He had responsibilities. He gulped the rest of the coffee, ran the mug under a tap and splashed his face with cold water. The flush of heat subsided. He was tired. That was all. Sexual desire was….. not an unknown emotion, but the strength of his reactions last night was frightening, as if he had lost control, his body defying those stern mental constraints he had placed there years ago.

He fastened his jacket, taking comfort in the simple action, the donning of protection against unwanted attentions. For a brief moment he thought about not wearing it today, at least leaving it open and cool, but that would be like baring his soul to the world. He winced, tugging the jacket into place before he picked up his briefcase and walked to the door. He paused. There was a feeling of emptiness, as if he had left something important and then he realised; he had forgotten it. He took a moment to slip the laptop inside his briefcase and went out to the car with a sense of relief.

No radio today; he needed all his concentration for the drive to Harlington, the road heavy with traffic all avoiding the motorway to Heathrow. The air-con kept him cool, but even so he could feel his face flush as he saw his hands on the wheel and recalled those same fingers stroking white skin, sliding through midnight black hair. Skin that was pale and veined like marble yet warm, that yielded under his caress. Hair that was thick and dark. He had buried his face in that hair, breathing in the smell of sunshine, nibbling the lobe of one ear. She tasted of ………

He gripped the steering wheel, fingers clenched, heart pounding again, tempted almost beyond endurance to turn the car around, drive home and go back. To lie between cool sheets and close his eyes and wait for her to join him. Those terrible, breathtaking dreams, calling him. He reached across to check the briefcase was still on the seat, trying to focus on the reality of work, and drove on, one hand resting on the leather case close to him.

It was a relief to drive up to the portico, and turn off the engine. He sat there, summoning up the energy to climb out and face the day.

“Miss Ealand.” Even his voice sounded drained. He held onto the briefcase, carrying it through without waiting for her response. Sat down. Closed his eyes. She was there in his mind, the woman from last night, standing behind him with her hands on the back of his chair. It was an almost physical shock, and he pushed the chair back and stood, rubbing his eyes as if blinded by sunshine, her scent pervading the office. The same enticing fragrance as last night.

He swallowed, cleared his throat with a hoarse cough. “Straker.”

She had cried that name, shouted it, as she looked down at him last night, nails digging into his skin. Who was she, this woman who filled his thoughts, who made him feel alive once more and flooded his body and mind with those uncomfortable desires. Why was this happening, this unwelcome disruption to his ordered life, reminding him of a buried past, of needs that he had denied for so long. Perhaps he should see Jackson, talk about last night.

But he rejected the thought, picked up the briefcase and tucking it under his arm to hold it next to his body. Close. A brisk walk through to his office, closing the door and shutting the world out. Peace at last and chance to think about last night. And, maybe, tonight.

***

The office was cool, but even so he lowered the temperature further, stripping off his jacket and relaxing. No need for pretence here. This was his domain, the pile of folders waiting on his desk sufficient to keep him busy for hours and he lost himself in them, in dry details of schedules and reports with nothing to distract him. A welcome respite. He worked solidly, reading, approving, signing, making notes in the margins. It was on the desk beside him, waiting for him to finish work and to take it home. Unaware, he stretched out a hand, edging it closer, one finger smoothing the scarred surface.

Alec was on studio duty today, a relief in some respects, no casual conversation to distract Straker from the effort needed to suppress his yearning. He allowed himself a brief moment to think of Mary. There had been good times, even when the cracks started to appear. His wife for… how many years? And yet he could not visualise her right now. Could not remember her touch, her scent. What her face looked like, how her skin felt under his fingers.

There was only one face in his mind now when he closed his eyes. The face from last night – her face, and even that was indistinct.

He shook his head and worked on, keeping himself awake and distracted with coffee, a brisk walk at lunchtime and avoiding the bustle of the Control room. There was no reason for him to be there, no emergencies and nothing requiring his attention. It gave him chance for quiet contemplation. And after last night he needed that.

The experience startled him, if he was honest, disturbing his composure and the calmness of his self-imposed celibate life. Looking back on the night, with a detached and wakeful perspective, he started to analyse the incident. Incidents, he admitted to himself with a wry grin. Not the result of a fever, nor overindulgence, something else caused those dreams. Someone else. He was aware of her figure at the edge of his mind, but every time he tried to focus she disappeared, a will-o-the-wisp, leaving only a breathless pounding of his heart as that aching need made its presence felt. She had excited him, had awoken long suppressed needs. He closed his fists, digging fingertips hard into flesh in an attempt to subdue that relentless heat flushing through his body yet again. God, this was too much. Time to leave.  It was late anyway, no real need for him to stay longer.

He tidied the desk, tapping folders into neat piles, stacking them in his safe and spinning the lock; practical everyday tasks that gave him time to regain his equanimity. The laptop was waiting for him to pick it up and put it in his briefcase. Home. He was tired, but not as tired as this morning, the day had been restful, and it was no effort now to walk out into the cool dusk and settle behind the wheel.

The car crunched over gravel and pulled to a halt. The house was quiet and dark. Empty. Lonely. Like him.

He opened the front door, tossing his keys onto the hall table, walking through empty rooms, flicking on lights, taking deep breaths in the silence. He switched on the kettle and paused. Not tonight. Wine instead. A rare decision, but one that seemed appropriate. He took the laptop out of his case without conscious intent, putting it on the sofa before pouring a glass of the Shiraz he had opened last night.

Last night.

He sat, fingers wrapped around the glass, sipping the wine without really tasting, just thinking about what happened and why. That was the question he wanted to answer, needed to answer if he was going to deal with these emotions and somehow manage to hide them away again behind that barrier constructed with such care and dedication to duty. The problem was that he had no idea where to begin, apart from where it had all started. He finished the wine, considered a second glass and regretfully put it down before staring out of the window into the darkness of his garden. Minutes passed, the only sound now his breathing, tight and controlled. Hunger filling him.

He stood up. It took him a couple of minutes to turn lights off again and check the security. His bedroom was a cool haven, the bed still crumpled from the morning, covers awry and pillows in heaps. He ignored the pyjamas strewn across the carpet, and undressed, not hurriedly, just his usual routine, the suit hung up ready for the next day, other clothes put out to be cleaned. Naked at last he stood in the dark, the slightest of shivers rippling his skin before he pulled back the duvet and lay there, waiting, fingers tingling. He could feel the throb of his heart, so very loud in the hush of this bleak room.

***

The transition from wakefulness to sleep was unnoticed, the only sign of his altered state her presence beside him, black hair across the pillow, her hand on his chest, fingers circling one nipple with idle sweeps. He was not startled this time, not afraid of what was going to happen. Her eyes followed him, watching his response as she traced the line of his breastbone, his skin quivering under every light brush of fingers on flesh. She leaned closer, her breath on his neck now, full and sensuous lips reaching for his throat, his mouth, her hands moving over him. A jolt passing through him as fingers reached down, touching him just ..there. Not a tender caress; it was painful in its intensity, in its demands. Far more intrusive, more intimate than last night. She wanted more, needed more, and he was unable to stop her, trapped, not only by sleep, but by his own desperate hunger to be touched and held and loved.

An outpouring of reactions. Fear, excitement, longing. Lust. And he lost himself, lost all control, all restraint, all that calm poise learned over the years. He could not prevent the instinctive response of his body. Swollen and hot and aching for release, its strength terrifying, its power overwhelming him now. All rational thoughts fleeing as her head moved, thick black hair sweeping over his chest and down softer flesh, her fingers continuing to stroke and caress, taunting and tantalising, the anticipation excruciating.

Her lips surrounded him, tongue licking and sucking and swirling, long fingers now pressing deep beneath in his groin sending pulses of inexplicable ecstasy to harden him further. His fingers tangled themselves in her long ebony hair, pulling her closer to drive himself deep and deeper. Desperate for release, he pushed his hips up until his whole length was held firm in her mouth, her face pressed against him, tongue and lips and throat … It was too swift, too powerful and even before he was aware, he came, jerking, thrusting upwards, hard, into her warmth, unable to stop the hoarse cry bursting from him. She did not move, did not pull away, her tongue still enticing him, curling up and around his shaft, taking without question as the surge swept through him in a grey shuddering haze and he came, falling back on damp sheets, exhausted, drained, and thoroughly and utterly satisfied as he had not been for years.

One long-fingered nail traced a line down his inner thigh, a delicious sensation, and he shivered as she released him from her kiss and let her fingers hold him. It was all he could do to raise his head and stare, her lips shining as she licked his taste from them, a wild smile on her face. She looked at him, slow and deliberate  and moved to bring her face close to his now, pushing her tongue into his mouth, tantalizing him further, her lips crushing against his; no kiss of tenderness or parting. She tasted of warmth and salty wetness. His come on her lips, in her throat. He felt himself hardening again at the thought. Nails dragged across his chest, catching on nipples and she pulled away, leaving his mouth bereft and abandoned, leaving him groaning with the sudden emptiness, the sense of loss.  She laughed, sprawling herself besides him and pulling him across to bring his head down onto her breast and his lips found…..

He breached the surface of wakefulness like a drowning man, flinging himself out of sleep, to lie there heaving great gasps of air. It took time to recover, to ground himself in reality, to stop the uncontrollable shaking of his legs. He wiped one hand over his face. Not just sweat, tears on his face as well. Why tears? It had been …. incredible. Beyond any experience.

He stumbled from the bed and looked at the clock. After midnight. And he had been early to bed. How long had she been with him? Hours? Seconds? Time was meaningless. He was exhausted, yet more alert than he could imagine after such a dream. His senses alive with memories: the fragrance of her hair, fingers smoothing his skin, a voice murmuring, lips crushing his mouth, eyes watching him as he responded. She had brought him to life; after all the years of self-denial she had given him permission to love himself and to be loved.

The shower cleansed his body and he stepped out to rub water from his limbs, but gently this time, treating his body with kindness and appreciating, for the first time in memory, the sensation of thick cotton on his skin. In the mirror he saw a slender body, not toned from exercise but wide-shouldered and lean, blond hair catching the gleam of the light, not an unattractive face. But a stranger in some respects. He rarely thought about who he was, what he was. Ed Straker, solitary, loner, aloof. A man. A deliberate act, from necessity, not choice. He wrapped the towel tight around his hips, tucked it in, needing security.

It did not take long to change the bed linen, tugging the fitted sheet into place and slipping pillows into clean cases. He folded the duvet and put it at the end of the bed, making do with just a sheet. It would be sufficient, and the room was warmer now. The towel dropped from his hips to the floor and there was a momentary hesitation before he slid under the sheet; the sense of fresh cotton against naked and responsive skin yet another reminder of those fingers on his body, but he closed his eyes and lay still. Patient.

He woke early from deep sleep. Dreamless, renewing slumber, his body refreshed and rested. The sense of disappointment surprised him and yet there was a feeling of relief that the dreams had retreated, leaving him in quiet peace, and giving him time to reflect on last night.

Wide awake now, yet loathe to leave the embrace of this place where she had comforted him, Straker reached for his phone, fingers brushing with idle carelessness over the laptop beside him. There was a blinding flash, brighter than sunshine and then power surged through him, unstoppable, filling his mind with myriad images in one infinitely long micro-second of sheer and exquisite agony.

Darkness. Emptiness. Suns. Star nurseries. Nebulae, planets, moons. Solar flares, cosmic strings, meteors comets novasglobularclustersquasarsfilamentsvoids. The glorious birth of universes, and their magnificent deaths. A lifetime of images and sensations from the iciness of space to the furious core of a star, the lightness of zero gravity to the crushing grip of black holes. Wonders never seen before, and yet he knew them, had travelled through galaxies and universes since …… forever, and reaching out to a few of those inconsequential life forms on her endless exploration, to share their tiny, ephemeral lives for a brief moment.

The lunar module had awoken her to his presence, and she had slipped into his laptop unseen, unnoticed. A brief flare of light, infinitesimally small, the plexiglass shields of the module no barrier to a being who could slip between atoms.  A chance to roam the planet beneath her, to stream through the web and learn more about these fragile creatures.

But, imprisoned in SHADO’s ultra-secure mainframe system, she could only retreat to the quiet seclusion of the laptop and hope to make contact with one of them before she had to move on, leaving this place behind forever. A wasted opportunity.

She had used him, was using him. Then he shook his head. No. That was wrong. This was not the act of a selfish being. She had no desire to hurt him, he knew that by now. She was simply curious. About life, and Earth and, he realised, with a start, about him. About why he was so lonely, so restrained, so distant. Keeping himself apart from pleasures relished by others. She knew the joys of sharing herself, and she was not finished yet. He lay there, the knowledge filling him, aware that she would soon travel far beyond this trivial system and out into the depths of true space. For a brief moment he felt insignificant and worthless but then he felt her arms pulling him closer and he leaned into her embrace, her kiss. Nothing mattered now. Nothing. He drifted into those arms, drowsy with warmth and aching and unspoken need, falling into darkness that wrapped around him in contented and utterly satisfied silence.

The insistent buzz of his phone roused him and he tore himself away from her, opening his eyes to find himself sprawled, face down, head pounding, one arm over the side of the bed. He reached out for her, then the painful shock thudded through him; it was a dream, she was not here, not physically, though he could still taste her kiss, feel her hands as they traced down his skin with such gentle, arousing strokes. He was alone.  He took a breath and gathered enough strength to push himself up, and to reach, with absolute caution, for his mobile. His voice sounded thick. “Straker.” He listened, swallowed. “No, Alec, there’s nothing wrong. I….’ he paused, ‘I’m working from home today. Sorry. I should have told you. I’ll be in first thing tomorrow. Or do you need me now?” He dragged a corner of the sheet up, scrubbing his face as he listened again. Another swallow, a deep breath. “That’s fine. See you later.” He put the phone down and lay back, staring at the ceiling while the desire receded. He thought back over the last forty-eight hours, his heart rate steady now, his breathing deeper and slower as he forced himself to relax.

The events began to fall into place. He couldn’t say that they made sense; the whole idea was ridiculous, yet it was the truth. There was no proof of her presence, only his own vivid dreams, and even Jackson might scoff at his explanation. And after all he had witnessed enough things that were supposed to be impossible. Why not this?

The sensible thing to do, the responsible thing, was to take the machine to the specialist research team. Let them deal with whatever was inside. Sentient being or virus or whatever. But even as the thought entered his mind he rejected it.

She did not deserve that. And, deep down he wanted her to stay with him as long as possible. He wanted everything she offered. He prepared himself this time, lying down, taking time to relax and ready his mind for the onslaught. It took all his courage to reach across, fingers twitching in that last second before contact. The spark was not so painful this time, nor so intense, but still enough to make him cry out and withdraw. A reflex action, and he held his breath and let the hand fall once more, the tips of his fingers burning as if blistered but he reached out again.

Then she was there beside him, even though he was alone in the bed.

He lay still and opened himself to her, welcoming her into his mind, showing her his world. The day went by in a whirl of places he had visited or seen on television. Oceans and mountains, scorching deserts, frozen Antarctica, vibrant Amazon jungles.  His world. Its long history, from star dust through dinosaurs to this day.  The wars and the triumphs, the inventions and the destruction.  And then, afterwards, as dusk fell, he shared his life with her: childhood holidays at the beach with sand between his toes, long days playing softball with friends, his first journey into space, his wedding day. His work.  He gave her it all, even that moment when he stood on the stairs in his own home and realised what he had done. He gave her the joy and regret and the loneliness and sorrow. And the guilt.

He waited for her rejection.

There was a shiver of movement and then she drifted deeper into his consciousness, a slow and tender caress of her mind in his, her sadness at his barren life. There was no need for physical contact now. He felt the first stirrings of desire as she fluttered close, her presence and the memories quickening his body.  He reached out to her, his fingers stretching across a chasm filled with haphazard impressions: pink nail varnish on fingers curling into his grasp, the warmth of her touch, her face, clearer now as she moved to embrace him, and he imprisoned her in his arms, holding, crushing her to his body, a heart beating against his. Such a long time since he had held a woman in this way. Skin against skin, her breasts warm against him, his hardness pressed between them.

This time it was his turn to explore that cool skin, to let his fingers dip into her cleft, his lips finding hers, his tongue searching. Nails digging into his shoulders, soft moans breathed in his ear, her eyes pleading now as much as her body. And he took her. Hard thrusts, her hips rising to meet him, each watching the other, until that long-forgotten sensation shivered through him and he lost himself in that grey haze of oblivion. She fell against him, her body damp and warm and with that unmistakeable musky scent of sex. He held her tight, pulling her closer if possible, his hands tracing down her spine, long sensuous trails that made her arch her back and reach for him, her own nails digging into his skin.

Long hours. Time passing unawares as they lay together, fingers and tongues and  bodies interlacing and parting, rising and falling. Sleep eluded them and on this night it was not needed, nothing apart from the touch, the taste of each other. Complete, entire.  She gave him everything, the slow stroke of her tongue down his throat, the kiss between his shoulder blades that for years he had craved without realising, her hand still, on his breast. Just lying there, as if she possessed him. Taking control, that unspoken reassurance that all would be well.

He could not remember, afterwards, how long they had been there. Days or hours, or years. No hunger for food, or thirst. Just her. And she wanted him. That was the most wonderful thing, the joy in his mind, the miracle. She wanted him. Not for power, or control or as a plaything. Not for the prestige of being seen with him, or for his connections. For him. Ed Straker. Insignificant human, totally unimportant in the vastness of the solar system let alone the universe.

He reached out for her again, fingertips following the line of her throat, the lightest trace up that soft skin to the delicate curl of her ear. She was watching him. Dark eyes fixed on his face now, as if taking in every single detail of his face, his hair, the tiny scar on his lip and she leaned forward, sucking that lip between hers, her mouth soft and delicious and so very very desirable. He drowned in her kiss, suffocated in her mouth on his, his heart tearing open under her caress.

In the end they slept. Entangled and exhausted, sweat-soaked and rich with the heady scent of sex. Long restful dreams of colours and sounds and richness of Earth, of absolute cold and the birth of stars. They walked together, laughing and sharing, holding hands like teenagers, stopping to kiss, stepping into the shallows of oceans, drifting over the voids between stars. A lifetime. And yet only a second in time.

He woke; a slow transition from dreams to reality, so slow that there was no single moment of change. He simply drifted awake held in her arms. Safe and loved and wanted. He let his hand rest on her breast, her nipple hardening even now under his touch. She was warm and real and breathing. And yet she was not really here, or was she?

And at dawn, or in an hour or so, or maybe in a few minutes, she would move on and he would be left here alone. But that didn’t matter now. It was enough.  It was more than enough.  She would remember him. The knowledge burned inside him. Whatever happened in the future she would never forget him. For the rest of her long life he would be there, in her thoughts. The thought choked him. That he could be so important, so memorable to such a powerful entity. An insignificant human. Nothing more than a fleeting moment. And he owed her so much.

She had given him so much in such a short time. Love and long-forgotten pleasure, awareness of himself and, far more important, that long-denied permission to cherish his own self.  He had denied himself that right for too many years, a punishment for his thoughtlessness, but she had forgiven him. Wiped away those mistakes.

He lay there, content. Tomorrow would bring its own trials: work and evil and loneliness but he had tonight. He would always have tonight. It would have to be enough.

It was still dark outside, stars in the sky, a crescent moon. There in the distance he could see the pale dusty glow of the comet. Soon it would pass Earth and she would leave him. He closed his eyes unable to bear looking at her face any longer, to know that she would disappear from his life and he would never see her again. One light finger traced down his cheek, wiping away the single tear escaping his control.

‘Shh. Don’t be sad. Trust me.’ It was the first time she’d spoken, her voice dark and warm and she drew him to her, even closer, before joining her lips to his for a final lingering kiss.

***

Cmdr Straker walked with his usual brisk strides through the control room, no, his control room. Col Lake was busy at the computers and he gave her one glance before going through to his office. He took the laptop from his briefcase and placed it at the back of his safe behind the files and personal objects:  medals, the records of his military service, his personnel file and private log. Out of sight, out of mind as the saying went. But he could still feel her fingers, taste her lips, the scent of her skin clinging to him.

When he had woken to find himself alone in his bedroom as always, his first thought was of loss, of a life ahead of him with only fading memories of her presence. He had gone through to the bathroom, closing the door much as if he was closing off part of his life. But then, as he stood there looking into the mirror and wondering, he was aware of a hand sliding down his back, warm breath on his shoulder, an unmistakable fragrance in the air. She was there, with him. She would always be there.

It would be so easy to lose himself in her, to forget his duty. The laptop held nothing of her now. He knew she was beyond his reach, travelling once more in her endless journey of exploration. But she had left part of herself behind. Her gift to him.

Later today he would get a picture for his bedroom. Something to brighten the walls. One of the big deep space images from the Hubble. He knew where she was going and he would follow her journey. And he would share his nights with her.

“Safe journey,” he whispered and smiled.

Dedicated to G

 

 

 

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