Special thanks go out to Ella for the generous use of an amazing picture. Feel free to indulge...
The White Willows
By A. Octavia
The White Willows.
By A. Octavia
Copyright 2013 A. Octavia
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person,please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Also on Smashwords from A. Octavia:
Tales from A Darker Star: A Collection Of Science Fiction Erotica
For Zendriel, Without whom nothing else matters.
Special thanks to Ella Witoy for an endless supply of artwork, Jamie for constantly reminding me where to place a comma, and Monica-- the original Bianca Goulet.
Even from orbital approach, Alpha-Senica looked pristine. The jewel-bright skies gleamed from northern snow-capped mountains to the sapphire-blue equatorial seas. Nine micro-continents migrated across the surface of the world like glacial ice packs. The Mora valley stretched for a thousand miles right down the middle of the sixth continent, Terra Prime. The northern edge was dotted with dormant volcanic peaks that circled the landmass like a crown of thorns. The southern tip narrowed as it left the foothills and leveled out into mouth of the Arden Sea.
When they tore through the atmosphere, the colors intensified. Bianca saw dark green grass swirled with brush strokes of neon yellow and blue flora through the viewports. The approach to Brolin Point was short and the reverse thrusters of the Belden Pharmaceuticals ship reverberated like thunder. It jarred her teeth and made her eyes water. Her stomach lurched, and she gripped the armrests so hard her fingers sunk into the thick plastic padding.
There was a sudden jolt as the landing gears touched down and then the roar of the engines whined into a dull hum. The crew unbuckled their harnesses, stretched, and shuffled to the front of the cabin. Bianca just closed her eyes and took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The air in the ship was stale. It smelled like oil and wood from the supply crates strapped in the cargo holds, but it wouldn't last. The crewmen lined up near the doors and waited for the pilots to release the pressure locks. She unbuckled her harness but didn't bother to stand up.
There was a loud hiss as the cabin pressurized. She felt the air stir, and the smell of the ocean replaced the lingering scent of the sip. The bolts on the door hinge slid open, and the light of her first foreign world spilled over her feet. Thirty crewmen spilled out onto the tarmac and mixed with the ground crew moving massive forklifts up to cargo holds. Bianca watched them through the window until a truck with the Coriander University seal pulled up behind one of the flatbed shuttles. Her travel case was strapped to the back of her seat. It was barely more than a carry-on, and the retention clips didn't want to unwind. She stepped back and kicked it until the clip broke loose. She sighed, then shouldered into her backpack and headed for the lift. The pilot smiled and helped her get the case to the ground where she was able to wheel it toward Dr. Vargas.
He held onto the truck door, head and shoulders over the roof to watch the supplies being offloaded. His face was a combination of wide-eyed curiosity and manic determination. Dr. Vargas had been on Alpha Senica for nearly three months while overseeing the loadout of the base teams, and this shipment was the last. When she got closer, he hopped down and straightened his glasses before he helped her with her case.
"Bianca, this is it! Are you ready?" He held out his hand and led her to the back of the truck.
Bianca smiled. Enrico Vargas was nearly a head shorter than she was, but what he lacked in physical stature, he made up for in presence. His clothes always looked like they never fit quite right, but now they looked a size too big on him. On Merridian, he had a full face that reminded her of a tanned lawn gnome, but his stay at Terra Prime did him some good. She saw that a decade of sedentary classroom lectures had evaporated.
"I think it's a little late to say no, Dr. Vargas."
He waved the thought away. "It's never too late, Bianca. Well, tomorrow- tomorrow may be too late." He looked around her like she might've hidden another suitcase. "Where's the rest of your things?"
"This is it. I didn't think I'd need all that much." They lifted the case into the back of the truck, and she put her backpack next to it.
"The last time my wife and I went to Taurus she packed three cases, two carry-on bags, and then wanted me to fill the empty half of my case with crap that wouldn't fit in hers."
"Sounds to me like she likes to be prepared. How long were you staying?"
"Three days, on a beach!"
He laughed, and as usual, it was infectious. They climbed into the front seats of the truck and watched the rest of the cargo get transferred to the flatbeds. He tapped a notation into his datapad and sighed when he set it up on the dashboard. "Look, Bianca, I heard about Simon. I'm sorry. If there's anything I can ever do-"
"You're doing it, Dr. Vargas. I needed to get away for awhile."
He turned to look at her squarely but she held up her hand. "I'm not running," she said, "I'm just putting some distance between me and everything we knew together." She looked down at her hands in her lap. "I could see his face everywhere I went. Except here." She looked out at the horizon and stared at the point where the sky met the ocean. "Out here, it's just going to be me, earth, and sky."
"Uh-huh. And eleven months of solitude. You'll be hosting tea parties with the natives before it's over."
"Then it's a good thing I brought my top hat." She smiled at him, and then looked down at the map folded between the seats. "So how's the camp coming along?"
He opened up the map and pointed to a spot along the ring of mountains. "It's nearly finished. They have the water pumps working now. There was a recirculation issue, but that's squared away. The solar array is also working really well; we're having to conserve power with all of us there, but once we pack out you won't have a problem. Even if you run all the air conditioners low enough to wear a parka. There's two windmills, and a communications tower up on the eastern peak."
"I thought everyone was leaving--who am I supposed to call?"
"Bianca," he looked over the edge of his glasses at her. "It's a ten and a half hour drive during the day, even longer if you need to drive at night. A relay is going to stay online here at Brolin Point, just in case. High grade military stuff, buried in a bunker. Nothing short of an asteroid the size of Nebraska is going to hurt it. There's enough extra fuel here to get this place through the rainy season, too."
The hum of the ship's engines faded into silence as the last cargo crates were lifted out of the hold. The cargo on the flatbed was strapped down, and as it backed up to fall in line behind them, Bianca and Dr. Vargas watched a fuel truck move into position. Tomorrow, that same ship was going to carry everyone on Terra Prime back to Merridian.
Bianca watched the breeze sweep through the waist-high grass as the distant mountains slowly grew. In the mirrors, Brolin Point slowly disappeared behind them. The road was a single lane of raised dirt packed with loose stone. The hum of the tires on the tarmac turned into a white noise that stole away any chance of idle conversation.
Alpha Senica's rotation was thirty-eight hours, making a full solar orbit every four-hundred days. The axis barely tilted, giving the flora an extended growing season that stretched ten months. The animals that appeared on the registry of Terra Prime were almost the same as Merridian. There were birds, and nocturnal prowlers, but nothing lived in the valley except the grazers. The predators lived in the ocean.
Bianca kept herself busy with Dr. Vargas' data pad. She looked over the camp inventory, the site schematics, and the maps of the trails mapped out by the advance teams. She leaned against the window and paged through her duty log. "Dr. Vargas, what's a 'weekly psych-report'?"
"Ah, well, that's Cora, the computerized psychologist. She's going to be your March Hare."
"Cora. Is she a fully-interactive A.I.?"
"Strictly a console intermediary. Think of her as a diary that will remind you to write in it. You're required to make one post each week, but feel free to make as many entries as you like. Just don't skip a week or she'll send a signal out through the relay, and they'll have a search party out here tromping through your topiaries."
"Even if my data uplinks are on time?"
"Cora isn't Belden's idea, it's Coriander’s. The University doesn't like their students to go insane during field assignments, that's what they pay faculty is for."
Halfway to the research site, there was plateau where they stopped for lunch. The crew members were quick to spread out folded tables and lunchboxes. Half of them sat in groups talking, while the rest scattered into the grass surrounding the convoy and laid back to sleep. Bianca and Dr. Vargas sat on the tailgate to share a packed lunch. The silence that punctuated each burst of the crews' conversations was pitted with hints of just how empty the continent was going to be when they left.
Dr. Vargas looked sideways at her. "You know, when I first arrived here, I couldn't wait to leave."
"Something change your mind?"
"It stopped raining. The first three weeks were nothing but deluges interrupted by random monsoons. The camp washed out twice before we could get the foundations in place. Workers slept under tarps on the flatbeds. I was lucky enough to get this truck all to myself." He laughed at the look on her face. "It sounds worse than it actually was. The rain was warm, so nobody froze-- it was just frustrating. Things went pretty smoothly once we got all the pylons up. It only took a week to put up the arboretum. The storehouse came next, and then the lab. We used your quarters as a mess kitchen up until yesterday. We gutted it and made it into an apartment for you."
"I'm starting to feel like I'm standing on the shoulders of giants here," Bianca said, and then washed down the last of her sandwich with a bottle of water.
"You might be. All the controls are in place. The trees are growing nicely, the foxglove and poppies are both ready to bloom. The dahlias are slow going, but there's plenty of time for them to perk up. If your findings are even close to what Belden thinks they'll be, this whole valley could be full of crops in five years."
Bianca looked around her and tried to imagine the hectares of natural grass carved up into farmland. She hated to think she was what decided its future. Dr Vargas leaned over and bumped her shoulder with his own. "Hey, listen, the University doesn't care what you find or not. They care about the process. Prove to them you deserved this post and let the chips fall where they may."
Bianca smiled. "Simon used to say that a lot. 'Let the chips fall where they may'."
"Really? I need to stop hanging around you kids; you're a bad influence on me."
"Yeah, good luck with that."
Nobody seemed interested in staying still for too long, so when Dr. Vargas signaled the foreman that they needed to get going again, no one complained. Bianca knew Dr. Vargas was right: the outcome didn't matter, and it was the process that she needed to focus on. Belden Pharmaceuticals was a leader in medical advancements, and they swallowed up xeno-botanists by the hundreds every year for research projects all over the galaxy. Most of those projects were experimental and turned up nothing to offset the costs. To mitigate those losses, research companies like Belden teamed up with a host of different universities and governments to make the initial start-up funds a tax-exempt charitable enterprise. Manning the projects with undergraduate taskmasters rapidly became the industry standard.
Bianca spent the rest of the trip reading over the growth charts Dr. Vargas collected. Terra Prime had one key focus for Belden: a plant symbiote that exhibited moprhic abilities. The preparation team had already grafted half a dozen different kinds of plants to the symbiotes and her job was to monitor their outcomes. She had eleven months to record their growth rates, test the potency of the new species, and monitor a control group of hybrid-free specimens.
The sun was hidden behind the mountains when the camp appeared on the horizon. Nightfall was still a few hours away, but the northern end of the valley was already in the shadow of the mountains. The arboretum was the first thing Bianca saw. The three-story plexiglass building towered over the other three buildings. The road curved around the side of it and stopped. Across from the arboretum was a smaller building perched on four twelve-foot pylons. A wide steel deck surrounded it, and a flight of stairs lowered to the driveway. Dr. Vargas shut off the engine, but he left the keys in the ignition. He signaled one of the workers and told him to carry up Bianca's gear. She watched a crewman walk it to the top of the stairs while Dr. Vargas told the foreman where to unload.
Once he finished, he walked her to the doors of the arboretum and led her inside. "Let's give you the penny tour, shall we?"
The arboretum was easily a hundred yards long, and half that wide. Catwalks crossed the ceiling parallel to the track lighting. Raised planters were pushed up against the walls in tiers filled with poppies, foxglove, and dahlias. In rows down the middle of the room was a grove of white willow and cinchona trees. Through the far glass wall, she could see the distorted shape of the water silo.
"Well, what do you think?" Dr. Vargas whispered.
"I think I better not screw up." Bianca said staring up at the treetops. They were easily twenty-five feet tall already.
"You've got that right, sweetheart." The door clicked softly behind her. When Bianca turned around, she saw a small, thin woman wearing a dirty lab coat. She had sunglasses pushed up over her forehead to keep her hair out of her face.
"Ah, Bianca Goulet, this is Dr. Connie Mack. Connie has been our lead ecologist."
"Ecologist? What the good Doctor here means is plumber, electrician, botanist, carpenter, and all around handyman. Still, pleased to meet you all the same. Call me Connie."
Bianca shook her hand while she tried to place Connie's accent. "Are you from one of the colonies?"
"Close enough. Look, we're burning daylight, and there's a whole lot left to do before we can get the hell out of your way, so if you're done pussyfooting around, Dr. Vargas, let's get on with this."
Bianca soon found that what Dr. Mack lacked in social grace, she made up in organizational skills. Connie led Dr. Vargas across from the arboretum and past the lab to the storehouse where the flatbeds were being emptied. The storehouse itself looked like a steel barn with an open loft in the center. The noise of the winch lifting the pallets was so loud, they had to lean in close to each other to talk. "The upper loft is where the medical supplies and food stores are, and the lower stalls are mainly lab supplies, seeds, and saplings. Everything has an RFID so when it leaves the storehouse, it's automatically logged into the system." Connie yelled.
"Is there a general password to access the pallets?" Bianca asked, staring at the thick metal covers and the glowing keypads that marked each shipping container.
"Absolutely. You'll assign your own password once we get you next door, but here's all you have to do." Connie ducked around her and stepped into the first stall. Six pallets were lined against each half-wall. The soft yellow keypads all faced the aisle. Connie tapped the interface, and it flashed green. A hiss of air escaped as the metal case opened. It unfolded to reveal a set of supply shelves. The case Connie opened had twenty willow saplings, each about a foot high in individual fertilized pods. "These are control saplings, unmodified. They were imported from Earth last month. All of 'em are ready to go, so in about three months, you just plop 'em in the ground and water them." She picked one out of the case and as soon as it cleared the doors, the keypad recorded the empty space. It added it back in when Connie replaced it to its cradle and closed the doors. "These cases are all sealed, and the powerplant should last about five years. We've had a few go bad on us already, so make sure you keep an eye on them."
"And if one does fail, what then?"
"Make a notation of it in your reports, Coriander will handle the rest," Dr. Vargas said and steered them both back out to watch the last of the pallets settle in the loft. When the winch powered down, the lights brightened.
Behind the storehouse was a camp full of crewmen working out of tents and plexi foldaway buildings. The truck crew instantly transitioned from the flatbeds and supply loads to tearing down the buildings. The tents were going to stay until morning when the last of the camp was going to be packed away before load-out. A barbeque pit had been built at the far end of the camp, and a handful of cooks started putting up generator-powered lights over their workstation. Lanterns started to appear between the throng of moving bodies. Despite the heavy workload, Bianca heard excited chatter fill every space between hammer blows and the whine of power drills.
Connie left them on the edge of the camp while she went to oversee the disassembly. Dr. Vargas shrugged, then steered Bianca toward the lab. It was the only other building up on pylons and tucked between her quarters and the storehouse. A catwalk had been built between the lab and the deck of her quarters. The lab itself was a just large square room, twenty yards across with countertops around the edge. One door faced the stairs, and the other faced her quarters. The windows that circled the room had hinged steel shutters larger than her fist. When sealed, she imagined the building could survive a meteor strike. Two countertops had been pushed together in the center of the room to form an island. Four armor-plated computers were spaced evenly across the room, along with a handful of digital microscopes, a centrifuge, a replication generator, and a collection of sample extractors. A rack full of samples was already sitting on the island with handwritten labels dangling from the stoppers.
Dr. Vargas stopped at the first terminal and brought up a login screen. "The first thing we should do is set up your password and then get you settled into your room." He stepped aside so she could access the terminal.
Bianca stared at the prompt, thought for a moment and smiled. She typed in her code and hit return.
"Good evening, Ms. Goulet; my name is Cora. Welcome to the Terra Prime Research Facility." The soft female voice had a distinct similarity to her own. Bianca looked back at Dr. Vargas.
He held up his hands and grinned. "Not my doing. I wanted a sultry jazz singer, but Dr. Mack shot that idea down."
"Thank you, Cora. I'm happy to be here," Bianca said to the room. She heard a confirmation beep.
"Ms. Goulet, please begin vocal recognition parameters."
"Cora, call me Bianca." She cleared her throat. "A, E, I, O, U, flibberty-gibbet, Sacagawea, Constantinople, and super-cali-fragilistic-expi-ali-docious.”
Another electronic beep chirped from the computer. "Vocal pattern recognized, thank you, Bianca."
"Ready to see your room?" Dr. Vargas turned her toward the catwalk and opened the door for her.
"It's hard to imagine this place has already been here for a few months-- I mean it even smells new."
"We've been living out of the camp for the most part. Here, I'll let you do the honors," he said and stopped at the side of the glowing keypad outside her quarters.
Bianca typed in her code, and the orange keypad flashed yellow before she heard the lock open. Her quarters were the same size as the lab, but designed to be a complete apartment. The door opened into a sitting area to her right, and a small dining table to her left. Past that was a full kitchenette, and next to that was a bathroom with a bathtub and a shower stall. Next to that was a large wardrobe built into the bottom of a narrow staircase that led to the sleeping loft. There were windows everywhere with the same hinged shutters she saw in the lab. The floors were made of polished steel, but covered with thick grey throw rugs. Bookcases were built into the walls behind the couch and a small desk was set up next to the door. An orange holoterminal floated over the back of it.
"Well?" he asked, smiling.
"It's better than anything I could have asked for," Bianca said, and reached out to touch the holoterminal. She pinched it with her fingers and was able to drag it with her anywhere in the room. She let it go next to the refrigerator, and it hovered against the door.
"I'm glad to hear it. Look, I'll let you get settled. I'm sure Dr. Mack is up to her neck in aggravation by now."
"Thanks, Dr. Vargas." She walked him to the door and watched him skip down the steps. The twilight yielded to darkness, and the glow from the arboretum lit one side of the buildings while portable lights from the camp lit the other. She dragged her case inside and came back for her backpack. When she closed the door, Cora locked it behind her. Bianca turned around and looked at the door handle. "Is that really necessary, Cora?"
"My apologies, Bianca, do you wish to adjust the default security settings?"
She thought about the people working outside, the fact that they were staring down the final hours of their stay on Terra Prime, and she sighed. Bianca hated the fact that she always thought the worst in people. "Ask me about it again tomorrow, Cora."
She unpacked her case and put away her clothes. Her backpack had her personal items, notebooks, computer tablet, and a small soft-covered case that she put in the nightstand next to her bed. She put two digital photo frames on the end tables next to the couch and plugged them in. Her Mom and Dad's faces appeared on one screen, and Simon's appeared on the other. Both started to cycle through her memories at a snail's pace.
She found a drinking glass in the cupboard and a bottle of water in the refrigerator. She sipped slowly while she watched the camp collapse in on itself outside. The smell of mesquite wafted over everything from the fire next to the grill.
"Sorry to interrupt you, Bianca, but would you like to make your first journal entry?"
Bianca finished her water and set the glass aside. "Sure. How should we begin, Cora?"
"Let’s start with your first impressions of the research station. Have the preparations Belden Pharmaceuticals provided seem suitable to the scope of your research project?"
She thought about it for a second. "At first blush, certainly. I'm impressed with the amount of time they've spent thinking about my comfort. The lab looks great, and the supplies look satisfactory. The arboretum is beautiful, and I think this going to be a good endeavor, for all of us."
"Do you wish to give a rating of Dr. Vargas, or Dr. Mack at this time?"
"They've both been great so far; open to my questions, and friendly." She looked out the window again. "Come to think of it, If I had to rate them purely on the condition of the site, I'd say they've done an amazing job."
"Do you wish to make any predictions about the coming year, Bianca?"
She glanced at the photo frame on the end table. "No. Let's let the chips fall where they may. End of entry, Cora."
The door unlocked once her hand touched the handle, and locked again when she closed it behind her. She found Connie and Dr. Vargas talking quietly next to one of the flatbed trucks. The plexi buildings were already disassembled and being loaded. The only thing left to clear away were the portable bathrooms and the tents, both of which were slated for first light.
"Once we get this mess up on the trucks, then I'll relax, Dr. Vargas. You may think this place is some kind of paradise, but I'd rather be back at home setting fire to my bed if it’s all the same to you."
"Just promise me you'll do it when Griff's not sleeping in it, okay? I wouldn't have been able to pull this off without you, Dr. Mack, and I'd like to call on you again for the next one."
"And the second thing I'm going to do is get rid of that bastard's name, I'm going back to Chambers." Connie looked over her shoulder at Bianca. "You have a sweetheart waiting for you at home, Ms. Goulet?"
She saw a concerned look pass over Dr. Vargas' face but Bianca forced herself to smile. "No, Connie, not any more."
"Well, then you were a lot more sensible that I was." She looked up at the mini-crane loading a set of frames onto the flatbed behind them. Her face turned red, "no, you tit, turn it around! Turn. It. Around." The muscles in her jaw flexed. "Oh my god, I'm going to kill him..."
As Connie stormed off toward the operator's cab, Dr. Vargas sidled up to Bianca and lowered his voice. "She's not normally so short-tempered. She made a video call to her house today when the operators arrived at Brolin Point. Her husband, Griff, was entertaining a young lady from his office in their marital bed."
The crane operator was nearly twice Connie's size, but the way he pressed himself back against the glass to put every inch of space he could between them was a testament to how angry she was. Bianca had seen volcanoes with less heat. "If I were Griff, I'd hire a good lawyer."
Dr. Vargas adjusted his glasses. "I'd run like hell."
It took two more hours for the trucks to be locked down for transport, and once Connie was satisfied that there was nothing left to do but wait for morning, she finally relented to the pressure of the work crews and sat down long enough to eat.
Bianca sat off to the side on her own, but noticed that the crew didn't segregate themselves like most workgroups she was used to seeing. Cliques usually formed, or groups broke off based on gender. The men and women in the camp were commingled. It was a fascinating example of balance.
Dr. Vargas made it a habit of vanishing from time to time. She turned it into a kind of game where she would focus on something and count to ten before trying to find him again. She spotted him up near the cooking station pushing a pallet jack toward the tray line. He opened up the case and took a bottle from the shelf inside. He signaled the cook who banged a ladle against one of his pots. Once everyone quieted down, Dr. Vargas cleared his throat nervously. "Okay, I'm not good at this sort of thing so I'll make it quick. We've been working out here for months, and by our blood, sweat, and tears, we're finally done. All that's left is for us to fold up our tents and walk away. I'd just like to thank you all for your hard work and dedication toward making this research station possible. Dr. Mack, would you please come up here. You too, Ms. Goulet."
The faces in the crowd split to look at them both, and Bianca suddenly felt like a spotlight was shining on her face. She wanted to hide, or at the least politely refuse, but Connie was already walking forward so she grudgingly climbed to her feet. "Connie has been an extraordinary lead on this project, and Bianca here is going to make every effort to put our hard work to use. So, to show my appreciation, I have what, fifty bottles of champagne here. Let's go out on a high note!"
After the cheer that swept across the camp died down, Connie held up her hands. "Okay, okay. Settle down a second 'cause I only want to say this once! If any of you gets so knackered you can't get yourself up in the morning, I will personally roll you up in your tent and pack you on the back of that truck myself, are we clear?"
The second cheer was even louder than the first. While Dr. Vargas handed out bottles, someone pulled the Corriander truck up behind the grill and used the stereo speakers to pelt out a collection of rock and blues classics. Bianca spent the next few minutes ducking flying corks on her way back to the deck outside her quarters. She watched the crew celebrate their success for more than two hours, and eventually, the portable lights dwindled to just a handful.
Bianca was about to turn in for the night when she heard footsteps on the stairs beneath her. She looked over the rail but the shadows were too deep to see who was coming up. "Cora, bring up the stairway lights, please."
The lamps along the stairs warmed up and she could make out the top of Dr. Vargas' head. He glanced up and smiled. "Thanks, Bianca. I thought you might like to have a glass of champagne with me."
It took him a little longer than she thought was necessary to reach the deck, and he set a glass on the rail for her using both hands. He filled it from an open bottle and slowly handed it to her. "A toast, to you and Terra Prime, let the chips fall where they may!"
Bianca tapped the edge of the glass against his bottle and took a sip. Dr. Vargas tipped up the bottle to take a drink and almost fell backward. She caught him before he could topple over. "Whoa, I think you might have already had a bit more than you needed."
"I think you might be right," he said and took a farewell sip before pouring the rest over the edge. "I should probably get to sleep too, or Connie's going to kill me in the morning. Or worse."
"Are you sleeping down in the tents?"
"Yup, that one right over there by the-" He leaned over the rail to point but stopped himself.
Bianca took him by the arm and helped him down the stairs. They were halfway through the camp when two of the crew stopped and asked dif they could help. Bianca made sure Dr. Vargas made it into his bunk, and then covered him with a blanket before turning out his lantern. There were only three lights still on in camp, and the music coming out of the truck had stopped. The kitchen was clean and ready for its final meal in the morning. She drove the Colander truck back to its home by the arboretum and left the keys in the ignition like Dr. Vargas had done.
The lights of the arboretum were dimmed, and the only other light came from the stairs to her quarters. As she rounded the back of the truck, she saw someone's shadow dash around the pylons under the lab. Bianca stopped under the shadow of the truck and waited. Her heart started beating fast. She squinted, but the light from the stairs made it hard to see anything clearly. "Cora, shut down the lights on the stairs of my quarters, please."
There was a faint confirmation beep, and the stair lights faded to black. A moment later, her eyes adjusted to the gloom and she saw two people locked together in a tight embrace: the crane operator, and Connie. Bianca let out a deep breath and felt her heart start beating again. The crane operator had Connie's back pinned against the pylon, and their mouths were locked together. Bianca could just hear their breathing and saw an empty champagne bottle at their feet.
He leaned back, but only long enough to peel open her lab coat. Connie grabbed him by the back of his head and pulled him down to her chest. He groped blindly at her in the dark, and she hissed when he pushed her shirt up over her breasts. His head moved back and forth between her nipples. She groaned loudly but stopped short and cursed. She looked around and said something Bianca couldn't make out but Connie pushed against his shoulders until he dropped to his knees in front of her.
Bianca watched him hook his fingers into Connie's pants, and he suddenly jerked them to her ankles. She kicked one foot loose, and he picked Connie up and ducked his head between her legs so they hung limp over his shoulders. Her pants hung off one of her ankles, backlit by the dim camp lights. Connie leaned back against the pylon and dug her fists in his hair. A noise from the camp made Connie freeze, but the man's head kept rocking up and down between her legs.
Connie looked down at him, whispering continuously while she started grinding in time to his movements. She hissed again and threw her head back. She bit into her hand to keep herself from crying out and used her other hand to beat against his shoulder until he stopped and slowly lowered her. He stopped before her feet could touch the ground, and she wrapped her legs around his waist. He shifted his hips, and Bianca heard a faint "yes" as Connie reached down between them. Bianca didn't see Connie open his pants, but she heard Connie moan a moment before he started rocking his hips against her. He thrust up against her, and she clung to his shoulders while he pinned her against the pylon.
Connie moaned over and over into her fist and she stiffened an instant before he did. She clutched to him like a second skin and neither of them moved for at least a minute. "My god, that was..." Connie gasped, and then cleared her throat. "I think it's safe to let me down now, Mitch."
"Yes, Ma'am," he said and lowered her gently to the ground. He buckled his pants and found her other boot while Connie untangled her own pants. They both straightened their clothes and shared a quick kiss before turning back to the camp at an arm's length away from each other. Bianca's mouth felt dry, and she took another long slow breath before she turned for the stairs. As she climbed, she tried to ignore the dampness between her legs.