Dreamteam Calamities: Wren

Erwer, Yavar 17, 01312

“Katrina?”

Wren’s voice stabbed through her guilty conscience, setting her jaw into a painful clench. She was not ready to face Wren, not after last night. She thought briefly about how she might escape, to where she might flee, but even flight would mean going past Wren and making eye contact. She could not even pretend that she was out. The AI knew she was here and she had not asked him for any privacy.

“Katrina? Dave said you were home.”

She stared at the door, wondering towards whom she directed her hostility. It wasn’t towards Wren. She had done nothing to earn it. She then walked over to the door. “Wren?”

“Kat?”

Katrina wanted to tell her to go away, but she couldn’t. Not Wren. It was too much to ask of her. Wren had needed her for all the years they had been with whathisface. She felt a strange chill to realize she was using the popular name at the Villa, the name they were using for Malati. Her former “owner.”

She pulled tight the belt of her bathrobe, then turned the door handle and let it open. Wren was watching the door, looking up the length of the jamb to the ceiling. “They’re so tall,” she said softly.

“They have to be to let the Han and Centaurs in.”

“Will you let me in?”

Katrina gestured. Wren stepped past her into the front room, nervously hustling across the floor until she found a couch and sat down. “Kat? Is something wrong? You’ve been avoiding me all morning. Usually you come by and say hello. I wondered if– if something I had done made you mad.”

Katrina shook her head. “No, not you.”

Wren was silent for a moment. “Then why are you avoiding me?”

Katrina fought not to let the worlds come out with too much truth in them. She lost. She wanted to soften the blow. Instead as she said them she felt each one like a dagger she was throwing at the only person left for her to care about. “Because you went with him last night. And I got him to promise me that he wasn’t going to go through each one of us and make each of us a little trophy, a little reward for his saving our lives. He swore that everything he wanted to do was honorable, and I thought he understood that I didn’t want him fucking you!” The words ended with tears, terrible tears that coursed down her cheeks. She buried her face in her hands to smear them away and hide them.

Even through her sobs Wren’s voice rang like a perfect bell on the clearest day Pendor had to offer. “Katrina– don’t I get to make that decision?”

Katrina looked up at Wren. “I… He’s so persuasive.”

“But he’s not our former owner.” Wren’s eyes began to fill with her own tears. “Katrina, he doesn’t own anyone. He doesn’t want to. He lives in a world where he lets chance dictate who comes to him and who doesn’t. If Wish and Freya and you can have sex with him, why can’t I?”

“Because… because you’re… Wren, you always seemed so unhappy. Malati seemed to get such a thrill out of telling you to sleep with other men because you seemed to hate it so much. He liked humiliating you. And you hated it. I know you did. Every time you came back to the house you were crying so hard, and so long…”

Wren nodded. “And you took care of me.”

“And I want to keep taking care of you.”

Wren said, “When we were with Malati, we did what he wanted, because it was what we wanted. Even if afterwards we felt dirty, or sick, or just used, we kept doing it, because it was what we wanted to do. That’s what the purpose circuit does. It makes you want things you might be ashamed of, or resistant to. Your wanting to take care of me, though… that wasn’t in the circuit.”

“No.”

“I’m still not going to do anything I don’t want to do, Katrina. I’m just not… not inclined to do what one man tells me to. I don’t want what other people want of me anymore. I guess that means I’m my own person now. I don’t know what that means, really, but I’m learning.” She looked up at Katrina. “He must not be that convincing,” she said.

“What?”

“Ken. He must not be that convincing. I didn’t have sex with him.”

“But… but you were up in his office even after I gave up and went to bed.”

“That doesn’t mean I had to have sex with him,” Wren said. “Why did you have sex with him?”

Katrina was taken aback by the question. “I… I don’t know. I guess… I wanted to know what Freya and Wish saw in him.”

“Was he good?”

Katrina grinned, her body feeling warm thinking about the answer. “Yes, very. He was considerate and strong, and I liked that combination. He made me realize that lovemaking, for me, wasn’t about Malati. It wasn’t like Malati at all, who may as well have been masturbating for all the attention he gave us.” She paused, wondering how hard she should bite down on that lie. “He’s still a man, though, and still has those times where it’s all about the last rush to, you know…” She looked up. “If you didn’t have sex with him, what did you do?”

“We talked.”

“I bet he offered.”

Wren grinned. “He made some comment about if I ever wanted to with him, he’d be willing. I said I didn’t think that would be happening soon.”

Katrina wondered if Ken really was that prescient. There was nothing in his Journals to indicate he, or anyone else for that matter, could see the future so clearly. “Was he angry?”

“I think there was a second where he was disappointed. That’s only fair. When you want something and you don’t get it, it’s fair to be disappointed for a second. But he was very gracious about it. And he seemed a bit amused, too.”

“Then what did you do?”

“We talked a lot. And then he asked P’nyssa to join us. He wanted her to talk to me for a little while. We were up until almost seven talking.” Wren wrapped her arms around herself, a gesture she did when she was trying to find a way to say something but could not quite work up the courarge. “Katrina… we talked about you.”

“Me?”

“We were worried about you. Other than being Malati’s fucktoy, you were the group mom. You held us together, comforted us, took care of us, and made sure that even when we weren’t feeling right that we took care of ourselves. You don’t have that anymore. P’nyssa said that your problem is that we don’t need you.”

Katrina said, “I feel like I’ve been slipping away, now that everyone is going off on their own. Wish and Freya have found themselves, and I think Wish is staying here. I don’t want to stay here. It’s nice enough, but I want to look around. I just… don’t know who I am that will be looking around.”

“Kat, come sit next to me.”

Katrina took a spot on the couch next to her. Wren said, “I’ll go with you.”

“What?”

“I’ll go with you. If you want to look around Pendor and the rest of the universe and find yourself, is it okay if I… I go with you?”

“Why would you…?”

“Because I may not need you anymore, Katrina, to help me make decisions I can’t decide for myself, but… I want you to. I want you to be there for me. I want you to help me figure out who I am.” Katrina’s mouth fell open as she realized what Wren was saying. “I… I love you.”

Katrina sat, shocked. “But… after all those years of us being together, after all the horrible things… You can’t!”

Wren put her hand on Katrina’s lips. “Some of that was because what you wanted was what Malati wanted of you. I know that. But I believe that you did a lot of those things because you really cared about us. Maybe that’s who you are, Katrina. Someone who cares about other people. P’nyssa says it’s a universe where people like you might not be needed anymore. I don’t need you. But I can want you.” She gave Katrina the slightest of smiles. “Can’t I?”

Katrina’s mind tried several times to find a way to respond. She couldn’t think of one. She sat there, her body close enough to Wren’s to feel the heat coming off her skin, her mouth agape. Her confusion only deepened when Wren closed the distance between them and kissed her.

She felt it as the merest whisper of a kiss, a bare touch against her lips, but it could have been hot whiskey for the effect it had on her. It made her confusion disappear only to be replaced with a greater sensation, a more powerful and profound disarray. She felt Wren’s hand on her thigh as the smaller girl eased the kiss from hesitant to certain, her lips to Katrina’s mouth, her tongue reaching out. Katrina’s body knew better than her soul what was being asked of her, as her nipples hardened only to be brushed by the fabric of her robe.

Katrina realized this was what she had been missing from her encounter with Ken, this was what she had wanted. One of the others to love her, to want her. One of her family to stay with her. She suddenly broke away. “Wren… wait.”

“Kat?” It was almost a sob.

“You’re not doing this just because you think I… I won’t be happy without you, are you?”

“I want you, Katrina.” Wren’s voice choked up. “I do. No, it’s not just that. I mean, I know that you’ll be unhappy until you find someone to love the way you love me. Well, I’m here. Love me. Please.”

Katrina looked into Wren’s face. She could not resist. She started the kiss this time. And she quickly made it more than certain. She made it passionate. Each little flick of Wren’s tongue against her own felt like a little bolt lighting up her nervous system. The warmth of Wren’s body saturated her chest and belly. The sweet smell of flowers drifted over her from Wren’s hair.

Katrina whimpered loundly as Wren broke away from her. She didn’t want to stop now, not here, not yet. She wanted more. “Wren.”

“Come with me,” Wren said. She stood up and reached out with one hand. Katrina followed, her heart pounding, her soul a twisted jumble of need, confusion, and instinct. This was the girl she was supposed to be protecting, but instead she was being protected, from what she could not put into words.

Wren led her into the bedroom, then turned, took Katrina into her arms, and kissed her again. Katrina felt Wren’s hands on the back of her head, holding her. For a moment she never wanted to let go, never wanted anything more than just to kiss Wren, to be in this intimate cage formed by their arms and their mouths, to never go anywhere else.

One of Wren’s hands slid down the back of her bathrobe, fingers touching along her spine, achingly slow, until it reached the curve of her ass. Then, even slower, it slid down until all five fingers splayed against her skin. Wren whispered, “Nobody is watching us.”

For Katrina, those four words clang with power. She knew what Wren meant. In the past, she had been pressed into service by Malati, had smiled and said, “Of course, sir,” as he told her to “put on a show for me” and whoever else my be watching, with Wish, or Dream, or Song, or Light. Or some combination. She had liked it then. She had done what he wanted. But she had also wanted private time with her partners, her teammates, alone. She had never had that opportunity, because Malati had cameras everywhere in the house, and recorded every intimate moment, every sign that they might be favoring someone else over him, and when he had asked them to go see the doctor for “correction,” they had gone meekly and sat in the Gessler MRI box.

A wave of anger swept through her, an intense, hateful anger for the man who had made her, had crafted her into the meek and willing slave she had been. She had never believed than someone would be so angry they would see red, but now she saw red, now she saw anger coloring her world.

Through that red, though, Wren was watching. And when she saw Wren’s face and the concern on it, she couldn’t hold onto it. It faded away. For one moment she thought she saw Wren through rose-colored eyes, but then that faded and only freckled, black-haired, sweet-eyed Wren stared back at her. “I’ll kill him.”

“Try not to think about him today,” Wren said, holding her. Wren squeezed both of her hands about Katrina’s ass, pulling her closer. Katrina’s desire soared again, swamping her anger with something equally hot but not so dangerous. At least, not so dangerous to others.

They mouths met in a collision that made teeth click against teeth and tongue slither against tongue until their lips were wet and spit ran down Katrina’s chin. She pulled Wren towards the bed, and together they fell onto the sheets, legs entwined, mouths still seeking mouths. Wren’s hands again found her ass, squeezed, held.

Katrina whimpered, but then found the strength to take charge. “I want you out of those clothes now!” she growled. She tugged at the clasp in the front of Wren’s culottes, tearing down the zipper. Beneath it, Wren wore a pair of simple panties, pink in color. “Help me,” she said.

Wren lifted her ass off the bed long enough for Katrina to pull off the shorts, but not the panties. Katrina smiled and let Wren have her way for a moment, falling beside her to kiss the her hard.

Wren’s hand slid into her bathrobe. Katrina shivered at the touch of those fingertips on her thighs, as Wren searched up the length of her leg and found her pussy. Wren’s finger pushed between her thighs, and Katrina opened her legs to let her in. Wren took the fingers away.

“All in time, my love,” Wren whispered. She untied Katrina’s belt and pushed open the robe. Her eyes looked down the length of Katrina’s body, taking in the full measure of the bronzed body underneath her. She nodded. “Ken was right.”

“About what?” Katrina asked.

“You look ‘sturdy.’ That’s the word he used to describe you. Strong, whole, a body of muscle and power.”

“But not beautiful.”

“I think you’re beautiful,” Wren said, her voice barely above silence. “I always have. You have quick eyes that see everything and cannot tolerate lies or deception. You have a strong body, beautiful legs, and breasts that are…”

“Ordinary,” Katrina offered. “Odd. They are. Admit it.”

Wren did not to argue with her. Instead, she lowered her head to Katrina’s nipples and took one of the hard little nubs in her teeth.

Katrina felt the nip shoot straight to her clit, which was already full and hard and waiting for attention. She gasped as Wren’s tongue flicked across the surface of her nipple, making it throb. She gasped hard, “Wren, Wren!”

Wren shifted to the other nipple, caressing the first with gentle fingers even as she sucked the other one, and most of Katrina’s breast besides, into her mouth. Then she raised her head. “Your breasts are beautiful. They’re small, but they’re so perfectly formed, little mounds sticking out and asking for attention.”

“I… I never understood why only Freya got normal breasts. Yours are so big it’s… weird.”

“Maybe whatshisname just didn’t like them.” Wren grinned. “He wanted… I don’t know. I like yours.” She kissed at Katrina’s nipples a few more times, her tongue trailing wetness down the length of Katrina’s chest and belly, pausing for only a moment to dip into Katrina’s navel. She paused only for a second above Katrina’s aching pussy, and Katrina closed her eyes.

“Wren, if you don’t start soon, I’m going to do it myself.”

“You had better not,” Wren said. And then her mouth closed on Katrina’s pussy.

“Ohhh… yes!” Katrina shouted loud as Wren licked at her. Wren’s tongue on her clit threw her into paradise, her whole body suddely aflame with the need to come, to be loved by this beautiful girl who loved her and wanted her. Her pussy became an aching, needful thing that could only be filled with Wren, all of her. “Fingers…” she gasped. “Wren!”

Fingers she got. Wren shoved one, two, three fingers into her opening, then curled them up against her pubic bone, pressing into her, touching her in secret places they both knew about and had never had the freedom to explore like this. Wren slid a fourth finger in, squirming it, touching her. “Oh, Wren!”

Wren’s lips closed on her hairless lips and applied suction to the region around her clit, pulling the whole of it into her mouth, exposing more of her clit. She forced her tongue down over the entire region around Katrina’s clit and Katrina couldn’t hold her hands still. She wanted even more of what Wren could do for her, wanted to come now, now… NOW.

She felt her climax rip through her to leave her soul’s armor in tatters. She screamed, she cried, she reached out to Wren, her arms trembling as she gathered the girl in her arms and held her close and whispered her name over and over as she came back from the incredible pleasures Wren had just put her through.

Wren held her just as tightly as they lay on the bed. “Katrina,” Wren whispered. “I love you.”

Katrina turned her over, her body still weak from her orgasm, and straddled her. Tears fell down her face and dripped onto Wren’s chest. “Wren? I love you too.”

Wren smiled and touched those tears, collecting them on her fingertips and touching them to her lips. “Stay with me?”

“For ever and ever!” Katrina giggled. “I’ve never felt anything like that.”

“Really?” Wren said.

“Yes.” She kissed Wren’s mouth, and Wren responded warmly. “I like kissing you. It was always one of the best parts.”

“The other part was good, too,” Wren giggled.

“I’ll show you how good it was!” Katrina said as she slid down Wren’s body. “Hey, you shaved.”

“Well, you never let it grow, and Malati always kept us smooth. I let it grow after Ken healed us, but… for you, I decided…”

“You do it the way you want it,” Katrina sighed, kissing the bare lips of Wren’s pussy. The smell of her was warm, heady. It made Katriana swoon with desire. Wren had always been the wettest of all the girls, and today was no exception. Already, a thin white fluid trickled out between her lips and down the crease of her ass to the bedspread. She licked at it, surprised that it had very little taste after all. It was all texture, though, oily and sweet. She parted Wren’s lips with her fingers and identified the tiny clitoris, her piss-hole, her vaginal opening. It was all there, the way it had always been. She lowered her mouth to the smooth skin.

Wren moaned softly as she started. “Yes, like that,” she sighed, and Katrina complied, kissing her clit with gentle touches, not even using her tongue at first. Wren’s legs spread wider.

Katrina reached up with her hands and grabbed ahold of Wren’s, their fingers intertwining. She held on as she licked and sucked, her tongue sliding all the way down to Wren’s asshole before coming back up to the greedy little nub that wanted more of her attention. Wren’s moans told her that she was doing just the right thing, flicking at it rapidly, playing with Wren’s clit. Back and forth got a better response than up and down, soft and fast better than hard and slow. Wren’s “uh-huh, uh-huh!” told her that she was closing in on a prize, as did the way Wren’s leg muscles trembled and shook. “Oh, god, Katrina… Mmmmnnn....” Wren came with a strange sort of whimper, an almost sad sound, her body shaking and releasing.

“Wren?”

“Katrina? Come here?”

Katrina was already at her side, holding her. “Is something wrong?”

“Wrong? Oh, God, no, Katrina, nothing could be more right than… than the way I feel with you. Please, just hold me. Hold me.”

A little confused– this freedom thing was harder to grasp than she had originally imagined– she held onto Wren and tried to comfort her. “God, Katrina, I needed that the way Freya and Wish seem to need whatever it is that they do.” She giggled. “Oh, Katrina, I love you, I love you, I love you.”

“And I love you,” Katrina admitted.

They lay together for a while. Birdsong rose from outside, and the clouds that had been there in the morning burned away, leaving bright sunshine glittering on the tiled porch outside Katrina’s bedroom. She lifted her head to look at the splendor of the day before her and wondered if it could last, what would happen to ruin it for her.

She shook her head, suppressing the momentary wave of self-recrimination over wanting a happpy ending. She took a deep breath, inhaling the sweet scent of Wren’s hair, and sighed. “For as long as it lasts.”

“Huh?” Wren said, looking up.

Katrina looked at Wren’s unkempt expression and her own messed up bed. “We need a shower.”

Wren giggled. “I think you’re right.” She stretched on the bed, her taut body glistening.

“You’re beautiful,” Katrina said as she pulled Wren into a standing position and led her to the bath. “Dave, would you start a shower for us, please?”

“I would love to.” From the stall came the sound of falling water. Wren disappeared into the shower and Katrina followed. From hundreds of openings overhead small aerated streams emerged and broke apart,striking the tiled floor in a cacophony of oversized droplets. Wren had dialed the heat up and a billow of steam hovered about the ceiling. Katrina felt curiously shy about seeing her like this so soon after her confession, after Wren’s confession, and their lovemaking. She loved Wren. She knew that surely and down to her soul. She had found something, a purpose.

Wren was standing facing the shower wall, her back towards Katrina, her arms crossed across her chest, holding herself. “Wren?”

Katrina instantly knew something was wrong. The last time she had seen Wren behave like this, so shy she couldn’t face her sisters, it had been from a black eye that one of Whathisname’s friends had given her. He had wanted to sodomize her, but she hadn’t been ordered to accept that so she refused. She didn’t like it. Wren hadn’t been all that upset about the eye, really; it had been the way he had called her a “filthy, cheap robot.”

“Wren?” she said again.

Wren lowered her head. “Why is it, Katrina, that out of all of us you’re the only one who didn’t get a kink?”

“A ‘kink’?”

“Yeah.” Wren turned to face her. “Freya got her masochism, Wish got her buggery–“

“We all got that,” Katrina said.

“No, we all did that when Whatshisname wanted it. Wish adores it.” She smiled wistfully. “I wish I were like Wish.”

“I’m glad you’re not like Wish,” Katrina said. “I’m glad you’re you. What kink did you get?” Wren glanced away. “Wren?”

“Katrina, I want to live the rest of my life with you. So, I need to know now if I can ask this of you. Maybe it’s just a little thing, and I’ll grow out of it. But there was one thing…” She looked up at Katrina, reached out to hold her waist. She knelt down slowly until her head was even with Katrina’s mound, her hands slipping down the wet skin. “Katrina, would you pee on me?”

Katrina swallowed. Part of her was ready to do anything Wren asked of her, and the rest was horrified. “Wren… did he ever ask that of you?”

“Once. A long time ago. I– I don’t know that I liked it. But ever since that time, I fantasized about you doing it for me. You. Not him.”

“But… it’s degrading!”

“It means whatever we think it means.” Wren leaned forward and licked at her slit, what little of it she could reach. “I could never be degraded by something you do.” Her voice, barely a whisper, reached Katrina’s ears clearly over the falling water. Her tongue was sliding between Katrina’s swollen lips, reaching the hood of her clit. She moaned.

Katrina stumbled back and found the wall of the shower behind her. Wren followed her, her head tilted up, mouth pressed against Katrina’s mound. Her soft, insistent tongue slid down to Katrina’s peehole, pressing at it, tasting her way around it. Katrina moaned, trying to hold herself up, trying to relax enough to give Wren what she wanted. Things were happening too fast, but she couldn’t resist that tongue, the way it probed at her liquid center. She could feel Wren lick at her clit before rolling her tongue about her peehole.

And Katrina could not ignore the sensation building in her belly, the amazing pleasure, the impending orgasm, any more than she could deny that Wren had caught her at the right time: she really needed to pee. She held Wren’s head in both hands, leaned against the wall and took a deep breath, relaxed, and let go. She felt the pee flow out of her, felt Wren’s little tongue lapping at her opening, felt the satisfaction of letting go flow upwards into her soul, and she came again, moaning, her head tilted upwards into the streams of rain falling from the ceiling. She held Wren’s head in place between her legs, cried out in joy as Wren swallowed and swallowed and swallowed, her mouth convulsing around Katrina’s pussy.

She collapsed to her hands and knees, pushing Wren onto the floor. The water cascaded down her hair and fell to the floor, and if she looked anything like Wren… The look in Wren’s eyes excited her just a little more than it frightened her. A conflagration roared in her chest, and she tackled tiny Wren, sending the two of them sliding across the tiles. Her mouth found Wren’s, tasted what was there, and she didn’t care. If anything, it made her feel even more inflamed. She moaned as she pressed her breasts to Wren’s wet body, their legs sliding against one another, tongues wrestling hard for attention. When, finally, she was able to get a grip on herself, she raised herself up on her hands. “I can’t believe–“

Wren smiled. “I can. Oh, Katrina, I’ve been dreaming about a moment like this for too long. Too long.” She touched Katrina’s face, her fingers caressing those full, pale lips. “I love you.”

Katrina smiled, but hoped the shower hid her tears. “I love you too, Wren. I love you too.” They held each other close in the falling water. Eventually, Katrina let go and got up onto her knees.

“Oh! You’re bleeding.” Wren looked down at Katrina’s left hand. Blood oozed from wounds on the knuckles and made little streams along the back of her hand.

“When I grabbed you I must have slammed my hand into the tiles harder than I thought. I didn’t want your head to hit them instead.”

Wren reached out for Katrina’s hand, turned it over, and lowered her mouth to the back, licking up the trickle of blood and water. She closed her eyes, her face swathed in contentment. Katrina smiled. “It must taste awful. All salt and metal.”

Wren’s eyes flickered open and she looked up. “It’s sweet. Like you, Katrina. Like your piss in my mouth: pure, hot, gold. Incorruptible. Eternal.” She looked down at the hand, caressing it like some small wounded animal. “Even in your worst moments, when you had been so badly used by some acquaintance of Malati’s, you never forgot that we needed you. And even when we didn’t understand why you loved us and couldn’t show you, you still loved us.”

Katrina felt water dripping into her face over her hair. She didn’t care. Her mouth fell open in shock and wonder. Wren looked back up again. “And now I can say it and mean it. I love you.”


“So, this is it,” Ken said. He gestured to the small squared cloth bags that held all of her and Wren’s worldly posessions.

Katrina nodded. “We can’t stay here. We’ve decided we’re going to look around and then… see what happens next.”

“Any idea where you’re going to go?”

Wren said, “We were thinking about going to the Queen’s Reach, then on to llerkin, Discovery… We don’t know after that. We’ve been to Earth.” She looked over at Katrina, who smiled and held out her hand. She took it. “And unlike you two, we don’t know what we’re good at. Or here for.”

“I do!” Wish said, bouncing closer. “You’re here to love each other!”

Katrina laughed behind her hand. “Aside from that.”

“You want to do more than that?” Wish said, giggling. “I understand. I’ll miss you guys so, so much!”

“We’ll come back,” Katrina said. “I–“

“Promise?” Wish finished.

“Yeah!” Katrina giggled at the mention of her old name. She reached out and hugged Wish hard, holding her close. “This will have to last me. It’s the last memory I’ll have of you until we see you again. Love you.”

“Soon,” Wish whispered.

“Soon.” She let Wish go, then turned to the taller Freya. “I never understood you, and I don’t know if I ever will. But I love you more than you can know.”

“Oh, Katrina, you don’t have to understand me to love me.” She hugged Katrina, kissed her forhead. “You were always there to put me back together again.”

“But I was bad at it.”

“And now I’ve found people who do both the taking apart and the putting back together just right. But that doesn’t mean that I’ll ever forget you, for what you did, and how hard you tried. I love you, Katrina. I always will.”

Katrina nodded, stepped back. Wren made her own goodbyes. Ken turned to them. He held out his hand. Katrina looked at it uncomprehendingly, then pulled him into a hug with Wren. She reached out for Aaden, and then P’nyssa, and the five of them huddled. She felt more than heard a sob among them. “Ken?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you crying?”

“Yes,” he said, unashamedly. “I did everything I could, and this is where I learn whether or not I did it right. Little Wren prepares to spread her wings, and you’re there as the wind to carry her. I hope… I learned to love you the way you wanted, and did for you what you wanted done.”

“I’ll never forget. The price–“

“Means nothing.” He held out his open hands. “You’re important. Not the fucking price.” He looked up at the open windows of the Villa’s main building, and Katrina recognized the gesture. “I’ve set the SDisk to take you someplace special. You can override it if you want.”

“We can go anywhere afterwards, right?”

“If you don’t like it, yes.”

“We’ll take a look.” She took Wren’s hand again. “Ready?”

“With you? Always.” They shouldered their bags and took a step.

The look was breathtaking. They were on a mountainside looking down at a circular city, a living, breathing, full city that gleamed in the bright sunlight only a few kilometers away. Air vehicles of all shapes and sizes passed through the air. Wren recognized it first. “Queen’s Reach, the city of Ieliaia.” She looked around. They were standing on a shallow porch. Behind them a stretch of glass gave them an impression of a mountainside retreat. “The Queen’s Aerie.”

“Huh?” Katrina asked.

“The Queen’s Airie. It’s one of Anlestin’s hideaways.”

“Oh.” She walked over to the balustrade. A sheer cliff fell away from the two of them down to a calm blue lake below. She took a deep breath, said, “Ken is wrong.”

Wren tilted her head. Just like a bird, Katrina thought. “About what?”

Katrina said, “That the people we are now are no different from who we were when we were with Malati. Same bodies, same memories, we just have one less compulsion now than we did then. But he’s wrong. We had a compulsion that made us do things we hated. We had a compulsion that we would fight and resist and finally surrender to. We weren’t the same, any more than a person addicted to a drug or a wire or madness is the same as that person whole and healthy. We knew there was something about us we loathed, even as we were satisfied to act out its demands. We were the person who swears she won’t take a drink that day and then inexplicably find herself reaching for a bottle, helpless to stop herself, even as her guts twist with shame.” She turned to Wren. “And as much as we couldn’t bring ourselves to say it, as much as an alcoholic says he can stop at any time, we knew inside that something was wrong.”

“But what are we now?” Wren asked. Katrina felt certain Wren already knew the answer, but she asked it anyway. She took Wren’s hand and led her towards the glass doors.

“We’re free.”