Excerpt from Everywhere I Look
Paul Noren hates himself for never confessing his love to Peter Nichols, a war-weary mecha pilot sent to Mars via the Phobos Initiative, the first manned mission outside the Earth-Moon system, where he is now completely out of reach.
On a return trip to Earth, Peter collapses from illness just as he touches down, the unwitting victim of the illegal actions of a scientist who was part of the Phobos Initiative. While recovering, he is approached with a chance to help capture the man who almost killed him—but there is someone else he is far more desperate to find.
- 136 pages
Joy stopped at the threshold of the Phobos Alpha gym door and scanned the room. She had already visited the media center, observation deck, and Peter’s personal quarters, all prime suspects among places on the massive ship that she knew he went during off hours.
Although she was hoping to run into him without seeming to be looking for him, she had no plan for what to do or say when she found him. She saw him in the far corner of the gym doing bench presses. He wore only shorts and sneaks, and sweat beaded everywhere on his face, neck, and torso. His arms, extended in an effort to perform a final rep of his bench-press routine, shook with the inevitable arrival of failure, the paradoxical sign of a successful workout. She dithered about whether to approach him or leave him alone.
No, look at him. He’s got to be almost done. And if I’m going to talk to him, it might as well be now as later. She walked toward him.
Peter groaned loudly as he ordered his arms to lift. He forced a full extension, but had to lock his elbows to keep from dropping the weight to his chest. Joy saw that he was in trouble and hurried to him. As she reached him, she felt shock at the appearance of his face: contorted and harsh, almost menacing. She fought the urge to flinch at the intensity of his expression, which vanished when he saw her hands appear on the barbell next to his. Joy guided the weight to the resting hooks as he grunted and pushed up the rest of the way.
“Thank you,” he said, trembling with relief. He unwrapped the fingers of one hand from the barbell in slow motion and used them to pry loose the fingers of his other hand. He sat up and reached for his towel, wiped his face, then worked downward. He got to his pecs before he realized that Joy hadn’t spoken and froze in position, looking at her as he raised an eyebrow over a frown.
“You're here to—are you all right?”
Joy pressed her lips together. Just say it. “That’s what I came to ask you,” she said quietly.
Peter’s eyebrow fell. “Yes?”
“At dinner you were obviously disturbed at seeing Paul Noren on the—”
She stopped in mid-sentence when Peter closed his eyes and resumed wiping down his body. He switched the towel to his arms, then to his abs. She continued with a meek tone of voice. “I… I know it’s none of my business.”
“That's right.” He twisted at the waist, away from Joy, as he wiped a shoulder blade.
“But we’re more than professionals,” she said. “Aren’t we? More than fellow crew members?”
Peter opened his eyes and slung his head sideways. He stared at Joy as he continued toweling off.
“At least, I hope we are. I hope we’re friends too.”
Peter bent over his knees and worked on his legs.
“So, I, uh…” Peter’s non-response was intimidating. Joy faltered. “I just, uh, want you t-to know….” She stopped and took a breath.
Peter sat, draped his towel over one thigh, and bent to his other foot, busying himself with retying his shoelaces. Joy's eyes narrowed. Without warning, she raised her voice and spoke words with serrated edges.
“Oh, fuck you for being the strong, silent type. It’s obvious that something's bothering you. I think talking about it will help, and I’m your friend, or want to be, and if you—oh, hell. You know where to find me if you want me to finish destroying whatever friendship I thought we might’ve had.”
Joy spun around and marched from the gym. Peter straightened and watched her go, his hands limp in his lap. He tilted his head toward a shoulder, mouth open, eyes wide with bewilderment.
After showering, Peter pulled on white bikini briefs. Over those he slipped on black spandex shorts that reached to mid-thigh. He poked his head and arms into a dark-blue tank top, then added white ankle socks and his favorite black sneaks. He smiled as he dressed, remembering a throwaway comment by Paul during the war: “Must‘ve studied fashion at the Steve Jobs School of Wardrobe,” which he said when he discovered that three sets of the outfit was the only clothing Peter stowed in his mecha. His smile disappeared as he recalled the mix of hurt and anger in Joy’s eyes when she blew up at him in the gym.
Gotta find her and talk.