My 20-hour wristwatch, geared to the shorter rotation of Sirius XXII, said nine o'clock, one hour before noon, when the women began undressing.
There had been an air of conspiracy among them all morning, a studied casualness as they wandered around near the ship, forming small conversational eddies, dispersing and reforming elsewhere. I had just finished checking in the 11-man fruit-gathering detail. I looked up from my roster in time to see the first motions of the "great disrobing". Zippers unzipped, snaps popped open, slacks, skirts, blouses and jumpers fell to the grass, and a dazzling spectacle of space-bleached feminine epidermis burst into view.
The ladies were very calm about it, but a chorus of yips sounded and swelled into a circus of cheers from the male working parties.
Before I could fathom it Benson came charging down the ramp followed by his fruit-stowing detail. He stopped at the foot of the ramp, mouth open and eyes pinched with annoyance.
He spotted Jane and Sue. "What is going on out here?" he demanded loudly.
Our two wives waved at us and strolled over, doing a splendid job of acting unconcerned. "Just a little sun-bathing," Jane said, shooing a small insect from a pale shoulder.
Susan refused to meet my eye. She was watching two birds soar overhead. "It's fantastic," she said. "If you don't look at things too closely, you'd never know we weren't at a summer camp up in Wisconsin--except for the fruits. They remind me more of Tahiti. It's marvelous! The mosquitoes don't even bite."
"They will," I said, "as soon as they get a good taste of human blood. And baby, you're sure making it easy for them."
Benson was distracted from the conversation by the converging male colonists, who were whooping and yelling like a horde of school boys. He backed up the ramp and ordered, "Let's get on with the work. You've seen your wives in the altogether before."
The men quieted a little, but one yelled, "Yeah, but not lately!"
Another added, "And not all together
In spite of the fact that nude sun-bathing was a commonplace, twenty-second-century custom on Earth, by tacit consent clothes had been worn at all times aboard ship. The women had gone along with Benson for two years on such matters, so this was clearly a feminine protest against the spirit of the yellow alert.
Young doctors Sorenson and Bailey came trotting up, grinning appreciatively but wagging their fingers. Without consulting Benson, Bailey mounted the ramp and shouted, "Blondes and redheads, ten minutes exposure. Brunettes, fifteen."
A great booing issued from the men, but Bailey held up his hand for silence. "The medical staff will make no effort to enforce these exposure maximums, but be advised that the radiation here is about the same as Miami Beach in June, so don't let the air-conditioning fool you."
Benson was spared further decisions on the issue, because at that moment one of the sentries remembered to take a quick look at the vector of forest he was supposed to be guarding. Unable to make his voice heard over the hub-hub, the guard fired his pistol in the air.
We all jumped up and stared, and Benson muttered, "Dear God!"