Helena sat at her desk
and tried to focus on the updated reports from Retha. She and her staff had unanimously agreed it was a good idea to keep
a closer than usual eye on everyone who’d set foot on the planet, even those apparently unaffected by the mist, for
a few more days. Thus far, there were no lingering influences to be seen other than a few flea bites which showed no signs
of infection or carrying disease. They were clearing up normally with the help of Shermeen Williams’ homemade calamine
lotion. Beyond that all seemed well. As Ben put it, no wayward unibrows had been spotted.
She sipped her loathsome coffee. The first crop of coffee beans couldn’t come in soon enough as far as
she was concerned. They were doing their best in hydroponics, and the trial expansion of agricultural areas into some of the
underground caves should help speed production along. She bet if John ran an informal base-wide poll, he’d find a majority
of Alphans willing to put coffee plants on a higher priority status than fruit trees.
The thought of his name returned her mind to the personal. Why had she let herself overreact so badly this morning?
He hadn’t said anything wrong…there were several things he could have phrased better, but he’d said nothing
that was wrong. His reasoning was valid. It was such a needlessly rancorous follow-up to what had been such a pleasurable
night. Last night had been so amorous.
Last night he’d been so seductive and…energetic…
They’d made love with her on top, with him on top and…Oh dear heaven, there was that thing he did
where she started out in his lap with her legs around his waist, and he reclined her back onto the pillows and put her knees
up over his shoulders and…Suffice it to say, she had previously been unconvinced of the reality of the elusive G-spot.
After last night, she felt sure she had one…and she was more than willing to seek it out again the next time they were
together…just to be certain.
Their sex life still came as a grand surprise to her. Every week, she assumed their passion would begin to cool,
but it hadn’t and it didn’t appear to be slowing. She loved the way John made love to her, loved the way he felt
inside her, the way they fit together. She loved the way he held her, the way he kissed her, the way he looked at her as if
she was a rare treasure he would never relinquish. He was as gallant and devoted and unselfish a lover as she could have imagined,
consistently attentive of her gratification always, and, in all ways.
Last night as she’d related her conversation with Sandra he’d been taken aback, she could tell,
with the news that their relationship had been so straightforward for their throwback selves. Plainly, their other personas
saw no reason to worry about appearances or whether it was a good idea for the group’s leader and medicine woman to
be involved. They probably hadn’t wasted a lot of time agonizing over whether they were emotionally ready to begin their
relationship in the first place either.
Once they’d discussed things, John had been accepting of the facts, probably more so than she was. It
had been odd to learn from Sandra that she had this other woman, these other possibilities, inside her. Granted, her other
self had only been brought out with the assistance of mysterious artificial means, but obviously, prehistoric Helena was in
there somewhere. ‘Within reason, you could probably learn a thing or two from
her about letting go,’ her mind smugly asserted.
But it wasn’t the letting go, exactly. She could do that with John…in private. She could be almost
anything with him…in private. He touched her, literally and figuratively, in previously unfamiliar ways. Certainly a
portion of the intensity came from the jeopardy that was so much a part of their daily lives, but most of it she believed,
was the sheer adventure of loving and being loved by him.
He didn’t want anything from her, other than to take the next step. Considering their relationship was
already such an open secret, and a badly kept one at that, he wasn’t asking a lot. He wanted to be able to touch her,
sometimes kiss her, in public; not gratuitously or outrageously or to embarrass her, just…if it happened. That was his
real purpose for suggesting they take the situation into their own hands and ‘just get it over with’ as he’d
so blithely put it. Instinctively, she understood that. She knew him; knew his habits and idiosyncrasies and she knew he just
wanted the freedom to be himself with her, even if others were watching.
She also knew that he knew her. Despite his poorly chosen comments of the morning, he realized he was asking
her to make a modification to her natural behavior, one that would not come easily for her. ‘Is that’s what’s bothering you most, Helena?...The fact that he’s asking you to be the one to change
something?’...Maybe, she answered herself.
That wasn’t quite it, though…She didn’t like the idea of changing herself anymore than anyone
did, but in her heart she believed she owed him that much. From the first hesitant stirrings of their romance, he had put
her needs first. He’d let her be the one to choose how fast, or not, they took things…and for many months it had
been a choice of Not. He had ultimately allowed her to choose the moment of their
first sexual encounter. Even afterwards, he’d continued to move forward only at her comfort level. He had been something
for her and for her sake that was unnatural to him: he had been patient.
That had been her clue that he loved her long before he first said the words. She’d never dissected it
before, but he must have loved her even before he realized it himself…otherwise she doubted a man of John’s temperament
would have continued his pursuit of her as he had while she postponed the sex. There were certainly other women on Alpha he
could have had in his bed if that were all he craved.
It was true that during and after the events with Lee and Terra Nova, she’d had to give him time to decide
what he really wanted. The power of his feelings for her had unnerved him once he’d understood their depth. For some
days he’d felt out of control and out of his element, but he’d rallied quickly and made his decision. He wanted
her. He wanted to be with her. He hadn’t looked back since.
‘So if you don’t begrudge making this adjustment for him,
then what’s your problem?’ her brain demanded. Helena
struggled for the right phrase even with her own thoughts. It’s the categorization, she tried; the public-ness of our
situation once we cross that line…
She hadn’t been part of an ‘Us’, one half of a ‘We’ in a long time, and it made
things change. Everyone would think of them that way once the deed was done. A whole shift in mindset would occur overnight,
theirs and everyone else’s. It would put personal feelings out there for general perusal; not that they’d suddenly
be behaving like giggly teenagers, but it still placed innermost emotions on
Their professional behavior would be evaluated in a different way, too. After this, every time John agreed with
her opinion in a meeting or allowed the Medical Department the smallest favor, questions would be asked as to whether he had
done it as Commander of Alpha, or as the CMO’s lover. His judgment was scrutinized all the time anyway. This would make
it worse. Apparently, he’d decided he was willing to deal with that, but was she willing to put him in that position
and herself with him? Right now, she knew many of their fellow Alphans got a kick out imagining the pair of them as a couple,
thought it was “cute”. She rather doubted whether any of them had thought about how they’d feel if they
decided she or her staff was getting preferential treatment over other departments, and sooner or later, that would be the
perception, regardless of facts.
‘Valid concerns…but is that what you’re really worried
about, that you’ll have to make a special effort in your professional choices to be above board? Don’t you do
that already so you won’t look like the Commander’s favorite?’
‘But what? What’s really bothering you? But what?’
…But he’s in such a dangerous position all day, every day. Even worse than Lee ever was and look
what happened there. If anything happened to John, I think it would kill me. Really, I think it would kill me…and everyone
would try to help, and I have more friends here than I had when Lee was gone, but that won’t make it any easier, it
wouldn’t help, he’d just be gone and I can’t imagine anything more awful, and I’d just want to die
and everyone would know how I felt because everyone would know we were a ‘We’ and my grief would have to be public,
too…and everyone would try to be kind, and I think maybe their kindness would make it even harder to bear…I don’t
‘…Quite a rant…So you’re afraid.’
Yes…I’m scared to death.
‘But if you know that’s how you’d feel, then it’s
too late already…isn’t it? You’re already in with your whole heart. If something happened to him tomorrow…’
Don’t even think it…
‘Would you hurt any less, just because you never kissed him with
“No,” she whispered aloud…”It might even hurt worse. I don’t know.”
‘What do you know? Doesn’t seem like much.’
She sat back in her chair and laughed a little in spite of her mood. “There’s one thing you know,”
she spoke aloud. “If Bob knew the kind of conversations you have with yourself he’d be recommending some serious
Her eyes fell on the reports she was supposed to be reviewing, and just as quickly moved away. Sighing, she
spun her chair around to gaze out the viewport behind her desk. It was obvious their current situation had become untenable.
He was unhappy and the pretense had reached a laughable point. They needed to talk, not argue. Tonight, she’d make sure
they had dinner together and she would force herself to stay calm. Right now, though, she desperately needed more coffee,
regardless of its oily taste.
She rose and moved to her office door, pointing her commlock and nearly walking right into the panel as it remained
stubbornly closed before her. That was the third time today she’d had trouble with this stupid commlock. Earlier she’d
just used the touchpad and gone on about her business. Now she shook the device as though that would improve its performance
and gave it a good stern glare, turning it in her hand. A familiar face looked back at her from the ID plate, but not her
‘Oh, perfect, just perfect’…Helena checked the time. It was already lunch hour. It was impossible John hadn’t discovered
the commlock mix-up by now. Was he still that angry, or just embarrassed that he hadn’t come by or at least called her
to mention it? Should she interpret this as a sign, or just chalk it up as another of the day’s annoyances?
Rapidly, her mind played through various scenarios examining the options. She tried to estimate the potential
risks. She reached a conclusion. She hit the touchpad. She just about bowled Ben over in her passage through Medical.
Victor was still lamenting the lost opportunity to study the Rethan mist. “Think of the possibilities
if its actions could be controlled. This…substance…with the ability to alter molecular structure, in both broad
and subtle ways, and also able to reverse those changes with no apparent harm…”
“Except for the fact that Sandra almost killed John and I almost killed Helena,” Alan pointed out,
interrupting the Professor’s flow of words.
John sat with his two friends in the cafeteria. They’d convinced him to take a break from the reports
he wasn’t reading anyway, and he’d finally decided to accompany them with the idea of visiting Helena after lunch…if
she was willing to see him after his bozo antics of the morning. She hadn’t called about the commlock switch and surely
by now she was aware of it. She must still be very angry. He was trying to brace himself with a soy burger.
‘Well, but that was due to misunderstanding…our failure to communicate,” Victor answered Alan’s
comment. “But just consider…” He paused. An expression of concern appeared on his face. Biting his upper
lip and turning to John he asked, “My boy, what did you do to Helena besides take her commlock?”
John looked perplexed, then anxious. His mind raced. ‘Gee, let’s
see…I had sex with her in a cave while other cave people listened. I acted like a complete jerk this morning, pissed
her off and embarrassed her, and then I took her commlock which has probably inconvenienced
her all day…take your pick.’ But Victor wouldn’t know of those other things. Aloud he stumbled for a
response, “I didn’t…I don’t…what? Why?”
Alan’s gaze had traveled in the same direction as Victor’s. He, too, looked apprehensive. “Cause
she’s coming this way and she’s got fire in her eyes. I’d tell you to take cover but you don’t have
John stood and turned quickly. Oh yes, he had seen that walk before and it did not usually augur well. She stopped
mere inches away, facing him. He swallowed with difficulty. There was indeed fire in her eyes…and something else…a
cauldron of boiling emotions warring for supremacy.
He spoke quietly, alert to the many pairs of eyes now on them. “Helena, I…”
With a lightning fast movement, she whipped the commlock off her belt. For the briefest of moments, he thought
she might smack him with it but she only held it up in front of his face.
‘Your commlock, Commander.” Her voice was barely audible.
Slowly, he reached to take the device from her, at the same time unhooking its companion from his own belt and
handing it to her. “Thank you. And yours, Doctor.”
She took her commlock and snapped it into place. She was painfully aware that, other than a few stray whispers,
all conversation in the cafeteria had ceased. That only added to her nerves. She hadn’t been this stressed when she
performed her first surgical procedure. Was the floor actually unsteady? Was the room spinning, the walls vibrating? She had
to get this done before she fell over from dizziness. Licking her lips, she softly said, “I’ve come to a decision,
What was that supposed to mean? She looked so serious, it was scary. He didn’t think he’d ever seen
such intensity in her eyes. What kind of decision? My God, how upset had she been this morning? He’d pushed her too
far. He’d asked for too much. He shouldn’t have pressured her. He hadn’t made a habit of pressuring her
at any time in their relationship; why the hell had he started now? She was going to tell him she didn’t want them to
continue. She was going to tell him he was an ass. She was going to do it right here, right now in front of fifty other people.
He’d pushed for something public and he was about to get it. He probably deserved it, but…
Moving slightly closer to her so that he could lower his voice further, he said, “Honey, I know you’re
upset. I don’t think this is the place though to…”
She edged even closer to him. She was trembling. Her heart was pounding so hard it seemed the whole room must
be able to hear it. “That’s where you’re wrong, John. This is exactly the place.”
“Helena…” He saw her take a deep breath. He never got to say the rest of his sentence.
In a flash, both her hands landed on either side of his face. Immediately following, her lips planted themselves
on his, locking into a kiss that threatened to cut off the oxygen supply to his brain.
The shock was overwhelming…but not so much that it took him more than seconds to react, enfolding her
protectively in his arms and pulling her the last few centimeters against his chest. He felt her shaking but as her arms wrapped
around his neck, the aura of the embrace shifted for the two of them from a feeling of staged presentation to a sweet oblivion
of anything beyond the moment. Everyone in the cafeteria was staring, some literally with mouths hanging open. The two people
in the center of the room were lost in each other.
Coming up for air, her face buried in his neck, she whispered, “I’m sorry about this morning.”
“No, baby, I’m sorry. I was wrong.” He stroked her back. Her trembling finally ceased.
“No, John, you were right. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think you were right.”
She raised her head to look into his eyes. She was surprised. Really, this hadn’t been difficult at all. As long as
she looked into his eyes, it felt as if they were the only ones in the room, in the whole universe. She didn’t even
know why she’d been concerned.
“I love you,” he murmured, his lips against hers.
“I love you, too.” Another light kiss.
“Dinner?” he suggested.
She smiled. “It’s a date.”
Giving her a kiss on the forehead, he whispered, “Did you have a plan for how we get out of this now?”
She snickered. “I’m going back to the reports on my desk. I don’t know about you.” Helena
pulled away from him, gave him a last loving gaze, a last kiss, a final squeeze to his hand. Taking another deep breath, she
turned and began walking away.
The stunned silence, which had seemed so far away while John held her, continued. It closed in and oppressed
from all sides. This was tougher than walking in had been. Her face felt warm and she knew she must be blushing. She didn’t
know what she’d expected in the aftermath, but it wasn’t this.
John was horribly conscious of the silence, too. Now he felt guilty all over again. If he was feeling ill at
ease, she must be appalled. She’d stepped far beyond her comfort zone for him and she was probably already regretting
it. He saw Helena turn back toward him. He thought maybe he should go to her side and walk her out, but before he could complete
the thought or take the first step, he saw an unexpected mischievous expression come over her face.
“Thank you for returning my commlock, Commander,” she called back to him.
John snickered. So did a lot of other people. Someone, it could have been Alan, let out a whoop. A few others
followed. Then the applause began. It followed her all the way to the door, building to a crescendo as she pointed her commlock,
now in perfect working order.
She couldn’t have said later what possessed her, but she abruptly spun back to face the room of standing,
cheering, clapping Alphans and gave them a quick curtsy before making her exit. The cheers grew momentarily louder and followed
her out the door.
Still standing in the middle of the room, John laughed with relief at her playful departure. She never failed
to amaze him.
Victor favored him with a respectful wink and nod.
Alan, as usual, was more direct. “Gotta tell you, John,” he began, slapping him on the back, “forget
my earlier advice about keeping your commlock on your side of the bed. You should steal that woman’s commlock every
chance you get.”
Ben was generous with his winnings, bestowing on his Medical colleagues gifts of extra wine and dessert rations,
additional library and movie privileges. He wouldn’t have felt right keeping everything himself considering he’d
had insider information that allowed his success.
When Helena had come barreling out of her office, she’d not only nearly knocked him flat, she’d
cornered him into a wall.
“Dr. Vincent, I’m sure you’re a part of this…pool.” She said the last word with
He’d tried the dumb approach with, “What pool?” but it hadn’t worked. Dr. Russell’s
eyes had flashed green fire. That didn’t happen often, but when it did it was alarming.
“You know exactly what pool. How does it work? How do you place your bets?” she’d queried
Haltingly, he’d tried to explain the process, the types of things wagered. Mostly he’d stuttered
a bit and she’d cut him off.
“You know really, I don’t care how it works. It’s going to be finished.” She’d
just run a location fix on John before exiting her office. This situation between them would not continue. It was over.
She’d turned away from Ben much to his relief, when abruptly, she rounded back on him, scaring him even
more. “Dr. Vincent, if I were you, I’d act quickly. If I were you, I’d contact the person who runs this
pool and I’d go with about…ten minutes from now in the cafeteria.”
Then she was gone, leaving Ben clinging to the wall and blinking in shock. But he had won.