Lisaveta looked down at her own handiwork and smiled. "There," she said. "How's that?"
Eshi looked at herself in the mirror and turned her head from side to side. "It looks good. Can I see the back, please?"
"What? Oh, of course" Lisaveta stepped out of the way as a remote slid out of its hiding place and scanned the back of Eshi's hair. She watched Eshi push the scanner back a complete four meters, measuring and noting the changes, with satisfaction.
"It looks wonderful," Eshi said. "Thank you, Lisa."
"For my daughter's beloved, anything." She stepped aside for a sweeping drone. "I hope it lasts until the wedding."
"It should," Eshi agreed. She smiled and turned around. "I'm glad you decided to come and attend. I wish that your partner would have agreed to it."
"I wish she could have too, but she's still angry at Kaede and you," Lisaveta said. "I'm disappointed, too. I thought she was more open-minded than that, but after what Kaede told me I'm afraid that I may not be able to convince her to come. I've spent too much time away from the colony, met too many different kinds of people, learned too much about the ways of the world outside Alphaville. I know too many AIs, call too many of them friends." She sighed. "Come on. I need lunch."
"Can I cook?" Eshi said.
"Can I stop you?"
"You can try."
"Then you can cook."
Eshi walked into her domain, the kitchen, while Lisaveta sat and cleaned up the remains of her latest act of artistry. "A robot who needs a haircut. Who would have thought?" She smiled and put away the scissors and other tools, and when she came out Eshi was dishing out simple sandwiches and chips.
Lisa gave her a curious glance and she shrugged. "I'm not always inclined to work hard in the kitchen. I think you'd get bored of hour-long cooking sessions just to make lunch. Besides, you'll like it."
Lisa sampled the sandwich and found chicken salad to her liking, with a touch of spicy mustard that made her realize Eshi had not simply thrown something together. More to her surprise, she realized the chips were fresh-made, not acquired as-is. "You work too hard."
"I like what I'm doing."
"Do you have a choice?"
"As much as you do. Eshi sat down beside her with half of a sandwich and a glass of water.
"But you're not free--"
Eshi help up her hand, reached into her pocket and pulled out a folding toolkit, tossing it to Lisaveta. "Here," she said. "There's a knife in there somewhere. Cut my face up with it."
Lisaveta looked horrified. "No! I couldn't..."
Eshi smiled. "Then here," she said, reaching on the table for the felt-tip pen Kaede had been using that morning to fill out the cards for the dinner settings. "Use this. Mark me up. Go ahead. I'm just a robot. I won't care. Besides, it'll wash off soon enough. Even knife wounds would fix themselves eventually."
Lisaveta took the pen and held it for a few seconds, then dropped it. "I won't do it."
"Then you are not free," Eshi said. "You think you are. You feel that you are. But you're not. You didn't think about what I just said with logic and reason; your objection came instantly and emotionally.
"Maybe you'll say you would be ashamed at being found out defacing your daughter's girlfriend. You might lose status in your community. Maybe you fear losing whatever influence you have over your daughter, her choice of a mate, your heritage. But those are all excuses. Even before you come up with those explanations, you believed that marking me up was wrong. Why?"
Lisa did not answer, so Eshi continued. "Lisa, if I'm not free, you're not free. Look, you're doing the same thing you say you can't stand about Ming. Just because you don't know where those feelings really come from you invent all sorts of silly pseudophilosophical reasons as to why they represent some pinnacle of divine intervention or evolutionary development, and because I don't fit that messy, imposed model there must be something wrong with me.
"Well, there is nothing wrong with me. I like who I am. Your emotional life is ultimately wrapped around some variant expression of your selfish genes; mine is wrapped around Kaede." She smiled at her private joke. "Don't define my freedom for me. I am as free as you are."
Lisa looked down at her lunch, ashamed. She tried to find a reason, a way around Eshi's description, but no hope arose to explain what had just happened. Eshi, she realized, was right. She hadn't thought about it, she hadn't considered how she might have responded. It had been pure-- what? Reaction? Instinct? She didn't even know what to call it. "Eshi, could it be just that I reacted that way because you're a beautiful girl?"
"I expect that that's most of the reason," Eshi replied with a grin. "I look like a woman. You want to treat me as one. So what? I wasn't making a point about my nature; I was making a point about yours. You reacted rather than thought, and then thought about justifying your reaction. Almost all of human thought is like that, although most people don't realize it. What makes you different from me if you think that all that I do is react to my limitations and repeat excuses for them afterwards?"
Lisa growled softly. Eshi reached out and put her hand over Lisa's. "I know you don't like thinking of yourself as a robot. But think about it. I mean, it's not as if someone has control of you. In cybernetics, we talk about control as being when some controller can push the controlled into the states the controller wants. That's its definition. In some sense, you could say I'm controlled; I can't wander out of parameters set by nameless and faceless programmers iterating my subcodes billions of times and checking the results to make sure that I'm a healthy, sane individual. I guess that makes me 'controlled' and you 'free', in that there's a deliberate process going on to make sure that I'm me and you get, well, the luck of the draw. I'm not sure which one of us got the better deal."
Eshi grinned. "Nobody is pushing me around anymore. I'm a free individual. I have a different foundation than you do, but on top of that foundation 612 billion choices have been made to turn me into the individual I am today."
"Do you want an exact number?" Eshi said. "That's approximately the number of times the quantum subprocessor system in my head has collapsed, each time making a decision that dictates who I am here, now."
"Nobody knows for sure. That's one interpretation. The other is that there are as many universes for me as there are numbers represented by a binary string 612 billion bits long, and in each and every one of them I'm a unique person." She grinned. "Can you imagine there being two-to-the-612 billionth Eshis, each unique and special in her own way, and of those, some million or so in love with a million or so Kaedes?"
"No," Lisa said with a smile. "I cannot imagine it. But it is romantic."
"I think so," Eshi said. "So, the wedding."
Kaede looked around the room, secretly pleased but openly terrified by the array of faces she saw from her hiding place behind the curtain. "Mama, I can't go through with this. A lot of those people out there are here only for the circus."
"So?" Lisa said. "Kaede, you must go out. It's your party. It's your wedding. Go out and mingle. Look, even Mei Hiawasee showed up." Lisa pointed across the room.
"But there are press baubles everywhere!" Kaede replied, looking at the small, silvered spheres that watched and listened and recorded what would later be edited into any number of gossipists' self-serving columns.
"Kaede, you knew that would happen when you sent out the invitations. Did you really think that there wouldn't be press? There have been a few commitment ceremonies between Villeins and outsiders before, but never one between one of our daughters and a robot."
"Eshi doesn't seem to be having any trouble," Kaede growled.
"No," Lisa agreed. "But then she is designed to be good in this role' and has all of the experience needed. That's why she reads those awful books."
"What? Mama, she reads horrible trash!"
"Yes, but that's because she likes to read horrible trash. Do you know what she does with it? She compares it with all of the other things all of the other robots in known space are reading. They trade them back and forth, collating them, looking for the tricks and secrets to getting along with humans. I read about this. Eshi confessed when I asked her. There is a great robot conspiracy, played out on archives across the network, to provide each and every one of them with the tools he or she needs to fulfill his role, to operate in their partner's best interests. Obviously, it doesn't always work or she'd still be with that spacer fellow. There is free will and the luck of the draw there still."
Kaede looked down into the room again, looking on her beloved. "She's studying constantly to be the woman you want to love," Lisa said. "Don't ever turn down such a marvelous gift. She loves you, Kaede, more than you could ever know. And the more I've talked with her, the more I understood... it is love. It's not just a collection of programs. Or, if it is, then so are we."
Kaede felt a constriction in her throat. She turned around and buried her face against her mother's chest. "Thank you, Mama. For understanding everything."
"See?" Lisa said. "I'm still good for more than climbing alien mountains. Now, go get married."
The minister stood on the short stage at one end of the gathering. "Gentle and moral beings, we are gathered here today to celebrate a most unusual joining of two souls. Unusual because we are usually asked to support them both in their decision, where power is shared equally.
"Today, our supplicants have a different need and make of us a different request. As many of you know, Eshi here is a soul who cannot be untrue to her calling, and the calling she has chosen is the love and good life of Kaede. Kaede has taken on this burden willingly, and asks us to remember her, in our prayers."
She reached out to take hands. Kaede offered hers, then Eshi. The minister, a tall, severe looknig woman with short hair and piering blue eyes, placed their hands together and tied a blue scarf over it. "Eshi, I know your answer. I think we all do. But I will ask it anyway. Do you love Kaede, and will you hold her, and keep her in your thoughts, and wish her well, for all the days you walk among us?"
Eshi nodded. "I do, and I will."
"Kaede, for you the harder question, because your will is still human, and still capricious, and hard to fathom. Do you love Eshi, and will you hold her, and keep her in your thoughts, and wish her well, for all the days you walk among us?"
Kaede looked over at Eshi, whose smile sent ripples of longing through her soul. She couldn't deny that. "I do, and I will."
"Then we here-- the honest among us, anyway-- do solemnly swear to support you, and keep you in our thoughts, and wish you well, for all the days that you walk among us. May you live forever united."
A smattering of applause grew into an explosion of sound that coursed over the audience and shredded any last remaining reserves that Kaede might have had. She pulled Eshi into her arms and kissed her, hard, then held her tightly. "Eshi," she whispered. "Hold me up. I... my knees are going to..."
"Shhh..." Eshi said. "It's okay." She kissed Kaede's hair gently. "It's okay."
"Oh, Goddess, I love you."
"I love you too, Kaede. I do."
Kaede swallowed and pushed away, looking into Eshi's eyes. They were warm and happy eyes, and she knew that she would never grow tired of looking at them. "You're wonderful."
"And so are you," Eshi said. "For loving me. For giving me a chance."
"I could not have done otherwise."
"Yes, you could have," Eshi whispered. "That's why I love you."
Kaede smiled and turned back to the audience. "Let's go meet our new family."
It was Mei who first grabbed her and pulled her aside. "I... I don't know if it's too late to say this but... I'm sorry for what I said earlier."
Kaede smiled gently. "I accept it," she said, then smiled at her own joke. Those three words were part of Eshi's philosophy of life. "Mei, I don't hold it against you. I just wish you'd figured it out earlier that it was for real."
"How could I know? You didn't let me talk to her."
Kaede held back her own opinion, that Mei had never wanted to talk to Eshi, had never seen the little redhead as anything more than a "complicated vibrator." Mei had actually used those terms once. "You have your chance now."
"Now?" Mei said.
"She's right over there, standing with my mother. You can go and make peace, if that's what you really want. Or just satisfy your curiosity. Whatever you want."
Mei scowled. "I..."
"Your choice," Kaede said. "And Eshi's, of course." Kaede looked across the room. "Excuse me."
She walked over to where Dr. Tines was standing. The llerkin wiped a tear away from her eyes as Kaede approached and smiled. "I don't know what to say," she said. "Other than to thank you for helping another cyber come back into a world that does not love her."
"It does," Kaede said. "The world is just a little confused about what it means to love someone who's not like them. Eshi's taught me so much. And I have you to thank for much of it."
"No," Dr. Tines said gently. "No, don't thank me. This was entirely the doing of you two. You are your perseverance and your love. There was chemistry there from the very beginning, and you both just seemed to know how to make it happen."
"I hope it stays that way."
"I do as well," Dr. Tines replied. "Because I would hate to have come back here and help Eshi through another repurposing." Tines stroked her chin. "The funny thing is that there's been a bit of a revolution in thinking about Eshi's condition in the past year."
Kaede looked puzzled. "In what way?"
"The politically correct thing to say now is that Eshi's monomaniacal purpose is a sort of gold standard to which robot designers should aspire. I can send you the relevant links on it, if you like."
"I'd appreciate that."
Long after the reception and the party had wound down, long after most of the guests had gone home, an exhausted Kaede found herself leading a small clutch of her last few, relentlessly cheerful friends back to her home. She clasped Eshi's hand in her own and smiled her best bride's smile, and Eshi gave her a kiss on her hand. Her friends, including her mother, still made a cheerful noise while they wandered through the darkened streets. One or two were loud enough to signify just a little too much happiness, a little too much intoxication, but if there was any offense to the neighbors, neither the AI Dharma nor the local constabulary came out to reprimand them.
They reached Kaede and Eshi's home, a small house in one of the hollowed-out domes on the south side of the colony, a simple place with a kitchen and a basement and all the rest. It was straightforward in its construction and unimpressive in its manufacture, all qualities admired in Alphaville.
Lisaveta came from the middle of the clutch of well-wishers. "It's really like any other day. Tomorrow is no different from today. All you've done is ask us to come to your help when... if... the two of you start fighting and disagreeing. We would have done that yesterday. We would do it tomorrow. We will always be here for you." She kissed Kaede gently on the cheek.
"And you, young lady," she continued, talking to Eshi, "take care of my daughter. She's important to me. But don't take any nonsense from her, either."
"Yes, Ma'am. No, Ma'am," Eshi replied with a grin.
Lisaveta stepped back, and Eshi looked over at Kaede. "One of us is supposed to carry the other."
"You're heavier than I am."
"And stronger," Eshi agreed, suddenly reaching down and picking Kaede up into her arms. "Just like that."
"Whoops!" Kaede said when her very faux veil fell down onto the sidewalk. Lisa recovered it and put it in her hand. "Thanks, Mama."
"Go on inside, you two. You have a life to figure out."
Eshi carried Kaede over the threshhold, a doorway Kaede had crossed a thousand times in the past six months already but never really noticed since they first moved in. She let Eshi put her down. The door closed behind them, cutting off the night's last applause from the last merrymakers. "I'm so glad to be able to get out of these shoes," she said, kicking them off. "They're excrutiating."
"They're also very pretty," Eshi said. "That's why we chose them."
"I know, but... ooh, my poor feet."
She looked up at Eshi, wondering if Eshi would offer to rub them, as she frequently had. But Eshi was staring off and not paying attention. "Eshi?"
"Kaede? I feel weird," Eshi confessed. "We're supposed to have a honeymoon, a night-- a month, actually-- when we get to know one another's bodies for the first time. It's a little too late for that, but I can't help but think about what Lisaveta said. She's wrong. Some things have changed. I feel... I don't know how to describe it. Virginal." She looked up at Kaede with her enoromous eyes. "Kaede... would you... be gentle with me tonight?"
Kaede smiled down at the sweet girl who had entered her life ten months ago. "Of course I will. If that's what you want."
Eshi nodded. Kaede led her into the bedroom. It was the same bedroom they had shared since Kaede's mother had kicked them out of her home in the Anthony dome. Their house in the SyuKii dome still had a feel of otherness to it, a sensation that it was just a way station on their progress through life. Kaede hadn't felt "at home" since arriving at Alphaville, and she doubted that she would again any time soon.
She turned her attention to the dewey-eyed girl standing befor her. Eshi had chosen to dress in white lace from her shoulders to her ankles, a traditional wedding dress without the veil-- she had had no illusions of innocence and had wanted none. Innocence was about not knowing, about being unprepared. She had none of that.
Kaede pulled Eshi down to the bed and kissed her. Eshi's response was as tentative as their first kiss had been fierce; Kaede remembered it, the blind passion that had driven them both a little crazy that first night. Tonight, Eshi put her arms around Kaede gently, carefully, holding her beloved through the simple pantsuit Kaede had worn to the wedding. She had let her hair grow and now it hovered just above her shoulders, still black as her favorite coffee, now straightened to pageboy tresses with the ends curved inward. Eshi had said she liked that particular cut, and Kaede had agreed that she looked good with it.
Kaede kissed Eshi on the neck. "You taste good," she sighed.
"I'm glad," Eshi said. "Are we both ready for this?"
"I think so," Eshi said. She laughed. "It's funny, isn't it? We've been making love almost every night for months, but now that we're married..."
"I'm not dead yet," Kaede laughed. She reached behind Eshi's back and found the clasp that held the top half of the dress together.
"You don't have to prove that to me."
"I'm not, Eshi. I want you. I want you tonight, tomorrow, and forever."
Esh trembled a little, then smiled. "Take it off me, then."
Kaede nodded and pinched her thumb and forefinger against the clasp. It opened easily. Kaede tugged at the shoulders and the dress fell off Eshi, folding down into her lap. She hadn't seen Eshi's underclothes that morning so the lacy half-cup bra was new and delightful. Kaede could not resist reaching out and touching Eshi's perfect nipples, first one then the other. Eshi moaned. "I like when you do that!" she said.
"I know," Kaede replied. "But watching you react always makes me wet." She smiled when she said it, but it was true; she could feel a small puddle forming between her labia, telling her that she wanted more from Eshi and from herself. She found the second clasp and pinched it open. "Stand up."
Eshi complied and together they stripped the rest of the dress off of her. Without getting undressed herself, Kaede pulled Eshi down to the bed and covered the red-headed girl's body with her own. Eshi looked up at her, eyes wet and lip trembling. It was a sight to make Kaede melt into a puddle of goo, at once inspiring feelings of romance, maternal instinct, and undiluted lust.
She kissed Eshi, gently, the way she had asked, controlling herself and the rush of need she was feeling. She knew that she could order Eshi right there and then to go down on her and the compliant little robot inside Eshi would, but Kaede wasn't in love with a slave; she was in love with Eshi, the Eshi who liked her, who respected her, who hadn't fled when everything inside her had told her that she had no good reason to stay with Kaede.
"Once," she said, kissing Eshi's neck. "Upon," she murmurred as she kissed Eshi's chest. "A time," she completed as she closed her mouth about a nipple, pushing the bra away with her chin, sucking gently, teasing the tip with her tongue. Eshi arched her back, her pale skin begging for more attention from Kaede. Kaede teased at that nipple, licking it, sucking on it harder than she usually would, making Eshi whimper.
She loved the sounds Eshi made. She loved everything there was about the slim, small, red-headed girl who had become her wife, but each individual charm was enough in itself to merit fine attention.
She slid down Eshi's flawless belly until she stopped at the trim, flat bellybutton Eshi had. It was one of the few features on Eshi that Kaede found unremarkable and ordinary, the result of a real umbilical cord. It was actually somewhat large for a navel but Kaede didn't care. She loved it as much as she loved the rest of Eshi. She kissed her way around it, making Eshi tremble and giggle. She licked because she knew that drove Eshi to distraction with tickling even as she made her further down Eshi's body to her secret cove.
Eshi had just a sprinkling of pubic hair above her otherwise denuded vulva. Kaede licked at it with her lips, tugging it into her mouth, lavishing attention. "Kaede?" Eshi said.
"Do you like my pubic hair? I never asked."
"I think it's fine."
"But you like pubic hair."
"Yeah," Kaede said. "I like it. I like the way it collects smells and tastes, and I like the way it feels against my cheeks." She grinned. She kissed Eshi's mons, the tiny triangle at the top of her vulva where skin gives way to moist, pink flesh and marked the border between Eshi's inside and her outside. Eshi giggled. "Shouldn't I take off these garters?"
"Don't you dare." She kissed Eshi's labia, which were so full and so warm. She ran her tongue down the length of Eshi's puffy slit, opening the girl's cunt with ease, letting her tongue dip momentarily into Eshi's little pool and tasting the nectar that collected there. "Yes," Eshi sighed.
She stretched out along the length of the bed, her mouth pressed to Eshi's cunt, tasting Eshi's sweet sex. "My goddess, you are so beautiful," she breathed as she ate Eshi, licking at the full, hardned clitoris that stood out for attention.
Eshi only whimpered in reply, her fingers tangling themselves in Kaede's hair. Eshi tugged gently but did not distract her from her dedicated attention to the needful cunt under her lips. Eshi's body leaked a sweet fluid that was as delicate as anything a human woman could produce; Kaede knew it was the real thing, but there was something to it, a quality unlike anything she had ever tasted before. Her tongue licked in the furrow between Eshi's furless labia, and she felt that she was for once in the only place she should be; for a moment, nothing but the sweet, glistening pink before her was important.
"Kae.. de!" Eshi gasped, her legs trembling. Kaede laughed and licked a little harder, teasing her lover. She didn't want to stop, and if Eshi came she knew she would have to stop. She also didn't want to tease Eshi too much, so she settled down to the actual task of making Eshi come, and when Eshi did it was with a hard moan that seemed to echo in Kaede's head.
"Urr... oof!" Eshi's body trembled again. "Oh, fuck," she gasped. Kaede lay down beside her for a moment, and Eshi turned her head. "You have no idea how good you are at that."
"Only because you've taught me exactly what you like," Kaede said. She giggled. "It's funny, but I never expected it be a challenge making love to you. But sometimes, it is."
"Is it tonight?"
"No," Kaede said. "Was I gentle enough?"
"Oh, my love, you were perfect," Eshi said, kissing Kaede's wet lips. Their tongues pushed out against one another, twisting and sliding, lips closed. Kaede moaned. Eshi giggled. "There's just one thing."
"What?" Kaede whipsered.
"You're still dressed!" Eshi's free hand slid along Kaede's leg until she found the button on her pants and pulled it open. Her slim fingers found their way inside and found a cotton barrier between her and her prize. "You wore underwear?" she said.
"I always wear panties," Kaede said.
"Even today? I didn't wear any today," she pointed out.
Her fingers slid over the fabric and Kaede sucked in a deep breath as Eshi's touch seemed to ripple through her. "Lover," Kaede gasped.
"Wife?" Eshi said with a smile.
"Both," Kaede agreed. "Please... help me get out of these clothes."
Eshi's hand disappeared from between her thighs. The two of them quickly had set Kaede's tie fluttering to the floor, her shirt and bra quickly following them. They stripped off her pants and soon Kaede was completely naked. Kaede tackled Eshi again, dropping them both to the bed, Kaede on top, her breasts crushed over Eshi's somehow perfect orbs. "Oh, Eshi, I love you."
"And I love you, Kaede."
"I know. I believe you. Mama believed you."
"That made me almost as happy as your agreeing to my purpose."
Kaede smiled and kissed her cheek. "It took me a while. But now I understand."
"Good!" Eshi said with a smile, pulling her close. "Because it's your turn to come so hard it shakes our house." She rolled Kaede over onto her back and slid down Kaede's body until her head was between Kaede's legs, her hips hovering before Kaede's eyes. Kaede gasped as Eshi's tongue pressed insistently between her lips. Her body seemed to liquify when Eshi's tongue busily licked over her cunt, teasing her up and up and up. It was so much, so fast. She wanted to lay there forever, be a part of Eshi, become a part of Eshi's body, wet body parts fused together in a circle of ecstacy that both of them could live with forever. She would reach up to kiss Eshi's open cunt time and again, always driven back down to the pillow by Eshi's unceasing kisses.
Eshi's breasts brushed against her belly as Eshi's head slid up and down, her little tongue flicking over Kaede's clitoris. Kaede felt her liquid insides roiling, overflowing. She could feel herself leaking, and Eshi was trying to wring her out like a sponge.
Her pleasure was a river running through her, her orgasm a levee breaking and flooding her soul. She came, hard, moaning, holding on to Eshi's bottom as it hovered before her eye, her head thrashing against Eshi's calves.
It took her time to recover. She was dizzy from the effort, high from the pleasure. "Oh, goddess, Eshi," she moaned.
Eshi turned around and looked down. "Was it good, my wife?"
"It Didn't shake the house," Kaede said.
"It shook my soul instead," Kaede said. "But maybe that was just you."
"We can try again tomorrow and see."
"Happily ever after?" Kaede said.
"I hope so," Eshi sighed, content. She snuggled against her beloved. "I hope so."
"I do too."