He stared at her picture in the waiting area, in the skybridge, during takeoff. He kept having to re-touch the screen of his phone: it kept going to black to save battery. Eventually he went into the settings and changed it to 'always-on'.

"Girl troubles?" The woman next to him: mid-thirties, professional. She was vaguely familiar, but maybe she just had one of those faces. She coughed, covering her mouth with her fist, then leaned over to steal a closer look. "She's pretty. If you like that type. Which I guess you do. What happened?"

He didn't want to talk about it. "She cheated on me."

"Terrible. But everybody does it, take it from me."

"I never did."

"Well, maybe you'll cheat on the next one, or the one after that."

"That's an awful way to look at it…"

"I'm just being realistic. Listen," she gently took the phone, turned it off, slipped it into his shirt pocket. "My husband cheated on me. After ten years together, faithful the whole time. And then he gets home, and he's suddenly a rock star, and the fans are everywhere he goes and they're young and pretty and willing, and he's apparently having them two at a time. He still loves me, and I'm sure he'll get over this, but right now…"

He didn't know what to say. "Your husband's a sudden rock star? What's that about?"

"Figuratively speaking. He's an astronaut. He just got back from the Mars mission."

That's why she looked familiar. "Oh, I remember you. You were the pretty one. At the White House. The other three looked sort of frumpy. The wives."

"They are sort of frumpy. And thank you." She coughed again, just once, then smiled. "Anne."

"Ricky. I mean, Rick."

"But she called you Ricky."


"Want some of my booze? You missed the cart."


It was a four-hour flight, and they were only an hour into it. The plane climbed as it passed over the coast and out over the ocean; the cart came around again, and once again, and they got pleasantly drunk, her treat.

"So here's my question," she said, conspiratorially. "Have you thought about getting even with… what was her name?"


"Oh, no, no; Missy?" She laughed dismissively. "Rick, you definitely need to get even. And you know what? This is your chance." She was close, leaning closer. She was attractive, though older than him, which would be a first. She smelled very good. But…

"I don't need to get even. I'm over it."

"Which is why you stared at her picture for more than an hour? No, Rick, you… listen, sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind. Sometimes you just have to let go of all the stupid rules that you told yourself were important. You know what I mean?"

"I guess."

He stared at her. She stared back, she raised her eyebrows and grinned. She got up, slid past him into the center aisle, and headed towards the front, clearly expecting him to follow after a respectable pause. He watched her all the way, he saw her whisper something to the stewardess and press something — money, perhaps — into her hand, he saw her slip quietly into the lavatory.

He would never have done this before Missy, never. He couldn't believe he was doing it now. He got up, avoiding eye contact with the people around him and spectacularly avoiding eye contact with the stewardess. He stepped into the lavatory with… Anne. She reached past him to flip the lock to 'occupied'.

"Have you ever done this before?" It was a nervous whisper.

"In an airplane? No. Cheating? Well…" she was undoing his belt as she spoke, "I told my husband that if he gets to play around, so do I. He doesn't care. He's getting his."

Missy had cheated just the once. Maybe she wouldn't do it again. She'd said she wouldn't, she'd said she was sorry. Maybe they could work it out. And then he was in Anne's hand and he couldn't think any more.

It wasn't the most comfortable sex he'd ever had — they were cramped, and he was awkward and hesitant — but he couldn't remember ever being that turned on in his life. Everywhere she touched his skin tingled like lips during a first kiss. He struggled not to make noise; she was absolutely silent.

He thought about Missy the whole time; it's how he knew he had made a mistake. Afterwards, Anne left the lavatory before him. The stewardess winked at her as she passed. He felt like throwing up. The feeling stayed with him the rest of the flight.

So did the excitement of it. He wanted her again, Anne. He didn't suggest it, but it was distracting. She switched seats after a while, to chat with a young woman three rows back, a college girl going home for winter break. When he looked back again, both seats were empty. Oh.

When they landed, he rushed to deplane, rushed to the bathroom, threw up, masturbated. The nausea didn't lessen, nor did the arousal. He got a strange look from a businessman in a cowboy hat when he was leaving.

In the cab, he called Missy. He forgave her, he wanted her back, he had to have her. "Meet me at the apartment. Just meet me." It was a forty-five minute drive. He had to have the driver pull over so that he could dry-heave by the side of the road. Oddly, there was a woman on the other side of the highway throwing up also.

By the time he got to the apartment, he understood everything.

You're an invader. You're a virus, or a bacteria, or a parasite. A parasite; I'm a parasite. I'm smart. I need to spread to as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time, before they can react. I'll give them something they want, that all of them want.

He waited for Missy.

The Replacement

Mays stood, arms folded, while the new engineer examined the reaction drive. The alien was wedged deep inside the machinery: itself an accomplishment, given his size. Only his armored knees and shins and wide, six-toed feet stuck out.

The deep, strangely-accented voice managed to drip with disdain: "These engines are forty years old. When were they last overhauled?"

The previous engineer had gotten antisocial, had gotten sloppy, and then had cleaned out his Company account and jumped ship two-thirds of the way through their assigned itinerary. Mays shrugged. "Not my department. Carpenter kept it running, I just flew it."

"And you are content to fly it knowing it is in this sorry condition?" After a moment, the alien carefully wriggled his way out of the guts of the ship, and stood: he easily towered over Mays, all shiny black armor and sharp edges. "I will tear down the entire reaction drive and rebuild it.  The Company will also need to arrange for a line of credit for the supply manufactory here: the tools are missing, presumably stolen by the previous engineer. Plan on being stationary for one standard week."

ELLE, hitherto content to listen, piped up through the compartment's speakers. "Rebbo, we are scheduled to arrive on Ahlstrand in five days."

"We will be delayed. "

Mays shook his head. "The Company will have my ass. We've never missed a pickup in two years of—"

"I will not take responsibility for the drive in its current state. You will be late, or you will lift without an engineer." It was his call, by law and tradition: if denied, he could always refuse to sign the contract.


"Given the circumstances of Carpenter's untimely departure, it is unlikely that the Company will hold us at fault. I will countersign the request." ELLE was, technically, the Company's representative aboard the ship, though Mays and now Rebbo were employees. Being largely artificial — and inextricably part of the ship — she was incapable of guile or larceny à la Carpenter.

Mays shrugged again. he didn't bother asking about the FTL drive: it was a closed system, bought already complete and sealed from a very alien manufacturer, and could not be repaired. "Have it your way. I've got reading to catch up on anyway."

Elle addressed Rebbo. "I have printed out your contract: it is in the communications hopper. And I have ordered the standard toolset from the manufactory. Fabrication should be complete in a little less than two hours"

Rebbo declared, "Excellent. I will be able to begin immediately after bringing my effects on board."

~ *~ * ~ * ~

After three days, Mays went down to check on the alien's progress. He found one of two drive assemblies completely dismantled and laid out in parts across a newly-cleaned deck. The alien — Rebbo, he needed to start thinking of him by name — was, from the sounds emanating from inside the now-empty shell, scrubbing and gouging at the interior surface. Mays imagined having to reassemble it himself and felt vaguely sick to his stomach. "Oh, God."

Rebbo, hearing him, complained: "I have yet to find a clean or adequately-maintained component. I am amazed that you were able to coerce this ship into making it this far from your point of origin."


"I do not care what it is called." Rebbo leaned out of the engine shell, one hand resting on the frame, and said, "Truly, your presence in this system is in and of itself a testament to your skill as a pilot. This ship should have been grounded at least two years ago."

Mays, with the toe of his boot, nudged a part he didn't recognize. "But can you fix it?"

"Of course. The second engine will take less time, as I will not need to survey its condition first. I will simply assume it is terrible. I have already ordered the replacement parts I will need, with ELLE's approval. The Company will regret the cost, but they cannot fault the necessity: I have documented everything."

"I just hate being out here in the sticks with the damn ship in pieces—"

"You would rather be forced into this repair on some airless moon where there is no manufactory? Or worse, in deep space? We could freeze to death before the work was done."

"No, I'm sure you're right." Mays turned away from the guts of his precious ship. "I'll be sleeping. Unless you need help—"

"No. This is work I must do, to know the engine. Once we are underway, and there is free time, I will be happy to train you in basic repair so that you can assist me in routine maintenance."

"Fine, fine. Let me know when it's done."

~ *~ * ~ * ~

Mays sat in the control chair for the first time in two weeks, and patted the console. "Time to see if Rebbo's worth the trouble, sugar." He pressed the comms button. "Ready up here."

"I am closing the main bus. You should have access to main power… now."

The control board came to multi-colored life. "I have lights."

"Feel free to leave the surface."

Mays was beginning to think that Rebbo had a sense of humor, a dry one, a knife-edge wit. "I think I'll do that."

ELLE agreed: "If we depart now we will reach Ahlstrand thirty-six hours ahead of our new rendezvous."
Mays' actions now were second-nature, but they had unfamiliar results: the ship failed to wobble as it lifted off the ground; it failed to lurch and heave with thrust varying in intensity; it failed to groan and whine against the effort. The ship instead responded like a late-training simulator.

He examined the readouts: the fuel-consumption graph showed numbers he had never seen before. Low numbers. When the ship had gained enough altitude, he threw the throttle forward, to full. He was pressed back into his chair and the atmosphere thinned and became blackness and stars. "Rebbo."

"I am here."

"You're hired."

Fantasy Drabble #306 "Impulse Control"

Closer to the wall lay the enormous bodies of perhaps twenty more giants, yard-long ballista bolts protruding from their corpses. The one that remained was wounded, surrounded; it backed up slowly, mindful of the moat at its back.

"Wait… I give up. No more hurt."

The ring of soldiers closed ever tighter around the creature, the foremost rank cautiously bracing their pikes against the ground after every other step.

"I no want attack humans; bad giants trick me! I friend to humans…"

"Some friend," yelled one soldier. "Do friends try to eat each other?"

The giant, compulsively, licked its lips.