This story was written for a contest. I was given the genre, comedy; the location, a space station; and an object that had to be mentioned, a surgical mask. The story had to be 1000 words maximum, and submitted within 48 hours. Posted here as submitted. This submission placed first in the group of stories with these requirements.
Synopsis [part of the submission]: Susan, a member of the female crew at a space station in a slightly twisted future, has high hopes for the evening when a mission crew of men arrive.
Honor among thieves? Not when a mission arrives. Then it’s every woman for herself and devil take the hindmost.
Rachel announced the mission at breakfast. “Out bound. Ten men. One social night, one rest night.” There were groans at the number, and just one social night, but it was still good news. For eight months, we only had each other’s company for the weekly social night. More action than I got before my arrest, but it would be nice to score a man.
Rachel posted their bios on the wall, along with details we didn’t care about, like which system they were exploring. Thanks to relativity, if they even came back, it would be long after we died. Health details were the usual – fit, sterile, and healthy, like us, and mid-twenties. Our ages varied, depending when we were sent and how long we’d been here, but thanks to good care and no sun, none of us looked our age.
The details that mattered were looks and rank. Captain Ninguno was the hottest – highest ranked, ebony skin, blue eyes. Rachel would go for him. As the lowest ranked crew, I’d be lucky to get any of them. But in for a penny, in for a pound. Cleaning wasn’t all bad. I listened to books while working. I learned proverbs and other things.
The shuttle docked right at 1500, and we lined up for the welcome. They looked surprised to see us, as usual. Everyone knew station crews were similar short, thin women, with short hair and identical uniforms, but ship crews reacted as if we were twenty identical twins. The men were oblivious to our different hair and skin colors, though not the different numbers and colors of our rank stripes.
Rachel stepped forward and shook Ninguno’s hand. “Welcome aboard ICQ 17.” He looked as handsome in person as he did in his image, but he was wearing a surgical mask. Odd, but the blue brought out his eyes.
“Thank you, Station Leader Rachel.” Introductions were made as per protocol. It was always pleasing how big the men were, and how obviously happy they were to see us. It was a long trip from Earth, although apparently men did not tire of each other the way women did. Ninguno ended his introductions with an explanation about his mask – not protocol, but neither was wearing one. “I have acquired a rare infection of the upper respiratory tract. Control is investigating, but meanwhile I must wear this, to prevent spread. My apologies.” Rachel tried not to frown, and I was disappointed myself. Even if my plans worked, that would limit our pleasure on social night.
Social night started with dinner, in three hours. Meanwhile, the men unloaded their equipment and our supplies. As we prepared for the evening, the others called me to one emergency after another. The soap dispenser in the shower stopped working. After I fixed that, the hot water ran out. The crew toilets clogged. The clean uniforms were covered with lint. Fortunately, I’d bathed and set aside a clean uniform earlier, and even bleached my hair.
Ninguno proposed the first toast, as per protocol. “Yonder all before us lie deserts of vast eternity. To the crew of ICQ 17, who make the departure so pleasant.” He didn’t look at me, sitting at the furthest table with the other one-stripers, but by his toast I knew he’d seen my note in his linens.
“Anyone going to try?” said Anna, to the table.
“I’ve made cookies for Derrick,” said Lori. “Just need to slip them to him.”
“Good luck,” said Stella. “Beatrice has her eye on him.”
“The cookies haven’t failed me yet.”
Regardless of how or if we paired, the two hours of dancing were when everyone got some contact. I hoped Lori succeeded with Derrick – he was a decent kisser. There was no kissing when I had my turn with Ninguno, as he still wore the mask, but we danced close.
“You were right,” he whispered in my ear. “The smartest, most beautiful, and most confident woman in the room, as I always expected. May I have you tonight?”
Rachel, nearby, tolerating Hogaza kissing her neck, glared at me.
“Yes.” Success! Though I was not sure why he’d always expected anything of me.
“Thank you, Angelica.”
“Who?” I said, but the bell sounded to switch partners, and he didn’t hear me.
At 2200, the unpaired women returned to the bunk room, Beatrice among them. Derrick held Lori’s hand, a foolish grin on his reddened face. He’d started on the cookies. Ninguno came to me.
“Where should we go?”
There were no private rooms, but we always found spaces. Mine was the cleaning closet, already prepared with a bed made of spare linens on crates of cleaning supplies. I led him to it, and the space impressed him. “Always a resourceful woman, Angelica. I’m looking forward to the honor of being with you and making love in half-gee.”
He removed the mask and leaned down to kiss me.
“Wait.” He stopped. “Your infection?”
“A lie to save myself for you, Angelica.”
A lie to Control made him brave or stupid. I was starting to suspect the latter.
“I’m Susan. Why are you calling me Angelica?”
“Are you not Angelica, leader of the resistance? You used the poem.”
“To seduce you. I don’t know about any resistance, and don’t care.”
“You’re just a one-striper crew, a cleaner?”
“This is awkward.”
I slapped him. He put the mask back on and left. I slammed the door behind him.
A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. I opened it, expecting Ninguno’s apology, or Rachel announcing demerits. Hogaza stood there, half-dressed and looking like a bashful Norse god.
“If you spend what’s left of the night with me, you will forget everything between you and Ninguno.”
“I shall endeavor to accomplish that.”
“Come in. I guess half a loaf is better than none.”
[To fully appreciate the comedy, such as it is, note that ninguno is Spanish for none, and hogaza is Spanish for loaf.]