Serving Time (The Timemakers Trilogy) by Nadine Ducca @NadineDucca

24 Jan


Eneld lay between the tangled sheets of his bed, curling a lock of Katherine’s raven hair around his finger. A brilliant crescent Earth hung low in the sky, only the tip visible through the bedroom window.

He ran his hand down her back. “Just five more days to go.”

Katherine stirred. Her warm body pressed against his. “Done packing?”

“Almost.” He glanced at his travel box, which sat in a corner of the bedroom. He could already imagine it going around in circles on the luggage retrieval carousel at Mars Spaceport. Like every other piece of luggage, it would be coated in a fine layer of rusty dust. That damned dust got everywhere.

The comm-link on the nightstand beeped, startling him. “You have a new—” His hand darted out to silence it.

“Who is it?” Katherine snuggled up against him, her eyes still closed.

“Just a reminder I programmed. I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow.”

She looked up. “Pre-Mars vaccines?”


“They’re using the new versions on you, right? The ones with the reduced side effects?”

Eneld grunted. “They’d better.” He couldn’t imagine spending the rest of his life seeing the world in black and white. A “minor side effect,” “only ten percent chance of ever happening” was what those bastards down at the Lunar Base CDC claimed.

Still, he had to admit that visual impairment was the lesser of two evils—far better than becoming nesting meat for the latest form of Martian parasite. Every few weeks, someone came across a new species among the vegetation, almost always in the most unwitting and unfortunate of ways.

A chill tickled his spine. He needed a distraction, quick. He drew the covers away and pulled Katherine on top of him. “C’mere, you.” He cupped her breasts and plunged his face between them.

Between shrieks and giggles, Katherine cried out, “Watch those manners!” She tugged back and arranged the sheets around her, lifting her chin in mock defiance. “What would the Team Leader say?”

Eneld grinned. “Nice rack.” He squeezed her breasts.

“Ow!” She slapped his hand.

Uh-oh. Too much. He’d better make up for it, fast. “Sorry, babe. Come here.” He tried to press her down against him, but she shrugged away and sat up, straddling him.

She pulled a strand of hair away from her eyes and quietly stared at him.

Eneld set his hands on her thighs. “Hey? Come back.”

After a little bit, she said, “I was just thinking. You know…down in the lab, there are people who’d kill to be you right now.”

“Someone thinks mighty highly of herself.” He grinned. “But I guess my bed is pretty comfortable…” He ran his hands up her thighs and squeezed her warm ass.

“I’m not talking about that—although you should know I do have other options.” Katherine wrinkled her nose. “I meant Rusty and Spinach. I wish I could be there when they start tunneling.”

Rusty and Spinach were twenty-foot-long biometal earthworms. Along with a couple hundred smaller offspring earthworms, they had been shipped to Mars to chip in with the Soil Restoration Program—“restoration” synonymous to returning the rich Martian soil to its former barren state.

Eneld shrugged. “You won’t miss much. Worms release their payload… New wasteland here… Run for your life there…”

“And the jungles will finally stop spreading. Imagine what it’ll look like. The rusty soil against the wall of ferns.” Excitement glimmered in her eyes.

“Yeah…” Eneld held her gaze, not so sure about his own feelings about the project. Like Katherine, he’d grown up amid horror stories of the genetically engineered Martian jungles. As a child, the swift fly-by images of the endless green canopy had fascinated him. Nothing like that existed on Earth anymore.

After graduating from university with a degree in robotics engineering, he had traveled to Lunar Base Technological Center to specialize in biorobotics. Three years later, his head still full of dreams, he had accepted the office of Team Leader of the Martian Soil Restoration Program. At that time, he’d believed his team would find the ultimate solution to the red planet’s problem.

However, by the time Eneld came into office, the various branches of the Martian Terraformation Project were immersed in finger-pointing battles, because, despite their efforts, the jungles had spread over three quarters of the planet.

Every attempt to control the wilderness had ended in disaster. Be they rugged adventurers or the meek lab rat type, the last three Team Leaders to visit Mars had vanished into the foliage. Now it was Eneld’s turn to go.

He sighed. “I don’t know why we don’t just call it quits.” Yes he did. Mankind wasn’t going to give up halfway through a conquest, no matter the difficulties.

Katherine opened her eyes wide. “What? Don’t be silly! This time we got it.”

“Listen, Kathy, that’s what everyone’s been saying for the last twenty years. And look where we are now. We shouldn’t even be calling Mars the ‘red planet’ anymore.”

Katherine pursed her lips. “The problem is that the teams before us used the wrong techniques. Trying to wall in the jungles was simply ridiculous, and hacking away at the trees taught us how virulent their sap is. Spraying—we both know how that turned out.”

“Another Team Leader gone,” Eneld mumbled.

Katherine poked his chest. “But this time we’re getting it from below. Rusty, Spinach, and all the other earthworms will attack the root of the problem, literally. The jungle won’t suspect a thing.”

“You’re talking about it as if it were some beast we’re trying to hunt down.”

“In a way, it is.” Her black eyes locked onto his. Katherine was one of the few engineers who held the assumption that the entire Martian jungle functioned as a mega organism, each plant and crawly critter working together to feed, grow, and, come the day, procreate. That spectacle would be anything but pretty.

Eneld sat up against the headboard and nuzzled her neck. “Enough talk. I’ve got something better we can do.”

But Katherine drew back. “All this talk about Mars making you nervous?” She chuckled. “Get over it. You’re going there in less than a week.”

“I know, okay? I don’t need you to constantly remind me.” He shifted. Katherine was starting to feel heavy.

“You think Marsworms are going to burrow into that little head of yours?” She walked her fingers across his chest and tapped his forehead. “We’ve got vaccines against them, you know. Good ones.”

A knot formed in Eneld’s stomach. Sure, Katherine could joke about Marsworms—she wouldn’t have to spend the following months wearing earplugs and resting in short naps with one eye open.

“We might have a vaccine to inhibit Marsworm larvae growth,” he muttered, “but what about the constrictor ivy? We don’t have anything against that.”

Remote-controlled bots sent into the depths of the jungle had discovered a macabre garden of human-shaped bush sculptures. Some were huddled on the ground, while others were forever locked in a panicked run, legs apart, arms spread. Dozens of colleagues had died, smothered by the ivy. Those images had never reached Earth, but Eneld, as the new Team Leader, had been forced to sit through a disturbing movie session.

Katherine leaned over him, her breasts hovering deliciously close, and dropped her voice to a whisper. “Tell you what. I’ll go instead. Just appoint me, and I’ll get the job done.”

Eneld reached out to grope her. “Huh? You?”

“Well, since you’re obviously having second thoughts about it… I am the most experienced worm-wrangler—after you, of course.” She smiled and slowly rocked back and forth.

Eneld squeezed her breasts, a lopsided smile forming on his lips. “‘Worm-wrangler’ is a terrible name.”

“Then you come up with one.” She bent down and planted a quick kiss on his lips. Her hair smelled of coffee and cream.

”You’d have to study all the regulations.”

“I’m a fast learner.” She kissed his forehead, her breasts grazing his chin. “You can teach me. I’m sure you’re an excellent teacher.”

“You’re just buttering me up.” Eneld chuckled.

She drew away. “Aw, you got me. Still…I’d do anything not to let an opportunity like this slip by.”

Eneld let his head drop against the headboard. She’d said it. Opportunity. He wanted to groan every time he heard the word. Opportunity was what had pushed him to leave Earth and accept a job on the moon. An even greater opportunity was what now drew him into the sputum-coated jaws of Mars. What was he trying to prove to the world? That he was some sort of savior? The knot in his stomach tightened. He gently pushed Katherine aside and lowered his feet over the edge of the bed.

“What’s wrong?”

He rubbed his forehead. “I…uh…I’ll be right back.” He stumbled to the bathroom. With a push of a button, the door locked after him. He leaned over the sink and took a deep, shaky breath.

Damned Soil Restoration Program.

Living on the moon was pleasant enough; he enjoyed having the crescent Earth hanging over his head, its oceans winking down at him. But Mars…Mars was war. His heart thumped against his chest. How fitting that man’s attempt to domesticate the god of war should go so askew.

And they weren’t turning back. No matter how many of them died trying, they wouldn’t give up until they conquered what they had set loose.

He glared at himself in the mirror.

Or it kills us all.

As much as he hated to admit it, he could really use a fix. He opened the medicine cabinet and took out a small, chromed case. He popped the lid off, slid the tab, and a fine line of white dust emerged. It tickled and stung as he snorted.

He tilted his head back. That was damned good stuff.

Throx was illegal in almost all regions of the system, but Eneld dedicated a generous portion of his salary to keeping acquaintances in the right markets. When he left Earth to go to Lunar Base, he took along a short list of recommended dealers. Buying his fixes on the moon wasn’t a problem. The population of Mars, however, was comprised of only a handful of nerve-wracked scientists, most of who screamed and covered their ears if you approached them too suddenly. Not the type of people you could buy throx from.

When he asked his usual dealers if they knew who could supply him on Mars, they all shrugged and gave him the same curt response: StarCorp. The quote the company offered was steep, but if he cinched his belt a little, he could afford it. Nobody else dared deliver to Mars, anyway.

He rubbed his nose and looked down at the case. Without giving it a second’s thought, he slid the tab again and another white line emerged. He stared at it, suddenly hesitant. Change was coming. It was searching for him, fumbling around with outspread arms, stubbing its toes against the furniture. He could feel it inch toward him the closer departure day came. Maybe he should call it quits. Maybe Mars was the change he needed as well as an excuse to stop snorting throx. He’d miss the giddy arousal each line caused, but he’d save a lot of money.

He let out a quick sigh and snorted the line. A sharp pain needled him between the eyes, and he pinched the bridge of his nose. The blanket of red dust on his travel box, the biometal earthworms, even the tangled jungles all faded into irrelevance. Change might be coming, but throx would always give him the same carefree high.

When he returned to the bedroom, Katherine was dressing.

“Whoa, hey, leaving already?”

“Yeah. I’ve got a lot of work. And may I remind you of your ridiculous no-sleepover policy.” She poked his chest.

“I know, I know.” Eneld wrapped his arms around her waist. “But can’t you stay a little longer?” He undid a button on her shirt, his lips brushing against her neck. “C’mon…I’m leaving soon…”

He felt Katherine relax in his arms, her warm breath against his ear. “All right, if you insist.”

Good girl. Her hungry lips traveled down his neck and chest. He gently urged her lower. A brainiac in the workshop and a total slut in bed, Kathy never needed much coaxing. Eneld glanced at the clock on the nightstand. Almost eleven o’clock. He’d have to take round two easy if he wanted to make it to his early appointment. Throx could only go so far.

Serving Time

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Genre –  Science Fiction/Fantasy

Rating – Adult

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