"DECA, interior temperature?"
DECA took her sweet time replying. "Current temperature: minus nine degrees Celsius."
With a frown and a shiver, he shrugged the blanket a little tighter around himself. Then he turned and left the bridge to its frosty fate.
It was a silly predicament really: instead of taking shore leave like the other Rangers, Andros had decided to go get those ice core samples he wanted from the planet Trigeca. To his surprise--pleasant surprise--Ashley canceled her leave to go with him. So they headed for the outer reaches of the Trika star system. Or, "Iceboxolia" according to the Yellow Ranger.
They got their samples and returned to the MegaShip, but no sooner had they got on board, when storms began sweeping through. No one had told Andros about the spontaneous weather here. The wind was incredible--it tore off pieces of the outer hull! Soon there was ice and snow in the electrical components, and systems began to struggle. What failed first? Heat regulation of course. The launching thrusters weren't far behind. They were stuck on this planet, and the ship was slowly freezing.
The storm had been raging ten hours now. Deck by deck Andros inspected the ship--Capitol of Iceboxolia--to make sure nothing important was freezing. The closer he came to the outer hull, the colder the air seemed. In the cargo hold, it stung his cheek like an icy whip. He was glad to finish his rounds and return to the Jump Bay.
But something set off an alarm in his mind as he approached the door. A smell of danger; the hot, stinking odor of fire on a spacecraft. Throwing off his blanket, he sprinted the last few yards and screeched to a halt in the doorway...
..and found Ashley sitting next to a small chemical fire she had made.
She gave him a smile and a yucky-face when she saw him. "Stinks, doesn't it? It's warm though, c'mere and feel."
The fire was well contained in an acid catch-pan. It did not pose any danger. Andros exhaled in relief, and ventured into the room to obey her summons. He had lost precious body heat when he lost his blanket back there, but Ashley welcomed him into her queen-size comforter and put her arm around him.
"DECA won't last much longer," he reported. "Her circuit gel packs are crystallizing with the cold."
"Can we warm her up somehow?"
"Not without sluicing hot chocolate through her veins. The gel packs are heat-shielded to prevent them from being damaged in battle. The only way is through the temp-fluid conduits."
"And they're frozen already," she guessed.
"Just like everything else on board."
Andros concentrated on the fire for a moment, clenching his jaw to stop his teeth from chattering.
"Including you," Ashley observed. "Forget the inspections from now on, we can't stop what's happening to the ship."
"I like to know what's happening," he argued.
"Well I don't want you wasting my hard-earned body heat by leaving this spot again."
Ashley's scolding made his chilly face smile. He looked sideways at her and mumbled, "I guess I can live with that."
She was forced to giggle in response. All was still for a few moments, and then she began to climb into his lap. When they were settled, she sat with her back pressed against his stomach, his arms and legs surrounding her, and his breath warming her left ear. A better use of blanket yardage, they agreed, and a more efficient way to keep warm. The lump of chemical on the fire began to burn down, its unpleasant smell easing.
"So, how long will this storm last?" Ashley asked drowsily.
"Not more than 24 hours. We should be able to lift off in the morning."
"Hmm," was her reply; a dozy sort of acknowledgment. Her eyes slipped shut in the fireglow.
"You going to sleep?"
"Thinking about it."
"What am I gonna do?"
"Whatever you want, don't mind me."
Andros began to frown. "Ashley...don't go to sleep. You might get hypothermia you know."
This prompted her to laugh. "Don't be silly, that's what I keep you around for."
The face he made was comparable to Bambi after encountering the big bad woodsman. Ashley cringed inside and twisted to look at him. "Among other things I mean.."
"Right," he grumped, feigning injury. "Prove it."
"Thought you'd never ask..."
A moment later, their lips were moving lusciously together in a kiss as hot as the firelight. Too soon they had to come up for air.
"That raised my temperature a few degrees," Andros gasped. Ashley swallowed and stared hungrily at his lips some more. "Should we..?" she thought aloud.
"No, we shouldn't," he replied. "But that doesn't mean we can't."
They thought about it some more, enjoying the warmth their close-pressed bodies provided. They realized just how precious that warmth was.
"Clothes stay on," they said in unison. A curt nod from Andros sealed it; but he did tuck his face in her hair and inhale its scent deeply.
"What did we just decide?" she scolded.
"I can't help but smell you, your head is right here."
"Well put your face somewhere else...you're making me squirm."
He smiled as she shifted a little, trying to ease the little tremor in her stomach. He felt them too whenever he thought about her--as in, thought about her. A cold, steely fist would close around his soul, and shake as if trying to bring him to his senses. It lasted but a moment. It was almost pain, but not when it came with thoughts of Ashley. In fact, Andros had begun to welcome it. Its presence was like a warning, that he was close to a place where lust threatened to overpower sensibility. He had never let that happen, but it was no secret that how they felt in the matter.
He had once asked why most Earthers wait till marriage, and their dialogue about sex began. Ashley explained it was for religious reasons, the religion of her family as a matter of fact, but she did not believe in the rule; only its foundation principle. She was waiting for the right time, which would come when she was with a man she trusted and loved, and who intended to be with her indefinitely--just not neccesarily married to her. The question hung in the air then; was Andros such a man?
They left the question unasked. After all, it would have forced Ashley to give an answer, and either answer would have put the pressure on.
For now they were content to talk about it, and dream about it, and fantasize about it when they were apart. Each had grown to trust their instincts about when 'the right time' would be.
"What time is it anyway?" Ashley asked through the dark. The fire was still hot several hours later, but burning dimly, as the couple lay spoon-style beside it. Andros stopped touching her hair to check his chronometer.
"Two hours till dawn. The storm should be dying."
"I can't wait till we get some heat back on. This is like taking a hot shower on a cold day--you can't get out!"
Once again, Andros feigned wounding. "Who wants to get out?"
Again it drew a laugh from Ashley. She turned over in his arms to face him, and took another long taste of his lips. "I could stay here all month. But we do have DECA to think of."
"If I have to pick between the two of you, DECA can say goodbye."
"She'll be crushed."
"She'll be glad to get rid of me. I'm not her type."
"I hope not. I don't like the idea of her watching us down here."
Andros flashed the most mischievous smile she'd ever seen from him. "That can easily be remedied," he said, and threw the blanket over both their heads.
DECA's cameras caught nothing--there were only two voices spouting random giggles, and a dim shape writhing on the floor: a warm, unified being made of blanket and love.