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Dr. Strangelove was enjoying the base holiday from under a thick canvas umbrella that offered her a perimeter of shade, from under which she could safely enjoy the sound of the waves, the feeling of a warm towel over sand under her as she paged through the latest Philip K. Dick novel she’d managed to get her hands on, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. She was finally beginning to get comfortable, zoning out the world around her and becoming engrossed with the plot, when she heard Amanda call “watch out!” Strangelove instinctively looked up, just in time to be frozen in place as a volleyball came careening in her direction. It ended up merely nudging the umbrella, but still ended up moving the circle of shade so that Strangelove’s legs were no longer protected.

“I’ll get it!” Paz’s cheerful voice calmed Strangelove from shouting some choice words, and she merely curled up slightly, moving her legs back in the shade. She could hear Amanda scolding Chico in the background, telling him he wasn’t impressing anyone by spiking the ball that crookedly. In a moment, Paz stood over her, straightening the umbrella back to its original position and giving Strangelove a coy wink while no one else could see.

“Sorry, gordita… We’ll be more careful.”

“Yes, do,” Strangelove replied, playing at a cross tone. “You know direct sunlight will shrivel me right up.” Paz only giggled.

“Oh no, will I have to make up for this later?”

“We’ll see. Now, go back and play, dear.” Strangelove smiled as Paz retrieved the ball, looking back with a small pout as she returned to the game. It wasn’t really a game for Paz, Strangelove thought with a slight frown. The only reason she was wearing that ridiculous bathing suit and splashing around with Chico and Amanda was because it was the flashiest, most distracting way to play the part of a bubbly 16-year-old. She could tell, their moments together, when Paz was with someone who recognized and treated her as the 25-year-old woman she was, were small pools of relief during long, tiring days.

Strangelove had known for a long time. And it was an easy secret to keep. It’s not like she had any sort of emotional entanglements with members of MSF that made lying to them morally objectionable enough to give her pause. She looked down, hoping to return to the book but flinched again as something freezing cold brushed against her hand.

“What!?” She hissed, jerking away and looking up. It was…

Commander Miller, with a frosty beer bottle in each hand, offering one to her.

“Woah, sorry! I just meant to…” Under the shade of the umbrella, without the glare of the sun helping to further mask his ever-shaded eyes, Strangelove got the sense from looking at his face that he was actually a bit… flustered? Nervous?

“It’s fine, I’ve just had enough of getting my nerves rattled for several days. This is why I usually stay indoors.”

“And you’re still dressed for indoors,” Kaz replied, noting her waistcoat and slacks were still intact despite the summer heat. “I brought you a beer, does that help?”

“You seem to be unaware of this, but one can drink beer indoors,” Strangelove said flatly, returning to her book.

“Come on,” Kaz crouched, setting the beer bottle just within her line of sight, slightly beyond the book. “I took what you said about not being able to stand the swill the other soldiers drink to heart.”

Strangelove stopped to glance at the label on the bottle. A Berliner Weisse, huh? Not exactly what she’d go for, but certainly more appealing than Red Stripe.

“Interesting,” she said at last. “You drink this?”

“Y-yeah, of course.”

Kaz produced a bottle opener from his back pocket and opened both bottles, lightly clinking his with Strangelove’s as she sat up, giving herself a better view of the other MSF members frolicking and relaxing on the beach. She watched as Kaz hesitated slightly before taking a sip of the beer, trying to conceal a slight wince at its sourness, before taking a drink herself.

“So, there must be some reason you’d risk going behind your boss’ back with what must be an unapproved expense just to talk to me,” Strangelove said, curiously studying Kaz’s profile, waiting for him to speak. He only shifted a bit on the towel, taking another drink. “If it’s romantic interest,” Strangelove went on. “I have to, again, insist that I have no attraction to—“

“Come on, I’m not a complete idiot. It’s not that!” Kaz protested, giving her a scowl. “I know you only care for girls.”

“If only everyone around here would get the message.” Strangelove rolled her eyes, taking another swig.

“Yeah, sorry we need so much R&D work right now, I’d love as much as anyone to put him on dishwashing duty,” Kaz grumbled. “But I really, honestly just wanted to talk to you, figure out what the doctor is about, you know? All I really know is your work on AI, and well, what we already have in common.”

Strangelove scoffed. “And that is?”

“An abiding love of eating pussy, am I right?” Kaz said, leaning in to shield their conversation from the rest of the base.

“God,” Strangelove said, unable to keep down a laugh. “It always sounds so unbearably crude coming from a man’s mouth.”

“Sorry, but it’s absolutely true.”

“Really? I can’t say I’ve ever met a man I thought could reach my own level of passion… much less one who didn’t puff up his own skills.” Strangelove gently swished the remaining beer in the bottom of the bottle. “Besides, I’ve heard the rumors about you and Snake—“

Kaz laughed nervously, taking a long gulp of the beer. “Hey, come on, some rumors are just rumors.”

“—And I’ve seen the way you look at him. You’re not doing much to dispel them, Miller.”

“Nothing gets past you scientists, huh?” He allowed himself to smile, albeit a bit sadly, for a moment before taking on a more serious tone. “You’d better keep speculation like that under your hat, doctor.”

“I understand.”

“…Not like it forecloses my interest in women.”

Obviously not.” In the resulting pause, Strangelove drained the first bottle of beer. “Do you have any more of these?”

Kaz raised his eyebrows. It was unclear to Strangelove whether he was impressed or intimidated by how quickly she was putting them away, but pulled another bottle from the small cooler he’d bought with him, opening it and passing it to Strangelove.

“Suppose I ask you what I ask all the other men, then—“ Kaz began.

“What kind of woman I’m into?” Strangelove chuckled. “That works on quite a presumption, asking everyone that.”

“Come on, it’s just an ice breaker. Everything has to be so… objective with you.”

“And that’s a bad thing?”

“Doctor, you’re dodging the question.”

Strangelove sighed, starting the next drink as she took a long gaze out over the beach, watching Paz running back and forth after the volleyball. To anyone who didn’t know her it would have made her look carefree, but to Strangelove, she just looked busy.

“I like a woman who has the strength to live for herself,” she said after a long time. She turned to look at Kaz. “Is that fine? Satisfied?”

Kaz was visibly impressed.

“Yeah. I mean, wow, maybe it is true what you said.”

“That everything sounds so much more crass when a man says it?”

“Yeah, I mean, that was damned poetic. And you didn’t even get into what sort of tits you like.”

“Well,” Strangelove smiled, taking another swig of beer. “Here’s a lesson for you, limiting yourself to one particular type is your first mistake…”