Hello, Internet! Happy Black Friday! Wait…I mean happy Flash Fiction Friday! Today I have J.J. Lore with me with an awesome sci-fi piece “Tight Spaces.” We meet Shiro, a nervous man with a serious phobia. But sometimes the risk is worth the chance to conquer it.
By J. J. Lore
Shiro faced the bright orange decompression suit and wished his palms would stop sweating. The life-saving unit hung against the side of Station Eighteen’s airlock like an insect carapace, but large enough he’d never want to meet the creature that shed it. Against his will he inspected the surface, taking in all the scrapes and dents as well as the overbuilt joints and heavy armoring, all as he was helpless to slow his breathing. Being stuck inside, with all that metal and resin squeezing against his arms, legs, chest… It was too much. Stuck space phobia was stomping all over his ability to function.
“These drills are a real drain, aren’t they?” Veda, his assistant, spoke up at his side before she bent to strip off her outer garments. “I’m not getting my clothes wrinkled in that thing. In a real emergency I won’t care, but this is just for fun. Last year my tunic got caught in a seal and ripped a huge hole in it. I patched it but it still looks like a razor-beaked lorikeet was at it.”
“Right. A hole.” Shiro wished his voice wasn’t so shaky. He was a capable and experienced dock overseer at one of the busiest space stations in this quadrant. He was capable of coordinating myriad dockings and debarkations along with making sure shipments were inspected, tariffs applied, and lifters were on the spot. But the thought of a hole, coupled with being trapped in a decom suit as everything around him was sucked into the void of space, was unnerving. A bead of sweat rolled down his back and he shivered. These emergency drills were necessary according to his intellect, but his gut was shrieking at him to flee.
The hatch clanged behind them and Shiro spun on his heel, glad of the distraction from impending doom. Entering the airlock were two station security officers, imposing in their blue garb and heavy equipment belts. They were deep in conversation, and as they turned to greet the civilians who waited for them, Shiro’s already upset stomach did a deep dive. One was a woman he didn’t recognize, and the other was Maner. Of course it had to be Maner. Full lipped, black haired, muscular Maner, the subject of many fantasies. The officer had arrived on the station three months ago and Shiro hadn’t been able to stop thinking about him since. He blamed his single-minded interest on the good luck of wandering into the physical fitness pod when Maner had been finishing up a workout several weeks ago. The vision of Maner’s soaked shirt defining every line of straining muscles still invaded Shiro’s mind at inopportune moments.
Veda called out a happy greeting to the woman and they soon were deep in discussion of a party they’d both been invited to but were unsure about attending. Maner smiled and Shiro wanted to sink into the deck. Maner was just that gorgeous, and now the first time they’d speak to each other, Shiro would be a shaking mess.
He glanced at a handheld display, then glanced at Shiro, his dark eyes alight with interest. “Hello. You’re Shiro? You work in the shipping unit, don’t you?”
With a stiff nod, Shiro agreed, his mouth too dry to speak. Maner peered at him and moved closer. Shiro got a whiff of heated scent tinged with musk and his knees went weak.
“Are you all right?”
All the nerves he’d been suppressing jittered through his body as if he was caught up in a catastrophic resonant yaw. Maner glanced over at the women and angled his broad shoulders to block their view. “Feeling queasy?”
Was it that obvious? Shiro opened his mouth to speak but all the polite words stuck in this throat. He’d better confess his problem even if it meant any chance of impressing Maner was going to flame out like a bad reentry. At least Maner would know if Shiro vomited all over the deck, he wasn’t the cause. “I hate this.”
“Lots of people do. Stuck space phobia is common. I promise to make it as quick as possible.” Maner gave him a small smile and made a few notations on his pad. “Now I understand why you weren’t certified last year. How’d you manage to avoid it?”
“I scheduled dental surgery for that day and never reported back.”
Maner’s dark brows swept up as he gestured at Shiro’s knitted pullover. “I’m impressed. Going to the dentist scares me worse than live fire. You want to go in with all those clothes or strip down?”
The unintentional innuendo jolted Shiro’s imagination and he wished he could erase the sudden image of Maner tugging at his pants or of Shiro returning the favor and pulling at Maner’s belt. His face heated and he pulled up the hem of his shirt, the better to hide himself from Maner’s gaze, if only for a moment. The idea of having even slightly more room inside the suit was motivation enough. As soon as he’d removed his sweater, self-consciousness chilled him as much as the cool airlock. Not meeting Maner’s gaze, he kicked off his shoes and clumsily dropped his trousers, wishing his socks rolled all the way up his legs.
“I like your shirt,” Maner said as he nudged Shiro closer to the decompression suit. His hands were warm.
Shiro glanced down and realized he was wearing one of his old concert commemoratives. “You like Skiride?”
“Love them. Haven’t seen them live since Academy days though. Too far away from their tour stops with remote postings like this one.” Maner’s low, rumbling voice was distracting. With a jolt, Shiro realized he’d already stepped into the bottom half of the suit, his feet sliding easily into the stiff boots. When Maner pulled the inflexible apparatus up to Shiro’s waist, it offered a brief distraction as Maner’s quick fingers ventured near his body. As the weight of the suit clamped around his legs, Shiro’s breath heaved in and out even as his heart pounded.
“Take a look over my shoulder at what your friend is doing.”
Maner’s quiet suggestion pierced through Shiro’s rising anxiety and he glanced over his shoulder at Veda laughing as the helmet settled over her head. A little of the tightness in his chest eased. “She’s fine and you will be too.”
The jacket opened up at the chest like it was going to eat him and Shiro flinched, not caring if he looked like a coward in front of Maner.
“It’s an easy fit.” With that reassurance, Maner had Shiro’s arms in the sleeves and the chest plate clicked shut around his torso like a clenched fist. He sucked in a shallow breath and sweat beaded his skin as the cold metal pressed against his flesh. Shiro’s fingers twitched inside the gloves, looking for an escape but finding only tight sheaths.
Maner drew closer, filling Shiro’s shrinking field of vision. “You’re almost done. Just put on the helmet, activate the seals, and turn them off. Then I’ll get you out.”
Shiro tried not to notice Maner lifting up the bulbous helmet that would soon suffocate him. Maner’s brown eyes twinkled and Shiro stared at him. “What?”
“I was wondering about something.”
“If this thing was going to squeeze me to death?”
Maner shook his head. “Not going to happen. But I’m thinking about something that might.”
Shiro wracked his brain for another terrible fate, but could only imagine being trapped inside an ever-shrinking metallic coffin. Maner raised the faceplate on the helmet and checked the internal sensors. Shiro’s stomach skittered.
“I was thinking we might go out after this.”
“Go where?” Shiro couldn’t tear his gaze from Maner’s even as he settled the helmet over the neck seals.
“Out. For a meal. Or a drink. A Skiride concert would work too, but their next show is about forty-five million light years away, so that will have to wait.” A dimple suddenly appeared in Maner’s cheek as he quirked a grin. A kissable dent in smooth skin and Shiro couldn’t look away. “I’ve been hoping to meet you for a while now.”
Hoping to meet him? Was Maner asking him out socially? One on one? As that idea settled into Shiro’s brain, his body took up a whole new reason to thrum with nerves. “Sure. That’s good. A meal or a drink. Or both.”
A clicking sound filled his ears as the helmet engaged with the suit. Now the open face plate was his only access to air but Maner’s riveting presence seemed to be making all the difference.
“Great.” Grinning broadly, Maner rolled his shoulders like he’d put down a heavy load. “I got half your clothes off, so it only seems right that I take you out before we get started on the other half.”
Excitement at Maner’s blatant invitation made Shiro’s blood race. He barely noticed the faceplate closing, or the way the air pressure altered as the suit’s system calibrated. All he cared about now was studying Maner through the scuffed little window and anticipating whatever came next.
Copyright by J. J. Lore 2015