It’s been ages since I’ve gotten laid. As someone who spends nearly every hour of the day in the wild collecting soil and water samples, it’s easy to push my hormonal urges to the periphery. But lately, need has risen to the level of biological imperative.
First, the planet is heading for catastrophe if the company doesn’t stop pumping chemicals into its core. Second, it’s mating season on O2, and I’m not immune to the primal drive to pass on my genes. Okay, so I really don’t want a child—can you imagine nursing an infant in a canvas tent on the edge of a swamp? I’m just looking for a release.
Out here among the green-spotted froggles, hoar grouse, snapcrane, and wild-eyed grebe, my choice of mates is somewhat limited. Thankfully, the company is sending its liaison, Gregor, to collect my quarterly report today.
I like that word, liaison. It rolls deliciously off the tongue.
There are a lot of things I’d like to do with my tongue when it comes to Gregor. That man could carry entire ecosystems on his shoulders. And his eyes, wow. They are kind of silver. He says more with those eyes than most men say with their mouths. Best of all, he lingers after every encounter when he could just flee.
There are a lot of reasons men might flee when they see me. Wading through metallic, mineral-laded waters every day is not optimal for skin care. No amount of scrubbing can fully dislodge the dark green that collects in every crease and pore. Green lines accentuate my crow’s feet, laugh lines, and creases on my forehead making me look more older than I am.
Then there’s my voice. Turns out, breathing swamp gasses is hell on the lungs. I have this constant tickle in my bronchial tubes that I cannot dislodge no matter how much I cough or hack. Repeated attempts have dropped my voice half an octave.
While I wait, I use a hunting knife to clean the dirt from under my nails. The same knife I used to scrape the hair from my pits and legs. I don’t know why men find smooth skin so sexy, but I want to look my best.
Gregor’s boat chugs into the inlet. He kills the motor and drifts the last 15 feet.
“The data?” Gregor asks. The mercurial glint of his eyes, rather than his flat tone, tells me he has missed me.
I hand him the report, but my fingers linger on the pages. There is a brief tug of war, and he makes eye contact.
“What’s your hurry, sailor?”
Okay, even I know that one sounds silly, but I read the line in a romance novel.
He looks at me like I have hellfire ants crawling through my hair. I ruffle my hair a bit to give it a hint of the wild abandon I hope will soon follow.
Gregor wrinkles his nose. “What’s that stench?”
“I don’t smell anything,” I lie.
Gregor shoves off from the shore. “Whatever. Credits have been wired to your account.”
His brevity surprises me. Where is our normal small talk? Where is the suggestive banter? Should I splash through the water in pursuit, or will that come off as too desperate?
Gregor wrenches the rip cord, and the motor begins chugging.
“Wait!” I call. I may not get ravished like I thought, but I still have important information to deliver. “Make sure they double-check my numbers. If the latest projections are accurate, then the planet cannot sustain further pumping.”
Gregor glances over his shoulder. “Your services are no longer required.”
Did he just fire me? I’ve worked loyally in the name of science for years. I’ve given the best of myself to this swamp so the corporation would have the best data available to make its decisions.
“They must stop pumping.”
Gregor laughs, and I feel naked in my naivete. All my dreams and wishes are in that data. It isn’t just an intimate portrait of a dying planet. It was also the most vulnerable parts of myself.
“They were never going to stop the pumps, Maggie. Your job was to prove that the pumps weren’t causing any damage, but I guess you couldn’t even get that right. Now I’m going to have to destroy this report.”
“We are facing a catastrophe, Gregor. I thought you understood. You of all people. You know me. You know how hard I’ve worked for this.”
Gregor’s eyes dim to a gunmetal gray.
“Maggie, coming out to this fly-infested swamp has been one of the worst aspects of my job. The only reason I’ve been out here so much is that I’m the junior member of the staff. Nobody else wants to ‘talk to the hag.’”
I can’t believe he called me that. I thought we had something here. Well, If they aren’t going to listen to me, then I’ll find someone else who will.
“Give me the report,” I say.
“No.” Gregor reaches for the gun at his side. “Goodbye, Maggie.”
I grab my hunting knife and lunge. Gregor’s eyes widen, and he grabs the sides of the boat to steady it. I scramble onto the skiff. All the years of isolation and frustrated sexual energy coalesce in my abdomen. Every muscle in my neck, arms, and legs tightens.
It’s me or him at this point, and I know which way I’m leaning in that equation.
Gregor squeezes off a shot that goes wide.
I thrust and slash with the knife. I try not to look into those silver eyes that speak to the weaker parts of my will. The gun drops from his hand. A few seconds later and Gregor slumps to the bottom of the boat. His blood mixes with the murky water collected there.
Breathing heavily, I retrieve the report. I lean against one side of the boat while I use my legs to kick the body over the side. It disappears into the swamp with a sucking sound.
I exhale. My stomach unclenches with a rush of endorphins up my spine. My body relaxes, as I pick up the gun and consider my options. Who knew murder would be such a release?
This story is part of my forthcoming flash novella No Place Like O2, which I will be selling on Amazon as a short read in August or September.