The Time we Take
By Jack Harvey
Crys Townsend had a complicated history. She was of mixed Native-American and Irish parentage, grew up on the British moon colony of Tomstown and enlisted in the Sol Space Corps on her day of graduation. She had completed two tours, and had found herself holding the rank of Sargent Major. She was Quartermaster of the Sylvia Ripley Tekakwitha, a Deuch-Class Transport Craft assigned to ship synthetic meat to the independent colonies.
Crys ran a tight schedule and an even tighter system. Organising cargo was her calling in life, apparently, though few warmed to her because of it. She strode stubbornly through the neon-lit corridor. Somebody had misfiled a crate of medical alcohol, and it didn't take somebody of her talents to figure out where it was.
Cry entered the break room to see a huddle of Earth born and Colonial staff handing out the stuff like it was solstice shandy.
“Sargent Major,” beamed Cooper, one of the orderlies. He wasn't drunk, but he was tipsy enough. “You've died your hair? I like the red!”
She couldn't stop herself from instinctively running a hand through her short hair. “What's all the commotion in here?” She asked, sternly.
Cooper saluted comically. “New recruit ma'am, Name of Loriz Ventura, transfer from the Vizaris fleet. She's kicking the entire crew's asses at pool.”
Cys had heard of the Vizaris, though she had never met one. They were visually similar to humans, but with bright red skin, slightly pointed ears and thin, dreadlock-like tendrils instead of hair.
Crys glanced over, and saw that the Vizaris was bent backwards over the pool table. She pulled back the cue and executed a perfect trick shot. She rose as the crowd cheered, and her eyes matched Cry's almost immediately.
Crys swallowed. The Vizaris looked as though she had been lifted from the front of a glamour magazine. Her hips were wide, and she had the curves in all the right places. They swayed seductively as she walked across the room.
“Hey Loriz, let me introduce you to the Quartermaster,” Cooper muttered drunkenly. “Crys Townsend, meet Loriz Venturea.”
“Pleasure to meet you ma'am,” Loriz said smiling.
Twelve Years Later
Dr Joseph Hussain fastened the button on his collar and turned towards Crys. “How do I look?” he asked.
Crys brushed one of his shoulders. “Like the man who single handedly exterminated Kholera-B.”
Joseph smiled, and she smiled back.
“You're a hero Joseph. I don't think anyone will care about a few creases.”
“I don't feel like a hero,” he answered. “I still feel a scared little Indian boy enrolling on a psychology course. This isn't even my field.”
Crys fastened her own collar.
“Besides,” he continued. “None of this could have been done without your work on distributing the vaccine. You are being honoured too remember?”
She shrugged, the formal uniform felt tight. She couldn't remember when she had last wore it. “I was only doing my job. What about Mary, or Dixon, or the Admiral?”
“They'll be around,” Joseph said, polishing his ocular implant as he made his way outside. “But we're the ones who were chosen to represent the Corps, so we have to endure the limelight.” He held out his hand to the open door. “Are you ready? They're waiting for us.”
Crys walked into the Visarian sunlight.
The Visarian capital looked like it was made out of the glass paperweights that Crys' mother used to put on her mantelpiece. They were walking down the great Panna Mall, flanked by the musicians and standard bearers of the corps. The sky was a pale pink in colour.
Thousands of red and orange skinned Visarians cheered and waved to them, and wisp like streamers were thrown from more strange glass-like structures. Crys was too in awe to take any of it in, and instead tried to stay calm, marching in step with Joseph.
Eventually they came to a set of stairs that looked like liquid. Crys was worried she would slip and fall, but noticed they were quite traversable once her foot set down on the surface. Carefully, she and the other members of the Corps walked up the stairs. A v-shaped door opened in front of them, leading to a large circular room.
The room reminded Crys of Roman Senates from the epics they used to watch on flat-films in culture class. Around her stood members of the Visarian Parliament, wearing their ceremonial robes. They began to speak, as representatives approached with some kind of medal to honour her and Joseph with.
Crys was still looking around in wonder. She failed to take in what the representatives were saying as the medal was pinned onto the navy-blue fabric of her uniform.
Something had caught Cry's eye. Or rather, someone.
About two rows up she saw a face she recognised. The Visarian didn't notice her at first, but then their eyes met, and she turned away quickly.
Loriz thrust her arms forward as the sati-weights pushed against her. The muscles in her arms and back tensed as they forced the two floating cylinders forwards, fighting against what was, essentially, the planet Visaris' own rotation.
Once she was satisfied with the work on her arms, she approached the grav-walkers. These thin devices attached to her feet and increased their gravitational pull by increments. Loriz marched around the room until she felt the muscles on her calves begin to ache. She then increased the settings a tenth more than she was comfortable with.
She could take the pain, so long as it would take her mind off things.
She stared out the window over the grand glass city.
Then Crys entered the gym.
Loriz didn't react, instead she carried on pacing the room. But Crys didn't say anything either, and this bothered Loriz.
She sat down on a bench, sweating. “What are you doing here?” she said, trying not to sound angry.
“The secretariat told me you'd be here. They were wondering why you were missing out on the festivities.”
Loriz didn't answer.
“It's not every day that one of the deadliest diseases of the cosmos...”
“I was trying to get away from you,” Loriz said as she stood quickly.
Crys dropped upon realising how Loriz towered over her, shoulders broad, arms and legs thick with muscle.
Crys looked away. “I know that's it's been a while, and that we didn't part under the best of circumstances...”
“What?” Loriz said, forcing Crys to look back up at her towering frame. “You make it sound like we agreed to part. I contracted Kholera-B and got dragged off back home for treatment. You said you'd be seeing me as soon as Hussain synthesised the vaccine.”
“Yes, well,” Crys continued, trying to sound professional. “That proved more difficult than expected. I thought I'd be able to get away, but duty required I oversee the distribution...”
“Duty!” Loris spat, storming over to the window. The purple sky reflected against her red skin. “You're still a career climber after all this time.”
Crys clenched her fist, trying to remain calm.
“For two years we were barely apart and a decade goes by and you don't even send me a message or anything.”
“Oh come on!” Crys shouted. “Two years of of dragging you around drunk? Two years of you bouncing off walls and dropping your pants when I was trying to work?” Crys shook her head, the professional demeanour well and truly gone. “Two years of being accused of being a sucker for a pretty face and hot body?”
Loriz turned quickly, her wide eyes narrowed. “That's all I was to you?”
Crys put a hand to her face, fearful to shed tears for the first time in years. “That's... that's not what I meant.” She stopped, her voice lowered, almost to a whisper. “Of course you meant more to me than that.”
Loriz's face softened. She threw a towel over her neck and walked over to a hovering glass bench. Crys joined her, and was surprised to find that the seat was surprisingly warm.
Loriz put an arm around her.
“You got... you got big,” was all that Crys could say.
“Visarian biology. As the females get older our muscle density increases. Most let it go in time, but I decided to keep working out.” Loriz paused for a moment. “It reminded me of our time in the corps.”
There was something different about Loriz's voice. It was sharper. More adult. Crys wondered what happened to that young fool who treated military missions like spring break.
“I'm sorry,” Crys said, more sincerely. “After you had gone all I could think about was the distribution, my duty to the Corps and the people it protected. I should have stopped by, called or something, but emotionally I couldn't do it.”
“So what brought you here?” asked Loriz curiously. “Why come see me now?”
“I don't know,” answered Crys. “I was kind of hoping we'd just begin again.”
Loriz stood, it was her turn to be official now. “I appreciate that, but times have changed. I'm a member of parliament now. I can't just abandon all that for a whirlwind romance.”
“But your tour is up now right?” she asked. “And Visaris can be a beautiful place to spend a life.”
Crys stood quickly, and straightened herself up. “I understand,” she said, ending the conversion quickly. “It was good to see you again.”
Loriz nodded, picking up on Crys' rebuttal.
They shook hands, and Crys noticed Loriz's particularly firm grip.
“It was nice to see you too,” Loriz replied.
Joseph was slouched over the dimly lit blue-neon bar. He and Crys were well on their way, and were seemingly the only ones to keep the barman company.
“So what now?” Crys asked, through a haze of alcohol.
“Now?” Joseph answered. “I don't know. A member of the Newtown Medical Academy caught me earlier, says there’s a position of my choosing waiting for me if I want it.”
Crys' eyebrows raised. “That's great Joseph, congratulations.”
“Blegh, I think I'll turn him down.” Joseph said grimly.
“What?” Crys shot, surprised. “I thought that was always your plan? Spend a few years in the Corps Psychological Section until you get an opening for a cushy high paying teaching job. You never used to shut up about it.”
Joseph gazed off into seemingly nothing. “That was before Kholera-B. After everything we've seen, after everything we've done, can you honestly go back to the way things were?”
Crys realised it had been ten years. She was a different person now.
Joseph continued “I think I'll draw up my pay, buy a modest craft, and open up a clinic on the outer colonies. Bring help to people who really needed it.”
“What about you?” He asked. “You think Loriz was serious about letting you stay? You two were pretty tight back in the day.”
Crys looked into her drink, a glowing blue cocktail that tasted mostly of mango. “I don't think so. It was ten years ago, I can't see myself giving up my life for her now.”
Joseph wanted to say something then thought better of it. Then he suddenly jolted up. “Oh by the way I just remembered, the Admiral dropped by before, wanted to give you this.”
Joseph pulled out a paper envelope and handed it to Crys.
“A paper message?” she asked, surprised. “Who uses these anymore?”
“Don't know,” Joseph replied. “Must be important.”
Crys opened the letter quickly and read it.
“Well? What does it say?”
In spite of the city's alien nature, what could be best described as the 'ballroom' was oddly familiar. It was a tall room, open floor for dancing, with tables off to the side for food and drink.
As human, Vizarian and other feet tapped the black and grey chequered floor, Crys simply leaned over in a corner, lost in thought.
As the glass of champagne started to warm in her hands, Crys felt a shadow fall over her.
It was Loriz. She was dressed in a long, cream coloured ball gown. It was open at the arms, emphasising her wide shoulders and biceps. Crys was taken aback, she never thought she'd ever see Loriz dressed so elegantly.
“Would you care to dance,” she asked, a welcoming smile on her face.
Crys took Loriz's hand without answering. The grip was soft, not at all like the dismissive shake from earlier.
They moved into the centre of the floor, as a new song started. Crys could recognise strings, a wind instrument, and something she couldn't quite put her finger on, but as they began they quickly they became lost in each others eyes.
“I'm sorry about earlier,” Loriz said softly as they swayed. “It was presumptuous of me to assume you'd be ready to talk about these kind of things.”
As they twisted to the music Crys looked away, unsure how to answer.
“What is it?” Loriz asked, sensing her discomfort.
“I got a message this evening,” Crys started. “It's from the Secret Service. They're offering me a job. Full time, low risk.”
“Congratulations,” Loriz said half-heartedly.
“I've till the end of the night to accept,” she continued, her voice wavering. “But you have to understand, if I say yes, I'm off the map for good. We'll never see each other again.”
Loriz swallowed, and for the first time since their reunion Crys could see her vulnerability.
They danced a little longer, and Crys moved closer. Loriz let go of one hand, and put a large arm around Crys, resting a hand on her back.
“We had some good times didn't we?” Loriz said. “Those two years?”
“The best,” Crys answered smiling.
The dance was coming to an end now. Both women paused.
The music stopped, and they let each other go. Dancers moved and shifted between the two of them, pushing them apart.
“Well,” Loriz said. “Have you decided?”
Crys looked her in the eye and answered. “I have.”
Jack Harvey 2018