Sophie looked down on her slender hands in contemplation. There was something different, but she couldn't tell what. Was it the world beneath her feet? Was it the air that surrounded her? Was it the smells that invaded her lungs? Was it the sustenance that slid past her tongue? Was it the thin suit that surrounded her body?
"Are you just going to stand there and stare at your hands?"
Questioning eyes sought the speaker, and found her partner. They had been together for years, years of isolation on a desolate planet. Was it he that was different?
She stood promptly shouldering the heavy laser she carried. "Sorry Dean."
He shook his head, and turned his back on her. Had he always done that?
Sophie lay awake looking at the stars above her. Dean would be angry if he woke and saw it, but he was deeply asleep. They had made love twice, but to Sophie it wasn't love any more.
Their relationship had always been a matter of convenience; they were partners and so they fucked. The company liked that because it meant more surveyors didn't go crazy on their long stints isolated on barren planets. How many had been lost before they began pairing compatible persons? It didn't matter as long as the planet got surveyed for the company.
Sophie was fine with the company and their view point on it. She wondered if she would get a new partner when this was over, or if she would stay with Dean. Their sexual habits had lined up beautifully, something else the company liked.
The woman rolled to her side, and laid a hand on Dean's strong upper arm. He wasn't hers and she was fine with that.
Her gaze went to her hand again. What was different?
Sophie shook her head at the results from the latest samples. It seemed the planet was indeed barren though scans had hinted there was more. The atmosphere must have given false readings. It looked like the last five years were for nothing.
"Nothing still? Pity, but we still get to leave this rock with pay whether they find something or not. Only six more locations, and then we're out."
Sophie studied Dean thorough the invisible barriers between them. "Dean, will you request a new partner?" She didn't mean to ask it, but it was already out.
Dean turned to her surprised. He hadn't thought on the subject at all, but now that she brought it up it was something he did need to think about. He would want an answer for himself before they were lifted off planet. It would make reassignment faster.
"Never thought about it, but I will now. Thanks Sophie."
Sophie watched as he turned his back on her and went back to the craft.
"Sure thing," she whispered in a hollow tone.
He didn't turn back to her.
Sophie was outside staring at the moon that hung heavily in the night sky. It was halfway down the horizon hanging like a giant weight about to drop. Overhead the other three moons pointed their way to where the red sun would rise. The white landscape that always surrounded them was bathed bloody red in the reflected light as the four moons looked down on the planet as a monster waiting to pounce on its prey.
This land has been bathed in blood once before.
Sophie reached out to the moon that dangled mockingly before her so close yet still so far away. She had long ago become accustom to the behemoth moon that at times seemed to dwarf the little planet it circled. It was only an illusion, but one that seemed too real to dismiss.
The woman found her hand on the control for the visor again. It was the fifth time since she had been out here. The desire to toggle it open and suck in the toxic air was nearly overwhelming now.
Sophie turned toward the craft that loomed behind her like a foreign monster. It hardly appeared as home anymore despite having lived five years in it. It was a place to run and hide from now. Every day Sophie felt like they were creeping closer to her real home. They would reach it soon enough wouldn't they? But the real question would be if it would be soon enough.
Grudgingly Sophie returned to the 'safety' of the craft. She removed her suit, a mere slip of cloth that protected her, and lay next to Dean waiting for the dawn to come so they could move to the next site.
In the moments just after their nightly activities Dean traced the molten silver tattoo that was etched into her skin. It was just a tracker and data store for the company that every employee had. It was designed to match the personality of the person that wore it. Sophie's was an intricate pattern with a lovely delicate spiral in the center.
Dean's finger paused at one edge, and Sophie looked to his face to see his studying it intently.
Dean frowned. "I swear the pattern has changed, but that's not possible."
Sophie sat up, and looked in the small mirror. "Where?"
Dean pointed, "Here."
Sophie studied it even after Dean said it was likely him just being tired. He was right after all. Her tattoo had shifted, but that wasn't possible. It wasn't supposed to be possible anyway.
Dean pulled her down next to him, and Sophie lay in his arms while he drifted to sleep. Her fingers danced over her tattoo, and sure enough she could feel the change in the raised part as her fingers danced off where the silver normally lay to just flesh. The metal had shifted under her skin somehow.
The metal was liquid, and only found on planets like the one she and Dean were surveying. That was what they were looking for: the precious metal that everything depended on. It was the most needed commodity, and if she and Dean found any they would get a hefty bonus from the company.
Even as the metal was liquid in its normal state, and was tattooed onto the skin to trap it beneath the skin, it still didn't explain how the tattoo had moved. Sophie looked to the stars, but they held no answers for her. They never did.
Sophie stayed out late working extra samples. When she finally came in Dean was asleep, and Sophie was thankful for it. She didn't want him to see her tattoo anymore because he would ask questions. He would want to lift off planet, and get it looked at. They only had one more site, and they would be done. Sophie refused to leave before their work was finished.
As the woman slipped out of her suit, she let her figure caress the liquid metal. She could feel it moving below her skin, and spreading. Her fingers slid up the tendril that had begun working its way toward her heart. An ecstasy raged through her veins, and Sophie had to stifle a moan. She didn't want to wake Dean.
Sophie slipped into the control room, and closed the door sealing it. She touched the thick stripes on the back of her neck that connected the tattoo to her brain stem. They were larger, but it didn't bother Sophie anymore.
Again she let her fingers slide over the tattoo, feeling the delicious thrill that it sent through her. A moan came unbidden from her mouth, but Sophie didn't suppress it. Instead she let her hands roam her body always sliding over the metal. As she touched on the tendril toward her heart she exploded in a beautiful moment of clarity.
Panting in the after affects, Sophie looked up at the stars. She knew now that she didn't want to leave the planet at all.
Dean watched Sophie as they drove across the land toward their last site. She had been unusually withdrawn and quiet lately. He was sure he knew why, and resolved to fix it now.
The woman didn't respond. Was she that angry with him?
"What?" Sophie looked up from the landscape around them. She had been absorbed in… what had she been absorbed in?
"I thought about what you asked, and I decided I want to stay with you. I love you Sophie and I'd like to marry before our next assignment. Then we can be together forever."
Sophie was astonished to say the least. She wanted to love dean, and she thought she had. All that seemed like ages ago now. It was too late, and she had found something better while Dean had been thinking. Still she couldn't let him know.
"Really Dean?" Sophie tried to sound exhilarated.
Dean smiled believing that Sophie loved him too. "Yeah," he looked back out the window as the control panel beeped. They were at their last survey site.
"Come on, let's get this done."
Dean held a hand out to Sophie. She took it with a genuine smile.
Sophie removed the core sample she had just cut, and watched as the silver below gleamed red before disappearing. There was metal here after all.
She turned the sample over to look at the bottom, and saw it was painted with the metal. It was pay dirt, but it hurt Sophie to the core. She didn't want this. Everything about her had changed.
"How goes?" Dean asked from beside the craft where he was analyzing the samples.
Sophie jolted. "Good," she called back.
Sophie wiped the silver metal onto the palm of her suit, and then used the laser to burn the bottom of core sample. The woman placed the sample beside the others, rose, and carried the lot to Dean. She set them beside him, and as he reached for one she handed him the last sample. She smiled at Dean as he looked up, and then went back to the laser.
Sophie turned her palm to put the metal back into the hole, but it wasn't there. Panic nearly gripped her before she felt something slithering up her arm. It had gotten into her suit and it was heading for her tattoo.
There was a sound behind her, and Sophie turned to see Dean behind her. He was holding the sample she had handed him. Sophie took a step away from him, and fell to her knees as the metal connected with the tendril, burrowing suddenly to her heart. Sophie cried out in pain as she felt the tattoo contract suddenly and metal poured into her heart and brain stem simultaneously.
The woman clutched at her chest as Dean knelt beside her. She didn't hear him calling her as it seemed like she couldn't breathe. Her hands fumbled for the visor controls. She had to get it off, but Dean was fighting against her.
She looked at him and all she saw was a red eyed monster that had hunted them endlessly for centuries. Fear raged through her as she stared at the thing of nightmares before her that had ravaged them with their laser, separating them from each other. He was trying to destroy them.
Instinct kicked in, and Sophie knocked Dean to his back and leapt on him. She deactivated her visor, and gulped in the air of the planet. It invigorated her, and she was able to easily push away Dean's flailing arms. She deactivated his visor and held him as the metal surged from the hole beside his head and poured into his mouth, nose and ears.
As Dean stilled beneath her, Sophie lay down on top of him. The silver metal broke its assault on Dean, and slid into her suit. As it connected with the silver on her neck Sophie felt a thrill run through her.
Dean woke in the night naked; his suit had been stripped off, and now he lay bare on the planet's surface. He looked up at Sophie. She was naked too, and already sitting atop him. Dean reached up for her, and as his fingers touched her he felt an unknown presence in him. It was coursing through him, and every time he touched Sophie he could feel it like it was him being touched.
Dean moaned as Sophie leaned down over him. She kissed his mouth, and it was all he could do to not lose himself to the sensations rioting through his body. It was remarkable, and he wanted more and more.
"Sophie," he gasped into her mouth.
Above him Sophie smiled, "Do you understand now Dean?"
"Yes," he gasped out, and looked at the stars above them.
Together they watched as the tug came down for the craft. They rose up through the atmosphere, to the massive ship that waited above. Once aboard they went through decontamination and debriefing.
"There was nothing down there then?"
"We thought as much. That planet had already been mined once, but the readings indicated that a new pocket of the Procxium had come up from the core of the planet. The scans must have had atmospheric interference.
"Have you two decided on if you would like to stay together for your next assignment?"
"Yes sir, we would like to, but we ask that we get a few months leave before that. Sophie and I would like to get married."
The man behind the desk stood, and came around to them. "That's wonderful news! I will put in for your leave, and for your marriage bonus." He shook Dean's hand.
As he reached for Sophie she grabbed him, and pulled him flush against her. She held him tightly as she kissed him forcing his mouth open. Silver flowed from her mouth into his. He let out a strangled cry, but it lasted only a moment before he stopped resisting.
Sophie broke the kiss, and smiled at the man. "Do you understand?" She whispered into his mouth.
His hands gripped her body tightly as his body began to quake.
Sophie held him tightly. "Don't resist it." She brushed her hips against his, and swallowed his moan in another kiss.
He clung to her as Dean stepped up behind the two that were holding each other like lovers. Dean kissed Sophie on the neck watching the man she held.
"I think he understands." He whispered into her ear.
Sophie studied the man's face. Then she felt the connection solidify as he looked up into her eyes. "Yes he does."
Dean pulled Sophie away from the man, watching as the man stood on his own feet and straightened his uniform.
"You two have work to do." He stated as he went back to his desk.
They nodded, and left the office. There was much to do.