River stood amongst his science peers in the mess hall, which had hastily been decorated with celebratory paraphernalia. Saturn as usual provided the awe- inspiring backdrop. All the professors, doctors, graduates, lackeys and general staff were on hand to witness the scene, each dressed casually and completely relaxed. The usually stuffy men and women of science had cast aside their bookish and serious natures and, having embraced their repressed wilder sides, were in high spirits as the alcohol flowed freely. Shiori especially looked resplendent; she beamed at him from a distance across the sea of faces.
Edison, holding two glasses of light sparkling wine, cleared a small circle of space in the middle of gathered crowd. He waved River over and handed him a glass. The assembled quietened down.
“A toast to scientific achievement,” said Edison with his glass raised high, a round of approval following closely behind. The Professor waited for the applause to die down, without lowering his glass. “After many years of toiling, our esteemed colleague has finally brought his searching and his experimenting to a finality. A discovery. Tonight we honour you, Professor Goldstein, in our own little manner.”
“Thank you, Professor,” he said, accepting the toast. “I hope that my discovery will usher in a new age of exploration and discovery of other planetary systems, life forms and mineral riches.”
“That it most certainly will, at twenty times the speed of light our solar system will no longer be a boundary to humanity,” agreed the Professor.
A second round of applause followed, and River began to make his way out of the limelight, nodding to faces as he walked. The attention was more than he was accustomed to and he found himself drawn to the far end of the bar-counter, where the mass of bodies was the thinnest. He leaned up against the bar, and looked over the crowd. The music had started up again, and slowly but surely the music and the alcohol got the stiff bodied scientists to begin the clumsy gyrations they classed as dancing.
A tap on his shoulder caught him off-guard, and the start released an accidental yelp.
“Can I steal you from your dream world for a moment?” Shiori asked him, leaning closer to his ear to be heard over the noise of people and background music.
“You may,” grinned River.
“Thought we might share a shot of something strong?”
“Tonight, I think, we can certainly share a shot of something strong,” he agreed readily, pushing the thoughts of the morning afterward to the back of his mind.
Shiori stood on her toes and leaned forwards over the bar to grab the attention of the barman, while River turned his back and surveyed the crowd of the Saucer’s denizens. It certainly is a big turnout, but then I guess this is a big deal, he considered. “Hey, Shiori, you think we can catch up with Stuart if we build a highway towards Ganymede?”
“Slow down there, Tiger,” she grinned. “For now, park that busy mind of yours and have this.” She handed him a brownish shooter; it was a double.
“A surprise.” Her eyes were gleaming.
River took a quick sniff of the liquid, it had a sharp peppery smell. Not offensive. He dropped back the liquid, just as Shiori put her glass down on the counter. As he finished he found her mouth meeting his in a strong kiss. For a brief moment he fought it, but then allowed his guard down and found himself kissing her back. River had to fight for breath once they had finally separated. One part from the wave of lust the kiss had brought with it, one part from the strong concoction of liquor.
“I think we should disappear and have our own little party,” he suggested.
“Oh, I like the sound of that.” She grinned widely. Shiori reached over the bar while the bartender was digging around in one of the under-counter refrigerators and pinched four bottles of various, randomly selected spirits. As she grabbed one, she thrust the first two stolen bottles into River’s hands, tucked the other two under her arms and led him quickly out of the rec-area and into the corridor.
The relatively short distance to his quarters was covered quickly through the urgency in their steps. While River fumbled with his key card, she opened one of the liquor bottles, took a long swig of its contents and gasped from the strength of the pure liquor. The card-reader beeped in acceptance of the key card and the door slid open. River slipped in, followed by Shiori. She handed him the bottle and he took his swig.
It was strong liquor, almost flavourless. “This stuff is vile!”
“You’ll get used to it,” she laughed, taking a step towards him, moving with grace. Her eyes gleamed naughtily with sexual intent. “I like your innocence, it’s...” she trailed off leaving the suggestion open to simple interpretation.
River was in reality quite inexperienced, although not naive. Her approach startled him and he took an involuntary step backwards. He had stepped up against the bed, wobbling slightly from its unexpected proximity and the alcohol. Shiori took his unsteady balance to her advantage – she grabbed his shirt, pulling him slightly towards herself, then firmly pushed him back. River fell to the bed. She climbed onto the bed after him. River seemed in a blur, reacting automatically, losing himself in the heat of the moment. Shiori was well and truly in control as she removed his shirt and slacks, covering him in her kisses. For only a moment, he thought that he should be the one in control but realised he would be bumbling his way through the encounter.
A long while later, River lay in the afterglow of the experience. Shiori had grabbed the liquor bottles and sat on the foot of the bed sipping away, watching him with amusement. “It really was your first time?” she asked quizzically.
“Yes,” he answered, blushing.
“Aw, look at you!” She had a playful manner, in which she bit her lip. River found the simple motion highly attractive. “Here.” She handed him the bottle. It was at that point that River knew he’d regret the booze, but simply went with it.
River’s eyes popped open, immediately regretting the action. The ceiling was spiralling away from him and then snapping back only to start the spiral anew. The whirling of the central heating sounded more like a crew of workmen trying to remove the blast doors from the main airlock right there in his room. The previous night’s drinking must have been out of control. I can’t remember a damn thing, Stuart would be proud of me. He slowly turned himself over and raised himself onto his elbow.
Next to him, half buried beneath the sheets was a creamy, silky smooth female back. Shiori? “Shiori?”
What he could only presume to be Shiori murmured something unintelligible. Damn it, he silently cursed. Why can’t I remember what happened last night? Shower, I need to shower.
River willed himself upright, regretting the rashness of his movements and made his way towards the bathroom in a half stumbled and semi-drunken gait. He entered the small cubicle and triggered the automatic light sensors, causing the bathroom lights to leap into full brightness, practically blinding him. He felt his stomach lurch and fell towards the toilet and began to heave his last meal into the steel bowl.
It took him three attempts, each attempt causing a new wave of nausea to crash over him and forcing a regurgitative repetition, before righting himself enough to make his way into the shower. The hot water brought back a level of sanity and River stood in the shower for a good long while to give himself as much strength as possible. He finished off the rinse cycle and activated the hot air to dry off. Not bothering with brushing his hair, he quickly rinsed his mouth out with wash and stepped out into the bedroom again.
His eyes took a moment to adjust to the dimness of the bedroom after the bright glare of the bathroom. The bedroom was in a complete state of disarray, clothing was strewn all over the floor. The thick carpet, which had been a gift of his mother’s when he’d moved to the Saucer, was only barely visible. Bottles of various liquors and spirits were scattered about the room, some tipped over and others standing upright but drained of their contents. Some of the coverlets from the bed seemed torn with edges tattered. Judging by the clothing on the floor, it was definitely Shiori in the bed.
Thank goodness for that, he thought wryly. I would have been highly disappointed in myself if I’d ended up with someone else.
He slowly walked up to the end of the bed, smiling to himself. For a long while, he had appreciated her from afar, always thinking her to be out of reach for someone like him and now he’d ended up being with her. It felt good.
What if she’s only with me because of my success? He began doubting himself. What if I was a last option, the best of a bad selection?
Stop it! River shook his head.
Something caught his eye. A dark spot moved against Shiori’s back causing her to stir slightly and mutter something unintelligible. Hunching over, River moved closer to the dishevelled bed. The shadows over the white sheets could have played a trick on his frazzled and injured head. Gently he took the sheet that partially covered Shiori’s back and lifted it gently.
“Shit! No!” he cursed aloud, against all character.
What could only be the tail of the life form that had been discovered was slowly disappearing into Shiori’s back, its head not visible. A tiny sliver of blood was running down the groove of the spine and over along the side of the lower back arch, staining the white sheet. Shiori seemed to be in no pain.
Forgetting his hangover, River grabbed his slacks from the floor and jumping into them, through a kind of hobble made his way to the door to find some help.
River flew down the corridor in search of someone who would help. Most of the Saucer was still fast asleep or withdrawn. He left the living quadrant and entered the engineering quad. There was always activity to be found in the engineering quadrant.
“Jason! Quick, I need your help,” he called out. Jason was a big and slightly slow witted engineer who operated docking columns. Since capital ships seldom made the long journey out to the Saucer, he was mostly used for stacking crates with the light hand-operated forklifts. The menial task suited him to a tee.
The big man turned and blinked in wonder at River. “Professor Goldstein?”
“Quick, it’s Shiori. She’s injured, bleeding, some kind of creature...” he was out of breath and incoherent. He could see that he was not getting through to him. “Quickly, just come with, I need help carrying her to the med-bay.”
“OK, OK. I’m coming.” He finally seemed to react.
The two of them raced back down the corridor towards the living quad. Jason had greater physical prowess than River and started to outpace him, barrelling past River’s quarters on towards Shiori’s. River had to call him back.
The big man looked confused when he approached River’s door. “What’s Doctor Wu doing in here?” The answer came slowly to his eyes and his mouth dropped open.
“Never mind that, Jason, just help me.” River opened the door without his key card, having not locked it on his way out, and stepped into his room. The room was in the same state in which he’d left it. Only Shiori was missing.
“Prof.? Is this some kind of joke? Are you trying to brag about something that didn’t happen?”
“Where...?” He was confused. The room looked exactly how he’d left it. He could even make out the place where she had lain just moments before. “The blood!”
“Yes, she was bleeding from her back, where the life form was burrowing into her.”
“Life form? Prof., you’re not making sense.”
“Shiori – she was here. The missing life form, it was burrowing into her back. Just here,” he tried to show the location on his own back, twisting his arm behind his back. All that this bouncing around achieved was greater confusion.
“But Shiori isn’t here, Prof. Why don’t we go and see if she’s up? Maybe she can clarify what’s going on?”
River paused, and eventually agreed. “Yes, yes, of course...” Jason led the way out, River following lost in thought.
The distance to Shiori’s quarters was not too far; she was only ten doors further down. Jason rung the announcement ringer, and shortly afterward the door slid open. Shiori stood in the doorway, hair wet, wearing denim jeans and a white untucked, loose, overlarge T-shirt. She was towel drying her long, jet- black hair. “Good morning Professor Goldstein, Jason. How can I help this morning?”
“Shiori, are you all right?” launched River. The expression she gave him stopped him well short. She did not look comfortable with the familiarity.
“Of course I’m all right. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You were bleeding from your back, when I came out of the shower. I rushed to go get help and...” She interrupted him with a raised hand, cocking her head to the side in an offended gesture.
“Shower? Are you insinuating that we spent the night together, Professor?” she said with a haughty laugh. The laugh cut deeply.
“Shiori, what are you saying?”
Jason spoke up. “I’m sorry, Doctor Wu. I can see that Professor Goldstein is being a harassment. I’m sorry for the disturbance...”
“Wait a minute, Shiori, I clearly saw your back.” River made to lift her untucked shirt but she stepped back and Jason stepped in to intercept the attempt.
“Professor Goldstein, I don’t think that is a wise move,” said the big man firmly. River attempted to say more, but Jason continued speaking over his shoulder whilst moving River away from the doorway. “I’m sorry about this, Doctor Wu.”
Shiori shut the door with no further word, leaving River out in the cold.