Part Fourteen: Skin
Notes: This is the next part of a spin-off story of a series I posted on Literotica (titled Bonded, as Carizabeth) and the subject matter is m/m sci fi. Those who know where I live know what inspired this chapter. Oh yes, you certainly do.
“Journal Record Four, beginning.”
“Ship technicians who don’t have the educational background to be engineers aren’t under the oversight of the science lab. This is a lucky thing for them, because if they were, Martina would have fired most if not all of them by now. One paragon of intellect decided that the environmental controls for the ship needed to be tweaked, and fourteen hours later we’re drenched with sweat and using power up at a disgusting rate. The self-proclaimed mastermind couldn’t fix it, none of his buddies could fix it, then the ship’s engineering department had a look and determined that the programming that controls the air and water temperature has been pretty much demolished, and it’s going to take another eight or nine hours to get something jury-rigged enough to be functional.
“What this means for me is that right now, it’s hot enough to melt in my apartment and the halls aren’t much better, but I’d boil alive if I tried to take a shower. The only bright spot so far has been that my first aid class was cancelled, although I’ll probably regret that when some natural collapses in the hall outside my door due to heat exhaustion or something. Also…I’m starting to reconsider my vanity at this point. This hair has got to go.”
Garrett wasn’t sure why he kept his hair long. He didn’t actually do very much with it, just tied it out of the way while he was working and let it hang loose the rest of the time. Women seemed to like it more than men, although his lovers had been known to use it as a handle at times, and since Garrett had no genuine desire to attract women and didn’t care to style it for himself, he never thought about it much one way or the other. Until now.
Right now he was lying in a pool of sweat, his limbs akimbo on the polyblend sheets. Cotton. First thing he was having shipped for himself: cotton sheets. Polyblend didn’t stain but it didn’t absorb either, so he was left damp and miserable. The fan just blew hot air. The water…the less said about that, the better. And then there was the mass of pale blond hair spread across his pillows was achingly hot, and heavy when he tried to tie it up.
Well, why don’t you whine about it a little more? That’s sure to help. Garrett mentally slapped his subconscious, then reached over and grabbed his communicator. He asked for Lila.
“Hmm?” her voice responded tiredly a few moments later.
“You cut your own hair, right?”
“Because I’m dying, and the gods demand a sacrifice to save my life. It’s either my sanity or my hair, and I’d rather keep my sanity. Want to come play high priestess?”
There was a long pause. “It took me a moment to work through that one. You’re seriously strange, Garrett. Are you sure you want me to cut off your hair? It’s so pretty…”
“Utterly sure. It’s just hair, it grows back.”
“But it’s so pretty.”
“Damn it, Lila, you can have it if you like it so much. Just come over here and cut me into something that doesn’t look stupid.”
“Aw honey, you don’t look stupid,” she said soothingly. Garrett caught up after a second and groaned.
“Me walking right into it is no excuse to make terrible jokes. Will you help me or not?”
“Sure. I’ll be right over.”
“Thanks.” Garrett turned off the communicator and flopped back onto the bed, then remembered that he was stark naked. Clothing would be uncomfortable, but being ogled by a coworker he wasn’t interested in fucking would be worse. He slipped on a pair of loose shorts, thankfully synthetic cotton, and forced himself to drink another glass of water. He glanced at his reflection in the mirror above his dresser and tugged mournfully on a lock of sodden blond hair. “It’s not you, it’s me,” he told his hair seriously, then went and sat down in the living room. A few minutes later the door chime sounded. “It’s open,” he called.
Lila walked in, carrying a small bag of supplies. She wore a loose, formless dress that looked comfortable rather than flattering, and her bright red hair was pulled up in a knot. “Goddamn, it’s hot,” she said as soon as the door closed behind her.
“Is it?” he asked languorously, “Really? I’d barely noticed.”
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t start with me, Mister ‘I’m Always Hot’. I know you were thinking it,” she added as she sat down beside him on the couch. “And do you own any clothes that don’t make you look like a meal? Jeez, have a care for the rest of us.”
“Why, do you want to taste me? Are you sure you wouldn’t just prefer a beer?”
“Senator Dowd probably wants to taste you, and no, I wouldn’t prefer a beer. Your beer is undoubtedly warm and undrinkable, like everything else since those morons went above and beyond,” Lila replied sarcastically. “And while I do like to look, I don’t want to taste you, because I prefer men who wouldn’t think sleeping with me was a chore.”
Lila pulled out an automatic clipper. “I’m not sleeping with Shekar.”
“Not for his lack of trying.”
“I won’t be sleeping with anyone I work with, Garrett; it would be too confusing. I’m going to Pandora to start over, and I don’t want to screw up my job.”
Garrett watched her take out a very shiny, very sharp pair of scissors. “You’re not a natural though.”
“Not really. One in five shots of Regen gives me an adverse reaction, but I’m on additional meds that compensate for it. If I choose to reproduce, however, thanks to some squirrely genetics from my folks, I’m almost guaranteed a natural child.” She shrugged slightly and pulled out a comb. “I want any children I have to grown up feeling comfortable, not caged.” She looked at him assessingly and changed the subject. “How short do you want to go?”
“Short enough that my hair doesn’t hang down and touch my skin.”
“That’s very short.”
“If you make me look like a marine, I’ll kill you,” he warned her. He could just picture the look of Robbie and Wyl’s faces when he spoke to them next if he had a butch haircut. Robbie would be incredulous and Wyl would choke himself laughing and…no. Just no.
“Fine, no marines, but no complaints about what you do get either,” Lila said, snapping the shears menacingly. “Now scoot over here, shut up and let me work.” He obeyed, and a moment later she made the first cut, the thick sheaf of hair separating with a smooth schick.
Immediately his head felt lighter, as if he’d had lead weights dangling from it instead of fine white-gold hairs. The next two thick snips got rid of the rest of it up to the nape of his neck, and then Lila paused.
“We need to cover you with something, so the hairs don’t get everywhere. Ordinarily I’d just say take a shower afterwards, but in this case…”
“Right.” Garrett got up and walked back into his bedroom, finally deciding on his pillowcase as a protective cloth. He had to wash the damn thing anyway. He came back in and saw Lila staring at the picture he had wrapping his room, as though she’d never seen this one before. Then again, maybe she hadn’t; he’d only had it up for five days. “It’s Taua’i.”
“Wow, in the hub of the central system.”
“I lived there for a lot of my life,” Garrett reminded her as he sat down again.
“I know, but you never really talk about it.”
“There isn’t much to say.”
She picked up the tension and changed the subject. “It looks gorgeous there.”
“Great beaches,” Garrett said. “Cool breezes, lots of protected zones. Almost as watery as Griffyn, but way better developed. It’s a resort world.”
“It sounds lovely.”
“A lot of it is.” A lot of it wasn’t, too. Taua’i was populated with the spoiled rich of the central system and the people who worked to cater to them. You could get almost anything you wanted there if you had enough money, but there was none of the oversight of a place like Ceyla City. “Everything to excess” was a fine philosophy for the hopelessly insipid, but the culture of obsequiousness there was grating to anyone with a true need for independence after a while.
Lila wrapped the pillowcase around his neck, letting it drape over his shoulders. “What really made you decide to exchange all that for Pandora?” She picked up the scissors and started snipping, using the comb with her other hand.
“I didn’t exchange it for Pandora. I went to a lot of different places for work, and when I didn’t have work I tagged along with my dad whenever he wasn’t actively pursuing a military operation. I organized his personal staff, ran some of his campaigns...”
“You and your dad sound really close.”
“We are.” Nowadays.
“So what, you just felt like you needed a change from your high society ways?”
“Something like that.” Garrett still didn’t know what he was looking for, but he did know he hadn’t found it on Paradise.
“Hmm.” Lila worked in silence for a while, focused on Garrett’s hair. After a few minutes she tilted his head up so she could see his face, hummed and made a few more cuts, then put the scissors down and unfolded a flexible wraparound mirror. “Well, what do you think?”
Garrett examined his reflection. Huh, not bad. Not having all that hair was…different. It made him look sharper. You could have cut glass with his cheekbones.
“Oh, sorry, did I say that part out loud?” Lila smacked him on the shoulder and he grinned, then looked again. It was long on top, comfortably non-military, but short enough on the back and sides to not fall against his sweat-soaked skin. “Could you shorten the sideburns some?”
“Sure.” She got out the clippers and cut to where he indicated, brushed up the lines on his neck, then said, “Better?”
“Are you positive you won’t regret this once the climate controls are working again?”
“I strive not to regret anything ever,” he assured her.
“Yes, I know.” She got out a soft-bristled brush and wiped away the tiny hairs left along the edge of the pillowcase, then pulled the whole thing carefully away. “We got most of the small stuff. What do you want to do with the long pieces?”
“I don’t know, incinerate them?”
Lila ran a finger down one of the sweat-soaked coils. “If they were clean they could be made into a wig.”
“Who the hell needs a wig?”
“Almost any natural with cancer. The treatment is very hard on the body.”
“Tell you what, you can have it,” Garrett said magnanimously, shooing her towards the pile of hair. “Recompense for your services.”
“How generous of you,” she snarked. “Could I vacuum your couch and floor too?”
“I have robots for that, but thanks for the offer.”
“Whatever.” Lila repacked her kit, carefully gathered the hair, then stood up. “The pool is open, you know. It was cool before the temperature started climbing, but it can’t be more than room temp now. Might be nice.”
“There will be a million people there, then.” He waved her away. “Maybe later. You go. Tell Shekar hello for me.”
Lila rolled her eyes. “I’m not going to meet Shekar.”
“Of course you aren’t,” he soothed her. “Still. When he finds you, please ask him whether he needs more specific variables for the simulation we’re modeling.”
“You. Shut it. Now!”
“Sorry. Bye, Lila. Thanks for your help.”
“Sure.” She didn’t say anything else, just opened the door and left. Briefly Garrett feared that he might have pushed too hard, then dismissed it. Lila just didn’t want to acknowledge that she had a lust-crazed stalker. If Shekar were anything other than the intelligent, sarcastic, emotionally-bumbling person that he was, Garrett might have have intervened, but watching Lila being courted by Shekar was like watching the antigrav on a speeding hoverbike cut in and out. You saw it crash and burn, then bounce and crash again, and then again, and then again…it was too guiltily intriguing not to marvel at.
Garrett lay his head back on the couch and stared at the ceiling for a moment before deciding that he needed to get out of his apartment. It was too quiet, too still. The central server had been showing a marathon of his mother’s old movies lately, nothing he wanted to watch, and he’d seen his own collection a hundred times. He got up, ran a questing hand over his head, then grinned and pulled on some loose, lightweight pants. He knew he had a clean t-shirt lying around somewhere…yes. Now to find a skinroom.
Skinrooms were small, private chambers located on the outer surface of a ship. They were basically a floor-to-ceiling viewport, a thin spot in the hull where a person could stand and be surrounded by space. They were called skinrooms because standing in them was as close as many people ever got to actual exposure, and the viewport window panes were so thin that the freezing vacuum beyond could be hinted at. It was like being a part of the ship’s skin, with no great hull to separate you, no yards of metal and foam insulation, just a slender pane of near-unbreakable glass.
The view disturbed some people, but for others the need to escape the press of walls was as essential as breathing. Federation colony ships were required to have skinrooms, since they had to cater to the mental needs of all their colonists and claustrophobia was scarcely uncommon. Garrett wasn’t claustrophobic, but he did enjoy the view and he’d enjoy the sensation of coolness he could get there even more.
He made his way from the thirteenth level to the twenty-eighth, the highest that there was on the Neptune. There were skinrooms scattered throughout the hull of the ship, but the ones on the top side were the best, since they opened above you as well as around. The twenty-eighth level was used mostly for storage, and only maintenance crews really frequented it, but his ID badge gave him access.
Garrett made his way to the closest skin room, found it happily unoccupied, and stepped into the alcove. It was only four feet wide by ten tall, but as he moved closer to the viewport, the air turned to ice on his sticky, overheated skin, and he smiled with pleasure. Garrett leaned his forehead against the window and sighed deeply, letting his eyes wander into a soft focus and watching the stars blur into a swirling spiral of dark and light. It was perfect, quiet and meditative. He felt his mind relax with his body, and leaned further into the chill.
“Daddy, here’s one—oh.”
“Hush,” a deeper, husky voice said softly. “Don’t disturb ‘im. We’ll find another room, bucko, there’s some not too far off.”
You could stay, Garrett wanted to say. He didn’t know who they were, but in that instant he was feeling so mellow that the prospect of sharing his space didn’t bother him. By the time he turned around, though, they were gone. He shrugged and turned back, eventually folding to his knees and leaning his entire upper body into the window. He knelt there silently until the environmental controls came back on five hours later.
Garrett’s knees ached as he walked back to his apartment, but it was totally worth it.