the purloined pearl

The last few asteroids had fallen apart under the drills. The last asteroid had literally shaken to pieces under Anechka’s feet. Didn’t matter; she always stayed in her rig until they were out of the belt, ready to jump away from debris.

Anechka pressed the steering collar of the Uvlechenie toward the floor while leaning back in the seat. The Uvlechenie settled onto the asteroid, (650) 2003 RKN, just the way she liked it, slowing the rotation and leaving the valuable dust mostly unshaken.

It was the only gentle thing she knew how to do.

Misha said, “Lots of iron.”

“What else?”


Anechka cursed. Carbon meant they were required to check for organic material, for “life.” Sludge on the bottom of a coffee cup, more like it.

“Would I lie to you?” Misha said.

“We’ll space it.”

“Now, how ethical is that?”

Anechka lowered the drill and ran it a dozen feet to anchor the ship. Hypothetically, this would destabilize the asteroid, sending loose chunks of rock in unpredictable directions. Practically speaking, however, it anchored the ship.

She chewed her unlit cigar. To light it would break another law, the law of killing yourself by using up your oxygen. Cause, effect. “Take a core.”

“Aye, aye, Cap’n.”

She didn’t answer. She looked over the landscape of the asteroid, such as it was, and listened to the sound of stone being ground. Solid.

Then the drill spun loose underneath them, and the asteroid shook them off. Anechka cursed again, pressing down on the collar with her palms until the ship had settled again.

The asteroid was moving in ways that it shouldn’t, bucking and jerking under them.

Something hit her on the back of the head. She gripped the collar. “What’s going on?”

“Sorry.” Misha moved behind her, caught whatever had come loose. “It’s solid rock down to fifty feet. After that—govno, Ane. Something’s moving down there.”

“Pull up the drill.”

She heard the drill lock close, then leaned back and popped the steering collar, making the ship hop backward.

The asteroid was spewing fluid, a full spray that slowed and stopped as she watched. She took a look over her shoulder at Misha. He was half-strapped into the drill rig, clutching the cover of the emergency button.

“It came off again,” he said.

“Get strapped in, you fool.”

On the screen, the fluid dissipated. The asteroid was still jerking under them, and she shifted with it.

“We should go,” Misha said.

Rock bounced off the hull, making the peculiar sound of half an echo. Anechka kept her feet planted. The surface of the asteroid was breaking up in flakes, like paint.

“Come on, Ane.”

Anechka jumped backward, the elastic straps of the pilot rig keeping her from bouncing around the ship. Below them, the outside of the asteroid was thrust away.

“What is that?” Misha said.

“I’ll be damned if I know.”

“Hah. You don’t believe in damnation; that’s cheating.”

A rock plate over a hundred feet across flew at them, and Anechka kicked off from the side of the ship. The jets fired, and the Uvlechenie slid out of the way.

Something heavy slammed into her. She turned her head to see Misha completely out of his rig, leaking blood from the back of his head all over her suit. The screens overhead showed she was about to hit another asteroid, so big the screens couldn’t hold it all. In retrospect, she wished they’d tried that one instead.

But Misha had had a feeling about this one.

Anechka jumped, then ran backward over the surface of the large asteroid. She pressed her palms down on the collar for stability as the jets danced under her. When she was on the far side, she kicked off again, and the plate from RKN shattered against the larger asteroid, spraying shards around, but not into, the ship.

A quick check for more rock, and she drifted backward. With the larger asteroid partially in the way, she couldn’t be sure of what she was seeing, but it looked like a…some kind of animal. It looked like a cord cover. It wound through the rock, nosing along its side where the drill had bitten it.

There was a dot flashing in the corner of her eye. She winked and turned off the recording, then scrolled through the video options with twitches of her jaw until she had the recordings erased. It wasn’t legal, but it was done.

A worm. That’s what it looked like. A headless, sparkling worm.

She spun the ship and ran in the rig until she was winded, increased her oxygen, and kept running, accelerating halfway to Mars, wasting months of fuel.

Misha was no sooner in the med bay on Eureka than Veronika, delicate, beautiful Veronika, was there to see him.

For a second, Anechka saw Veronika running toward her, and her heart ground in her chest like a rock crusher. Then Veronika exclaimed, “Oh Misha!” and Anechka’s stomach flopped.

“You didn’t have to come,” Misha rasped. “It won’t change anything.”

Anechka stood up. “Excuse me.”

“You don’t have to go, it’s not like I’m going to say anything private,” Veronika said.

“Sit,” Misha whispered.

Anechka sat.

Veronika cried over Misha for a few minutes, then dried her eyes and said, “What happened?”

Anechka said, “Uh. We uh. A bad asteroid. Pocket of gas.”

“Is that what it was?” Misha whispered.

Anechka nodded.

“With me half out of my rig. I’m such an idiot.”

She nodded again. “I jumped away from the explosion, and you flew into me like a rag doll. Knocked the wind out of me.”

Veronika had a face like an angel, a half-hesitant smile, and more charm than Anechka would possess in a thousand years of trying, that is, if she ever tried to be charming. She looked like she was made to be wrapped in soft things. Anechka simultaneously couldn’t stand to look at her and couldn’t help doing so. It had been worse when Veronika and Misha had been together, of course.

“Ane, I have something interesting for you,” Veronika said. “I can finally talk about it. My team made a breakthrough. A cure for nicotine!”

Anechka said, “Eh, yes?”

“So you’ll be able to quit smoking cigars.”

Anechka said, “That reminds me. I would like to use the lounge.”

“We don’t have the money,” Misha whispered.

Anechka snorted.

“Oh, don’t go yet, Ane.” Veronika grabbed Anechka’s hand; it would have been the work of a second to twist away from her. “I have more to tell you. It was an interesting project. An addiction to nicotine is not like an addiction to anything else. That is, not like an addiction to any other drug we know. For example, if you were to take morphine, your withdrawal symptoms would be much different—you would not be able to delay the onset of withdrawal, for example. But with nicotine, you can wait.”

“Not that long,” Anechka said. “So hurry up.”

“You can wait as long as you need to, with nicotine,” Veronika repeated. “Don’t you see?”

Anechka shrugged.

“It isn’t a true addiction!” Veronika beamed at them.

“I don’t understand,” Anechka said, who was thinking that if she wasn’t addicted to nicotine, her body was certainly good at hiding that fact from her brain.

“To remove an addiction to nicotine involves the emotions. I was thinking about it one day. What does smoking feel like? Well, of course I didn’t know, so I set up a survey to find similarities between smoking and other types of emotional reactions. It was just a hunch. But I was right! It turns out that nicotine addiction feels almost exactly like falling in love!

“Falling in love,” Misha croaked.

“Falling in love.” Veronika put her hands on her hips. “So, actually, you should never try to quit smoking while you’re falling in love, especially if you take our new drug, which we’re calling Anerosma. Like it? Take this stuff, and poof! it’s over. You could fall in love or start smoking all over again, but why risk it?”

Anechka couldn’t help looking at Misha. He’d been trying to get rid of Veronika for months.

“But, you know, it didn’t seem to affect any of the test subjects who were already deeply, truly in love.” Veronika sighed, put her hands up to her face, and smiled. “So I brought you some.”

“Me?” Anechka said.

“For your smoking. Unless you’re falling in love with someone, of course.” Veronika batted her doelike eyes.

“What if I don’t want to quit smoking?”

“But it’s so bad for you!”

“So is almost getting killed for getting out of your drilling rig during evasive maneuvers, and I don’t see you mixing up drugs for Misha.”

“Pleeeease, Ane?”

Anechka snorted. “All right. One condition.”

“What’s that?”

“You have to take some, too.”

Veronika put her hands in her lap. Her face was relaxed, but her hands were clenched so tightly she must have clawed herself. “But why? I don’t smoke.”

“Scared?” Anechka asked.

“Of what?”

“That you might not be truly in love with someone, that you might only be infatuated. With pretty boy here, for instance.”

Veronika went beet red.

“He doesn’t love you,” Anechka said. “He told you to leave him alone. You can’t even leave him alone when he needs his rest to heal. That isn’t love.”

Veronika bounced to her feet and left the room.

“We haven’t seen the last of her,” Misha croaked. “God, you’re tactful.”

“Stop calling me God.”

“You know what you’re crazy about? God, and the lack thereof.”


“So what if this stuff takes away your ability to hate God?”

“I don’t hate God. How can you hate something that doesn’t exist?”

“Hate is an inoculation against infatuation. Against the first stages of love. What if this stuff affects hate as well as love?”

“Then we have quite the revolution on our hands, regardless of what it does to my lack of faith. A world without hate is not this world.”

“Quite.” Misha closed his eyes.

After a few minutes, she left for the smoking lounge and paid for her air. As she smoked, staring “out” the viewscreen toward the surface of Mars, she caught herself thinking about the worm. If she didn’t keep her mouth shut, they’d have quite the revolution on their hands regardless.

Veronika stopped her in the corridor between the guest quarters and the medbay. “I’ll do it.”

“Do what?”

“Take the Anerosma.”

“The what?”

“The anti-smoking drug.”

“I was joking. Leave me alone.”

“I wasn’t.” Veronika pulled out two small vials, about 5 cc each, from a side pocket. Her hand was shaking. “I talked to Misha, and we decided it was for the best.”

Anechka laughed in her face. “You haven’t got the nerve. You wouldn’t know true love if it was standing in front of your face.” She grabbed one of the vials, idly noticing that her own hand was shaking. “What do I do, just drink it?”

“Yes, but—”

Anechka unscrewed the red cap and tossed back the fluid. It didn’t taste like much of anything. It tingled on her tongue but faded quickly. Her pulse went up, and she took a step toward Veronika. She felt blood pumping through her groin. “I—”

Veronika sobbed once, like a hiccup, and fled.

And then it was gone.

Anechka woke up with the steering collar askew in front of her, strapped into the pilot rig of the Uvlechenie.

“Anchor us, Misha,” she said automatically.

There was no answer. She looked over her shoulder; he wasn’t in the drill rig.

“Misha?” She unstrapped herself and pushed herself toward the cargo hold. It wasn’t pressurized. She put her hands up to the scratched view panel and cupped her eyes to see into the darkness. By the glow of the LEDs, it was empty. She was alone.

What was she doing here?

Where, in fact, was she?

She pushed back to the pilot rig and strapped herself back in. With her head settled, she accessed the computer. The Uvlechenie was close to the former (650) 2003 RKN, on the (227) 1996 RDR—the larger asteroid she’d used to block the explosion of the RKN. She grabbed the steering collar and used it adjust the ship more firmly on the surface of the asteroid, a tickle of jets across the surface.

The asteroid quivered. She held her balance, waited until the shaking had settled, and did it again. Again the quivering, peaking at 3.3 on the Richter scale.

What was it?

Anechka blushed. She felt hot, wrong suddenly. She tried to focus her attention but couldn’t. She was embarrassed. Because she was so curious.

Well, what of it?

She stroked the surface again, sweeping her palms flat across, then doubling back for a quick jab.

The shaking was harder this time, 4.1.

So. She’d found the first non-Terran life form in the solar system, and it was ticklish. What was wrong with her? She laughed at herself for the first time she could remember.

She turned off and erased the recording. Then she checked her fuel. With patience, she should be fine for months. Her food stores, with only herself for company, should last at least that long.

She turned off all communications and settled in to wait.

She took to tapping out simple patterns, which the worm would copy. She came up with patterns and had it guess the next item in the sequence, caressing it with her jets if it guessed correctly. She was not thinking about things.

Gradually, however, the effect of the Anerosma wore off, and she found herself getting bored. She ignored the worm’s repeated attempts to communicate and dwelled on how much she hated Veronika and Misha—both of them. She felt herself getting more irritable by the hour.

She turned on the communications. There were thousands of messages for her to sort through; she deleted most of them, especially the ones from her bank saying she was broke and from Misha demanding the return of his ship. She didn’t answer any of them. In the end, she flew back to Eureka a month earlier than she had to. She tried to keep the journey low-cost, but found herself leaning into the rig, pushing her speed higher. It was out there. It was behind her. It was going to get her. It was going to follow her around like a dog. It had gone into her brain and hypnotized her. She had to get so far away that it couldn’t call her back. Ever. She had to get revenge.

Anechka docked Misha’s ship, expecting to be arrested. When she disembarked, a dockworker bumped into her, and she scowled at him.

“Where were you?” a voice asked from behind her.

She turned, raising her fists. “Back off.”

It was Misha. She took a few steps away from him.

“Where were you? You owe me at least that much. It’s my ship.”

Anechka’s eyes filled with tears. She felt mad. She lowered her fists and ran down the corridor. She knew it wouldn’t do any good. She was on a space station. Where could she go?

She’d be fine in a few days. The more the drug wore off, the better off she’d be. It was making her irrational.

She was opening the door to Misha’s room, seeing them together. It didn’t bother her, seeing Veronika. It was Misha that bothered her, the mindless, eager look on his face. His weakness.

And then the worm had taken over her mind. What? For company? Because it could?

She had to destroy it. Before it could control anyone else.

She stopped running when she reached the smoking lounge. The smell was familiar, but didn’t set her to craving a cigar. She palmed the door lock, and it let her in, more out of habit than out of any reflection of her credit score. The door shut behind her.

She looked around. The smoke was actually quite pretty, both as it swirled from the patrons’ cigars and as it gathered in a haze that caressed the ceiling.

She didn’t see anyone she could use until Dow waved at her from the other side of the room. Dow was a trader who had been hitting on her for years. A nice enough woman, but unappealing. Had the credits she needed, though.

“Anechka!” Dow said. “How are you? You disappeared for a few months. Everyone’s been wondering what happened to you.”

“I need a job, Dow. Know of anything?”

Dow’s eyebrows went up. She gestured with her cigarette. “Misha?”

“I can’t take the thing with Veronika anymore.”

“You should give up on that trollop,” Dow said. “She’d never do good by you.”

“I don’t know what I ever saw in her.”

“You could always work for me.”

“I’d like that.”

“What about Misha?”

“Who cares?”

Dow nodded. Her rings sparkled on her fingers. “I know how that is.”

Anechka wasn’t sure what they were talking about anymore.

“Want a cigarette? You must be broke. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you without your cigars. Even when you couldn’t smoke them.”

Anechka said, “I’m trying to quit.”

“Are you feeling all right?”

“No.” And then, embarrassingly, she burst into tears again. She grabbed a napkin from Dow’s table and wiped her eyes, wadded up the napkin, and threw it in the recycle bin.

Dow cleared her throat. “Behind you.”

Anechka scowled. It was Veronika.

“Did you come running back to all your old addictions when the drug wore off? Why couldn’t you leave Misha alone?” Veronika, her sweet, unforgettable angel’s face still beautiful, threw herself at Anechka, clawing at her face.

Anechka turned to the side, but not fast enough, and a concealed blade slid down her cheek. Somebody gasped.

Anechka, finally in her element, grabbed Veronika’s wrist and made her drop the razor, then knocked her on her ass. “You crazy bitch.”

“Stay away from Misha!”

“He’s the one who found me! He wanted to know why I stole his ship! Or isn’t that reasonable enough for you?”

“Stay away from him!”

“What? Afraid I’ll steal him? Why don’t you watch him instead of me? It’s not like he’s the faithful type.”

“I love him!”

“You liar. I took your drug. You didn’t. You still won’t. You’re a craven little dog, master, master, pay attention to me! Master, master, master!”

Anechka kicked Veronika hard in the short ribs, one kick for every time she said the word master. “And to think I wanted you.” She leaned over, grabbed Veronika by her long, silky brown hair, and said, “Thank you for killing my infatuation with you. Thank you.” She let go of Veronika’s hair, and her head hit the floor with a thump.

Veronika curled up in a ball and started crying.

Anechka looked back at Dow, but Dow was gone. So much for that.

Once again, Anechka expected arrest, and once again, nothing happened. She had her face stitched up, and that was that.

She waited near Veronika’s quarters. Rumors were starting to get out about the Anerosma, both from their fight in the smoking lounge and from her test subjects, NDAs be damned.

Space. It was the biggest small town in the universe.

Veronika came down the corridor with a box of papers. Anechka stepped out from her neighbor’s doorway and said, “Veronika.”

Veronika tossed the box of papers at Anechka and ran down the hallway.

“You started it,” Anechka called. After a few minutes, she picked up the papers and put them back in the box. Papers. Who printed on papers anymore?

Veronika returned a minute later. “You give those back!”

Anechka dropped the box on the floor in front of her. “I want some Anerosma.”


“I want some—”

“I heard you; I just don’t understand.” Veronika babbled for a few minutes about everything she didn’t understand.

Anechka interrupted her. “I’m going back into space. One of the things it does is keep you from noticing how bored and crazy you’re getting. I’m leaving. Get it?”


Veronika unlocked her door with her thumbprint, carried the crate inside, and returned with a rack of vials, five by five, with only three missing. “Sure, take it. I have to get rid of it.”

“Get rid of it?”

“It doesn’t work.”

Anechka said, “Of course it works.”

“It doesn’t work, savvy? The company decided it would cost too much to fight the Ministry.”

“Oh. Yeah. Okay.”

Veronika handed her the rack of vials, then covered them with a napkin. “Try to be discreet. You’re really leaving?”


“That’s a relief.” Veronika closed her eyes and leaned forward. “Goodbye kiss.”

Anechka drew back, shocked.

“I guess not. Bye!” Veronika slapped the door latch and waved as the door closed between them.

Anechka tried the lock on the Uvlechenie. It still opened for her palmprint, which puzzled her. She stowed the Anerosma in a storage compartment on the pressurized side and booted up the system.

The Uvlechenie was fully fueled, fully stocked, ready to go. All she had to do was figure out whether Misha had told the station not to release on her orders. She knew a couple of people in Control; too bad she didn’t have any cash for persuasion. Oh, well. She’d sleep with them if she had to. She’d been keeping herself off the market for just such an occasion; according to gossip, bedding Anechka rated almost as high as getting your hands on a virgin.

My body is a credit score, she thought.

She shut down and locked the door behind her.

Misha was running down the hallway toward her, shoving technicians and their ever-present carts out of the way. She wanted to smile, but she was too sick at heart to allow herself the luxury.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he snarled.

“I was going to steal your ship,” she said.


She shook her head. “I’m not talking to you about this in the corridor.”

Misha palmed open the door of the Uvlechenie and pushed her inside. He closed the door as she untangled herself from her rig. “Talk.”

Anechka booted the system.

“What are you doing?”

She checked the comms; Eureka had automatically connected them with a half-dozen distress and other monitoring channels. If she had a month, she could figure out how to turn them off.

She started to climb into the pilot rig. Misha grabbed her arm; she jerked it away.

“What are you doing?”

She said, “We’re still being monitored.”


“We’re still being monitored.” She climbed into the rig. This time he let her.

He went through the co-pilot checks as she requested permission to leave the station with intention to head back out to the asteroid belt, back in six months, etc.

Misha hadn’t removed her permissions; she could have left without him.

She piloted the ship away from the station and ran for a few internal miles to work out her kinks, but didn’t let the ship build up external speed.

“Now tell me what you’re doing,” Misha said.

“It wasn’t a gas leak,” Anechka said, jogging. “It was an egg.”

“An egg-splosion?”

“No. The entire asteroid had been hollowed out, filled with a worm. An egg.”

Zavali yebalo.”

She shrugged, putting a shudder through the ship. “When I drank the Anerosma—”


“Veronika came to me and swore she would drink it if I did. So I did. I thought you might be able to get rid of her for once and for all. But she ran off like the coward she is.”

Misha cursed under his breath. “Why?”

“It’s complicated.”

Misha didn’t answer, and she was fine with never saying another word. Finally he said, “She came to me and said she’d drunk the stuff herself, and her feelings hadn’t changed. When you came in—I’m sorry, Anechka. I know she’s bad for me. But I can’t seem to get her out of my head.”

Anechka laughed. “Either I want her, or I hate her. Now that the drug has worn off, I hate her. But I know what that means now. You’re right. I’m just trying not to want her.”

Misha said, “But that’s not what we were talking about. You made first contact with an alien? What did you do, kill it?”

“I ran away,” Anechka said. “And when I ran away from you, I ended up back there again. It took over my mind, Misha. I played with it like a puppy for months, and then it let me go when the Anerosma wore off.”

“So what are we doing here?”

“We’re going to kill it.”

“So it doesn’t cut into profits? That’s cynical.”

“No. So it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”

“How did it hurt you?”

She fluttered her fingers. It had seemed so obvious until he asked her. “It made me stay here and play with it. It made me.”

Misha said, “Maybe it was meant to be, you finding the first intrasolar alien.”

Anechka snorted. “Hardly. If they’re so easy to find, they must have been found before. And killed.”

“That’s sad.”

“Let’s take it back to the station, then, and have it make all the inhabitants come out and play. Think it understands about pressure suits?”

“It’s still sad.”

She looked over her shoulder at him. “Go to sleep, Misha. I will wake you when we reach the alien.”

Misha sighed, leaned back in his rig, and flipped a few switches, dimming the lights. “I hate sleeping in this thing. No matter how many times I try to set it for ‘feather bed,’ it always shifts back into exercise mode and I bounce around. I swear this thing is so sensitive that I can feel you breathing.”

Anechka held her breath, then let it out in rapid pants. The ship twitched with her as she wiggled a foot along with her breath.

“Ha, ha,” Misha said. “It’s good to be back—in the ship.”

Anechka smiled without smiling and went back to the controls. The next time she looked, he was asleep.

The worm was easy enough to find; it was inside the same asteroid she’d left it in, (227) 1996 RDR.

“Is it trying to take over your mind?” Misha asked.

“I don’t think so, but I haven’t taken the Anerosma.” She settled the ship onto the asteroid. Despite what she’d just said, she could feel a twinge in her guts. She knew where the alien was, because she knew, not because the ship log had told her.

Her hands pressed down on the steering collar, and she dragged her fingers across the surface.

The asteroid shuddered as she tickled it with the jets. It would be over in minutes, it wouldn’t know what hit it.

“What are you doing?” Misha asked.

She ignored him as the asteroid shook out a pattern. It was one she knew, and she was afraid she was never going to be able to figure it out. She double-checked that the ship wasn’t making a recording.

“Anchor the ship,” she said.

“It almost killed us last time,” Misha said. “I don’t think we should.”

Zhopa, what did you think we were out here to do? Pat it on the head and give it a biscuit?”

Misha sighed. “Anechka—”

“What did you come out here for? To try to talk me out of it?”

“I just think you should—you should see your face, Anechka. Like you’re killing your grandmother.”

“You can’t see my face. You can only see the back of my head.”

Misha cleared his throat. When she looked back, he was pointing at something on the ceiling in front of her. A mirror. Damn him, how long had that been up there?

“You don’t want to kill that thing,” he said.

“It brainwashed me!”

“You brought all that Anerosma for a reason, Anechka. I think you should use it.”

“I don’t know what I brought it for. It was a mistake.”

Anechka woke up with drool clinging to the side of her mouth, slumped over the steering collar.

“You bastard,” she said. But Misha was asleep.

She turned off the rig and slowly unstrapped herself. The fasteners made a ripping sound as she tugged them free, but Misha was out good.

She pushed away from the rig as slowly as she could, a bare touch.

As she got closer to Misha, she noticed his eyes twitching under their lids. His face clenched, unclenched. His mouth opened, and he moaned. If he was trying to say something, she didn’t know what it was.

She touched him and said, “It’s just a nightmare. Don’t let it control you.”

A fat tear rolled down the side of his face. She touched it and started to drift away from him. He tried to talk again, but she couldn’t understand.

She bounced herself around the ship until she was in front of his control panel, disabled his controls, and assigned them a password. Then she transferred the drill rig functions and climbed back into her rig.

She activated the rig and lowered the drill. Her stomach was quivering. “You can’t do this to him,” she said. “Myself, I am nothing. But you cannot do this to him. No matter how much you deserve to live, to be recognized.”

The drill bit in, and Misha jerked awake. “What are you doing?”

“I’m killing the alien.” She was sobbing now, tears flying into the walls, into the electronics, into her ears.

“You can’t!”

“It was controlling you while you slept.”

The drill sank into the rock, drilling down harder. Anechka found herself hoping the drill would reach its extension before it hurt the alien and forced herself to think of something else. It was worming its way into her mind again.

Then the ship wrenched against the drill so hard that it snapped off. The Uvlechenie tumbled into space.

Anechka looked over her shoulder. Misha said, “It wasn’t controlling me.” He had the cover of the emergency button in his hand.

“You—” she growled. “What have you done?”

“It wasn’t hurting me.”

“You took the Anerosma, didn’t you? It took over your mind.”


“You were—it was—”

“I was dreaming about you finding me with Veronika. It was a nightmare. That was all.”

Anechka slumped in the rig. A warning buzzer sounded, and she jerked her chin to turn off her access to the controls.

“What’s the password?”

She dangled in her straps. “Just ‘Misha.’” She rolled backward to face him. He was upside down to her, which made her smile. She found she could afford such a thing as a smile, for the moment at least.

Misha turned on his controls and assigned himself the pilot function, bringing the ship back under control. “Don’t you understand what a miracle this is?”

“No,” Anechka said, truthfully. “But if you say it is, then it is.”

“Don’t patronize me.”

“Do I sound like I’m patronizing you? But don’t accuse me of believing in your sacred space ghost, or I will.”

Misha turned off his rig and unstrapped himself. He twisted around until he had aligned with her, then grabbed the straps of her rig. It was either a thrill of anticipation or the vibration of the elastic cords, but she was shaking either way.

“Thank you for stopping me,” she said.

He brushed his hands across the back of her head and kissed her, then pulled open the fasteners on her straps—and let her out.

originally published in Big Pulp Summer 2012: The Purloined Pearl

DeAnna Knippling has recently been published at Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Silverthought Online, and Crossed Genres. Her first book, Choose Your Doom: Zombie Apocalypse is available via Doom Press. DeAnna blogs at www.deannaknippling.com and runs a micropress (just me and my pseudonyms, thanks) at Wonderland Press.