Sigma: D plus 49 h : 18m : 57s and counting

pg-13 | mild sexual content

His body reacted before his mind could actually process what happened. His legs propelled him up and off the sofa and his arms reached for her, even though he was too far away and couldn't possibly catch her, couldn't possibly reach her in time.

Carlos was closer; he had been walking over to her even before she lost her balance and fell off the chair she was using as a ladder. Presumably, he intended to do what Diana was trying to do - reach the boxes on the top shelf. Carlos caught her with ease, lowering her safely onto the floor. Sigma stood with fists clenched at his sides as he saw Carlos's hands on her hips -

(Too low, nearly indecent. Lingering for several moments after she was clearly fine. She wouldn't even have hurt herself if she had fallen, anyway; maybe just a bruise on her knee or her elbow. There was no need to sweep in there so dramatically, no need to still be touching her, unless Carlos was also mesmerized by her kind eyes and her generous spirit.)

- but then he released her and reached up to grab the boxes they needed for the experiment. She thanked him.

"Next time you need something you can't reach, let me know and I'll get it for you."

She gave him a soft smile. "I like to try to do things myself, but I appreciate the offer."

He sat back down, aware of the fact that Akane and Phi, flanking him on either side on the couch, were both staring at him. Akane put a hand on his arm and asked if he was okay. The concern in her eyes was almost overshadowed by confusion and frustration. This Akane didn't know who Diana was or why she meant so much to him, and only two days into the simulation, she was already fed up with his behavior.

(This Akane hadn't found him clutching her dead body, screaming to a god he didn't even believe in. This Akane hadn't tried to stop him from ripping apart the Infirmary that failed her with his bare hands. This Akane hadn't watched it nearly derail the entire AB Project as he started abusing sleeping pills so he wouldn't have to face reality.)

Carlos placed the four boxes on a table and picked up his clipboard, his lips moving silently as he read the instructions for this particular experiment to himself.

"Okay, guys, looks like we're supposed to break up into pairs."

"How is that going to work with nine of us?" Eric asked. Mira sighed and Junpei muttered something under his breath.

Carlos was a bit kinder. "I assume they're not taking Q into account."

"Oh, yeah." Eric blushed as he turned his attention to the old man in the wheelchair in the corner. Whenever the eight of them were gathered together, they tended to bring him along. He couldn't assist them in any of the experiments, but they included him in the group probably for the same reason Diana apologized for her cold hands and the tiny prick of the needle every time she took a blood sample. It made her feel better, and at least some of them would feel guilty if they just left Q in his room twenty-four hours a day.

"I know this is mean of me to say, but I'm having trouble understanding what Mira sees in him," Akane said, in hushed tones.

"Maybe he's packing twelve inches," Phi responded, making no such effort to lower her voice. Maybe she was trying to goad him, but he couldn't take his eyes off Diana. She was wearing a long black skirt and an emerald green blouse. As she picked up the chair she had borrowed and put it back in its place, he could see the outline of her bra through her shirt.

(In ten months, forty-four or so years ago, he remembered how he struggled with her bra during their first time. She had laughed and easily unhooked it behind her. But when he slid the straps off her shoulder and let it fall to the floor, her smile disappeared as she became shy and self-conscious. He had whispered in her ear about how at least they'd be perkier in the lower gravity, and she had managed to laugh and groan at the same time.)

"I'll take Sigma, since we know nobody else will."

Phi's voice shook him from his thoughts and he realized people were picking partners. Eric wanted to work with Mira, to the surprise of nobody. If Akane was disappointed when Junpei said he would work with Carlos, she didn't show it. She moved to sit at Diana's table and Sigma reluctantly followed Phi to the last remaining empty one. Carlos handed a box to each couple. Phi opened theirs before he even started reading the instructions and she picked through the items in there with marked disinterest.

"It says here that we have to use the things in our boxes to get the small green block from one end of the room to the other. That's pretty much it. There's a thirty minute time limit. We're not allowed to touch the block, so we can't throw it or kick it. Whoever gets their block across the room ... wins, I guess."

Eric held up a flexible straw. "With this sh ... uh, stuff?"

Carlos shrugged. "That's what it says."

The three other pairs dumped out the items onto their table. Mira and Junpei looked bored and annoyed, while Akane and Diana began to organize everything into piles. Phi was watching everyone else while Sigma tried to not stare at Diana like a stalker.

"This is so stupid," Phi said. "We all have different things in our boxes. I doubt any of us have what we need to accomplish the task. We probably have to all work together to build something. Teach us some profound lesson about teamwork or something."

"Great," he muttered.

"You were a lot less antisocial before you spent forty-five years alone on the Moon."

"I used to be a lot of things."

Diana stopped examining the plastic cup in her hands and slowly turned her head to look directly at him, as if she could feel him gawking at her. He snapped his attention back to the pile of junk in their box.

"What is it with her, Sigma?"

"I don't know what you mean."

Phi sighed heavily and tossed the coin back in the box. "Whatever."

"If we have to work together, let's get this shit over with."

"Or, we could just stay quiet, pretend like we're working, and wait out another twenty-eight, no, twenty-seven minutes." At his puzzled expression, she shook her head. "I don't really feel like being around people right now, either. I figure if we keep our stuff in the box so Akane can't see it, she might not figure it out and we can avoid forced human interaction."

His eyes focused on a single object in the box, exposed when the coin Phi threw displaced a feather. It was a small, gold-colored bird cage, minus the bird. When he picked it up, he could tell it wasn't made of the same sturdy metal as Diana's; this was cheap, easily bending under his fingers with slight pressure. He rummaged through the rest of the items and found a tiny blue bird, also cheap, made of plastic and blue felt.

(Do you know Maeterlinck's 'The Blue Bird'? When he answered her question by telling her he did because a robot in the future had told him about it in an alternate timeline, she hadn't even blinked.)

"Someone is fucking with us, Phi." He crushed the cage and the bird in his hands.

Before his partner could respond, he heard Diana speak up. "Um, I think maybe we have to combine our items to create something that will actually work. Carlos, Mira, I see you have things that I think we could put together with stuff Akane and I have."

Phi groaned and put her head on the table.

Sigma just got up and stormed out.