June 12th, 2061. San Francisco, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 12.15 local time
“This is it,” El said after parking the car next to a building that was much smaller than Louise had expected. The grey, one level structure had large solar panels on a flat roof. The parking lot in front of it was abandoned apart from their car.
“Where is everyone?” Louise asked.
El pointed at a guard station near the gate. “Security guy is probably over there.”
Louise rubbed the back of her neck. They had arrived here sooner than she had hoped.
“What about the rest of the staff?” she uttered.
“Not much staff here most days. This is not exactly critical infrastructure. They’ll be here in an hour or so. Probably waited out the storm,” El said.
Louise nodded, opened the door and got out. She quickly grabbed her gear from the back seat. She swallowed nervously as she straightened up. She had no idea how she was supposed to behave around El now.
After El had admitted she had wanted to make Louise jealous, they had gone back to silence for the rest of the way. During that time, Louise had slowly come to terms with the fact that El really did seem to like her. Then, she had gotten really nervous.
Louise squinted at the guard station. She couldn’t see anyone inside. As far as she could tell, they were pretty much alone. She looked for the entrance of the building, spotting a door on the left.
“Let’s go,” El said, locking the car.
“Why is this place no longer critical infrastructure?” Louise asked, hurrying after El, who was heading for the building at a remarkably quick pace.
“It’s old,” El replied. She gestured towards the building. “Look at it.”
Louise had to admit the structure seemed at least a couple of decades old. The walls were still made of large bricks, painted in a dark green. This location didn’t look anything like the other two she had visited.
El stepped up to the door and let the scanner next to it do its work. Louise studied the biometric lock.
“Had an attempted break-in recently,” El commented as if she was reading Louise’s mind. “Had to upgrade security.”
The door unlocked with a loud click and El stepped back, gesturing for Louise to go in first. Louise hesitated. She had a feeling stepping into an empty building wasn’t a very good idea. Not when El was her only company.
El who had kissed her just hours ago. El who kept tearing down her defenses. El who she was supposed to hate but instead seemed to like more than anyone else in a long time. El who made her skin tingle with excitement.
“Go on,” El said, winking. “Don’t be scared.”
Louise smiled uncomfortably and walked through the door. Lights automatically came to life all around her. They revealed a small entrance with an office at the side. The door fell closed behind them. Louise’s senses went on high alert.
But El just walked by Louise and pointed. “This way to the old network monitoring room.”
Louise tightened her grip on the handles of the gear cases. Her hands were clammy. She reminded herself she was here to inspect the building. The network monitoring room was her top priority.
Yesterday, she had been convinced El was hiding something. That she had fake monitoring rooms built to hide the real network hubs. Probably to cover up evidence or maybe to keep their own Fireblue technology a secret.
Today, she was slightly less convinced of her theory. She might have been clutching at straws to make El look bad and get a handle on this crazy energy between them, she knew. But she still had to be sure.
She would look for evidence of recent renovations today. The biometric lock outside could be a sign there was more to discover here. Louise picked up her pace and caught up with El.
“Is the monitoring setup still active here?” she asked.
El opened a door at the end of the hallway and waved Louise through. “Nope. It can be activated within a few hours as a back up in case another location gets flooded, though.”
Louise stepped into a large space with the usual desks everywhere. None of the screens were on. She put down her gear and immediately looked at the flooring to check if it was new. She wrinkled her nose. The carpet tiles were old and dirty.
El chuckled. “Need to get that replaced.”
Louise straightened up, feeling caught. “Yeah,” she said, then pursing her lips. This was her chance to sneak in a question about the other renovations.
“The other network rooms looked less dated,” she said as casually as possible.
El grinned. “Noticed that, huh?” Her eyes were sparkling with amusement.
Heat rose to Louise’s cheeks. “Ehm, yeah, why were they renovated?”
El pointed at the carpet. “Because they looked like that.”
Louise stared at an ugly coffee stain on the floor. At least, she hoped it was coffee. She couldn’t dismiss her theory that easily, though. It all still seemed like too much of a coincidence.
She frowned, deciding a direct question would work best. “It’s odd timing, though,” she said, her eyes narrowing. “The renovations do make it seem like you have something to hide.”
El huffed. “Oh my God! You really are suspicious about everything I say, aren’t you?” She shook her head, a sad smile on her lips.
Louise’s temper flared. “I have to be!”
“I know,” El said and took a step towards Louise. “But tell me: what evidence have you found to back up all these allegations so far?”
Louise gave El a furious glare. “You know I can’t.” But a voice in the back of her mind said: “Nothing. I have found nothing so far.”
El took off her cap and glasses. “It’s okay. I know.”
Louise took in a deep breath, trying to relax. A question kept burning in her mind, though, and it didn’t have anything to do with the mission or the evidence she was supposed to be looking for.
“Why didn’t you tell me you and Woodward are just friends straight away? Why did you let me walk out of your office thinking you were a couple?” She instantly felt much more vulnerable than she liked to be, but there was no taking it back.
El took another step closer to Louise. Their faces were only inches apart now. “Because you accused me of playing a game,” she said quietly. “That hurt.”
Louise turned her head away.
“You can’t look at me, can you?”
Louise huffed uncomfortably. “What? No, I…”
“Look into my eyes, Louise,” El insisted.
Louise inhaled shakily. Then, she met El’s gaze.
“What do you see?” El whispered, blinking slowly.
An intense fluttering started in the pit of Louise’s stomach but quickly spread to her chest. She searched El’s eyes, first hesitantly, then eagerly. She saw several shades of grey. She admired the light, delicate eyelashes. The small freckles on El’s nose.
“You’re beautiful,” Louise admitted quietly.
Her hand moved up out of its own accord. She only realized she was stroking El’s cheek when she saw her own fingers moving towards El’s lips. El’s mouth opened slightly. Louise ran the tip of her finger over soft, pink lips.
When El, in an unexpected move, flicked the tip of her tongue over Louise’s finger, it immediately made Louise’s blood thrum in her veins. Her breath caught.
Louise kept her eyes focused on El’s mouth. “You’re also dangerous,” she said hoarsely.
El smiled slowly, her lips brushing against Louise’s fingertips.
“In a good or in a bad way?” she replied in a sultry voice.
Louise bit her lower lip. “Both.”
They stood there like that for a long moment, the air between them crackling with electricity. Louise studied El’s flushed cheeks, the sexy line of her jaw, the tender skin just below her ear.
And that’s when she finally couldn’t take it anymore. She was fed up with fighting this. She leaned in and placed her lips on El’s neck, just below her ear, letting out a sigh of surrender.
El immediately tilted her head to the side so Louise had more room. Louise placed kiss after kiss, each one more eager than the one before. She heard El drop the cap and glasses on the floor. Her hands then ran over Louise’s back.
Louise kissed her way to El’s mouth, marveling at the softness of her skin. When their lips finally met, El immediately deepened the kiss, her tongue finding Louise’s. They both moaned softly.
Louise slid her hands into El’s hair. El’s fingers were raking over Louise’s back with increasing urgency. They were both breathing hard now, their tongues exploring and stroking hungrily.
The world started spinning around Louise. She thought her knees were going to buckle. She tried to push El in the direction of one of the desks without interrupting the mind-blowing kiss.
But El was slow to respond and tripped over her own feet. Louise quickly wrapped her arm around El’s waist to steady her. “Sorry!” she panted, forced to break up the kiss after all.
El’s curly hair was a mess. Her cheeks were flushed. Her chest was moving up and down rapidly. Grey eyes sparkled with a feral intensity. Louise almost groaned. No one had ever looked at her like that. Ever.
But then El suddenly giggled. “Oh God,” she said, “We almost fell on that nasty floor.”
Louise couldn’t help but laugh too. “Ew,” she replied. The fire in her lower abdomen was in control now, though. “I was aiming for the desk,” she whispered.
El immediately stopped smiling. The look of unbridled desire returned. Her nails dug into Louise’s shirt. She leaned in until her lips brushed against Louise’s ear. “I want you so badly.”
Louise pressed her head against El’s mouth softly, wanting to hear more. El flicked her tongue over her earlobe, then sucked it into her mouth. Her ragged breathing was driving Louise insane.
“Let’s find another room,” El said hoarsely, raking her teeth over Louise’s neck.
Louise’s head snapped to the side, scanning the room. Fuck. They were in the middle of an office where pretty much anyone could walk in at any moment and she had been ready to basically throw El on one of these desks.
“Where?” she asked, struggling to recognize her own voice.
“There should be a room with a door we can lock somewhere,” El said, running a finger from Louise’s collarbone all the way to her belt.
“Are you sure the staff’s not here yet?” Louise said, slowly coming somewhat back to her senses.
El didn’t give her a chance to fully recover, though. She slipped a hand under Louise’s shirt. “Yes, but I don’t mind hurrying,” she said, moving her fingers in circles over the bare skin of Louise’s stomach.
“Let’s go,” Louise said.