Kaede pushed open the steel door, beyond which she saw a darkened foyer plastered with garish posters describing all manner of visual, auditory, and other sensual pleasures in drama black and femme pink. A woman sitting on a stool by the door looked her over and nodded appreciatively. Kaede grimaced. She walked around the barrier and into a large rectangular space where the bar sat square in the middle. She shook off her raincoat and dropped it over the halfdoor to the coat check. An invisible hand picked it up and hung it thoughtfully.
The bartender was not invisible. A real woman, a bit heavyset but with handsome black hair that hung about her shoulders, stood under the sign that said, Welcome to Thorns. "Whaddya you want, beautiful?"
"Long Island iced tea," Kaede said, waving her plastic monit card until the local SI picked up its signal and created a tab for her.
A moment later a drink found its way into her hand. She drained a third of the tall, narrow glass and waited for the alcohol to make itself known, which did not take long. Her head spun just as fast as her stomach complained. Kaede usually drank wine, hard liquor wasn't her usual fare. Hard liquor was what today's mood required. That, or something more powerful, but she didn't care for needles under her skin.
"Hey there, stranger."
Kaede turned and blurted, "Pet..." She shook her head. The other woman had white hair much like her lover before Eshi, but this woman was not Petterin. For one thing, this woman's white hair was a stark contrast to dark brown skin. For another, she wore it long all the way around, pulled back into a loose pony tail managed by a hair clip that seemed to be doing some of its work with tractor fields.
The other woman raised her eyebrows. "Sorry," Kaede said. "You reminded me of someone."
"Someone good, or someone bad?"
"Oh, good. Yes, good," Kaede said.
"Crescent," the other woman said, holding out her hand.
"Well, my parents named me Crescenti, but Crescent just sounds better, don't you think?"
"I do. Kaede. Kaede Yuan."
"You from Earth?"
Crescent's eyes widened. "You're from the City of Lesbians?" Kaede cringed. Crescent said, "Sorry. You have to know that's what everyone calls it."
"I guess I was hoping for something different..."
"At a dyke bar?" Kaede nodded. Crescent opened her hands in contrition. "Sorry. I guess it's such a nice idea. A place where women could learn to be women without men." Kaede kept her opinion of men to herself. This was no time to get political. Or to point out the obvious. "So what brings you in here?"
"I don't think there's a claim here," Zmars said around a mouthful of sandwich. "There are exceptions. People do have the right to request a change of physicians for the comfort level."
"He's just an asshole," Brighide said. "Y'know, the kind of guy a woman wouldn't want as a physician."
Kaede looked down at the padd in front of her. She had reviewed the material six different times already and concurred with the two juniors on her committee. Their case, a Dr. Reiner, was claiming that he was being discriminated against because of his lack of an onboard and because he was male in a woman-dominated medical field. But the general consensus of interviews with his patients was that others in his field had become shy about sending him referrals because he had an atrocious bedside manner. She had tried to interview him herself. Her conclusion had been straightforward. "Well, I wouldn't want him as a gynecologist," she said. "I'm glad you agree with me, Brighide. Someone might suspect a Villain to judge a man in that kind of job."
"I agree with her too," Zmars said before taking another bite. "I'm not a woman and he was abrasive and rude to me."
"That could be because we were investigating him," Brighide said.
"But we're supposedly on his side," Zmars said.
Kaede spread her hands to concede the point. "No case?" Kaede said, pointing to her padd.
"No case," Zmars agreed. Brighide nodded her head in agreement. Both reached out and touched the form where Kaede's preliminary write-up waited. Satisfied, Kaede put it away. "I'm going back to the office. Anyone want a lift?"
Zmars shook his head. "I'll go with," Brighide said. Kaede nodded and rose from her chair. The two of them pulled on the raincoats that were such an essential here on Covenant, made a run for the car, and got in. Kaede slipped her padd over the contact terminals and punched in her destination. The car rose smoothly into the air. The dehumidifier came on to wick away the extra moisture they had brought with them. It always made Kaede feel cold.
"Well, that was short," she said.
Brighide made a brief grunt of acknowledgement. "Kaede, can I ask you a question?"
"Well, Polislav said something about not being able to work with you anymore last night at the bar, and I was wondering why he would say something like that."
Kaede sighed. She knew it would come to this. The Secret was out, not that she had ever meant to keep it a secret. She just hadn't had a reason to tell anyone. "Polislav found out that my wife, Eshi, you met her?" Brighide nodded. "Eshi's a robot."
"Really?" Brighide said, her eyes getting wide. "Wow. I mean, like, she doesn't look like one. Have you always been technogamous, or... I mean, how did you find her?"
"I'm not technogamous, whatever that means."
"It means that your lover is a machine of some kind."
"I know, but... I mean, I never thought of her that way. She's just a person."
"But she has to be different from real women, right?"
"No, but... No, I mean, she's not different. I..." Kaede fumbled. "She's just my wife. I married her."
"Not on Covenant, you didn't. Organic and non-organic unions aren't legally recognized here. But it's so cool! And she's so pretty."
Kaede smiled, hiding the discomfort she felt behind her eyes. Technogamous. There was a word... for her?
"Oh, just out catting around," Kaede said.
"Can I buy you a drink?"
"If I have another one of these, I think I'll be on the floor."
"How about wine, then?" Crescent gestured to the bartender, who brought over two tall glasses of something dark and viscous. Kaede tried a sip and found it strong but to her liking. Crescent held out her glass, and Kaede clinked hers against Crescent's. "To catting around."
"To catting around. To hanging out with real women."
Crescent smiled at that, then leaned in close. "I think you're hot."
"Thanks," Kaede said. "You're sexy yourself."
"I'm just visiting in town this week, but I have a room. Want to go there and see how sexy I can be?"
"I would love to," Kaede said, trying not to reveal her own innocence. She had had few enough lovers in her time, and picking one up in a bar was definitely not in her skill set. Crescent was making this seem easy, natural, the most natural thing in the world. Just announce your need to come, find someone cute to do it with, go do it. It wasn't that simple, Kaede knew. Crescent made it seem that simple.
Crescent took her by the hand and led her back to the coat check, then back out into the constant downpour that was Covenant. Kaede had been here only a few months and already loathed it. It must have taken a special kind of person to enjoy living on Covenant, especially when there were nicer worlds out there. They ran down the street to another place, a hotel, through the lobby and up a flight of stairs to a room that let them both in. "In here," Crescent said. The door closed behind them.
The first kiss was unsure. Kaede expected that. But she didn't expect Crescent's hands to already be seeking her crotch, massaging her cunt through the material of her pants. She felt Crescent's palm mashing her lower lips and her body reacted with a hunger that was almost familiar, almost as intense as her reaction to Eshi. She wanted to be honest with herself, and to be honest with herself she needed to admit she was here because of Eshi. She grabbed Crescent's sides and the two of them leaped for the bed. There was nowhere else to go.
Each tore off her own clothes before Crescent pounced on Kaede's pinning her to the bed. "What do you want?" Crescent said.
"Anything," Kaede said. "Just... just fuck me."
"Anything you want, sweetie," Cresent breathed, her lips and teeth on Kaede's face, her neck. She nipped at Kaede's collarbone and then worked her way to Kaede's breasts, licking at the nipple. With her cheeks she mashed at Kaede's breasts, pushing them to and fro. "Oh, yes," Kaede sighed. "Yes, please."
She heard a chuckle from Crescent, then felt the other girl swing her way down between her thighs. "You smell like paradise, all right," Crescent said, and then her mouth was on Kaede's belly, licking at her navel before sliding down to the thick thatch of pubic hair that hid Kaede's inner workings.
Kaede wanted to be eaten, but more she wanted something else... "Let me taste you first, Crescent."
Crescent swung her legs up over Kaede's head, her ass filling all of Kaede's vision until that beautiful cunt, shock of pink and open against the dark brown background of skin and hair, descended to her lips. Kaede gasped and dived into Crescent's cunt, finding her lips and her clit, and going for it as if there were nothing else in the world. "Eat me," Crescent said. "Damn you, eat... you eat... " Crescent's voice rose an octave as Kaede's mouth sought out all of her secrets. Crescent had a large clitoris in Kaede's experience and all of it seemed to work to Crescent's advantage. "God damn," Crescent moaned. "God damn, woman, eat me!" Kaede flicked her tongue over Crescent's clit hard and fast, and Crescent yelped and cursed until finally she lifted, slowly and reluctantly away from Kaede's mouth. Kaede tried to follow, but Crescent only said, "Nuh-uh. Any more and I... too sensitive."
Kaede sighed and collapsed back onto the bed. She had been enjoying that. She wanted more. She didn't want Crescent to go away.
Crescent didn't. Instead, she laid her hands on Kaede's thighs and parted them. Kaede complied, opening her legs further, offering up her cunt as an offering to this white-haired goddess. Crescent descended, pressing her lips to Kaede's cunt. Kaede's cunt went from warm to cool to warm again, then turned to liquid under Crescent's demanding tongue. "You're a wet one," Crescent said, and Kaede felt Crescent invade her cunt with one finger, then two. Kaede felt whimper rise from deep inside her, and she knew.
"Fuck me, Crescent."
"All of it?"
"All of it," Kaede gasped. She needed to know. She and Eshi had tried this, oh how they had tried and found it so powerful, and she needed to know. Crescent slipped three fingers into her. The start. More than half. Kaede didn't know how to think about this part of fucking. All she knew was that she wanted it. "More."
"Easy, sweetie, slow down," Crescent said. "We got all night."
Kaede thought of Eshi, wondered if the other woman was worrying about her already. Crescent's fingers turned inside her cunt and she was no longer thinking about anything other than her cunt, about the hand that was invading her, about the tongue that kept kissing and licking at her clit. She gasped and moaned and wondered what she looked like, her legs splayed like that, on display, obscene, with this stranger, this woman right in the middle of it, giving her that hand, that fist.
Crescent slipped a fourth finger in there. "We're not going to need any extra lube with you, sweetie," she said, her fingers twisting. "You're tight, but you're loosening up fast." Kaede groaned and reached down to hold Crescent's wrist, to guide the other woman in, to pull her in. Crescent pushed her hand away. "Nuh-uh, sweetie. You'll hurt yourself."
"No, please. Give me all of it."
"When you're ready."
"I'm ready now!" Kaede wailed. She was desperate. Would this spell wear off before... before what?
Crescent folded her thumb against her hand and began working her way into Kaede's cunt. Kaede groaned at the demand she was putting on herself, groaned in anticipation of the bliss to come.
When Crescent's hand slid all the way inside her, Kaede screamed and came. When Crescent started turning and pumping her hand, Kaede came again and again and again. Just when she thought she had had her last, Crescent applied her tongue to Kaede's clit, and more climaxes soared through her. Finally, sore and exhausted, she collapsed to the bed. "Goddamn, woman," Crescent said. "You're fucking hot!"
"Oh, goddess, goddess, Dharma goddess..." Kaede's voice was hoarse with her recent screams. "Oh, Crescent. I think..."
"It's time to come out. Yeah. You're warm and relaxed enough." Her hand slipped out without a complaint from Kaede's cunt, dripping with pale white feminine juices. The smell of her own sex hung low in the room,. Crescent gave her fingers a few licks, then wiped her hand on the bedspread. She lay down next to Kaede. After a while of quiet in which neither knew what to say, Crescent murmured, "Goddamn, girl, she must be one lucky woman."
"Who?" Kaede asked.
"Whoever your ring is for," she said. "You took it off, but the skin on your finger is a giveaway." Crescent's hand caressed Kaede's belly.
"It's for... She's... "
"Hella lucky woman." Crescent nuzzled Kaede's shoulder.
"She's not a woman."
Crescent murmured, "Man? Fem non-human?"
"Yes," Kaede sighed. "One of the most beautiful women I've ever met. But you'd expected that from a robot, wouldn't you?"
"Something wrong?" Crescent said. "Not that it's my business. But if I'm gonna be tricking, I like to know that my tricks are happy." Kaede shook her head. "Horseshit."
Kaede sighed. "I outed myself to a co-worker this morning. Now I've got one pro-robot-rights person telling me he can't work with me because I've got a slave and the other calling me technogamous. And I was thinking... I don't want to be either. I figured if I went out and... did it with a real woman..."
"You'd prove you weren't a robosexual?"
"Well, what makes you so sure I'm not an gyndroid?" Kaede stared at Crescent. "I'm not, but I could be. I've been a spacer for a lot of my life, and the robots we've got on board you can't tell from the organics. Did you order her, or what?"
"She was cast-off, second-hand. Trying to figure out what to do with her life the same time I was trying to figure out what to do with mine. We fell in love. About five years ago."
"Sounds romantic." Crescent lifted her head. "Look, woman, I don't know you. Forget what other people think. Do you love her?"
"Yes." Kaede said it even before she could think of reasons to say anything else. It just came to her.
"Does she love you?"
Kaede snorted. "She had her PI reprogrammed so that I was it. It was what she wanted."
"Damn. I'd want to keep you too, if you were this hot all the time. You guys still fuck?" Kaede nodded, a smile reminding her of the last time, just two days ago. "You go to her, then, woman. And you tell her you're sorry for doubting. Because it's not anything she did that made you come into Thorns tonight."
Kaede nodded. "I should clean up first."
"Yeah," Crescent nodded. "It would be bad if you showed up smelling like me." She lifted her hand to her nose. "But I think I'll keep your smell around for a while." She lay back on the bed.
Kaede showered and recovered her clothes. She leaned over to give Crescent a kiss on her cheek. "Thank you," she said softly. The other woman stirred only briefly. When she told the car to take her home, she glanced at the clock and saw that it was well past midnight. She had to be up tomorrow for work. She loved her job and felt a pang of guilt as she realized that she wasn't going to be up to her usual full strength tomorrow, but that couldn't be helped. Maybe she could work from home. Eshi would help her with that.
Thinking about Eshi as a helper, an enabler, a lover, was so automatic that Kaede wondered if she could live without her. She had managed, once, back when she had been a junior investigator with a team back on Earth, to live without someone else. She could probably do it again. She just didn't want to.
More, Eshi was a beautiful woman. She looked like a beautiful woman, and what she had underneath... did it matter? Eshi's personality was more rich and varied than many women's, including one or two Kaede had briefly dated.
The car jolted as it landed in its parking spot. Kaede looked about, then opened the door and stepped out into the monsoon. Covenant didn't need a weatherman, the weather was almost always the same: drizzle with brief but significant downpours. She ran for the covered walkway, then took the stairs at a slower pace until she reached her door. She wondered if Eshi would even be home. The door recognized her, unlocked as she reached for the latch, let her in.
"Where have you been? Oh, you're soaked!" Eshi came out of the kitchen dressed only in a bathrobe, towel at the ready. "I've been worried about you for... hours! I called Brighide and she said you'd dropped her off just after dark. What happened?"
"I... " She looked away. "I cheated on you."
"You what?" Eshi said it so gently that Kaede might have missed it if thunder had rumbled past right then.
"Are you mad at me?"
"Not yet," Eshi said. "Why?" It was an unflustered why, so straightforward and without rancor that Kaede fell in love with Eshi all over again.
"Brighide called me technogamous this afternoon."
Kaede waited. And waited. "I wanted to prove that I wasn't."
Eshi remained silent.
"What?" the other woman said. "What do you want me to say? That you're not? Didn't Petterin and Diamini and-- you never told me your boyfriend's name, back on Earth, I don't care-- didn't they prove to you that you're not?"
"But I've been with you for so long."
"Only four years. Is that longer than all your other relationships? You left me here, in the dark, worrying about you, wondering if you'd been attacked by someone or had an accident. And then you tell me that you went out and got laid because you weren't sure if you were still capable of getting it on with a 'real woman'? How am I supposed to feel? You know-- you know how frightened I am of being abandoned again."
Kaede nodded, shamefully. "I... I came home and told you, because I... I wanted you to know. I thought a lot about you, and me, and how good you are for me. You let me do things that no other woman could possibly do. It seems so... inhuman, the way I treat you. I don't know that I love you enough."
"Oh, Kaede, oh my beloved." Eshi stepped forward and embraced Kaede, holding her. She was a head shorter than Eshi, pressed the side of her face to Kaede's small bosom. "Oh, I love you, Kaede. Never question my devotion to you. It's simply there, always and forever. Just... just assure me that you won't ever tire of me."
"I just-- " Kaede tried not to cry, but the tears were already building. "I just think I should believe in you more like a woman, and not just a helper."
"But it's my role in life to be a helper. I accept it." Kaede smiled briefly. "Is there something, you know, missing from the way I act with you?"
Kaede shook her head. "No. Maybe... I don't know. Marriage is supposed to be a matter of mutual sacrifice. I don't know what I gave up when I fell in love with you. I don't know what you gave up when you fell in love with me."
Eshi kissed her neck. "Does it have to be that way? I mean, does it have to feel that way? I don't think it does. We all have other things we could do. I sometimes miss the fact that I no longer live in a way that my revenant status is meaningful. I keep my space rescue software up-to-date, even though I'll never use it. It's just part of what I am." She sighed. "I guess it'll be all over your office by tomorrow. Will there be.. you know... repercussions?"
Kaede shrugged. "I don't know."
"Maybe we should invite them all over for dinner."
Kaede looked up. "Huh?"
"Well, cooking is one of my specialties, right? And you want them to get over this 'I married a robot' bit. How bad movie can it get?" Eshi laughed gently. "Let them see me. Spend the evening. Remember, I think of my self as superior to all of them, because I know my purpose in life."
"Even superior to me?"
"How could I be superior to you?" Eshi asked. "You are my purpose in life." Kaede grinned. "Let's get you out of these wet clothes."
Kaede stepped back and let Eshi open her shirt. "I'm not a lesser being because I came out of a machine. People come out of machines now," Eshi said, tossing the wet blouse down the hall with precision so that it landed in one of the three baskets she kept next to the clothes washer.
"I know," Kaede said as Eshi passed the towel over her body one final time. "I just..."
"Just want to understand." Eshi dropped her own bathrobe, and the two of them stood in the hallway. Suddenly, she surprised Kaede by pressing her up against the wall. "I know."
"Call in sick to work tomorrow. Tell them you'll be staying in bed." Her hands caressed the sides of Kaede's butt, sliding around until she had the whole of both cheeks in her grasp.
"I was hoping to get some time at the keyboard, to write up my final report on the last case."
"Mmm... I might let you do that." Eshi's mouth was kissing her shoulders, her chest, trailing down to her breasts, which Kaede always thought were too small. But Eshi insisted they were perfect. "I might," she murmured as her teeth descended on Kaede's breasts.
Kaede sucked in her breath. She wasn't sure if she wanted this right now, but she wasn't about to say no to Eshi. She had betrayed Eshi once. She had to prove that they were still in love, that they were still together. If she said no now...
But then Eshi's warm mouth, her wet mouth, was on her belly, leaving moist clues behind as she made her way down Kaede's body. She kissed Kaede's navel, her hands on Kaede's waist, her fingers, her thumbs, in motion, her tongue slid further down, crossing that suggestive and intimate zone to Kaede's pubes, then into that dark tangle of hair, down into the flush lips. Kaede put her palms on the wall behind her and, without even thinking, spread her knees further, letting Eshi into her inner sanctum. For a moment, she realized she'd let a complete stranger go there, lick her there, handfuck her there. She felt only a gentle soreness at the press of Eshi's chin against her vulva and felt a rising lust. "What do you do to me?" she hissed.
"Only what you want," Eshi said. "I can read you, lover, better than anyone else. I know you." Two fingers slid up into Kaede's cunt, and Kaede felt her hunger for Eshi's best violence rise. "I don't want to lose you, Kaede. Let me convince you..."
"You... have!" Kaede gasped as another finger entered her body. Eshi's hand, she realized, was smaller than Crescent's had been, and she did this so well. Always so well.
"That's it," Eshi said around her mouthful of Kaede's puffed-out labia. "That's it." She cupped her fingers together and slid them up into Kaede's ravenous body.
So that's what men are afraid of, Kaede thought dimly as she felt the entire lower half of her body flower with need and demand all of Eshi's hand. Goddess, she could barely hold herself up, her knees wanted to buckle, wanted to plunge down onto Eshi's hand with all of her weight, a merciless taking of Eshi into her. She wanted to possess Eshi, swallow her, take all of her. "Oh, Eshi, oh beloved, never again..." Eshi's hand slipped into her cave. "Yes!" she whimpered, her voice going up octaves she didn't know she could reach. "Oh, yes!" She felt the tears streaming down her face, couldn't handle what was happening to her, the guilt, the shame, the need, the hunger, the love. "Eshi!" She came, she screamed. "I love you! Oh, goddess, I love you!" Her body was falling, falling... she was going to the floor.
She felt Eshi rise and press against her, guiding her down, to the side, the arm behind her back unnaturally strong. That registered with her just long enough for her to recognize it as a blessing, and then she was on the floor, Eshi's mouth on her cunt, a hand in her so-full, so-taken body, fingers sliding into her ass, crowding this little core of her being with sensations, demands, desires, and then she was coming again, coming apart, coming in a way that made her scream and scream and scream.
It was a while before she could speak again.
"What... What was that?" she gasped. "See how many times we can make Kaede come?"
"If you gave me up, could you find that anywhere else?" Eshi said, crawling to hover over her. She peppered Kaede's face with moist little kisses. "You're so incredible. So good to me."
"And you're too good for me."
"No, I'm just what I am," Eshi whispered. "I love you, Kaede. Now and forever. I chose to be with you. You chose to give me the gift of yourself. Is there anything more important than those choices?"
Kaede shook her still-spinning head. She sniffed, the sadness within her still there, still powerful. "Eshi, can you forgive me?"
"I already have, Kaede. I can forgive you anything, except dismissal. Just don't... don't do anything that would make me fear that. Okay?"
Kaede nodded. Eshi lay down next to her on the floor, cuddled her. "We never made it to the bedroom," Kaede said.
"That happens to us from time to time."
"I like us that way," Kaede said.
"What? In bed?"
"No, you silly. Although I think I'd like to make it into bed now. Goddess, I'm going to be sore in the morning. No, I mean, I like how... how sexual... we still are."
"Me, too," Eshi said.
"Eshi, do we have to be monogamous?"
"I didn't think we were. I'm not interested in anyone else, but if you are... I mean..."
Kaede shook her head. "No, not like that. I just thought I was breaking some kind of unspoken rule about our marriage."
"We can make some written rules, if you want. But... I'm here for you. Are you here for me?"
"Yes. Yes I am."
"Then..." Eshi smiled. "Maybe we just got married too fast."
"I had six months to think about it!" Kaede said. "I didn't think it was too fast. I guess... when I'm away from you, what other people think about you somehow becomes important to me. It shouldn't."
Eshi rolled to her side, and helped Kaede up onto her feet. They made their way to the bedroom, where Eshi pulled down the sheets and guided Kaede into the bed. Kaede was exhausted, her head spinning from the succession of fantastic climaxes she had had that day, from Crescent and Eshi. "I love you," Kaede said softly as Eshi tucked her in. "Let's get off this provincial mudball." She giggled. "I'm surprised it hasn't all turned to mud and washed away."
"If we go back into the deeper civilization, you won't have a job."
"Mmm," Kaede said. "I'd rather have you than work. I can live on the dole."
"No you can't. You like challenges. Think of me as one of them."
"I'll try." Kaede cuddled up to her pillow, felt the warmth of her beloved crawl in beside her.
"We'll talk in the morning," Eshi whispered.