Weeks pass without incident. The summer days shorten, and the dry heat is replaced by icy dampness. Polaris has fallen into a comfortable routine: she finds gems, sells half to the local consignment store, and submits the other half to the Hegemony. Polaris continues filing her reports with Crux; her rewards are mechanical conversations with her purple overseer. There is no mention of Luke, or Eni, or the new gem cutting machine. Crux seems blissfully unaware of Polaris's adventures
It's strange, Polaris thinks, how gems appear, disappear, and reappear. She wonders where the gems come from. She tries to keep her mind busy with silly unanswerable questions instead of investigating herself and her situation. She has practically been in stasis: while she has started earning a steady income, she has made no other moves to worm out of the Hegemony. She has a lot of impulses she wants to act on, but she doesn't know which impulse is correct.
Polaris likes how her breath is visible when she exhales in cold weather. It's just water vapor condensing, turning into little bursts of fog. The body is a whole made out of a billion little different molecules, and the cold makes that evident. So no matter how she feels, she knows she isn't hollow inside.
As Polaris returns home from an excursion, her phone chirps melodiously. She pulls it out of her pocket and looks at the screen: Luke Loveday. They haven't talked since her house was vandalized and subsequently improved. "Hey," she answers nonchalantly, trying to hide her excitement.
"Hey," he says, "you know, I've dialed your number a million times and hung up."
"Why would you do that?" she asks, confused.
"I've been afraid to talk to you. I've been thinking--a lot--and I think I know why you pushed me away. Can we meet to talk about it? I know it's early, but I figured we could grab a cup of coffee. My treat."
"Sure," Polaris tries to sound casual. Truthfully, she doesn't want to keep Luke at arm's length. She's done that before, and it's frustrating in every sense of the word. They arrange to meet in an hour at Palms Port Cafe, a coffeshop housed in an old industrial building on the lake.
The bitter cold rolls of the water, biting at Polaris's skin. It feels colder outside the coffeehouse than it felt at her house."Polly, I'm glad you're okay," she hears Luke behind her. Turning around, she sees he's holding his hand over his heart--a sentimental gesture.
"Why wouldn't I be?" she replies, unsure of what to say.
Luke grabs her, pulling her in for a hug. "I was surprised that you didn't want to talk after the burglary. I thought something had happened. You made it sound like you were in some kind of trouble last time we spoke."
"I was lured here with the promise of coffee, Luke. I will not accept cheap hugs as substitute."
"Right. Let's go inside; it's freezing anyway."
They settle down at a table while they wait for the barista to make their coffee. Polaris looks around the empty coffeshop. The gray walls are decorated with bright paintings by local artists. She's impressed by their talent. The couple is quiet for a moment before Luke finally speaks.
"So I feel like a heel," Luke admits, "I was way too handsy that night."
Polaris didn't know what she expected him to say, but that wasn't it. "Handsy?"
"I was moving too fast. That's why you didn't want to see me again."
A million thoughts race through her head, from the completely obvious (Too fast?? I kissed you the day we met, dummy) to the slightly less obvious (Don't worry--I enjoyed it). She had seen enough movies to know what to say, though. "You're right--I felt like an object," she lies, "like you were using me." Ugh.
"You've seen too many movies, Polly," he laughs. Oh crap, he's on to me! "I promise, I'm interested in more than your body."
"I know--you're also interested in my piercing intellect and razor-sharp wit," she says dryly.
"I am," he replies as he leans forward and reaches for her hand. "Maybe we should stay friends for a while, and see where it goes from there," he suggests. Polaris's heart sinks, but she knows it's for the best.
"Yeah," she agrees, holding his hand, "just friends."
"I've gotta jet, darling," he says, "I've got work. Talk to you later." Luke runs out the door towards the theater. Polaris feels slighted--he didn't buy her a cup of coffee.
Polaris makes sushi for dinner that night, her favorite dish since it's both yummy and fireproof. As she cuts the fish, the knife knocks loudly on the cutting board. Each heavy knock makes her heart sink lower. She underestimated the power of her own emotions when she became involved with Luke. She knows that Luke could be endangered if she starts a relationship with him, but she doesn't want to limit their relationship to "just friends." She feels a wanting much deeper than that.
After dinner, she reclines on her bed to watch T.V. before she falls asleep--an unhealthy ritual, but it takes her mind off of matters. She finds a stupid movie about a mad scientist who tries to take over the world with a legion of evil robots. Hardly a cost effective method of world domination, she thinks with a yawn. Her eyelids begin to close when she hears the doorbell ring.
Polaris slowly approaches the front door cautiously peers out the porch window. Her heart swells when she sees Luke peering back in with a somewhat maniacal smile. "It's fucking cold," he yells, "are you gonna let me in?" Polaris opens the door.
Luke rushes in and before she can say anything, he leans close, wrapping his arms around her waist. "I take it back," he admits, "I don't think I can be just friends with you."
Polaris strokes his face. "I hope you're not suggesting we become enemies," she says, purposefully obtuse. Luke laughs.
"I don't know what it is, Polly, but I can't stop thinking about you. When we first met, you were forward, happy. But I know there's also a different side to you, a lonely side. You need someone, and I want to be him."
"Finally," she replies, "I was afraid I was going to have to conscript some poor soul if you didn't volunteer," She hesitates before continuing, "join me in the bedroom?" Stop, her rational side screams in her head. She ignores it.
Luke wordlessly picks her up and stumbles towards the bedroom, showering her with haphazard kisses. He drops her on the bed and begins to pull off their clothes with aggressive yanks.
They are so entranced with each other, the couple doesn't notice a slight glow emanating from the television.
He falls back onto the desk and holds his head in his hands, trying to ignore the fumbling mess on the view screen.
Of course, now is when the Commander decides to check in on Polaris's progress. "What do we have here?" the Commander asks slyly as he enters the room, "My, what is our dear Polaris up to?" Crux felt shivers of disgust roll down his spine.
"It seems Polaris has become emotionally involved with a human, Commander," Crux weakly says, "I would recommend we withdraw her from this assignment immediately."
The Commander candidly watches the screen. "That's more than emotional, Agent Crux," The Commander says, "and I fear that there might be much more in store for her. Sexual relations are frowned upon amongst our own, and it is downright immoral to mate with such an inferior species. I must alert my superiors, and I will send for Polaris to return as soon as possible. Frankly, I am surprised she has gone this long without incident," he pauses, examining Crux's face, "Do not worry, Crux. Your work has been stellar. This will not reflect poorly on you."
"Thank you, Commander Eridanus," Crux says. The Commander nods and leaves hurriedly. Crux despairingly detects a smirk on the Commander's face.
Luke gently traces his fingers along Polaris' smooth thigh. She's falling asleep, her eyes struggling to stay open. "I'm sorry," he softly says, "if I hurt you. You didn't tell me you were a virgin."
"Well, sex isn't really..." she stops herself. Sex isn't really allowed on Alcyone, was what she was going to say. "Sex has never really been important to me," she finishes.
"Well, I guess I'm honored to be your first. I feel like Captain Kirk--I made it with a hot alien chick," he smiles.
"Alien?" Polaris sits up, "What makes you think I'm an alien?" She tries to sound casual, though she is panicking.
"It was a joke, Polly. I know you have some rare disease. I heard it from a coworker who heard it from a friend who heard it from Kinslee Hudson. I guess that was insensitive," he confesses, "but I didn't know how to bring it up."
"Oh," she says with relief, "yeah, Alcyonian Syndrome. It's not fatal," she says after seeing the worry on his face, "just embarrassing."
"Well," he says, "I'll just go one pretending you're my alien." He pushes her back onto the bed and rests his head on her.
"I don't think that's very funny," she mutters as she stares at the ceiling, "I don't call you a womrat, even though you look like one."
Luke feigns offense. "Womrat?? That's cruel."
"Stop calling me an alien, and I won't ever mention the uncanny resemblance again," she tries to barter.
"Make me," he dares. She gently pushes him off of her and rolls on top with a grin, taking him up on his challenge.
The snow melts overnight, and so Luke suggests they go out for dinner. "I want to treat you to the best view in Lucky Palms," he explains. Polaris enthusiastically agrees, eager to see more of the desert she has fallen in love with. He takes her to Blooming Cactus Bistro, which truly does boast the lovleist view--and the best food--in Lucky Palms.
"You ordered a grilled cheese sandwich?" Polaris asks incredulously once they receive their food, "this is the fanciest restaurant in town!"
"Hey, I take great pleasure in simplicity," Luke retorts before taking a bite, "that's why I like you."
"I don't want you to think that I'm just interested in sex," Luke says, "so wanna go on a real date tomorrow?"
"I thought this was a real date," Polaris says between bites, "besides, I don't think you could find anything more impressive than this." She gestures to the breathtaking sunset in front of them.
"I'll take that as a soft maybe," Luke laughs. The sun is setting quickly, and they can feel the temperature dropping. "I'll call you tomorrow."
It's snowing when Polaris leaves the bistro. It's hard to believe how quickly the weather can change here--from warm to freezing in only two hours. She smiles as she reflects on the past day, but her heart drops when she sees movement inside her house. Someone's in there. She hesitantly swings open the door.
"Hello, Polaris," the Commander says in a mocking tone, "I love what you've done with the place."
ABBA--Take a Chance on Me
Author's Note: I know! I'm evil for ending the chapter at this point. And to make it worse, work is picking up again so I might not be able to update for a few days. I'm also waffling on a storytelling decision for the next chapter: I'm considering having the majority of the chapter told from the perspective of a secondary character.
Re: sex not being allowed on Polaris's home world--I totally stole that idea from Demolition Man. For those of you haven't seen it, Demolition Man is a sci-fi/action movie that takes place in a 'utopian' future where swearing and sex are outlawed, Taco Bell is the only restaurant, and there's no such thing as toilet paper. It's campy and totally worth checking out if you like cheesy science fiction, Sylvester Stallone, and/or Sandra Bullock.
There was also supposed to be more to their dinner date, but I realized afterwards that I took like two pictures of them and a million pictures of the view. It was all filler, but I'm still sorry.
As always, thank you for reading!