[WP] Two constraints: 1. It’s raining 2. There are only two characters.

Beyond the lip of the shelter roof the rain was unrelenting. Beyond the rain, and a railing, was the sea; grey and topped with angry white, wind whipped, rain spattered. Inside the shelter Jane sat at one end of the elderly wooden bench and Paul at the other. He sighed, turned to her.

“Don’t you bloody dare” she said. She drew her coat closer, tighter around her. She’d tried to leave, had been driven back by the sudden furious downpour, sat in her corner with the empty diet coke bottle and the “Sens 4 Jaffa” graffiti with her hair plastered to her skull.

“But…”

She turned, baleful eyes beneath that slicked fringe, and bared her teeth.

“Shut it. Do you hear that?” The pause was filled with the pounding of the rain. “That is the only sound I want to hear.”

Paul was pale, wide eyed, stricken. He shifted and writhed as if constricted, stared at the ground. There was nowhere to go except into the rain.

“I’m sorry” he said “I know it was wrong. I let myself get carried away. I wish I could pretend it didn’t happen or that I wasn’t in control. I was really, really stupid.”

The rain intensified. Jane shivered and tried to curl up on the bench, but couldn’t.

“I’m seeing Darren” she said “He’ll bloody kill you if he finds out.”

Paul nodded. Darren had been against it from the outset, but he was in court that day – again, Paul didn’t say and didn’t wish that someone would finally give the man a custodial sentence – so Jane had needed distracting. It seemed like a good idea at the time; a run down to some sleepy seaside town, one of God’s Waiting Rooms, to spend the day looking at the sea and eating icecream. It had just been Paul and Jane, like back when they were kids and the happy glow of that memory should have made him smile. Instead it twisted his stomach and something made him say

“He’ll kill you too when he finds out you kissed me.”

“I did not bloody kiss you. You kissed me.”

Paul stood. He was trembling. Nerves? Anger? Both.
“Oh yeah, that was me,” he said “standing there saying about how I’d had such a lovely day and you were just the best friend who always understood you, looked out for you, cared about you. Oh no, wait. That was you.”

“You stuck your hand up my top” she said. No heat, no anger, just flat. There was no getting away from it, no avoiding it. Paul deflated.

“Yeah, I did. And I shouldn’t have.”

“No you should not have.”

“Look, I was an idiot.”

“You stuck your hand up my top on the sea front at Eastbourne. In broad daylight. After an otherwise very pleasant kiss.” Jane stood and faced him, even though he was trying very hard to be somewhere else.

“I said I’m an idiot.”

“The worst of it is, it was a nice kiss” said Jane in a very small voice. Paul felt like he’d been struck by lightning. “I mean,” she continued “we’ve been friends for years and I’d never thought about it until today, but it turns out you’ve got a very nice kiss. I’m partial to that, I am.”

Paul stared, words deserting him even as he tried to say them. She’d never thought about it. He always had. He closed his eyes, took a breath.

“Can you forgive me?”

The rain slowed, stopped. Jane looked out at the sky and sniffed.

“Not yet” she said. She stepped out of the shelter and looked back at him. “Maybe next week. Maybe.”

Paul sat in the shelter, picking at the flaking green paint and staring at the ground, listening as she walked away, wondering what forgiveness might be like.

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[WP] Bugs had multiplied hideously in the heat

Are you OK? Doctor Hobart, are you OK?” They were the first words I’d been able to understand in a little while so I nodded and mimed needing a drink. The suit’s external temperature indicator is still reading dangerously hot, so I stand up and move to the other side of the chamber,  triggering one of the showerheads. Steam rises and the world is obscured by the fog.

“We have to know if it’s safe” says the same voice as I strip off the heavy gloves. I’ll never get the helmet unsealed if I don’t get rid of the gloves first. They hit the wet floor with a sound like liver on ceramic.

“Define ‘safe'” I say, hoping the microphone is working.

“Are we likely to lose containment?”

Ah. Well. Containment. Now there’s a phrase.

“Right now, they’re quiescent. Resting. And if we don’t disturb them, that might not change,” I say “but I’m making no promises, Gerald. I can’t believe you’ve been this lax.”

Gerald has had a hard day and I shouldn’t needle him, so I accept what comes next with good grace.

“Oh it’s easy for you to say things like that,” snaps Gerald “with your academic position and your portfolio of published papers and your tenure…well it’s not so easy out here in commerce. It’s all about results out here, buddy!”

I’m standing in a makeshift airlock, hastily rigged up because every facility that works with Level 4 materials needs this stuff, but we’re nowhere near the Level 4 facilities. There is water collecting on the floor from the decontamination showers that should really be part of a tented structure. Integrity is being maintained with willpower and duct tape. And through the door at the other end of the room…

…I don’t want to think about what’s in there. I sit on a bench and wait for him to calm down.

“Gerald, is Erica there?”

I’ve worked with Erica before, during the Orlando outbreak. She’s good.

“She’s on her way to you” says Gerald.

“OK, but I needed to ask about the protocols that were in use. Gerald, what was the last thing you did?”

He explains. They’d known the experiment was a failure straight away when the sample registered as corrupted. They’d carried on because even failures can tell you something.

“But when we decided to sacrifice the sample, the protocol called for heat” says Gerald.

Sacrifice. The term we scientists sometimes use when we want to talk about what happens to lab mice when their career in science is over. Some methods are nicer than others.

“Heat should have induced lethargy and then…melting…of the sample.”

“Lethargy is right, and there’s a certain plasticity to them, but other than that I’m seeing a lot of life.”

“This is awful” says Gerald.

“Oh it gets worse,” I say “I introduced myself as a test. The ones nearest the door responded.”

“oh god” says Gerald in a tiny, sick voice.

Erica steps into the airlock, sealing her suit and shooting me a tight smile. I’m pleased to see her too, but busy with my own headgear.

Later. We step up to the door.

“Ready?” I ask.

“No” says Erica, and opens the door.

The room is full of them. Languid grey shapes sprawl over every item of furniture and flat surface.  Some of them are nearly dilequescent.  Erica coughs, gags, swallows really hard.  They aren’t pretty.  The nearest one opens an eye so slowly. It registers my presence, spots Erica. We both exhale. I do a quick count. There don’t appear to be any more of them.

“Did you know this was possible?”

Erica shakes her head.

“There were no indications that we could trust. There was something in the Cosgrove Hall documents, if you looked hard enough. And hints in Aardman.”

The nearest of them sits up, plucks a carrot from behind one drooping ear and chews on it for a moment before gesturing to me.

“What’s up, Doc?” it says “And who’s the dame?”