Friday, June 24, 2016

Bark: Elite: Dangerous - The Loneliness of the Long Distance Explorer - Chapter Six

Byoi Eurk AF-P d6-13: 98 days out from Conway City

"Well. That's a record that I never want to break." Mya sighed. "That's the longest time I've ever gone between finding Earth-likes."

Our luck had finally changed as we had entered the Perseus arm, with practically the first F-type star system we had surveyed since making the transition from the Orion Spur. In a stable, almost perfectly circular orbit 627 light seconds from the middle-aged yellow star, hung a pristine blue and green jewel. The colour of it was breathtaking, even more so for its rarity. The closest we had seen to a world like this was an ice-bound water world nearly a fortnight ago. The Earth-like had minimal axial tilt and practically identical polar ice caps, with a broad, golden band of desert wrapping around its equator only broken up by the intrusion of sapphire-blue seas and oceans. A detailed surface scan revealed an oxygen-rich atmosphere and a pleasantly warm global average temperature of 287 Kelvin. The jumbled outlines of fjords above and below the tropical coastlines revealed that the planet had undergone at least one ice age, and while the continents had unfamiliar shapes, the balance between landmass and ocean gave the planet an aesthetically appealing look.

"Do you want to see what it's like on the surface?" I asked, pleased to see from the star charts that the Earth-like had not been previously discovered.
"Yeah. Let me find a nice beach near the terminator. I want to see the sunset." Mya replied, arcing the ship down into the atmosphere.

At a modest 0.78g, the planet's gravitational field didn't trouble Andromeda's thrusters, allowing Mya to set the ship down gently on a stretch of sand as long as the eye could see, to both port and starboard. We had landed with the nose of the ship pointing out to sea, where the star was dipping towards the horizon. I ran a comprehensive atmospheric analysis, which revealed that there were no airborne pathogens present and that carbon dioxide levels were well within safe norms. The only thing we would have to be careful about was to make sure that the combination of 1400 milliBars of air pressure and a 38.6% oxygen level didn't make us light-headed with hyperoxia. We would have to strictly limit the amount of time we spent on the surface without breathing equipment, otherwise there was a risk of developing oxygen poisoning, which could lead to full-body seizures, organ failure and even death, with too much exposure. Unfortunately, this reduced the potential value of the planet, as it would require some terraforming to bring the oxygen concentration down to safe levels for long-term colonisation. Mya however didn't let this dampen her enthusiasm for a quick stroll on the beach to watch the sun go down. The limb of the yellow sun was just starting to touch the horizon, so Mya urged us out onto the golden sand quickly, hustling me from behind with insistent prods to the small of my back.

"Come on, Petr. Move it. It's been too long since I've felt sand underneath my feet."
"Okay, okay! I'm moving."

The smell of the ocean wind greeted us as the crew hatch opened. Mya whooped exuberantly and bounded down the ramp like an excited teenager, barefoot and clad only in an ephemeral blue silk nightshirt. I followed on more sedately as Mya ran at full speed to the shoreline, her feet leaving dents in the damp sand. The evening was still pleasantly warm, so I took off my boots and deck socks, leaving them at the end of the loading ramp, opening my jumpsuit to my waist, letting the empty arms hang loosely behind me. The breeze and fading sunlight felt good on my chest. It had been months since I'd been able to stand on the surface of a planet unencumbered by a flight suit. Both we and the ship looked distinctly out of place. Sand and ocean were the only other things I could see, barring the setting sun and a few faint wisps of cloud in the sky. Mya sat at the water's edge, letting the gentle waves lap at her toes as she watched the star gradually sink out of sight. I sat down next to her, enjoying the sensation of the clear, cool water nipping at my feet. I opened myself to my senses, noticing how the blue tone of the atmosphere shaded gradually from azure to cobalt, then to navy, royal purple and eventually black as I looked up from the horizon to the zenith above us. The atmosphere immediately around the vanishing hemisphere of the star appeared molten, shimmering with vibrant reds, bronzes, oranges and ambers. The light level was fading fast, but it was still easy to see the look of pleasure on Mya's face. I turned away self-consciously when Mya noticed I was watching her and not the horizon.

"How does it feel to be the first, Petr? We're the only humans to ever have seen this sunset." Mya asked, her voice taking on a dream-like tone.
"It feels pretty special." I admitted. "No, remarkable."
"You asked me once why people become explorers. For me, it's moments like this. You have to experience it to properly understand. It's the pull of having experiences no-one has ever had before that drives me on."
"I can see why." I turned to her and we shared a smile. "I can feel why."
"I'm glad. It's nice to be able to share it with someone." Mya's smile became wistful, and then - terrifyingly - mischievous. "You know, Petr, there's another first up for grabs here. We're the most complex life forms this planet has ever seen."
"What do you mean?"
"This planet is only 1.9 billion years old. The most sophisticated native life form here is cyanobacteria." Mya explained, as she pulled her nightshirt off over her head. My heart raced when she put a hand on my bare chest. "How'd you like to be the first life form on this planet to have sex?"

For a fraction of a second I could see the doubt in her glorious brown eyes, wondering whether she had made a mistake and gone too far. I made a quick and irrevocable decision. I reached out to cup Mya's head and neck beneath her ear in my hand, my thumb caressing back along her cheekbone as I leaned over and kissed her. Before my brain had even begun to process the implications of my choice, my awareness centred on the heat from the moist sand on my back and the feather-like sweep of Mya's hair tickling my face as she began to make love to me. The sensation of pure pleasure washed over me as I focussed on the way her skin felt against mine. Exquisite pain sparked as her nails dug into my chest and I responded instinctively, my hands gripping the firm curves of her hips and breasts to pull her against me, our urgent cries and groans drowning out the bubbling surge of the waves beyond us. Mya signalled her orgasm with half a dozen sharp exhalations, pressing her hips down hard simultaneously with each one as she arched her back, her fingers clinging desperately onto my shoulders and neck. She kissed me ferociously, probing and exploring the depth of the warm, moist cavern behind my teeth, before letting her lips nuzzle against my neck and chest, her tongue leaving a hot, slick trail in its lazily meandering wake down past my waist. I moaned helplessly, unable to move as she finished me with her mouth, hearing Mya's soft, wordless sounds of desire and satisfaction as she tasted my ecstasy.

"Oh god, Mya... you're incredible." I said, panting for breath as she lay down on my chest.
"I can't believe you kept me waiting three months for that." Mya replied playfully, eyes closed.
"I hope it was worth the wait."
"Oh yes." Mya sighed in contentment. "Woo, I'm feeling dizzy."
"So am I, and it's not oxygen toxicity." I replied, holding her in my arms, caressing the smooth skin on her back. I was grateful that the tide was going out, rather than coming in, as Mya interweaved her long legs with mine while we rested on the sand, listening to each other breathe. I kissed Mya's forehead and neck to stop her from entering a sated, tranquil doze.
"We shouldn't stay out here too long." Mya said as she stretched against me sensuously. "The only thing I want giving me convulsions tonight is you."

Mya retrieved her nightshirt, took my hand and led me back to the ship, sealing the airlock behind us. There was no question that I would join her in her quarters for the night. The only question was how much sleep we would get. The answer, inevitably, was 'not much'. By the time we abandoned the bed to have a very late breakfast the next day, Mya had made me comprehensively regret not accepting her invitation to join her on the night before we had left Conway City.

"Now that we've finally resolved the whole sex thing, where do we go from here?" I asked Mya, who was seated opposite me in the galley, as we gorged ourselves on a high calorie breakfast of sous vide scrambled eggs with crispy bacon slices. Neither of us had bothered getting dressed, so we were both finding it rather difficult to concentrate on eating.
"Back to bed, hopefully." Mya smirked, her toes gently caressing the insides of my thighs. She slid forward slightly on her bench so that I could return the favour, with interest.
"I'm serious."
"So am I." Mya said, shivering. One of her hands disappeared beneath the table to ensnare my ankle in a tight grip. "Petr, I like you, you like me. Why not accept it for what it is?"
"I would, if I knew exactly what 'it' was." I replied, distracted by the insistent pressure from the soles of Mya's remarkably soft and dextrous feet.
"The beginning of a long and beautiful friendship?" Mya suggested. "It's going to be months until we get back to the bubble. Why rush things?"
"Mya, I think I'm falling in love with you. I just want to know if it's only one way."
"Oh, kitten. It's easy for you to say that now that you've had your cock in my ass." Mya said with a smile, teasing me with more than just words.
"Well, that was the decisive factor, obviously." I joked back. A sharp thrust of Mya's heel made me regret the quip instantly, and it took a minute or two for me to regain the power of speech. "Kidding aside, Mya... I've never known anyone like you. You're smart, funny, and you're as gorgeous a woman I've ever seen."
"And a great lover. Don't forget that." Mya added wryly.
"Not in a thousand years. Mya, I care about you. I respect you. I like being with you."
"I care about you too, Petr. But I've been hurt in the past. We can talk about what we want from a relationship later, when I'm sure about us. Let's just enjoy what we have now, take our time and see which way our course leads." Mya leant forward over the table and kissed me on the lips. "I think I've got a pretty good idea where our next jump is going to end up."

It was another two days before either of us stepped back onto Andromeda's flight deck.
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