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Attractive forces (an extract from Aardvarks to planet X)

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Sometimes love can be a crushing experience

Scifi / Romance
Chris Troman
Age Rating:

Chapter 28

Attractive Forces

Doug Mendip was good at his job. He was essentially a courier, but his consignments were a little unconventional. He escorted criminals between the various planets of the federation. To where they had committed their crimes, and so would face trial.

With his latest ward safely locked in the brig. A hang over from sailing ship days, he took to his seat by the window. And was idly flicking through a magazine when. “Your in my seat.” The jarring tone roused Doug; from the article he had been scanning.

He looked up, and saw a close-set jaw. As the woman hovering over him, waved her ticket at him. The scent of orange blossom hit him, and took Doug back to his childhood, and a holiday in France. But then the moment passed, as the woman’s speech came back in to his focus. “I especially requested a window seat when I booked this flight. I can’t miss out on the hyperspace view. They say it’s just simply to die, for so if you don’t mind vacating my seat.” But Doug stopped her, with his ticket held out like a penalty card.

He tapped the seat number seven a, and then the number on the top of the headrest. “My seat I’m afraid. And if you refer to the small print on the back, you will see passengers are obliged to occupy there allocated seat. In case of a crash, for identification purposes.” Doug had studied these tickets on his many flights. And this usurper wasn’t going to deter him from his rigid duty.

“I see what’s happened. They’ve made a mistake with the tickets”, the woman countered. And she held her ticket up. But she was tapping the name on hers. “Ms D. Mendip.” Doug took a second look, then stared in to those brown eyes intent on him, as she continued. “You see they’ve given my seat to you, by a simple printing error of Ms being exchanged for Mr.”

Doug had by now recovered from this unusual similarity of names. His security training kicking in, and he re took command of the argument, suggesting a compromise. “Listen lady, this allocation is important. But we’re only likely to have trouble taking off and landing. I’ll swap with you when the seat belt sign is off, O.K.?”

So smiling at this small victory, the lady stowed her bag overhead. Doug almost got up to help her, but on second thought considered that a bit too forward. Then she plopped down next to him. As they sat there, Doug tried to concentrate on an article about wine making on Mars. But the tune being hummed nervously next to him; kept breaking his concentration. It wasn’t that it was loud. It was just the sort of song that stuck in your head.

And so unable to seek refuge in the problems with Martian soil, he turned to this one-woman orchestra. And broke the introductory ice. “My D stands for Doug.” He cut through her personal concert. Startled, she blurted out, “Daphne, after the Broon.” He stared at her ear, just before Daphne turned sheepishly to him. “She’s a Scottish cartoon character”, and she went just slightly pinker.

Just then the seat belt sign came on, and the captain announced the start of the flight. Followed by a brief demonstration by the stewardesses on safety procedures. Then the engines started their slow climb in to a roar, before the spacecraft began to roll along the tarmac.

Doug glanced down and noticed for the first time, his hand on the rest was covered by the slightly smaller one of Daphne’s. As his eyes came back up, they met hers and she blurted. “Sorry”, quickly returning her hand to her lap. Embarrassed by this over stepping the boundaries of personal space, they both concentrated on the front of the craft. Then they were pushed back into their seats.

After what felt like an eternity, Doug felt that flip in his stomach. That meant the artificial gravity had taken over, and he got a hiccup in his ear “Sorry” Daphne apologised, while Doug turned to the window. To hide the insuppressible grin he had suddenly got. There was a flicker of light above their heads, and Daphne cried out. “Oh the seat belt sign’s changed. Can we swap?” Rising she let him in to the aisle, so she could gain her view.

Sitting back down Doug heard a crunch, to accompany the odd sensation he was feeling through his trousers. “My biscuits” Daphne cried, “ruined.” She glared at Doug with squashed packet, now held up as evidence. Confused as to how his act of gallantry, had turned in to an accusation he spluttered. “I’m sorry, let me get you another snack to make it up.”

He signalled the stewardess, now making her rounds of the star ship’s aisle. “What would you like sir?” the stewardess asked. “Could I have a packet of biscuits?” Doug indicated Daphne, “for the lady.” “Could you make it nuts?” Daphne cut in. “They go much nicer with wine.” She smiled at Doug, who realising this was a prompt turned back to the stewardess. “And two white wines please”, but before the attendant could bend down. “I’d like two white wines as well. Can you make them sparkling?”

When she rose, the lady had four mini bottles of the fizz. Which she handed to Doug, along with the nuts and some glasses. “And would you like ice with that?” “Oh yes please”, Daphne replied. So Doug’s folded down table was full to bursting, as he handed over his money.

Daphne made to go for her purse, but Dough stopped her. “No it’s alright, my treat.” And passing over her drinks and snack, he proceeded to open and pour his. “Could you?” Daphne was having trouble with her screw top, so Doug reached out to get it. But in the process Doug knocked his own drink, which spilt on his lap.

He said something to make Daphne hiss, “Language Doug.” And seething he feverishly pressed the call button, but his didn’t seem to be lighting up. “May I?” he asked Daphne Indicating hers, but she was already there. And Doug got that aroma of orange blossom again.

He tried to dab up the mess assisted now by Daphne, who had produced some paper towels from her bag. And as she removed the damp ones from his lap, the stewardess returned. “Can you get me another seat?” Doug asked strait out, for his was quite wet. “Not a honeymoon tiff?” the stewardess mumbled. Which Doug missed, but Daphne called loudly. “Oh we’re not married.” Bringing Doug’s attention away from the wad of wet paper; he was trying to dispose of. “No I only just met her.” And he pointed his thumb over his shoulder at the nodding Daphne, who piped up. “Better check your seating plan missis.”

Embarrassed at her fur par, the stewardess apologised. “I’m afraid there are no seats spare to swap to. But you can dry off in the toilet, while I get some blankets to soak up the spill.” Doug rose and departed to the front of the craft. While the stewardess proceeded to the back, as Daphne watch his receding back.

About ten minutes later, Doug had just about dried up the patch. When there was a knock on the door, accompanied by Daphne’s voice asking. “Are you alright in there?” But Doug had forgotten to put the lock on. So the knock gave Daphne the shocked view of Doug, just doing up his flies. Retreating back in to the corridor, Daphne gave her discomposed apologies again. Then they mutely traipsed back to the now dry seats.

Finally with charged glasses, Doug turned to Daphne and proposed. “To your maiden hyper flight”, and clinking glasses they took a swig. With a slight cough Daphne asked, “Do you want some of these nuts?” And she started to rip the bag, but too forcefully and they flew everywhere. She turned to Doug expecting a stern look, but when she saw his grimace of mirth. Daphne burst in to a laugh, and they chortled over their drinks.

“By the way Mr Mendip what is your line of work?” Putting on a humorously pomp visage, Doug proclaimed. “I’m in security, I’m taking a villain at this very moment back to face trial. He’s in the brig.” Daphne spluttered in to her glass, and through the tears of laughter replied. “You, a security guard? I took you as more of a sales man.” A bit peeved that she didn’t see him for a protector of the innocent Doug retorted. “Well missy if you don’t behave, I’ll have to incarcerate you too.”

Holding her hands up to be cuffed, she forced through the mirth on her lips. “It’s a fair cop, I’m a right villain. I’ve done a fair bit of paper rustling in my time, and people always say I steal the show. Further more if I had the muscles; I might become a shoplifter. So you’d better catch me, before I go too far astray.” Under this tirade of humour Doug couldn’t help; but join in the fun of the moment, until they sank in to silent repast.

When the captain announced the jump in to hyperspace. Then Daphne stared expectantly for the light show to begin. “Is it very colourful?” she asked over her shoulder. “Yes but you get used to it” Doug explained. To be cut off with an over familiar chide of, “Show off.” Then the swirls of rainbow taffy; that this strange dimension looked like, began to glow and twist. To Daphne’s cries of delight, “That one looks like a pony.” She pointed it out; and craning in to get a better view, Doug was distracted by the nape of her neck.

It gave off that same aroma of orange blossom. Then he noticed a section that looked like a lamppost, and pointed it out to Daphne’s delight. She gave a shiver, and Doug noticed he was breathing down her top; they were so close. “Sorry” he murmured pulling back, but he was distracted by Daphne idle reply of; “that’s alright dear.” Before they caught themselves, and they both looked down.

Doug took up a paper, and he began reading. There was a crossword puzzle; and he lost himself in that. Although he found himself occasionally, glancing at the back of Daphne’s head. As she stared in to the strange phenomenon, that hyperspace was. Doug was stuck with the last clue. An eight letter word to appease, the fourth letter was a c and the last a d. But Doug was stumped as to what it could be.

Then a slender finger moved across the page, and rested where the blank squares were. “Placated” whispered Daphne. Doug followed the arm up, to stare at that knowing smile. As their eyes met she continued, “an eight letter word to appease.” “I know, thanks” and smiling at this invasion of his moment, he filled in the clue. Then turned the page, to read the headline on the next article.

Tougher sentences proposed on violent crime. “Good idea” Doug mumbled to himself, but he was dragged back from his private thoughts. Daphne looked stern faced, as she proceeded to give her views on forgiveness and rehabilitation. “People just don’t understand how; if these poor souls were just shown an ounce of trust, they could lead good and decent lives.” “Just like the one I’ve got stowed in the brig”, snapped back Doug. “I’d tell you what he’s done, but it might put you off the inflight meal.” Daphne seemed hurt by this remark, “well some sort of surgery or drugs.” She trailed, off aware that a rift had opened between them. Then turning gruffly away, Doug decided to get a nap.

He drifted off surprisingly quick; perhaps it was the calm after the storm. But with a feeling of weightlessness, he found he was drifting through a field of barley. Then he noticed a distinct hint of orange blossom. Over in the distance he became aware of an orange grove, which he was now floating through. His eyes were drawn up to the beams of sunlight, as they pierced the trees. When he focused on the fluffy clouds, which seemed to be always there. One was in the shape of a lamppost, then yet another was a little like a pony.

It opened up in a brilliance of light to reveal a figure, which Doug was floating up towards. Daphne was floating in the clouds, as a cherub with a coquettish smile. As she hummed that tune he found so reminiscent. But then the smile faded, and she was trying to say something; through the tears streaming down her cheeks.

Doug couldn’t make out the words; they kept fading in and out. Then “Oh Doug the captain’s just said we’re doomed.” He was back in the real world, and for a split second wished he weren’t. But as the meaning of Daphne’s words sank in, he realised something was very wrong. “What did you say?” he tried to keep calm, and so through sobs Daphne explained. “We came back in to normal space too near a massive black hole. They’re trying to break free but”, and she broke in to tears completely.

Doug leaned over, and held her tight as the sobbing subsided. He hadn’t the heart to tell her the thought; that had just occurred to him. That if was a big black hole, they wouldn’t be torn apart at the event horizon. It would be the singularity hidden beyond, that would get them. He looked up, and saw a lot of frightened people. Some obviously together, comforting one another in these final moments. Others just making their peace with the world, as best they could.

Nuzzling next to him Daphne whispered, “Doug I don’t want to die alone.” Doug lifted her chin and tried to comfort her, “that’s alright I’m here.” But there was a look in her eyes. She meant something more, but couldn’t voice it. Then her resolve overcame the moment, “I mean as man and wife.”

For some reason, this didn’t strike Doug as odd. In fact now he thought about it, what she had just said was the most natural thing in the world. Glad now that he had not had to broach the question, Doug tenderly took her head in one hand. And in the madness of it all, whispered back. “I don’t think the captain will have time to spare at the moment. He’ll be a bit busy.”

Daphne was laughing through her tears. “Give me your ticket”, he tenderly commanded. So with a little confusion on her face, Daphne handed over the document. Doug took out his pen, and crossed out the Ms and replaced it with Mrs. He then printed his name, signed and dated it.

Looking back in to her tear stained brown eyes, he informed Daphne. “As an official of the federation security force, I notarise this document. You are now officially a wife. As there are no other Mr Mendips on this flight, you must be mine.” Then as her eyes filled with fresh tears, they pressed lips for the eternity; that passes beyond the event horizon of a black hole.

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