Knees on a soft pad, left upper hand clasping the edge of the scaffolding surrounding my section, both right hands resting on the supports to the side, I carefully brushed sand away from the lonely skull with my lower left hand. It stuck upright out of the sand, cradled in between the feet of the body lying beneath it, and I was close to uncovering the jaw. The rest of the skeleton was comets-knew-where. All the bodies we’d found so far had been complete, except this one. And we were all eager to find out what was so special about this skull.
As the LEDs placed around my work area brightened to compensate for the retreating daylight, I moved my lower right hand to cradle the skull while I brushed sand away from the jaw. I could do this for hours. I did do this for hours, even with the whole site in scaffolds to keep the porous ground from collapsing beneath us. Aura ordered me to take longer breaks at least once a day, but for me, breaks were going home at night or gobbling up a quick sandwich for lunch. Nothing was more fun than spending my days on my knees on the strangest surfaces digging for history. An image of Kabal’s pale skin and inquisitive, violet eyes flitted through my mind. Well, maybe not nothing.
My time chip chimed. Half an hour before I needed to leave. I smiled, but kept brushing. I could finish this. If I dug the skull out before lights out, Aura could catalogue it before she left.
A shrill whistle echoed across the site. “Ish. Get out of that section and clear off. Now!”
Or maybe not. With a sigh, I gathered my tools and secured my section. “Sorry,” I whispered to the skull as I pulled the netting across it. “Guess you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”
Aura was leaning against her desk as I entered the tent, pointing at her time chip. “As much as I hate losing a bet to Ziggy, I promised your boyfriend I’d kick you out on time.” She glared when I huffed. “Your boyfriend is scary when he’s angry.”
Scarily hot, that was, but I didn’t say that out loud. “Ziggy’ll be thrilled,” I said instead. Bless his romantic heart for still believing I’d ever leave a dig on time. Good thing I always reserved a forty-minute slot at the station. “The skull budged, Aura. I could have gotten it out.”
Aura raised her eyebrow. “In half an hour? I doubt it. Now, scoot. Change into your fuck-me outfit and get your black arse over to the station.”
I blew Aura a kiss and sauntered to the back of the tent. The blower in the entrance took care of all the dust clinging to my onyx-colored skin. It wasn’t quite as cleansing as a shower, but I wasn’t risking the heater giving out on me mid-shower again. Once was more than enough. I undressed in record time and threw my work clothes into the bottom half of my locker before grabbing my date clothes—or fuck-me clothes as Aura had called them. My trousers were dark brown, faux-leather—the stretchy kind—and my shirt was a simple, pale orange, V-necked tee. I always thought I looked too wiry in them, and I couldn’t hide my lower arms in them like I did with my sweaters, but Kabal liked them… a lot. Liked tearing them off me even more.
I glanced at the cracked mirror glued to one of the lockers. My mohawk needed no work, not after the rubbish I’d put into it that morning. I had no idea what Kabal liked so much about my hair. It was bright orange and made me look like a burning matchstick, which was why I’d always shaved my head. But Kabal did like it, and since he made the effort of appearing for our dates in the form that made me drool in the worst ways, I was willing to please him by growing my hair and wearing tight clothes. My time chip chimed as I slipped into my boots—fifteen minutes till takeoff—and made my way to the station.
Old Remo, the resident travel tech, shot me a surprised look as I arrived with five minutes to spare. “I’ll be damned, Ish. You’re on time.”
I shrugged. “Aura kicked me off the site. Apparently my boyfriend put the fear of the comets into her.”
“I have no doubt.” Remo glanced at his panel. “It’s going to rain in Orynt, tonight.”
I winked and stepped into the cabin. “All the more reason to stay in our hotel room.”
“If you say so. Enjoy your stay, and don’t miss your return slot!”
“I never have.” Though I’d been tempted many, many times. If Remo replied, it was lost in the whirring and whizzing as the machine started up. The cabin door closed and I was cut off from my surroundings, and when the door finally opened again, I was at Orynt station on Earth’s Valentine’s Day in the year 2414. Our tenth anniversary.