"You're really going to go to this?" P'nyssa asked, the shock in her voice as apparent and as painful as my decisions.
"Yes," I snarled back at her. "I'm going."
"Ken," she said, softly, walking up behind me, her mitt on my shoulder, "It's just going to tear you up inside. Please don't."
"Nyss," I said, trying hard to contain my anger, waiting for it to dissipate like it always does, "I have to. Maybe... maybe I can talk her out of it. I mean, she called me yesterday to tell me. Why didn't anyone else tell me? Goddammit, Nyss, it's not fucking fair!" I leaned against the dresser ledge, supporting myself by my arms; nor for the first time I felt like I was going to cry.
"They are your rules," she said.
"Just because they're fair doesn't mean I have to fucking like them, does it? Or is that too much to conceive of? Are all my rules, are all the rules the universe puts before us fair? Can't win, can't break even, can't get out of the goddamned game. That's what's not fair, P'nyssa. I don't like that. I fight it with everything I've got- that's what life is for." I sighed, wiped a tear from my eye.
"Some people are not that strong."
"But not Freya, you don't understand. Freya is one of the strongest, most self-determined people I've ever met. I can't believe she's opting out."
"Then don't go. This is going to sound callous, but you haven't seen her for nearly thirty years... let that time go to tomorrow, then just keep extending it. It's not... it's not that hard."
"Is that how you handle it?"
"Sometimes," she send gently. Her mitt slid up along my throat, gently caressing me the way she knows will soothe me. "Sometimes."
"I have to go," I said, turning to face her. Looking at her, at the hurt visible in her solid, yellow eyes, in her blue-furred face, I wondered how I would react to her tomorrow. After I watched Freya die.
I arrived on the SDisk at 15:20 just as scheduled. There were a few friends there, mingling about; the room was small and decorated in white. Gentle music played from gravspeakers arranged in the corners. And there was Freya, standing in the middle of it all, looking composed if a little tired.
I avoided her, but instead wandered over to the table with the champagne, drinking down two glasses in quick succession before carrying my third with me.
I nursed it slowly; my stomach doesn't like alcohol, and in it's opinion I'd just dumped far too much down there. It wasn't my night. I waited for my stomach to settle, for the hours to grind slowly by, for the night to just be over.
And my inebriation helped, a little, to dull the pain, but increase the sadness, of tonight. There was a little celebration going on, some people toasting to Freya's past and her hopefully interesting future. As if she had a future.
I was gritting my teeth. I wanted to be drunk, drunker than possible, to be so out of my mind I would be useless for a day, a week, a month, a year.
"Ken," the voice behind me registered just as I had resolved to make my way back to the table and something stronger than my ninth glass of champagne. I looked around; the party was winding down already. How much time had gone by? I'd lost track; there were only a few people here.
"Hello, Freya," I said, making no effort to hide my anger or my sadness. "I must be going."
"Please stay," she said. "There isn't much left to say between us, but I want to say it."
"Freya, it was a mistake for me to come here. I'd like to leave."
"And I'd like you to stay." I looked into her human face, the barely-apparent ruffs of orange fur along her jawbone and trailing down her throat.
I bit my lip and said, "Okay, I'll stay. For now."
"It's not going to be a long time anyway."
"And I refuse to hate you for it; hating the dead does the living no good."
"Come on," she said, holding out her hand. I took it; it was warm and comfortable, just the way it had always been. She led me through the doors back into a hallway, then into another room. "I reserved this room; I've already given my house away. Besides, Cutters will know what to do with me in the morning."
"You can't talk me out of it."
"Can you blame an old man for trying?" I asked, gently. "Especially a father?"
"I thought you hated that word."
I tried to force a smile. "Not when using it's to my advantage."
She shook her head quietly, sitting down on the bed.
I sat down next to her, feeling the tightness in my chest, the sadness. "Dammit, Freya, why are you killing yourself?"
She shrugged. "Because I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing."
"What about your children? What about... Oh, Hell, Freya, there's a million things you could be doing."
"Instead of dying?"
"Instead of dying. Why are you doing this?"
"Because I want to," she said. "You... you look at life and say 'Well, I haven't done this, or I haven't done that,' and I can't say that. I look at all these things and I see 'Somebody else will do that eventually,' or 'I don't think I want to do that.' I don't feel attached to anything. Not to Pendor, not to you, not to my children."
There was a long silence. An old thought came unbidden, and I said, "You know, I thought I was going to die once."
"You did? What happened?" she asked, almost perfunctorily; there was no curiosity in her voice.
"I thought I had a disease, and the test results would take two weeks. All the symptoms pointed to cancer, engwurth, you know?" She nodded. "You know what I found? I was very jealous of the living.
"I thought I was already dead; that even if I had one, two, maybe three years to go, that it didn't matter. I was already dead. Nobody ever survives throat cancer, ever... It's just a long, drowning painful descent into death.
"I was jealous of the living. I hated them, their long lives, their families, their friends. I had almost nothing and nobody, and I was waiting to be told I was going to die. I was sure I had it; I was sure I was on my way.
"I wanted to live. More than anything, I wanted the problem to be something else, I didn't want to be told 'you have cancer,' yet I knew I had cancer. It was a hellish two weeks, the problem got worse every day. I hated it, every last minute of it.
"And the scariest thing was that when they told me I was going to live, I took the information very calmly. I almost didn't want to believe it. All the energy I had invested in being angry, in being jealous, was wasted, and I resented wasting it. It took a few days for me to get around to celebrating.
"It turned out it was something minor, a pulled muscle combining with stress to give me a very psychosomatic pain."
She leaned over to hug me, and I returned the hug fiercely. "I don't ever want to let you go, daughter. Please don't go."
She sighed gently and said, "I don't want to stay, father. I don't want to stay attached to a life I don't believe in anymore. You said it yourself, that death is a viable option for people who've grown tired. Don't you ever get tired?"
"Never," I replied, quickly. "Not since Brieanna, not since Donna. I don't want you to change that. There's always more, more to have. I never get tired of the new touch; there's too much in life to ever get a hold on, how can you ever want to let it all go?"
"But I do." She smiled and said, "I do have one last request, though. I want an old touch."
"You want... what?"
"Make love to me, one last time, before I go."
She turned away as if I had slapped her. "Is it, to ask one more request, one last familiar friendship before I go? To have a hug, a kiss with my father before I go?"
"Freya, dammit, I love you. You were Tleil Satryl number one, you aren't supposed to be the one to opt out, you were supposed to be the strong one."
She nodded, her human face and her bright red hair bobbing. "I know." She reached over and kissed me. If I felt revulsion, it didn't show on my face, knowing that in the morning she would be gone. "Think of it as an adventure," she said. "The undiscovered country." Her hands reached and undid my shirt.
"'From whose bourn no traveler returns.'" I replied. "Is it okay if I tell you I want you to come home?"
"It is," she said, gently removing my shirt and tossing it aside, working on my pants. "Undo me."
I reached over and slowly undid her blouse, throwing it aside as well. She helped me out of my clothes, I helped her out of hers. Her body was as taut and sexy as the day I had decanted her; her human torso with her high, Scottish-descent face, were magnificent. Her pseudo- Feline legs were equally beautiful, the light peppering of orange over an almost-black grey caressing her fur, ethereal in the dim light of her bedroom.
"I can't," I turned away. "I can't believe tomorrow such beauty will be gone."
"There's always beauty in the world, father." She smiled gently and said, "Make love to me, one last time."
I summoned all the resolve I had to lie next to her; her fingers caressed my cock insistently. Part of me wanted to be out of there, and part of me wanted to give her her last request. My sex had a mind of its own; it hardened, and without a word I slid on top of her and into her.
She sighed, a gentle, warm sigh, her face easing into a warm smile as I began to make love to her, to stroke against her. I could feel her belly meet mine with every stroke, her furry legs wrapped around mine and held me in place as we made love, slowly. "I love you," I said, feeling my tears grow in my eyes, hot and painful. My whole body was wrapped up in two emotions tearing me apart; and I was crying uncontrollably as I came inside her, moaning softly, easing down next to her.
I cried for a long time; I bathed her naked breasts in my tears. Finally I lifted my head and said, "Are you happy now?"
She smiled, trying to reassure me. "I'm going to go now."
"What?" I cried.
"The programs have been in place all day. I just have to think the right thing and it all shuts down."
"Good-bye, Father. Give my love to everybody when I'm gone. Hold me while I go."
"Freya, please don't go. Oh, Gods, please don't. Please."
"Good-bye, Daddy." She closed her eyes.
I held her close to me, feeling her body. "Oh please," I whispered, "please." But it didn't happen that way; her breathing stopped a few seconds later. I felt her heartbeat get softer, softer, then it faded and I couldn't hear it anymore. I held on to her body for a long time thereafter, knowing she was gone forever.
Finally, I rose from the bed, wiping my eyes with the bedsheets. I pulled my clothes back on and said, "Jean, please call... whoever it is you would call for this. Can you SDisk me somewhere?"
"Where?" the AI asked. She should have denied my request; SDisking requires runious amounts of energy anywhere but from a SDisk. But she didn't even suggest it.
"The Rowan." I was there; it was night. I walked down the hill to Donna's tomb, got down on my knees in front of the nameplate, and cried.