"Are you done for the night?" asked Scotty.  His bedside reader had displayed the same screen for over ten minutes.  He wondered, and not for the first time, what supreme power women had to suck the living marrow right out of a decent man's mind.  He had so much reading to catch up on, but no matter how hard he tried, his eyes and his thoughts kept wandering right back to Mira.

"Not quite," said Mira Romaine from the desk computer. She took a break to rub the fatigue back into her eyeballs. "I still need to calculate the optimal orientation for the mnemonic transponder array and calibrate all of the transplanar data metacouplers."

"Mmm!" Sexy, smart and expert knowledge in a technical field too. He had hit the trifecta. Most days it seemed too good to be true, so he figured that he'd better make the most of it now, just in case it turned out not to be.  He switched off the reader and pulled to his feet, all thoughts of professional journals--or professional anything--completely abandoned.  "I love it when ye talk like that."

"Like what?"  Mira's voice was distracted.  She toggled a switch and pulled up a new display: the Memory Alpha communications grid.  She sighed.  Even before the tragedy with the Zetars, it was going to be a big job and now, with the librarians dead, that much more of the installation process fell to her.  So much work-- 

Scotty came around the mesh divider and sidled in behind her. "When ye talk sexy like 'optimal orientation for the mnemonic transponder array'. Say it.  Say 'transplanar data metacouplers' just for me."  He leaned over her body and massaged his hands slowly up her thighs as he whispered the words into her ear.

Mira twisted her neck away and zoomed in to the first coupler position, trying her best to act like he wasn't there.  She did change to voice control; it's not easy to use a toggleboard with a full-grown man hanging over your shoulders. "Computer: show me the primary data metacoupler interface."

"Mmm!  Aye, that's it!  You're going to drive me crazy, lassie."  Scotty pushed his lips in against her neck.  He loved the little dint in her breastbone where throat met chest.  What do you call that spot?  He'd have to look it up sometime.  He nuzzled her and nudged his head against her chin until talking was as difficult as toggling.

"Oh, you're crazy all right, but I'm pretty sure it happened before you met me."  Mira tried to brush him away--tried, but not too hard.

Her perfume intoxicated his senses and her hair brushed soft along his cheek.  There was no question: her body made him insane; her soul made him hers.  "Crazy for you.  And it wouldn't do to upset a crazy man, so I suggest that you cooperate fully. "

Mira leaned back to meet his kiss, acknowledging the surrender for what it was.  "Oh, I think that that can be arranged." The work would still be there in a few hours.  One thing that the Zetars had taught her is that one should not assume the same of mortal lives or loves.

His hands made their way under her uniform and together they made their way to the bunk.  At first there was laughter and silly chatter about dynamic egonium hyperion rods, then there was only the soft sounds of two healthy people very much in love. 

When it was over, they lay with his head on her breast.  She stroked his head and he made lazy circles on her stomach with his hand.

"Why am I so lucky?" she asked.

"Pardon?" Scotty pushed away the lull of sleep.

"That you should be here waiting for me.  Why weren't you taken long ago?"

"I was.  By the finest ship ever built.  But for you, she'll just have to learn to share."  Scotty cuddled her closer to him.

"No, silly." She shoved her palm into his stomach.  "I mean by a real girl.  Why aren't you already married?"

Scotty rolled over on to his back, Sleepiness was no longer a problem.  "I guess I never met the right woman."

"In all that time?"  The skepticism in her voice could have cut through a bulkhead.

"Ih've been immersed in engineering programs since I was fourteen. For me whole life, I've been surrounded by men.  As you may have noticed, women aren't exactly swarming around impulse vents and antimatter pods." 

Mira giggled.  "Of course I noticed.  Why do you think I went into engineering?"

Scotty chuckled. "That's me girl." He kissed her on the nose. "So, surrounded by all of us dashing and brilliant engineers, why haven't you been swept away by the right man?"

"I have." She tugged at him playfully.  He still uncomfortably sensitive there--as well she knew--but somehow, from her, he didn't mind.

"I meant before now. "

"I thought I was; I was wrong."   She let him drop from her hand.

"I'm sorry." He pulled her back against him.

"It's okay," she said.  "If I things didn't happen like they did, I wouldn't be here now."  She kissed him on the chin.

"So, nice try on the change of subject, Scotty boy.  Back to you: all that time and you never met the right…person?"

Scotty admired the carefully chosen word.  "No, lassie; I never have."


John O'Flaughty was about as removed from Montgomery Scott as helium was from hawkinium.  A lady's man with a joke for every occasion, John had never been heard to raise his voice in anger.   Older than Monty by three years, he had a string of would-be lovers as long as the registrar's list at the University of Aberdeen.  He also had a fiancée back home, whom he called every night and saw every other weekend. 

The only thing they had in common was a gift for creative engineering and an apartment rental in Aberdeen. 

The project of the moment was a more economical design of a trimodal personal transport.  If the impulse vents could be redesigned to be water tight with a pleomorphic seaborgium valve--instead of the current convoluted system--it would cut production costs by a third, not to mention maintenance and repair.

They thought they had it--or nearly did.  They had found an isolated patch of coast north of Aberdeen and now stood on the rocky shore to test their scale model.  John manned the tele-troller and brought the robot ship down from space flight into atmospheric propulsion mode.  Monty--as everyone had called him back then--scanned the sky.  Today was a pleasant change from the usual Highland gray.  The sun was playing hide and seek and losing a great deal of the time.  The clouds had scattered respectable distances apart and Monty hoped to see their model fly. 

It dropped out of a cloud about five kilometers away and cruised down toward the ocean on an even vector.  The splash was visible from the shore. 

"Six point oh from the Russian judge," joked Monty. 

"You want to drive?" grumbled John.  "I didn't realize style counts."

"Style always counts," said Monty.  "That's the art of engineering.  How's the telemetry?" 

"Hydropulsion at ninety percent.  Internal humidity ranging from twenty to twenty-four and holding."

"Good.  Drop down to the bottom."

"Eighty four meters.  That's as deep as she gets," announced John. "We need to test it off the continental shelf next time. "

"Assuming we get through this time.  Humidity?"


"Wait until the impulse temperature drops to ambient, then bring it in," said Monty. 

"Still at seventeen hundred degrees.  No reason I can't have a little fun with it 'til then.  Have you ever seen a submarine ballet?"  John torqued the tele-troller control. "Look it's Swan Lake!" 

The tele-troller beeped.   "Bugger all!  Port valve failure!"

"Surface and bring it in before the conversion chamber floods!"

"Ihm tryin'!" John's brogue thickened as he furiously tried control after control.  "It's shorted the guidance." 

"I told ya nae to run the transfer cable through the mix chamber."

"Shut up!  I've almost--"

John looked up in alarm. "DUCK!"

They both dropped to the rocks as the transport model went shooting over their heads, up over the cliff behind them.  They heard a woman scream, then a crash. 

They blinked at each other, then went running. 

Monty headed for the direction of the crash up the hillock; John headed in the direction of the scream.  It had seemed to come from an irregular outcropping in the rock. When Monty came back with the model in his hands, he found the little hideaway.  Inside was John staring at a woman, naked save for a miniskirt and long, silver hair draped about her breasts. A few strands of black were peppered through her hair, and one shocking streak of coal black ran down its length.

"Well, what are you looking at?" she demanded in a vigorous Highland brogue. "Haven't you ever seen a naked woman--or perhaps not one you just tried to kill."

"You must know that you are very striking," said Monty, trying not to stare.

"Striking, my Aunt Fannie!  Thanks to you, I was all but struck down!"

"We're sorry, ma'am," stammered Monty. "You've heard of the one that got away?  This is it."  He held the model out for her surveillance, but the joke fell flat.

"Ye need to take better care of your toys around others," she said, pulling a pink tank top on over her head.

"It's not a toy; it's a trimodal transport model," said Monty.

She stared at him like he was a moron.  She had a way of making him believe that she was correct.  "At least your friend has some manners," she said.  John was working on picking up her belongings.  It looked like an ultra-portable easel.  It was.  The seascape painting on it had been smudged beyond repair by the fall to the wet rock. 

"Ruined," she pronounced.  "A full day's work." 

"Accidents do happen you know."  John's tone was a mite defensive, Monty thought.

"Aye.  More around some than around others." She eyed them significantly. 

"Allow, me to introduce myself.  John O'Flaughty, at your service."  John's voice had shifted to his most winning.  He gave a deep bow and whipped an imaginary tam off of his head with a sweep of an arm. 

"Thank you for your help, John," she said with a grudging grin.

"And this is my flatmate, Montgomery Scott," John said, gesturing in his direction.

"My friends call me Monty." He extended his free hand.

"Hello, Montgomery," she nodded, pointedly not taking the hand.  "I'm Lesa.  I don’t think we need to be on a last name basis."

Monty didn't think that this was quite fair.  John had been the one at the controls, but some how he was now the bad guy left holding the bag--or the experimental model trimodal personal transport, as the case may be. He set the unit down.

He tried one last time.  "Look, I don't know what else to do.  I've just met the most stunning woman I have ever seen in my life. I am sorry that it was under less than ideal circumstances, but that's over with, and I want to get to know her better.  Can ya nae give me some advice as to how?"

She looked him over much more purposefully than before.  "If the woman's had a long day, ya might try feeding her.  You've heard it's the way to a man's heart, but I've news for you: women eat too."

Monty squelched a smile.  It was far too early to be counting his eggs; there was nary a hatchling in sight.  "I know a place near here.  Do you like seafood?"

"Only if it's fresh."

Monty gestured out the North Sea.  "Look where we are.  None fresher."

She shouldered her bag.  "We'll see about that.  You're buying?"

"Of course; we invited you," said Monty.,

She shouldered her rucksack.  "Lead on, Macduff." 

Lesa accepted the arm that John offered.  Monty didn't think this was quite fair.  After all, this had been his idea.

Dinner was a crock of steamed langoustines shared among them. Lesa spoke of life in the Orkneys. John waxed charming and hung on her every word.  Monty wished he could think of something not related to physics or matter/anti matter mechanics he could discuss.   Mostly he watched and tried not to drip food on his shirt.

To make matters worse, he'd left his credit ID back in the flitter.  John paid for all three of them.

"I'm staying here, for a while." Lesa answered a question from John as they walked back to the flitter pads. 

"How long?" asked Monty, trying and failing at not sounding over-anxious.

"At least until I finish my series of paintings, which--thanks to you two--will be a mite longer than I had planned." She aimed the words deliberately the both of them.

"Good!  We'll crash into you everyday, if that's what it takes to keep you here," said Monty.  The glare she gave him told him that it had been the wrong thing to say.

Monty decided to try the direct approach. It couldn't get much worse.  "I'hd like to see you again."

"I paint here most days when the weather is warm and fair."  Her tone was neutral, promising nothing more than her presence.

To Monty, that was a damn fine start.  "This is the Highlands.  It could be next year before that happens."

"Aye.  It could…that soon if we're lucky."  She laughed with him.   Year-round freezing drizzle keeps out the riff-raff, or so went the local expression.  It was a love only true Scots understood.

Her face relented.  "If we plan on next Saturday, could your friend come?"  She looked to John.

"I was...sort of hoping to being alone," said Monty.

"You can be alone all you like," she quipped back.

"I meant, alone with you."

She said nothing.

John cleared his throat. "There is nothing I would like better to do that day than to share your company."

"Five, then.  Don't be late."

"Five it is."  John motioned her into the flitter.  "Ladies first."

"No," she said.  "I'll walk.  Where I am staying isn't far, and I don't get enough chances to stretch my legs."

"In that case, we will regretfully bid you a good night." John took her hand and kissed it. 

Monty wished he had thought of that.

It didn't matter. She gave them both a quick peck on the cheek before turning back to the road and Monty was in heaven.

The next Saturday the fog was heavy.  "She won't be there," Monty kept repeating during the ride over.

"She will," said John, turning the craft north toward the beach.

"What you makes me such an expert on women?" Monty grumbled, wanting desperately to believe him.

John grinned. "I'm Irish."

Monty groaned. This ride could not be over soon enough.

She was there waiting for them, her rucksack over her shoulder.  John gloated as he set the flitter down, but Monty barely heard him. He had never been so happy to be wrong.

He jumped out first and kissed her hand.  She allowed it with wry amusement.

"I won't be painting anything but fog today, but the way I see it, you--" she tossed her head to Monty, "still owe me a meal."

"Gladly!" said Monty. He double-checked for his ID this time.

She ordered cod.  John and he ordered kippers.  Monty wished he'd picked the langoustines again--or anything that took longer to eat.  It was the best meal he'd never tasted and it would be over far too soon.

Midway through, John's comm beeped.  It was his plasma field lab partner with a crisis in their project.

"So sorry, but I'm going to have to leave and take the flitter," he said.  "Do you want to come with?"

"Lesa hasn't finished, and I promised her."  Monty's voice took on that slight whine it did when stressed.

She gave him a peculiar look over her fork and chewed purposefully.

"I know Lesa doesn't mind walking. Monty?"

"Ih'll stay." His tone was firm.

"Have it your way," said John.   "Ma'am." Again he kissed her hand before leaving.

"If I didn't know better, I would have thought you two planned that." Lesa sipped at her water.

Monty blushed.

"Monty, you're a fine, man and I enjoy your company.  You’re just so young in the ways of the world--"

"John is only two years older than me!"

She toyed with her fork.  "That's not what I meant. It's just that...I'm not someone you want to lose your head over."

"Too late," he said with a goofy grin.

She looked to the wall.  "That's what I mean."

"John has a girl, Anne, by the way--back home. I thought that you should know--before you lose your head."  Monty blurted it all out at once.

She gave him a quirky smile that radiated a patient tolerance that he couldn’t reconcile to the circumstances.  "Don't worry about me.  I can hold me own with men--and their women."

"So...I can see you again?"

She spread her arms wide apart. "Here I am."

"Ye know what I mean."

"I do.  I shouldn't.  It may not seem like it, but I am thinking of you."

"You let me worry about me," said Monty. "Tomorrow?  You did lose another day of painting."

She thought.  "John will come too?"

He pursed his lips. "Aye, if you want." Half a win was better than nothing.

"The same spot, then.  Noon.  If it's foggy, I could paint you instead."

"You ken do anything you want with me," Monty said.

She rolled her eyes and picked up her rucksack as they went out the door.  They were going separate directions; she wouldn't let him see her home, but she waited at the airtram stop with him and kissed him on the cheek before he stepped aboard.


John was more than happy to oblige on the condition they could run more tests on the model. Women and experimental engineering pretty much summed up his favorite things in life, if not necessarily in that order.

Monty was not so happy about the whole arrangement.

The best think about being accepted to University at sixteen was feeling superior to the other freshmen; the worst part was feeling overwhelmed by every woman who ever lived.    Even two years later, Monty felt like tossed about in a winter North Sea storm.  He had no hope in hell of ever being able to get the upper hand, but getting out of the water never crossed his mind.

Competition was one thing he didn't need, though.  He spoke to John directly. 

"Don't worry; my heart belongs to Anne."

"And the rest of you?" asked Scotty sounding more childish than he had planned.

"Follows meekly behind."  John plopped his feet up on the desk and smiled.  "I like a pretty face, to be sure, but she is all yours for the taking."

"Just remember: her face is up here."  Monty gestured up from his neck, but the tone kept the same unintentional petulance.

John laughed. "Don't worry, me lad.  I might well double-cross you over the Hawking Theoretical Physics Fellowship, but a girl, never!"

For the first time in hours Monty relaxed.  It was something only engineers could understand.

They day was overcast as usual, and the air was full of the taste of the sea and life.  No one else was there when they arrived, and so they fired up the model.

The sealed compartments stayed dry down to seventy meters.  They were about to try for eighty when they saw her on the rocks.   She was in an off-white dress, windblown with her silver hair loose and whipping about her face.  Staring out to sea, she looked like something out of a museum watercolor or the cover or a young girl's romance novel. 

Monty had eyes only for her, but John followed her gaze out to the water where waves broke over a covered sandbar.   He thought that he saw something.  Turtles? Dolphins?  He directed his engineering datacorder but it wasn't calibrated for bio and couldn't read at that sensitivity.  He snapped a still photo of her instead.   She was stunningly beautiful in a way that made him wish that a man could have two girls and keep them both blissfully happy forever.  But that would be a fairystory.

She moved easily across the rocks when she turned and saw them.  She had an easy smile for both that was a pleasant change from their first meeting.

"Go on about your business boys," she said as she unpacked her painting supplies from her rucksack.  "I want to paint you doing manly things like playing with your manly toy."

"It's nae a toy, it's--"

John kicked him.

Monty cleared his throat and started over in a lower tone.  "I'd rather make my business staying with you." He pulled the easel the rest of the way out of the rucksack and helped her settle it into a relatively stable spot.

John shook his head and set the remote for eighty meters.  At least one of them could get some work done.

"What else have you got in there?"  Monty asked.  Painting gear removed, the rucksack was still fairly full. 

"A change of clothes, just in case your toy runs wild again."

This time Monty held his tongue. 

"Well, go on with you. Down to the water."

"Really, I'd rather watch you paint." Monty rocked happily on his toes.

"They'll be nothing to paint if you're up here, will there?  Go on and do whatever it is that you were doing and let me start the scene first.  I'll tell you when I'm ready for you to come up."

"Come up for what?" asked John.

"To stand and model for me."

"What? Just stand there? Why?"

"Because I say so, Mr. O'Flaughty." Lesa took out a tube of slate gray and started on the rocky shoreline.

"Anything you want, Lesa." Monty kissed her hand. 

John thanked the saints that he had better sense in women than Monty did.

The painting was finished without event.  Monty thought that John came out significantly better than he did, but Lesa seemed pleased with the result.  The submarine tests weren't much better than last time, but at least there weren't any incidents.  John begged out of dinner claiming a paper due the next day. 

Lesa shot Monty a dirty look.  Monty tried his best to look innocent.

But all she said was, "Come on; I'm starving."

"I told you, I can take care of myself."

"I hope you'r right, Montgomery Scott, I dearly hope that you are right."

They walked to the same restaurant.  He still didn't taste the food, but she ate enough for them both.  He was struck by the elegance of every move she made. It gave him a possible thought. 

"Do you like to dance?" he asked. 

Her eyes lit up.  "Love it. I don't get to do it enough."

"There's a dance next Saturday at the University Hall.  John will be there--with his girl, if that matters.  I thought maybe you might like--"

"I'd love to."

"Ah could pick you up at your place.  Say seven?  Or earlier and we could eat."

"Seven's fine, but I'll meet you at your place.  I have some other things to do that day."

Using the tableside comm, he printed out a copy of his contact info and coordinates to his apartment.  "If you need directions--"

"Nope.  I'm naturally good at navigation."  She tucked the printout into some fold in her clothes or body.  "See you then."

It was clearly a cue and he rose just before her.  This time she kissed him on the mouth.  Now, that he tasted and prayed that he would for a very long time.

She arrived right on time, wearing a dress of midnight black that clung to every curve and fell clear down to her ankles.  The fabric practically beckoned to be touched, not that Monty needed any more incentive. 

"We ready?" she asked.

"Aye!" said Monty. "For anything!"  The gleam in his eye didn't look like that of a man heading for a college dance.

She rolled her eyes.  Men, was the unspoken thought.  "Where's your flatmate?" is what she said. 

"John?  He and Anne left already.  Said they wanted to get their music requests in the queue.  Did you want to come in for a drink or something first?"

"No, let's not keep them waiting."  Lesa extended her right arm.  Stepping outside the door, Monty extended his left, elbow bent. She took it and they strolled along the walkway to the stairs.

Monty started up a flight to the rooftop flitter pads.  Lesa held her ground.  "Let's walk," she said.  "I want to warm up for dancing."

Monty gazed skeptically at the sky.  Years of coastal living told him the pressure was already dropping. "It's more than likely to rain tonight.  With all the crowd, I canna guarantee we can get a transport back."

"I'll risk it," she said.  "I don't get out this way much; I'd like to walk around.  And I'm not afraid of a little water; I won't melt."



"Solids melt with an increase in heat; they dissolve when exposed to--"

She was looking at him in that way that girls had all through school when he was just trying to be helpful.

His cousin Mary had tried to explain it to him once.  It hadn't made any sense.  She had told him that he was thinking too hard.  "You can't bait for women, Monty.  Or at least you can't hang on to the ones you lure with bait.   With women, everything you already know is useless."

He wasn't sure that he understood the first part, but the last phrase he knew was true for damned certain.

He cleared his throat and started down the stairs.  "We'll walk to Edinburgh if ye like.  I rather fancy the fog meself."

"No, just the dance hall will be fine." She tugged his arm a little tighter and pulled her body in next to his.

The dance was in high swing by the time that they arrived.  John knew how to do it all.  He taught her how to polka and Lindy and Harriman step and even something obscure called the Charleston.  Monty tried, but body kinetics had never been his thing; engines were. They were predictable and far easier to control.  "Don't worry he said," I'd rather have a good view to watch you." And he meant it.  After all, John was engaged, wasn't he?

John's fiancée, Anne, was easy on the eyes and light on her feet with a friendly smile for everyone.  She had no lack of dance partners herself and seemed to delight in every one.  Monty caught up with Anne while she sat out a dance to get some punch.   "Does it bother you?" he asked nodding to where John and Lesa reeled happily around the floor.

"Huh?" She wrinkled her forehead in confusion.

"John and another girl?"

Anne laughed.  "Oh, lord, no.  You know him as well as I do, Monty.  He's a people person.  He lives to make other people happy.  I canna and wouldna try to stop him from that.  It's possibly the thing I love best about him.  How stupid would it be to let jealously destroy the vera best of a man?"

"You are supposed to be pledged--"

"Aye, and we are.  That's his public face.  He can have as much fun as he cares to with anyone whom he cares to, but I'll always be the one he comes to when he hurts.  If that ever changes, then I'll worry."

As they watched, Lesa squealed in delight as John dropped her into a giant dip and whipped her back up again.  He whispered something in her ear and she laughed loud enough to be heard across the room.

Anne elbowed Monty conspiratorially.  "Besides, how many times can I listen to those same old jokes and be expected to laugh?"

This time, despite himself, Monty laughed.

Protestations of left feet aside, John came and pulled him onto the floor for a Scottish reel.  It would be unpatriotic not to, he said.  After that was a waltz. Lesa promised to be gentle with him and he didn't step on her toes too often. Next was something fast and Rigelian.  Monty escaped before they could lasso him into trying to learn. He worked on trying to deduce why the sound system quavered every now and then.  He had it narrowed down to the piciculator or a fault in the ion feed when Lesa plucked at his sleeve.

"It's the last dance," she said.

"I'll see if I can call us a flitter."

"No, silly.  I want to dance it with you."

"Really?" Monty couldn't stop the smile.

Lesa rolled her eyes.  "Dissolve, melt, and trimodal transports, but you don't know much about women, do you?"

Well, he hadn't exactly considered it a secret. 

Apparently he knew enough to end up holding her close in a sweet, slow dance.  He wrapped her tightly in his arms and inhaled the heady mix of the sweat and perfume that radiated from her neck and moved without thinking to the strains of "Goodnight, Irene," and decided that he didn't give a damn what he knew anymore.

It was chilly and misting when they finally made it outside, but Monty felt warm all over. The fog was thick as it should be on a proper Scottish night. "We can probably bum a ride off of someone," said Monty.  "I dinnae think the weather will hold out much longer. "

"I have magical powers that will keep the rain away," she said and waved her arms in a grandiose gesture.

Monty felt the fog.  It was thick and brimming at the edge of saturation.  "Aye, well, I do hope that those powers won't--melt if they get wet." 

She looked at him with approval.  "You're learning," she said and tweaked him on the bum.

Monty made a mental note to send Mary a very nice Christmas gift this year.

"I had a good time," she said as they strolled along the pedway. "I don't know how to thank you."

"Thank John," he said.  "You had most of your fun with him."  He didn't intend for it to come out sounding so petty.

She gave no indication that she noticed.  "I already did.  But he had as much fun as I did.  It's not the same."

"I had fun," he said gripping her hand a little tighter and remembering how she had felt, warm and glowing in his arms. "I just love to see you happy--however that happens."  Much to his surprise, he meant it.

"You make me happy," she said.  She stopped where she was and kissed him.  

The kiss started slow and gentle, guaranteed not to offend.  It wasn't clear whose mouth opened first, but either way soon their tongues were mingled.  He clutched her tight against him, trying to press as much of his body against hers as he could muster.  It was awkward as he had little thought to spare for the logistics.  All that filled his mind was the sinful feel of her mouth on his and the little sounds she made from deep in her breast.

That is until the first wad of rain hit his face. 

One would think that it would be a gradual thing, from fog, to mist, to drizzle, to rain, to deluge.  Scotland seldom went the way of the rest of the world however, and the sky simply opened up and dropped water on the land by the freightload.   Startled, they broke apart and ducked their heads lest they risk drowning otherwise.

"I don't think your magic is working," said Monty.

"I never believed in magic anyway," she laughed. 

"Neither do I," he said. "I think we better run for it."   Hand in hand, they did.

The nice thing about being soaked to the skin is that once you can’t get any wetter, the rain simply ceases to matter.  Since they were already drenched, they stopped under the spread of a giant yew tree and kissed some more. 

This time there was no gentle hesitation. The delved as far as they could into each other.  She took his arm and wrapped it around her back, led it down the curve of her buttock. She began to hitch her dress up in the back, and when he finally got the idea, she moved her other hand to his rear. 

He had her backed against the trunk of the tree and pressed up against her, feeling every curve, every wiggle, every rise and fall of her chest.  He grew dizzy, almost faint. He thought every bit of his blood must be trapped below his waistband; surely there couldn't be enough to reaching his brain.  He backed off from her a little as the extent of his ungentlemanly actions knocked politely at his conscience.

She grabbed his ass and pulled him back hard against her. "I'm not a little girl," she said, running one hand under his shirt and around his nipple until he was sure his head would burst.

"Ah noticed," he managed to choke out.

She ground her pelvis against him harder.

"Lesa, please stop or ahm going to embarrass myself."  It was everything he could do to keep himself from moving against her, virtually taking her here and now like an animal.

"Don't let that stop you.  You're cute when you’re embarrassed," she said and nibbled at his ear.

His world spun.  He made one last valiant effort to pull away, and might have made it, save for her other hand sliding down the front of his pants. She barely had tickled the hair and brushed against a little skin when he choked out her name and collapsed against her shoulder.

"Thank you for a lovely evening," she said against his neck.

"Any time."  He tried to laugh, but had no breath for it. So settled for holding her and listening to the rain on the leaves,

The rain had slacked off a little when they reached his door. 

"Would you like to come in for a drink?"  he asked, feeling acutely unaware of the social rules here.

She shook her head.  "I don't drink."

"Would ya like me to call you a flitter--or pilot you home myself?"

She shook her head.

He paused. She hadn't moved from the doorstep. "Would you like to come in--not for a drink?"

She nodded.  He opened the door.

"Let me get you a towel," he said.  "You must be awfully cold."

He went into the bathroom. When he came out with the towel, she was standing there--naked.  He forgot what he was going to say.  He forgot the towel.

"You're right; I am cold," she said.  "Is there a place I can warm up?"  She walked to his bed and climbed in.  "Like here?"

Monty stripped in record time and leapt in beside her swearing to get Mary the nicest Christmas present she had ever had in her life.

He began by exploring her body, every inch, every curve, every ripple.  The skills he didn't uncoverfor himself, she showed him without the slightest  hint of laughter and when he lowered himself within her, it was the way he had always envisioned perfection to be.  

As he moved over her and in her and watched her face contort in pleasure, he decided she was probably smarter than he was.  Had it not been for the earlier interlude, he never would have lasted long enough to feel her claw her nails into his back in desperation or to have her pound her heels against him in a frantic, prolonged climax and that would have been a bloody shame to miss.

As it was, he lasted just barely two seconds longer than that.

His health teacher had never mentioned that it would be like this as the world reformed around him.   He decided that he should definitely try new experiments more often.

"What should we do next time?" he asked, fingering her hair.  The black streak fascinated him.  She'd said that that was her natural color--that generations of her family's women had gone prematurely gray.  Her mother had claimed that it was from putting up with generations of her family's men.

Monty was just old enough to agree that that made sense, and just young enough to swear that if he ever had the chance to be the one she chose, that she would never lose another jet-black strand again.

"Oh, ye think there'll be a next time then?"

He rolled over in alarm and gaped wide-eyed into her face.

She laughed.  "I'm jokin, silly." She ran the tips of her nails over his balls.  "And what we did this time was fine by me."

He relaxed at her words and touch.  The skin of his sac twitched and tugged in counterpoint to the gentle scrape.  "No complaints from my side either, but I meant before this."

His stomach tightened as his balls were pulled in to the humid heat of her mouth.  "Or, mebee, after…"  His eyes rolled back and he let himself go where she took him. 

It was a curious feeling.  It was much too soon.  There was not even a spark of an urge to climax anywhere within him. It all felt warm and intimate and tender and so very, very good. 

He wondered if this made him a sissy, but if so, that was fine by him.  He did decide that he would never tell the guys.  

After a time, she came back up beside him, leaving her hand where her mouth had been.   It allowed him to think a little. What had he been saying, oh, yes.  Their next date.

"We could take a skimmer around the islands, if you want.  Maybe do a little fishing. You said you liked it, didn't ye?"  When he thought of her, he thought of the ocean in the same flash. He thought of the way he had first seen her on the shore--wild, natural and waiting for him.  He hoped he always would.

"Mm." She nuzzled in against his neck.  "Aye.  What I'd really like is to see it from up high.  Really high.  See all the islands at once, maybe the whole ocean.

He furrowed his brow. "You've never been into space?" 

"Never higher than a commuter flitter."

"It's the twenty-third century, woman!"

"I'm an old fashioned kind of girl."

"I've got just the surprise for you then."

"Oh, really?" She spread her legs.

Monty chuckled and began kissing his way down her body.  It wasn't what he'd meant, but he could take a hint.  A man's work was never done.


They agreed on two weeks later.  Monty met her at the restaurant. 

"I was just about to order." She looked stunning in a flowing, silver dress.

"Why don't we wait until after?  You may not want much on your stomach for this." 

"Where are we going?"


She squealed and hugged his neck. 

"It's an experimental design John and I are working on," Monty explained as he led her out to the landing lot.  "We're modifying a Yager GR-3743 for marine use too.    The submarine operation isn't safe yet, but it runs fine as an aerospace craft."

"That?" She pointed at a craft on the edge of the lot.  It looked like the no-contest winner of the You'd Be a Fool to Trust Your Life to It Award.

"Ah, we're still working on it." It came out a wee bit testy for a fourth date.  He tried again. "But if you'd rather not…"

"I did nae say that." She ran her hand over the underbelly of the starboard engine with the gentle sensitivity of a lover's touch.  "Just makin' sure." She quirked her head up at him.  "So, can I drive?"

That's my girl!  Monty's face about split with an ear-to-ear grin as he opened the passenger hatch.  "She's a little finicky; mebee next time."

They flew with her face pressed to the window.  She took in absolutely everything.  Her islands, the ocean, the mountains, the lights, the nuclear void on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean where there would be no human habitation for the next 600 years still.   Like most Terrans, she couldn't look at it with out a lump forming in her throat at the magnitude of devastation that power and stupidity had wrought.

"Are you ready?" he asked as they left the coast of Africa to pass over the Pacific for the second time.

"Ready for what?"

"This." He cut the gravity, and she went floating with a cry of glee. 

He put the controls on automatic with a large perimeter alert and floated up to join her.  Brushes and tubes floated everywhere. Apparently her rucksack had been undone.  

"You should have warned me," she laughed as she propelled herself around collecting stray items in the air.

"Now what would be the fun of that?" he asked, catching a tube of cinnabar red where it spun above the console.

She took the tube from him and stuffed it back into the sack with the rest of the errant items. 

"What's this?" Monty asked as he tucked a handful of items back in.  At the bottom of the sack was appeared to be a big, soft, wad of fur.

"Dropcloth," she said as she stuffed paint tubes and brushes back in. 

"Fur?" he asked.

"Are you an art critic now too?" she bounced around the small cabin collecting the stragglers and looking decidedly more at ease.  It was a side of her he liked and wanted to see a lot more of.  "How's your stomach?" he asked as he snagged one last brush drifting near the controls. 

She tossed her head back and collected her hair into a makeshift knot.  "Okay, if I don't think about it--I think."

"That's the spirit."  Monty tucked a few straggling hairs behind her ears and twisted the paintbrush into some hair and slid it behind an ear too.

He dress billowed about her chest and arms as she tried vainly to push it down into some semblance of propriety.  There was no underwear in sight. 

He stroked her thigh.  "Lassie, have ye ever heard of the 100 kilometer high club?"

"Huh?" She tried again to push her dress back down.

He pushed her dress back up and kissed her--no where near the mouth.

"Oh, I think I'm going to like space flight," she said.  She wrapped her legs around him and together they went spinning.

When they finally landed back on his apartment rooftop, the restaurant had already closed.

She sighed in resignation.  "It's hard to keep track of time when you're going back and forth across the terminator and such, I suppose."

"Not really.  That's what chronometers are for."

She slapped his arm.  "You knew? I'm starving! Why didn't you tell me?"

"You don't think I wanted it to end, now, do you?  And I have food at my place."

"That's very sneaky, Mr. Montgomery Scott."

"I have eggs and sausage," he offered.

"Sold," she said.  "But you're cooking."

"Anything for my lady."

Forgetting everything else, they raced each other to the fridge for some soda. Monty said that something about how zero-g always dries out the mouth.  She said she thought it was more likely the pubic hairs.  He said he was willing to experiment as many times as it took to be sure.

By the time she had finished her second glass of juice, the eggs and toast were ready and the sausage was very close.  She thought of going back to the roof for her rucksack, but cold eggs are good for no one and Monty assured her she wouldn't be needing her clothes until morning.

The scraps of dinner were left to congeal on the table, the extra time to take them to the washer seeming too great a sacrifice at that moment.
Fed and full they loved each other again.  Lying beside him, she painted invisible pictures on his skin with the paintbrush from behind her ear.  She told him it was a scene of pirate and his fair maiden on the high seas. He closed his eyes and followed her brush strokes with just the sensation of his skin until he could see it too. 

In a short while, her eyes closed too. Her head flopped over against his chest and the paintbrush fell from her hand and rolled off and onto the floor.


In the middle of the night there was a knock. "Pssst!  Monty!"

"Go away."

"Monty, get up!  I think I figured out a way to damp the Kyhlmer wave variance."

Monty blinked fully awake. That would solve all of their water surface problems. Lesa stirred beside him.  He stroked her hair.  "Go back to sleep."

"We'll test it tomorrow," Monty whispered to the door.

"I have classes all day.  Come on, I'm dying to know if this works."

Monty rubbed his eyes and stomped to his jumper pocket for the key.  He passed it out through a crack in the door.   "Let me know how it goes, but remember, no more than a 0.003 percent variance. I'll be wanting ta see the datacorder."

John's eyes widened.  "You're kidding!  You'd part the dynamic duo for a girl!"

Monty clapped his shoulder. "Nae! Not any girl, me lad.  And I'll tell ya, a man can be just as dynamic without his pal as with him.  Mebee more."  Monty inclined his head towards the bed, shut the door, and practically dove back under the covers.


He almost didn't answer the comm when it beeped.  There was no one else he wanted to talk to.  There was no news that could make his life any better than it was now.  He would have been happy to live in this one moment forever, but the comm kept right on insisting.

He pulled on his pajama top and ran fingers through his hair in a token gesture. "Scott here."

The report hit him with a sort of dreamlike incredulity.  The young never believe that things like this can really happen to people like them,  He sat there staring at the blank screen until she came up behind him and kissed his neck.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"There's been an accident.  John and the spacecraft--"

"What?" She raced into the other room and threw open the bedroom door. "John!" 

"They say it just exploded. No one on the ground was hurt but--"

"No!  John!"  She punched up the landing pad on the outside monitor.  The place where they had parked was empty.

"No!  Where did it happen?  I have to go."  She scrambled into clothes and shoes.

"Lesa, there's nothing to see." Monty grabbed her shoulders and tried to hold her eyes. "It exploded in the air. He's gone.  The craft vaporized."

"I have to be sure. Where?" she pleaded.

"I'll take you, if you must." 

"No! You don't understand.  Just tell me where!"  Her voice was shrill and desperate.  He could feel the racing of her pulse beneath his hands.

He let her go.  "Dornoch--just over the water, they say.  Witnesses said he fought it back out to sea so that--" He couldn't finish.  "I'm sure the authorities can direct you."

She dashed out the door.   It was the first time ever that she had left without kissing him goodbye.

Monty went back in their bedroom.  He slipped on something: the paintbrush.  He picked it up and out of habit looked around to stick it back in her rucksack, but of course, he couldn't. 

The rucksack and all its mysterious contents had gone down in the explosion with the spacecraft.


It was raining when she came back three days later.  Not that that was news for Aberdeen, but she was again completely soaked, like the drowned Phoenician Sailor.  He didn't know why that image came to mind.  Water plastered her hair against her body in a haphazard sort of way.  Water streaked her face and rolled off of her forehead and the tip of her nose.

"Can I stay?" her voice said.  Her eyes said something different--something about an infinite sadness that he couldn't quite translate then.  He put it aside for later and concentrated on the one thing he did know.

Monty almost laughed in relief.  "Of all the stupid questions!"  He pulled her in and clung to her for dear life.  "Now I have a stupid question for you."

"No, Monty, please don't ask.  I'd tell you if I could, but it's not just about me."

He stroked her hair with what he hoped was reassurance that he didn't know how to put into words.  "I've got ta ask you this one question.  The rest doesn't matter a whit.  Will you marry me, Lesa?"

She nodded, yes. 

He pulled her in against his chest.  It was many minutes later that Monty realized the rain was still blowing in on them and maybe he should close the door. 


They lay in bed warming each other. It was the oddest thing.  No one would have called it sex, but it felt like making love all the same.   "Do you want to call your family?"  Monty massaged her back.

She stiffened.

"You know, to tell them about the wedding.  I have university rates on my comm--it's not bad at all."

"Your family is a close knit one.  Not all of them are."  She turned her head away and bundled her hair to the side as if to let him work on her neck.

"Well, this is different--their only daughter getting' married."  Monty paused, considering how little he really knew about her.  "Are you their only daughter?"

"Actually, I have two sisters."

Monty began to knead her neck.  "I never heard you mention them.  But I suppose, as you say, if you're not close."

In fact, her words had been that 'some families' aren't close. 

"I still think they'd want to come," said Monty.

"Don't make guesses when you don't have the facts.  They're different than your kinfolk.  They wouldn't come."

"Well, they won't if you dinnae ask."

"They won't."

"They don't approve of me, is that it?  I know it doesn't look like much now, but I have good prospects not just at Aberdeen but at any Federation University.  I've already won two grants and been offered more positions than I could take in a lifetime."

"It's not you; it's me," she said.  "Like I told you, not all families can be close."  He voice was wavering dangerously and she looked away at the last word.

"Okay," he said changing the subject.  "And I am sorry about that."

"Me too."  She reached back and squeezed his hand.   "But I was hoping maybe I could borrow your family for the occasion."

He stroked his hands down her neck to the tops of her shoulders.  "My family is your family now.  But I hope you aren't thinking of anything as temporary as borrowing."  He cupped her shoulders and swirled fingertips around the top ribs and the mysterious region where chest miraculously transforms itself into breast.

She laughed through her nose, but little humor came through. "No such luck. I'm afraid that you're stuck with me now."

"Praise be," he said and lay down beside her giving up his erstwhile sincere attempts at massage.


For a while, things were nearly normal.  She was accepted to the university environmental design program and spent most of her days at school and all of her nights at the apartment.  She had an inarguable eye and talent for design and her mentors held out great hopes for her. 

She never took a painting class or went back to painting again. It was as if that little part of her had died.

Monty asked her about it once. She'd answered sharply enough that he had known better than to raise the subject again.  It wasn't the same without her old brushes, she'd said.  They'd been made just for her and were special.

As odd as women were, Monty found that evasion hard to believe.

Still, he'd taken her at her word.  He'd offered to have a set custom made, ergonomically designed for her.  Anything she wanted.  He'd hoped that going back to painting would give her back that ineffable spark.  That it would fix whatever had been ruined by the crash over Dornoch.

She'd just given him that moron look again and he'd left her alone with her design texts.


So, where should we go for the honeymoon?" Monty asked as they lay intertwined on the sofa.  "Anywhere you want.  You'd never been in space before.  We could go to Andor--or how about Cyrillius VI?  You'd love the oceans there." 

"Wherever," she said.  "They both sound lovely."

"We'll have to put a rush on your passport then.   If you go for the genotests tomorrow we might just get it in time."


"Aye.  You'll need to submit a DNA specimen as positive id for your passport.  Don't worry; it doesn't hurt."

"Maybe we should stay closer to home.  School is so hectic, I hate to lose more travel time."  She looked away to the sofa back with that same hopeless timbre to her voice.

"Ireland?  We could go see the places that John talked about. Visit his family if you like--" His voice trailed off, but he kept his eyes glued to her head.

"No." She shook her hair firmly and turned back to him. She took his hand.  "I want to get away with you, but let's keep it on Earth, okay?"

"Maybe Thailand?  They have lovely beaches." 

"Not the beach," said Lesa.  "I was thinking mountains." 

"But you love the ocean."  Monty massaged her hand  "I thought you might like it with some sunshine for once.  You haven't been the same since you stopped going--painting."

Lesa shrugged.  "People change; I changed.  I don't want to be around the sea.  I'd really like to see the mountains.  I want to go as high as you can go on earth: Mount Everest.  I want to go all the way to the top of the world."  She rolled over onto his stomach and held her face very close to his.  "Can we afford it?"

Monty tickled the back of her knee.  "Aye, I can work out the fee easy enough, but I'd prefer nae to be spending our honeymoon in biosuits."  He kissed her once and again.  And again.  And again.  Somewhere in there he lost track.

"How about Kilimanjaro?" he asked when they finally broke apart. "No biosuits and they provide private envirotents."

"How far is it from the coast?" she asked.

"I don't know.  Pretty far inland, I think.  We can look it up in the morning if you want, but the area isn't known for seafood, if that's what you mean."

"Sounds good," she said and rolled him over and on top of her. "Can we stay for a whole week?"


It was about a month before the wedding date that he came home and found her crying.  At first he couldn't place the strangled noises; certainly they were sounds he had never associated with her. They were coming from his study--the room that had been John's bedroom.  When he opened the door, he saw her with her back to him, the painting from their second date out on the desk and the photograph John had taken of her clutched in one hand.

Monty loved her enough to pretend he hadn't seen.  He backed out and closed the door. 

Apparently she loved him enough not to accept the tacit offer.  She didn't turn, but she called to him.  "Monty, would you do something for me?"

He went to her and knelt beside her, not quite touching her, feeling about as useless as he ever had. "Now that's the stupidest question I've heard all week."

She smiled through her tears and took his hand.  He grabbed her arm and pulled it up under his chin.

"Can we go to the shore? Now?"

Understanding without comprehension began to form--or maybe it had already formed a while back.  In any event, Monty's words were not a guess.  "You want to say goodbye." 

He didn't mean to John.   He was fairly sure she didn't either.

She hesitated. "Yes.  And if I were to ask you to wait in the flitter--?"

"Lassie, now that's the second stupidest question. You're on a roll today.  Did I not just say I'd do anything?"

She flung her arms around his neck and hugged him. "I love you."

"And I am so vera, vera, glad."

When they broke apart, Monty picked up the canvas. "It's rather a nice picture, really. Can we frame it and put it up?"

"Sure.  I'd like that.  I miss the ocean.  Hang it where ever you think best."

"You're the design expert," he teased.

"He was your friend."  She stood and tucked the little photograph into her bra.   As he got another glance at it, he saw something gray out in the ocean.  Turtles?  Maybe seabirds on the water.  Whatever it was, she concealed the photo so fast he couldn't really be sure. 


The trip to the seashore was uneventful.  She stayed less than an hour. As promised, he stayed in the flitter.  He even closed his eyes. He didn't ask her any questions when she came back with her eyes puffy and her nose reddened, except whether she cared to go eat.  She said, no, that she wasn't hungry, even for their favorite restaurant.

They went back home and made sweet, slow, love instead.


One day the doorchime rang.  It was a small parcel addressed to Lesa, delivered by courier, no reply, no return address.  She cut open the weatherguard wrapping and gasped as she picked up the contents of the box.  It was a set of perfectly matched pearls, each one bigger than a pea.

"They're beautiful," said Monty, leaning over her shoulder.  "They're real?"

"Family heirlooms," she said running them through her fingers.  "Over five hundred years old."

He picked up the strand.  "The clasp is Jeluronized gold.  They didn't have that five hundred years ago."

"Pearls on silk have to be periodically re-strung and re-knotted. I suppose they replaced the clasp one of those times.  The pearls are natural though, taken from open-water oysters." 

"You could just use synthaline and save all the trouble."

She took them back.  "The natural beauty is their attraction.  Synthetic fiber would spoil that.  Help me put them on."

"You won't think of it as spoiling when the silk rots through and they spill all over the floor." He fastened the clasp in the back of her neck.

"One, that's what the knotting is for.  And two, I will be restringing them to make sure that that doesn’t happen."

"They must love you very much to send you beauties like these."

She stroked the beads at her neck. "Yes."

Monty licked his lips.  "So don't you think--"

"No." she turned off her computer, went into the bedroom and shut the door.

If asked, Monty couldn't have said how he knew.  When he was eleven, the proof to Hyzander's theory of cho particles had just popped into his head fully formed.  He had known that he was right, even though at a gut level he hadn't dared to believe.  His science teacher had tried to help him set it up, but immediately realized she was over her head.  She had called the University of Edinburgh and gotten him into the physics lab with a faculty mentor and the rest was history.  Four months later, he and the entire physics community had no choice but to believe.

This was fairly similar.  It wasn't a matter of putting together the little clues.  One day, he just looked at her and knew at some atavistic level in his gut, even if he didn't really believe.

It wasn't the first time the idea had been raised.  His gramma had claimed that his grampa was one.  When grampa had died, Monty had stood at the coffin and waited for something to happen--some proof of the myth--but it never did.  Finally they closed the lid and laid the coffin in the hearse.

It didn't seem the time to question gramma, so he'd asked Ian MacKintock instead.   "I thought they turned into sea foam." Ian was in eighth grade. He should know.

"That's mermaids, you dumbass."

"So what happens to selkies, then?"

"They're immortal.  They don't die; they just put their fur suits back on and turn back into seals again."  Ian didn't really know, but he was in eighth grade and supposed to have the answers, so he just made something up.

"Everything dies; it's just a matter of when," said Monty.  They'd covered that in class.

Ian rolled his eyes.  "It's just a story, Monty. Don't be such a baby."

Monty was no baby, so he let it go.

He'd only brought it up one other time. He was home from university and gramma had grown so old in the three months since he'd seen her last.   Everyone dies, but he didn't have to like it. 

He'd sat with her reminiscing.  They had shared some wonderful times.  They spoke of the old bedtime stories, the trouble he'd gotten into, the things they'd agreed that his parents didn't need to know, they bedtime stories she had told.   Finally he asked, "You used to tell me that grampa was a selkie." 

"Aye, and the most beautiful one you'll ever see."

"I thought selkies were immortal." 

"They are.  As seals they can live healthy and beautiful forever.  As humans, well, they don't just die in body like we do; they sort of fade away a little bit at a time.  That's why they can't ever stay."

"But grampa did. And died."

She coughed a wheezy laugh.  "You're old enough to know it now.  I meant your real grampa."

Monty blinked.

"Don't look so shocked, boy.  I'm talking about love, not some evil thing."

"So…I'm part selkie?"

She shook her head sadly.  "It doesn’t work that way."  All they leave with us is here. "  She tapped her head.  "And here." She tapped her heart and left her hand in place.

The door opened and a nurse came in.  "Time for your hypo, Mrs. Scott."

Monty stood.  "Can it wait?  I don't get to visit often and we have a lot to talk about."

The nurse smiled kindly and drew the drapes against the sun as it dropped low to window level.  She put the hypo back in her pocket.  "I'll give you thirty more minutes, if you like, but frankly it would be better if you could come back in the morning.  She doesn't do well when her schedule is disrupted and her mind is so much clearer earlier in the day." 

Monty paused.  "You're right.  I don't want to interfere with her care." He kissed her on the forehead.  "Goodnight, gramma."

In the morning they had talked of birthday parties, a pair of pet wolverines they had kept for a few months and a family trip to Luna.  When he'd broached the subject of his real grampa, she'd said that she had no idea what he meant.

The scientific theory depends on proof and not belief, but sometimes it works backwards.  Some things cannot be proven until and unless someone believes.

It didn't make an iota of scientific sense, but given a choice between the two, any good Scotsman will chose heart over brain when a lady is at issue. Some say that is what brought down the Stuarts at Culloden.  Monty preferred to think that is why Scotland was still the great, independent state that it was.

His heart told him that Lesa was too important to let her slowly fade away.

It was a long shot, but so was warp drive.  Monty waited until she left for class, then he entered their bedroom.  He took her old paintbrush from the nightstand.  As an afterthought, he took her hairbrush too.  He'd dated a girl in a bioscience fellowship.  Okay, 'dated' was a stretch, but she had held his hand while she'd told him that he was a great guy and then explained why it wouldn't work.  That was closer than he had come with any other woman before now. Her name was Rachel, Rachel Judson.  It wasn't hard to find her lab.

Monty would have liked to have thought that Rachel was helping him for the sake of a the handful of good times they had had, but he had to admit that a fellow scientist was more likely to leap at the puzzle that at his looks and charisma.  For whatever reason, Rachel took the paintbrush. She looked skeptical, but put it in the sequencer anyway.

"Nope, only keratin left--no DNA."  She took it out and changed to another machine.  After a few seconds she shook her head "It's been exposed to too many chemicals," she said.  "The bonds are too badly broken to establish a curl pattern.  That's going to limit the identification."  She pressed a couple buttons.  "It's probably a pinniped, but I don't think I can narrow it down any more than that.  I'm sorry."

Monty reached in to his pocket and unwound a few hairs from the hairbrush.   Palming the length of the strands, he broke off a follicle end. "Try this."

She put it in the sequencer and her whole posture changed.  She ran it again. "Where did you get this?" she demanded. 

"Ya would nae believe me if I told ya."

"Monty, I won't be part of anything illegal.  This is a phocid, and they are all endangered and strictly protected.  If you've trapped one, or killed it--" Her voice trailed off.

"It's nothing like that," Monty said acutely aware of how close the facts were to that despite the intent.  "I promise, it's nothing illegal or immoral, but I can't tell the details; I promised someone else."

Rachel looked at him, doubt written all over her face, but in the end she was a scientist.   She returned to the sequencer.  " I can't match it exactly, but it is very similar to halicoerus.  Whatever it is, it is probably extinct." She removed the hair specimen and put it into the ionic analyzer.  "But the curl and bond structure doesn't match.  It looks--human." 

She looked up.  "May I see a full hair?"

Monty crammed his hand back in his pocket.  "Sorry that's all I have."  He didn't even try to sound convincing.  He'd always been a crappy liar. 


"Ye said you didn't want to be too involved--"

"No, I said I wouldn't be a part of anything illegal, and I won't.  I love these animals.   I will not stand around and let one be exploited or worse." Her eyes flared in a way that only meant trouble from women. 

This was an emergency.  Monty bent his knees and dropped to her eye level.  He took her by the forearms.  "Rachel, I swear, I am trying to save one.  I canna tell you more except that I need your help and that I would give my life, my soul, anything that is mine to give to save this creature.  So, will ya help me, or nae?" 

Dampened beyond the critical point, the fire in her eyes went out.  She exhaled.  "You always were a crappy liar.  Okay, I believe you.  So what do I do now?" 

He squeezed her hand and kissed it.  "Bless you, woman.  Can you grow me a patch of the fur?"

She double-checked the data.  "Sure.  The curl-pattern will still be off, though.  Will that do?"

Monty gave a rueful snort.  "Dammed if I know. How long?"

"How much do you need?"

"Mebee…three meters square?"

"Two weeks, give or take."

"Alright.  One more thing--can you put a black streak in it?" 

"Sure.  That's just coding in more melanin." 

He nodded.  "Make it noticeable, but not too big."

Like she should know what that meant.  Why couldn't men communicate?  "Monty."  She called him back from his way out.  "There are expenses." 

There went Kilimanjaro.  He'd never been that big on mountains anyway.

"I'll send a credit confirmation to the lab."

"Better make it my private account." She wrote down a code.  "They'll be questions if there is an outside donor.  They don't ask me what I'm doing as long as I publish regularly."  She paused.  "Any chance of publishing…something out of this?"

"You know as well as I do that nothing should be completely ruled out in science."

Rachel looked back at the slew of incongruous data. "Ain't that the truth."


A little bird told him that he should talk to Lesa about it, but he always shooed it away.  How would the discussion go?  Honey, I know you're a seal; I think we should sit down and talk?  Wait, do seals sit?  Maybe we should swim and talk.  That's what he liked about mechanical engineering; it did not rely on the imprecision of words. Everything was math and fact and the final product either worked or it did not.  If it didn't one went back to the last decision point and tried again. 

He reasoned it out. She couldn't help.  She was worse off than he was for she was burdened with the iron certainty of centuries that it couldn't be done.  Monty had no such preconceptions.   He would do what inventors had done through the ages.  He would see it through to the end, then flip the switch and see if the lights came on.

He went to her bridal dress fitter instead.  "Can you do it?" he asked.

"If it's solid, I can fit it," he said.  "But I don't work on illegal goods.  Got a permit?"

"It's laboratory grown," said Monty.  He produced the lab certificate.

The tailor looked it over and grunted.  "I'll need to keep this until you pick it up.  You want the entire body?"

"Entire.  Head, feet, hands, all of it."

"You want eye holes? A mouth?"

Monty faltered.  How the blazes was he supposed to know?  "Sure, I guess."

"How about--" The tailor gestured below his belt.  His eyes narrowed.  "Are you going to be using it for any funny business?"

"Certainly not!" Monty flushed beet red and his brogue trebled in intensity. "What dae yae think Ah ahm?" 

"A man commissioning a fur suit for his bride in time for their honeymoon."

Monty groaned inwardly.  He sincerely hoped this man did not know any of his friends or family.  "Nothing but the eye and mouth holes," he said.  "It'll be ready for the wedding day?"

"She can pick it up with the dress, if she wants."

"No! Don't tell her!  I'll pick it up meself.  It’s a surprise." 

The tailor's eyebrows rose again.

"Not like that--"  Monty began.

"None of my business; I just sew the stuff.  Just tell me where you want the fabriseal. Back? Side? Middle?"

"No fabriseal," said Monty.

"Well how do you expect to get the blame thing closed?" 

"You're the tailor!  I'm a mechanic.  Ye come to me with a flitter; I'll tell you how it should be fixed, nae the other way 'round.  I come to you with an outfit, I expect you to work out the details.  No synthetic anything.  Not the thread, not the closings."

He fingered the leathery base of the fur.  "I suppose I could make buttons out of this."

"Fine.  Whatever works.  And call me when it's done. Anything else?"

The tailor held out his hand. 

Monty passed over a credit chit. He'd heard that Kilimanjaro had been ruined by the tourists anyway.

It was ready a week ahead of time.  Monty went by to pick it up.  "Don't you want the lady to try it on for fit?"

Monty quirked his head.  "I don't think an inch here or there will make any difference." 

The tailor passed him a box and a bag.

"Here, what's this?' 

"The scrap fur.  Grown or not, I don't want it on the premises without the lab receipt."

Monty peeked in the bag.  There was rather a lot of scrap.  It seemed like a shame, considering what he'd paid.   He punched info up on his flitter guidance console and headed for the nearest art guild.

"Pardon me," he said to the woman who greeted him. "Can you make custom paintbrushes?"


Monty came to the door with one box in each hand.  His mother stuck her head out. "Go away! It's bad luck to see the bride on the wedding day."

"Bad luck for the bride, the groom, or for the marriage?" asked Monty.

"It's all the same," said his mother.  It wasn't often that she was so far off base.

"Lesa!" Monty called through the door.

Lesa came rushing to the entrance.

"Kids," said his mother with an I-wash-me-hands-off-of-ye scoff that didn't fool anyone.

"I have something for you." Monty raised the packages up to eye level.

"I didn't think that the groom gives bridal presents," she said eyeing them nonetheless. 

"Well, you're not just any bride.  These are special." 

"Well," she stood aside.  "Come in; show me."

Monty hesitated.  "Why don't you come out to the flitter.  I want to show you in privacy."

"Let me get my shoes."

"If you want." Monty spoke to her back as she rummaged in the closet.  "But I doubt that you'll need them."

She popped into the front passenger seat.  "So, what have I got?" She reached for the big box.

"No, this one first." Monty handed the smaller box to her.

She started to peel neatly at the paper with her nails, but gave up rapidly and ripped it open.  Inside was a set of paintbrushes--at least thirty different sizes and styles.

"You've seemed so lost without you…painting. I thought maybe if you started again--"

Lesa picked up a thick filbert and brushed it against her cheek.  Her eyes widened. "Monty!"  She picked up another brush and then another.  "Monty, where did get the fibers?"

"Do you like them?"

"They're perfect, but I need to know, where did you get them?"

"I grew them--or had them grown for you, maybe I should say."

"These are very, very rare.  How--?"

"Open the other one."  Monty prodded it at her.

"I really need to know how--"

"Open it. I'll answer it after, if you still want."

Lesa tore open the wrapping and threw aside the box top to pull out a sealskin body suit, sized it seemed just for her.   She stared between it and Monty, then threw her arms around his neck and began to cry.  At first it was gasping little sobs, unsure of what to do next.  Then it became full body wracking heaving sobs heavy with everything she had held inside for so long. 

Monty held her through it all, her long hair splayed out over her back and around her shoulders almost covering her slight body from his view.  "Thank you!  How'd you know?  I love you!" she kept repeating. 

Irony is a curious phenomenon.  For the first time everything was out in the open, but paradoxically Monty found that, for that very reason, he had no idea what to say. 

They piloted out to the coast in near silence, her hand resting on him the whole time.  There were so many things he should have wanted to know now that this was out in the open--questions coastal highlanders had had for centuries, maybe even millennia.  His grandmother had told him stories of the selkies that her grandmother had told her. Each town had a different version: the details of when they came ashore and why, how they seduced their lovers, and whether they bore men good or ill.

One of the few things that remained constant was the skin.  Should their sealskin coat go missing, they would be left in human form forever.

He supposed he could have all the answers.  He might be the only human being if he did.  None of that seemed to matter.  He wanted only one thing, and that was exemplified by the gentle reality of her leg against his leg and her hand upon his thigh.

There was only one question that nagged at him, petty and churlish as it was.  As people still had a vestigal appendage, men still carried this vestige of the caveman claim-the-woman-by-the-hair-days. 

"It was never about John, was it," he asked, ashamed and oddly liberated at the same time.

"John? No.  Why do you ask?" Her surprise was genuine and ironically, greater than any he had been able to muster through all this.

Monty shrugged in feigned insouciance.  "I dinnae.  The picture, the vidistill."

Lesa pulled the crumpled still from a fold of her clothing.  "The painting was the sea--my home.  And this one is my parents."

Scotty looked over at the snapshot.  He saw waves and maybe--just maybe--two hazy blobs.  "I can't really tell much."

"No," she agreed, "but it's them.  I was talking to them earlier.  I thought this picture was all I would be able to ever have of them to keep."  Her voice broke.

Monty squeezed her hand.  A Scottsman understands clan.  "God willing, I'll see that you get back."  A wet droplet splashed his hand, and he carefully kept his eyes on the control panel lest he have to pull over--and Lesa had waited long enough.

With the guidance of the instruments, Monty found the landing clearing.  The fog was so thick one could barely see the shore.  The damp washed in as soon as she opened her door.  Monty shuddered as the bitter sea air wrapped around him.  He thought he knew now why he had never learned to like the ocean: the purpose of its whole existence was to take her away from him.

Lesa grabbed the sealskin and hopped out, skipping easily over the slick rock as if she were born to it.  Of course she did--she was.

She found a flat spot and pulled her dress up over her head.   Monty picked his way around the flitter and over to her.   By the time he got there, she was naked, sitting on a rock with her legs turned to one side running the sealskin through her hands. 

Monty's skin was pimpled against the cold and he fought the urge to shiver; Lesa was positively aglow.  He squatted down and moved his hand with hers, petting the fall of the fur.  "I guess it's time ta fire up the engine and see if she runs as good as she looks."

She turned her head and glanced up at him a little shyly.  "Humans aren't supposed to watch us change.  It's against the rules somehow."

"Sorry." Monty straightened up and pulled away.

She grabbed his wrist making him slip and almost stumble on the rock.  "It's okay.  I think the rules are different…considering."

Monty knelt down in front of her on the rock.

Starting at her feet, she pulled the sealskin on.  Her feet turned out and her legs blurred together.  She slipped one arm in and the arm became a flipper.  She pulled the hood up over her head and finally she poked the last arm in, all but completing the transformation.  From the backside she was just another seal.

From the front there was one little problem.  A very human, very familiar, very sexy torso still poked through the middle. 

Lesa tried to reach it with a flipper, but it was well out of her grasp.  She twitched her nose at him.  "Good thing you stayed.  I could use a hand."

"Aye," said Monty, moving mechanically towards her.  Believing in the theory was one thing, but seeing it, touching it, having manufactured something that he couldn't even begin to comprehend the workings of was another thing entirely.  And thus everything he knew of his ordered, reasoned, scientifically designed universe collapsed around him and the wonders of infinite possibilities fell within his scope.

Starting at the navel and moving up, reverently he began to button.  He traced the line of her body up between her breasts and over her neck, ending at the very place he loved to nestle.  He kissed it one last time, then closing his eyes, he sealed it with a final twist.

He sat back to admire his handiwork.  Silver-gray, sleek and shiny, she was still the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.  A scattering of darker patches mottled her back and belly.  From her head running back behind where her ear opening must be, a sharp streak of pure black ran down to her neck.

"Well," she said, "what do you think?"

The love of his life was a myth.   He had made the greatest natural discovery of the century with staggering bioengineering implications, but he would never be able to tell.  His entire worldview had been wrong.  The picket fence life he had planned out with endless research grants, an engineering chair and 1.37834 kids had just been swept away in one fell swoop. 

What did he think?  He voiced the first formed thought that came into his head.  "You can talk."

She tossed back her head. "Of course.  What did ye take me for, a seal?"  Despite himself, Monty began to laugh.  She followed suit, but the laugh was harsh and barking, exactly like--

Monty grew silent.  Carefully he rolled a set of her barbels between his fingers.  She twitched and gave a ladylike sneeze.  He thumbed the rubber skin of her nose--a nose that had not been sewn into the pelt they had grown.  He stroked the white streak, rolled his fingertip around the tiny ear opening, felt the ridges of tissue and a flap that had not been there minutes before.  He examined her flipper efficiently webbed, the vicious looking claws on each one.  

She already smelled like the sea.

He raised a flipper to his mouth and kissed it.  Choking back emotion, he let her go.  "You're nae coming back, are ye?"

She slid a little closer to him. "Monty, I was never meant to be here this long in the first place."

He swallowed hard and nodded.  "I know.  I've just…never met anyone like you before--"

"Nae doubt." She barked again.

He didn't laugh this time. "You know what I mean."

She rubbed his head against his knee.  "I do.  And I feel the same.  Monty, you have given me--or given me back everything--and I do mean everything--that I value in this life.  I can never thank you enough for that--or repay you--but I will always love you."

"You can repay me," said Monty.  He knelt back down and threw his arms around her, burying his face in her neck.

"How's that?"

"By promising me you'll be happy.  What I want more than anything is ta know that you're happy and that I made you that way." He pressed his face more tightly against her, the musty smell growing every stronger in the damp.  "And if there is ever a time when you're thinking about not being happy, well, you won't be able to because you made me a promise and you have ta keep it." 

"I promise," she said.  She reached to wrap her flippers around him, but together they came unbalanced and fell awkwardly to the rock.

"Shite!" said Monty wiping a hand violently at his face. 

"It's okay," she said. "I'll always remember what it was like."

Monty scrambled to his feet and took a deep breath.  "I guess this is good-bye, then."  He wiped his nose with the back of his hand but didn't move from his spot.
"Come with me," she said.

"What?" His eyes flew wide in wonder.  "You mean, I could?"

"No.  No.  We can teach our own children to convert, but not outsiders."  Her voice trailed off with a flush of the same sadness he had grown accustomed to in the preceding weeks since the crash.

His face fell. 

"I just meant, come with me into the water--to say good-bye."

"You're daft woman!  It's bloody freezing in there!"

"It's not so bad once you get used to it."

He scoffed.  "That's easy for you ta say; you’re a--"  He stopped.

"Say it."

"You're a selkie."  The word hung in the air.

"And you're not." She slipped down the rock and toward the water's edge.

"Wait!"  Monty peeled of his jacket and kicked off his boots.  Mindless of the rough stone he plunged after her.  He fell into a tide pool in the rock.  "Shite."  He stood up and made to turn around, but then he saw her just offshore, waiting for him. He lunged out of the tidepool and crawled into the ocean's edge.

The cold constricted his chest when the water covered it.  He felt his heart stutter and then restart.  She was there against him.  "Welcome to my world."  She dove down; he paddled after her.  She swam around him, between his legs.  She maneuvered to carry him playfully on her back. 

His teeth chattered and another wave washed over him. He choked on the salt water running down his throat and spat out a mouthful of ocean and phlegm.  "Knock it off," he said.  "This is insane. Let me go."  Let me go.

Let me go. He'd said it.  He'd asked for it. Even in myth--perhaps especially in myth--some things were just not meant to me.  Drowning half-frozen after being battered against the rocks is enough to ward off the romantic in most men.

And not all fairytales end in  'happily every after.'

She rolled him off her back and he staggered to stand in the waist deep water.

"I'll always love you," he said. 

She dove under, wove between his legs, her fur brushing softly against his calves, then she surfaced, barked twice at him and dove away towards Orkney.

Dripping and shivering Monty made back for the flitter.  He stopped to pick up her clothes.  Nobody likes a litterbug.  He paused and, thinking the better of it, stashed them under a rock and made a little cairn--just in case.  After all, you never know in this life, do you?

The paintbrushes he saved in a pouch that he kept with his personal possessions wherever he went. 

Because everyone knows that most fairytales do end happily ever after.


Scotty lay on his berth stroking Mira's hair.  It was nearly thirty years ago now, but experiences like that don't fade with time.  Lesa had given him a new way of seeing his universe.  Because of her he had reached for other strange new worlds and found his life among the stars.  He had previously thought that the cost had been his heart, but since Mira he saw that he had been wrong again. 

Mira turned out the light.  Apparently the transponders and couplers could wait.  She curled against him and locked one leg tightly around him as if to never let him go.

Scotty adjusted the pillow and made a place for his left arm somewhere behind her head.   Okay, so he wasn't getting up tonight.  That was all right with him.

In the morning he would dig out the paintbrushes and package them to send to Janice Rand on Earth via the next mail ship.  Janice would appreciate them and they belonged on Earth. 

Besides, he had no use for them anymore.