Baked, Boiled or Fried - Tinnean

***

Note: AU (C'mon, Blair's a 'botanist'. That doesn't say "AU" to you?). This is based on the 1951 movie, The Thing From Another World. Spoilers for the movie and for the Sentinel pilot, Switchman. At the time this takes place, neither Alaska nor Hawaii had yet become states. There is no connection between the real Machu-Picchu restaurant on North B Street, in San Mateo, California and the one in this story. Under the Wraps are really Dirty Bloody Martinis, which are made with Inferno or Pepper Pot Vodka (available in Canada). ~~~~ Indicates a flashback. Joltin' Joe, also known as the Yankee Clipper, is Joe DiMaggio, who played with the NY Yankees from 1936-1951. Sixty Minute Man, by Billy Ward and His Dominoes, was #17 on the charts in 1951. Buttons and Bows, the song Tex wanted to sing, is from the 1948 movie The Paleface. The pulp mystery Jim was reading was Farewell, My Lovely, by Raymond Chandler. Mikhail Botvinnik held the World Championship title in chess from 1948-1957. In Dr. Seuss' Horton Hatches the Egg (1940), the constant refrain was, 'I meant what I said, and I said what I meant, an elephant's faithful 100%.' Triffids were created by John Wyndham. They and William Masen appear in his book, Day of the Triffids. Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny was published in 1951. Kisses Sweeter than Wine by the Weavers was #19 on the charts in 1951. You'll Never Walk Alone is, of course, from Rogers and Hammerstein's musical, Carousel, which opened on Broadway in 1945. The verse spoken by Mrs. Chapman is Joshua 1.9. The Romance of Helen Trent and Young Dr. Malone were popular soap operas of the 30s and 40s and aired on the radio. Dr. Clayton Forrester of Pacific-Tech is from The War of the Worlds.

***

Part 1

When I came across that monograph in an obscure little bookshop on the West Coast, I'd been certain I had the ideal topic for my dissertation.

According to Sir Richard Burton, pre-civilized tribes had what he termed Sentinels, individuals with the genetic advantage of enhanced senses, who tracked weather, game, enemies.

I'd been excited to find empirical evidence that appeared to back Burton's theory.

However, the few men and women I'd managed to track down had one or two hyper-acute senses. There were none with all five senses enhanced.

Eli Stoddard, the head of anthro at Rainier, had been my mentor. He read over my notes, then told me the topic I had chosen would have made an excellent piece of fiction, but nothing more.

And so, with my funding running out, I'd been forced to give up my dreams of a doctorate in anthropology...

"You wanted to see me, Eli?"

"Blair, my boy!" He rose from his paper-strewn desk and crossed the room, his hand outstretched. "I wanted to congratulate you on your doctorate in botany."

"Thank you." I shook his hand coolly.

"I know you wanted to do your dissertation in anthropology," he spread his hands and smiled apologetically, "but I'm afraid The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg would have been more suited to Amazing Magazine than the halls of academia."

I didn't want him to see how disappointed in myself I was for caving under academic pressure. "There's no demand in the job market for PhD's in anthropology, Eli, unless I want to do nothing more than sit behind a desk and teach. Face it, Margaret Mead got lucky."

He made a noncommittal sound, and returned to his seat. "So. What will you do now?"

I shrugged. "Send out my resume, see if any of the labs are looking for a botanist." I picked at my thumbnail. "I understand the British have come up with a rather unusual plant."

"I believe I might have something that will be of interest to you. Arthur Carrington is heading a research station up at the North Pole. Two of the sources you cited, Dr. Stern and Professor Laurenz, have been recruited to join him, and when they heard you were available, they were quite enthusiastic about taking you on as their assistant."

Dr. Carrington was a certified genius. Josef Stern and Andrew Laurenz were among the most respected men in their field. And they wanted me.

"I'll just hold on to your papers, shall I?"

"What? Oh. Yeah, sure." I had no need for them. I was busy mulling over this new prospect.

All right, it was in the Arctic, and most likely I'd be nothing more than a glorified lab tech, but still...

I shook Eli Stoddard's hand firmly. "When do I leave?"

****

A year. Twelve months. Three hundred and sixty-five and a quarter days.

That was how long I had been working under Dr. Stern and Professor Laurenz, with no end to the research in sight.

I'd finally been given a week's leave from the research station at the Arctic. I couldn't wait to leave those cold, icy reaches, and now I couldn't wait to get back.

"Hey, Hairboy!"

"No." I didn't bother looking up as I stuffed the last of my clothes into my backpack.

"You don't know what I was going to say."

"And I don't want to know, H."

"Aw, come on, Blair."

"No." He was going to set me up on another blind date; I hated blind dates. The last one I had gone on had been with the schmuck from hell. He'd seemed nice enough at first, until he suddenly grew eight arms and had his hands all over me.

He thought the fact that he'd bought me dinner entitled him to my ass. A broken nose and two black eyes later, and I'd convinced him that a case of blue balls was preferable.

"How was I supposed to know he would turn out to be an asshole? He was never like that when we flew together."

"Did you ever have dinner with him?"

"Blair, I'm straight."

"That's no excuse. Besides..."

Henri wouldn't let me finish. "This guy isn't like that, I promise! He's a captain!"

"Besides," I went on determinedly, "you know my flight leaves for Anchorage first thing in the morning."

"So much the better. A few drinks, a few laughs, and then you go your separate ways." He spread his hands wide, as if negating the amount of damage that would be done.

"I don't do one night stands, H."

"But I swear this one will be better. Besides, he's a captain!"

"You've already said that once." I looked around the room in the off-base quarters that he'd invited me to share with him, making sure I had everything packed. I spotted the monograph I intended to bring back to the North Pole with me and pounced on it. "Nope. Not a chance."

"Geez, Hairboy. You don't have to marry the guy! Just have dinner with him!"

"Do the words 'no way in hell' ring a bell?"

There was a hesitant tap on the doorframe, and we both looked around.

"H. Hello." Six feet of hard-bodied male pulchritude stood in the doorway. I almost swallowed my tongue. I didn't know about Henri, but I had no trouble reading the expression on his face.

"Hey, tough guy! Long time no see!" Henri's dark eyes slid from the captain to me.

I studied him in return. Ice-blue eyes, short-cropped brown hair. I let my gaze stroke over that body, and I was suddenly the possessor of a very hard dick. Fortunately, the pants I wore had a loose cut.

I couldn't take my eyes off him. I wondered what those muscles beneath his flight jacket would feel like. I wondered what those lips would kiss like. "Who is that, Brown?" I asked softly, also wondering if I were out of my mind. Maybe it had just been too long since I'd had sex.

"That's who I wanted to set you up with." Henri shrugged, speaking out of the corner of his mouth and his voice low so he wouldn't be overheard. "Oh, well, never mind. Blair. I'm sure I can find someone else for him."

On the other hand... The airman was looking me over with hot, interested eyes.

"No, wait a second! Don't be in such a rush to take 'no' for an answer!" I had his arm in a death grip. "I changed my mind! Introduce us!"

"Well..." he drawled. A sly smile split his black face. The pain-in-the-ass knew he had me hooked. "Blair Sandburg, meet James Ellison."

****

I borrowed Henri Brown's 1945 Nash Rambler and took Jim to a small, out-of-the-way restaurant called Machu-Picchu that served South American cuisine. He ordered Ceviche, and I went along with him.

"Tonight, our chef has prepared it with shrimp," the waiter informed us.

"That will be fine," James Ellison, 'call me Jim, Chief,' told him.

The waiter nodded in approval, and eventually brought out the seafood dish, which was served cold.

I took a bite and chewed, enjoying the intermingling flavors.

Jim identified them. "There's lemon; the raw shrimp is cooked in the juice. Onions, celery, cilantro, and aji pepper." He took a roll from the basket on the table.

The bite of the hot pepper hit me. I had become used to hot, spicy foods from my journeys around the world, but even so it felt as it there was a four-alarmer in my mouth. My eyes crossed and teared, and my nose began to run.

I grabbed for a roll, which was Machu-Picchu's concession to American palates, and bit off a chunk. It helped to subdue the fiery bite of the shrimp.

"I'd forgotten how very hot those aji peppers could be." His smile was rueful. "And this is camote, which is one kind of Peruvian sweet potato."

"You know a good deal about the food of Peru." I sucked air in through my teeth, finally finding some respite from the burn.

"I was stationed there for eighteen months."

"I didn't know the United States had Air Force bases in Peru."

"We don't. I'm career Army."

"I don't understand. Henri said he knew you through the Air Force."

"I've been loaned to the Air Force. I always loved to fly, and planes seem to respond better to me than to other pilots."

I could understand that. I'd been watching his big hands as they toyed with his roll, and I had a feeling most anything would respond to them, including me.

Suddenly, I felt very warm. I shivered and cleared my throat. "Tell me more."

"Well, I was raised by my dad, William. I have a younger brother, Steve. I'm thirty-five, divorced, no kids. I don't have any vices. Except for White Castle hamburgers. Love those belly bombers."

"Is that all you love?" Oh, geez, I was flirting with him!

Jim gazed at me through his lashes. "I'm also partial to brown hair. Long, curly." He reached across the table and fingered a lock of my brown hair, which had curled around my ear. His finger stroked across the discreet stud in my earlobe. I leaned into his touch.

The waiter came to refill our water glasses, and Jim withdrew his hand. My ear felt bereft.

I was so wrapped up in the physical sensations that I lost track of the conversation. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"

There was laughter in his eyes, but he didn't comment on my obvious abstraction. "I said 'why don't you tell me about you?'"

So I did. Oh, not about growing up without a father when that circumstance brought shame on both the mother and the child.

Not about having as a mom the carefree Naomi Sandburg, who saw nothing wrong in doing as she and not society pleased.

And most definitely not my disappointment when the topic I had selected for my dissertation, The Sentinel, had been denied. I was still Dr. Sandburg, and I was damned good in my field of botany.

I talked of the field trips I'd been on, when I had still been hopeful of using my master's in anthropology for something more than toilet paper. I spoke of living in Dutch New Guinea with the Kombai tree people for three months, about how I'd nearly been eaten by a crocodile while in the Amazon Basin, of observing the Fire Dance in the Fiji Islands.

We continued chatting over coffee and Peruvian pound cake topped with sour cream and peaches, and I was mesmerized by the sight of Jim slipping the fresh-sliced fruit between his perfect lips.

Blindly, I reached for a pack of cigarettes, shook one out, and groped for my lighter. Jim took it from me and ignited it. I cupped my hand around his, and my fingertips tingled. My eyes flew up to tangle with his, and he licked his lips. The trembling in my hand had to be too fine to be felt, but I let his hand go and dipped my head to touch the end of the cigarette to the flame.

When I looked up, he was still watching me, his gaze hungry, and my mouth went dry. I swallowed a mouthful of smoke wrong and choked.

"Easy there, Chief." His hand on my back felt more like a caress.

I finally caught my breath. I stubbed out the cigarette and opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

Jim was glancing around the now empty restaurant. "I think they're waiting for us to get out of here so they can close."

"Oh, yes!" Damn. I signaled the waiter over, settled the bill and gave him a healthy tip, and followed Jim out to the parking lot.

The man did have a fine ass! I had bought dinner because I hadn't wanted there to be any assumptions that I would pay for my meal with a roll in the sack.

Only, I found myself thinking I really wouldn't mind if he made that assumption.

I sighed and walked him to Brown's Rambler. Before he got in, he leaned down toward me, and for a second I thought he was going to kiss me.

I closed my eyes and tipped my head back to meet his lips, but instead I felt the five o'clock shadow that stubbled his cheek. His nose brushed over my face and neck, almost as if he were learning my scent. And then, to my disappointment, he put me away from him.

His voice was husky as he murmured, "I really hate to see the evening end, Chief."

"Then it won't. I know the perfect place." I opened the passenger door of the Rambler, and he slid onto the bench seat. "It's dark, secluded, and eyebrows won't be raised at the sight of two men dancing together."

His eyebrow rose, and for a second I had the sinking feeling that maybe I had read him wrong, maybe he wasn't interested in me that way, but then he said, "Sounds good."

I was almost shivering in excitement as I hurried around to the driver's side and got in.

****

The Hideaway was another small, out-of-the-way place, just outside of Cascade. The host led us to a semicircular booth on the upper level, and a waiter came to take our order. "Jim?"

"I'm a beer man myself," Jim said, "although I've been known to enjoy a nice red wine, but since this is a special occasion..."

I looked into his ice-blue eyes and realized I was past starting to fall for him; I had already fallen. "What would you recommend?" I asked the waiter, never taking my eyes off Jim.

"You can't come to the Hideaway without trying an Under the Wraps."

"What do you think, Jim?"

"Sure, why not?"

"Two, please."

I should have asked what was in them.

We never did get to dance, which was kind of flattering. We sat with our thighs brushing. By the time we'd finished our first drink, Jim's left hand was on my knee, drawing patterns on the material of my trousers. By the time we'd finished our second drink, it was centimeters from my crotch. I shifted, trying to bring it closer. He smiled into my eyes and signaled the waiter to bring another round of drinks.

Sometime during that third drink, he began to run his thumbnail over the bulge behind my fly. I sank lower in the seat and spread my legs, and his fingers cupped my balls. I bit back a moan.

His look was almost predatory, and for a moment I panicked, thinking he had heard my response to him.

But he couldn't have heard me.

"Want to go, Chief?"

"Sure." I was thankful for the dim light in the nightclub; the spot where I had leaked pre come through my trousers would have been visible otherwise.

I hadn't reacted to anyone like this since my randy teenage years, when I'd first discovered sex and realized it was the greatest thing since ginger ale. My dick was so hard I ached, my asshole was spasming, and all I wanted was to be stretched, penetrated, and claimed. By Jim. Only by Jim.

The Nash Rambler was parked at the far end of the Hideaway's parking lot, away from the few lights that cast illumination over the small area. Jim breathed deeply, hummed, and pushed me up against the car's side. He nuzzled my neck and seemed to purr.

I thought it was mind-bogglingly arousing.

I reached for my belt, ready to drop trousers and let him have me right there and then.

"Not here, Chief. Not yet."

I wanted to raise his head to kiss him for the first time, but he bit my neck and started sucking the skin between his lips, and my hips jerked.

He inhaled. "You want this as much as I do!"

"Yes." I groaned as the heel of his hand massaged my dick through my pants. My skin felt hot and tight. It had been more than a year since I'd been touched like that. The encapsulated world of the research station was not conducive to any kind of a sexual relationship, casual or otherwise. It would have felt incestuous.

Frantically, I tried to think of a place where we could go.

As if Jim could read my mind, "The BOQ." His voice was hoarse. "It's Saturday night. Everyone will be out."

I scrabbled behind me and got the passenger door opened, and the two of us fell onto the front seat. I reached for the switch for the interior light.

"No, Chief. We don't need any light."

Maybe he wanted someplace better, more romantic, but the front seat of the borrowed Rambler was what we got. Jim yanked my pants down off my hips, and my dick sprang up to be trapped between us. He managed to get his pants out of the way also, and then the hard, hot length of him was thrusting desperately against me, through the wiry hair at my groin.

My legs were tangled in my pants, and I couldn't raise my knees to cradle him, couldn't expose my hole to him. I was wild to have him inside me.

One hand slid beneath me, cupped a buttock, and suddenly a wet finger was teasing my hole. It circled the rim, pressed in, retreated to repeat the tantalizing actions.

"Jim, please!" He was driving me crazy.

His hips rocked faster, the pre come from both of us making it easier for his dick to glide against mine. One large hand wrapped around our dicks. Heat rolled off him in furnace waves.

"I can smell your lust, Chief! I could find you in the dark from your scent alone!"

He continued to whisper, hoarse, guttural. "So hot. So tight. Never felt so good. Want to be inside you. Want to fuck you. Want to make you come so hard you pass out." I whimpered at the hot, sexual words he poured in my ear.

His lips slid down to my throat, his mouth opened against it, and he gasped. His breathing became rapid, out-of-control panting, and then he groaned and stiffened. Wet heat splattered over my belly. He scooped some up and two fingers slid deep into me. My groan joined his, and I came as well.

For long minutes, all that could be heard in the confines of the small car was our harsh panting.

Then, "That was... that was great, Chief," he mumbled as he relaxed on me.

Yeah, it sure was. I opened my mouth to tell him so, was surprised by a jaw-breaking yawn, and the next minute was sound asleep.

****

I came awake quickly. I usually did, but this time I was slightly disoriented. My pants were twisted around my ankles, my legs felt like blocks of ice, and I was on the floorboard of the Rambler. How the heck had that happened?

From the leather bench seat above me came a soft snore, and abruptly I recalled the events of the evening.

Jim Ellison and I had dabbled in frottage and come all over each other. My ass was throbbing pleasantly from the invasion by his fingers. I wanted to know what his dick would feel like fucking me.

"Hey. Flyboy." I stroked his shoulder.

"Mmmph?" If he was going to say anything else, it was lost as he turned his head into the back of the seat.

"Hey!" This time I shoved at this shoulder, but it didn't go any good. "C'mon, man! I'm freezing my ass off! We can't stay like this!"

"Nice ass, Chief," he mumbled. His hand reached out blindly as if to pet it. "Where'd it go?" He sank back into slumber.

Maybe if Jim had kissed me, petted me, told me he had never enjoyed himself so much, that I was the best thing since ginger ale... maybe then I wouldn't have started thinking, worrying, imagining him telling all his friends, "Blair Sandburg? Oh, yeah, curly-haired guy, really easy. I had him the first time I met him."

It must have been even later than I thought. I could hear patrons of the Hideaway starting to exit.

"Fuck." I scrambled out of the car and yanked up my trousers, just barely managing not to catch my dick in my zipper, then manhandled Jim's legs into the car and slammed the door shut. It took a few seconds to steady myself. I would have liked to have taken a nap, too. "Well, fuck."

I kicked the tire, walked around to the driver's side door, and got behind the wheel. Talk about a totally male, apres sex reaction. I put the car in gear and drove to the Bachelor Officers Quarters.

By the time we reached the BOQ, I was too tired to be angry any longer, and I was starting to become concerned. Jim was still out cold. I remembered he'd said he usually drank beer or the occasional glass of wine. Had the Under the Wraps been too much for him?

I pulled him out of the front seat, stooped, and got him in a fireman's lift. Jim might have had almost half a foot on me, but I was stronger than I looked.

He muttered incoherently, then subsided. His hands dangled down my back, and he didn't even fondle my ass. I staggered down the corridor and entered the first open door I found. There were four beds in the room, but they were all unoccupied. I dumped him on the nearest bed. I was strong, but he was heavy.

I was tempted to leave him lying like that, with his pants undone and his dick hanging out, but I overcame my baser instincts and decided to make him comfortable. After all, he'd given me a very nice orgasm, even if I hadn't been able to wallow in the afterglow.

I stripped off his flight jacket, removed his shoes, and dragged his trousers down off his legs. I sucked in a deep breath.

He had nice legs, strong legs, the muscles well-defined and covered with a dusting of brown hair slightly darker than the hair on his head.

I began to grumble. Those legs could have been kneeling behind me as he pushed his dick into my ass, making me howl with each stroke.

I looked down at his body and sighed. His dick looked so innocent, peeking out of his fly. I wanted to crawl into that bed beside him, wanted to swallow that dick to the root and blow him like he'd never been blown. I wanted to wake up in the morning with him buried so deep in my ass we wouldn't be able to tell where he ended and I began.

Instead I tucked it into his Air Force issue shorts and sighed again.

"Don't go."

I started.

His eyelids rose languidly. His eyes were unfocused. "Chief."

"You okay, Jim?"

He smiled, sleepy and sated. "Never better, Chief."

"What's my name, Jim?"

"Chief," he mumbled and fell back asleep.

All night long, he'd been calling me that. Did he even remember my name? I turned to leave.

Only thing was, I'd liked him. I still liked him.

I dug out a pencil, found a piece of paper, and scrawled across it, Sorry I couldn't stay longer, but I have an early flight to catch. At 8. AM. At Cascade Airport. You have cute legs, Jim! He'd been calling me 'Chief' all night. I signed it with a C.

I propped the note on his chest. If I was lucky he'd wake up before I had to leave and come see me off. If not...

I walked out.

****

In spite of the fact that Jim Ellison had literally fallen asleep on me, I hung around the Cascade airport for as long as I dared before the pilot grunted and gestured toward the twin engine plane. "Inside now if you want to make your connection at Anchorage."

One final, futile gaze around the terminal, and I trotted across the tarmac and climbed into the plane.

Headwinds delayed our arrival at Anchorage. I raced to the plane that was waiting with its engines revving lazily, my backpack thumping uncomfortably against my side.

"Sorry I kept you waiting, Rafe."

"Blair! You back already? Man, that week went fast! Nah, we can't leave until our other passenger gets here."

"Someone else is joining us at our garden spot?"

He grinned at me around the cigarette between his teeth. "Carrington's secretary is hangin' up her typewriter. We're just waitin' on her replacement."

"Nikki's leaving? I'm sorry to hear that. She's good people."

"Yeah. I think she finally convinced her guy that the double dome was makin' a serious pass."

"Carrington?" The unspoken consensus was that he was brilliant but asexual, with no desire for either men or women. "Well, I guess," I was dubious, "if you don't know him..."

Rafe laughed uproariously. "And I guess her guy don't. She's headin' out to get married! Why don't you get aboard, Blair? It may be a while before the new secretary puts in an appearance."

"What's holding her up?"

"No idea. But you know women. Probably makin' sure her make-up is on just so."

I gave him a vague smile. I didn't really know women, but that wasn't something I was about to share with him. "Think I'll see if I can catch some zzz's."

"Late night last night?"

"Yeah." And I wasn't about to talk about that either.

But Rafe was busy yelling at one of the Anchorage ground crew. "Kev! Will you get that goddamn ice off my wings?"

I climbed into the plane and took one of the few seats that had been left in place. Most of them had been removed to accommodate the massive supplies that needed to be brought to the research station. I fastened my seat belt, leaned my head against the back of the seat, and was out cold before I realized it. I slept through the other passenger's arrival and the entire flight.

****

Part 2

The landing skis of the C-54 cushioned the landing and allowed the twin engine plane to glide to a gentle stop on the snow-packed runway. I could feel it, even in my sleep.

A pointed finger was jabbing my shoulder, in a really annoying manner. I blinked the sleep out of my eyes. "What?"

"Would you please wake up?" The woman who was prodding me would have been attractive if it hadn't been for the discontented twist to her lips. "We're here."

"Thanks."

"Would have been nice if you'd been awake during the flight," she muttered. "I was bored out of my mind!"

I brushed the hair back off my face and pushed myself to my feet.

She backed up a step and sniffed delicately, and I wondered if it was me, personally, who offended her, or men in general. She was a little taller than I, and I had to look up to meet her eyes.

"After you, miss." I gestured for her to exit the plane before me. Naomi might have been a bohemian spirit, but she had taught me manners.

I climbed out of the twin engine plane, slinging my backpack over my shoulder.

The ground crew hustled to get the plane refueled. There was a front coming through; it seemed like there was always a front coming through, and the flight crew needed to head out with the latest copies of the station's reports.

"Oh, m-m-my g-g-god!" The woman gave a convulsive shiver. The jacket she wore might have been all the rage on the ski slopes in the States, but up here it wouldn't even keep a mild chill at bay. The fact that she was also wearing a skirt didn't help, either. "It m-m-must be about 40 b-b-below!"

"Yeah, and it isn't even winter yet! Let me get you inside. The men will see your luggage is brought in."

"Th-th-thank you."

"I'm Blair Sandburg."

"I'm..."

"Hey, Blair!" one of the flight crew shouted above the rising wind. "Tell Nik not to dawdle! We need to haul ass outta here!"

I waved a hand to let him know I'd heard and hurried the woman out of the cutting wind and into the first of the insulated buildings. This one was above ground and contained storage rooms as well as the radio room and the passageways that led to the other buildings, which were sixty percent beneath the permafrost.

"Hi, sweetie! We've missed you!"

"Mrs. Chapman!" I hugged her.

Esther Chapman was a motherly woman who was as comfortable in trousers as any of the men in the station. If Dr. Chapman, the premier mineralogist on the planet, was the actual head of this research facility because Dr. Carrington always had his head buried in his work, then his wife was the one who took care of us, made sure we didn't get so wrapped up in our experiments that we forgot to eat. She also made sure we were treated for assorted cuts, bruises, sore throats and head colds.

"And I'm assuming this is Nikki's replacement?" She smiled warmly. "Hello. You must be freezing! Let me show you to your quarters, and we'll see about getting you warmed up. We'll need to get you some slacks, also." She led the younger woman down the corridor, deeper into the warmth of the living quarters of the station.

"Well, good night nurse!"

"Hi, Simon."

Simon Banks, in charge of security at the station, watched the retreating figures with interested eyes. "Hi, Blair."

When Dr. Arthur Carrington had decided that his research had to be conducted in the Arctic, the Federal Government had almost had a conniption fit. Mere miles from the Soviet Union, they were positive the Commies would try to infiltrate the research station and get their Red mitts on the top brains in the country. They had contacted Simon, who had been in military intelligence during the war, and had instructed him to put together a team of topnotch specialists to protect the egg heads.

"Is that Nikki's replacement?"

"Yeah."

Simon rolled his cigar thoughtfully between his teeth. "Her picture doesn't do her justice." Whoever had hired her would have gone through Simon for her final clearance. He pulled his attention from her swaying hips and grinned down at me. "So, you're back, short stuff."

"Yep. Did I miss anything?"

"Nothing much. The most excitement was when the powers that be sent us twenty-five rolls of cattle fencing."

"What? What purpose could we have for cattle fencing for at the North Pole?"

"Be damned if I know. So tell me. How was your vacation in Cascade?"

I shrugged.

"That good, hmm?" He started down a corridor that branched off from the one the women had taken, and I followed him. Our footsteps sounded hollow on the wooden walkway that was laid out above the concrete floor. "You look like you could use a vacation from your vacation. What did you do, fall for a pair of pretty blue eyes?" He saw my expression. "Blair!"

"I didn't."

"Why do I get the feeling that you aren't telling me the truth?"

"Because I'm not?" I gripped his sleeve and pulled him to a halt. "Simon, he was the most gorgeous man I've ever met."

Simon knew which side of the street I walked, and it hadn't bothered him. I'd felt I had to reassure him, however.

'I won't make a pass at you or Daryl, Simon.' Daryl was his teenaged son, who occasionally came up to visit. 'I don't rob cradles or old age homes,' earnestly.

He'd frowned at me around one of those fat Cuban cigars he favored. 'You could have just said black men don't appeal to you.'

I'd pretended shock. 'You want me to lie to you? You're the head of security!'

'Smart ass!' He'd cuffed my shoulder, but his eyes had been bright with humor.

~~~~

I was only supposed to be in the Philippines for a few months. Eli Stoddard had arranged for me to be a member of a field trip in the fall of '41, the purpose of which was to study the legends and customs of the indigenous peoples of the island chain. We split up to better cover the many small tribes, and I went to live with a tribe of Negritos who made their home in the dense forests at the base of Mount Apo, on the island of Mindanao.

They were a short people, and I almost felt like Gulliver in the land of Lilliput.

But then the Japanese began landing troops in December of that year.

Using the ham radio Eli had insisted I take to stay in contact with the 'civilized' world, I listened in growing horror as MacArthur was forced to abandon Manila, retreating to Bataan and Corregidor.

He was ordered to leave his forces, and on March 1st he made his famous 'I will return' speech and sailed to Australia through Japanese-controlled waters.

On April 9th, Bataan surrendered.

By May 6th, with the surrender of Corregidor, it was all over.

We were too far south to attempt any kind of assistance, but the remnants of a squad of colored soldiers somehow wandered into our territory. George Washington Jefferson, the sergeant, who couldn't have been more than four or five years my senior, formed the Negrito men into a band of guerillas, eventually one of the most deadly on the Island chain.

Since I was the only one who could speak Tagalog and English, I became his translator. We worked together constantly, and I found myself attracted to him. He was a few inches taller than I, with black hair that covered his scalp in tight curls, and eyes like a midnight sky. His nose had character, and his lips... I found myself stealing looks at them, wondering what they would feel like against mine.

"What's he saying, boy?"

"Excuse me?" I dragged my attention back from my lascivious thoughts of him. "Oh, er... Sorry. A couple of Japs have wandered away from the others. And don't call me 'boy', George. I'm not that much younger than you."

"Sure, boy." His smile was a slash of white in his dark face. "Do we have a clear shot at them?"

"Of course. I already told Atribe and his brother to take them."

The Negritos returned with the heads. While not primarily headhunters, this tribe tended to dabble in it. George swallowed heavily when he saw the staring eyes and the ragged edges where head and neck had been joined.

"Sissy," I sassed, and he narrowed his eyes at me

"I'll show you who's a sissy, boy!" And he swatted my seat. His hand seemed to linger, and my mouth went dry.

George and I stayed behind to throw them off the trail if it became necessary, hidden, waiting to see what the reaction would be when the other Japs came across the decapitated bodies.

They went wild, screaming in fear and fury. Bullets tore the brush above our heads, narrowly missing us, as they sprayed the area with machine-gun fire.

George clapped a hand over my mouth, mashing my lips against my teeth, and rolled his body over mine. "Shhh," he hissed in my ear.

We stayed that way for what seemed like hours, but was probably no more that twenty minutes. They finally left.

"Don't move, it could be a ruse," he whispered, and I nodded to let him know I understood.

I shifted under George's body. His gun had been digging into the crevice between my buttocks the entire time. I'd experimented with a boy when I first entered Rainier, hands mostly, and I'd liked it. Now the feeling of something so close to my hole, not to mention our close call with the enemy, made me so horny I knew that a touch to my dick would have me shooting my load.

It turned out it was George's weapon, all right; it just wasn't his gun.

There was some rustling behind me, and I managed a look over my shoulder. He had freed his shaft. It was shiny blue-black, and the tip glistened with drops of liquid. I'd seen an uncircumcised penis before, but never one that was aroused, and I bit my lip to keep my moan silent. The possibility that the Japs could return was always imminent.

I met his eyes, and he saw the acquiescence in mine. He worked my pants off my hips, down past my knees and around my calves, then kissed my left ass cheek.

"Gotta have you, boy."

"Yes!"

I don't know what he found to ease his way in. Maybe it was just the adrenaline rush of our close brush with death. Maybe he had something in his pocket. Whatever it was, it made my first time memorable in a very good way. He held my ass cheeks apart, got the head of his dick lined up with my hole, and started a steady pressure.

"You a virgin, Blair?"

If I told him 'yes', he might stop. If I told him 'no', he might think I was cheap. I mumbled something, thrust back, and he popped through the tight ring of muscle. There was pain, but the promise of pleasure outweighed it

He bit the shirt over my shoulder to prevent himself from groaning, and I bit the palm that was once more over my mouth.

It was fortunate that we'd kept silent, because one of the Japs returned to relieve himself against a tree not more than a dozen feet from us. George held himself still, but I could feel his dick like a huge intrusion inside me. I clenched my inner muscles involuntarily, and he nipped my ear in warning.

Finally the Jap shook a last drop from his dick, put himself back in his pants, glanced around, and left.

George groaned, deep and guttural, and an explosion of heat flooded my bowels as he came. Seconds later, I shuddered and found myself lying on a wet spot.

We couldn't chance staying there much longer. George helped me get my pants up, and I tucked him away in his pants.

And then we got the hell out of there.

Afterwards, we took what opportunities we could find to fuck, although we didn't have many. The few survivors of his squad had paired off with the women of the Negritos, who were as dark as they, but they would have looked askance at a relationship between their sergeant and anyone white, much less another male.

I never did learn what his lips felt like.

In '44, MacArthur returned as he promised, and George and his men returned to their division. The fighting was fierce. As a civilian, I was bundled out of the danger zone. I was sent first to Australia, and from there to Hawaii and then back to Cascade.

I heard through the grapevine that if George Washington Jefferson hadn't been colored, he would surely have gotten the Medal of Honor.

He was awarded the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart.

The last two were posthumous.

~~~~

"Let me give you a hand with your backpack, and you can tell me about it."

I came back to the present. Simon was talking about my meeting with the striking captain. He looped the awkward pack over his shoulder, and we resumed walking.

"It's all Brown's fault," I groused good-naturedly, not wanting him to know how serious it had been for me.

"What did Henri do?" Simon grinned. He was familiar with some of our escapades.

"He set me up on a blind date with Jim Ellison."

"Ellison? I didn't know he was gay."

"You know him, Simon?" My mouth was suddenly dry.

"I've been out of the military a few years now, but yes, I know of him." He saw how pale I had become and hurried to reassure me. "Blair, his private life is none of my affair. He's a damn good soldier. He served in the Pacific theater toward the end of the war. I seem to recall he took out a machine gun nest on some little island no one even knew the name of, saved his men from a jungle ambush. Said the Japs were really careless, they made so much noise he had no trouble locating them. Funny thing was, none of his men heard them."

"That is strange, Simon." Briefly I toyed with the notion that Jim Ellison might have hyper-acute hearing, then dismissed it as irrelevant. I wasn't looking for a sentinel any longer.

"Anyway, he was awarded a medal for it. What's he doing in Cascade?"

"He's been loaned to the Air Force."

"That's the military for you." He opened the door to my room, reached in, and dropped my backpack to the floor, then displayed the pack of cigarettes he'd filched from one of the pockets. "Uh uh uh."

I sighed. Dr. Carrington had one hard and fast rule: no smoking in his research station. That didn't mean we were above trying to smuggle them in.

"You weren't even half-trying, Blair."

"I had other things on my mind," I assured him in an injured tone, but he knew me well enough not to take it seriously.

"Yeah, I guess so." There was a half-smile on his lips, and he cuffed my shoulder. "Come to the mess hall. We're giving Nikki a farewell party. I'll buy you a cup of joe, and you can kiss the bride good-bye."

"Sounds good to me."

"And tomorrow you'll have to hit the ground running. Dr. Stern's been getting really antsy about those MacCormick molds."

"That's Professor Laurenz's project!" Lately I'd noticed that I was being assigned more and more of the botanist's experiments.

He laughed at the look on my face. "Looks like it's yours now."

****

The crowd in the mess hall was starting to thin out.

Toilet paper streamers were draped from the ceiling beams, and plastic gloves, blown up as impromptu balloons, were tied to them, makeshift decorations.

"Captain Banks. Can I see you a minute?" one of his men called to him. Danny Barnes. He was the youngest of Simon's security team, a green-eyed towhead from Delaware, whose relative, high up in the government, had done some arm-twisting and string-pulling and gotten him the spot.

Barnes looked a little uneasy. I remembered his arrival earlier in the summer. Months of light, twenty-four hours a day, tended to drive some people over the brink. He'd finally managed to adapt, but winter was a little more than six weeks away. How would he deal with those months of unrelenting darkness?

Simon swore under his breath. "I'll have to owe you that coffee, Blair."

"It's okay, Simon." I waved him off and looked around for the guest of honor.

Standing near the head of a table, wearing an improvised veil made of some gauzy material and appearing teary-eyed, was Alberta Nicholson, Dr. Carrington's tall, dark-haired secretary.

"Nikki!"

"Blair! Oh, sweetie, I'm so glad you made it back before I left!"

"I hear best wishes are in order."

"This is it, Blair." Her smile was misty. "The big lug realized he couldn't live without me!"

"So Pat's finally asked you to marry him?"

"Yeah." She dropped her voice. "When he found out that Arthur wanted me..."

"Ah, a little obfuscation on your part. So he pulled a dog-in-the-manger?"

She nodded and grinned. "I told him he couldn't have it both ways, he snapped and snarled, but the result is I'm flying down to Anchorage to meet him, and we'll tie the knot as soon as we have the blood tests. Mrs. Patrick Hendry." Her sigh was contented.

"Well, good for you! Where will you go on your honeymoon?"

"Would you believe Niagara Falls? It was Pat's idea. Who'd have thought an Air Force captain could be so romantic once he'd put his mind to it?"

I thought of the captain that I'd so recently met, and swallowed. "Well, have a good time, Nikki. When will you be back?"

She was shaking her head. "No, this really is it, sweetie. I'm retiring from the glamorous life of Dr. Carrington's chief cook and bottle washer. Pat's taking me back to the base in the States, we're going to have a pack of kids, and if I never see a snowdrift or a typewriter again, I will be a very happy woman!"

"We'll miss you." I hugged her and kissed her cheek. "Have you met your replacement yet?"

"No, I'm afraid not, and if she doesn't turn up soon..."

"That reminds me. Fred said..."

"Here she is. I was giving her a quick tour of the place." Mrs. Chapman was standing at the door. The other woman was beside her, looking around with mild curiosity. "Everyone! Meet Carolyn Plummer! She'll be taking over for Nikki."

The scientists mumbled greetings, the techs, admiring her legs, gave long, low whistles, and then they all turned their attention back to the table, demolishing the remains of the feast that had been prepared for Nikki's party.

"I'll introduce this bunch to you later, Carolyn, when you've settled in and are more likely to remember their names."

"Thank you."

"Would you care for something to eat, Miss Plummer? I'm about to get a sandwich for myself," Simon told her.

She took an aborted step back, and her smile seemed forced. "That's quite all right. I'm not hungry."

Simon's face went blank, and I watched as he crossed to the group around the table; they parted like the Red Sea for him. He helped himself to a thick sandwich, took a healthy bite, and straddled a chair facing us, his eyes hooded.

"Who is he?"

"Simon's head of security here. He's the one who cleared you." Nikki was justifiably annoyed. She liked Simon.

A hard flush ran from the other woman's chin to her hairline.

"Miss Plummer." The two young women eyed each other for a minute before they exchanged handshakes.

"Carolyn, please. And you're Alberta."

No one called her that, but Nikki didn't correct her. "Carolyn. I'm sure you'll do an excellent job."

She didn't sound sure at all. I started to laugh, and Nikki dug her elbow into my ribs. My laugh changed to a cough to disguise it.

"I'm sorry I won't have the opportunity to get to know you. There aren't many women in this station, and while these are a great bunch of scientists for the most part... well, you know men."

"Only too well," Carolyn replied, disgust clear in her words. "I was married to one for about eighteen months."

"'Was'?" Nikki gave her a cool look. "I'm sorry, that's none of my business."

Carolyn shrugged. "I don't mind talking about Ji... about him. He changed so much. First it was that the sheets were too scratchy, then that I was putting too many spices in the meals I worked my fingers to the bone to make for him. As if that wasn't enough, he didn't care about my sister's wedding, about the stress my mother was going through trying to organize it, about how unhelpful my father was... He just wasn't the man I thought I'd married."

Nikki looked a little shell-shocked from the barrage of information.

Mrs. Chapman looked amused. "Ah, Carolyn, none of them are."

The door burst open. "Hey, Nik! Shake your tailfeathers! We got a front comin' in!"

"My suitcase?"

"It's loaded on the plane."

"Okay, Fred, I'm on my way." She yanked off the veil and bunched it to her side, kissed everyone, including Lee, the Chinese cook, then scooped up her parka. "Bye. Good-bye. Good..." She ran out.

There was an awkward silence, and then, "Hey, is there any more of that cake left?"

"I'll have a piece too." Danny Barnes glanced around briefly, then picked up a plate and fork and sat beside Simon.

The head of security wiped the impatience off his face before anyone else saw it. "Lee, more java."

"Come along, Carolyn. I'll show you the greenhouse. Blair, remind me to give you the key back."

"Sure thing, Mrs. C."

"You lock the greenhouse?" Carolyn Plummer was startled. "What do you keep in there?"

"The Eskimos have a weakness for Blair's strawberries," Mrs. Chapman was telling her as they walked out of the mess hall. "If we don't keep it locked, they..." The door swung shut on the rest of her explanation.

It opened again almost immediately, and Dr. Chapman came in. Slightly over six feet and solidly muscled, he was in his early fifties. His light brown hair had a sprinkling of grey, and his pale blue eyes were sharply intelligent.

"Blair!" He swept me into a bear hug. While Esther Chapman was more of a mother to me than Naomi had ever been, Hugo Chapman was like the father that Naomi felt I could live without knowing. "A little bird told me you were back! How was your vacation?"

"I found another monograph that mentioned sentinels." I lowered my voice. "And I... uh... I kind of met someone."

He studied me. "Esther is sure to ask how you 'kind of' meet someone, but I want to know about the monograph." He thrust a porcelain mug of coffee into my hands. "Lee, forget these scavengers! Get a plate of food for our boy."

The warm, fragrant steam rose to encircle my head, and I inhaled deeply. "Ah. I missed Lee's coffee."

"Sit down." He pushed me into a seat and sat down beside me. "You're an excellent botanist, Blair, but I know your heart isn't really in it."

"It doesn't really make much difference, Hugo."

Lee brought me a plate of steak and eggs.

Dr. Chapman waited until he left. "If it's the money you need for funding..."

"No. That's turned out to be the least of my worries." I sliced into the steak. "When my grandparents passed away, they left me enough to cover college expenses for at least ten years if I was frugal. It would have been nice if Naomi had told me at the time, but... Oh, well, spilt milk. The big problem would be finding a subject with the enhanced senses."

"But if you believe in this?" Mrs. Chapman had returned without Carolyn Plummer.

I'd heard that if a couple was together long enough, they started to resemble each other. The Chapmans seemed to be proof of that. Although her coloring was somewhat darker than his, her eyes had the same lively and intelligent expression.

"No, it's like Professor Stoddard said. It makes an excellent piece of fiction."

Dr. Chapman opened his mouth, then appeared to think better of whatever he had been about to say. "Where's the young lady I saw with you in the corridor, Esther?"

"Carolyn just couldn't seem to warm up." That was an understatement. Wisely, I kept my mouth shut. "I offered her our bathroom and left her soaking in a hot tub." They were the only ones with a private bath, complete with a tub.

Everyone, including Dr. Carrington, made do with the communal baths.

Dr. Carrington should have had those rooms, but he'd wanted Hugo Chapman as part of his research team more. He would have given the man a seraglio of dancing girls, or dancing boys, if that had been one of his demands. Of course, Esther Chapman would have had a good deal to say about that.

"Here's the key to the greenhouse, Blair."

"Thanks, Mrs. C." I looped the lanyard over my head.

Dr. Chapman smiled. "Why don't you tell Esther about who you met?"

"Sweetie, you met someone? I'm so happy!"

"Don't be. We had one date." I wasn't certain she was aware that men could have sex with each other, but I was certain she would have been shocked out of her flannel underwear if I told her what I'd done with a man I had known only a few hours. "It wasn't anything to make a fuss over, honest. We just had dinner and a few drinks and... Um... If you don't mind, I think I'll go back to my quarters and take a nap. Simon's told me Dr. Carrington has put the MacCormick molds in my care, and I'll need to check them later this evening."

I left my half-eaten meal on the table and got out before she could question me further.

****

Narrow bed, single chest of drawers, desk with a lamp and chair.

My room felt like an alien place, even though I'd only been away for seven days.

There would be time later to empty my backpack and set the dirty clothes aside to be taken to the laundry. Right now I needed a shower. There hadn't been time the night before.

Well, truthfully, there had, but I hadn't wanted to wash Jim Ellison's come off my groin and navel. I still didn't want to, which I found really pathetic, but I was starting to itch.

I removed the stud from my ear and put it in the small box that held my memories. My grandparents' wedding rings, which Naomi swore she had no use for, an onyx pinky ring that I believed was my father's, other bits and pieces to remind me of the people I'd met in my travels, the friends and the very occasional lover.

I grabbed up fresh clothes and went to the men's shower. It was empty, the men either being in the mess hall or the laboratories. I turned on the water, stripped down, stuffed the hothouse key into a trouser pocket, and stepped into the narrow cubicle.

The hot water was less than a cascade down my back. I stuck my head under it, wetting my hair. It was shorter than it had been only the week before, although still longer and curlier than was acceptable in society. I hadn't been in the Arctic more than a few weeks before I decided I would use anything that would provide me with warmth. I'd even had a beard. Before I'd left on my vacation, Mrs. Chapman had shaved it off for me and trimmed my hair as well. Now that I was back at the research station, I'd have to let it grow out again.

I poured some liquid shampoo into my palm and worked it through my hair. Ropes of lather slid over my shoulders and chest. I liked the feel of the bubbles catching on my nipples.

Once I'd finished washing my hair, I reached for the bar of soap, rubbing it over my arms, then through the mat of hair that covered my chest and arrowed down to my abdomen. My dick was flaccid, but as I bent to wash my legs, the water hit the crack of my ass.

My dick became engorged with the blood that caused it to swell.

I was suddenly overtaken by the image of Jim Ellison behind me in the shower, his groin pressed against my ass, the thick length of his shaft nudging the crevice between my buttocks.

I bit back a groan and stroked my dick with a soapy hand, while a finger slid past my anus, finding my prostate as Jim had done on the front seat of the borrowed car. I pushed back onto my finger, then rocked my hips forward and thrust into my fist.

I braced my legs apart and rubbed my thumb roughly over the slit that was oozing drops of pre come while I pushed a second finger into my back passage. It was awkward, and soap wasn't the best lubricant, but once I'd found my prostate and began giving it the attention it was begging for, I flat out didn't care.

I closed my eyes against the spray and imagined how it could have been.

A tall body joining me in the shower.

Fingers manacling my wrists, my torso against the cool tin while my ass was angled back.

My legs shoved apart and his dick between my cheeks, rubbing along the crevice, teasing my hole.

Needing him inside me.

Tossing my head in frustration that he wouldn't give me what I wanted.

My hair slapping wetly against his face, then pushed aside, and teeth biting down on the back of my neck at the same moment his dick slammed into me.

My hips jerked as I came, spattering the wall with semen. I sagged and struggled to catch my breath and let the water trickle down, rinsing me clean.

Blindly I reached out and twisted the faucets. The water pressure was never the best, half the times the pipes were in danger of freezing, and there'd be hell to pay if I used up all the hot water.

Still, it wasn't Saturday night. Maybe no one would realize there was a bit of a hot water shortage.

I dried myself off, put on the clean clothes, and picked up the shirt that I'd worn for more than twenty-four hours. The tail was a little stiff, and I realized semen must have dried on it. I raised it to my face and inhaled, and was inundated again with memories of the night before.

Why hadn't Ellison stayed awake long enough to fuck me?

I gathered up the rest of my clothing and returned to my room, where I found the Eskimo girls Mrs. Chapman employed to do the station's laundry had been by and collected the clothes that had been in my backpack.

They were good girls, but they had no concept of the necessity of doing things expeditiously.

That meant the only clean clothes I had were the ones I was wearing.

I was pleased they hadn't taken the shirt that carried the scent of Jim and me. I hung it over the back of the chair. At least I had a memento.

I decided I didn't really need that nap and went down to my laboratory.

****

Part 3

Something disrupted my concentration, and I raised my head from the microscope. I took off my glasses and squeezed the bridge of my nose, then peered into the shadows at the corners of the room, but the laboratory was quiet.

A glance at the clock on the wall told me it was a quarter past eleven. I'd been studying these slides for much longer than I'd realized. The mold spores were beginning to swim before my eyes.

"Okay, Sandburg, enough," I muttered to myself. "Let's get you to bed before you keel over. Maybe if you're lucky, you'll dream of Jim Ellison."

I sighed. The odds of seeing him again in anything but my dreams really were minimal.

I took the notes I'd been making and stacked them in the in box for the new secretary to transcribe and give to Dr. Carrington, and called it a night.

****

I overslept.

It was unusual in the extreme that Dr. Carrington hadn't sent someone to wake me up. I vigorously massaged my scalp, clambered out of bed, and dragged on my clothes, paid a hasty visit to the lavatory, then hurried to the empty mess hall.

I was starved. I should have finished my meal the night before.

"I keep these warm for you, Brair." Lee grinned and handed me a mug of coffee and a plate stacked high with pancakes.

"Thanks, Lee." I took a seat at one of the long tables, and he brought me the jug of warm maple syrup and the butter dish.

Simon walked in, and I paused with the fork half-way to my mouth.

"Jesus, man! You look exhausted."

He looked more than exhausted. His black face was almost grey with fatigue. He dropped down beside me with a groan, accepted the mug of coffee Lee offered him, and took a deep gulp.

"Just need to get my second wind." Simon carefully placed the mug on the table and dug his fingers into his eyes as if an incipient headache was lurking behind them. "Last night, around 11:15..."

The door to the mess hall swung open to bang against the wall, and our heads jerked up to see who was coming in.

Tex Richards, the radio operator. A broad grin stretched his mouth when he saw me.

"Hey, amigo! I heard you were back! I wanna hear all your tales about the big, bad city!"

Cascade, a big, bad city? I swallowed a grin. How would he regard Chicago or New York? "Hi, Tex."

He quickly became serious. "A message just came in from General Fogarty, Captain Banks." The radio man crossed to where we sat and handed him a slip of paper. "Sounds like this ain't the first he's sent, but it's the first that wasn't drowned out by static."

Simon studied it carefully, worrying his lower lip. "Thanks, Tex. Notify me as soon as anything else comes in. We may have a situation on our hands."

"Will do. See you later, Blair."

I gave Tex a salute with my fork. "What's going on, Simon?"

"I don't know. Last night at 11:15 something passed overhead and crashed about 48 miles due east of here. We know the exact time because that's when the sound detectors recorded it. At first we thought it was a plane, and I contacted the Air Force, but General Fogarty," he gestured with the paper, "assures me that none of ours are missing."

"Russian, Simon?"

"Possibly. They're all over the Pole like flies. The only reason why the Military gave permission for this garden party up here is because the egg heads have me and my boys guarding their asses."

"Placing your bodies between us and the evil Commies?" It was meant to lighten the atmosphere, but it wasn't successful.

"That's right." Simon was dead serious.

"So what's got the General's shorts in a bunch?" Fogarty, the general who ran the Air Force on the West Coast, was known for keeping a cool head when others were panicking. If he was concerned...

"Whatever it is that crashed, it's producing a magnetic disturbance that's throwing everything off kilter!"

"Odd. Meteorite, maybe?"

"That's what Dr. Chapman believes. Of course, Carrington believes it's something else entirely."

"Oh?"

Simon's expression became sour. "He thinks it's some sort of... Twenty thousand tons of metal. Hell, Blair, you know his favorite hobby horse."

"Extraterrestrial life? A UFO? The Air Force has flatly stated that they're either hallucinations, weather balloons, or out-and-out hoaxes."

"Right."

"Seriously, Simon." My expression was the most earnest I could make it. "According to the Department of Defense's Office of Public Information, in an official communique dated 12/27/49, Bulletin 629-49, item 6700, extract 75,131, the Air Force will no longer be investigating and evaluating reports of flying objects because there ain't no such animal."

"How do you remember that shit?"

"I make it my business to memorize the important sh... stuff, Simon." As I'd hoped, that finally got a grin out of him.

"General Fogarty is having kittens about that magnetic disturbance. Almost twelve hours, and it hasn't abated to any degree. He wants us to go check it out. He's sending some men to investigate it. They're already on there way up."

"Sounds like SOP to me. Will I get to go?"

"Not your field, Sandburg." He ignored my muttering that he never let me have any fun and growled, "He's sending a reporter, too, to cover it."

"And he'll get to go out on the ice with the big boys? Simon, that is just not fair!"

"It's a woman."

"Huh?"

"The reporter. He's a 'she.'"

"She must be something special. Who is she?"

"Megan Connor."

My jaw dropped. "The only female reporter to cover not only the European Theater, but the Pacific Theater as well?"

Simon grunted. "General Fogarty isn't impressed. He just wants to get her the hell out of Cascade."

"I thought you said he wants her to... Oh. I see." There were things going on in Cascade that the General didn't want the public privy to. The man was noted for nursing his secrets like a June bride. "When are they supposed to arrive?"

"Probably another twenty minutes. About a hour out they had to start homing in on Tex's open mic. He told me he offered to sing for them, but they graciously declined his offer."

I could understand it; I'd heard the radio man sing. "This going to be a long visit?"

"I hope not, but they'll be bringing additional, er... supplies." He looked up.

I glanced up as well, at the toilet paper streamers that were still dangling from the ceiling beams. "Well, that's thoughtful."

He checked his watch. "They'd better shake their asses. We've got a front moving in..."

"That's nothing new," I grinned as I finished the last of the pancakes.

"... and they're going to wind up stranded up here. Carolyn Plummer should be really thrilled about that. Her ex-husband will be piloting that plane."

"Oh, boy. And from the way she talked about him yesterday, I don't think he's her most favorite person."

Simon gave me an odd look, but Dr. Carrington walked into the mess hall just then.

Arthur Carrington had more degrees than Carter had pills. His IQ was off the chart, and there was nothing he liked more than finding answers to seemingly unanswerable questions.

He was a very distinguished-looking man, of medium height, with close-cropped, prematurely white hair and cool grey eyes. Normally, he preferred to wear a cardigan that matched his eyes, but now he was dressed for the outdoors in an alpaca coat that wouldn't have looked out of place on 5th Avenue. In his hand was a hat of sealskin that our Eskimos had made for him.

"Captain Banks, have you seen... Ah, there you are, Dr. Sandburg."

"Yes, sir?"

"You've heard about the disturbance?"

"Simon was telling me about it."

"Excellent, excellent. I'm...er... I'm afraid you won't be able to go out with us."

"Simon told me that, also." I wanted to go, and I couldn't help the touch of resentment in my voice. Dr. Carrington didn't take note of it at all.

"Ah. Excellent. Well, I wanted you to know General Fogarty's men are just arriving, Captain Banks."

"Thanks." Simon looked put out. As head of security, he should have been informed first.

"They brought up the supplies we've been requesting, and I'm having them transferred to the storage building."

Simon nodded grudgingly. "That should give me time to round up my crew. Blair, would you mind telling the Eskimos to harness the dogs?"

"Sure thing, Simon." I'd become friendly with our Eskimos, had learned their language, and spent a good deal of my spare time with them. The dynamics of their tribal life fascinated me.

Once an anthropologist, always an anthropologist.

I followed the two men out into the corridor.

"As soon as the dogs are ready, we can get a move on, Dr. Carrington," Simon was saying.

"Will the dogs have to come with us?"

"If we can't land close enough to the spot you've indicated, we're going to need them to get us there."

Dr. Carrington nodded, but I knew he wasn't happy. He'd been nipped by one of the dogs, and had never gotten over his uneasiness around them.

There was the bite of winter in the air. I should have grabbed my parka. As soon as I passed the message to the Eskimos who cared for our dogs, I rushed back into the station, shivering and rubbing my arms briskly, thankful that Lee had another cup of coffee waiting for me.

****

The experiment I'd set up with the molds wouldn't be completed for some time, so after lunch I took a break and went to visit our Eskimos.

The men of the village had been fishing in the ice floes and had brought back a whale; there would be feasting tonight, and tomorrow they would begin preparations for the long journey south to the spot where they wintered.

I sat with them and helped carve creamy strips of blubber from the carcass, working our way down to the flesh. Every once in a while I'd toss a chunk to the dogs. These were sweet-tempered animals, not like the brutes that had been brought up here from Barrow to pull the station's sleds.

The angatkuq or shaman was telling a convoluted story that had everyone chuckling when the headman's wife touched my shoulder and pointed to the Northeast. At first I couldn't see anything, and then there it was, a speck that was quickly growing larger. Close behind it was the storm front that had been threatening for days. My breath snagged in my throat as I watched the plane try to out-race the storm.

I shoved my knife into its sheath in my boot, barely taking the time to thrust it into the snow to clean it, and ran for the landing strip. Some of the Eskimo men were right behind me.

"Smith! Wilson! Kibbee!" The tension in my voice communicated itself to the ground crew, and they came tearing out of the makeshift hangar where repairs were accomplished.

The wind rose, and snow started to pelt down.

"Oh, shit!"

The landing was rough, a ski broken in the process, but they had made it with minutes to spare.

The cargo hatch opened. "Someone get these dogs out of here!"

I spoke quickly to the Eskimos, and they rushed into the plane. Within seconds they were being dragged out behind the team of sled dogs. Men and animals all seemed panicked.

"What the...?" I stared after them as they chained up the dogs and raced back to their village, shouting something that was lost in the fierce whine of the wind.

Simon jumped down from the cargo hatch. A huge block of ice was shoved out of it and onto the ground. "Come on, men!" he roared. "We need to get this thing into one of the storerooms!"

While Simon's men were busy dragging the block of ice toward the uppermost building of the station, the ground and flight crews were scrambling to get the crippled C-54 into the shelter of the hangar.

"What is that?"

"Believe me, you don't want to know!"

"Barnes, go see Mrs. Chapman. I don't want you puking over your boots again! Lieutenant Dykes, the radio room is through there. Blair!"

"Yeah, Simon?"

"We want to put this thing in number 4. And we want it kept frozen!" He ignored the scowls from Dr. Carrington and Professor Laurenz. Why was the botanist involved in this?

"We need to study this..."

"We've already lost the ship..."

When they realized that Simon wasn't paying any attention to them, they strode to the man who was watching the plane being secured.

"Captain, this is under military jurisdiction..."

"You have the say-so, so you have to let us..."

"He doesn't have to let them do a fucking thing." Simon's smile was grim.

"Is this what was causing the disturbance, Simon?" I tapped the block of ice with the toe of my boot.

"No, his saucer was."

"Saucer? As in flying saucer?" My eyes widened. "A man from Mars? Amazing!" I studied the size of the block. It would be at least eight feet, more probably nine, when it was upended, and I could vaguely make out the shape within. Something that size... "What did the inside of his ship look like?"

"No idea." The redhead who spoke with the faint Australian accent had to be Megan Connor. "Smart boy over there decided to melt the ice with a thermite bomb. He succeeded in blowing it up, instead."

"How was he supposed to know it was made from some magnesium alloy? Even Carrington didn't blame him for that." A big, stocky black man with military insignia on the shoulders of his flight suit glared at her. "He explained that's SOP, miss. Standard operating procedure."

She glared back at him, unintimidated by his size. "I know what SOP stands for, Taggart, and don't call me 'miss'. Why don't you just admit it? He screwed up. Wait'll General Fogarty hears about this!"

"But thermite shouldn't have caused that type of destruction."

"Carrington believes the thermite ignited the magnesium skin of the craft, and..."

"There's a newsflash for you: magnesium burns!"

"... there was some kind of chain reaction with the engines, and ka-boom."

"That's not funny, Taggart," Megan Connor sniped.

The lieutenant shrugged. "Some people have no sense of humor."

Simon shook his head. "There's no use in regretting what can't be fixed. We still have our visitor from Mars to deal with."

"How come he didn't go up with his ship, Simon?"

The reporter answered my question. "According to Carrington, he was probably thrown from the ship when it crashed. The heat from its entry into the atmosphere caused the surrounding ice to melt and then freeze around him. He was encased in this block of ice for almost eighteen hours. Survival was impossible."

"Especially when you consider that while we were trying to free that thing from the ice, Barnes sank his axe into its head." Simon swallowed. "He... it... Shit. Something green oozed out of the man from Mars' head."

"Ah. So that's what made him sick. But if it had been in the ice that long... ?"

"I don't know how to explain this, Blair."

I gripped his shoulder to let him know I understood his frustration with something that was so far out of the realm of our knowledge. "Listen, Simon. There's no control for the temperature in the storerooms, but I'll see what I can do."

"Find a way to get that temperature down." The military man who had been harangued by the double domes joined us, irritation radiating from him with every step he took. His face was concealed by the shadow of his flight cap and the raised collar of his flight suit, and his gaze was fixed on the block of ice. "I don't care what you do, Einstein, just do it. If this thing starts melting, I'm gonna hold you personally responsible. Banks..."

"Keep your shirt on, General MacArthur," I snapped at him. "I said I'll take care of it."

His head whipped around, but I had dismissed the overbearing son-of-a-bitch and was already turning back to the buildings.

I trotted down the corridor that led to the number 4 storeroom and flicked on the light switch by the door. Simon had picked a good one. There were some empty crates stacked against the walls and a beat-up old desk that would eventually be broken up for firewood, but otherwise there was room for the slab of ice and whatever it contained.

It was about 40 degrees in there, cold, but tropical compared to the temperature on the other side of the walls. I glanced around the room, my gaze returning to the two windows that were a few feet below the ceiling. They were double-paned for insulation. I went out to find something to break them.

It took some searching. Simon's men had brought all the ice axes with them and hadn't replaced them yet, but I finally found a crowbar in the last storeroom I rummaged through.

As I went back to Number 4, I could hear raised voices.

"You have to let us thaw this being out, Captain." Dr. Carrington, no longer hot under the collar, but flatly emphatic.

"Arthur, you don't know what that could let loose on this planet." Dr. Chapman, sounding more concerned than I could ever recall.

"Are you insinuating he could survive this cold?"

"No, of course not, but there are germs that can survive it. Germs our immune system would have no defense against."

"Really, Hugo..."

There was another argument going on as well.

"Listen, Banks, I told him..." The captain had his back to me. The angle of his head was pugnacious, and his hands were fisted at his side.

"Give the kid a fucking break!" Simon was looking just as pugnacious.

I felt the ridiculous urge to chant, 'Fight, fight, fight!'

"Problem, gentlemen?" I asked as I leaned against the doorframe.

The captain stiffened but didn't turn. "You were supposed to do something about the temperature in this room."

"And so I shall." I sauntered past him to the first window, hefted the crowbar like Joltin' Joe, and slammed it against the glass, shattering it. Cold wind whined through the broken pane. I went to the one beside it and repeated my action. Freezing pellets of snow started blowing in with the wind. "Think that will be cold enough for you, Captain?" I turned to face him with a smug grin on my face.

I could see his face clearly for the first time, and the crowbar dropped from suddenly nerveless fingers.

It was Jim Ellison.

****

Part 4

I sucked in a breath. It was inaudible, I knew it was inaudible, but I had the weirdest feeling that he heard it. "Jim!"

"Chief." Jim didn't look nearly as surprised as I was. He took a step toward me. "Why'd you leave?" he asked in a very low voice.

He didn't remember I had told him of the plane I'd had to catch? I opened my mouth, then shut it. Had I told him I had a plane to catch? I couldn't remember. That was one of the reasons I stuck with beer.

"Can we talk about this later?" I really didn't want to be having this discussion in front of an audience.

"Fine. But we will talk about it." He turned to Simon. "I have to remind you that this facility is now under military jurisdiction, Captain Banks."

"And as I told you back there on the ice, that's fine by me, Captain Ellison. I don't mind admitting this thing in the ice is out of my area of expertise. Give me a Commie spy any day."

Jim smiled, but I could tell his mind was elsewhere. "I'll set up a watch. Lieutenant Taggart will take the first four hours, I'll take the next four. Lieutenant Erickson, Sergeant MacAuliff, and Lieutenant Dykes can split the remaining watches between them."

"Wait a second. You feel a watch is necessary? Why?" I wanted to know. "I mean the Martian Popsicle in there isn't going anywhere."

"I can answer that, Sandburg." Professor Laurenz was unhappy in the extreme. "Captain Ellison doesn't trust us not to make off with our visitor while his back is turned. We've been arguing this the entire return flight."

"While the Cap was trying to keep the plane from doing a swan-dive while he out-raced that storm. Really smart, distracting him like that. Almost saw all of us dead," Taggart snapped.

Jim scowled at Laurenz. "Your friends are a little overeager." He turned his back pointedly. "It's been a bitch of a day, Banks. Why don't you and your men get some rest?"

"You're right." Simon started unzipping his parka; he told me afterwards that he'd been on the go for over thirty-six hours straight at that point, and his second wind had long since given up the ghost. I knew myself from experience that all that time spent out in the cold would be enervating as well. "This research station is my responsibility, though, Ellison, these people. Give a shout if you need me."

He and his men left, stepping aside for Tex as he rushed in, and then pulling the door shut behind them to keep the chill air from escaping.

"I've got a message for..." Tex skidded to a halt in a puddle of melted snow. "Whoa! What in the Sam Hill is that?"

"A block of ice."

"I can see that, amigo. I mean, what's in it?"

"That is a visitor from another planet, Tex."

"A man from Mars?" He leaned over and stared at the ice, which was starting to clear in the relative warmth of the storeroom. "Holy hannah!"

"Succinctly put." Not for the first time I wondered that no one had broken Professor Laurenz's nose. He had been one of the sources I had cited for my dissertation in botany, but the more I knew of him personally, the less I liked him.

"Andrew, could I speak with you a moment?" Dr. Carrington and the botanist stepped away from the rest of us, and the head scientist began speaking in an earnest undertone.

I was distracted from their conversation by Tex blowing out a breath and saying, "Well, shut my mouth an' call me late for dinner! They sure don't grow 'em pretty where he comes from! This Thing is uglier'n sin!"

I squatted down to take a close look. No ears. One hand seemed to be reaching toward me, the fingers long and thin and splayed as if to brace itself for a fall. I gave my head a shake, positive I hadn't counted the correct number of digits, but it was dumb of me to assume that it would be normal for an extraterrestrial to have five fingers on each hand.

Something drew my gaze upward, and I froze, and my mouth went dry, and I wanted to whimper.

Its eyes were open and appeared to be boring straight into mine. I recoiled violently. There was such hatred, such malevolence... I lost my balance and landed on my ass.

"You okay, Chief?" Jim extended a hand to help me up.

"Yeah." I hesitated for a second, then accepted his hand. "Yeah, thanks." The feel of his palm against mine had me wishing I could feel it on other parts of my body again.

His ice-blue eyes stared into mine. He held onto my hand longer than was necessary, and when he finally released it, his fingers stroked across my palm. I closed my fingers over the phantom caress, wanting to hold onto the feeling forever.

"Uh... " What had I been saying? I glanced back at the block of ice, which was clearing even more and making what it contained too visible. "You're right, Tex. That acorn didn't fall too far from the ugly tree."

I was whistling in the dark. All that hate and malice running loose... The thought of what that Thing could have done if it hadn't wound up frozen tied my stomach in knots. My reaction to it must have been visible on my face, because Dr. Carrington chastised me for it.

"You're allowing its physical appearance to sway your emotions, Dr. Sandburg. As a scientist, you should know better. There is so much our visitor could have taught us."

I made a rude sound. "You didn't look into its eyes, Dr. Carrington. I have a strong feeling that Thing didn't come in peace. Why fly over the North Pole, which is uninhabited?"

Jim rubbed my shoulder in silent sympathy. "You think he was a scout, Chief?"

"I don't know, Jim." I leaned into his touch and shivered. The chill of the room wasn't the only reason for my reaction. "Before today I would have said the odds of there being intelligent life on Mars were minimal at best. It's too cold, too dry, and the atmosphere is too thin."

"Nonsense!" Dr. Carrington slapped his hat against his thigh restlessly. "Ah. Richards. Lieutenant Dykes was able to get a message to General Fogarty while we were out on the ice, but I'd like to send him further word about this."

"Shoot, that's why I'm h-h-here! I got an urgent m-m-message from General Fogarty for a C-c-captain Ellison?" Tex was shivering now, too, and his breath was a plume of white. "Jesus, it's cold in here!"

"I'm Ellison." Jim took the paper from him and scanned it. "'Fogarty to Ellison. In receipt of earlier radio transmission. Remove craft from ice with all possible care.'"

"I'd say someone is in deep shit," Megan Connor taunted.

"Didn't your mama teach you not to use such language?"

She glared at Taggart, who returned it with a glare of his own.

Jim ignored them both. He continued reading, "'However, use thermite if necessary.'"

"Oh, isn't that peachy-keen!" the reporter sniped. "Looks like your ass is covered, Captain."

"Knock it off, Connor, and give the Cap some credit for knowing how the Air Force likes things done."

Taggart and Connor continued snarling at each other.

"What else does General Fogarty have to say, Captain Ellison?" Dr. Carrington demanded.

"Just to keep everything protected until he can get up here with his staff chiefs." He crushed the paper and threw it into a corner, then balled one hand on his hip and ran the other over his brush cut. "Okay, listen, Tex. Radio General Fogarty. Tell him the craft was destroyed by the thermite bomb, but we have the pilot on ice. Literally."

"Captain?"

Jim nodded. "Tell him Dr. Carrington and his scientists want to thaw the remains and do an autopsy, and are waiting on his permission. Will that suit you, Dr. Carrington?"

"Thank you, yes, Captain. Gentlemen, I think we need to warm up. Andrew, if you'll meet me in my laboratory? We'll see you later in the mess hall, I'm sure, Captain."

"Yeah."

"I'd better let Esther know what's going on." Dr. Chapman had been looking at me intently. He glanced at Jim, smiled, and followed his fellow scientists

As soon as they left, Jim seemed to forget all about them. "That's all, Tex."

"G-g-got it, Captain Ellison." Tex was shivering more violently as he finished writing down the message. The susurration of the wind through the broken glass was a constant counterpoint to all conversation. "As soon as I get a response, I'll f-f-find you." He hurried out of the storeroom, not sparing a glance back at the ice and what it contained before heading for the radio room to send the transmission.

"Hey, you could have asked him if I could send the story to my editor!"

Jim gazed at her for a moment. "No."

Taggart made no effort to disguise his chuckles, and she growled at him and hit his shoulder with the heel of her hand. He rubbed his shoulder in mock pain.

Connor curled her lip and turned away from him. She pulled off her gloves and blew on her fingers, then reached for the camera that hung from her shoulder, aimed it at the block of ice, and began snapping away.

"Jim?" Taggart nodded toward the reporter.

"Let her, Joel. She won't be able to develop that film until we get back to Cascade." Apparently he didn't know about the station's dark room.

"But..."

I interrupted. "Lieutenant, we've had storms that last at least three weeks. It's unusual this early in the season, but it is possible that this could be one of them."

He stared at Connor, the expression in his eyes hooded. "Three weeks with that woman?"

"I don't think that would be a hardship. She's very attractive." That earned me a wink from her and scowls from both men. "What? Just because I prefer beef doesn't mean I can't appreciate a nicely displayed seafood platter." Esthetically speaking.

Jim turned to his lieutenant. "Did you tell the Eskimos to stay in their village, Joel?"

"No need to, Jim. They were harnessing their dogs and packing the sleds. Come daylight I think they'll be long gone."

"They weren't planning on leaving until the end of the week." I didn't like the idea of our Eskimos traveling through that storm. It was my turn to run my hand through my hair. I caught the tie that kept it away from my face in my fingers, and it spilled loose. Absently I tucked the piece of braided leather into the pocket of my pants. "This thing must have scared the bejezzus out of them."

Taggart shrugged. "Dunno. I don't speak Eskimo."

Connor paused in her picture-taking. She wasn't the only one to roll her eyes.

"Not Eskimo," I said, "Inupiat."

"Yeah, yeah."

"All right, if that's all, I suggest we..."

A massive shudder rippled through me. The cold had managed to creep in through the neck of my parka, and I folded my arms across my chest, holding onto the dissipating warmth. "Excuse me, Jim. It's going to get really cold in here, even with your flight suits on. And maybe you haven't noticed, but the ice is clearing, and that thing inside is becoming very visible."

Jim looked at it and took an abrupt, involuntary step back. He was pale. "Jesus. You're right, Chief. The watch will be every two hours. Joel, I'll send you a thermos of coffee."

"Thanks, Jim. I'll be fine, though."

"Hot shot tough guy," Connor muttered. "I'm going to see if Tex can get a message out to General MacLaren. I heard he was in Cascade. I was on the USS Missouri with him in '45, when the Japs signed the statement of surrender. I'll get the all-clear to send this story if it kills me!" She turned on her heel and started to stalk out, calling over her shoulder, "And you'd better not be watching my ass, Taggart!"

Taggart laughed quietly.

"You sure you don't need anything, Joel?"

"Nah, I'm good. Oh, wait a second. Dinner!"

"I'll send someone down with it."

"Thanks, Jim. You're a good man! I'll see you in two hours."

"Let's go, Chief."

We went.

The difference in the temperature was startling. I unzipped my parka, and Jim unzipped his flight suit to his waist.

The corridor was empty. With Jim standing next to me, practically looming over me, it suddenly felt incredibly narrow. I stopped myself from fidgeting, but only just.

"I'll go find Mrs. Chapman. She'll show you your quarters."

"Why don't you do that, Chief?"

"There should be enough room for you and Lieutenant Taggart and... What?"

"Why don't you show me where I'll be staying?"

"Um... well, sure. It's this way."

I led him down the corridor to the area relegated to representatives of the military. Dr. Carrington had had frequent run-ins with ranking members of the armed forces, and took perverse pleasure in quartering those assigned to periodic visits in the rooms furthest from the station's population. Oddly enough, it was the one thing that made him seem human.

"But then I really need to get to my laboratory. Dr. Carrington is going to want the results of the experiments I've been running."

"We have a little unfinished business, wouldn't you say?"

"Do we?"

"Look, we might as well have this conversation now, Chief."

"In that case maybe you can tell me when it was you forgot my name."

"What? What are you talking about?"

"Never once did you use my name."

"Oh, come on, Chief. You're exaggerating."

"You think so? How many times have you called me 'Chief' in the last half hour?"

"Once or twice?"

"Eight."

"You were counting?" He looked intrigued, then shook his head. "No, I'm sure I used your first name."

"You didn't," I hunched a shoulder, "but if I'm wrong, fine. What is my name?"

"Blair."

My jaw sagged. "You knew it? All this time you knew it?" When we'd been in the front seat of Henri Brown's Rambler, he had been making love to Blair Sandburg and not some anonymous body he'd met on a blind date? Had the drinks at the Hideaway made me totally stupid? "If you knew it, why didn't you use it?"

We had reached the quarters set aside for visitors. "Is this where we'll be staying?"

I threw the door open, and Jim stepped past me. His eyes kept cutting toward me as he gazed around the room, and I wondered if his interest in the surroundings was real or feigned.

"Each room has four cots as you can see," I informed him. "You didn't answer my question."

"There are five of us."

I pointed to a door in the far wall. "There's an adjoining room. You can have that one all to yourself, if you like."

"Where does this lead?" Jim crossed to the far wall, unlatched the door and pulled it open, to get a face full of snow. He quickly shut the door. "Never mind." He went to study the fat-bellied, cast-iron stove in the center of the room. Beside it was a can that contained kerosene to fuel the stove. "A little primitive, don't you think, Chief?"

"This building housed our original living quarters; it's very well insulated since it's mostly above ground, and these stoves supplied all of the heat. Once the other buildings were finished, electrical generators were installed, and they provide our heat now." I waited a beat, but he sat down on a bunk and pulled off his boots, then stripped off his flight suit. "Jim, are you going to tell me why you didn't call me by my name?"

"Is that why you ran out on me?" He hung the outergear up on a hook on a wall and stepped back into his boots.

"I didn't run out! I told you I had a plane to catch!"

"You did?"

"Didn't I?" Damn, I really couldn't remember. I promised myself I would never drink another Under the Wraps, not if I lived to be a hundred and five. "Well, I left you a note."

"Yeah, and thank you so much. Did you have to leave it on my chest where everyone could see it? The whole flight up Taggart ragged me about my 'cute legs'."

That hit me like a ton of bricks. I hadn't thought beyond his catching up with me at the airport. "Oh, shit, I'm so sorry, man! I didn't even think... Oh, shit. Is this a punishment detail? Are they going to court-martial you? Are you going to be dishonorably discharged? What are they going to do to you?"

"If you can shut your mouth long enough, maybe I can tell you."

"Shutting my mouth," I said miserably.

"There's no problem, Blair." He was smiling. He took a couple of steps toward me.

"There isn't?" I started to feel better.

"You signed it with the letter 'C'. The men thought it was from my ex-wife, and I didn't see any need to tell them differently."

I blew out a relieved breath, but my relief didn't last long. "Why would they think your ex-wife would be in the BOQ with you? Just how 'ex' is she?"

"They're die-hard romantics and think I'll be much happier with someone warming my bed on a regular basis. They're partially right, I'd be happier with... someone... in my bed."

The look he gave me made it clear that I was strongly in the running for that position, and I shivered, liking the idea of being sprawled in Jim's bed. Naked. His nostrils flared, and his eyes went hot as they ran over my body. I swallowed wrong and choked.

"They've conveniently forgotten what a beast I was when I was with my ex. And she's as 'ex' as you can get, Chief. I have to keep track of her so I know where to send the alimony checks, but the last I heard, she was taking a job out of the states."

"Oh. Well..."

"Mind telling me why you used the letter 'C'?"

"Well, you kept calling me 'Chief'. I wasn't sure how you would take it if I signed it with my initials."

His eyes looked vague for a minute, and then he gave a snort of laughter. "No, I can see signing a letter 'BS' could be taken the wrong way."

"I apologize for the note, Jim. I was a little irate at the time."

"A little? I'd hate to see you in a full-blown snit."

"Hey! I don't have snits, full-blown or otherwise!"

"Of course not, Chief. Sorry. Blair. So that's what got your shorts in a bunch. I guess it's my turn to apologize. The drinks we had at that last place...What was it called?"

"The Hideaway. You don't remember the Hideaway's name?" I didn't feel so bad now.

He flushed, having picked up on the irony. Smart man, Jim Ellison. "Do you have any idea what was in those drinks?"

"Uh... No."

"I do. Pepper Pot Vodka. Dry vermouth. Clamato juice. Olive juice. After that first drink, I don't remember anything very clearly. When I woke up the next morning, my eyeballs were threatening to fall out of my head and roll around on the floor, and I had the hangover from hell. By the time I got my eyes to focus, it was too late, your flight had long since left. Since it was a flight to a high security facility, they wouldn't give me any information about it. I tracked down Brown. You've got loyal friends, you know that? He was reluctant to give me your name." Jim's mouth twisted wryly. "If he didn't consider me a friend also, I don't think even a threat to his boyish good-looks would have persuaded him that telling me would be the smart thing to do. Before I could find out where you had gone, General Fogarty ordered me to haul ass up here. Remind me to send the man a dozen roses. Anonymously."

"You were going to come for me?"

"Yeah."

"I ... I didn't expect that, Jim."

"You should have. Don't you have any idea how attracted I am to you?" He wound a lock of my hair around his thumb and tugged me toward him. "I haven't felt like this about anyone in a very long time, Chief."

My mouth felt as if it was stuffed with cotton. "Uh... I... uh... "

"Blair." Suddenly I found myself pressed up against the wall with one hundred and ninety pounds of G.I. Joe plastered against me. "God, the way you smell! Everything about you makes me want you!"

He began to nuzzle the length of my neck. If I hadn't known better, I'd have sworn he was imprinting my scent on his memory.

His lips were around my earlobe, and his tongue was rubbing along the edge and his teeth were biting down, and my thoughts splintered.

One of the tribes I'd lived with in the Fijis had pierced my earlobes in a ceremony that was sort of the tribal version of a Bar Mitzvah. I no longer wore the rings fashioned from conch shells, but my earlobes had been sensitive ever since.

I shivered and swallowed a moan, positive I could climax just from his attention to my ear.

"Jim!" I was so hard I thought my dick would poke through my fly. "Please!"

"Yes!"

I whimpered as he thrust his thigh high between my legs and rubbed it against my balls. I could feel his erection nudging my hip.

Jim abruptly went still. "Someone's coming." His breath was a warm whisper in my ear, and then he was a couple of feet away from me.

"Huh?" I was dazed but struggled to pull myself together.

There was a brisk knock on the door.

"You okay, Chief? Just a second!" he barked, then waited until I nodded before he called, "Come in."

The door opened, and Mrs. Chapman stepped into the barracks.

"Captain Ellison? How do you do? I'm Esther Chapman. I hope I haven't come at a bad time. I wanted to welcome you to our little slice of heaven. Have you seen Dr... Ah, Blair! There you are. Arthur is looking for you."

"He is?"

"Something about the MacCormick mold spores?"

Shit. "Yes. The experiment should be almost finished now. Jim, I have to run. Can we finish this... um... discussion another time?"

"Count on it, Chief. Over a cup of coffee?" His smile went right to my dick, and I licked my lips and smiled back at him.

"Sounds good, Jim."

"See you later, Blair." He seemed to hesitate on the 'b' of my name for just a second. Had he been going to call me 'babe'? My dick started to get hard again.

As I left the visitors' quarters, I heard Mrs. Chapman say, "Come to the mess hall, Captain Ellison. After having been out on the ice all afternoon, I'm sure you can use a hot meal."

I wondered how long Dr. Carrington would keep me in the lab. I sighed and absently tucked my shirt back into my pants. I was afraid Jim would be pulling his watch before I could get free.

****

Part 5

Jim's POV

"There's nothing wrong with me." I kept an unobtrusive distance between me and my wife, but the perfume she wore was still almost overpowering.

"Jimmy, I had to go out and find someone who bottled rain water for Pete's sake, and you still complain that the sheets are too scratchy! I can't stand it any longer! I'm going home to Mother!"

Carolyn's voice had taken on that fingernails-on-blackboard quality. I swallowed back the nausea and struggled not to put my hands over my ears to block the sound.

"When will you be back? Dear?"

"Never! I've had it! I want a divorce. Wendy knows a good lawyer."

"Why aren't I surprised?"

"You never liked my sister! Admit it! You never liked any of my family!" She began to pace the room. "Don't you dare fight me on this, James Ellison! I'll tell your commanding officer that you have a penchant for young men!"

My mouth went dry. I'd never acted those times when the desire to fuck a man had become almost overwhelming. I'd just locked myself in the bathroom, turned on the shower, and jerked off, and jerked off, and jerked off.

"That's a lie, Carolyn." I must have been attracted to this woman at some point to have married her, but for the life of me, I could no longer remember.

"I'll still tell him."

"Why are you doing this? I haven't given you cause!" Jesus, she made me so tired. "I've never been unfaithful to you, not once in the eighteen months we've been married."

"Do you think fidelity is the problem? You could go and screw the neighbor's dog for all I care!" I recoiled at the venom in her voice. "It doesn't matter. You were a decorated war hero! I thought you would be in Washington, DC by now, aide to one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but you seem content to fly planes for the rest of your career."

"You knew I was a pilot when you married me."

My commander had told me that my chances of a position in the nation's capital had been squashed because of my wife. According to him, she didn't know how to play the game so I would get a desk job, how to flatter the wives of generals and politicians.

I never told her. I never wanted to be cooped up in an office.

Her mouth curled in an unattractive sneer, and she walked out, slamming the door behind her.

I flinched, then looked around. These quarters were for married officers. I'd have to move out.

****

There had been no women since my divorce, but I needed something, and I was desperate enough to cruise the bars for a man.

The first bar, The Cat's Pajamas, was dimly lit. Romantic music, the stuff women liked, was playing on the jukebox. Nat 'King' Cole singing about Mona Lisa. Perry Como's Hello, Young Lovers. Mario Lanza's Be My Love. If anyone I knew saw me in this place, I'd never live it down, and not just because homosexuals patronized it.

"I'll have a beer."

"We don't serve beer here."

"Wine?"

"That we serve."

"I'll have the house red."

The bartender slid a stemmed glass from the overhead rack and selected a bottle from the rows behind him. While he poured the wine into the glass, I glanced down the length of the bar. The man standing at the far end was about my height and well-built, and he looked promising.

"That'll be fifty cents," the bartender said as he put the glass in front of me and reached for the dollar bill I had placed on the bar. I put my hand over his.

"And give him," I nodded toward the end of the bar, "whatever he's having."

"It's your funeral," he muttered.

"Huh?"

"What?"

"You said... Forget it."

He gave me an odd look, went back to mixing a Manhattan, and brought it to the man.

"It's from him." He pointed to me.

He really didn't have to announce it to the whole bar. I was able to hear him all the way down at my end.

The man gave a faint smile and raised his glass. "Good luck," he mouthed.

I smiled and raised my glass, and walked to where he stood. "Hi. I'm Jim."

"I'm Tim."

I winced.

"And he's mine!" A skinny little guy came storming up to us from the back where the men's room was. He wedged himself between Tim and me, his chin thrust up and fire shooting from his eyes. He didn't come much higher than mid-chest.

"Am I, sugar cookie?" Tim blushed and lowered his eyes. I'd never seen a guy with such ridiculously long eyelashes.

"Of course you are!" 'Sugar Cookie' frowned at me. "Go wreck somebody else's home, you!"

"Easy, Mickey Rooney. All I did was buy him a drink!" For a second, I thought he was going to take a swing at me. Instead he pulled himself up to his full height.

"This used to be a nice bar, Eddie. Come along, Timothy. I'm taking you home."

Tim caught his hand and kissed it, and followed him docilely toward the door.

The bartender glared at me. "I think you'd better leave. They're regulars, and I don't know you from a hole in the wall."

Hole in the wall. That sounded pretty good. I knew of a place where there were glory holes in the restroom. I'd stick my dick in one and get a quick blowjob. Or maybe I'd find someone to fuck before I went home.

I left some change on the bar and walked out.

A few blocks over, down an alley, was a dinky little place that was as different from the Cat's Pajamas as a bar could get, the Nite Owl. Motorcycles were parked haphazardly in front of it, and beat-up jalopies that had been new before Prohibition had been repealed.

At the door stood the bouncer, who was about seven feet tall, swarthy, with a smooth-shaven skull, bulldog eyes and cauliflower ears, and a ring in his nose. He wore a leather vest over his bare torso, and his beefy arms, which were covered with tattoos, were folded menacingly across his chest. He opened the door, and I walked into the bar.

As soon as I entered it, the smells hit me, spilt beer and alcohol. Aftershaves and sickly-sweet colognes. Bodies that hadn't been near water since the previous Saturday night, if then. And underlying it all, coming from the back of the place, was the odor of urine and vomit and spunk. The skin at the base of my skull tightened.

"Jesus, man!" I complained to the bartender. "Don't you believe in cleaning this place up? It stinks to high heaven!"

Needless to say, that didn't win him over. "Whaddaya talkin' about, Mac? I gotta cleanin' staff that comes in every mornin'! Now either order somethin', or take a hike."

"I'll have a beer." That seemed the safest drink in this place; nothing so gay as wine was offered. I just hoped the glass was clean.

He filled the glass from the tap and slapped it down in front of me. "That'll be a dime."

I fumbled in my pocket for the change and gave it to him, then took a long drink of the beer and looked around, checking out the talent.

In the far corner was a pool table where a game of 9-Ball was going on. The two men, dressed in motorcycle leathers, were circling the table, sizing up their shots.

Nearby stood a younger man. He couldn't have been more than twenty. His hair was neatly trimmed, his clothes were unostentatious, and he looked like Joe College. He smelled good, even from where I stood.

There was another scent mixed with his cologne, the odor of sexual excitement. I could see the bulge behind his fly.

"What's going on?" I asked the man standing next to me.

"They're playing for tail. The winner gets to fuck Benjie over the pool table."

I swallowed hard, becoming aroused in spite of myself at the thought of the young man being fucked in public.

There was a final crack as the cue ball struck the 9 ball and sent it rolling into a side pocket.

"I'd almost swear this game was fixed," the loser groused, and let his pool cue fall to the floor. "You got all the luck, Jake." He stalked out of the bar.

The winner tossed his stick onto the felt of the table-top.

Joe College, Benjie, licked his lips, and I heard his breath hitch in his throat. "Time to collect your winnings, Jake." He rubbed his palm over his erection.

"All right, sunshine. Drop your trousers, and let's see if you're worth it."

"You know I am."

The other patrons of the bar watched avidly as the young man did as he was ordered. His trousers slipped down his lean hips to puddle around his ankles, and he leaned over the pool table, spreading his legs. His buttocks were taut. They clenched and unclenched in anticipation. The crevice between them glistened with some lubricant. He'd come here prepared for this.

The silence of the room was broken by the sound of a zipper being lowered. The winner moved up behind Benjie, parted the waiting cheeks, and slammed into him.

They both groaned. Pheromones flooded the room, as well as the smell of come as a few of the observers ejaculated into their pants.

It was too much, and that was when the migraine turned vicious. Flashing lights, dizziness, nausea...

My knuckles whitened as I gripped the edge of the bar, trying to steady myself. Fucking hell. I had to get out of there.

The bartender glared as I swayed back and forth. "You get sick in here, Mac, you clean it up."

"Telephone?" My jaw was clenched so tightly it ached.

He jerked his head toward the rear of the bar, and I staggered in that direction.

I found a pay phone back by the john and breathed shallowly to keep from vomiting. I called my friend, Henri Brown.

"H, it's Jim. I hate to bother you, but I need a ride home."

"Sure thing. Just give me the address, and I'll come get you."

I blew out a breath. "Thanks, man. I owe you." I put my hand over the mouthpiece and looked around. The bouncer was just coming out of the john. "Hey, Gargantua! What's the address of this place?" He told me, and I rattled it off to Henri.

"I'm familiar with the area, Jim. Be there in ten."

"I'll be waiting outside."

Henri was straighter than a yardstick. If he saw what was going on inside the Nite Owl, I had the sinking feeling I would lose his friendship.

In ten minutes, true to his word, his Nash Rambler cruised to a stop in front of the bar, and I climbed into the front seat. I knew he was staring at me, but I felt too miserable to meet his eyes, and after a few seconds, he pulled away from the curb.

He didn't say anything for a few blocks. I had my head between my knees and my eyes tightly closed.

"Uh... Jim, that was a gay bar I picked you up at."

"I know."

He slowed. We were probably coming to a red light, or a turn, or something. I didn't much care.

"Man, you're not gonna throw up on my floorboard, are you?"

"No," I said through gritted teeth. H took good care of his car, but the idling of the engine, as quiet as it was, was like a pick digging into my brain.

"Okay." He popped the clutch, put the car into gear, and drove on. I didn't need to see his actions. Each one was loud enough for me to hear and identify.

"You gonna ask me about why I was at that bar, H?"

I could feel the faint stir of air as he turned his head to look at me.

"No." He drove in silence for a minute or so, then continued. "I owe you, Jim."

"H, don't pose riddles to a dying man. I haven't done anything to put you in my debt."

"Joel Taggart."

"What about Joel?" How did my co-pilot get involved in this conversation?

"He's my brother."

"Huh?" My brain really wasn't working well enough to make heads or tails of this. "But your last name is Brown, and his is Taggart."

"All that means, Jim," he said with exaggerated patience, "is that my mama was married before she married my daddy."

"Oh. Okay. That makes sense now."

"Mama would deny it, but we all know that Joel is her favorite. She cried like a baby when he was drafted. He was in your squad on that little island in the Pacific. You saved his life. I figure I owe you. My whole family owes you."

"I was just doing my job, H."

"That may be, but my brother is alive, and my Mama is happy as a clam because he is. And that's thanks to you. I'm just telling you this because I want you to know that your secret is safe with me, Jim."

"Thank you." Now that the smells of the bar weren't overwhelming me, the migraine was easing off, and I was able to sit up. I leaned my head against the seat back and stared out the windshield at the road as it unwound before us.

"Good thing you weren't in uniform."

"That would not have been a smart move on my part, Henri. And lack of sex hasn't made me that stupid."

"Yet?" I could hear the smile in his voice.

I made a vague sound in response.

He turned on the radio and began to sing along under his breath, "'Look- a here girls I'm telling you now, They call me Lovin' Dan...'"

After a second, I joined him. "'I rock 'em, roll 'em all night long, I'm a sixty-minute man...'"

****

H had rented an apartment off base. "You haven't seen it yet," he'd told me. "Come on over Saturday afternoon. We can go out for a beer afterwards. Just not to the Nite Owl, okay?"

I should have known he had something up his sleeve. He was looking too innocent.

When I realized that what Henri Brown had in mind was setting me up on a date, I was ready to turn around and walk out without even letting him know I was there. I hated blind dates.

I could hear the soft rumble of conversation from where I stood by the front door. And then I heard that voice. It was like warm honey, and it seemed to slide under the waistband of my trousers and wrap itself around my dick.

"I don't do one night stands, H."

"But I swear this one will be better. Besides, he's a captain!"

Brown had such faith in the phrase 'an officer and a gentleman.' We put our pants on one leg at a time, just like enlisted men and civilians. I would have laughed under my breath if I wasn't so wrapped up in those mellow vowels and consonants of the man who was with him.

"You've already said that once. Nope. Not a chance."

"Geez, Hairboy. You don't have to marry the guy! Just have dinner with him!"

I found myself hoping Brown would be able to talk the owner of that voice into agreeing to go out with me.

"Do the words 'no way in hell' ring a bell?"

I rapped on the door to get their attention. "H. Hello."

"Hey, tough guy! Long time no see!"

I smiled at him, but I couldn't take my eyes of the young man who stood a few feet from him, packing. Curly brown hair with chestnut streaks in it. Deep blue eyes. A compact body of medium height. I'd have to lean down in order to kiss him. I licked my lips, wanting to taste that kiss.

He paused in his packing and watched me equally intently, and suddenly I was inundated by a scent that was more arousing than any woman's Paris perfume. It spoke to me of cool, soft sheets that quickly became hot and rumpled; of bodies that glistened with sweat and writhed with sexual heat and want.

I was lost in a trance. That had happened to me before, where a sight or a sound or an odor would almost overpower me, and I'd be trapped in limbo. I'd learned to compensate to a degree, and no one ever knew.

I pulled myself out of limbo in time to hear Henri saying, "... meet James Ellison."

****

It was embarrassing. I had no idea what his name was, and the longer I delayed asking, the more embarrassing it became. So I called him 'Chief', and I thought I was getting away with it.

After I'd told him more about me than even my ex-wife knew, I almost fumbled the ball. "Why don't you tell me about..."

But he hadn't caught my hesitation, and I was able to cover it with, "... you?"

I loved listening to him talk. His voice made me hotter and hotter, and I didn't want to see the evening end. I told him so, and he took me to this place called... Well, there was a blank space in my memory. We had these drinks, and I also couldn't remember what they were called.

But I could tell from his scent that he wanted me, I could feel it in the heat that was pouring off his body, and I knew before the evening was over, I'd be getting lucky.

I already considered myself lucky. I not only wanted him, I liked him. And he seemed to be really interested in me.

Only I blew it again in the parking lot. We dry-humped on the front seat of the car until we came, and then ... Did I tell him how much I'd liked what we'd done? How good it had felt? No. I fell asleep.

I fell asleep.

In the morning when I woke up, I was in the BOQ, and all I had was a note that said, Sorry I couldn't stay longer, but I have an early flight to catch. At 8. AM. At Cascade Airport. By the way, you have cute legs! ~C~

'C'? Charles? Clifford? Clarence? I winced at that last one. It sounded like George Bailey's guardian angel.

I could have blamed the drinks, whatever was in them, and whatever the fuck they were called.

I could have blamed the son-of-a-bitch at the airport who refused to tell me where the only 8 A.M. flight that had taken off that morning had been heading for, especially when I couldn't tell him the name of the person I was looking for.

In the end I only had myself to blame.

James Joseph Ellison, you could be such an ass.

****

It was the following morning before I could track down Henri Brown.

"You what?"

"C'mon, H, don't make me repeat myself." We'd been going round and round for the past twenty minutes.

"Jim, how could you have forgotten his name? Dammit, and I told him you were different."

"I know. I'm sorry. I can't explain it. It was just that... "

How could I tell anyone, even Henri Brown, that I'd looked at the young man-- with hair that I just knew would feel so good wrapped around my dick, and eyes so blue I could picture myself drowning in them while I thrust with slow, lazy strokes into the velvet heat of his back passage and we both came-- and he was all I could see, the beat of his heart was all I could hear?

"Okay, Ellison, but this is the last time I'm going to tell you. Blair. Jacob. Sandburg. He's working up in the Arctic at a research station."

I repeated the name silently. "Thanks, H."

"And Jim, if you hurt him..."

"I won't. I promise." I headed for the door.

"Hey! Where are you going?"

"To the Arctic. If there are scientists there, they're going to need supplies, and I'm the pilot to fly them up."

"What's General Fogarty going to say about that?"

"I'll find a way to sweet-talk him into it. I've got a way with generals, H."

But it turned out I didn't even have to open my mouth.

I decided that it wouldn't do to present myself to the General with Blair's come still on my groin. It had been like an aphrodisiac, and I'd gone through the day and night half-hard.

If I could smell it, wouldn't others be able to, also? So I went back to the Bachelor Officers' Quarters to shower and change.

"Jim!"

"What, Joel?" I had a towel slung around my neck, and I was pulling on my pants. "You want to make fun of my legs some more?"

"Well, it's nice to know your wife appreciates your legs."

Not my wife, but Joel had no idea I liked men; Henri had kept that secret even from his big brother, and I wasn't about to tell him.

"Anyway, General Fogarty wants to see us. We'd better haul ass. The Old Man sounded like he was ready to have kittens."

I finished dressing quickly, then requisitioned a jeep and drove to General Fogarty's quarters. Hauser, his aide, let us in. "Captain, Lieutenant. The General is inside. He's waiting for you."

"Thanks, Corporal."

General Fogarty looked up from the papers on his desk. The skin around his eyes was tight and drawn, as if he hadn't slept in days. "Jim, I need you to fly to Carrington's research station."

"Carrington's? Yes, sir." Damn. This was going to delay my plans to find Blair Sandburg, but I was military, first and foremost. "I'll need the flight coordinates."

He rattled off the latitude and longitude.

"That's the Arctic, sir."

"Yes. Do you have a problem with that, Captain?"

"No, sir." I'd be in the same general area as Blair. Maybe if he was close enough, I'd be able to pay him a surprise visit before heading back to the States. I struggled to keep a broad grin off my face.

"Dr. Carrington has sent word that something... large... crashed about 48 miles east of his polar camp last night. It's causing a magnetic disturbance that's starting to effect transmissions as far south as Anchorage, and I want you to look into it."

"Yes, sir. I'll call the field and make sure the Sweetheart is ready to go. Joel?"

"Got it, Jim. I'll round up Erickson, MacAuliff, and Dykes, and make sure we've got insulated flight suits on board. If you'll excuse me, General?"

"One moment, Lieutenant. I want you to see that additional supplies are taken on board. Severe storms have been predicted, and I don't want to hear it if they run short of toilet paper again. What the hell do they do with it? Decorate the walls? And you'd better bring extra units of plasma, in case this turns into a rescue." He waited for Joel to salute and leave before he continued. "I want you to take Megan Connor with you, Jim."

"Do you think that's a good idea, General? You know that she and Taggart are like oil and water!"

"Yes, well, she and I mix even less well! Get her the fuck out of Cascade, Ellison, or I won't be responsible for what I do to that woman! She's always asking questions the public has no right to know the answers to. I don't understand the Australians, letting a woman do a job like that."

"Did she beat you at poker again, sir?"

"That has nothing to do with it," he growled, and pointed toward the door. "And Ellison, make sure you keep me posted!"

"Yes, sir!" I tossed him a snappy salute

"Hauser!" I heard him shout for his aide. "Where the hell is my..." The door shut on the remainder of his words.

****

The Arctic was colder than... Well, it was cold. The Sweetheart of Cascade could fly, but she couldn't keep the wind out worth a lick. I concentrated on the instruments and tried to ignore the chill creeping up my pants' legs.

Joel tapped my shoulder. "Why don't you get into your flight suit, Jim? I'll take over for a while. And get some coffee while you're at it. Your teeth are starting to sound like castanets. It's very distracting!"

"Thanks, big guy."

He gave a snort of laughter. Joel Taggart could be a real smart ass, but he was one of the best co-pilots I'd ever flown with. He slid into the seat beside mine and settled his hands on the yolk.

I unfastened my seat belt and went into the main cabin. My flight suit was hanging from a hook. I took it down and climbed into it, then poured coffee from a thermos into the cup that also served as its cap. It was still hot. I sipped and watched my crew.

They were sitting around a wooden crate, cards in their gloved hands, groaning as Megan Connor fanned out her hand and said, "Read 'em and weep, boys."

"Shit," Eddie Dykes snarled. Six feet tall, with sandy hair and light brown eyes, my radio man wasn't used to losing, much less to a woman. He threw his cards down. "Are you sure this is the first time you've ever played poker?"

She smiled at him, the most angelic expression I had ever seen, gathered up the bills and coins, and stacked them neatly in front of her. Then she scooped up the cards and competently shuffled them.

"All right, gentlemen, the name of the game is five card draw. Aces and deuces are wild, Jacks and better to open."

I swallowed a laugh. I liked Erickson, MacAuliff, and Dykes, but when it came to women, they were three of the most condescending, patronizing men I knew. The Australian reporter was proving to be a real education for them.

"Jim!"

"Yeah, Joel?"

"I'm getting a message from the research station! You'd better come listen to this!"

I went back into the cockpit in time to hear the radio crackle with static.

"Say again, Tex?" Joel requested.

"Check your instruments. You're off course by about twelve degrees east. Adjust your compass reading."

"Fuck, you're right! What's going on?"

"Whatever it was that crashed last night is throwing off enough magnetic waves to send everything out of whack."

Joel and I exchanged glances. This was what General Fogarty had been worried about.

"Okay, Tex. Thanks."

"Jim! Look at this!" Joel's voice was low and tense. "The compass is going haywire! There's no way in hell our instruments are gonna get us to the research station!"

I thought quickly. "Listen, Tex. Keep your mic open, and we'll home in on it, okay?"

"I could sing for you," he offered, and began to warble. "'East is east and west is west, and the wrong one I have chose...'"

"NO!" both of us shouted.

"Damn! No one ever lets me sing!" he grumbled, but he stopped.

"We're coming up against some serious head winds, Jim."

I checked the gauges and nodded. "About forty miles an hour." I did some rapid calculations in my head. "We're an hour out, Tex. Just let the head of your security know when we'll be in."

"Will do, Captain Ellison." We could hear him humming, but mercifully he didn't sing.

****

Part 6

The Sweetheart of Cascade touched down at the research station's airstrip, and I immediately ordered a fuel line hooked up to her. I wanted this mission completed as soon as possible so I could ask about Blair Sandburg.

A tall black man strode up to me, a fat cigar between his lips. "Captain Ellison? It's an honor to meet the hero of Vanuatu. I'm Simon Banks, head of security here. This trouble with our instruments... I'm glad you made it all right."

"Thank you, Captain Banks."

"Our radio has been crapping out periodically, but just before this last time we received a message that you're carrying fresh supplies for us?"

"Yes. If your men will help mine getting them unloaded, we can take off as soon as my plane is refueled."

"Good idea. We've got a break in the weather, but it's anybody's guess how long that will last. Move it, people! Move it!"

The supplies were quickly stacked in the uppermost of the camp's buildings. The support staff could deal with them from there.

Banks ticked off the scientists' names as they boarded. "Dr. Chapman, who really runs this place, and don't let anyone tell you differently. Professor Laurenz, Dr. Auerbach, Dr. Olson. Where the fuck did Carrington go?" Banks was becoming increasingly impatient. "Jesus, the man always disappears! Barnes, have you seen Dr. Carrington? Why can't he stay put? Ravn!" he shouted over his shoulder. "Get those dogs in here! And make sure they don't bite anyone! Allee, get that sled out of the way! Goddammit, the harnesses are tangling! Sowaiapik!"

The Eskimos hurried to obey him, but they had grins on their faces. They obviously knew the man's bark was worse than his bite, unlike the huskies who snapped and snarled at anyone who came near them.

The dogs finally settled, the harnesses were untangled, and the sled was stowed away.

A last passenger entered through the hatch.

"Dr. Carrington," Megan Connor called, "how nice to see you again! "

So this was the famous scientist who'd been at Bikini. A man of medium height, Carrington was in his late fifties, although at first glance his white hair made him appear a good deal older.

"Megan, my dear!"

Joel scowled and turned to stalk into the cockpit. "Everyone else calls her 'Connor'."

Dr. Carrington took her hand and raised it to his lips. "How long has it been?"

"Too long, I'm afraid." She glared after my co-pilot, then gave the scientist her full attention. "You'll give me a story this time, won't you?"

"Of course! After you were so kind as to sit on that item for the sake of national security, and then have someone else beat your deadline? It's the least I can do! Why don't you sit beside me, and I'll..." He yawned. "Oh, I beg your pardon! I've been awake for the last few days. Research, experiments, now this... whatever it was that crashed."

"Not at all, Doctor."

"Excuse me, Dr. Carrington. Are all your scientists on board?"

He looked around at the men milling in the enclosed space. "Yes, Captain... er... ?"

"Ellison, sir. I'll be flying you out to the location. All right, then, let's get this show on the road. Ken, Bob, secure the hatches." While my navigator and crew chief closed and locked the doors, everyone else was busy finding seats and buckling up. "Joel?"

"She's ready to go, Jim!" he called back from the cockpit.

"Roger that."

The Sweetheart took off like the lady she was and made the trip to the site where the magnetic disturbance was emanating from with no trouble at all.

I circled to find a landing spot.

"Holy shit! Jim!" Joel grabbed and shook my shoulder and pointed down.

Almost directly below us, encased in the ice, was a huge, shadowed shape. The wind was blowing snow over it, and it was becoming obscured, but it almost looked like a...

"No. Jim, no!"

"Joel, the Air Force has stated that there are no such things!"

Only it turned out there were.

Once I throttled back and had the Sweetheart safely landed, we disembarked out onto the ice, my men, Simon Banks' security team, the reporter, the scientists. The Eskimos stayed with the dogs, watching with questioning eyes as we fanned out and tried to determine the dimensions of the craft.

Bob MacAuliff, my crew chief, carried a Geiger counter. He was just under average height, with curly dark hair and eyes the color of Elizabeth Taylor's. "Whatever this is, Jim, it's radioactive! The counter is climbing!"

"All right, men." I shouted to be heard by them all. Megan Connor cleared her throat. "And woman. Spread out. Let's see if we can find out how big this thing is!"

With heads down, we paced the area. Once we reached the outermost point, each of us turned to face the center, arms out-stretched, gazing from one to the other.

"Holy smoke!"

"Son-of-a bitch!"

"Well, fuck me!" That last came from Connor. We stared at her, but she was too busy scribbling something in a notebook to take any notice.

"Interesting." Dr. Carrington's choice of words was an understatement.

There it was, an almost perfect circle. We had found a flying saucer!

The other scientists were almost incoherent with excitement, but Dr. Carrington was more restrained. "Really, gentlemen, you couldn't be so arrogant as to believe that in this vast universe, the Almighty only created human beings as sentient life forms?"

"But how did it get in the ice?"

"I imagine the heat of its entry into our atmosphere melted the ice, and then it froze over." He stroked his fingers over what appeared to be an airfoil, a stabilizer of some sort, which was the only part of the craft that was free of the ice. His action almost seemed sexual.

Dr. Chapman was also studying the metal with interest. "File, please."

For a few minutes, the only sound was the susurration of the wind and the rasp of metal on metal.

"Anything, Hugo?" Dr. Carrington had his hands deep in his pockets. Unlike some of the other scientists, he refrained from shifting from one foot to the other.

Chapman made an impatient sound. "Nothing. I imagine this is some alloy, but I can't be sure what kind without some filings."

"Well, we need to get this out of the ice, don't you agree, Doctor Carrington?"

"Oh, absolutely, Andrew. And perhaps the rest of you would be so kind as to see if possibly the craft broke up upon crashing?"

The scientists scattered to do as he bid. The security men looked to Simon Banks. He nodded, and they began to sift through the snow on the outskirts of the craft.

"What would you suggest, Captain Ellison? To get the craft out of the ice?"

I'd been studying the horizon uneasily. A weather front appeared to be building. I brought my attention back to the scientist and rubbed my jaw. "In a case like this, the SOP, standard operating procedure, is to use a thermite bomb to free it from the ice."

"That does sound logical." He noticed I kept looking to the East. "I suggest we hurry."

"Yeah. Joel, get the thermite. I think there's some in the sled, otherwise it's in the Sweetheart. Ken, we'll need the wires and the detonator. Bob, clear everyone back, then start digging holes to place the thermite. I want a bomb at each quadrant. Have you got an ice axe?" One of Banks' men handed him the tool, then paced off about a dozen yards and started digging as well. "Okay. Eddie, get on the horn and raise the station's radio man. Tell him to contact Fogarty. Have him pass on the information that we've found a saucer-shaped plane in the ice..."

"That's no airplane, Captain Ellison!" a man I didn't know challenged me.

"Barnes!" Banks snapped. "Let the man do his job."

I nodded my thanks to the head of security but decided to explain anyway. "No, Barnes, it isn't a plane, but anyone can listen in on our transmissions. You see that smudge to the West? That's Siberia. I don't want the Russians breathing down our necks. Eddie..."

"Got it, Jim. I'll send this out ASAP."

"Good man. Okay, let's..."

"Captain, can I send out a story?"

"Not at this point, Miss Connor."

"Connor!"

I stared at her blankly. "Yeah, sure."

Joel and Ken returned on the run, wired the bombs, and buried them. I hooked the wires to the detonator and unwound them until there was a safe distance between me and the craft.

"Everyone under cover?" There were grunts of assent. "Okay, then." I took a deep breath and pushed down on the plunger with all my weight.

For long seconds nothing seemed to happen. The bombs would work beneath the surface, gradually elevating the temperature until the ice melted and the saucer was freed from its prison.

But it didn't work that way, not this time. This time it was a foretaste of hell, searing heat and thunderous roars as explosions ripped apart the landscape, making the very ground cry out.

The ice itself seemed to blaze in fury, but it was the craft beneath the ice that burned. For an endless time it burned, and then the fire died down and went out.

Banks and I both made sure no one was injured, then I turned to my crew chief. "Bob. Anything on the Geiger counter?" I asked tensely.

"Nothing but residual readings now, Jim." He started casting about, searching for... what? Something that would prove his captain wasn't an idiot? The only thing that would save my ass from a court-martial for destroying the first evidence of extraterrestrial life was the fact that I'd followed procedures to the letter. If I were lucky.

"Girl, are you all right?"

I turned to see Joel standing over Megan Connor, who was sitting, legs splayed and shaking snow out of her eyes, and swearing fit to beat the band.

"Motherfucking son-of-a-bitch of an explosion! No, I'm not all right, you big lug! I've had the breath knocked out of me, I'm sitting up to my armpits in snow, and my ass is wet! Give me a hand up before I freeze to this spot!"

"Yeah, I guess there's nothing wrong with you." Joel helped the abrasive reporter to her feet and brushed the snow off the back of her pants. I glanced around quickly, but no one else seemed to notice the gesture.

"Gone!" Standing and staring at the smoking remains, Dr. Carrington appeared to have aged in the few minutes it had taken the saucer to disintegrate.

"It must have been a magnesium alloy," Dr. Chapman murmured. "That's the only metal that would burn like that."

"All that knowledge, gone."

"Jim! Jim! I'm getting something!" Bob was about a dozen yards from where the melted ice was starting to refreeze.

"What?" The scientists converged on him, dropping to their hands and knees to frantically brush away layers of chipped ice to see what lay beneath.

"There's something here!"

"It's humanoid! See? Arms and legs!"

"How big is it?"

"Can we get this out?"

"Yes, of course!" Dr. Carrington was once again like a young man. "This is recently formed ice. It will separate easily enough! Ice axes, Captain Ellison! We can hack through with ice axes."

"You sure you don't want to use thermite again, Captain?" Connor drawled.

"Connor, put a sock in it!" Joel jumped to my defense. He towered over her, but she stood her ground, her hands fisted at her hips, her chin thrust forward.

I must not have been seeing things clearly when I thought he'd petted her backside.

"Let's get a move on, people. That sky isn't looking promising, and I want to get back to the station as soon as we can."

"What do you make of it, Captain?" Banks had rejoined me. I shrugged. "Well, the Eskimos have the sled ready. We can haul that chunk of ice back to the plane."

I studied the size of the block of ice that had finally emerged dubiously. "It's going to take an act of god getting that thing into the Sweetheart. Captain Banks, as I told Dr. Carrington, the military has jurisdiction over this, our visitor in the ice, the research station, everything."

"Ellison, I'm not being paid enough for me to fight you on this. I have enough trouble keeping these scientists in line as it is. They see no harm in transmitting sensitive data over airwaves that are being monitored by the Reds." He rubbed his gut. "I'm getting an ulcer over it."

I shook my head. I wouldn't want his job for all the oil in Texas, only it looked as if right now, I had no choice in the matter. "Joel, go back and get the engines warmed up. Connor, go with him."

"Why? If it's simply because I'm a woman..."

"Look. There's a storm front coming up fast." I pointed to the east. "We need to get out of here ASAP. As soon as these men get that block of ice loaded on the sled, we're all heading back to the plane. There's no reason for you to be here now, so ..."

"Okay, flyboy, as long as you had a logical explanation. C'mon, hot shot. Let's get going before my pants freeze solid, and you have to carry me."

"In your dreams, Connor."

"Captain! Captain Banks!" The man, Barnes, came stumbling up to us, his face green.

"What's wrong?"

His mouth worked, and he jammed his fist between his teeth. Tears streamed down his face, and his shoulders heaved sporadically. "Ice axe. In its brain. Green matter oozed out." He turned even greener, doubled over, and vomited into the snow.

"Simon, I'll get him back to the plane." The tall, craggy-faced man Banks had introduced as Dr. Chapman slid a supporting arm around Barnes' shoulders. "Come on, Danny. It's all right. It could have happened to any of us." He led him away.

Banks stared after them. "Six months he's been up here with us. That's the first time I've ever heard anyone call him anything but Barnes."

"Jim!"

"Yeah, Bob?"

"We've got the block loaded, but the Eskimos don't want to go near it."

"Shit. Banks, can any of your men handle a dogsled?"

"A gun, a gal, a glass of booze, but not a dogsled. That's what we hire the Eskimos for."

"Shit. Okay, promise them... I don't know, a date with Rita Hayworth, fifty bucks? What do Eskimos want? Promise them anything."

"Would if I could, Captain, but I don't know more than a few words. I really wish Carrington hadn't been so adamant about leaving Blair behind. He speaks their lingo really well."

"Blair?" My heart was suddenly thudding so hard in my chest it felt as if it was trying to get out. How many Blairs were there at the North Pole?

"Dr. Blair Sandburg, one of our botanists. Good kid." He smiled, and I wanted to rip his head off. What was he to Blair?

"You're... uh... pretty close to him?"

"We're friends."

There were friends, and there were friends.

"Jim, what are we gonna do?"

Fuck. I shoved the worry over Banks and the man who was mine out of my mind. "Ken you get on the back of the sled. Bob, you and I will take the lead lines and run with them."

"You think this will work, Cap?"

"It better had." I stared into the East. "Let's get out of here."

****

I cracked a landing ski, but we made it back in one piece.

"They say any landing you walk away from is a good landing," Joel murmured as he shoved the yolk forward, stripped the earphones from his head, and unfastened his seat belt.

"Who are they kidding? When General Fogarty hears I've broken another landing ski, he's going to take it out of my pay! Jesus, would you listen to those dogs whine! They've been at it the whole time!" I followed him into the main cabin.

"They have? I guess I was so wrapped up in helping you keep us in the air that I just didn't notice."

Damn. Was my hearing acting up again?

"Good landing, Cap."

"Thanks, Bob. Disembark our passengers."

"Roger."

"Eddie, hustle to the radio room and see if you can get a message to General Fogarty. I don't like that we've had no response to anything from the Sweetheart."

"Will do, Cap."

"Captain Banks, is there somewhere in the station where we can store the block of ice until I get word from General Fogarty?"

"I've been giving it some thought, Captain Ellison. The upper building isn't used much any more."

"Fine." The hatches were opened, and the huskies lunged toward freedom. "Someone get these dogs out of here! Look, that storm is right on our ass; my first priority is to get my plane secured."

"Take care of it. I'll deal with my men and the scientists."

"Thanks, Banks."

He raised his voice. "Come on, men! We need to get this thing into one of the storerooms!"

"Captain Ellison? Man, you just made it, Captain! This looks like it's shaping up to be a bitch of a blizzard! We'd better give you a hand with this!" The ground crew jumped to it and we worked together to make sure the Sweetheart would be safe from the rising storm.

"Hurry!" I cast a glance at the sky. "Hurry!"

"Captain!" A group of the scientists converged on me, and I swore. There wasn't time to listen to them whining about that Thing in the ice. "Captain Ellison, this is under military jurisdiction..."

"You have the say-so, so you have to let us have access to our visitor!"

"Time may very well be of the essence!"

"We've lost the ship..."

"Are you saying it's my fault?" I snarled. The scientist I recognized as Dr. Olson backed up abruptly.

"No, of course not. No. But you have to let us ..."

"I don't have to do a fucking thing! I told you we needed to hear from General Fogarty. Once we get the all clear from him, you can dance naked with that Thing for all I care! Now if you gentlemen don't give me and these men room to get my plane tied down, I'll use your guts to do it!"

They backed away.

"Jim, Ken and I can finish with this."

"Thanks, Bob. I'm going to see if Eddie was able to get through to Cascade." The wind was starting to inch its way past the collar of my flight suit. I tugged up the collar.

Banks stood by the door to the uppermost building. He'd yanked off his cap and was running a hand through his cropped, black hair. Joel, Connor, and someone else were flanking the block of ice. I jogged over to them, the scientists trailing after me like Bo Peep's sheep.

"There's no control for the temperature in the storerooms, but I'll see what I can do."

"Find a way to get that temperature down," I snapped. These eggheads might have book smarts, but when it came to common sense, they left a lot to be desired. "I don't care what you do, Einstein, just do it. If this Thing starts melting, I'm gonna hold you personally responsible. Banks..."

"Keep your shirt on, General MacArthur! I said I'll take care of it."

I recognized that voice! Blair! I turned to him, but he was already heading into the station.

"That's Dr. Sandburg. Don't let him fool you, Ellison," Banks remarked before I could call after him. "Blair might be young, but he's a damn fine scientist. And he's a good kid."

My gut tightened. Had Sandburg been toying with me in Cascade? Had I just been someone to pass the time with until he returned to the man who held his heart?

"Let's get this fucking Thing inside! I'm freezing my ass off!" Banks didn't notice my reaction. Fortunately, no one did. I would have been hard-pressed to explain my sudden antagonism.

Once past the entrance to the building, the corridor angled down. We pushed and shoved the block of ice until it was over the threshold, and then wrestled it into the storeroom.

Which had a fucking outer door. "You want to tell me why we had to drag this goddammed Thing through hell and gone, Banks, when there's a door right into this room that we could have used?"

"We aren't into winter yet, Captain, but we've already had some significant snowfall. The access to that door is usually buried six months out of the year. Did you want to take the time to shovel out a path?"

"Sorry."

"Don't worry about it." It was obvious, to me at least, that Simon was accepting my apology as grudgingly as I had given it. "That Thing in the ice is making us all antsy."

I turned on my heel, studying the storeroom. Sandburg was nowhere to be seen, and I could feel the relative warmth of the area. "Little bastard. What did he do, head for the hills when he realized there was honest work to be done?"

Banks stared at me in shock. "What are you talking about?"

"Sandburg. We don't have time to fuck around. If this Thing starts melting..."

"Blair isn't a shirker. I don't know where you get off even insinuating that!"

"Listen, Banks, I told him..."

"Give the kid a fucking break!"

"Problem, gentlemen?" It was Sandburg.

"You were supposed to do something about the temperature in this room."

"And so I shall." He crossed the room, his stride cocky, and with what looked like a crowbar in his hands, he broke the two windows. "Think that will be cold enough for you, Captain?"

I wanted to wipe that condescending grin off his face. Who did the teasing little bastard think he was, toying with my affections like that? I had half a mind to sue him for the breach of promise his body had implied the other night.

Abruptly his eyes grew huge, and a flush rose beneath the stubble that covered his cheeks. The crowbar fell to the concrete floor with a jarring clatter. I was stunned by his response. I could smell it, the scent of male arousal; hear it, the tiny hitch to his breathing; almost taste it.

The beat of his heart was like Gene Krupa on drums, and my dick grew hard, and I shifted as unobtrusively as I could.

"Jim!"

"Chief." If he was that happy to see me, then there couldn't be anything between him and the head of security. Tension I hadn't realized was tightening the muscles at the base of my head, signaling a migraine, abruptly eased. And then another thought hit me. If he was so happy to see me, why hadn't he stayed with me? "Why'd you leave?"

He blinked, and his eyes darted around the room, reminding me we weren't alone. "Can we talk about this later?"

"Fine. But we will talk about it."

****

Part 7

It took some time.

I was in charge, this research station was my responsibility, and I needed to see things were under control before I confronted him about leaving me with that note on my chest.

The message from General Fogarty let me off the hook about the thermite bomb.

I was able to touch Sandburg a couple of times, helping him to his feet when he fell back on his ass in a surprisingly intense reaction to what was in the block of ice; backing him against Carrington when the older scientist took him to task for his reaction to our interstellar visitor.

I was gratified by his response to me each time.

I informed the scientists that we'd have to hear from Fogarty before they could have the Thing in the ice, and that got them off my back, at least temporarily.

I set up four-hour watches. Then I got a look at that Thing in the ice's eyes, and I cut the watches from four hours to two.

Finally, we left Joel to the freezing solitude of that storeroom, and I persuaded Sandburg to show me to the quarters that had been allocated to me and my men, instead of having Mrs. Chapman do that, as he had first intended.

"But then I really need to get to my laboratory." He led me down the corridor, and I took the opportunity to admire the view from the rear. "Dr. Carrington is going to want the results of the experiments I've been running."

"We have a little unfinished business, wouldn't you say?"

"Do we?" He stopped short to look at me, and I managed to get my eyes up to his face before he realized I was groping his ass with my eyes.

"Look, we might as well have this conversation now, Chief."

"In that case maybe you can tell me when it was you forgot my name."

"What? What are you talking about?" I hadn't forgotten his name, I'd just been so out in limbo that I'd missed it completely.

"Never once did you use my name."

"Oh, come on, Chief. You're exaggerating." Damn Dale Carnegie for his book about winning friends and influencing people. I'd tried to let Blair know how much I liked him by using his name as frequently as I could, only I'd had to use 'Chief', and it looked like that was coming back to smack me in the mouth.

"You think so? How many times have you called me 'Chief' in the last half hour?"

"Once or twice?"

"Eight."

"You were counting?" I was flattered. He'd been paying close enough attention that he actually knew the number of times I had called him 'Chief'. "No, I'm sure I used your first name." I had to have called him 'Blair' at least once.

"You didn't," he huffed, "but if I'm wrong, fine. What is my name?"

"Blair." I took the opportunity to enjoy his flustered expression.

"You knew it? All this time you knew it?"

In a split second his expression smoothed, and maybe he could fool other people into thinking he was indifferent to the fact that I did know his name, but I could see he was pleased. I wondered what was going on in his mind. Whatever it was, I wasn't going to admit that I'd been so fascinated by the sight and scent of him that the introduction had gone right over my head.

"If you knew it, why didn't you use it?" He stopped in front of a door that was just one of several in this corridor that looked the same.

Think fast, Ellison. "Is this where we'll be staying?" I walked past him into the room, making a production of examining it, but it was like every army barracks I had ever been in, cots in each corner, footlockers at the foot of each cot. I was actually watching Blair from the corner of my eye.

He gave a brief, cursory run-down of the polar camp, but returned almost immediately to the topic that seemed to concern him most. "Jim, are you going to tell me why you didn't call me by my name?"

The best defense was a good offense. "Is that why you ran out on me?"

"I didn't run out!" He was disconcerted. "I told you I had a plane to catch!"

"You did?"

"Didn't I?" His brow furrowed as if he was trying to recall and not succeeding very well. "Well, I left you a note."

"Yeah, and thank you so much. Did you have to leave it on my chest where everyone could see it? The whole flight up Taggart ragged me about my 'cute legs'."

I had meant it as a joke, but he was suddenly distraught.

"Oh, shit, I'm so sorry, man!" Color drained from his face. "I didn't even think... Oh, shit. Is this a punishment detail? Are they going to court-martial you? Are you going to be dishonorably discharged? What are they going to do to you?"

"If you can shut your mouth long enough, maybe I can tell you." I was touched that he was so concerned for my future. The military didn't look kindly on sexual preferences that were anything other than what was considered the norm.

"Shutting my mouth." He looked so distressed. I didn't want him looking distressed.

"There's no problem, Blair." I couldn't resist stepping closer to him. He wasn't wearing aftershave; there was stubble on his cheeks and chin, and I assumed he was growing in a beard to ward off the Arctic chill. Whatever scent he was wearing roused me as nothing I could remember.

"There isn't?"

"You signed it with the letter 'C'. The men thought it was from my ex-wife, and I didn't see any need to tell them differently."

"Why would they think your ex-wife would be in the BOQ with you? Just how 'ex' is she?"

Was he jealous? I kind of liked the idea of him being green-eyed. "They're die-hard romantics and think I'll be much happier with someone warming my bed on a regular basis. They're partially right, I'd be happier with... someone... in my bed." He blushed at my flirting, and I continued, "They've conveniently forgotten what a beast I was when I was with my ex. And she's as 'ex' as you can get, Chief. I have to keep track of her so I know where to send the alimony checks," and I wished she'd find some other poor schnook to marry. It wasn't paying the alimony so much as the fact that I was still tied to her through it. "But the last I heard, she was taking a job out of the states."

"Oh. Well..."

"Mind telling me why you used the letter 'C'?" If it wasn't his first initial, as I now knew, then what the hell did it stand for?

"Well, you kept calling me 'Chief'. I wasn't sure how you would take it if I signed it with my initials."

I started to laugh. "No, I can see signing a letter 'BS' could be taken the wrong way."

"I apologize for the note, Jim. I was a little irate at the time."

"A little? I'd hate to see you in a full-blown snit."

"Hey! I don't have snits, full-blown or otherwise!"

"Of course not, Chief. Sorry. Blair. So that's what got your shorts in a bunch. I guess it's my turn to apologize." I decided I'd give him part of the truth. "The drinks we had at that last place...What was it called?"

"The Hideaway. You don't remember the Hideaway's name?"

After we'd left Machu-Picchu, I didn't remember much about anything. "Do you have any idea what was in those drinks?"

"Uh... No."

"I do." I could identify every ingredient. "Pepper Pot Vodka. Dry vermouth. Clamato juice. Olive juice. After that first drink, I don't remember anything very clearly." My senses had overloaded. "When I woke up the next morning..."

When I explained about reaching the airport too late, he looked devastated. When I told him of my attempts to get the information from Henri Brown, he looked tickled. And when I told him of my intention to track him down and get things sorted between us, he looked like a kid on Christmas morning, finding that Santa had left everything he'd asked for under the tree.

"You were going to come for me?" Why was he so surprised?

"Yeah."

"I ... I didn't expect that, Jim."

"You should have. Don't you have any idea how attracted I am to you? I haven't felt like this about anyone in a very long time, Chief." Ever, but I didn't want to scare him off.

"Uh... I... uh... "

"Blair. God, the way you smell! Everything about you makes me want you!" I had him backed up against a wall, breathing in his scent. I worried his earlobe and learned something very interesting about Blair Sandburg. His earlobes were a highly erogenous zone. I licked and sucked and nipped them.

"Jim! Please!" Blair begging had me hard.

"Yes!" I brought my thigh up against the vee of his legs, intent on pleasuring him until he couldn't remember which end was up. I wanted to make him come in his pants like a randy kid. And I was sure I wouldn't be far behind him. The last time my dick had been this hard was...

I was pretty sure it was the other night when I'd also been with Blair.

His breath was coming in pants and hitches, and I wallowed in the heat that rolled off him, burning the skin at the base of my throat.

A noise in the corridor jerked me out of my sensual haze. "Someone's coming."

"Huh?" He looked as dazed and shell-shocked as I felt. I could have howled in frustration.

"You okay, Chief? Just a second!" I snarled at the hapless door. I didn't want anyone to see Blair looking like that except me. I gave him a minute to pull himself together, then growled, "Come in."

A pleasant-looking woman of indeterminate age entered. "Captain Ellison? How do you do? I'm Esther Chapman. I hope I haven't come at a bad time. I wanted to welcome you to our little slice of heaven." Her smile was warm and motherly, and I found myself liking her. "Have you seen Dr... Ah, Blair! There you are. Arthur is looking for you."

"He is?" Blair sounded less than enthusiastic.

"Something about the MacCormick mold spores?"

"Yes. The experiment should be almost finished now. Jim, I have to run. Can we finish this... um... discussion another time?"

"Count on it, Chief. Over a cup of coffee?"

"Sounds good, Jim." Oh, that voice.

"See you later, Blair." I watched him as he left the room. He paused just before he shut the door, and I was willing to swear I could hear his pants slide over his cock and balls as he adjusted himself.

"Come to the mess hall, Captain Ellison. After having been out on the ice all afternoon, I'm sure you can use a hot meal."

"Yes, ma'am." I hoped Mrs. Chapman would think the grin on my face was anticipation at the notion of having something hot in my stomach, and not wolfish at the thought of something hot, like Blair's lips, wrapped around my dick.

I turned away, pretending to search for something in a pocket of my flight suit. Once I was certain I had my expression under control once more, I turned back and was startled when she reached up to cup my cheek. Her eyes searched mine, and then they crinkled in a smile.

I swallowed and gestured toward the door. "After you?"

"Thank you, Captain Ellison. It's such a pleasure to meet someone in this station with manners. Aside from my husband, of course, and Blair. The scientists here tend to get so enthralled with their experiments and their discoveries, and their constant quest for knowledge that they tend to forget the niceties that make it easier to get along together in society."

"Oh? Have you... uh... known Blair long?"

Mrs. Chapman didn't question that I'd ignored mention of the other scientists and asked about the man I wanted for my lover. "We met him when Hugo was teaching a course in mineralogy at Rainier University. He must have been about sixteen, a heart-stealer even then, and he didn't even know it. We stayed in touch through the years and were overjoyed when, a couple of years ago, after he'd been awarded his doctorate in botany, Dr. Stern, who's the head botanist on this project, persuaded Dr. Carrington he'd be perfect to join our little band."

"Blair's a botanist?"

"Didn't you know?"

I'd had no idea. "From his conversation, I'd gathered he was an anthropologist."

"That's what he would have preferred, but his mentor at Rainier University persuaded him otherwise." She arched her eyebrow at the sound I made. "Please don't think Blair regrets his choice. He's since told us that it had been impossible for him to find a Sentinel, which would have been the topic of his dissertation."

"A sentinel? You mean like a scout?"

"No, actually more like a watchman."

"Sorry, that really doesn't seem interesting."

"Ask Blair to explain it to you sometime, Captain Ellison. You'll find it's very interesting. You see, these watchmen had enhanced senses. They used these senses to protect the tribe, to track weather patterns, the movement of game, the approach of enemies."

I remembered that little island in the Pacific and the machine gun nest camouflaged with bushes and palm fronds, the sharp scent of the Japs' excitement, the subtle noises they made as they shifted behind their machine guns, the sour odor of my own men's fear.

"There are actually people like these sentinels today?"

"Blair was able to find a few with one or two enhanced senses, but none with all five. Well, it was our good fortune. He's an excellent botanist, and Dr. Stern, who's the head botanist in this station, has been considering Blair as his assistant instead of Andrew Laurenz. Much of Professor Laurenz's research has been given to Blair, this experiment with the MacCormick molds for example. He has seniority over Blair, and he isn't pleased with this turn of events."

"And I thought things could be cut-throat in the military."

"Don't you believe it for a moment, Captain. You haven't seen down-and-dirty until you've seen what scientists are willing to do in their search for more knowledge. And here we are at the mess hall."

I was about to push the door open for her when she touched my arm.

"Captain Ellison, Hugo and I don't have children, but Blair Sandburg is the son of our heart. Blair thinks because I was born at night, I was born last night." There was amusement in her eyes.

I was startled by her words. "Excuse me?"

"I'm quite aware he likes men, although I've never felt the need to discuss it with him. I'm also aware I walked in on something earlier, for which I do apologize."

"No, ma'am, I assure you..."

"Captain, Blair is very tidy; he usually keeps his shirt tucked into his trousers."

"What... You... I don't..." My face felt hot. I cleared my throat. "Ma'am?"

"Let me put it like this. Neither my husband nor I would be happy if Blair were unhappy."

She nodded toward the door and I opened it, and she entered the mess hall. I was right behind her, and there was another surprise waiting for me in the room.

Only this one wasn't as enjoyable as finding Blair Sandburg at this particular polar camp.

I heard the voice, but I assured myself it couldn't be her. God would not be so unfair as to maroon me at the top of the world in the middle of a blizzard, my plane disabled by a smashed landing ski, with the one person guaranteed to drive me to the brink of slicing my own throat.

The almighty must have been laughing up his sleeve at the predicament I found myself in.

"Jimmy!" My ex-wife glared at me. She didn't sound any happier to see me than I was to see her.

"Hello, Carolyn." My stomach started churning out acid. "I didn't expect to see you at the North Pole. You always claimed to hate cold weather. When you said you were getting a job out of the states, somehow I pictured someplace like Hawaii."

"Don't you take that long-suffering tone with me, James Joseph Ellison!"

"Sorry. How have you been?" I just bit back the 'dear' that had become a conditioned reflex toward the end of our marriage.

"As if you care! Daddy won't hire me for his firm, he says women should stay in the kitchen, they're happier there, and they don't have the aptitude for office work. I can barely get by on the pittance your lawyer saw to it was all I would get, so I've had to get a job, and this was the only job that offered decent pay." Her expression suddenly became calculating. "Why don't we go back to my room? We could talk over a possible increase in my alimony. Maybe I'll let you convince me..."

The room became so quiet you could hear a pin drop. I had no qualms interrupting her. "No, Carolyn."

"... to take you back ... No? No?" I sighed. Nails on the blackboard. "Well, you seem to be following me! If you aren't, then what are you doing here? Do you expect me to believe..."

"I was ordered here."

Her eyes narrowed, her lips parted, and then they snapped shut as she realized we had an audience. Mrs. Chapman had her back to us, and her shoulders were quaking. Somehow I didn't think she was shedding tears. Station staff and security were listening, jaws agape.

Carolyn turned bright red. My ex-wife was always careful to preserve her ladylike facade, and as a result, I was one of the few people to see what she was like when she lost her temper.

She spun sharply on her heel and stalked toward the door, yanking it open viciously, pulling it shut behind her just as viciously.

The occupants of the mess hall glanced furtively toward me before they quickly found other things to engage their interests.

"Sorry about that, Mrs. Chapman."

"No need for you to apologize for her, Captain."

"Call me Jim, ma'am."

"Do you mind if I ask whatever possessed you to marry her, Jim?"

I shrugged. My father had been after me again to settle down. 'You'll be 40 before you know it, Jimmy.'

'Dad, I haven't reached 35 yet!'

He waved aside my words, something he constantly did when he was trying to make a point. Or even if he wasn't trying to make a point. 'If you don't get married soon, people are going to think there's something... odd... about you.'

By 'odd' he meant queer, and I couldn't afford to have that sort of reputation, not if I wanted to stay in the military. I was starting to wonder if living the way I'd been, hiding my sexuality, was worth the stress.

"It seemed a like a good idea at the time?"

"If I may offer a suggestion? Don't let her catch you alone. She may claim to have no fondness for you, but she seems to have even less fondness for this job. I think she may decide you're the lesser of two evils."

I groaned. "I appreciate your advice, Mrs. Chapman, but I don't understand why you'd want to involve yourself in my affairs."

"Two reasons, Jim. One, I think she's very wrong for you." She ushered me to a seat at a long table. "Lee, a bowl of stew for Captain Ellison, and a cup of coffee. Lee makes the best coffee north of the 60th Parallel."

She fussed, making sure I had a napkin and silverware, and finally I asked, "What's the second reason, Mrs. Chapman?"

Her smile was satisfied. "I don't think Blair would be very happy about it."

***

I entered the number 4 storeroom. A glance at the thermometer beside the door told me the temperature was 0, next stop, ten below. I was glad I had stopped back at the barracks and put on my flight suit.

"Hi, Jim."

"For someone who's been sitting in a twelve by twelve room with no heat and the outdoors trying to make its way indoors, you're sounding awfully cheerful."

Joel Taggart gave me a broad grin and made a production of adjusting the blanket that was draped around his shoulders.

"Where did that come from?"

"Courtesy of Connor. Her heart isn't as cold as we always thought it was. She told me she felt so bad for me, sitting in here, freezing my ass, her words, by the way, with only the company of Plug Ugly in the ice there, that she brought me the blanket and that thermos of coffee you see on the desk as a gesture of good will."

"Connor felt bad? Connor? Why am I having such a hard time with that concept?"

"You just don't understand women, Jim." He rose and tossed the blanket over a stack of crates.

"Oh, no?"

"No. She even brought a flask of whiskey. I had to turn it down of course, seeing as how I'm on duty and all."

"Don't bullshit me, big guy. If you turned down a whiskey, it wasn't because you were on duty!"

He rested his hand over his heart. "I'm cut to the quick, James!" Then he burst into deep chuckles. "You're right, although it was a little funny. Funny strange, not funny ha ha."

I took the seat he had vacated and poured some coffee into a cup. "So, you gonna tell me about why this was funny strange?"

He propped a hip against the corner of the battered desk and folded his arms across his barrel of a chest. "When I called her on it, accused her of trying to get me drunk so she could get a juicy story and win a Pulitzer with it, I thought for a second she looked hurt."

"Connor?"

"You're repeating yourself, Jim."

"Yeah, but nothing hurts Connor! The woman has a set of balls that most men would sell their right arms for!"

"Most men?"

"Hey, I got a pretty good set of solid brass ones, Joel. I don't need hers!"

He shook his head, laughing. "Well, I must have been wrong, about her looking hurt," he clarified. "She just shrugged and said, 'Guess you got me, mate.' She stayed around a bit longer chewing the fat, and then she left." He frowned. "She said something about getting a story from the double dome."

"Carrington? Doesn't matter. She'll have to wait on General Fogarty's okay to send whatever he gives her. I'm not giving the nod. I'm already in deep enough shit. I'd like to stay in the Army long enough to collect my allotment, thank you very much."

"You sure of that, Cap?"

"What are you... " I had to pause and take a deep breath. How had the conversation gotten so serious all of a sudden? "What are you talking about, Joel?"

"Nothing, I guess. I just thought you might be tired of the restraints the service puts on you... on all of us. Maybe I'm just tired myself. That Thing in the ice... I'm glad my watch is over. I'm gonna have that drink now, then see if the Three Musketeers are up for a game of gin rummy." He was referring to Erickson, MacAuliff and Dykes.

"Just don't play poker with Connor. She's a card shark!"

"I know. Here, take my gloves. You'll get frostbite, otherwise." He tossed them to me, and I caught them single-handed.

"Thanks, big guy. Make sure Ken knows he's got the next watch."

"That Thing in the ice getting to you already?"

"Smart ass." I offered my co-pilot a smile, although I wasn't certain how successful it was. I wasn't going to tell him that I heard a heart beating in the ice, that was impossible. I couldn't have heard another heartbeat. It was just the stress of dealing with... what I'd been dealing with all day- the scientists, the weather, the possible fallout from the destruction of the space craft that was causing me to hear things. "'Night, Joel."

"'Night, Jim."

The door shut behind him, and I glanced over my shoulder.

The ice encasing our visitor was like a sheet of clear glass now, and its contents were so visible I couldn't prevent a shudder. "You sure are one ugly motherfucker, wherever you come from!"

I read over the notes Joel had made, rose and prowled around the room to make sure everything was secure, and then sat down and searched the drawers of the old desk in hopes of finding some reading matter.

"Eureka," I muttered. The bottom right drawer revealed a stash of pulp magazines with lurid covers, grim-faced men in slouch hats and trench coats, shielding vapid blondes with their bodies as they faced down thugs who had revolvers in their fists. I took the one on the top and began to read about Moose Molloy and his search for his Velma.

****

Part 8

I was deep in the gritty, noir-ish Los Angeles of Raymond Chandler.

Philip Marlowe had been hit on the head with a sap, tied to a bed in a little, barred room, and shot full of dope to keep him under control. His jailor was someone who claimed to be a doctor. Not a nice man.

I refilled the cup of coffee and was raising it to my mouth when the sound of the door to the storeroom opening jerked me out of the gumshoe's dark world. I lurched to my feet and whirled around, nearly spilling the coffee all over my flight suit.

"My, my. Someone is jumpy."

"Dammit, Carolyn, what are you doing here?"

"I wanted to talk to you, Jimmy." My ex-wife oozed her way to where I stood and tip-toed her fingers up my arm. "I haven't been fair to you, and I want to make up for that." She was wearing an angora cardigan, one of those pouf-y pink sweaters that seemed to mold itself to her breasts. "It's so c-cold in here!" She shivered. Her nipples were quite prominent, and I suddenly realized she wasn't wearing a brassiere. "Can't we... go s-somewhere?"

"This is my watch, Carolyn, and I won't be relieved for another half hour. You can talk here, if you'd like, or not." I hoped she'd not.

She shivered again and came closer. "I'd warm up if you put your arms around me, Jimmy." She was using the kittenish voice that she and her sister both used when they were around men they thought were worth their time.

"I can't do that, Carolyn."

"Sure you c-can, Jimmy. All you have to do is put one arm here," she placed my right arm around her waist and rubbed up against me, "and the other arm..."

"No." The perfume she was wearing was so overpowering that my nose shut down in self-defense. I stepped back from her.

"Don't b-be like that, baby. We had such good times together." In what universe? Whatever passion we'd felt hadn't survived the honeymoon, and we'd become like strangers to each other. "We could have g-good times again, I p-p-promise!"

"Carolyn, I'm seeing someone." I could see she wasn't thrilled to hear that. "And you should know better than anyone that I don't screw around while I'm involved."

My lawyer had been able to keep the alimony within reason because she really had no grounds for divorcing me beyond the standard 'irreconcilable differences.' I didn't come home drunk and beat her, and I didn't have a piece of tail on the side. The judge conceded I'd have to pay her something every month, but not the two hundred fifty bucks she'd demanded.

"F-f-fine. I'll keep this sh-sh-short. I... " Her teeth began to chatter in earnest.

"Here." I picked up the blanket Joel had thrown over the crates and put it over her shoulders. She gave a full body shudder and drew the material close around her.

"That's better," she purred, sighing voluptuously. "Now. About us getting back together..."

"I'm sorry, Carolyn. I can't, and I won't." I managed a furtive glance at my watch. Where the hell was Ken Erickson? He should have been here five minutes ago.

As if answering my prayer, the door opened and he strolled in. "Sorry for the delay, Jimbo... Oops. I am sorry. I'll come back later when I won't be interrupting anything." He took a couple of steps back toward the door.

"You're not interrupting anything now, Lieutenant," I snarled.

"You sure, Jim?" He lingered at the door. "Mrs. Ellison, how nice to see you again."

She smiled up at him and fluttered her lashes. "Lieutenant."

"Plummer, Erickson!"

"Huh?"

I gestured surreptitiously for him to get back in the room and breathed a sigh of relief when he finally did.

"Her last name is Plummer! Carolyn, you'd better leave now; I have nothing more to say to you. Once I give Lieutenant Erickson my report I intend to turn in for the night." And if I was lucky, maybe I could find Blair and ask him to give me a tour of the station, ending in his quarters. He could show me his etchings, and maybe I could persuade him it would be in our own best interests to spend the night together. In his bed. He was a scientist; he would understand about conservation of body heat and all that. I cleared my throat. "Tomorrow is going to be a busy day."

For a second I thought Carolyn was going to argue with me, but then she shrugged. "Fine." Abruptly she let out a gasp. "What is that?" She was staring at the block of ice, apparently seeing it for the first time.

"Plug Ugly? He's the extraterrestrial man who came to dinner."

"Not amusing, James!" Carolyn curled her lip. She threw the blanket haphazardly over the ice. "I'll just be going now, boys." And she sauntered out, an exaggerated sway to her hips.

"Phew."

I smacked Erickson's shoulder. "What was the big idea? You know we're divorced! Why would you think I'd want to be alone with her?"

"Geez, Jim. You were with her only the other night! For chrissake, she left a love letter on your chest!"

I opened my mouth to hotly refute that, than snapped it shut. "Never mind. Why are you so friggin' happy? The only time you call me 'Jimbo' is when you get laid!"

He flushed a dull red to the roots of his hair. "Oh... Um...Y'see..." The smile he offered was weak at best. My nose twitched, and I suddenly realized I was picking up a scent on the flight suit he was wearing that wasn't Old Spice, his aftershave.

"You dirty dog! You did get laid!" I could see his lips were swollen, as if he'd been kissing some woman long and hard. The red in his cheeks hadn't quite faded, but I didn't give it much thought. "Who's the lucky woman?"

"Jim! You know the only women here are Carolyn and a few of the scientists' wives, and they're old enough to be my mother!" His eyes grew enormous, and he clapped a hand over his mouth. "Oh, fuck. I... Jim, please, you won't tell anyone, will you?"

I realized his cheeks were reddened by whisker burn. So Ken Erickson liked men. I didn't think he'd have a hard time picking up a guy; he was about my height, with strawberry-blond hair and eyes like a stormy sea. I wondered who he had found to fool around with. I was pretty certain the scientists were too involved with their experiments to give a second thought to sex, so that left the men on Simon Banks' security team, and the lab techs.

"I'm hurt, Ken. You honestly believe I would turn in one of my own men because..." I remembered something Blair had said, and smiled. "... because he prefers beef to seafood?"

"I'm sorry, Jim." He looked miserable. "It's just... you know what the military is like! We'd be court-martialed! I don't want to spend the rest of my life behind a stockade, and neither does... Jim, you're not gonna make me tell you who I was with, are you?" His expression became stubborn. "I won't tell you who I was with."

We'd be court-martialed? That meant he had to be involved with someone else who was armed forces, and the only representatives of the military at this polar camp were my crew.

"Don't get your shorts in a bunch, Ken. You're the best navigator I've got."

I didn't say it, it was none of my business, but I wasn't going to lose him over something as inconsequential as who he chose to take to bed.

I knew my men. They were smart, capable, and physically very attractive. If Erickson was fucking one them, then he considered it worth the risk. They both probably did.

"Now, I want to get out of here. It's been quiet as the grave..."

"Not a happy choice of words, Cap."

"Sorry. It's been quiet. I finished the coffee, so I'll send someone down with a fresh thermos for you. By the way, I'm about halfway through Farewell, My Lovely. If you finish it, I don't want to hear how it ends!"

"Roger that, Jim. I'll just keep myself amused with these." He pulled a deck of cards from the pocket of his flight suit, flexing his fingers. "Damn, it is cold in here!"

"Here, take these." I gave him the gloves Joel had let me borrow. They'd kept my hands warm.

"Oh, one thing." He worked his fingers into the gloves. "Bob wanted to know if it was okay with you if he pulled a later watch? He mentioned something about needing to catch forty winks. One of Captain Banks' men said he'd be willing to take it."

"What about Eddie?"

"He's still working his tail off trying to help Tex boost the power for the radio." There was a discontented droop to his lower lip.

"Still?"

"Yeah." He circled the block of ice, eyeing it cautiously, keeping as much distance as the small room allowed. That must be what was bothering him. It had gotten to Joel and to me, why shouldn't it get to Ken also? "The storm's so bad it's knocking out everything they've tried to send."

"Damn. I guess that puts paid to any hope of Carrington getting the okay to dissect our friend in the ice anytime soon."

"Jesus, he really is ugly, isn't he?" Ken shuddered and straightened the blanket over the ice, blocking its contents from view. "Jim, do me a favor? Tell Barnes not to be late."

"Sure thing, Ken."

****

Once out of the storeroom, the temperature was uncomfortably warm. I didn't want to take the time to go to my quarters to take off my flight suit, so I simply unzipped it and hoped I'd be somewhere with Blair soon where I could strip it off completely.

I walked through the corridors, grinning as I contemplated what it would be like stripping off Blair's clothes. I had no problem locating the mess hall, simply following my nose.

The mess hall was dim and empty, however, and I sagged in disappointment. How long did Dr. Carrington work his scientists?

And then I heard the muted sound of conversation coming from a door I hadn't noticed before. It was open, and light spilled through it.

"Can you believe the cheek of that woman?" "I didn't think it had gone that far." "Talk about rubbing salt in a wound." "You really think she had any idea?"

I didn't detect Blair's voice, but maybe he wasn't saying anything just then. I realized I was stretching my hearing in the futile hope of catching the sound of his heartbeat.

I walked to the doorway. It was a rec room. A comprehensive glance was all it took to catalogue the contents of the room and its occupants.

It was one of the few room I'd been in that had double-paned insulated windows. A sofa was stretched along one wall. Chairs were scattered around, and there were a number of card tables, one with cards scattered over it and on the floor beneath it, as if the hands had been thrown down in irritation, one with the remains of a game of Monopoly, and one with a chess board set up and a game in progress. A five-shelf bookcase held hardcovered books, magazines, and other games like checkers, Scrabble, and even pick-up sticks.

That glance was all it took to verify Blair wasn't there. My crew chief, the head of security, Barnes, Mrs. Chapman, and Lee, the cook, refilling coffee mugs.

The conversation dried up. He held up the pot and looked a question at me.

"No, thanks."

"Lee, why don't you go to bed? The men can help themselves," Mrs. Chapman murmured.

"Lee, would you mind seeing Lieutenant Erickson gets a fresh thermos of coffee?"

He smiled and gave a slight bow, and left the room.

Mrs. Chapman let her eyes drift over me, cold and unseeing. "It's getting very close in here. I'm going to bed. Goodnight, gentlemen." She smiled at the other men, and deliberately ignored me.

I stared after her as she walked from the room, her spine unbending. What had happened that caused her to be angry with me?

"Hey, Cap!" Bob lounged in an arm chair, a leg over the side. He was looking almost... sated? I sniffed discreetly and caught a hint of Old Spice mingled with the Bay Rum Bob usually favored. "You just missed Mrs. Ellison."

My mother was here?

"I hear congratulations are in order."

I was starting to feel uneasy. "What are you talking about, Bob?"

"You're getting married again. I think we'll be invited this time. Carolyn seems to feel we've become more civilized."

"WHAT?"

"Your ex-wife, I mean your... Um, what do you call a guy's ex-wife when he's going to marry her again?"

Banks was watching me with flat, unamused eyes. Barnes was looking as confused as I felt.

Had I fallen down the rabbit hole? "Bob. Explain. In words of one syllable, preferably."

"Well, Caro... She said I could call her 'Caro,' Jim! How about that? And we always thought she was a snooty, spoiled society brat."

"You blew a pretty nice alliteration there, MacAuliff," Captain Banks chuckled sourly

"I think you're right, Captain. Anyway, she came in here looking all ... Gee, Jim, you really kissed the girl hard. If she hadn't admitted that you'd been kissing her, I'd have sworn someone socked her in the mouth!"

"Let me get this straight. Carolyn Plummer was in here, and she told everyone that we were getting remarried?"

"Yyyes. That's the long and the short of it. Of course she did go on about what a great kisser you were and how she'd almost passed out from lack of oxygen." I opened and shut my mouth helplessly. Bob blithely continued. "She said if you'd kissed her like that when you were married she'd never have let you get away, and now that she's got you back, she intends to keep you forever."

No wonder Mrs. Chapman was furious with me. I'd sworn to her that I wouldn't let my ex-wife get her hooks back into me, and... I ground my teeth together so hard the nerves whinged in protest. "Let me make this perfectly clear to everyone in this room. I am not getting married. Not to my ex-wife, not to anyone!"

Bob shrugged. "She seemed pretty positive."

"I don't care! I'm not marrying her!"

Did she think I would let her get away with that? I'd let her do as she chose for much of our marriage, because I just hadn't cared. It troubled me to think that she saw me as a milquetoast.

"Don't get your shorts in a knot, Cap. I'm just telling you what she said." He yawned and stretched his arms up over his head, and the sweater he wore pulled up revealing the shallow depression of his navel. Just to the side of his belly button was a deep purple love bite. Before I could remark about it he said, "Glad I saw you before you went to bed. Is it all right..."

"Oh, yeah. Ken told me you wanted to pull a later watch."

"I'll do the next watch, Captain Ellison. If you don't mind?" Barnes fiddled with a chessman, his eyes darting nervously from the head of security who sat across the table from him to me, and back.

"Captain Banks?"

"Oh, for Pete's sake, call me Simon, would you? Dr. Voorhees, our meteorologist, has predicted that this will be a mother of a storm, and we're going to be cooped up together for some time!"

"Then it's a damn good thing we brought all those extra supplies."

"Yeah. And I don't have a problem with Barnes taking the watch as long as you don't."

"Let's face it, Simon. I don't have enough men to keep watch over that Thing. I appreciate the help."

"Thank you for giving me this opportunity, Captain Banks, Captain Ellison. I promise I won't let you down!"

Was Barnes embarrassed because he'd thrown up out there on the ice? We all had occasions when we'd been betrayed by our bodies.

"I know you won't."

"Well, I'm gonna catch some zzz's." Bob levered himself up from of his chair. "My ass is dragging. Barnes, I'll relieve you at 3." He walked out of the room, his gait a little stiff.

"It's your move, Captain Banks."

"Is... uh... is Dr. Sandburg still in his laboratory?"

"Blair?" Banks took a cigar from his shirt pocket and made a production of lighting it. "He was here a little bit ago."

"Was he here when my ex-wife came in?" Please god, don't let him have heard her bullshit.

"Yes," he stared at the glowing tip of his cigar, "I believe he was."

Okay, you didn't answer that prayer, god; he heard her. Please don't let him have believed her?

"Did he... er... how did he seem?"

"Fine." Just the way Banks said it made me know Blair wasn't fine. "Why would Blair care a damn if your ex-wife stated quite clearly that you and she had ironed out your differences and were getting married again?"

Dammit. He believed her. God, you really weren't much help down here. "I think I'll turn in. Goodnight, Simon, Barnes."

I took their grunts as 'goodnights' and left.

The mess hall was filled with shadows. By the time I crossed the room and reached the door I was determined to find Blair and get this straightened out.

"Captain Ellison." Mrs. Chapman was standing in the corridor, her arms folded across her chest, glowering at me. She was dressed in a long Black Watch plaid flannel bathrobe. Her hair was in two braids that brushed her shoulders.

The fact that she was dressed for bed didn't make her look any less intimidating.

"I thought I was 'Jim'." I half-smiled.

"And I thought you weren't going to hurt Blair."

"Mrs. Chapman..."

"Your ex-wife, or perhaps I should say your former ex-wife, came in about twenty minutes before you did. She announced that she wanted us to be the first to know the two of you were getting back together."

"I know. Bob told me." I ran my hand over my hair. "And Blair heard that."

"Blair looked as if someone had given him a sucker punch to the gut."

Goddamn that woman! "We're not getting back together, Mrs. Chapman. I did not kiss her!"

"Not even a peck on the cheek? She was looking rather mussed and well-kissed."

"No, I swear to you!"

"It's not me you need to convince."

"Where is he?"

"In his room."

"And which one is that? Look, if I have to go through every room in this station, I will. And if I wake up everyone, I don't much care!"

She stared at me coolly for a few seconds that seemed to stretch into the next century. Finally, she said, "Male staff are quartered down this corridor. Blair's room is the third from the end."

I left her with a mumbled 'thanks' and strode to the door she had pointed out. On the other side of the door I could hear the rustling of clothes being removed. I took a deep breath. I took another deep breath. I raised my hand to rap on the door. My hand was shaking.

I glanced over my shoulder, but the junction of the corridor was empty. I knocked.

The door opened, and he stood there, shirtless, and I wanted to moan. His nipples, plump and rose-beige, peaked through the mat of curly hair that covered his chest and arrowed down past the waistband of his pants.

I wet my lips and swallowed, but he spoke before I could.

"You're in the wrong place. Miss Plummer's room is down the next corridor. Or should I call her 'Mrs. Ellison'?"

"She's not Mrs. Ellison, and I'm not looking for Carolyn. I was looking for you." I spotted a vermilion love bite on the base of Blair's throat. I was ready to jump down his throat for letting someone else play vampire with him, but then I looked closer, and I could tell it wasn't brand new. I would have touched the mark, but he knocked my hand away.

I must have put it there the other night, and I swore to myself, because I couldn't remember doing it.

I stepped toward him, hoping he would back away, and I could get into the room with him and shut the door behind me. I couldn't take my eyes off his nipples.

"Why?" He wouldn't budge.

"We were supposed to have a cup of coffee at the mess hall. We were going to..." I was inches away from him. I took another step.

"What?" He glared up at me. "Take up where we left off? I don't think so. You're going to remarry your ex-wife. I don't fool around with married men."

Those nipples... I could see how tight they were, could see the tiny depression on each side where they must have been pierced. They seemed to beg for my mouth, beg to be licked and bit and sucked. I started to drift into a limbo where he wasn't mad as hell at me but instead wound himself around my body and warmed me to the core.

"Jim. Jim! Listen to my voice! Come back to me!" His hands were on me, rubbing my cheeks, my neck, my shoulders, and I was back in the here and now. I made a happy sound.

Abruptly I realized I'd never come out of one of those episodes so quickly. I gave my head a shake. "What happened, Chief?"

"I was hoping you could tell me."

I blinked. "What were we talking about?"

"Your remarriage." And just like that, the warmth between us congealed and became as cold as yesterday's mashed potatoes.

"Aw, baby, she lied! There's nothing between us."

"Don't call me 'baby'. And don't tell me there's nothing between you. For Pete's sake, I can smell her on you! Unless you've taken to wearing women's perfume?"

"All of a sudden you're the sentinel?"

"Don't give me that crap! Chanel #5 is pretty strong, wise guy. I don't need an acute olfactory sense to pick up on that! And what do you know about sentinels?"

I ignored his question again. Instead, I remembered Carolyn rubbing herself against me, and I started ripping off my flight suit. I took another step toward him and nearly tripped as the legs tangled around my boots. I stooped to remove them, then pulled off the flight suit.

"Blair, you have to believe me!"

"Back off, Ellison. You're not coming..."

"Not yet, I'm not." I was right in front of him, and I wondered fuzzily why my shirt was still on. Blair was breathing heavily, his nipples rubbing against my shirt each time he inhaled, and if I didn't have it on, they'd be rubbing against my chest. I undid the top button, then the next button, and the next.

"No!"

I froze.

He licked his lips. "If I let you in, you're going to... to make love to me?"

"Yeah."

"But we were going to talk first."

"You want to talk?"

His tongue peeked out to touch his upper lip, and he nodded.

"Okay, Chief. We talk. First." I shuddered from want denied. "Then..."

"No. I don't ..."

"You don't trust me?"

Blair opened his mouth, appeared to think better of what he'd been about to say and shut it, and backed away. I walked toward him.

"Your clothes, Jim!" he hissed. "You can't leave them in the hall!"

I growled, twisted to scoop them up, and tossed them aside as soon as I was inside his room. I reached behind me and shut the door, and very quietly twisted the lock.

He seemed nervous; I didn't want him to be nervous. I smiled. See, Chief? No one here but us harmless little lambs. "You can tie me up if that will make you feel better."

His eyes narrowed, and suddenly the odor of male arousal filled my nostrils. "Why don't you sit in that chair, Jim?" He licked his lips again.

For a second I couldn't catch my breath. I spun the chair around and straddled it, resting my arms on the narrow strip of wood at the top of the chair back. The material of my pants pulled snug over my hard-on, and I rocked gently, and the pressure increased.

"Hands behind your back, tough guy."

Blair walked behind me. I was listening carefully. I knew when his hand slid into his pocket. I knew when it came back out. He was so close to me. His breath was warm on the side of my neck, little puffs that set my nerve-endings to thrumming. He blew into my ear, and that became all I could think of, the sensation that made my dick like a steel bar.

He grabbed my wrists and tied them. I could tell it was a thin strip of leather. I tugged experimentally, feeling a slight give.

"I was going to say, it's not that I didn't trust you, but that I didn't trust me. Y'know, it wouldn't have mattered." That voice like warm honey. I rolled my head against his torso, and I would have sworn I could feel each curl through my hair. "I'd have gone to bed with you anyway, Jim. And if you weren't tied up, I never would have told you that!"

I groaned and tugged harder on my bindings.

He walked around to stand in front of me and tipped up my chin. "There really isn't anything going on with the two of you, Jim?"

I looked at him through slitted eyes, wallowing in the feel of his fingertips on my face, wandering over my cheekbones, tracing the curve of my lips. "I swear to you, babe. On what I feel for you."

"What do you feel for me, Jim? Passion? Lust?"

"That, and more."

"What 'more'?"

"How about affection?"

His breath caught in his throat. He leaned down and brushed his lips over mine. They were warm, and closed. I parted my lips and touched the seam of his mouth with my tongue.

"Jim!" His hands cradled the back of my head, holding me motionless, and he stroked the hollow at the base of my skull and took my mouth.

I angled my head and tried to get him to deepen the kiss. Blair licked at my teeth, my tongue, my inner cheeks, and at any other time I would have been shocked by the needy sounds I made.

I shivered as a hand dropped to my groin and began kneading my dick. My hips jerked helplessly, and I spread my legs wider.

Blair leaned his forehead against my forehead. I could barely catch my breath.

"This is the first time we've kissed, you know," he murmured softly. "I like it."

"Untie me, Chief." My voice was shaky.

"Not yet." He dropped to his knees and nuzzled my groin.

I could feel the moist warmth of his breath, and I rocked up, hoping he would mouth me through the material of my pants. I pulled harder at my restraints, and the thin leather slid free.

"Blair!" I brought my hands around and threaded them through his thick curls. "I love your hair," I whispered as I leaned toward him, raised his face, and brought our lips together.

He sighed into my mouth, and I wallowed in the taste of brandy that lingered on his tongue.

And then he reared back. "Jim! You're free! How'd you get free?"

"I guess you weren't a Boy Scout, Chief. You really don't have much of a way with knots." I held up my hands with the strip of leather that had secured them dangling from my wrist.

****

On to Part 2