Polly called into the empty apartment they shared. "Zia?" The front room was empty. "Zia!" Polly searched her bedroom, the bathroom, and finally worked up the courage to look into Zia's room. She wasn't there.
On the big video screen the newsheads continued talking even though midnight had long passed, discussing the treaty and the normalization of relationships with the Free Worlds. The audio was off but the captions, in Francaise, told the whole story anyway. "Dzun, where is Zia Tau?"
"I'm sorry, Polly. I don't know."
"But... don't you guys know everything?"
The AI sounded upset that she couldn't give Polly what she wanted. "Everything we are permitted to know, and everything we are permitted to learn within the reach of our sensors. No more, and no less. I don't know where Zia is, Polly. I'm sorry."
Polly stripped off her dress and dropped it into the autolaundry, grateful that it was a sealed unit. The dress still smelled of Zia's urine. Polly sobbed softly, confused. The smell would have excited her-- did excite her, already she felt the heavy warmth of her dick as it swelled at the thought of Zia-- but the longer she had gone thinking about what had happened the less she understood it.
There on the bridge, in the warm wind and bright moonlight, as celebrator fireworks exploded around them in a climax of bright light and war sound, Zia had collapsed, stared up at Polly, and then run away, crying. Polly had never seen Zia cry. Polly never wanted Zia to cry. Reeds had helped Polly find her way back to street level, and Dzun had led her home.
Polly slipped into the shower. She had never been assiduous about showering every day before meeting Zia, but now it seemed like she bathed twice a day or more. She washed the last of Zia's stale presence from her body, and as she stood there in the stream water circled the drain, taking Zia's scent with it.
She crawled into her bed, alone. Sleep took forever to come for her.
Zia did not return the next day. Dzun still claimed she had no knowledge of Zia's whereabouts, and when Polly called the Embassy, Ambassador Tempany's secretary said that Lt. Zia had asked for and received an extended period of leave, effective immediately. Polly hung up the phone and let herself cry again. "It's a good thing I'm not a man," she said softly to the empty room. "They don't teach us not to cry on Sparta."
She sighed, took a deep breath. She wore the full skirt uniform today, the cut that more effectively than any other hid her Y nature. She called into the Office of the Commander, acknowledged that she had no orders, and informed the office that her routine would be the same as the prior day's. "But, you have leave," the secretary at the office said. "With the exception of some of the office staff, you're on leave for six days effective immediately."
"Oh." Polly hadn't paid attention to her email. The leave made sense in a way. Having Terran Retrofit Therapy would make one a better soldier, and San Txema was messaging her staff that taking TRT would be a career-enhancing move. The relief had arrived two weeks ago. The progress of the war was going well. The Dark had refused negotiations, the Pendorians had started to uncover their forward bases hiding in hyperspace and were starting to beat them back without appreciable losses. Polly was one more cog in a machine that needed less meat and more machines.
She called Rhiane and Dove. Neither had seen Zia. She was alone in the house she shared with a her friend and fuckbuddy, she had nothing to do, and her commander was telling her that her responsibility now was to do what she had been looking forward to for almost a year: to get the retrofit. To live forever.
She did not go out. She spent the day at home, alone, waiting for Zia to walk through the door the way she should at any moment. She tried Zia's phone and left a message. Then another. Then a third. From time to time, she cried. She lay on the couch, curled up, video off, a bottle of water close at hand, and stared at the ceiling. She remembered the touch of Zia's hand on her cheek when they kissed, the feel of her breasts against Polly's chest when they fucked.
Her phone chimed, and she swung her hand for it on the table, then sighed. It wasn't Zia. "Hi, Dove," she said.
"The fact that you're not busy tells me that Zia hasn't shown up."
"And the fact that you're not busy tells me that you've worn those poor boys out again."
"Only a little," Dove said, smiling. Polly returned a weak echo. "Do you want company? Let me rephrase that. Do you need company?"
Polly glanced around the empty room. "I think I'd like some."
"We'll be right over."
"All three of you?"
"Yes, if that's okay."
"It's okay," Polly said.
Dove and the twins had listened carefully to Polly's story about what had happened on the Noble's Bridge last night. Polly tried to be circumspect but Dove was having none of it, using the crude language when it was appropriate.
When Polly was finished, Dove leaned against the couch. She was still wearing the glass bead Polly had seen the night before. "Polly, did you ever tell Zia you loved her?"
"No," Polly said slowly. "But this isn't love. Is it? I mean... "
"You haven't been crying your eyes red all day?"
"I don't know," Polly said. "It doesn't feel like love. It feels like something else. Like a drug addiction or something. I'm in withdrawal."
The two beautiful young men who shadowed Dove everywhere these days exchanged glances with Dove. "I said the same thing about Ash and Arwen once. I asked them if I could be addicted to them. They said no. Obsessed, maybe, but not addicted. Are you obsessed with Zia because you're afraid you're going to miss your next fuck, or are you worried about what's happened to her?"
"Yes, I'm worried about her," Polly said. "I don't want to think she's gone somewhere and done something stupid."
"Let me ask this the other way. Have you ever wondered about when your relationship with Zia was going to end?"
"Yeah," Polly said. "Now and then. I wondered how I would get out of it without hurting. Without missing her. I knew it wasn't going to last. I mean, we had nothing in common but the sex."
"You had the apartment."
"But what else?" Polly said.
"Polly, I think Zia left you because she knew you thought more about saying goodbye then saying you loved her. And when she realized she was in love with you, that the infatuation was more than just that, she couldn't take it anymore. She wanted to get out before you hurt her."
Polly laughed. "Nothing can hurt Zia. She's superwoman. The perfect Spartan. Except for the perversion."
"That's where you're wrong," Dove said. "Her accent's not Santorini or Landfall. She's a Shearrs. Northern continent. They still read Pollyanna San Ardor up there in church."
Polly sighed hearing her namesake. Her mothers had named her after one of the Spartan Founders and Polly hated everything she had ever heard about San Ardor. "That was a long time ago."
"Not for the Shearrs. They're still serious," Dove said. "For them, the community of women is still the most important thing there is. Falling in love is a distraction for both women who do it. Think about where Zia comes from. Zia's background thinks falling in love is a sickness, Polly." She quoted, "'The feeling of love starts in deep depression, in a woman's inability to find the pleasure of everyday life.'"
"But, but... where does Zia's perversion come from?"
"Would you'd say she's good at it? Polly, you don't have to be shy with me." She smiled gently and reached across the table to hold Polly's hand. "After all, you have my virginity."
"Want it back?" Polly said.
"You took Dove's virginity?" one of the boys said. "That's so sweet. We didn't know." "We do now." "Yeah. You must be very nice." "You're a Y, then?" "Of course she is." Polly blushed.
"They can be a handful," Dove said. "Zia's a rural girl, probably from the Northern Continent. She's been taught her whole life about duty, piety, fealty. Love is something to be avoided. Pleasure is something to be shared, though. I think Zia wanted to see how far she could go, how close she could dance to that sun. And then you came along and she grabbed onto you."
Polly drained her glass. One of the boys rose and refilled it from a carafe. Tears welled in her eyes. "What am I going to do, Dove? What am I going to do?"
"Polly, I can't tell you what to do about Zia. She may have found out that she's not immune to love. You may have done something Zia thought was impossible. You may have broken her heart."
One of the twins said, "You can't have sex with someone constantly, month after month, without falling in love. You can't. Humans don't work that way." The other opened his mouth to speak, closed it, nodded for his brother to continue. "That's why actors are so notoriously promiscuous. You can't even pretend for a season on stage without your subconscious mind going crazy wondering why you aren't going all the way. You go from pretend to infatuated to wondering if it's for real. Before civilization, by then it was too late: you had winter and children."
He glanced at Dove. "I'm glad you're urbane, Dove. The kind of warping they do on kids in your rural communities sounds awful. A girl in one of those communities would grow up hating herself, doubting her worth, fearful of her own soul and her own desire to hold and kiss and hug someone. Arwen and I know we're overprogrammed on the whole sex thing, but you don't seem to mind."
Arwen said, "I think Zia went from athletic to infatuated. And now she's stuck trying to figure out if she's in love, and she's afraid that she might be."
Polly felt tears rise again in her eyes, tears unbidden, tears of recognition and rage and fear and even satisfaction. "Oh, Goddess," she said, laying her head down on the cushions. The sobs came long and hard, and she knew what they meant. They were her promise, her oath to herself. She cried for a while, Dove and the twins gathered around her, until finally she had the strength to sit up and wipe the tears away. "Goddess, Goddess, dammit."
"Our Goddess doesn't know damnation," Dove said softly.
"So says a San Cioni," Polly whispered, then turned and looked at Dove. "I wish I could have fallen in love with you instead."
"I was impetuous. I still am." She reached out and touched one of the twins on his arm. He put his hand on her shoulder. "But I'm learning. What brought that on?"
"Back before I met Zia, I was dating a lot of people, some vocal Ys, some Pendorians, and I remembered something I said to one of them. She said that I shouldn't take life seriously, that 'real people' leave you." She glanced up at the twins, who held their faces carefully neutral. "I didn't believe her then, and I don't believe her now. She asked me what I was looking for and I said that I wanted someone who would stay around long enough. 'For what?' she said. I said, 'Long enough for me to figure out what I want.'"
She sat back in her chair, brushed a lock of hair that had fallen forward. She liked it long like this. "I don't have three hands."
The boys smiled, their eyes wet. Each held out one hand, and they knitted them together into a single grip, offering it to Polly. "I know it doesn't work that way," Polly said. "Dove told me." But she took the offered hands anyway in one of her own, and Dove's in another. "I want to be in love. I want to be crazy in love. And I think I have been, with Zia. But now I want it to grow up."
"And that means telling Zia goodbye?" Dove said.
"Or asking her to grow up with you," one of the boys said. Polly had lost track. "I think she would, for you. I think, Polly, that if she had to choose between losing you, and learning to believe in love, Zia might choose to believe. She worships you, Polly. She worships what you can do for her, what she feels around you. I watched her at the ceremony last night. She has trusted you with every square-- no, with every cubic centimeter of her body. She has only one thing left to give."
"I agree," the other said.
"Of course you would," Polly said.
Dove shook her head. "Don't make that mistake."
He nodded. "Yeah. Ash and I may share a common pool of memories, but we're individuals. We think differently. I have seen how she looks at you, Polly. How she changes, softens, opens. Let her. I'll go further. Zia loves you, Polly. Telling you that might be the most painful thing she ever does."
Her guests agreed to stay the night, and they started with a bit of old-fashioned legwork, calling everyone in their address books, asking if any one had seen Zia Tau and to call Polly if someone did. They also asked them to spread the net wider if they could.
The next day Polly rose and showered. In the kitchen she found the twins making breakfast. One of the twins was making breakfast. The other was behind him, nuzzling his neck and generally making it harder to cook. Other than aprons, both were naked.
Polly had never had a good look at the twins before, but she liked looking at them both. They were beautiful, even without the skirts and blouses they had worn the night before. Their bodies were lean, their skin pure in a dusky, golden way. They had cute asses. She felt her own dick rouse under her housecoat and was grateful she had remembered to put on underwear.
"Oh, good morning, Polly," one of them said. "Eggs?"
"Thanks," she said. "Where's Dove?"
"She's up. She slept late. She can do that sometimes."
Polly sat down, trying not to feel bad because her presence had inhibited Dove and her lovers. Dove came stumbling in a minute later, yawning. The boys served breakfast with gentle cheer. They were trying to make Polly happy. She appreciated the effort.
They were still eating when her phone rang. Polly put it to her ear. "You did? Where?"
"What?" Dove said.
"Someone said they saw Zia heading for a dojo dressed in her workout clothes." She scrambled for her padd, put it on, worked her way through the menu. A map appeared on the household video screen. "There."
"That's all the way on the other side of the city," Dove said. Polly ran to dress. She wanted to get there before Zia left, before Zia realized she was being watched, before Zia understood that telling the AIs she wanted privacy didn't mean that serendipity didn't exist and humanity had to shut its eyes as well.
Polly stood at the door. "Come with me?"
"You don't think she's dangerous, do you?" one of the boys said. "She's scary, but I don't think she would be violent. Would she?"
"I hope not," Polly said.
They reached the dojo after a bus ride that left Polly fretting that Zia would leave and go back into hiding before she arrived. The dojo was an unassuming place in a strip shopping district with a low door built to llerkin standards. Zia would have to duck her head to go through it. The door was ajar. Polly peered through one of the windows.
Zia Tau stood with her back to the window, punching at a tall, leather-covered bag. Each strike was hard, solid, as if Tau were trying to jam something into the bag, destroy something with her bare hands. Her arms were swollen with the muscular effort. Sweat ran down her biceps. "She's hurting herself," Polly said. "That's harder than she should hit."
"Then stop her," Dove said. The boys nodded, and Polly swallowed. She opened the door.
It swung in, a little bell affixed to it ringing cheerfully. Polly would have expected something high-tech, a chime from a speaker. The bell gave her an unexpected bright spark of joy that shot through her fear and made her shiver. People on llerkin still used ordinary bells. Then she looked up to face Zia.
Zia took a few more strikes at the bag before she turned. Polly was halfway across the room when Zia's eyes fixed on her. There was no reaction in them, nothing there at all. Polly's fear increased. "Zia?"
Zia turned and resumed punching the bag. Polly watched for a minute longer, then crossed to stand just at the edge of Zia's vision. "Zia, I... I want to talk to you."
Zia swung hard at the bag in three rapid jabs. "You're hurting yourself, Zia. Stop it."
"I'm fine," Zia said. "I don't want to talk, San Tarvo."
Polly felt her last name as if one of Zia's fists had hit her. Zia hadn't called her "San Tarvo" since that first night, that night in Civilian Conference Room Four aboard the Einstein's Canvas. That night when they had first rolled on the carpeted floor like two crazed seagulls at the beach. Polly had seen the first tiny crack in Zia's self-discipline even then, when she had sighed at the end. Neither of them had loved the other. Polly had thought at the time that she was blackmailing Zia. Zia had thought she had finally found a sex toy that demanded nothing more of her than a good fuck once in a while. Together, they had made their choices. They had a pact.
Polly smiled, even as tears hit her cheeks. "Zia, don't tell me you hated doing all those things." Zia swung a hand hard at the bag. "Did you hate it?"
Zia paused, her head down. Sweat fell from the strands of blond hair that fell over her brow, and beads slid down her cheeks. Polly knew what those droplets tasted like. She could imagine them even now. "No, of course I didn't hate it. I'm the one who wanted it. I made you do it."
"You haven't made me do it in a long time, Zia."
"But it's not what you wanted to do."
"Did I ever tell you to stop?" Polly said, louder. "Zia, do you hate me?"
Zia looked away, her large frame shaking hard. She was trying to hold something in. "Don't do this to me again, Polly. I don't hate you."
"Then we're not finished, Zia," Polly said, feeling an angry sense of authority taking her over. "You made a promise to me. We're not done. We haven't done everything."
"Yes, we did," Zia said. She glanced about the room before turning to Polly, her eyes inflamed not with their usual lusty ferocity but with an agonized desperation. "We did enough. We did anal and oral and, and, and..."
"And I haven't told you that I loved you."
Zia's eyes shocked open as if lightning had struck her. She fell to her knees, then forward, hands to the mat, head down. The gloves she wore had small holes over the joints, and Polly saw blood on the knuckles of her right hand. "Don't say it, Polly. You don't know what that word means."
"I need a word what we have." Polly walked up to her, grabbed her by the gi. For the first time, she felt taller than Zia. "I love you."
"I don't want you to."
"I know. Because this is mutual, Zia. It only takes one of us to say, 'I don't love you,' for it to be over. You want me to say that. Because you can't. You don't want it to be over. You have to say it."
Zia's chin began to quiver, just as it had two nights ago before she had run away. She bent her head down. "No, I can't."
"Then say it the other way."
Zia shook her head. "No."
"It won't go away, Zia. I won't go away."
Zia lifted one arm and smashed her fist against the mat so hard it made her whimper in pain, a sound Polly had never heard. Pain was a kink Zia lacked. "It has to, Polly." She gestured toward the door. Dove and the twins had come in. "I'm not like them. I'm going home."
"And home will be different after TRT. Do you really think even the Shearrs will refuse it?"
"Then..." Polly let go of Zia's gi, leaned closer to her. "I love you, Zia Tau."
Zia seized Polly's wrist. "Prove it." Polly was hauled toward a door in the rear. She stumbled, unable to keep up with Zia's incredible strength, but she was not afraid. She had never feared for her safety with Zia, not after the first time. Zia dragged her into the changing room, locked the door behind her, pushed Polly up against the wall.
She kissed Polly. Polly whimpered, squeezing her eyes tight to keep from crying again. The press of Zia's mouth against her own made her whole body light up like a city that had been without power for days, every nerve glowing, every vein coursing with life once more.
Polly had learned from Zia how to make power flow, how to give and take aggression, how to channel it into pleasure. She shoved her hand down the front of Zia's gi pants, found Zia's pussy, cupped it with her fingers. "Yes," Zia cried, her voice catching in her throat. "Yes, my pussy missed you."
Polly's own dick was already as hard as it could possibly get. It felt like it had been replaced with steel, a solid shaft, a missile made to seek out Zia. Zia's pussy was soaked through and Polly's hand was covered in Zia's juices. She pulled her hand out, pushed Zia away with the other, and shoved her wet fingers into Zia's mouth.
Zia lips tightened around those fingers, her eyes closed with the starting tremors of ecstasy. Polly liked the feel of Zia's tongue against her fingers. "I should do that more often," she said.
"Yes," Zia said with her mouth full.
Polly pulled at the bow holding Zia's pants. They fell to the ground and Zia kicked them off with the ease of months of practice.
They fell upon each other, their bodies slamming painlessly against the metal lockers before they fell to the ground. Polly stripped her blouse and skirt off on the way down. They had both done this so many times. It never seemed to weaken. It never seemed to wear off. Polly no longer thought it was infatuation. This was something they had together. This was something she had with the tall, strong, beautiful, demanding, insatiable Zia Tau, and she had come here to fight to keep it.
Naked, they rolled on the ground, Polly's hand finding a place between Zia's legs. "My ass, too," Zia sighed. "Touch my anus."
Polly slid her hand between Zia's solid asscheeks and found her anus. She had always thought that Zia's choice of words was a little weird, so solidly technical, but she liked hearing it now. It meant that her Zia was here, her Zia was ready to play with her. She slipped one finger into the dry and still willing hole and Zia gasped. "You always stir me up when you do that."
"Good," Polly said. She pushed Zia's legs apart, repositioned herself, and drove her dick deep into Zia's pussy.
"Yes, yes, fuh, fuh... Yes, Polly, your dick, so amazing, so amazing! Fuck me, Polly, fuck me hard!" Polly complied, slamming her dick into Zia's pussy with all the force she could muster, a solid beat of body against body, of hips against thighs. They pushed and pulled at one another with unreal energy. "Gonna come," Zia said. "Gonna come with your dick again! Yes!" Zia's snarling, smiling expression made her look transfigured, taken away to a better place as she came.
Polly felt her cock as if it were covered in power, as if it were alight with desire. "My turn Zia! I'm gonna come!"
"Yes, come inside me, Polly. Give me your come. Give me, give me your come! I want it. Come inside me!" Zia's words pushed Polly over the edge. She climaxed with a loud cry. Her cock felt like a cannon going off, shooting deep into Zia's pussy. She fell onto Zia, holding onto her, body to body, warmth to warmth. Under her hands she finally registered the cold smooth cement floor that had been their consummation bed.
"Goddess," Zia sighed gently. They lay together for a minute, two, longer. Polly lost track. "Polly, you can let me go."
"Tell me you won't run away."
"Yes. I won't."
Polly slowly took her hands off Zia's sides. Zia was so much larger and stronger that she could easily have pried Polly loose if she wanted. She hadn't. She was staying for now. Polly pushed herself up into a kneel, then sat down on her ass.
Zia rolled over. "You took me at my word, huh?" Polly nodded. "Everything?"
"Everything," Polly said. "You didn't define 'everything.'"
"Fine," Zia said. She scooted close to Polly. She wore a smile Polly had only seen rarely, almost always after sex, and only when Zia thought she wasn't looking. "Everything." She opened her mouth to speak, but before the words came out she laughed. She laughed hard, loud, a harsh, almost grating sound that was wrong for her.
Zia's mirth had always been short, quick, more of a simple acknowledgement she found something funny rather than real humor. But now she laughed hysterically, her back to the lockers, looking up at the ceiling. Polly wondered if maybe she'd gone mad.
Finally, her hands wrapped around herself, Zia wiped tears from her eyes with the backs of her gloved hands. "Zia?" Polly asked softly.
"You called me a pervert the very first time we fucked, Polly. You were admiring the way I shaved my pussy. I could see it in your eyes. You thought you were insulting me but you didn't mean it. You thought it was wonderful. But I wasn't a pervert. I didn't think my hobby was perverted. I might have made you into a pervert, but I didn't force you to go that way."
Zia smiled. "Now I'm a pervert, Polly. I'm the most perverted thing I can be." She took a deep breath, closed her eyes for moment, then reached out, pulled Polly to her and kissed her. "I want you forever, Polly. I want your dick to fill my holes forever." She leaned her head forward, casting her eyes down as if embarrassed. "I love you, Polly."
Polly said, "In the garden on the Canvas, you shoved that bead toy up my ass, and you peed all over me, and I kept fucking you after you told me to stop. You called me a pervert, and I said you were one too. You laughed about it. You said, 'Yeah I am.' I held my head up. I had chosen what I was. For you."
Zia glanced up. Her face, that impassive, expressionless, powerful face was back, the sharp nose, the strong eyes, the chin. She smiled then, the feral smile. The one that said she would get what she wanted from this. "You're right. I'm a pervert. And I love you, Polly."
Polly smiled at her, but in her heart a new confusion reigned. "Zia, you were right. We know this is different. We know this feeling is.... something. I love you, Zia. But what does that really mean?"
"I'm going to do what it takes to find out. With you, Polly. Neither one of us is gonna let go now. Not until we find out. Not until we really have done everything."
"Everything," Polly agreed.
"Then lets go tell your friends that things are good. Then you and I can take TRT, and we'll see how changed life is." Zia reached into her locker and dressed.
Polly followed the magnificent, perverted girl.
Followed her home.