JUNE 11th, 2061. San Francisco, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 13.25 local time.
“Focus, Lou. Focus,” Louise told herself.
She knew it was useless, though. She had been trying to concentrate on her job for the last 4 hours yet her mind always drifted back to the chaos that raged inside her.
“I can’t feel these things,” she thought for the gazzilionth time. “It’s treason!”
Eleanor Lucas was supposed to be her enemy. But when Louise had felt Eleanor pushed against her back, the way her body had responsed told a different story altogether.
The butterflies rising in her stomach had made her gasp like a kid on a roller coaster ride. The rush of heat spreading from her center had been in a whole other category of inappropriate.
Louise’s breath had hitched. The muscles in her stomach had tightened. There hadn’t been a rational thought left in her mind. Her instincts had told her to turn around and find Eleanor Lucas’s lips.
All she had wanted in that moment was to taste that beautiful mouth. To run her hands through those curls. To wrap her arms around Eleanor and lose herself in the sudden, intense heat that this woman had awoken inside her.
Luckily, Eleanor had stepped away before Louise could do just that.
“I’m sorry,” El stammered.
Louise turned around slowly and noticed El’s cheeks were looking flushed. She couldn’t tell if it was from crying or from embarrassment. Or both.
Their gazes met then. For a moment, the air between them sizzled. Louise’s knees nearly buckled when El licked her lower lip. Okay, maybe El wasn’t feeling that embarrassed at all.
“No problem,” Louise croaked, forcing herself to look away.
She fought the onslaught of contradictory emotions inside her as she studied a random tree to her right. She desperately needed to get away from here. She also desperately wanted to close the distance and kiss El.
“I wouldn’t have found him without you,” El said, her voice husky.
Louise didn’t dare look at her. She stared at the branches of the tree instead. “Glad to help,” she said, tucking her hands in her pockets.
“I’m sorry I grabbed you,” El said, not sounding sorry at all.
“Let’s just forget about it,” Louise hastily replied, managing to sound quite dismissive. She was proud of herself for it. The rational part of her mind was finally coming back online. She forced herself to meet El’s gaze coolly.
El smiled regretfully, then pulled a leash out of her back pocket and clipped it to Stucky’s collar. “I don’t think there’s time left for a walk.”
Louise shook her head. “No, we should get back.”
They had hurried back to the house in silence. Every step had been torture for Louise because of the unrest in her center. Her mind might have been working again, the flames of desire had never quite died down.
Louise still felt on edge, even now, hours later. This uncontrollable lust was something she had never felt before. Not even with Michelle, who she had been with for years and had been head over heels in love with. Or maybe still was.
Because that’s the other thing she had been thinking about non-stop these last hours.
“What would Michelle say if she knew?” was a sentence that kept playing on repeat in her head. In a way, it was worse than realizing she had been about to commit treason.
Louise rested her elbows on the desk and started massaging her temples. Her face and hands felt clammy despite the cold air of the room. She was in the network monitoring room of the second inspection site.
The space looked very similar to the one they had visited yesterday. That meant it also resembled her own office a lot. The familiar computers and desks around her didn’t have a calming effect on her this time, though.
Quite the opposite, actually. Her surroundings were so similar to her own space back home, she half expected Michelle to walk in any moment and tell her how worthless she was.
Michelle would no doubt give Louise that devastating, judgemental look. Louise cringed at the thought. Loving Michelle had always felt like perpetual heartbreak. Louise could admit as much despite her reluctance to analyze their relationship.
“What relationship?” she thought and scowled. They had broken up so many years ago Louise had lost track. There had been a time when she had been aware of every day and every hour since the break-up.
It had come as a complete surprise to Louise. She had been so young, so cheerful and so naive then. Michelle had killed that person with a few sentences over a Monday morning breakfast.
“It’s time to stop seeing each other,” Michelle had said calmly.
Louise couldn’t even remember her first response. Michelle had put down her mug of coffee and gotten up. She was wearing her full uniform, about to head into work at the base. Louise was still in the old shirt she liked to sleep in.
“You’re fun to hang out with, Lou, but you’re not committed enough,” Michelle added, pushing her chair back under the table.
“To us?” Louise uttered. “That’s not true, you mean the world to…”
Michelle stopped her by raising a hand in the air.
“No,” she said, “Not us, Lou. The cause. I want to do something with my life. I want to climb all the way up to the top. You…” Her eyes scanned Louise’s ruffled hair and crumpled shirt. “You’re just tagging along.”
Louise’s lips parted. Michelle’s words were like blades slicing through her heart.
“Let’s not turn this into a fuss, okay?” Michelle sighed.
That pissed off Louise. “You can’t do this!” she yelled.
Michelle scoffed. “Oh, I can.”
Louise pushed herself up, causing the bowl of granola she was eating to topple over. “You can’t just walk away after 4 years!”
Michelle crossed her arms. “You left me no choice. You need to take responsibility for this, actually.”
Louise tilted her head in confusion, rubbing her chest. “W-w-what do you mean?”
Michelle’s expression looked as if she was staring at a child who had just done something idiotic.
“You forced me to take this step, Louise,” Michelle had said. “You should have done better.”
The vividness of the memory hurt so much, Louise had to get up from behind the desk. She started pacing around the network room frantically. The most painful part was always admitting Michelle had been right back then.
Louise sighed. She hated the ache in her chest she always felt when thinking about Michelle. She felt like she had betrayed her lover all over again.
“Ex-lover,” she reminded herself. “Ex-lover until fucking eternity. Especially if I keep being this stupid.”
She stopped pacing and blinked a few times. She had been in this room for hours and hadn’t checked a single hardware log properly. She was screwing up everything she had worked so hard for these last years.
“This stops now,” Louise told herself, clenching her fists.
She glanced at the guard by the door as discreetly as possible. He wasn’t looking at her directly, but Louise was sure he was watching her every move. She checked the hallway behind the glass wall. No one.
She took in a deep, shaky breath. She still had some hours left before Hobbs, Woodward and Eleanor returned from the tour around the facility. This was a big place and Hobbs would take his time.
Louise looked down at her feet while she thought. She studied the dull grey carpet on the floor. She could clearly see the lines between the carpet tiles. “Cheap stuff. First time I see that here,’ she thought and frowned.
She knelt down and traced a line between two of the tiles with her finger. Maybe she was being oversensitive, but she thought she could smell the scent of new plastic and fabric. She was tempted to sniff the floor.
Louise could feel the guard’s gaze fixed on her back, though, and so she pushed herself up. She started walking around the room touching screens like Hobbs had yesterday.
She wasn’t looking at the terminals though. Louise was studying the walls and the ceiling. Both were white without a single stain or other blemishes. She narrowed her eyes. New tiles and a recent paint job? Why?
Louise tried to remember the last time her own office at the army base had been renovated. She couldn’t recall. Then she tried to imagine what it would take for command to order a paint job and brand new flooring.
“Bloody murder,” she thought. “And even then they’d just try to wash off the blood.”
Louise sat back down at the desk she had been working on. She closed her eyes to think. Was her spidey sense tingling? She tried to feel it. All she got was an image of Eleanor’s emotion-filled eyes back in the woods.
She groaned. “This woman is messing with my head,” she thought.
Louise tried again, her eyes open and focused on the ceiling this time. What was off about this room? What was different today? She knew she would find it if she didn’t give up. She just had to focus…
In the end, it was the glass wall that made her put two and two together.
“Gotcha,” she muttered with a bitter smile.