Reckless

by Gordon Johnson

Caution: This Romantic Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Consensual, Heterosexual, Science Fiction, Mystery, Slow, .

Desc: Romantic Story: Follow-on from "Detection", only this one is a romance.

Cold was not a factor that much concerned the Personalia. Living in space automatically meant being able to cope with very cold temperatures: space is not warm as a rule, except near stars. Anyway, machines with computer-based brains tend to operate more efficiently at low temperatures, so the Personalia and the Machinations machine races were quite happy to function in such conditions.

Temperature variations however meant a lot to those who dwelt on the surface of planets. The main criteria for surface dwellers was that the temperature at surface level remain generally above the freezing point of water.

When surface people took to space, they had this basic environmental difficulty: the temperature inside one of their own ships was likely to be excessively hot due to insulation. Such insulation was aimed at preventing the heat leaving at a rate of knots, and conversely pushing up the ambient temperate to an uncomfortable level. One other factor influenced their ship design: radiation. At times, the gamma radiation from the central star was drastically beefed up by a solar flare. Solar flares can be dangerous to biological beings, and the only solution is to put as much mass as possible between the radiation and the beings. This can be done in a variety of ways, often requiring thick shielding which was heavy and thus expensive to deploy, or use the cheaper alternative of water, which was obtainable from asteroids and comets.

Thus the ideal spaceship would have lots of shielding on the side facing the star, and the other side would be free to radiate away surplus heat building up within the ship. One could envisage a spaceship with a large tank of water on one side and radiator fins on the other side. Such an imbalance could not survive a 180-degree turn, and probably not even a 90-degree swivel of the ship. The masses would also have to match, in order to prevent an imbalance in trim.

However, if there was a ring around the ship, and this ring could freely swing the water tank on a set of wheels or bearings; and always have its equivalent radiator fins on the opposite side, the problem was effectively solved. The side with the radiator fins could also be used as a fuel storage site, to help balance the masses. All that was then required was a light/radiation sensor, and a reaction mechanism. That mechanism would ensure that the water tank was always swivelled to be facing the star, no matter what the orientation was of the ship. That assumes the ship was in a an orbit round the star. If it was heading towards the star, the personnel compartment would need to be near the rear, and if the vessel was pointing outwards from the star, the personnel would need to be kept near the nose end.

It was complicated.

Alternatively, you could dispense with the whole problem by getting a ride on the ships of the Personalia. These machine Persons being entirely space living entities, mass was something they derived from asteroids. If the ship were big enough, its sheer bulk would provide enough mass to act as protection for biological beings who were passengers. You also saved on the cost of designing and constructing your own spaceships; spaceships probably lacking in some of the capabilities of the Personalia. One could go on.

Anyway, to continue this line of conjecture, travelling with the Personalia is faster, more comfortable, and a lot less hassle than anything that Earth could come up with at present. So live with it; don't knock it.

So we return to the point about temperature. Cold remains a problem for all planetary surface-dwellers when they get into space. But cold is not the same for the Personalia. They could cope with Arctic or Antarctic conditions. Or at least the Landerships could: Base ships are not designed for landing on a planet.

Another plus point for the Landerships: their anti-gravity capabilities. This means that in an icebound environment they can cope with crevasses, glacier movements, and even avalanches. That gives them an extra safety factor to play with. On top of that, snow and ice is simply a source of fuel for them. Their efficient internal nuclear reactors provide the electricity to dissociate water into hydrogen and oxygen, which get stored away as fuel and oxidiser for later.

This makes it sound as if the Personalia were way better at everything than us human beings. In some ways, this is true, but in other ways, the Personalia have their own drawbacks. They are slow in the matter of imagining new concepts, while they are magnificent in implementing these new ideas; at turning them into practical devices. They lack experience in the interaction between races. This comes from them being basically all the same person, each Person being a development from the original. Humans and other biological beings had lived for hundreds of thousands of years with the difficulty of interacting with different people, even their own spouses and children. This meant that we were fully prepared for the experience of interacting with other races encountered among the stars.

Yes, every human being is like a new race to every other human being. Mind you, being experienced in the complicated process of interacting doesn't mean we always opt for the right decision. Human history is littered with the debris of bad decisions in the form of wars of all kinds, from family feuds up to and including worldwide wars involving dozens of countries in a conflict lasting for years. However, we do get it right in many cases. There are myriad happy families, quite a few satisfied populations. A great deal of that success is down to the religious ideals that mankind sets up for itself from time to time.

Religion performs a service for mankind, as long as the religious teaching is based on toleration and love. The minute that religious authorities authorise antagonistic attitudes towards other people, and other religions, the consensus breaks down and the religion is subverted to our baser instincts; the instincts that we have spent hundreds of generations trying to avoid. On the family level, human history does not require the family to be religious, although such beliefs usually help cement the family together. The main requirement is commitment by both parties, and this can either be enhanced by love, or love may develop afterwards, as in the case of arranged marriages.

The planet Rehome, the first human colony planet, has its own unique approach to the subject of marriage. The first requirement is a written agreement by the parties concerned; a statement that they each enter the marriage freely and with permanence in mind. Getting out of such a marriage usually involves the departing partner giving up all rights to the family assets, but if the other partner has committed mental or physical violence, then it is the violator who suffers this penalty. Multiple-partner marriage is legal, but only where all parties to the marriage sign a similar undertaking; thus a second wife, or second husband, is only possible where the first spouse freely agrees to the new spouse being added, again with permanence intended.

The Rehome marriage law forces commitment on the partners. Marriage being a financial, emotional and social commitment, it is not entered into lightly. It requires a great deal of thought before anyone will willingly sign themselves into a union that punishes them should they fail to live up to that commitment.

The result is that couples take a longer time to get to know each other before embarking on marriage. Naturally, those who are not certain of their ability to commit often decide to live together until they can come to a decision on a permanent union.

But even that depends on the couple first discovering each other; and each exploring tentatively the link to another adult that might lead further. This first stage is much as it is on Earth, and varies from early friendships developing into a loving relationship, to what is referred to as "love at first sight". The latter is a ludicrous idea, for the person being viewed may be already married or in a loving relationship, and in any case may not reciprocate such feelings. It is more accurately, "lust at first sight"! Then there is the situation whereby a man or woman sees another person and feels attracted to him or her. That requires a degree of tact in approach, so as not to frighten away the object of your desire. If you are a policeman, or policewoman, and your attraction is to a suspect in a crime, things can be extremely delicate. Even when the suspect is cleared of suspicion, the ex-suspect is unlikely to be keen to chat to a former accuser.

This was the situation for Charles Addison, head of the detection branch of the Rehome Security Services. As such, he was one of Mrs Diane Kempe's deputies. He had a recognised police qualification from Earth, and a qualification in forensic studies to back it up.

The lady in the affair was Betty Farjeon, currently a waitress in the village store in a new settlement on Rehome. A brunette girl 160 cm in height, in her early twenties; slim-waisted with prominent breasts, blue eyes and a small mouth; she affected red lipstick and a forward way of speaking.

Charles, along with his boss Diane, had interviewed her initially at the store, along with a fellow employee. They later pulled Betty in for serious questioning once a link with the deceased man was discovered. It turned out that she was actually the intended victim of a scam; being set up to be accused of murder. Once the truth had been revealed, Charles escorted Betty back to her home and said goodbye. But that was work. Charles was fully conscious of the need to separate work and private life. He daren't make any overtures whilst it was a business matter.

Now was different. He had been encouraged by Diane to go and see Betty in his off-duty time, even if only to discover whether she was involved with any other man or woman. This was the point he was dreading, as he arrived on the train. Would she be willing to speak to him as woman to man, and ignore their previous involvement as murder suspect and investigating detective?

This worry was churning through his head as he left the railway station – not much more than a platform, with a shed as ticket office. Unusually, it had started to rain, just a light rain, but very wetting nonetheless. He had come prepared and was wearing his raincoat, but didn't have an umbrella with him.

Unsure whether she was at work or at home, he headed to the village store. He would ostensibly be there for a coffee after his long journey from Metropolis city. He stopped hesitantly outside the door, then stiffened his resolve and walked in, turning towards the catering area. Should Betty be on duty, she might be working in the kitchen today, rather than waitressing, for the girls there took turns at both duties.

He scanned the area with his eyes, without seeing her, so he walked to the central paydesk and asked the girl there, "Is Betty Farjeon on duty today?" She looked at him curiously. "Betty? No, she finished her shift and went home."

"Can you give me her address, please? Or at least her telephone number so I can tell her I am here?"

"Does she know you?" The girl was a trifle suspicious of his intentions. "Does she WANT to know you?"

Charles did his best:"We met recently, and I meant to bring along her contact details, but I left them in my file, back home. I didn't even put them in my phone." He looked so abject that the assistant felt sorry for him. He was like a lost puppy, she thought.

"We don't usually give out staff details to complete strangers. If you did meet her, you can describe her to me." She was testing his veracity. She got more than she expected.

"160 centimetres tall, early twenties, brunette, blue eyes, small mouth, and a gorgeous body – slim but curvaceous. She has a lovely voice and a wonderful face..." His eyes had glazed as he envisaged her.

Helen, the girl in the pay desk, could see that he was smitten and did indeed know her. She tried not to smile, and instead wrote down Betty's address and phone number. She slid it across to him, saying, "Here. You didn't get that from me, right?"

His face lit up with pleasure, and he smiled confidentially. "Thanks. I didn't get this from you; of course not!"

Charles looked at the address, and keyed it into his phone. He was rewarded with a map showing his present location and the location of the address. It was within easy walking distance, so he set off, despite the continuing drizzle outside. Ten minutes later, a rather wet and bedraggled Charles stood outside the door of a lodging house. The door was unlocked, so he opened it and stepped inside, looking around.

On one wall was a very basic directory, noting each apartment and the occupant's name. Beside each was a slide: IN/OUT, and against E. Farjeon the slide showed: IN. Noting which apartment number was hers, Charles went up the stairs to the next floor, and located the number. He stepped over to the door, and stopped. His heart was pounding. He told himself she probably had a boyfriend and would tell him to get lost. This was probably a fool's errand on his part. He considered turning back, then thought about what his boss, Mrs Kempe, would say about his self-confidence. He HAD to go through with this, he told himself. He rapped on the door with his knuckles, trying to make the knock sound confident. He waited.

After what felt like an eternity, the door swung back, and Betty Farjeon was there in front of him. He saw recognition in her eyes, along with a flash of fear. She clearly thought he was here on police business again. He raised a hand to forestall her. "Relax, Miss Farjeon. This is not an official visit."

She stopped worrying and relaxed a little. "What is it then? Something you forgot?"

"Not exactly forgot, Betty. It is more a matter of something which I could not bring up during our official discussions, as it was not relevant."

"Really? What might that be, Mr ... Addison, is it?"

"Addison, yes. I did not ask whether you were in any sort of relationship, with a man or woman. It was not directly relevant to the matter in hand, despite my wanting desperately to know the answer. I still do." He gulped, having said more than he had expected to say at this point. Betty looked at him again, suddenly aware of his drenched condition.

"Oh, you are wet! Please come in and take your coat off. I can get you a towel to dry your hair. I am not being very hospitable, am I?" She bustled about, taking his wet coat and hanging it in her hallway, then getting him the towel. She offered the towel to him, he muttered his thanks, and proceeded to rub his hair dry. Betty moved off again, this time to the kitchen, to put the kettle on. She returned, saying, "I've put the kettle on for a cup of tea – or coffee if you prefer – to warm you up." Charles declared that tea was fine by him.

Once he had dried his hair as best he could, she took the wet towel to add it to the lined basket for the wash, then came back to tell him to sit down. When he was seated, she said, "Now, Mr Addison, what were you saying when I noticed how wet you were? My attention was not on your words, unfortunately."

Charles suddenly became tongue-tied. "Ah, that is, I, ah, what I was saying was not terribly important. It was more in the way of a social enquiry, as to whether you had a boyfriend at the moment."

Betty suddenly registered his words, and stopped moving about. She spoke carefully: "As it happens, I don't have any closeness to a man or woman at the moment. Why do you ask, Mr Addison?"

"Oh, please, call me Charles. Even my boss calls me Charles."

"O.K., Charles it is. Why do you ask, Charles?"

"Um. I wanted to ask you out, but I wasn't sure if it was appropriate. You might have had a boyfriend who would object."

"How nice, Charles. But what do you mean by "ask me out"? Our little settlement only has the store as an eating-out place here, and I work there, as you very well know."

Charles was getting his second wind. "Well, if you haven't seen much of Metropolis, I wondered if I might take you there and show you around a bit. We could have a meal somewhere there. New restaurants are starting to spring up all over, as the population increases." He stopped, afraid that he was blathering on. He looked at Betty's face, hopefully.

"This is fairly sudden, Charles, ah, Mr Addison. To what do I owe this sudden enthusiasm for my company?"

"Oh, it isn't sudden. At least, it was sudden in the past, not now."

"You are not making sense. Care to explain?"

"I – that is, we – Mrs Kempe and I - came to interview the staff; those who had been on duty at the store at the time when the deceased gentleman had ordered his sandwiches. I was rather taken by you, but I couldn't show it; ... or rather, Mrs Kempe noticed that I was interested in you, and she reminded me that I was on duty; so I couldn't let you see that I found you very attractive."

"I see," said Betty, non-commitally. Charles decided to go on, come what may. "As long as you were one of the suspects, I daren't show any interest in you, personally; but now that the case is closed, I was hoping you would not be averse to seeing me socially."

"Socially?" Betty raised her eyebrows. "To what end, Mr Addison?"

"Well, that would be up to you, Betty. PLEASE call me Charles: Mr Addison is so formal."

"To what end, CHARLES? Are you looking for friendship, or are you interested in me sexually?"

Charles decided to tread carefully. "Well, both, in the longer term, if we both found each other compatible. At first, friends; but you ARE a gorgeous woman, I mean girl, so who knows where we might end up."

Betty looked pensive, tapping her lower lip with a forefinger. "When were you thinking of inviting me to Metropolis?"

"It is probably a little late today, but tomorrow would be fine with me. If you can get a day off, I have some flexitime due me."

"You are certainly rushing things, buster. The only way I can get a day off is if I can get another of the staff to cover for me. That means finding one who is not on the rota for tomorrow, and finding out if anyone is free to work for me instead. Fortunately, most of the data is in my phone." She fetched her phone from a table, keyed in for the store rotas, and examined them. "Hmm. Letitia is off tomorrow. Let's see if she is free." She keyed in a new number. "Hi, Letitia. It's me. Say, are you free tomorrow to take on my shift? This guy wants to take me to Metropolis so he can show me the sights."

Letitia's response was immediate. "Sure, honey. A guy, eh. Anyone I know?"

"Not unless you know some cops, Letty! This fellow is from Metropolis; took a shine to me when we met recently."

"Cop, Eh? Recently ... not the guy who tried to arrest you?"

"Yup. The same. He was much nicer when he found that I was innocent."

"You? Innocent?" Letitia laughed. "Oh well, okay. I'll fill in for you tomorrow, but you owe me one another time, Betty."

"Sure, Letty. No bother. Thanks again." She snapped the phone shut, and turned to Charles. "O.K., lover boy. You get to take me out for the day. Train fare included, I hope?"

Charles nodded. "Certainly. First train of the day. I shall have your ticket kept at the station here, for you to collect. Just scan it with your phone, to activate it. I will be at the other end of the line, ready to welcome you."

"Well, I have to wash my hair tonight, and the rain is off now, so I think you can take yourself back to Metropolis and sort out your day off. It should be interesting to see what you can do at short notice to impress me."

Charles was outside the door and on his way downstairs before the realisation sank in: she had agreed to a date with him! His heart thrilled. He had achieved his target for today. His delight buoyed him up all the way back to Metropolis. When he arrived, he picked up his phone again, and dialled the office: there was always someone on duty in case of emergencies. "Charles here. I need to take a day off tomorrow. Can you mark it down as flexitime owed, please, and I'll sort out the paperwork when I am next in the office?"

Next, before he went home, he needed to sort out the day tomorrow: decide his itinery. Where to eat with Betty; which pleasant spot down by the ocean he would use to get her in the mood for a kiss. Transport? Get a vehicle he didn't have to drive: splash out on a chauffeured cab, to show how much her presence meant to him. Clothes: Get dressed in his best clothes for this outing. Try to get a haircut first thing in the morning, so that he would be looking and feeling at his best when he met Betty at the station.

His excitement was completely overwhelming him, so he decided a bit of down to earth advice would not go amiss. He phoned the boss at her home. Mary answered the phone: "Governor's mansion. Can I help you?"

"Can I speak to Diane, please? This is Charles Addison."

Moments later, Diane said, "Charles? What brings you to ring at this hour? Nothing wrong, I hope?"

"No, boss. I have been to visit Betty Farjeon, and she is coming to spend the day with me in Metropolis, tomorrow, on a date! Can I ask you for whatever advice you can give me?"

Diane gave a little laugh of delight. "Wonderful, Charles. You finally plucked up the courage to ask her out! What do you need to know?"

"Boss, I am not used to taking a girl out. I want to hire a chauffeured car, and show Betty around Metropolis, take her to see the ocean, perhaps kiss her there. Does that sound all right, for a first date?"

"Charles, that sounds delicious. My only advice would be to prepare yourself to look your best. Haircut, fingernails trimmed nicely, hair brushed or combed neatly, properly pressed trousers, good suit or quality casual clothes. Make sure your shoes are polished too: you want her to see you in the best possible light. Have a small bouquet of flowers to give her when you meet; treat her to a meal in a good restaurant – not the Security Department canteen! Oh, and be sure to compliment her on her clothes, her hair, and her makeup: girls like to receive compliments; signs that you have noticed her preparations. Finally, if the forecast even suggests rain, have an umbrella to hand. If you shelter under an umbrella, you have a chance to get close to her: and tell her she smells nice – I hope she does!"

"Great, boss! That's what I wanted to hear. Wish me luck with her tomorrow. I have taken the day off from my flexitime surplus, just so you know."

"Fine, Charles. Enjoy your day. I'll be interested to hear how it went. Get a good night's sleep, and remember to set your alarm to be up in plenty of time."

"Right. Goodnight, boss."

The appointed day went well, up to a point. Betty stepped off the train at Metropolis station; Charles was gobsmacked by her appearance. She wasin a lovely low cut summer dress with a neat wide belt, hair immaculate and with a lighter, more subdued, shade of red lipstick. The dress was short enough to show off her legs well. Betty in turn was thrilled at the gesture of the hand bouquet of pretty flowers; she was even more gobsmacked at the chauffeured car waiting for them outside the station.

The weather stayed kind as they toured the city, with Charles telling her about all the amazing aspects of the alien habitat that the human arrivals had taken over in recent years. She was impressed to bits by the top quality restaurant, clearly newly refurbished, where they lunched. The staff were keen to make an impression, to establish the restaurant's credentials as a place to be recommended. The later sight of the ocean had an effect on her as well. She hadn't seen an ocean since leaving Earth, and it brought back good and bad memories of that world. She sighed softly at her reactions.

They were sitting side by side on the bench facing the sea with its gently rolling waves. Charles was valiantly resisting the urge to put his arm round her; but after a few minutes of silent admiration of the scenery Betty turned to him and said, "Charles, you are a cop, so you have access to information that the rest of us can't get, right?"

Charles was surprised at this sudden change. He wondered what had happened to cause it. He tried to provide a simple answer to Betty's question. "Not exactly. In the course of investigating a case, we can apply for permission to access documentation that may have relevance to the case, but otherwise we are much the same as the rest of the population. Why do you want to know?"

"Oh, it is something that has been niggling away at my mind for some time."

"Tell me. If it is something I can help with, then I will."

"You know part of it. Remember that after my car accident, the time when I blacked out, and that man's wife got killed; how I was accused of murder in a private prosecution?"

"Yes, I read the details of that. It seemed vindictive."

"Well, I had been cleared of intentional killing, in the investigation by the police force, so I claimed on my car insurance for a complete write-off – which it was, by the way. The insurance company was disinclined to pay out while the police were investigating, but I thought I would get paid now; but Deardon had instigated the private prosecution, so the insurers once again said they could not pay out pending this new trial. If I was convicted, they had a clause that would let them refuse to pay me. That was a clause I was not aware of, but I accepted that it could be so."

Charles was sympathetic in his response. "I can understand. You were not feeling good already, and this extra strain was another burden to bear."

"That is the way it was. The prosecution went ahead, and it cost me a bomb in legal fees. In the end, the jury found me not guilty of murder but said I was guilty of reckless driving as I had been responsible for a death in the accident. I now expected the insurers to pay out, but instead they said that as I had been found guilty in this prosecution, the law did not allow them to pay me."

"Ouch." said Charles. "That must have hurt."

She faced out to sea, not wanting to look directly at him. "It did. I had my own ideas about that, as I had been cleared of murder, but I could not afford to pay a lawyer to investigate the insurance company's claim. I was effectively broke. I lost my job through the accident, as my driving licence was stopped for medical reasons, b ecause I had blacked out. My employer required me to have a currently valid driving licence. In despair, I saw that the colony on Rehome was looking for more colonists, particularly women, and as I would not have to pay to get there, I jumped at the chance. It would help me get away from my problems, and also away from that vindictive man, Deardon."

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Consensual / Heterosexual / Science Fiction / Mystery / Slow /