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The Temporary Delay

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Samantha was utterly exhausted. The day’s job had taxed both her brains and muscles, and she would have very much liked to collapse into sleep on the bed she sat on.

That didn’t seem likely to happen soon.

Another bout of shivering rolled through her body. Her trembling knees folded against her chest and the tight blanket wrapped around her were ineffective shields to the freezing cold. Bruce, she’d have to apologize to their hosts in the morning. There was absolutely no way she’d be getting out of her jumpsuit tonight. Hopefully they’d overlook a few grease stains on their sheets.

Past the bedroom window to the right, dozens of white flecks fell, unrushed and unrelenting. Samantha sniffled. The cold air was sharp in her nose. It was just their luck that they’d gotten sent to a planet with occasional snowstorms. Samantha didn’t even know they had those on this side of Ursa Minor. The locals here were blessed with extraordinarily thick fur in a variety of colors: purples, yellows, greens, reds, and mixtures of all of the above. They were really friendly and helpful too. A rarity when it came to the job.

Unfortunately, all that fur meant their homes were poorly equipped for two humans.

“Samantha.” Kilner strode into the room, shutting the door behind her. “They managed to find another blanket. Honestly, it might be more of a picnic blanket, I”-

Samantha snatched the checked blanket as soon as Kilner got close enough. “Thank you.” And then, louder, towards the shut door, hopeful their hosts would hear her. “Thank you!”

“Hey!” objected Kilner. She flexed her now empty fingers.

Samantha layered the new blanket over herself. “You barely have goosebumps.”

She wasn’t lying. Kilner had tied her jumpsuit off at the waist. Only a white T-shirt that had seen better days was stretched across her shoulders, short sleeves hugging her biceps, one metal and one flesh.

“Huh.” Kilner flicked her eyes towards her regular arm. “Guess I don’t.”

“Is there really no way for us to get back to the ship?” asked Samantha. She knew she’d been a touch coddled from the realities of the world, before all this, but a growing pile of snow seemed rather manageable in comparison to some of the other jobs Kilner and her had completed.

“I’m afraid not.” Kilner shook her head. “The plows are coming tomorrow morning, but this isn’t your regular snow.”

Ugh, Samantha thought, and then she groaned out loud.

“It would burn your shoes right off,” continued Kilner over the sound of Samantha, “And then your flesh.”

There was always a catch. Why did there always have to be a catch?

“Might even melt my legs.” Kilner tapped one of her legs with a cyborg finger, metal bouncing off metal to produce a familiar ding. She sounded more thoughtful than horrified. Kilner stepped closer to the window and gazed out of it. “It’s pretty though, isn’t it?”

Samantha winced. “I might have agreed before you brought up the flesh-melting.”

“It’s still nice to look at,” said Kilner.

The scarred skin of Kilner’s face and neck and flesh arm shifted as Kilner breathed in and out, transfixed by the sight of this falling, endangering, snow. Did it snow on Pluto? Had it snowed on Pluto while Kilner grew up there?

Then Samantha’s teeth started chattering.

“What?” Kilner spun around. “Oh.” Her face softened ever so slightly, in that way Samantha had started to notice. Given her fellow repairman’s typical equanimity, it was gratifying, Samantha had found, to detect those changes in mood.

Kilner came over to the bed, gesturing at the blankets. “Come on then.”

Samantha scowled. She pulled the blankets tighter around herself.

“If we share,” said Kilner in a patient tone of voice, “it’ll be warmer. Trapped body heat, and all that. It’s basic thermo.”

Samantha forced a grin past her quivering face, her voice weak but sing-song. “I-I-I never pegged you for the cuddly sort, Kilner.”

“Do you want me to help or not?” Kilner’s eyebrow twitched.

Samantha made room, her back sliding along the headboard, and reluctantly lifted up one side of the blankets. When Kilner slid into the open space, her metal shoulder bumped into Samantha’s jumpsuit-covered one, a spark of warmth at the touch.

“Sorry, blanket’s a bit on the small side,” said Kilner.

She made to move her arm away, but Samantha’s hand darted forward to pull it back, sighing as their shoulders touched once more. Warmth, precious warmth spread both there and where Samantha’s hand rested in Kilner’s. Samantha luxuriated in it. “Bruce, that’s nice.”

“Mm.” Kilner’s other hand shifted under the blankets. “Hold on a second.”

“What are you doing?”

“My cyborg bits set their own temperature. Wouldn’t be much use if they didn’t. Complicated metal parts don’t exactly play well together in extreme conditions. Think I can tweak it so that-there, is that any better?”

The warmth grew. Samantha slackened into it. She unthinkingly interlaced her fingers with Kilner’s cyborg ones, resting her leg against Kilner’s for yet another source of heat. Bruce’s sake, she’d wrap herself around Kilner if that wouldn’t be entirely inappropriate. “So. Much. Better. Is that what being a cyborg is like? You’re your own personal heater.”

“It’s a benefit,” said Kilner dryly. She hadn’t moved as Samantha responded to the increased heat. “Offsets the rude introductory questions. Though after talking to our hosts, I think I prefer those over questions on my family unit. Less awkward.”

“What?”

“They…think we’re a family unit. I’m not exactly sure why. Could be because we’re on the same ship, could be because we worked the job together.”

“Do they understand how Automnicon works?” asked Samantha.

Kilner let out a huff. “Do any of us?” Her head turned away from Samantha’s to face the door.

Samantha’s gaze dropped to the long scar across Kilner’s throat, the one Kilner had pointed out to her months ago. Larynx replacement. She wanted to trace a finger along that scar. Find out what it felt like. She couldn’t say if it was because of the promised warmth underneath, or her own unexpectedly growing attraction to Kilner. Possibly both. She was a Trapp, after all, and Trapps were raised to want everything for every reason.

Trapps were raised to turn a planet into the kind that had cost Kilner her legs and her larynx.

That was an un-useful thought. Samantha was trying to be a little more useful these days, and dare she say, actually succeeding at it. On occasion. It’s not like Kilner blamed her. She’d said as much in their first meeting.

And yet, the Trapps would always be Samantha’s villains.

Kilner turned back, catching Samantha’s gaze with a wry look on her face. “We’d make an odd-matched pair of relatives, wouldn’t we?”

Right, family units. Samantha took stock of the two of them. Kilner was a cyborg where Samantha had no metal bits; Kilner’s hair was dark where hers was blonde; Kilner’s skin rougher-looking and paler than her own, and so on.

Samantha shrugged. “Not all relatives look alike. Besides, they probably assumed that, you know, we’re”-she waved a hand between them.

Kilner startled at that. She clearly hadn’t considered that assumption. Well, Samantha, that’s another tick for your feelings or attraction being both unfortunate and futile. Much like resolving your debt.

Samantha straightened her back against the headboard, bringing herself to her full seated height. She could contribute something else and a subject change. Briskly, Samantha said, “You can lean your head on my shoulder, if you like.”

“Huh?”

“I’m taller, it makes sense,” Samantha pressed on. “Not like you have anything keeping your head warm, unless your robot eye handles that too. But it doesn’t even see through paper bags”-

“It doesn’t. Handle that.” Kilner sounded wary. “Two inches is not that much of a difference.”

“I’m only offering,” said Samantha, miffed. “You don’t have to.”

“It’s not”-Kilner sighed. “I supposed I could.”

Slowly, like a wild animal approaching a human in one of those historical streams Samantha had watched as a kid, the comforting weight of Kilner’s head came to rest on Samantha’s shoulder. It meant Samantha could no longer see that one scar, either. She felt Kilner relax into the bed, no longer unnaturally still.

She tilted her head to rest on Kilner’s. “See? Warmer.”

“You’ve had worse ideas,” acknowledged Kilner.

A few quiet moments passed, Samantha’s senses distracted by the warmth of Kilner next to her, the steady breathing by which both their bodies rose and fell, the sounds of the outside wind.

“Kilner?”

“Yes, Samantha?”

“Thanks for helping me not freeze my arse off.”

Kilner snorted. “You’re welcome.”