"You're showing signs of obsession," Fawn observed calmly.
"You mean, I've never shown signs of obsession before?" I asked, leaning back in the leather armchair that dominated my office. "Fawn, if we're right I'm going to spend most of eternity with plenty of company, but today is my thirtieth birthday and I haven't seen another human face in nearly four years. I'm lucky I haven't gone crazy."
"Your dedication to your self-proclaimed project is impressive. I don't understand why you have a need now for company, and I don't understand why you want this particular woman."
"One, because she's female. I would hardly get along so well with another man, Fawn. Two, because if the legends are right she has exactly the resources I need. And three, because I feel sorry for her. Is the last one okay with you, miss AI? Abused, battered, raped and abandoned... you think I'm not supposed to feel sorry for her? By the way, how's my ancient Greek?"
Fawn paused. If she could sigh, I swear I would have heard one right then, but Fawn is relatively bereft of sentimental emotions. "Your Greek is fine. It had better be with the way I've been teaching you. I have the location you want in all seven coordinates."
"Thank you, Fawn." I turned the chair around and headed down to the hanger bay, where Fawn sat waiting in the Destiny. How she moved around like that was beyond me; even more beyond me was why she moved at all. Just hook a data coupling to her and she was happy; why she drew no power was another of those things I had long ago decided not to question. She did what I wanted.
Pendor! I could open up the skylights and watch it spinning, illuminated by the only star in this tiny, pocket universe. According to Fawn, this universe hadn't even existed until we came here; the introduction of four photons moving at odd angles to one another defined the new space. With the dumping of our G7 (previously G8) star here, the universe was now expanding as a sphere, at three hundred thousand kilometers every second.
I don't even know where the word came from; everything else I made a conscious effort to name but where the word 'Pendor' came from was beyond me. As I passed through the observatory I looked out onto the silently turning ring, complete with land, water, and air... and still lifeless. And this mineral-heavy rock that my operational base sat on, once a tectonically stable planet in its own right until Fawn and I had mined it clean for its internal resources, slowly orbited the star 'Pin' inside the orbit of the ring. I couldn't help it; just looking at it, only one-third complete but still an incredible achievement of imagination and engineering, brought tears to my eyes.
The shuttlecraft 'Destiny' and it's sister ship 'Density' sat side- by-side in the enclosed bay. I climbed into the first one and sat down in the pilot's chair, taking a few moments to refamiliarize myself with the controls. "Ready, Fawn."
The airlock opened slowly, and with a gentle turn of the auto-Z dial we rose above the equally airless surface of Ops. "I'm ready for the transition," Fawn announced.
"Then do it."
Like blinking my eyes, I was suddenly staring out the front viewport at a sky full of stars. "Terra is to plus-x, minus-z. To your left and below, in other words. As always, we have no telemetry," Fawn announced.
"Gotcha," I said. Banking with a slight roll, I looked down and located the islands of what would someday be known as Greece. "Can you give me an illustration of Ida on a map, Fawn?"
"Right there," Fawn announced. "Screen three."
I glanced up and over at the screen she indicated, looking at the map. "Give me an approach to Ida then, and let's take her in."
"Approach plotted. How's that?"
I glanced at the display. "Perfect," I said. I rolled back to a planar attitude and pitched forward, firing the engines. "We're going down."
Twenty minutes later the counter-gravitics were stirring up the water off the coast of the island of Ida. Outside the window I could see the island itself, a long, sloping hillock of bright green grass, slowly emerging from the ocean. Further up the side of the hill I could see a treeline, and then it seemed to drop out of sight. "Looks like the kind of place I'd like to retire to someday," I joked. "Beautiful country, though."
Fawn scanned the horizon carefully, watching for ships, observers on the island, anything. "We're looking for 'the caves off the rocky coast of Ida,'" I said.
"That implies it might not actually be on Ida itself."
"I know," I growled. "Don't remind me."
"I have a geological construction that might be 'The Caves of Ida."
"I hear a 'but.'"
"You can't reach them without going for a swim."
"Break out the SCUBA gear," I chuckled. "That's not too hard."
"I'm powering up a drone in case you need help."
"I won't need help," I insisted. "What's the water like?"
"Seventy-four degrees Fahrenheit," she said. "Amazingly warm for this clime."
"Would you recommend a wet suit?"
"Only the very lightest," Fawn replied. "Soft neoprene would be fine."
"Got it," I said, jumping into the back compartment. "Head as well?"
"Not important," Fawn replied. "And the visibility underwater seems to be optimal."
"Lack of pollution," I said, pulling the jacket closed and zippering up. "How close are we?"
"I've moved us to just at the opening of the caves and am about to set us down on the water." An accompanying 'boom' acknowledged that we had 'landed.' "We don't have a moonpool, Ken, so I recommend you go out the top hatch and jump in."
"What's the depth?"
"Where we are? Ten meters. No threatening life forms."
"Thank you," I said, stuffing some extra hardware into a waterproof pack and sealing up. After assembling the tanks and regulator and assuring that I had a good supply, I said, "Ready?"
"Be careful, Kennet."
"I'll be fine, Fawn. I'll be back before you know it. And I have my telemetry and radio rig."
"You know I'll be watching."
"I know." I climbed up the ladder and up onto the slowly rocking roof of the shuttlecraft. Looking around, first without my mask, I breathed in the warm, clean air. "Terra, pristine and clear." I saw some birds flying on the island nearby, and laughed. One thing we will never get rid of, though, is the damned seagulls.
I gave beautiful Ida one last glance before jumping into the water. I always see this bright red button in my imagination when I do things like that, with a finger poised over it. The button is labeled 'COMMIT.'
The splash surrounded me and bubbles followed me down as I kicked and regained control. Clearing my head, I looked around for the opening of the caves Fawn had indicated. I could see for miles; visibility was incredible.
After I found the opening, I eased myself into it. I started to feel anxious; I knew of too many people who had died cavediving, running out of air and slowly strangling to death. The idea made me shiver. I knew, though, that if Fawn had the slightest idea I was in trouble she would send an army of drones down here to blast their way to me and rescue me.
Flashlight in hand, I made my way through what seemed to be a deliberately if roughly hewn passageway. After what seemed like forever (a glance at my watch told me fifteen minutes), I started to notice more light around me. I stopped for a minute, turning off the flashlight and waiting for my eyes to adjust. After a while I felt secure enough to move on, making my way on just the bioluminescence around me.
The light brightened appreciably after a moment, and I looked up. Through the water I could see what looked like a dome of light, and I decided that, if this wasn't the place, I had to at least be close. I surfaced.
A cliche', I mused, looking around. A small grotto, filled with air and covered is glowing mosses. The air had a stale taste to it, and a strange smell, like fresh bread. Except for the lack of a rock in the center of the pool, this might have been the place Bilbo and Gollum had their famous duel of riddles.
I took my mask, fins, and rig off and found a place for them on the shore. Hopping up onto the beach strewn with black and grey stones, I looked around, that odd bread smell nagging me. Then an old line from a song by The Who ran through my mind, and I scrabbled for my radio. "Fawn," I said. "Can you hear me?"
"Clearly," came her voice over the radio.
"I'm fine. I'm going to need you to send me the drone with a medical support kit two, with as much glucose and water as you can possibly get it to carry."
"On its way."
I hummed the song that had come to mind, "Cache', Cache'," looking for my perspective target. She had to be here somewhere. "Waking up cold to the smell of bread," I said aloud, still searching. I found her.
Comatose, I found her lying against a large boulder at the far end of the pool from where I had come up. Her hair was matted and bedraggled; insects crawled over her body. She wore a rotted tunic that barely covered her shoulders and apparently reached down to cover her knees when she stood. Even through the ruin, though, I could see what had once been a very beautiful woman. I checked for heartbeat, pulse, breathing. There was some. With my flashlight I checked her eyes; they still contracted under contact from light. There was still a chance. A pool of water had collected around her, and that worried me.
The drone erupted from the water in a sheaf of bubbles and a slight spray. Behind it was a large bag filled with the medical supplies I had requested.
"Fawn, will these things even work on her?"
"I have no idea," the AI replied.
"Great," I said. I tapped her arm at the elbow, trying to get a vein to stand up. I felt relieved when I found one. Fitting the IV quickly, I rigged the stand up overhead and began a fast drip of water and glucose into her arm.
One of my medical teachers once told me that starvation and dehydration were among her favorite things to treat, because, as she said, "You fit an IV into their arm and they're up an running like nothing ever happened. The family thinks it's a miracle."
My patient didn't come around so easily. I fretted over her for nearly an hour, feeling better as her heartbeat appeared to get stronger, and her eyes started moving again, albeit under their lids. "Sleep?" I asked Fawn.
"How should I know? Could you rig me some telemetry maybe?"
"Oh, sorry," I said.
"Don't bother," Fawn replied. "To accurately determine a sleep state I'd need either visual confirmation or EEG, neither of which you have the hardware for."
"If you say so."
"It's all I can say right now."
"Thanks," I said grumpily.
I waited further. At least I felt now that goddesses responded to intravenous feeding. Or hoped they did. She did seem to be getting better, a pink glow returning to her cheeks. She still seemed more pale than was healthy.
It occurred to me that I hadn't even thought to question that the woman before me was brilliantly Caucasian. Blond, loosely curled hair with just a touch of golden-red to it framed a rounded face now made haggard by her self-inflicted wasting.
I had my back to her, putting some of my gear away (I had recently developed a bit of a neatness complex. I have no idea why.), when I heard a small whimper, then a cough. I turned around quickly.
"Hey," I breathed. "Calm down. Everything is fine."
She coughed. I winced; that didn't sound good. "Who," she said, her voice rasping, "Who are you?"
I smiled. "My name is Kennet."
She coughed again. "My arms... they hurt."
"I'm putting medicine into you."
She looked down. "That's... that's not possible yet."
I smiled. "You really do know medicine, don't you?"
"Feeding someone through their veins... we have no medicine for that. Apollo said it was silly to teach me because nobody I knew would ever be able to do that."
"Apollo, huh?" I said, grinning.
"You don't believe in the gods?" she asked, her voice cracking and sometimes collapsing into a whisper.
"Let's just say I might be one, and having been one, I'm not impressed."
She watched me curiously. "Where are you from?" she asked. "How did you find me?"
"Where I am from," I said softly, "Is difficult to say. I am from an airless, waterless ball of rock that floats near another star. I am from the future, and have not been born yet."
She looked at me with no comprehension. "You are a god."
"No," I said, shaking my head. "I can't take that from you, Oenone."
"You do know my name, then."
I nodded. "I came looking for you."
"Why?" she asked, surprised.
"Oenone, I will not be born for two thousand years. One thousand years from now, barbarians will come and destroy a library in Persia, a library containing the greatest writings, the highest record of these islands and their learnings. Your legends will burn, and only echoes of who you are will reach my ears. You are mentioned only in the glossing, Oenone, as the wife of Paris before he became important.
"Yet, enough of your story survives to tear my heart from my chest. Oenone, I cannot undo the wrongs that have been done to you, but I want to take you away from this world. I have a dream that I want you to help me fulfill. I will be honest with you-- I want you there for your skills and powers, I want to use you for my goal."
She looked away. "I cannot. Please..."
"Oenone, please. Let me convince you my goal is worthwhile. Let me show how much I want you there. I..." I reached out to touch her cheek. "I think you're very beautiful."
"Not so beautiful to hold him to me," she whispered. She looked up, snarling, "If you want beauty, go seek Helen."
"Helen pales compared to you, Oenone. She is like mead; one cannot survive on mead, no matter how light and sweet it may be. One requires real food. Of all the women in Paris' life, who was true to him? You were. And did he reward you? He spurned you, is responsible for Korythus' death, and turned to you only because he needed you to heal him."
"That is no less than what you want. You said you need me. You want to use me. Are you better than Paris again?"
"No," I said sadly. "I cannot be better than Paris. I cannot measure up to the man Zeus called 'The most beautiful man in the world.' And I cannot promise you what they call 'faithfulness' here, because that won't be the faithfulness in my world."
She looked at me; the IV was doing its job well, because her eyes had cleared and she looked me over with intent. "Tell me your dream."
I laid it out before her, weaving with words that sometimes had no meaning to her, my entire dream of Pendor, of the people I wanted to live my life with, of the peace I wanted to know. Of the difficulties. And of the powers of a goddess who was born with the power to make the waters do her bidding, and who had learned medicine and prophecy beyond those, and of what she could do for me.
Talking like that makes me enthusiastic, rhapsodic. She looked up at me, reaching up with a hand. "Kennet, you will take me away from this place?"
I kneeled down in front of her, brushing a lock of her hair away from her face. "Oenone, daughter of Oenus, I will take you to a place where a century of peace will let you forget Paris and Helen and Ida and Troy, and when you again hear of Terra it will be millennia removed from this age. Troy will be swallowed in a sea of sand, and teachers will dig over those sands for their amusement."
She looked up. "Take me there."
"I warn you. The beginning is not going to be easy."
"I do not want easy. I do not want to die, and nothing here holds me to life. Perhaps you will have something that does."
I smiled. "Thank you, Oenone. I can never repay you for your first simple 'Yes.'"
She scowled. "You will find a way. Where is your vessel?"
"Outside these caves. Come on." I gave the drone the medical bag, and we followed it out, picking our way through the rocky passageway. Emerging into the sunlight, I blinked, looking back and making sure that Oenone was still following me. As I surfaced, blinking yet again, I spotted the Destiny a few hundred meters away and began swimming for it. She followed. The drone was already clambering up the ladder when I got there, and Oenone followed close behind. "This is your vessel?" she asked suspiciously.
"This is my ship, yes."
"It does not look much like a ship." She bobbed in the water, looking healthier by the second. Maybe it was the sunlight.
"It is, trust me. Come on." I made my way up the ladder. At the top, however, a pair of feet grabbed my attention. I looked up along the legs attached to those feet, and finally took in the sight of a large, powerful-seeming woman standing over me. "Come up, little godling. We have something to discuss."
I blinked. "Excuse me?"
"Come here first."
"I think you'd better do what she says, Ken," Fawn's voice came from an external speaker. "She's got me pretty frozen."
Concerned about the kind of power that could 'freeze' Fawn, I made my way up to the roof of the Destiny, as the woman made room for me. As Oenone reached the top of the ladder, "Reah!"
"Oenone," the woman now identified as "Reah" acknowledged. "Are you well?"
"I am, Great Mother."
At least five centimeters taller than I, this woman with dark and curly hair, her arms crossed in front of her, a long blue tunic flowing out behind her without wind radiated such a sense of power that I felt myself compelled to admit that maybe, just maybe, I was dealing with an honest 'god' of some sort. Or, at least, a power I didn't have at my beck and call. "Now then, little godling, do you know who I am?"
I thought for a second, trying to remember who Reah was. "The Titan Reah, mother of Zeus."
She smiled. "You are correct. You are threatening to take one of my children offworld without her knowing the full import of her acts."
"Reah, she's going to die if I don't."
"Maybe that is her destiny."
"Really?" I said. "Is that what your prophecy says, Reah?" I pointed to Oenone. "Is the skill you gave her so small you can't tell? That is your particular skill, isn't it, Reah? Prophecy?"
"Do not meddle with me, Kennet Shardik. I have learned much about you from your meddlesome clockwork."
I grinned. 'Clockwork' was anachronistic for Reah; she shouldn't have known it as a word. 'Clocks' didn't exist in ancient Greece. "I asked her to come of her own free will, and she does so with what knowledge I have given her. Is that so wrong? Did I lie to her?"
"We are not meant for the stars."
"I've been there, Reah. I've been there and back. Oenone wishes to get away from this little ball of rock. Mine is much less prettier right now, but that will change with time. She can help me. Tell me, Reah, how much of your pantheon is built on use? How much of life is built on how 'useful' Artemis is, or Eris, or yourself? Can't Oenone offer something just as useful, just as beautiful, to my world and my people as you do to yours?"
Reah seemed thoughtful. She looked over at Oenone, then crossed the deck to lift Oenone's face up to look at her. Something passed between them, but if I could find words to express it I would. It was simply ineffable. Then she turned to me. "Kennet Shardik, I am warning you. I taught Oenone one-third of her skills out of love. She is a child of mine. My grandson abused her body, and a man my son admired abused her spirit and her love. She has nothing that is unbruised. So listen, young godling. Your powers are vast, vaster even then my whole pantheon, because they are backed by your dream, a plan so audacious there is no mind in this era that could hold it. I wish you good work, and I hope you find Oenone useful to you and she find your ways useful to herself. But if you harm her in any way, I will reach across the centuries and the stars to strangle the life out of you with my own hands."
I gulped as the sun itself seemed to dim against her promise. Finally I nodded. "I understand."
Her hand brushed my cheek, and my whole body lit up as if on fire. "Do not be afraid. You are a good man, Kennet Shardik."
"I hope so, Reah."
"Go, both of you." I clambered down into the Destiny, Oenone following behind me anxiously. "Close upper hatch," I said the moment she was clear.
"Closing. That was truly Reah!"
"Yes it was," I said. "Or at least, an amazing simulation. Let's get out of here."
"I have full power."
"Hold on," I said. "We'll strap in. Oenone, sit in that chair." The rather confused little nymph sat down in her chair timidly, looking surprisingly fetching in what seemed a fully-healed state, but her dress torn and tattered, exposing much of her body to my eyes.
I reached over to her and helped her buckle in. "Safety first," I said. She smiled at me wanly. "Full power, Fawn."
The ship lifted nose-first from the water, and then with a powerful kick we were skyborne. I looked over at Oenone. Her face was one of sheer terror. "Celebren!" she gasped.
I grinned and paid attention to flying. "Transition in ten seconds," Fawn announced. I nodded as the countdown continued. When it reached "now" the sky blanked and suddenly we were over Ops. "We're ready for the landing," I announced.
"Copy," Fawn replied.
"Landing," I said. "Home again, home again, jiggety-jig." I laughed softly as the shuttlecraft was once again pulled below the surface of Ops and the doors closed over us.
"It's all so much!" Oenone said with a gleeful giggle as she dove into the beautiful pool of waters that stretched out in front of us. "I do not believe how much power I have had here!"
"Millions of years have been compressed for us by traveling forward," I said, sitting by the edge of the pool as she swam naked through the waters. "You and I, we have only watched six years, Oenone, but for Pendor, millions have slid by as Fawn has pulled us along, stopping as I order to make sure that life is taking the path I most intend for it to take. The azzies keep the process moving forward while culling those lines that might compete eventually with my plans."
She swam over to me and folded her arms over the rock I sat upon, holding her head out of the water. "Centaurs first?"
"I've already begun work on them," I said. "I've even chosen the field where they will be released."
She frowned slightly and then disappeared under the water. Knowing full well she could hear me, I said "Something wrong?"
"I do not want... visitors."
"They're not visitors. They're going to be my children, Oenone. They're going to be the people I bring up into the world. Reah called me a godling, and I'm going to prove her right. I'm going to create a life where there was none."
She walked out of the pool and sat down next to me, her limpid curls dripping with water. She touched my cheek gently, her fingers cool. "I have had the most peaceful six years of my life here. I have been allowed to be alone, and to be at peace. I have left my old life behind, Kennet, and all for you."
"I couldn't have reached this," I said, gesturing around, "If you hadn't been there at the start. The power you wield when nobody limits you is unbelievable, I agree."
"That does not matter," she whispered. "I did as you asked, and you did as I asked. There is no bargain between us anymore. I have no right to ask you to cut your dream short because I like Pendor the way it is now, alone, pristine, unmolested."
"And I won't do it anyway," I said firmly. "Forgive me for being imperious, but on that I am adamant. You will not get me to give up the gene tanks."
"I did not think so," she smiled. "Can you... Can I ask you a favor?"
"Find me a place where I will not be bothered."
I nodded. "How about on Pandora?"
"Anywhere," she said. "On Pendor, Pandora... just, somewhere silent, pleasant. I do not want to be here when the Centaurs are decanted. I want to be far away, where I can forget."
"Do you want the library?"
She smiled. "Yes, I would like a copy of the library."
"You know what that means, don't you?"
"If ever an age comes when Pendor falls, I will have some responsibility for putting it all back together again," she replied. "I am prepared for that eventuality. And, I trust you, Kennet. Pendor will not fall."
"Is that hope or prophecy?"
"I will not say," she said, smiling at me, then diving back into the water. I hauled out the little folding terminal I carried around nowadays and waited for the connection to solidify. After a few minutes, I located a clump of isolated islands on Pandora with good weather. I ordered that the five nearest Shipping SDisks be removed from around those islands, that one of the moderate-sized islands on the outskirts of that clump be selected as a construction site, and that a robot team head there the second one was free. I spent about an hour working up site characteristics and construction, and when I was done I had something that was more Roman in outlay, but I retained the Classic Greek construction, as near as possible.
"You have pitched a tent?" she asked, looking at the unlikely construction that reigned over much of the meadow. "And you have brought those awful machines."
"They're sleeping," I said. "In a few days, the Centaur are going to wake up under this shape. It's up to them what they do next; hopefully, they'll learn that if they want to live in something other than this, they'll have to build it themselves. Halloran will only teach them; they will have to do with what they learn. That's why I built such powerful curiosity into them."
"I came to thank you," she said.
"You're leaving, then?"
She nodded slowly. "I am going to my home on Pandora to stay this time. I have learned, from you, that I have much to do with myself before I want to face the world. I have hated enemies to forget, and to bury. And I have to learn that I can never love you."
She shook her head. "No," she said. "Do not disagree with me, Kennet. I can never possess you the way I want to. You are destined for different loves and a different life." I listened intently. What she said next angered me, though. "I was merely a tool to you, I know."
I reached out and seized her arm. "Listen to me, Oenone. I love you. Do you understand that? I don't ever want to think of myself as someone who just uses people and then throws them away. I love you. I can never give you myself, alone; I am too much inclined to share, and too much life in which to do all that sharing. But you've given me every reason to respect and treasure you, and none to hate you. You're so incredibly beautiful that I can understand Apollo's losing control of himself." I realized what I had just said and released her arm, looking away. "I'm sorry."
Her hand touched my shoulder gently. "Kennet, if you were to ravish me, I would cry your name with pleasure while it happened. It takes a strong man to be what you are."
I turned and looked into her face. "Oenone, what kind of strength does it take to admit that I'm a coward?"
"Coward?" she laughed. "Cowards do not confront cowardice, Ken. You are an honorable and gentle man, Kennet." Her hand slipped down the front of my shirt, and then I felt her warm breasts pressed against my back through the soft flannel of my shirt. "I wish you would accept one night with me before we go our separate ways."
"Destiny, here, now," I said. The small shuttlecraft appeared in front of us. I turned, swept Oenone off her feet and boarded it. "Her place." The shuttlecraft literally teleported itself until we were on the beach of her home. The sun was brilliant outside, and I ran, still carrying her, together into the sunlit Atrium with it's brilliantly clear and beautiful pool of polished black-and-white marble and the tunnel leading out into the ocean. Two dolphins swam back and forth casually, surprised by sudden shouts of glee as two humans leapt in with them.
Oenone dissolved in my arms, only to reappear behind me, her body pressed against mine in all the right places. "My liege, I do love thee," she whispered.
"My lady, I love you as well," I said, turning in her grasp to hold her close and kiss her throat, the curve of her jaw, the pure paleness of her cheek, and her bright red lips.
"You turned me into a full-fledged goddess," Oenone whispered. "I am everything my grandfather was, and maybe even more. I can become a wave, or a droplet, or a woman, or an eagle."
"And you turned me from an engineer into a father. How can I ever forget that?"
She laughed. "You will never have to." As I tread water, she again dissolved away. Damn, I hate when she does that; it's frightening. Then she reappeared and dove under the water, head-first for my manhood, taking it into her mouth and closing down. I gasped hard, unbelieving at the warmth. She slid along the length of my erection, making me harder than I had ever been in my life. I wanted to reach down and grab her hair, but I was afraid she might drown. "Grab, then," her voice whispered in my ear, and I laughed; as if I could drown the Goddess of the Oceans of Pendor. I reached down and seized her hair, just holding her while I felt her mouth work its magic about my erection, feeling her tongue caressing my manhood and her teeth just lightly grazing the underside.
Her hair was silky between my fingers and I exercised my legs to stay floating with my head above the water. Her hands grasped my buttocks, and slowly her fingers crept closer to my anus, massaging it in tiny circles. I objected a little; I didn't enjoy that kind of stimulation. But she didn't stop, and I didn't want to press it as she just lightly massaged around and around the tight ring of flesh. Surprisingly, it felt good. Her hand slid down to play with my testicles, scratching along them, even underwater, with her long fingernails.
She surfaced, and the rush of cold water around my thighs made whatever gains in rigidity go away almost instantly. "Did you like?"
"Oh, Oenone," I said, swimming for the steps, "Come here and I'll show you how much I liked it." She swam towards me in the more conventional fashion, the way we humans are known to do. I grabbed her by the waist and hauled her out of the water, spreading her legs with my hands. Her feet dangled in the water, and her sex was splayed open for me. The flesh was pink and full, covered in the lightest wisps of golden pubic hair that hid nothing at all. I leaned down and kissed her mound softly, tasting her full-fleshed outer lips as she moaned with bright passion. "Oh, Gods, Kennet..."
I kissed her vulva, parting her open and tasting her juices that ran so clear and fine only a goddess could have had them. I found her pleasure center and licked her teasingly, licking at the thin, inner labia. She wrapped her legs around my shoulders and pulled me close, wrapping her fingers through my long hair, which I suppose would have been fair if I could have breathed water just as easily as she had. As it was, I was breathing through my nose and desperately hoping she didn't pull to hard on my hair. Not that I objected too strongly to this.
Her legs unwrapped from around my shoulders and she sat up, slowly pushing me back with one hand on my chest. "Kennet... please, love me. Like a man and a woman should."
I smiled and stood up on the steps, my erection standing out fully in front of me. I reached down and grabbed her buttocks with both hands. She grabbed my shoulders and in one smooth move the two of us met, my manhood plunging into her without a chance of mis-aim. We joined together at the hip, she and I, as she wrapped her legs around my back. "I love you," I whispered.
"And I thee," she whispered back. We giggled gently as I began to stroke within her. She pulled herself up on her arms, holding us close together as we made love, our bodied pitching back and forth on the edge of her water-filled home. The dolphins watched us with curiosity, and once, when we paused, we both turned to look and splash at them.
I felt my urgency rise. I slowed down; I wanted this to last. It wasn't fair to my Goddess if this all ended too soon. Her mouth was open and pressed to my shoulder, dropping hot kisses along my arm. I gathered her in my arms as I looked down, watching our joining, then glanced up into her face. She smiled; I kissed her smile as I climaxed, moaning against her mouth and tongue. With just as much passion she seemed to moan a reply.
"Gods, Oenone," I said, leaning back and away from her. She smiled as we slowly released each other so that she again lay on her back against the cool marble of the poolside, and I slid out of her and into the cool water. She slid in with me, her soft golden curls following her as she shook her head.
"I love you, my lord," she whispered. "I understand you."
I smiled wide, unable to control it. Tears lifted in my eyes. "My Gods, Oenone. Nobody understand me. Least of all myself."
"I understand you enough," she replied. I settled down onto the steps leading into the pool and she settled herself into my warm lap. "I know what you want, and I know you will never lie to me to get it. I have never been able to ask that of anyone, and now that I understand that, I know I shall want you to be my friend and my lord forever."
I wiped tears from my eyes as I held her closely; she touched my cheek, taking a tear against her finger and into her mouth. "Sweet salt, without which man would not exist," she said. Then she kissed my cheek. "Such a man are you, Kennet. A hero to put even Odysseus to shame."
We dined that evening on cold, cracked crabs, hot soup, and tough brown bread, drinking a dry mead and idling about a warm fire outside her home, on the beach. I talked of my dreams again and of the life burgeoning in the quiet amniotic tanks upon Pindam. We didn't talk very much; as alone as Oenone said she wanted to be, she had also often sought me out for companionship, complaining that Fawn and Halloran were boring beings. I had laughed, Fawn had "Hmph'd," and Hal had remained silent. We had said almost everything we could to each other; now her mere presence satisfied me, wordless and lovely. These crabs, the bees that had made this mead, could only have existed with both of our efforts. Power without thought is chaos; thought without power is impotent. Without Oenone, I would not have had the right kind of power, and the power I did have would have been applied without thought. I owed her everything.
She took a stick of wood that she had held back and thrust it into the campfire, lighting one end of it on fire, like a torch. Then with her other hand she took mine and led me into her home. Looking back, I had just enough time to watch the beach wash up much further than natural one last time and wipe out our fire.
She led me into her bedroom, a room decorated in tapestries I had had Halloran make for her, tapestries depicting her in fanciful and beautiful settings, such as one of her nuzzling a unicorn, or another of her leaning against her crookstaff. The tapestries and the rug warmed a room covered in blue-veined white marble and open to the sky. Tonight the weather promised to behave, although if it didn't the cover could be drawn with a single string, or a word from the owner. Four slit windows provided more ventilation.
One wall was less covered than the others; it had to make room for a huge fireplace framed with black marble. Above it a tapestry that was more a banner than anything else hung, depicting the symbol of Pendor, an elliptical ring with an eight-pointed star in the center.
Oenone tossed her torch into the fireplace, and it lit; although the night had not been very cool, she apparently felt a fire was necessary. Then she pushed me towards the bed with one word. "Undress."
I complied, pulling off my shirt and disposing of my pants quickly. She walked towards me, pulling my face up to look into her eyes. "My beloved Kennet Shardik. Do you know how precious you are to me? If I never leave this place in ten centuries, I want you to promise me you will visit me."
I felt a wave wash over me inside, looking into her beautiful face. "I promise you, Oenone, I'll visit you. I don't know how often, but visit you I will. If only to remember how special you are to me."
She smiled. "Stand," she said, "and remove my tunic."
I stood, slowly gathering her tunic about her waist. I pulled it up and over her head, the silken blue cloth falling without a sound to the floor. I glanced at her right bicep where a gold circlet wound three times about her arm, and brushed my fingers along it gently. "You're far more beautiful now then when I first met you."
"I was something of a waste when you found me, Kennet."
"I know," I replied, pressing my palms to her cheeks and cupping her chin in my hands. I pulled her close to me and kissed her, her eyes closing. We kissed passionately, lovingly; I pressed my tongue to her lips and her tongue slithered out to touch mine, wrestling. We slowly fell towards the bed; I lost my grip and we tumbled apart, both of us laughing. She was quicker, straddling me first and looking down at me with a light in her eyes. She slid forward until her sex hovered just before my eyes, and then she parted her legs and lowered herself to my mouth. I kissed at the insides of her thighs, tasting her sweetly clean skin before turning my head to face her sex, digging deep between her lips to take in the wetness dripping from her. I chuckled softly; Water Goddesses should be wet, I supposed.
I pressed my chin against her perineum and licked at her clitoris with my eyes open, looking up along the beautiful length of her body, between her full breasts to see her staring down at me, her mouth smiling. "You are so good at that."
I didn't answer, instead nibbling at her labia while trying, again without success, to control my smile. It's not that I don't like smiling; it's just that I had better uses at the moment for the muscles in my mouth without my grinning like an idiot. Especially since Oenone could only see the pleasure I was experiencing in my eyes. Her sex was flowing, and I actually had to swallow her fluids, happily too. She cooed softly and the cords in her legs became visible as tension mounted in her body. As I licked her clitoris harder the orgasmic tension suddenly sprang from her in loud, gasping moans, her head tossed back to shout "Kennet!" as she came.
The spasms subsided and I let my head fall back to the pillow. "Oenone?" I asked, looking up.
"I told you I would cry out your name with pleasure."
"But I'm not ravishing you," I said, smiling.
She reached down behind herself; I felt the tips of her fingers touch my erection. "You are hard as coral, Ken. Why don't you?"
"You used a contraction," I said, suddenly distracted.
"I did?" she smiled.
I slipped out from underneath her; my feet had been dangling well off the edge of the bed as I had licked her, and I easily found myself standing again behind her kneeling form. Before she could turn around I mischievously placed my hands against her shoulders and pushed her face down onto the bed. "Whoops!" I said.
She gasped as we fell, and then giggled. "What are you going to do with me, my lord?"
I seized an ankle and turned her over. She turned with me, and with one hand on each ankle I pulled her legs apart, exposing her sex like a glistening pink flower. "Ravish you," I said as I crawled onto the bed and slid myself into her, my hips pressing down upon her spread thighs. She opened her legs further.
I grabbed her wrists and pinned them down to the bed with my hands. "You want to be ravished, Oenone?"
"Oh, Kennet," she gasped as I laid my violent hands upon her, plundering her sex with my manhood. "Kennet!"
"Cry my name, Oenone," I growled, thrusting into her harder, pushing deeper within her.
She gasped as I smiled down at her. "Ken," she breathed. "Ken!" she cried. "Yes, Ken, please!"
I possessed her, my hands gripping her wrists tightly, holding her in place, making demands of her that her body gave back willingly. Her breasts heaved with every cry of my name, with every gasp of pleasure, with every desire for more. Our earlier play in the pool rewarded me now with a slowed response, and as I took her she took from me as well, and when my climax struck me like a wall of water she still cried my name as I screamed hers... and then I collapsed upon her.
"Oh, Ken," she gasped. I had somewhere released her wrists, and she wrapped her arms around my back, slowly turning us onto our sides.
"Oenone," I murmured. I raised my hand and pushed a lock of hair away from her face. "You are so beautiful."
She smiled. "You are still a man," she said. "You are tired."
"Food and lovemaking sort of have that effect on me."
"In that you are just like other men," she said, stroking my chest with her fingers. "I do understand you."
"I'm glad someone does."
"Would you like to sleep now?"
I nodded. She smiled back, and almost instantly I was asleep.
When dawn came I was still tucked quietly between the sheets of her bed; the roof had been opened, and light streamed in from the sun coming over the horizon. I turned slowly and looked, seeing Oenone sleeping peacefully beside me. Looking around, I eased myself out of bed and, stark naked, made my way to the beach where the Destiny lay parked. I reached up into one of the cupboards and pulled out a clean and dry set of clothing. "Good morning," Fawn said cheerily.
"Hiya, Fawn," I replied.
"Ken?" she asked quietly. The tone of her voice sent a chill up my spine.
"It's time for me to go. We agreed."
I closed my eyes and sighed, looking down at the clothes I was wearing. Blue jeans, a flannel shirt of red and black checks, yellow leather boots with yellow laces. I looked in the mirror; a little older, perhaps, than I had looked ten years ago, even with the immortality sequences installed. I was even unshaven. "When?"
"As soon as we can."
"Back to Pindam then." The Destiny was instantly back in Pindam, and next to it and The Density lay an old Pontiac '84 station wagon. Fawn transported herself into it while my back was turned.
I sighed, walking out to the station wagon and getting behind the steering wheel. "I wonder if I remember how to drive one of these things."
"You don't have to," Fawn replied. "Ready?"
I cursed softly. "Yeah, I'm ready."
I blinked; we were again on the campus of the State University of New York. "Morrow Hall is right over there," Fawn said. I nodded, looking out the front windshield. "Campus doesn't open until tomorrow; someone walking with a large trunk will hardly be noticed."
I got out, blinking up into the hot late-summer sun. Young men and women preparing for college milled about me. I slammed the car door shut, walked around to the back and opened up the tailgate, pulling out the large, black trunk. It was lighter than it should have been; more of Fawn's doing. I walked across the poorly-tended grass to the whitewashed building, trimmed in red. The second 'r' in 'Morrow' was tilted slightly, as if it was about to fall off.
I stepped into the overhang and climbed the stairs, taking a right. A young blond man held the door for me as I stepped through, and I thanked him, remembering to speak current English. The first door on the left had been mine. I knocked.
The face that answered the door made me smile. "Who is it?" he asked, looking up at me. "Oh, my God..."
"Hello, Ken. Would you let me in?"
"Who are you?"
I bullied my way into his room and closed the door behind me. "Would you believe, I might be you?"
The room was a disaster; four two-liter bottles of Coke, one half-drained, another unopened, sat on his desk besides an ancient computer. Several copies of Playboy lay strewn about the floor, and the place obviously hadn't been swept in weeks. I knew if I opened up the closet his laundry would physically assault me for interrupting its rise to sentience. And on the bookshelf, in a cloth-bound three-ring notebook, I saw my dreams and fantasies as they had once been a decade ago. He sat back on the edge of his bed, unmade of course, and said "I might believe it."
"It doesn't matter what you believe, anyway," I said, smiling. "I've come to give you something."
"What's in the trunk," I said, pointing.
"Okay, so, what's in the trunk?"
"You'll find out in about ten minutes." I turned the knob on the door.
"I can't," I replied. "I promised I wouldn't."
"But... but... I don't understand."
"Neither did I." I closed the door behind me. Quickly, I made my way down the stairs. By the time I got to the bottom step I was running for the car. I slid in behind the driver's column just in time to see him running down the stairs. "Perfect timing," I replied.
The universe blinked out again, to be replaced by the inside of the Pindam hanger, and then a soft "pooh" of sound told me that Fawn had left my life... forever. She had promises to keep, but I didn't think I would ever actually meet her again, not in this lifetime.
"Hello, Ken," Halloran said quietly as I closed the door to the station wagon.
"Hello, Hal," I replied. "How's Paul Lewis coming?"
"He's ready for decanting right now."
"How long before dawn at the decanting site?"
"Four hours. Decanting will take five and a half, I estimate. Consciousness would occur around seven hours from now."
I walked down to the lab control room where displays revealed the status of the seventy-two surviving Centaurs. I let my eyes scan Paul's screen carefully. "Begin the decanting process. Start with the serotonin levels when you're ready to initialize the mentation processes."
I thought for a moment. "Hal?"
"You have the entire Pendor zoological databank separated from your processor-accessed memory, correct?"
"Erase the Zoological Databank. And the geophysical, the geographical, and the meteorological. Call all of the weather stations around the ring sequentially; they're to operate independently until further notice, as they were designed. This world is for other people; they should explore it, and put the data in themselves. They are an AI's environment, not the other way around. Do you copy?"
"It will take a while."
"Do it," I ordered. I sighed and sat back in the chair, waiting for Paul to awaken, waiting for Halloran to tell me he was done.
His voice interrupted me. "Ken?"
"I've found something you probably want to look at. It was at the end of the erasure sequence, but it's marked to not be erased until you have a look at it. It's creator, according to the rec, was Fawn."
"Display it, please."
The screen suspended from the ceiling on my right lit up. The message was simple. "Once more into the breach, dear friend." I smiled. "Goodbye, Fawn," I whispered at the screen, wondering if she meant herself or me by saying "once more." And then I immersed myself in my work, my obsession.