FIRE AND ICE
by A. D. Barncord Doerr
Copyright © 1998
John Martin bravely entered the office of his two best engineers. It wasn't that he didn't like them. They just unnerved him. He called out a bright hello to get their attention.
Brent set his mechanical pencil down and propped his feet up on his desk. He gave John a disconcerting smirk. Somewhere behind that smile, he knew Brent was planning give him hell.
Candace looked up from her computer, her face held a placid look of inquisitiveness as she regarded John. Most of the time, she was a very quiet, considerate person. There were a few times, however, when she could cut your heart out and serve it back to you. John couldn't honestly decide which one of them scared him more.
Fire and Ice. That's what they were. Brent was Fire and Candace was Ice. Brent was wild and crude, while Candace was restrained and proper. How the two work so well together was a total mystery to him.
He cleared his voice.
"Have you two been keeping up with the rogue satellite story?"
"How can anyone ignore it?" asked Brent. "They interrupt every program with news flashes about it. Personally, I think all the media people are on mind-altering drugs. They are way too wound up about this thing. So we can't broadcast anything through space. Big deal. Everything in this station is hardwired and shielded from outside interference. Who cares what's going on anywhere else?"
Candace snorted softly as she smiled. They both knew that Brent liked shocking people with his seemingly lack of concern.
John ignored his remarks and continued.
"So, you know what type of satellite is involved?"
"A relic from the Idealspace revolt, I believe," responded Candace. "Wave disruptor with a nuclear reactor engine designed to double as a warhead, if need be."
Brent put down his feet in disgust. "And it should have been taken care of decades ago, but everybody figured it could wait until later. So, what are the bureaucrats going to do about it now?" he asked.
John Martin smiled. He was going to get them this time. This time, it would be them, not him, who would be floored. This would be a day he would remember with fondness.
"Well, actually, they hired the best minds on the station to work on it. As of today, the problem is your baby."
Both engineers wore identical shocked expressions. They turned to each other, speechless. Candace took a deep breath and turned to face John.
"So when do we get the specs?"
Brent sat back and rubbed his forehead. He had been trying to find a way pass the satellite's defense systems. He looked over at Candace, or Candy as he insisted on calling her, who was also pouring over their diagrams and calculations.
He smiled to himself for a moment as he studied her. She was actually quite pretty. Most people were too daunted by her cold, steel gray eyes to notice her curvaceous figure and silky, ash blonde hair. He wasn't scared by her prim and efficient mannerisms, anymore than she was alarmed by his rough and explosive nature. They both knew that these were only their social interfaces. Underneath laid two very dedicated and intelligent engineers.
Candy sat back and sighed, shaking her head.
"I would really like to have met the people who designed this system," she said at last. "It's truly a work of art."
"I would like to have met them, too," he replied. "Preferably, with an automatic weapon and before they had a chance to design this. I can't see a way to contact the command computer without blowing the bastard up."
"I think that was the point."
"What set it off, do you think?"
Candy shrugged. "We could check the solar flare data and ship records for something that might have triggered it. Do you actually think if we find the trigger, we might have a way to contact it?"
"Naw, just curious. They meant for these things to be turned on and blown up. The trigger was obviously an electromagnetic signal and now it disrupts every wavelength. One way operation."
"I wonder what else is still laying around from that time?"
Brent thought for a moment.
"Maybe we should find out. It may give us something else to work with."
Candy nodded in agreement and turned to her computer to link up to the station's main library database. Brent went to his keyboard and contacted a friend whose hobby was old war artifacts.
He snuck another look at his partner. So, they had an unspoken agreement to keep their relationship professional, it didn't mean he couldn't enjoy the scenery once in a while.
Candace stretched in her chair. She had spent the past four hours going through records in the library database. She needed a chance to process what she had scanned. Her brain needed more oxygen. What she needed now was a walk.
Her practice of taking off and pacing back and forth in the basement storage area bothered a few of the other managers. John too, at first. Until he realized that she only did it when she felt overwhelmed and she always came back with a solution or at least a better overview of the problem. Now he would even suggest a walk when he saw her mentally blocked.
She took off for the emergency stairs. They were also part of the routine. She chuckled as she descended. John probably imagined that she concentrated only on the problem at hand when she took these walks. Truth of the matter, she would often push every thought of the project out of her mind and think about something totally unrelated.
Right now, she thought about Brent. He was in one of his teasing-baiting moods today. He and Shelly had a miserable time last night and, as always, Candace was the one who had to put up with his frustration. Not that he wanted to start an argument, he was just trying to get a reaction from her - some proof that she realized that there was more to him than calculations and formulas.
Which, of course, she did. Though he would rather drink molten rock than admit it, he was actually a very decent and noble man underneath his facade of flippant disrespect. As for his appearance, she was undecided. He wasn't bad looking, but his exaggerated expressions often marred what could possibly be a handsome face. The rest of him seemed pretty much up to grade, but she made a practice not to dwell on that.
The thing that unnerved her most about him was also the very thing that captivated her. His ability to work with her as if they were on the same wavelength. They never needed to say, "You do that and I'll do this", they just automatically did it. Sometimes, they would complete whole tasks while talking about something totally unrelated the entire time. It had been that way from the very first time they work together. She wondered if Brent even noticed this.
As she contemplated the connection between herself and him, a likely approach to the satellite problem presented itself. She turned and went back up the stairs. Soon, she was back at her desk, jotting down possibilities.
John Martin took time to quickly look in on his top engineers. They were both plotting old missile sites on a current map of the planetoid this station called home.
John watched as the two of them moved around each other. To the passing observer, it appeared to be a carefully choreographed and much practiced dance. John knew better, though. What it was, was two people whose minds worked in perfect unison, even if their personalities were direct opposites.
Some people might assumed they were lovers, but they didn't touch like lovers did. They barely touched at all and when they did, it was only a friendly gesture. Besides, Brent was dating a knockout named Shelly, and Candace was engaged to some guy in the military.
It was a good thing, too. Fire and Ice often destroyed each other. He would hate to see the best engineering team he ever known ruined.
Candace stood with her face towards the sun, soaking up its joyful warmth. She was standing in a field of rich, soft, emerald grass. To her left was a towering cubic city of polished steel.
She walked parallel to the deep chasm to her right, her long silvery silk dress gently swishing around her ankles. The world she wandered in was beautiful and it made her feel that way too.
A bridge spanned the chasm. She regarded it as she walked towards it. It was a single arched piece of crystal with no sides. It was maybe twelve meters long and one meter wide.
As she came closer, she noticed a man waiting on the other side of the crystal bridge. He was dressed in dark, rich brown clothes with an aura of bronze radiating from him. His hair was the same warm brown color with bronze highlights. She stopped when she realized that his eyes would be a shade darker.
It was Brent. Not the wisecracking person with his barricade of barbed wire and flame throwers he used as a personality, but the noble, powerful being who hid behind it. He was beyond handsome. The mere thought of denying him anything was inconceivable.
She started walking again, her eyes fixed on his presence. He turned and saw her. His eyes held a look she had only seen a time or two before. She never could name that look. Perhaps it had no name, or perhaps she was just too afraid to name it. It held her as securely as any chain ever could.
He held out his hand for her and her steps quickened to reach him. Something powerful welled up inside of her, threatening to force her to pieces. She could barely breathe because of the pressure.
Reaching the edge of the bridge, she stopped as she saw the swirling turmoil behind him. Fear gripped her heart as memories of her childhood came unbidden. She was the oldest child of a large family. Her mother had a severe mental illness. As long as Candace kept things controlled and peaceful, the family could survive her mother's episodes with little trauma. When she couldn't, it was a nightmare. Images of violence and pain flashed before her. It was a very unpredictable existence. As unpredictable as the swirling clouds and random light bursts behind Brent. Something that would set her mother off one time, would not even phase her another time, and vice versa. The only constants were the need to be always on guard and the pervasive presence of fear.
She looked back into Brent's intense eyes. Fear and desire fought against each other. She took a timid step forward when a gust of wind buffeted her.
She couldn't do it. She gave him a pained look and turned away.
Awake now, Candace trembled in her bed, tears running down her face. She quietly reminded herself it was only a dream, not reality. Reaching towards the night stand, she activated her stereo and filled her room with soft music. Wiping the tears away, she focused her mind's eye on Kyle.
Kyle was stable and safe. He would be back in a few months. Kyle was reality.
Brent stared critically at the steel city before him. He didn't like it. Its form was too predictable, too constrained. It reminded him of a prison fortress.
Or the life his father wanted him to lead. All planned out on a schedule. No surprises. No exceptions. Just the same thing, day after day, year after year. Life without life. A never ending death. A life prison sentence would be more interesting.
A flash of silvery light to his left caught his attention. His breath stopped. It was His Candy. Not the stone faced Candace McCall, but the exquisite and tender woman he knew had to exist behind the fortress of steel and granite which greeted him every workday.
She was too beautiful for words. She sparkled and shined. She glistened and glowed. She moved with the grace of a goddess as she walked towards the bridge that spanned the chasm which separated them.
His need for her engulfed him. There could be no one else. Not in this lifetime or any other. He held out his hand and willed her to come to him.
Come my gentle goddess. Come to me and be mine, my lady, my love. I would never risk chipping such delicate beauty. Come willingly, so that I may know you are truly mine and no other man can dare hope to take you away from me.
At the bridge's edge, she stopped, troubled by something behind him. He didn't turn. It didn't matter what was there. All that mattered was the two of them. Together they could solve any problem, they always have. There was nothing that could withstand their combined brilliance. Nothing.
Her eyes return to his, full of indecision. After what felt like an eternity, she took a small step towards him. A brief gust of air swirled her skirts around her. The result was breathtaking.
A look of anguish entered those glorious eyes.
No! Not again! Candy don't turn away. Come to me and everything will be right. I will fight whatever demons haunt you. Just don't turn away.
His silent pleas changed nothing. She turned away. Just like every time before.
In his bed, with Shelly sleeping soundly beside him, Brent groaned in pain. His face grimaced and his fists clenched. Then in a voice almost too soft to hear, he whispered.
"Damn you, Candy. Why won't you cross?"
For grins, they had ran a simulation of what would happened if they launched one of the old missiles at the satellite. The results were less disastrous than they expected. The momentum of the missile knock the satellite further from the planetoid than they anticipated, but the resulting explosion from the combined warheads was still too dangerous for the station and its inhabitants.
Candace paced the room in thought, her movements more hesitant than normal. Brent was slouched in his chair in a sour mood. Usually, one would make a gentle jab at the other to find out what was wrong, but today neither one asked the other what the problem was.
"Maybe there's a way we could get the missile just to push the satellite without detonating it," she suggested.
"Huh? Oh, yeah," Brent sat up, refocusing his mind on the problem at hand. "It might be possible to fit some sort of repulsor device in the nose cone. Then we might be able to push it far enough away, where detonating it wouldn't be a hazard."
Together, they started to sketched a possible repulsor unit. They discussed the possibility of reflecting the disruptor waves back towards the satellite. After all, it had to be shielded by its own waves or it would have exploded upon activation.
They soon had plans for an unit that reflected the energy from the disruptor waves back in the form of an intense repulsor beam. They then designed a modified nose cone for the unit. They went back to their list of active missile sites and picked the one which best suited their needs. They ran a computer simulation. The results were promising.
After a few more runs and modifications, they would be ready to present their solution to John. They decided that they would corner him Thursday morning, before his weekly progress meeting with his superiors. That would give them time to produce some spruced up reports to impress the bosses.
Candace sighed happily as she turned off her computer. She loved it when they found a good solution.
John called them both into his office Friday afternoon. Candace sat down, crossed her legs, and folded her hands in her lap. Brent slouched in the chair next to her. They both eyed him warily.
"Well, they like your idea. I've already given your designs to the fabrication department. They are building the repulsor unit and the modified nose cone as we speak."
John shuffled the papers in front of him, his face serious. Neither engineer spoke. They knew he had more to tell them. Finally, he looked back up.
"You're going to need to recalculate the satellite coordinates. As of two days ago, its orbit started to deteriorate."
He tossed the papers to Brent.
"There are the reports of its position for the past six weeks. The observatory people says it should break up in another two weeks. One more thing, we can't be totally sure what condition your missile site is in. We have reports of scavengers stripping some of the other sites. We can't check them either. There are only six vehicles on this planetoid shielded enough to operate outside the envirodomes and they are being used to evacuate people from the outlaying domes to the main complex."
"What are you trying to say, John?" asked Brent.
"I'm trying to say that we'll have to send the two of you out to set up and launch the missile. Only God knows what problems are going to show up and we need someone there who can solve them. By next Friday everyone should be evacuated from the Beta Quadrant. At that time, one of the shielded transports will be assigned to the two of you. Fabrication says they should have your stuff built by next Wednesday. Edmonds likes your design, by the way. Says it nice to have engineers who believe in sleekness and simplicity."
"Who's going to give us the launch and access codes?" Candace asked.
"The military's sending someone over Monday with codes and maps of most of the missile sites."
Brent stood up and turned towards Candace.
"Well, Candy, I guess we have some calculations to do by Monday. Hope you didn't have any plans for this weekend."
"Not anymore," she answered.
Shelly wasn't too happy about being alone this weekend, but she realized that it was better than dying in two weeks. Brent was waiting for Candy when she came in Saturday morning. He had donuts and hot chocolate on her desk.
They stayed late yesterday to finish calculating the satellite's decreasing orbit. No one knew for sure why it started to deteriorate. Maybe the reactor engine was developing problems and that's what activated it in the first place. Brent didn't know.
It brought up another unknown. If the reactor was unstable then who knew what would happen and when. They could only hope that it wouldn't blow up before they could push it away from their planetoid.
Well, if these were going to be the last days of his life, at least he was going to spend them next to the person who he cared for the most. Too bad they weren't going to spend it doing more pleasurable activities. Too bad he couldn't tell Candy how he really felt. Why did she have to accept Kyle's proposal, anyway?
He sighed as she finished her donut. They went back over the missile sites and picked five which were most likely to be fully intact. The rest of the day was spent running simulation after simulation.
During the last run of simulations, Candy went out into the hall to lay down on a couch and rest her neck. When Brent went out to check on her, she was fast asleep.
He always wondered what she looked like while sleeping. At that moment she looked cold. He went back into their office and got his jacket. Carefully, he placed it over her. It took a few moments, but then she snuggled into it. Her shoulders were still hunched over as if she was trying to protect herself from something. There was tension in her jaw and brow. She looked like a frightened child.
Brent thought back on the dream he had several days earlier. What was she afraid of? He had seen her corner vice-presidents in their own offices and leave them shaken and pale. She could shred louts and jerks without blinking. What could possibly scare a woman like that?
He reached to gently stroke her shoulder. He had only meant to calm away some of the tension, but the instant he touch her, Candy shot up. Her unfocused eyes were darting around as if they were searching for some monstrous beast. Her whole frame was tense and ready for flight.
"Easy, Candy," he told her. "I didn't mean to wake you. Were you having a nightmare or something?"
"Something," she muttered sleepily, relaxing her muscles. He sat down next to her and put an arm around her shoulders, rubbing her arm as she continued to wake up.
"Mind telling me what that something is?" he asked her.
"Oh, it's nothing to worry about. I always sit straight up when someone wakes me," she assured him.
"Just do. Always have."
Brent wasn't happy with the answer. In fact, it worried him even more. He thought back about everything Candy had ever told him about her childhood. He knew that she spent most of her time taking care of her siblings. He knew of the happy times she were fond of. She said a few times that her mother was crazy. He always thought she meant in the same way his dad and other parents were. Now he had other ideas about what crazy might have meant.
Was this why she insisted on being so restrained? She rarely seem bothered by his angry outbursts and wild acts. Maybe she meant crazy in some other way. Then again, maybe what she went through was so bad that his actions were nothing in comparison. Perhaps that's why she insisted on the space between them. Perhaps she was afraid that he was capable of becoming the monster she grew up with.
Terror gripped his heart. Hurt his sweet Candy? Never. The very idea was unthinkable. The thought that she could be afraid of him was the worse hell he could imagine. He only wanted her to loosen up and enjoy life. Maybe he needed to find another way than trying to shock her into it.
If only he had realized it earlier. Now he may never have the chance to correct his mistake.
Monday morning, Candace greeted Captain Fred Baker warmly and introduced him to Brent. She and Kyle had attended a few of his and his wife Crystal's dinner parties. She led him to a chair in front of her desk. Brent had already pulled his chair to the side.
Fred laid out the diagrams of the missile site they had decided on. He took them on an imaginary tour of the area, describing in detail as much as he could remember. He had actually been one of the people who had mothballed the site.
"So, to activate the launch sequence you need two people," observed Brent. "One in each of the control booths on opposite sides of the launch bay."
"Correct," said Fred.
"And the codes had to be entered simultaneously," added Candace. "Was it coordinated by the launch computer or over the comm system?"
"The comm system," answered Fred.
Brent groaned. "Whose brainchild was that?" he asked.
"Some general thought it would offer an extra bit of security. He was also the same guy who decided to locate the control booths on opposite sides of the bay," Fred explained.
"I'll never understand military people. No offense, Captain Baker," said Brent.
"None taken," smiled Fred. "Personally, I think they surgically remove the part of the brain which regulates common sense when someone becomes a general."
"Do you think the site is still capable of operation?" asked Candace.
"It should be," said Fred. "We turned it on a few years back for a diplomatic party to see. It was for some historical celebration."
"Well, that's some relief," said Candace. "It shouldn't be in too bad of shape then."
"We're sending over some components that might possibly need to be replaced. Should get here tomorrow," added Fred.
"Good. Hopefully, that should keep us from having to do much improvising on site," said Brent.
"Anything to help," stated Fred. "We're all behind the two of you. If you need anything else, just tell me and I'll see what I can do."
"Is the site shielded and are we going to have any extra shielded electrical cable to work with?" asked Candace.
"The site is shielded, but I don't know how much cable we can get for you. The life-support and emergency systems used most of what we did have on hand."
Both engineers nodded.
"Well, let's have the launch codes now," said Brent.
It was Friday. Brent watched as the military personnel loaded their transport. Their presence irked him. Not that he wasn't grateful for the help, but it reminded him that Candy was Kyle's girl. Every extra precaution they took, every little consideration they thought of, was because they wanted to take care of their buddy's fiancee.
One soldier was talking to her now, "So, the wedding's going to be a month after Kyle returns, huh?"
"That's what we're planning on," Candy answered.
"Well, you better take good care of yourself out there.
There can't be a wedding without you and without a wedding, where am I going to get free food and alcohol?" teased the soldier.
Candy laughed and Brent looked around for something he could kick. No such luck. He thrust his hands deeper into his pockets and went to oversee the loading of the repulsor unit.
It tested well Thursday. When they took it outside, they were able to create a repulsor field a little over two meters thick. Well, at least something was going right.
He didn't turn as he heard Candy's footsteps. She quietly stood beside him for a few minutes. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her in her green jumpsuit, her arms folded.
"How many of these people do you know?" he asked her.
"Oh, most of them," she replied.
"All of those invited to the wedding?"
"Yes. How's Shelly handling this?"
"As well as can be expected. She cried all through dinner last night."
"Well, if everything goes right, we'll be back by next Wednesday. Then, I promise you, she'll make a better dinner companion."
"Don't count on it," he told her.
"Why not? The love of her life will be safe and sound, after saving the whole station."
"She's not the love of my life, though. I'm planning to break up with her after this is over."
Candy rolled her eyes. "I don't understand what you want from a woman, Brent. You go out with the most gorgeous females on this station and you always dump them after a year. The sweet ones you dump after the third date. The intelligent ones you dump after four months. What are you looking for? A goddess or something?"
He shrugged his shoulders in reply. What could he tell her? He did want a goddess. Unfortunately, some jerk named Kyle stole her heart before he could figure out how to do it himself.
He looked at the large reinforced, shielded steel doors on the other side of the transport. In a matter of minutes, they would be on the other side of those forbidding structures, rushing to some missile site, fifty kilometers away.
He looked back at the transport. They had just finished loading it up. Every soldier went over to Candy first and wished her a safe journey. She smiled and thanked each one of them. They wished him well, too, but the sentiments lacked the warmth that Candy got. Brent just nodded in reply.
John came up to them last.
"I don't have to tell the two of you how important this is. I just want you to know that I'm praying for both of you. You're the best team of engineers I have ever worked with and I want both of you back, safe and sound."
John swallowed, smile weakly, and continued, "Besides, I still owe you two a lot of hell for that ulcer you gave me three years ago."
Candy gave him one of her rare smiles of pure sweetness and kissed his cheek.
"Don't worry, John. We'll be back," she assured him.
Brent shook his hand firmly and then lightly punch his arm.
"After all, we've been planning on giving you another ulcer."
Brent took the first shift of driving, while Candace went back over their inventory. Fred couldn't find any shielded cable that could be spared. It was a real shame. They could have ran a line to the transport and take advantage of its systems too. Well, chances were they wouldn't need it anyway. It still would have been nice to have it, though.
"What's wrong, Candy?" asked Brent.
"Oh, just wishing for the moon again."
"Disappointed about the cable."
"Yes, but it couldn't be helped," she replied.
Brent nodded and continued to drive. Candace watched the stark rocky landscape around them, as it shimmered in the disruptor wave altered light. Neither talked for awhile.
Then Brent broke the silence.
"Candy? Why is it that after all the years we work together, we never tried having a relationship?" he asked.
"Because, I'm too sweet and innocent for you," she answered.
Brent gave her an irritated look.
"I mean seriously," he insisted.
"Well, probably because we have both spent too much time working with people who were difficult. I mean, look at how well we work together. We don't even have to talk to each other and we still put out good work. It's like we're two interlocking gears. We hardly ever fight. Why mess up such a wonderful working relationship with a love affair? After all, love comes and goes, but you still have to pay the bills."
Candace glanced over at Brent to see how he was taking her explanation. His expression was unreadable.
"So what you're saying is that our working relationship is such a rare and wonderful thing, that we shouldn't risk ruining it," he said at last.
"Pretty much sums it up," she answered.
"But how do we know that we're not passing up what could be a rare and wonderful love affair?" he pointed out.
"Because, I'm too sweet and innocent for you."
Brent groaned in exasperation.
"Go back there and get some sleep," he told her. "We're not stopping this bus for anything."
Candace chuckled and went into the back. There wasn't much room, but they were able to clear a spot for one person to sleep in. She snuggled into the sleeping bag. She was pleased with herself. It's not often that she could give Brent a good tease. The only thought that nagged her as she fell asleep was the possibility that he might be right about them.
Brent silently contemplated Candy's words as she slept. She liked working with him so much that she didn't want to do anything that might destroy it.
He supposed he should be flattered. They did work well together. So well at times, that it was hard to believe that they were so different. It was like they had some sort of psychic link between their minds. If they did, then it must be between the left side of their brains, because there was no emotion in it. It was just there while they were calculating and designing. If that were the case, then Candy might be wrong about an affair screwing it up. A link was a link, after all.
Yet, at times, he could sense something more. It was only vague feelings, but they were there. Maybe their link had some overflow to their right brains. She might be right, then. The emotional portion of the link could disrupt it completely.
But then again, maybe they worked so well together because they were more alike than either of them would admit. They just used different methods to keep people from hurting them. There was a fifty-fifty chance she was right, then. They might be just enough alike to get along great, or so much alike that they would destroy each other.
Brent shook his head and tried to return his thoughts to the idiots who left the satellite up. Men weren't suppose to be the ones trying to figure out a relationship, women were. Then why was he doing this?
Because Candy wouldn't even consider it.
Candace checked their bearings. Thank God for gyroscopes, they were still on track. They should get to the site tomorrow.
Her mind drifted as she watched the changing, yet changeless landscape. A few boulders here. An impact crater there. The tracks of previous transports.
Her mind drifted to Brent. What has gotten into him lately? He was being so serious that, if it weren't for his intensity, she would swear that someone else had replaced him.
And all this talk about relationships. Brent usually floated in and out of relationships. He never seemed to take much thought about them before. What in the world was going on?
It was this crisis that was going on. That must be it. There was still a good chance that they would fail. Candace tried not to think about it too much, but she knew it was there.
Brent was facing his mortality. He was taking stock of his life, examining the might have beens. She was one of those might have beens. The idea that he considered her a possible love interest made her feel very warm inside.
And that feeling scared her. Brent was too attracted to the unpredictable, the chaotic. She didn't need that. Not that she didn't like surprises now and then. Good or bad ones. They made life interesting. But Brent couldn't get enough of them and she had way too many of them growing up.
She heard Brent getting up. He rattled around in the back of the transport. Soon he was in the passenger seat with two sandwiches in his hand. He gave one of them to her.
"Thanks," she said.
They ate their sandwiches quietly. Brent went back and got some sodas. They watched twilight fall on their little planetoid.
Candace activated the headlights. As the sky darken to black, the beams made eerie shadows before them. Boulders and rocks took on animal-like appearances. Craters ate up the light. The landscape seemed more alive now than it did by sunlight.
Brent put his feet up on the dash and his hands behind his head.
"Why do you think we work so well together," he asked.
"I always figured it was yin-yang thing. When it comes to attacking problems, we converge from opposite sides and nothing can escape," she told him.
"So you think it's because we're so different."
"Actually, I think we're more alike than we want to admit. That despite your cool exterior, you're actually a wild woman underneath."
"Then you're also saying that under your wild man exterior, you are actually a conscientious and orderly person."
"Bite your tongue," growled Brent.
"Wait a moment," she continued. "You may have something here. We're the same person, but one of us is turned inside out."
"And which one of us is the inside out one?"
Candace flashed him a smile.
"You are, of course."
Brent gave her a glare and then a leer.
"So, when do I get to meet the wild woman?" he asked.
"When I meet the conscientious and orderly gentleman," she countered.
He smile mischievously, "Well, we could set up a date so you could meet him."
"How will I recognize him?" Candace asked.
"Easy. He'll be the one who looks like he belongs in a casket."
"Are you saying that I look like a stiff?"
Brent stared playfully at her figure.
"Well, you're the best looking one I've ever seen."
Candace tossed her empty soda can at his head. He laughingly deflected it.
"So, you care what I think, after all," he crowed. "And all this time I thought I was only an extra processing unit to you."
"Take the wheel," she ordered. "I'm tired."
Brent was smirking as she stomped to the back of the transport.
"Sweet dreams, good-looking," he called back to her.
She ignored Brent's remark and snuggled into the sleeping bag as he started the transport. The sleeping bag smelled nice.
Brent hummed happily as he drove in the dark. She did hadfeelings for him or she wouldn't had stomped off like that. Maybe they weren't as strong as his were for her, but they were an opening.
A chink in that fortress of granite and steel. There was hope for him, then. Now he had four months to widen that chink and steal her away from Kyle.
Provided they lived through this first.
Brent pushed that thought away. A lot can happen in four months.
Candace stopped the transport and leaned across the steering wheel. She was not happy with the sight before her. She sighed.
Time to break the news to Brent. She went to the back of the transport where he was sleeping. She knelt down and gently shook his leg.
"Come on, Sleeping Beauty," she said. "Time to get up."
Brent yawned and stretched.
"I thought Sleeping Beauty had to be awaken with a kiss," he muttered rebelliously.
"I would have to climb over you to do that."
Brent looked over and gave her a sleepy smile.
"Sounds good to me."
"Cut the innuendos, Brent," she insisted. "We may have a big problem."
He sat up. "What do you mean?"
"There's signs that someone may have recently raided our missile site," she told him.
Brent shot pass her and looked out the window. He let out a stream of profanities as he punched the passenger seat. He sat down and glared at the wrecked hanger door for a few moments.
Candace went further back and removed their environmental suits from their storage locker. She gave Brent his and started to put on her own.
"You're right," Brent replied to her silence. "We might as well see how much damage they did."
They drove the transport into the hanger and got out.Though the airlock doors showed signs of being forced, they were able to get them to work properly with a little tweaking. After the area filled with breathable air, they removed their helmets.
Brent searched the northern section of the site, while Candy did the southern. As he checked section after section, he looked for missing equipment and damaged instruments. He made it to the north control center without finding any evidence of scavenging. He turned on the launch computer and watched the start up test. Nothing seemed wrong there.
He flicked the comm switch to signal Candy. Some static and a large snap came from the speaker. Well, that was one thing that needed to be replaced. He removed the speaker cover to examine the damage.
He had the parts laid out, when Candy came into the room several minutes later.
"Comm system's out," he told her.She nodded, slightly dazed.
"I couldn't find anything missing. How about you?," he asked.
"Come into the missile bay," she told him.
Brent was confused. What did they take from the missile bay? Not the missiles, hopefully. That would screw them over for sure. No, it couldn't be that. They would have had to dismantle them to do that.
He opened the door to the bay. The walls of the missile bay were missing their highly reflective glossiness. There were bolts sticking out everywhere.
"They took all the heat shielding," announced Candy.
Brent stared at the sight, completely stunned. Finally, he found his voice.
They spent a full day searching the site for anything that could be used for the purpose of shielding themselves from the intense heat released from the missile's launch. It was well into the night before they gave up.
Candace started to mentally list their other options. They only had a day to deflect the satellite. Not enough time to drive to another site and fit the repulsor unit on another missile. Besides, the other site might be in even worse shape.
"We're going to be dead either way, Candy," sighed Brent, interrupting her thoughts.
"Might as well go as toast," she replied.
"At least, if we succeed, we'll be famous," he pointed out.
"Do you think they'll find enough of us to bury?" she asked.
Brent shrugged and yawned. She felt tired, too.
"I guess we'd better get some sleep. Can't afford to make a mistake with the repulsor unit," she said.
"Got to fix the comm system, also," he agreed.
They pulled out the sleeping bags and laid them out.
"Brent," she said before she went to sleep. "I'm really glad I had a chance to work with someone like you for so long."
"It was fun for me, too, Candy."
It was a good thing they were too tired to dream.
They spent the morning in silence, as they fitted the repulsor unit to a missile. After a late lunch, they started on the comm system. They only had a few hours to get it up.
After an half hour, it was decided that the problem was the signal cable between the two speakers. They tied the new cable to the north end of the old one. Candy stayed there to feed the wire through the conduit. Brent went to the south end to pull the wire out.
Brent grasped the old cable and gently tugged. It came quite easily. After a couple minutes of easy pulling, he became suspicious. He started to pull faster. Sure enough, several minutes later, the partial cable came out with its end completely melted.
"I was afraid of that," said Candy behind him. She must have came over when she realized that her end wasn't going anywhere.
"We're going to have to thread it above the conduit, then," he stated.
He removed the access cover above the speaker.
"Looks a bit small for someone like me," he observed.
"Then let's go to the other side and I'll take the cable through," offered Candy.
They went to the north side. After removing that access cover, Brent boosted Candy into the opening and handed her the end of the new cable.
He slowly fed the cable to her as she made her way across. After awhile there was no more cable.
"Candy, we're out of wire!" he yelled.
He heard uncontrolled laughter from the access area. Finally, she yelled back.
"We're five meters too short!"
What did we do to deserve this? What cosmic entity wanted this planetoid destroyed? Brent shook his head as he walked across the bay to help Candy down from the south end of the access area.
She was perched on the access edge when he entered the southern control room. He grasped her waist and brought her down. They stared at the speaker together.
"Well, we have less than two hours to think of something," he observed.
She nodded. "Let's go eat something. Maybe a solution will suggest itself during dinner."
No solution, mechanical or electrical, materialized as they finished their meal. Candace looked over at her partner.
"Brent," she started. "You know how we always seem to do things in unison?"
"What about it?" he asked.
"Well, there's a polarized window, looking out on the missile bay, about ten meters from each control center. Maybe if we start off together, we'll be able to enter the codes simultaneously," she suggested.
"What other choice do we have left," he conceded. "We have just enough time for one practice run before the actual launch."
She took the south control center and Brent took the north. They signalled to each other through the windows.
She walked to the console and started the test sequence. She methodically entered each code. When she finished, Candace walked back to the window.
Brent reached the other window at just the same time. They nodded at each other. This was going to work.
They both calculated when they needed to start the actual run. Hand gestures at the windows showed them to be in agreement. They waited.
About ten minutes before they needed to start the actual launch, Candace looked over to Brent. She waved to him. He waved back.
He put both hands over his heart and melodramatically gestured that he lost his heart to her.
That clown. Acting goofy right up to the end. Well, two can play that game. She did a big smack and pretended to blow it over to him.
He pretended to catch it and brought his hands to his face as if he was holding a treasure. Despite herself, Candace smiled softly at the action.
The jerk would choose this moment to do something sweet.
Brent watched Candy as they waited. Soon they were going to be two fried individuals. All those missed opportunities.
He smiled as she waved to him. He returned it. A thought occurred to him. Why not? What did he have to lose now?
With exaggerated motions, he told her that his heart was hers.
She shook her head. She probably thought he was goofing around. Then she blew him a kiss. He caught the precious gift and gently brought it to his lips as if it was real.
When he looked back at her, she had the most beautiful smile on her face he had ever seen.
Oh, Candy, why couldn't you have given me that smile years ago. There's nothing I wouldn't have done for that smile.
It was time, Candace signalled to Brent. He nodded. They started together.
First, the sequence to open the bay doors. She waited as the computer signalled that the operation had been completed. She began the sequence to raise the missile. As she typed in the characters, Brent's hands appeared ghostly over hers.
She took this as a good sign.
Brent waited as the bay doors opened. He started the sequence for raising the missile. Candy's misty handsappeared superimposed over his own. They finished the sequence.
The computer told him that the missile was ready to be aimed. Two pairs of hands gave it the information. Two pairs of hands entered the final command to launch.
The computer showed a sixty second count down. Brent stood where he was. Even if they were apart physically, he knew the two of them were going to die together.
John Martin watched from the station's observation deck as the missile was launched. The whole operation went just as planned. Everybody cheered and hugged each other. Brent and Candace deserved one hell of bonus for this.
The military set out some troops to escort the heroes home. John waited with a drink in his hands for the news that his two best engineers were safe.
Several hours went by. Something was wrong. With the satellite gone, the military was able to use their faster vehicles. They should have reached the site and radioed back by now. John looked over to Captain Baker. His face was grim and motionless.
Finally, another military person came to the deck. Her face was ash white as she called the room to attention.
"Ladies and gentlemen," she started. "We have some very bad news to report. Engineers Brent Parsons and Candace McCall died upon launching the missile. Scavengers had removed all the heat shielding from the missile bay. They were burned to death by the missile's exhaust. Their bodies are now being recovered."
John closed his eyes in grief. He lost them anyway.
Copyright © 1998, Amanda D. Barncord Doerr