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She placed her hands on both sides of the window and pressed her face against the transparasteel. Staring into the inky blackness, she came to a quick realization: if there were life here, it would have to swim up and press its slimy face against the window for her to see it. Or bite her in the ass, but she hoped for the former. Turning away from the window, she wondered why the designers had even decided to install them.
Looking around her cramped quarters, she dropped her bath towel to the floor and snatched a pair of underwear and bra from her bed. Pulling the two articles of clothing on, she grabbed her last clean jumpsuit from a hangar on the wall. Stepping into the suit, she slipped on the arms and zipped up the front to just above her cleavage. Dropping down into a nearby chair, she grabbed a pair of thick, black boots and set them next to her bare feet. Reaching over, she retrieved a pair of socks from the same pile that had held her underwear. Pulling on her socks and boots, she stood and stretched. Glancing at the clock, she decided it was way too early to be awake.
Synchronizing her digital watch to match the clock, she started for the door and stopped. Turning around, she stared at the top drawer of her nightstand. She didn't need it, she told herself. It was nothing more than a crutch at this point. She had been down here for almost a year. The chemical had run its course through her system within the first forty-eight hours of being here. Even the oral fixation had run its course. She no longer found herself chewing on pens or her nails. She had beaten it, yet…there was still something. Cursing under her breath, shequickly crossed the small room and tore open the nightstand drawer. Reaching in, she retrieved a small silver packet and held it in her hand. Shaking her head, she tore it open and removed the small, circular patch. Tearing off the clear backing, she held it up to the light.
"You'd think they would've come up with a better way to quit smoking by now," she laughed uncomfortably. Unzipping her flight suit slightly, she placed the sticky side of the patch on her right shoulder. Taking a deep breath, she began to feel the effects of the nicotine patch. That familiar foul taste was once again in the back of her mouth. Swallowing hard once, she closed her eyes as the first of the medicine began to hit her system. Tossing the spent silver wrapper on her nightstand, she grabbed a black jacket off a wall hanger and headed for the door.
Tapping the panel gently, she waited for the automatic door to slide open. Stepping out into the corridor, she had to squint her eyes. Blinking rapidly, her eyes quickly adjusted to the bright, fluorescent lights. Moving through the halls passed jogging coworkers and the last few members of the night crew, she found herself in the mess hall. Taking a deep whiff of the air, she could smell freshly brewed coffee. Moving quickly to the bank of coffee pots on the far side of the room, she grabbed a cup and poured the thick, black liquid into it. Lifting it to her nose, she inhaled deeply and sighed with pleasure. Lifting the cup to her lips, she took a long drink. She could quickly feel the warmth spread down her esophagus to her stomach. The taste of the coffee almost overpowered the horrid taste the nicotine patch was creating…almost.
"Dr. Sumner, please report to decon. Dr. Sumner, please report to decon. STAT."
Dr. Julie Sumner stared up at the speaker built into ceiling in awe. She wasn't even on duty for another forty minutes and they were already paging her. Taking another drink from the coffee cup, she set it on the counter. Tossing her wavy brown hair over her shoulder, she moved into the hallway and headed for decon. Taking a quick left, she skidded to a stop in front of the elevator. Hitting the call button impatiently, she waited for the familiar ding to announce the lift's arrival.
Julie turned to see her colleague, Dr. Jim Marcus, charging toward her. Coffee cup in one hand, datapad in the other, he looked as if he had just rolled out of bed. In fact, she could still see a mark from his pillow on his left cheek. His blue jumpsuit wasn't zipped up past his midsection and his black jacket hung off his left arm. "What's the rush, Jim?"
"What the hell is going on this morning?" Jim flipped his head and tried to toss his thick, black dreadlocks out of his face. His face was cleanly shaven, except for the thick tuft of hair he had been cultivating on his chin for the past few months. His gold-rimmed glasses looked good against his dark skin. He was the smartest person here, next to Julie, of course.
"What are you talking about?" Julie asked incredulously. "I just woke up and was paged."
"You haven't heard?"
Julie tried to feign interest in the conversation, but was failing fast. She just wished the damned elevator would arrive. "No, what?"
"The research team," Jim said quickly, "they apparently found some seriously weird shit this morning."
Julie's interest suddenly skyrocketed. "What did they find?"
"I don't know," Jim said excitedly as he swallowed a gulp of coffee. "The buzz down in the archaeology department is palpable, though."
"How did you find out?"
Jim smiled. "I have connections. I don't stay in my quarters reading reports all night. I actually go out and meet people."
Julie rolled her eyes at the not so cleverly veiled knock at her.
Copyright © 2005 Terence West