June 14th, 2061. San Francisco, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 14.20 local time
“Did it connect?” El asked, peering down at the terminal.
Louise squinted at the bar indicating the signal strength. “Yeah, for now.”
El took a step aside and pointed at an old, somewhat rusty satellite dish on the ground. “So it’s working?”
“Seems like it,” Louise replied hesitantly. She knelt down, careful not to make any sudden movements. The pain was getting worse.
She studied the satellite dish. They had found it in the high grass behind the old weather station. Someone had either forgotten, or had never bothered, to uninstall it.
The mount it rested on had been consumed by rust. It had taken El only a minute to break it with a few surprisingly powerful kicks.
Louise had then ripped a cable out of the car to hook up the dish to her terminal. She had hoped it would amplify the strength of the device’s internal antenna.
She was surprised their tinkering had actually worked. The terminal had a pretty good connection. They would be able to send text, maybe even stream video.
“Okay, let’s give it a try,” she decided. She pushed herself up with a groan.
“You look so pale,” El blurted out. A breeze was playing with her curls. The wind offered sweet relief from the relentless heat.
Louise averted her eyes and shrugged. “It’s just the light.”
“No, it’s not.” El stepped closer and gently cupped Louise’s cheek. Her fingers brushed over clammy skin. “You need to rest.”
Louise knew El was right. Her chest felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to it. The muscles in her neck were all cramped up. The back of her head was pounding insistently.
Only two days before, Louise had enjoyed being in this place by the ocean. The squawking of seagulls had been comforting. The sound of water hitting the rocks had been relaxing. Now, both were torturous.
“Louise?” El asked quietly.
“Yeah,” Louise croaked. “Let’s do this. I can rest inside once we’re done.”
She turned around and tapped the terminal, gritting her teeth as a wave of nausea washed over her. She reread the few lines she had quickly typed up an hour earlier.
“Delay because of technical issues. Important new evidence. Hold 5b and 7b. Conference requested because of our past. Will wait for reply. Lou.”
Louise hoped the message sounded serious enough, and confusing enough, for the global coalition teams to send it up the chain of command immediately.
“I hope it’ll work,” El commented, her shoulder brushing against Louise’s.
“It will,” Louise said, confidently. “My friend Jim will read this and know something is off. He’ll be discrete.”
“But will he call your Major?”
Louise glanced sideways. “Please stop calling her my Major,” she sighed.
El’s grey eyes stared back at her in alarm. “Sorry.” She scratched her hair. “Habit.”
Louise forced herself to smile. She felt like someone was playing the drums on the inside of her temples. “I think he’ll get Michelle to read it stat, yes.”
El placed her hand on Louise’s lower back. “And she’ll set up the call?”
Louise nodded slowly. “I’m betting she will. I’d also put money on her calling in by herself.”
Louise pointed at the screen. “Only friends call me Lou. Last time I saw her, I asked her to stop calling me that.”
She felt her ears turn red. “Plus, Michelle said she had only given me this mission because of our past. As a way to prove myself to her.”
El’s lips formed an ‘o.’ She leaned over and looked at the message again. “Now I get why you mention the past. Well, I guess she’s in for a surprise.”
Louise touched the display to start the transmission of the report. “Yeah.”
El wrapped her arm loosely around Louise’s waist while they waited for the terminal to do its job. Nothing happened for 5 long seconds.
Louise was starting to worry their improvised set up wasn’t working after all. But then the progress bar finally began to move.
“Yes!” she exclaimed, raising her fist in the air. A new wave of nausea made her stumble.
El tightened her grip around Louise’s middle. “You need to go sit down,” she said sternly.
Louise hardly heard the bleep announcing the message had been sent. She was on the brink of collapsing.
“Let me turn up the volume, so we hear notifications and we can go wait inside,” she hissed.
El held on to Louise’s arm while they made their way into the small building. It was a relief to be out of the sun.
“I can shut the blinds,” El offered after helping Louise onto one of the chairs.
“Please,” Louise croaked. She bent over, elbows on her knees, and massaged her temples. It hurt to sit like this, but she really needed to do something about this debilitating headache.
The room darkened quite a bit as El closed the shutters. The only light left fell through the open door. The muscles around Louise’s eyes relaxed. She exhaled deeply. Perhaps she should have gone to the hospital after all.
“Lean back,” El urged softly.
Louise lowered her arms and straightened her back. Her stomach roiled in protest. Soft, warm fingertips prodded the sore muscles in her neck.
“Where does it hurt the most?” El whispered.
“Everywhere,” Louise sighed.
Her eyes widened when El started working a muscle at the base of her skull. Her shoulders dropped in instant relief. After half a minute, even her stomach calmed down.
El kept at it, making sure she loosened up every spot before she focused on the next. With every passing moment, Louise felt herself relax more and more.
“You’re really good at this,” she moaned.
El’s fingers had reached the sensitive area around Louise’s temples. “Feeling better?”
Louise let her head fall back against El’s stomach. “Yeah.”
“So, Lou, huh?” El teased.
Louise quirked an eyebrow. “Just for friends,” she joked.
El snorted. “Oh, I’m sorry.” She stopped moving her fingers. “Since we’re not friends, I guess I’ll stop…”
“No,” Louise laughed, reaching for El’s hand to keep it in place. A bad idea. Her whole upper body screamed in protest.
“Fuck,” she cursed.
El quickly walked around the chair. “Let me take a look at that.”
Louise took in a deep, shaky breath.
“I’ll help you,” El said, gently tugging at the bottom of Louise’s damp shirt.
Louise met El’s eyes. “Okay.”
She raised her arms so El could pull the shirt over her head.
“Oh man,” El sighed. “That’s gotta hurt.” She dropped the garment onto the floor.
Louise peered down. Red and blue blotches covered everything from her collar bone to the swell of her breasts.
“I’m so sorry,” El said, kneeling in front of Louise. She put her hands on Louise’s thighs.
Goosebumps rose on Louise’s arms, despite the heat. She slowly lifted her hand and ran her fingers through El’s curls.
“You’re so beautiful,” she whispered.
El’s lips quirked up into a shy smile. When Louise brushed her cheek, El closed her eyes and leaned into the touch. Louise’s throat tightened. Sweat prickled on her bare back and shoulders. A bead rolled down her exposed stomach.
Her whole body was tingling. It almost made her forget about the pain. Louise knew this was a moment she would always remember. It was as if her mind was floating in the air, watching them sitting here.
She could hear the birds outside and the wind playing with the leaves. She saw dust floating in the air. Small particles hopped from one ray of sunlight to the next.
El’s hands were running up and down Louise’s legs. Louise’s fingers explored the soft skin of El’s cheek, her lips, her chin. She moved to the edge of her seat, no longer caring that it hurt.
She gasped when El gently pushed her legs apart. El moved closer, still on her knees, and rested her head on Louise’s inner thigh. Heat uncurled in Louise’s abdomen.
El looked up at her, her lips only inches removed from where Louise wanted them most. It made her head spin. She wrapped her arms around El’s shoulders, pulling her closer.
El started placing kissing on the fabric of Louise’s pants.
“Oh God,” Louise breathed.
“I really wish you weren’t hurting,” El said huskily, in between kisses.
“I don’t think I care,” Louise replied, raking her fingers through El’s hair.
El closed her eyes, biting down on her lip in frustration.
Louise started to tug at El’s blazer. Her impatient movements caused the muscles in her shoulder to spasm, and she hissed.
“Hey, hey, careful,” El whispered.
She covered Louise’s hands with her own, entwining their fingers.
“I want you so badly,” she continued, “But not here, not now.”
Louise groaned in exasperation. She knew El had a point. The need pulsing through her veins had a mind of its own, though.
El kissed the tips of Louise’s fingers, one after the other. It was both tantalizingly sexy and heartbreakingly tender.
“I want you in a bed. Fit and well-rested,” she said breathily.
Louise’s heart drummed in her chest. She stared at El’s lips.
“Promise me that’ll happen,” El pleaded.
Louise blinked. “What do you mean?” she asked, having a hard time getting the words out.
El guided Louise’s hand under her blouse to cover her heart. “Promise me that, no matter what happens next, I’ll get to wake up next to you one day.”
Louise’s lips parted. An intense, warm feeling swelled in her chest. It grew and grew until it pushed three words into her mouth. She blurted them out without giving it a second thought.
“I love you.”
El’s eyes glistened with tears. Louise’s chin trembled. She swallowed nervously as the silence seemed to last forever.
“I love you too,” El finally replied, and Louise couldn’t hold back a sob.
El moved closer and wrapped her arms around Louise. “Hey, hey, it’s okay.”
Louise’s shoulders shook. She cried without making a sound.
El held her close, whispering. “We’re safe now. It’s over.”
Several minutes passed. When Louise finally stopped shaking, El gently pushed her chin up until their eyes met. Everything was a blur for Louise.
“Once we get rid of that ex-girlfriend of yours, you and I are going to find a way to be together,” El declared.
Louise smiled sadly. “She’s a pain in the ass,” she quipped, “I wouldn’t count on getting rid of her entirely.” She wiped her cheeks.
“Okay,” El chuckled, “Then we’ll just make it work regardless.”
“What about you?” Louise whispered, still struggling to believe that they would get a shot at being happy. “You’re still the president and people might…”
“I don’t care,” El said, shaking her head. She leaned in and kissed Louise. “I just want to be with you,” she soothed.
They kissed again. Louise lost herself in the slow exploration of El’s mouth.
A bleep from the terminal outside startled them both, ending the moment.
“It’s her,” Louise gasped.
El grabbed her hand. “Let’s do this.”