It'd been a rough couple of months, more than usual, and we were here at Let'sGo to rest and relax—doctor's orders. Suvendi Doc Agbabian, to be exact. I was still limping from the torn calf muscle I'd gotten from accidentally falling off a cliff, and Leo was recuperating from very minor heart surgery, repairing a damaged valve. We were both fine, fit for our ages, but Doc Agbabian wanted us away from the stress of our daily lives.
Two weeks of enforced rest at an isolated homestead, forbidden to work or to even look at a computer.
A few days in and I was bored, unreasonably grumpy and going stir-crazy; my leg was healing, but slowly and it hurt when I walked any distance. Leo was a saint; he understood and took himself down to the creek to give me time to be alone. Darling man.
A warm breeze stirred the curtains, and when I looked out, I could see him coming back toward the cabin, arms full of vegetation, all of it red. Red for danger, red for Dragon's Teeth.
We're supposed to be resting.
I stuck my head out the window. "Leo, we're supposed to be resting!" I bellowed, and even at this distance I could see his grin, bright white against the brown of his skin. Still, he took his time getting back to the cabin, and I couldn't help but laugh as he settled his armful of plants onto the small desk. "Presents for my lady," he said, gesturing grandly, all ship's manners,
"Presents, my ass," I grumbled, but I couldn't keep from smiling. He knew me too well.
He wrapped his arm around me from behind, pressed his lips to the back of my neck, nibbling a little, sending a shiver down my spine. "C'mon, Annie, sit down with me." He led me over to the well-worn couch, and we cuddled and distracted each other with a little bit of necking. It was still one of my favorite hobbies.
After a while, I had to ask about all the plants that Leo had brought back.
"I don't know, Annie, something's going on down by the creek. There was red everywhere; I brought back samples of what I could, but—"
He broke off, as worried as I was. Something was changing the EC here at Let'sGo and the more flora and fauna turned red, the more likely they were going to sprout Dragon's Teeth. With no steady inhabitants in the area, it was hard to guess what was going on with the EC, what was changing, and what the effects were.
Leo pulled his sketchbook out of his pocket. "Saw other things, too." He showed me a sketch of some kind of water-lizard, spade-headed and spotted.
"Are those external gills?" There were some fuzzy tufts around the head that looked like masses of blood vessels. Very strange.
Leo squinted at his sketch. "Yes." I made an unhappy little sound and Leo laughed. "I know, Annie, I know, but I wasn't about to chase the critter around in the creek and then put it in my pocket."
I settled down a little, because he had a point. Water-logged lizards probably wouldn't transport well in a pocket. "You're forgiven, I guess."
He turned to another page, a strange little creature sketched in sure lines. It was round, a little smaller than a human head, covered in fur, with a long, thin beak. It had two improbably large claw-feet.
"That isn't Earth-authentic," I muttered to myself. I'd never seen anything like it in the ships' files.
"It has to be, Annie. Unless it's one of Mabob's distant, long-lost cousins, but that doesn't seem likely." He pointed to the critter's beak. "I watched it eat a bunch of bugs, slurped them right down."
Insectivores, which we always needed. "Huh. We'll have to check the ships' files—"
"Once we get back to civilization?" he interrupted, arching an eyebrow.
Damn but the man did know me, inside and out. He suspected something was up.
"That's right," I said, flipping the page in his sketchbook, trying for innocent. There were some lovely drawings of various plants, some native Mirabilan, some not. Or at least, I assumed they weren't, because I didn't recognize any of them. Wouldn't know without a gene-read, and I'd been forced to leave my sampling kit back home.
This was part of the bigger problem: not enough people, too many unpopulated areas. There weren't enough jasons to monitor what was going on in the wild places, so a lot of new species, some good, some bad, were slipping away undetected. Maybe it was time to talk to Sabah again.
"This one smelled like rotting meat," he said, pointing to a large, fleshy flower. It was star-shaped and was covered in hairy bristles. "And this one, it had some little burr-like bits that let it cling to the tree's bark." He indicated a pretty vine, with trumpet-shaped flowers.
"I've read about a lot of vines that have tendrils that secrete a mild acid. It lets them hold onto whatever they're climbing on." Evolution was a marvel, and I could tell the look of wonder on Leo's face that he still felt the same, even after all this time.
I closed the sketchbook at leaned my head against Leo's broad shoulder. and signed. "It's too quiet," I said.
It was. We were used to the ruckus and fuss of kids and family and friends. Mike and Susan, the baby jasons, all the family at Loch Moose, even Mabob and his gronks. It was too damn quiet, and I knew that's exactly what Doc Agbabian wanted for us, but—
"Annie, I can feel you twitching."
"I'm not moving," I protested, but let Leo distract me with some kisses. The man knew how to kiss, and he rubbed my arms with his big hands. It was lovely, and for once there was no chorus of voices teasing us for acting like teenagers.
"So, what about the samples you brought back?"
I could feel the shrug of Leo's shoulders. They were broad, and strong enough to support me when I needed it.
"Dunno, Annie. Need a sampler, and computer. Maybe, if we ask nicely, we can talk Susan into bringing us one of those fancy portable computers, just for a little while." His eyes twinkled with mischief.
I snorted. "You're kidding, right? Doc Agbabian took Susan aside and made her promise not to let us take bring anything work-related, and had Susan search my bags."
"Huh. Well, I guess we're outta luck, then." He pressed a kiss to my temple. "We'll have to find other ways to occupy ourselves." I threaded our fingers together. I loved Leo's hands; they'd been the first things I noticed about him, aside from the laugh lines on his face and the way he smiled.
I shook my head, because here I was, mooning over Leo like a lovesick youngster. I got up off the couch and limped carefully over to my pack, digging around until I felt the hard plastic case of the portable. I grabbed the handle and pulled it out. "Ta-da!"
Leo started laughing, acting scandalized. "Annie! How did you get that past Susan?"
I loved Leo's laugh. "I have my ways." Sometimes secrets are meant to be just that. I schooled my face, trying for somber. "We're going to sit on the couch and sedately do some gene-reads, as befits our status as elders. And if we find any Dragon's Teeth, we will treat the occasion with the gravity and seriousness it deserves."
"No cursing, you mean," he said with a smile. "Of course, Annie," he said, pulling me close and planting a smacking kiss on my lips. "Anything for you."