"Why'd you want to fly in this old junker, anyway?"
"I like these," Misuko said. She examined the displays once more as outside the front glass the stars slid by in reliable, constant streams. They would arrive at Indigo 161 in about sixteen hours. Between then and now there wasn't much more to do than lay back and enjoy the the trip. "They have character. It's not like taking an interplanetary SDisk string, or having some nanny AI on board." She avoided mention of Esther's microRealm, brought "in case I get bored." Well, that was Esther.
"It's so romantic, though," her sole company said quietly. The blue-furred Tindal lounged in her crash chair as if her entire body were preparing to melt into its hot orange upholstery. "A whole planet, all to ourselves, with nothing to do but lie around, soak up the sun, and play!"
"Remember," Misuko said. "I still have to get some work done. I need to justify the cost to the university."
"I know, I know," Esther said, her voice taking on the tinge of a whine. "But not that much, right? I mean, you paid for the ship."
"Half the ship," Misuko replied.
"Okay, half the ship. That means you'll have plenty of time to play with me, right?"
Misuko reached out and touched her lover's thigh. "We'll have plenty of time to play," she said.
"Let's play now!" Esther grabbed Misuko by the hand and hauled her down the tight corridor to their one cabin. Misuko went, a little annoyed by Esther's impetuousness, but that was overwhelmed by the smaller girl's hard kisses against her mouth. She felt her nipples and cunt swell with heat. Her whole body demanded to be pressed against Esther's fur, to let Esther's mittens into her sex. It was what Esther liked, and all she demanded in return was her mouth, her skilled tongue. It was more than a fair trade, Misuko thought.
Esther's mittens were already probing under her skirt, trying to squirm their way into her panties. Misuko felt flushed as Esther's lips caressed her chin, her throat. "Esther..." she whimpered. "Don't break any buttons. This isn't smartcloth."
"Oh, you and your old fashioned ways." She giggled, but treated the buttons with care as she opened Misuko's blouse. She looked down. "I love your tastes, though."
Misuko couldn't be sure whether Esther referred to the lacy, white bra she wore or the flavor of her breasts, and when Esther strong lips encircled one nipple and began to suck, she didn't care either. "Esther," she sighed, wrapping her arms around Esther's head and shoulders. "Yes."
Esther pulled her toward the bed and the two of them tumbled into it. She shoveled sheets aside to give the two of them room, and Misuko let herself be swept away by Esther's immediate attentions. "You have such great tits," Esther said, her mouth taking one and then the other. "I wish I could have both of them at the same time."
"If you were a chorus, you could."
"Not yet," Esther said. "Someday, maybe. Now, be quiet. I'm busy!" She giggled, and Misuko smiled. Esther eased herself between Misuko's legs. "Now, this is what you wanted, right?" she giggled, her thumb pressing against Misuko's panties.
"Uh-huh," Misuko breathed.
"Oh, and what will I get in return?"
"Whatever you want," Misuko said.
"Whatever I want. Hmm." She leaned down and kissed Misuko's panties. Misuko felt warm lips upon her mons and wished for more. Esther's little tongue slipped out, lapping across the cotton that covered her cunt. She wanted more. She moaned for it.
"More?" Esther said. "Do you deserve more?"
"Minx!" Misuko swore. "Yes!"
Esther turned around until her hips were even with Misuko's head. "Eat me, then."
Misuko dove between Esther's furred legs. The little Tindal was demanding but Misuko didn't care. She loved what they could do for each other and she never passed up an opportunity to show her affection. She pressed her mouth against Esther's cunt, slipping her tongue between the lips and homing in on her clitoris.
"Yes," Esther groaned. "Oh, yes! Oh, darling, yes!"
Misuko tongued Esther's cunt hungrily even as she felt Esther's thumb invade her. She gasped, tried not to be distracted, almost succeeded. She kept licking at Esther's enlarged clit even as Esther's mittens spread her wider and wider inside, making room. Esther cried out with her climax, then immediately demanded, "Another one!"
"Fuck me, then," Misuko begged. "Fuck me, Esther."
"Like this?" Esther said, pressing the tip of a mitten against Misuko's cunt.
"Yes, yes!" Misuko gasped, dropping her head between Esther's legs and licking even harder. Esther's press faltered for a moment, but then she began pushing into Misuko again, pushing. Misuko felt her cunt flower open, wishing for more of Esther's invading mitten. She let it happen, let herself be carried away on waves of ecstasy. She came, screaming, her voice barely muffled by Esther's sweet pussy.
She raised her head and looked behind to see Esther's smile. She shook herself and lowered her head back to her task, licking Esther's cunt, attacking her clit. She sucked on Esther's clit and felt the other woman tense up hard. She backed off and licked at her copious juices for a moment before diving back in, sucking and nibbling, until Esther had her second noisy orgasm.
She collapsed onto the bed and realized that there was still a hand in her cunt. Esther wiggled it, teasing her. She groaned. "Don't," she whimpered.
"Why not?" Esther said.
"Because... because..." She couldn't think of a good answer. She knew she wanted Esther to stop, but she couldn't come up with a good reason for why she wanted Esther to stop. She tried to fight off the orgasm that was building inside her, tried not to let it happen, but she couldn't stop it. Esther knew how to do that to her. Esther knew how to push her. She was coming again before she knew it, crying hard into the mattress, squeezing tears from her eyes even as waves of ecstatic pleasure roared through her. "Esther..."
"I'll stop," Esther said. Misuko felt the tentacle within her wrap tightly on itself, and then Esther eased it out. The Tindal bounced around in bed until she could kiss Misuko. Misuko gently kissed her back. "Thank you!" Esther said. "That was fun!"
Misuko nodded. "It was." And she had to admit to herself that it was. She liked it when Esther did that to her, made her come even when her body was telling her she had had enough. She worried about what it said about her, that she couldn't say "no" even when she was thinking it. She was glad Esther understood. It helped make up for all the other things.
"Are you falling asleep on me?" Esther said, that little whining voice back.
"Mwha? No," Misuko said.
"Yes, you are," Esther said. "You always fall asleep after you get fucked silly."
"Not always," Misuko mumbled.
"Yes, you do," Esther teased. "Anyway, if you want to sleep, go ahead. The ship will fly itself. I'll go spend time in my Realm."
When Misuko awoke, Esther was lying beside her and sleeping soundly. For a moment she looked down on the blue-furred fem with relief that, at least for a while, she had her life to herself.
She rose from the bed and walked down the corridor to the front of the ship. She glanced at the controls and learned that they were less than an hour from transit and insertion. With a sigh she sat down in the command chair and pulled up the relevant materials.
A panel beeped at her, and when she looked up Indigo 161-4 was in front of her. "What a beautiful world," she muttered as she looked on. She examined the panel in front of her and asked for a standard orbit. The machine knew what she meant and programmed itself to go into a low, looping insertion. "Whenever you're ready," she told it, "drop the probes."
Even though it was not an AI it knew what she meant. A display to her left read: "Drop in eight minutes." She nodded, watching with satisfaction as the counter started to go down. She went back to her reading, only to be startled by a loud CLANG! as the monitor stated that the first set of probes had been dropped. Every twenty minutes or so for the next six hours, that sound rang through the ship. It woke Esther up, who immediately dove into her Realm to shut off her external hearing and ignore it.
Misuko watched the displays instead. She could see the fine tracery of lines from the microprobes starting the trace their way through the globe, looking for subtle differences in neutrino emissions, gravitational differences, or even microcorrane fractures. Something had to show up.
Esther came out of their cabin when the noise had stopped. She looked bleary-eyed and, from Misuko's vantage, needed a shower. "Did you find it yet?"
"Nope," Misuko said, wondering why everything Esther said sounded sarcastic. "I just started. It might be a few days. A few weeks, even. I might never find it. It might not even be here."
"How many are there like this again?" Esther said.
"Seriously? There were over six hundred colony attempts, and fully a third of them disappeared into the great void between zero-two hundred and zero-eight hundred. Less disappeared as time went on and the technology improved. That's just the live body colonies. There were thousands of embryonic colonies, and tens of thousands of seedships. Terra was nothing if not fecund."
"It almost seems perverse. Typical something males would do. Little spermships. Oh, I forget. You like guys, don't you?" There it was again, that damned sarcasm.
"I like you," she said, smiling up at Esther, who returned it.
"Besides, when were you ever a lesbian separatist?"
"I'm not. I just don't want to fuck guys. I don't see how you could, either. Especially not human guys. All that weird body hair."
Misuko shrugged and went back to her searching. Esther kicked around in the co-pilot's chair for a while, watching. "When are we gonna land?"
"When I find something interesting, or before bedtime, whichever comes first."
"Bedtime? That's hours from now!"
"So?" Misuko said again. "Esther, I came here to do a job. I said you could come along. I want you too, really, but... I'm here to work."
"So what is the story with this place? If it's such a nice human-ready world, why does nobody want it?"
"Because it's doomed. There's a black hole only a few light years away. In less than a hundred thousand years the place is going to get eaten. Even before that, the gravitation of the black hole will start tearing the sun apart and make the planet uninhabitable."
"So why are we out here?"
Misuko sighed. She had explained this all before. "Because of the colonists."
"They're dead, aren't they? I mean, if they made it at all."
"We don't know if they made it. We know they tried. The probe found no evidence of human life, but it did find lots of Terran plants."
"So they did make it!"
"Or they were following an Anderson seeder probe," Misuko pointed out. "Which did make it and successfully dropped its cargo. But they should have made it. This wasn't some poor colony ship. These people had money. The crew was almost entirely cyber, and this was pre-AI."
"Pre-AI?" Esther said. "This was around six hundred, though. What if it wasn't 'pre-' enough? What if one of the AIs went crazy, you know, like that Nameless incident."
Misuko smiled. "That would be very dramatic, wouldn't it? A brave human crew blowing up the ship rather than leave a mad AI with a human-ready world, rich with minerals and the Turings to mine it and create an army to take on the universe!"
"Something like that. I suppose there's no sign of that on the planet, either."
"At least we're not spending our summer stuck in the library."
"I guess," Esther said. "I'm gonna go play in my Realm."
"What do you do in there?"
"What I always do. Play around. Go swimming. Read. There are other people in there, but they're not AI. Just good SIs. You can tell the difference fast enough. But it's much bigger in there than it is in this stupid ship."
"Have sex?" Misuko said, suddenly feeling jealous.
"No way. I save that for the hottest fem on Hiroshi!"
Misuko blushed. "Then I'll be here when you come back."
Misuko landed the ship without waking Esther, who was either asleep or Realmed, it was hard for her to know which. She had chosen a tropical island setting within the epicenter of the Terran infestation, where the Anderson probe had landed and started clearing out an ecological niche for its cargo. Terran life was tenacious. Landed on even an already inhabited planet like this, it was very successful at pushing back the native forms into whatever niches it could find. Even after less than two thousand years it occupied a third of the planet and was voraciously pushing back the borders every year.
It was a bit of a shame that neither the native life nor the Terran life had much of a future ahead of it. Misuko thought it deserved at least a couple million years.
She had already gone through the safety tests, opened up the ship, and set up the awning outside when Esther finally emerged from wherever she had been and blinked into the sunlight. "It's pretty!" she said.
"Do you like it?" Misuko said. "I tried to pick a beach you would like."
"Oh, Misuko, it's lovely!" She gave Misuko the grin that made knees go week, and then abruptly turned back into the ship. Misuko sighed. That was Esther.
She let the ship deploy their hardware under the awning. A chair, a folding desk, and a disk the size of a saucer for a datacenter was all that she needed. She sat down and let the holograms fill the air about her. She could see the orbits of the sixty-four satellites they had deployed about the planets, their strict programming giving them careful sweeps of the world, intersecting it, taking it apart internally, letting her know if there were any anomalous metal deposits that might be a ship. They had already found their test case: the Anderson probe showed up clearly, so she had something to calibrate on. Esther came out a few minutes later, her blue fur highlighted by a yellow one-piece swimsuit. "What is that for?"
"Don't you think it's pretty?" Esther said.
"It's very beautiful." She especially admired the way it showed off and highlighted Esther's perfect thighs. It made her want Esther in ways that she knew a responsible person would do their best to ignore when they were on a job. "But you don't need a modesty suit around me, do you?"
"If it teases you, of course I do!" Esther said. She raced down to the edge of the beach and than began swimming out. A spherical security drone overhead scanned the water about her for predators to shoot. Misuko watched her splash with her heart racing and her nerves on edge. "What is it about Esther?" she said to herself.
She shook her head and turned her attention back to the datacenter. After an hour or so she figured out she wasn't going to get much more out of it until it actually found something worth investigating. Besides, she had come here for her vacation, not to just stare at the data screens. Esther was right about that.
She picked up a fun little book that she had found in her to-read list. It had been in the list for at least fifteen years, she noticed, but she supposed that it was better that she eventually read than that she walk around with it on the list for the rest of her life, which could be a very long time. She picked up the veribook she kept for occasions like this, a soft-covered thing of very light pages that had a worn, beat-up appearance. "Shojouai," she said. "I bet my accent is terrible."
The book changed to a brightly decorated cover of two women in a tight embrace, one clearly dominant over the other. "Heh," she said softly. "That was us, once. Once upon a time." She looked out over the beach and could just barely see the glint of the seccor drone somewhere a few hundred yards off-shore. She picked up the book and a towel and, without changing her clothing, laid down on the sand just beyond the shade provided by the awning. "I guess I should have worn a ring," she muttered to herself.
The day passed. Esther returned, and they had lunch together. By the time night fell Misuko was feeling exhausted. Her clock and the planetary orbit were on different cycles and she had decided to stay up and power through her exhaustion rather than have a shortened sleep cycle.
She yawned. "I'm off to bed."
"So soon?" Esther said. "But... I wanted you to stay and play with me?"
"Honey, I've been awake for nearly forty hours. I'm in no shape to play. And after that glass of wine, I'm definitely going to bed." She kissed Esther on the cheek. "I'll get the bed warm for you."
"As if that's what I want," Esther said, crossing her arms.
After four days on the beach, Misuko was about ready to throw Esther to the sharks or their local equivalent. The battle cry of "I'm bored!" sang out across the beach time and again, and each time Misuko pointed out to Esther that she had chosen to be here and had known what it would entail, Esther crossed her arms in a huff and disappeared into her Realm. She would lie on the bed, her eyes closed, her breathing regular, as highly advanced SI systems took over the jobs of feeding her and removing wastes from her body neatly via SDisk transposition while other systems interacted with her brain and kept her entertained. Every few hours she would emerge to learn that nothing had changed, that Misuko hadn't found anything worth looking at, that they were still on the same beach.
Misuko found herself wanting Esther's attention more often, even with all the whining and complaining, but each time the satisfaction seemed less all-encompassing than it had been the time before. She wondered if she were getting used to Esther's style of lovemaking or just getting tired of using the sex as an excuse to shut her girlfriend up.
Misuko lifted a mug of kfi to her lips and took a deep drink. The Sendar equivalent of coffee warmed her without making her nervous and she appreciated it for its power to do just that. She looked at the data display, still floating in the night sky above the ship, still showing the intersections that might have illustrated the anomaly.
"Computer," she said. "What's that?" She pointed at a spot on the sphere that was outlined in a hot white color.
Words appeared on a display to her left, reading: Metal deposit.
"Does it match the profile of the Anderson probe in terms of density and distribution of space?"
"Then why wasn't I informed about it?"
Anomaly is in deep water and is outside the Anderson probe circle of influence. Probability of it being the target are estimated to be below 50%.
"Says you," Misuko replied. "Prepare for liftoff. We go at dawn."
"Why are we flying?" Esther said, coming out from her cabin, looking a bit bleary-eyed once more.
"I found something."
"We'll see," Misuko said as she consulted the maps before her. "Right there, ship. That's the closest island, if I read this correctly." She looked up at Esther and smiled. She hoped the change of scene would brighten Esther's mood.
Esther gave her a momentary grin in reply and then sat down in the other seat, her long legs hung over the arm. "That's deep water. Guess you'll have to unpack the deep-sea probe, huh?"
Misuko looked up at Esther and wondered if there was that hint of cruelty in Esther again, the one that delighted in her discomfort. "I guess so," she sighed.
"Oh, it's not so bad," Esther said. "It's just a hunk of metal."
"You know I don't like robots," Misuko said.
Esther shrugged. "I don't know why not. They're a fact of life. And they've made life easier for millions of people. I don't see why you have to exclude them."
"I like people," Misuko said.
"They are people," Esther said.
"I suppose. I don't know. I've never actually met a robot. Unless you count the ship that took me from Abi to New Hiroshi. A few AIs, like the one at the university. I guess I'm just used to organics. I like you. You're people. You're warm and you're sexy. You're not... a machine."
"Sure I am," Esther said. "A meat machine, made for fucking." She giggled. "How long until I can get my hands on you again, anyway?"
Misuko smiled. "About fifteen minutes until we set down, and then... Oh, what the heck. You can have me in sixteen minutes."
"Charm!" Esther exclaimed.
And sixteen minutes later Misuko and Esther were rolling in bed together. Misuko had her head firmly between Esther's furred thighs and was licking dutifully at Esther's cunt, lapping up the juices that flowed from her fountain. "Oh, Misuko," Esther gasped. "Fingers!"
Misuko complied, slipping one and then another finger up into Esther's grasping pussy, reaching back to caress Esther's cervix. Esther was probably the only woman she had ever known who liked that sensation, but she liked it a lot and Misuko liked giving it to her. She tapped at it with her fingertips while her tongue tortured the Tindal's clit and hood.
Esther came with all the drama Misuko could wring out of her, and then collapsed onto the bed. "So good!" she said.
Misuko crawled up the bed and kissed her lips. "Good for you," she said. She cuddled close to Esther, who slid her fingers down between Misuko's thighs, but Misuko gently dislodged the hand probing her vulva. "Later," she said.
"But, I wanna see you come now!" Esther said.
"And I have work to do."
"Hmph," Esther said. "I suppose you don't want me to go with you. I could ride in the probe, you know."
"I guess you could," Misuko agreed.
She untangled herself from Esther's legs and the bedsheets and made her way out of the ship. It had already deployed itself, the awning extending away from the ship, her chair and table set up, the holodisplays going full strength. She walked around to the other side and pushed a button. One of the cargo holds opened up to reveal a two-meter tall robot of gleaming metal, its legs molded together as if it stood on a single column, its body curiously streamlined. It was strapped to the wall like some victim ready for the red hot poker. Next to it was a red plastic toolbox.
Misuko freed the toolbox from its moorings and pulled loose the clamps that held the robot's straps. From the toolbox she picked up a small, hand-held unit with a pair of joysticks and a dizzying array of buttons: four under each thumb plus two under the forefingers and another pair of trigger-like buttons at the front, plus a pair of switches in the center. She threw one of the switches to the 'on' position.
The robot straightened up as if it had never been deactivated. Misuko quickly figured out how to get the thing to walk in the direction she wanted, and after a few minutes she had a great deal of appreciation for the way the programmers had anticipated the most common wants of the beginning user. She was able to make it walk, jump, and move its arms with simple ease, and if she held an object in front of it and played with the right joystick, it immediately understood its job to grasp the object.
But for what she really wanted to do, she would want a more comprehensive command system. For that, she would need the Brace unit. She reached into the toolbox and picked out the headset, a unit that covered her eyes, ears, and head, allowing her to see what the robot saw but give orders through her thinking. As recommended in the manual she ordered the robot to sit down, then put on the head set.
"This isn't so bad," she thought as she looked through the glasses. The robot was looking down the beach. She turned her head and nothing happened. She thought about turning the robot's head and the view shifted until it was looking at her. She smiled. "Mom would never approve." She ordered the machine to stand up.
It was looking down at her, and she suddenly had an understanding of just why her parents had chosen Abi as the world where they would raise their children. She looked small and insignificant compared to this two-meter tall overpowered creature of metal, and the fact that it had no desires of its own but only what she gave it mollified her only a little.
She turned it toward the beach, integrating into her left eye's view a map of her target. A small window opened underneath the map and Esther grinned out at her. Misuko didn't recognize the background. "Is that in your Realm?" she said.
"Yep," Esther said. "What do you think?" It was much like the beach on which they had parked the previous week, except that in her background a cabana waited with a grinning man behind the counter. Esther had a drink in hand.
"If all you wanted was a man to serve you drinks..."
"You would never have allowed it," Esther said. "You hate robots, remember?"
"I don't hate them," Misuko said. "They just... "
"I know, I know. You come from Abi. What's their motto? 'The human future they way it was meant to be?'"
"It is not!" Misuko said, feeling that Esther was needling her unfairly again. "They just like doing things their own way on Abi, without machine input."
"You're using a robot," Esther teased.
"No, I'm using a humanoid-shaped probe. There is no AI involved at all. Metal shouldn't want." Misuko turned her attention back to the probe, which was soaring through the depths of the sea at a terrific clip. It was managing over forty knots. She programmed it with the destination and then told her datacenter that she wanted to be notified when it was within ten minutes of the target. "There. Don't mess with it," she told Esther.
"I won't, I won't. Wanna play?"
Misuko couldn't resist. "Sure." She took off the headset and realized just how much she disliked it, even it if was purely receptive and didn't do anything to mess with her memory or perceptions. Her concern was immediately wiped away by Esther's mitten creeping under her t-shirt. She giggled. "You're randy today," Misuko said.
"Always," Esther said. She grabbed Misuko's hand and pulled her down to Misuko's beach towel. Esther surprised her by kissing her, hard. In the past week Esther had been kissing her less and less, but now she seemed to want to feed of Misuko's kisses, and Misuko was not about to disagree. "You're so sexy, Misuko," Esther breathed.
Misuko shut her up with another kiss, this time leading with her tongue, licking at Esther's lips and tongue, nibbling on her chin. Esther's own mouth sought out her lips again and the two of them kissed again. Misuko loved kissing. It was the sexiest thing she knew and she never got enough of it, not from Esther. Even today, Esther broke off before she was ready. But the mittens on her breasts were more than distracting enough, and when Esther's mouth closed about her nipple she lost any interest in protesting.
"Oh, honey..." she gasped as Esther's thumb found its way into the shorts she wore.
"You have the cutest clothes!" Esther said, admiring the purple camouflage cutoffs. "And these do such nice things for your butt!" But her mitten was already playing with Misuko's clitoris, mashing and grinding it against between wet, flushed lips. Misuko whimpered. "This is for last night!" Esther grinned. "You wouldn't let me make you come."
"Well," Misuko breathed. "You have your chance now."
"I do, don't I?" Esther said. She tugged with one mitten and Misuko's shorts opened with a snap. She slid them down off Misuko's thighs but left her cotton panties in place. "You have such good taste in clothes. Must be something about that primitive place you call home."
Misuko was too swept away with pleasure to protest Esther's unfair characterization of her planet. That damned thumb, that hot mitten, all pressed against her swollen, needy, wanting cunt. It took every last thought she had just to keep breathing. She wanted to come. Her whole body was wrapped up in a need to come. "Esther, Esther, please!" she begged.
Esther's mitten pressed harder, but her thumbpad kept the same steady, torturous rolling motion across her clit, each move accompanied by a little stab of pleasure, a reach for the next rung on her climb to ecstasy. She whimpered. Her body tensed. She couldn't stand it anymore, why was she taking so long to come?
Esther was staring at her, a smile playing on her lips. Misuko snarled and reached out, pulling Esther into a tight kiss. Esther's mitten faltered only for a moment and then she was returning the kiss, their tongues pressed together. For Misuko, it was what she had needed. She came, her scream of ecstatic relief muffled by Esther's shoulder. "Oh, fah, oh, fah, oh fah..." she breathed as she collapsed onto the towel.
Esther grinned down at her. "Wow. I haven't seen you do that in a while."
"Kiss me again," Misuko begged.
Esther looked down and then gave her a quick kiss that left Misuko wanting more. Then she stood up. "Have fun with your probe," she said. "Don't sleep too late."
Misuko didn't feel sleepy.
Which didn't explain why, a minute later, the alarm was going off indicating that the probe was within reach of the target. She blinked and looked up. Someone had planted a beach umbrella in the sand next to her, shielding her from the sun, which now lay close to the horizon. "Damn," she muttered. She sat up and grabbed the headset; it had fallen in the sand next to her. She blew off the few loose grains and put the unit over her head, looking down into the sea. The robot had turned on the floodlights mounted in its shoulders and chest, illuminating the water in all directions. She examined the displays and ordered the robot to head in the direction of the target.
"Hi!" Esther smiled at her out of the display window in her left eye. "Find anything yet?"
Behind Esther people seemed to be milling and dancing about. "Where are you now?"
"Club Cyberia," Esther said. "I wanted to go dancing. It's a pity you hate Realms so much."
"What's the point of dancing if it doesn't really affect your body?" Misuko said, feeling rhetorical. "Never mind. Yeah, I think I'm getting close. Remember that it might not even be the ship."
"But you think it is," Esther said.
"Yes." The probe sliced through the deep sea and approached the metallic object. As the object came into view, Misuko's heart soared. It was a ship, and a big one too. "They did crash!" she said.
"Is that it?" Esther said, not hiding a sense of disappointment.
"Yes! That's it!" She was looking at the aspect readings coming back and matched up the wreck with what she knew about the original ship. "It wasn't even made to land; it wasn't even meant for orbital insertion. I was right! Everyone was looking in the wrong place. They did make it here, they just ditched."
"And died," Esther said.
"That's what happens when you crash a starship," Misuko said. "What a mess." It was huge; the ship had been over a kilometer long, and this piece appeared to be the largest of three strewn over an eight-kilometer lane. "I'm going to be busy."
"Oh," Esther said. "Okay." The window closed.
Misuko saw less and less of Esther as the days passed. That was fine with her. She had work to do, and Esther would only interfere. They still saw one another at breakfast and dinner, and they still slept together every night, but Esther was perceptive enough to know to stay out of her lover's way.
That didn't stop her from complaining about Misuko's lack of attention. Her litany of "I'm bored!" messages, both in person and in messages she left on Misuko's mail queue, grew steadily. A particularly powerful storm that shook the ship and crackled the air didn't entertain her.
Misuko was down in the wreck late one evening when Esther's mitten strayed down her shirt and began playing with the buttons. "Stop," she said.
"Why?" Esther muttered. "Misuko, it's been two days since we last had sex. You're always too busy, or too tired, or something. I don't think you like me anymore."
"Of course I like you," she said. She wasn't sure she felt it, but she said it anyway. "I just want to get this done."
"What are you looking at?"
"Take a look," she said, taking the headset off and handing it to Esther. "It's an emergency escape airlock into what I think is one of the storage quarters. It's tightly sealed." Esther put the headset on and settled it over her nose. "Don't touch anything," Misuko said.
"I don't get it. Why put all that work into the door? Why not just push that button there?"
"The one under the plastic panel. OUCH!" Esther had reached up to put her hands between her ears and the headset.
"What did you do?" Misuko said, yanking the headset off Esther's head and peering through the goggles. "What the? You didn't actually press that button, did you?" she said.
"Well, yeah. It just said 'emergency open.' I mean, you wanted to get in, right?"
"Esther, those were explosive bolts on the door! If there was any pressure differential... oh no. Esther, how could you?" Misuko was near tears as she surveyed the damage. Esther's casual touch had shattered the ship where she had been working; a new faultline ran the length of the wreckage and hundreds of cargo units floated free in the water, heading for the surface.
"I didn't do anything," Esther said.
"Yes, you did!" Misuko said. "You just trashed a dig! Trashed it bad!"
"But... they're dead. It's not like it really matters."
Misuko stared at her, gaping, open-mouthed. "You really don't understand, do you? This is my life, this is my work. I know you don't care about it, but you could at least respect that I do! These people are part of the human story!"
"Not that it'll ever be complete," Esther said.
"It's my job to make it less incomplete! These people were part of that! I wanted to tell their story to other people, and now you've made that so much harder!" She put her head in her hands. "Oh, what am I going to do now?"
She lifted the goggles off her head and blinked. Esther was gone.
She spent hours tagging and cataloging everything that was floating nearby or was still loose in the cargo bay, trying to identify most of them by name. She wanted to open up some of the more interesting ones, the ones that held personal items, such as clothing or mementos. Hundreds of cargo containers had risen to the surface, and as she examined the data coming in from her satellites overhead she saw another storm coming, a big one. "Merde," she sighed. She didn't even know what the word meant, but she knew it was a curse and that's all she needed to know.
The storm swept through the area where the cargo had surfaced three hours later, and barreled on through the evening until it hit their little island. The ship dutifully rolled up all outside equipment and locked down all the hatches. Misuko sat in the commander's chair and watched the wind send waves crashing up onto the beach and over the ship, and fumed. She finally walked back to the spare cabin and went to sleep. She didn't want to bother Esther. Esther had become bother enough.
When she woke in the morning, she peeked in and saw that her Tindal friend had retreated to her Realm, maybe even to stay there for as long as the trip would last. In her mail there were no messages for her. She walked out onto the flight deck and peered out the floor-to-ceiling wraparound front window. The storm had littered the beach with the wreckage of the native forest. Fronds, shattered trunks, torn clumps of vegetation were strewn across the sand like some casual work of art history, without discernible rhyme or reason. She opened up the side wall of the ship and stepped out. The air smelled wonderful, clean, salty, and somehow alive with power. It was a sensation she hadn't experienced in years.
She went back in and grabbed a waterpack, a breakfast bar, and a pair of walking shoes. Esther had done more exploring of this volcanic chunk than she had, and now it was her turn to get away from the ship and the responsibilities it represented and just take a day off.
And a day off from Esther.
She walked for two hours down the beach, talking to nobody in particular, talking to herself about nothing in particular. Often her conversation with herself came back to whether or not she would continue her relationship with Esther when they got home. The answer, she decided with herself, was probably not. But, she pointed out to herself, she had said that about other bad relationships in the past and never actually done it. She debated as to whether or not Esther represented a bad relationship, and she agreed that she wasn't sure yet.
In the midst of all this serious conversing, she stumbled over a box that she might not have noticed otherwise. "What the? Hey!" It was a small cargo module from the wrecked ship, still sealed. She turned to ask the seccor to catalog it when she realized she had forgotten a seccor entirely.
A curious sensation of fear gripped her about the spine. Her homeworld was a place without human-like AIs, but people still had security drones that watched over them and protected them from transient dangers. Her parents referred to her home as neo-primitive.
But without a seccor, it was all primitive here. She had never been without one before, and the idea that she was so completely vulnerable bothered her. To get anything-- food, water, shelter, or protection-- she was going to have to walk back to the ship. That wasn't a problem. She knew which direction she had walked and could just turn around. Unless Esther took their ship and flew away, she was safe. She debated turning around and getting one, then decided she didn't want to do the walk twice.
She kept walking down the beach.
As she walked, she spotted four or five more cargo modules, one quite large. It was labeled, "Automobile: 1959 Mercury." She had no idea what it meant, but it was labeled as a 'personal' item. She would have to get it into the ship's registry and have someone come back to pick it up.
She was now actively scanning the beach, making sure she didn't miss a thing from the collection on the beach. Each item was a treasure fit for a museum, and each an object of fascination for a historian like herself. She barely resisted the temptation to crack open one or two immediately and look inside.
Then she saw the body. It was propped up against a tree-trunk, as if someone had crawled up on shore and then collapsed there "Ohmifah," she said, running toward it. She kept insisting to herself that nobody could have survived the trip, that they hadn't had statis systems then and cryogenics wouldn't have worked for so long. It had to be something else. There had to be an alternative explanation. It couldn't be a survivor. It wasn't possible.
But she ran anyway. Attending to the injured, caring for others, these were still ingrained on her nervous system as they are on any spacefaring species'. Even without considering the consequences, or her own lack of security, she was hurrying to examine the body, to see if there was something she could do to help.
It was a fem human, pale skinned with dark brown hair. The body was clothed in tatters and the hair fell forward, obscuring her face. Misuko ran up and knelt beside her, reaching out to touch the skin. "Are you okay? Hello?"
The body moved, and then her head lifted and looked at Misuko. Misuko startled back with a scream, and the girl did the same. Misuko looked at the wide, frightened eyes, and then between them she spotted the triangle on the girl's forehead with the rounded angles and the soft-lit red dot at the bottommost of them. "A... a robot?"
The girl-- the robot-- was staring at her. It made sense, Misuko thought. A human couldn't have survived; there was no technology of that century that would have allowed a human being to survive so long. But a robot could have been in ordinary storage; as long as there was no chemical decomposition it would be fine.
But she looked so human. She even looked frightened. "Are you okay?" she said. She thought again. "Are you functioning?"
The wide-eyed girl-- robot, Misuko reminded herself again-- opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She put her hands to her lips as she tried to speak. Finally, she cast her eyes down and just nodded. "Is your voice broken?"
The girl looked up and nodded. "Can you fix it?" Another nod. "Internally?" Again, a nod. Misuko's heart beat loud in her chest. It was hard for her to believe that she may have an actual witness to the crash. "Can you get up?"
The girl put her hand on the tree and unsteadily rose to her feet. Misuko's heart skipped, because the girl was utterly beautiful. Misuko realized that of course she would be, she was manufactured. But then Esther had confessed to a few modifications of her own. Misuko had whatever her parent's genes had given her, but she was sure that somewhere back in the past there had been fixes to take out the most egregious of dysmorphias.
"C'mon," she said. She had to keep reminding herself that the "girl" was just a machine. Every time she looked at it, she saw a girl in need of help, not a machine at all.
The girl took two steps forward, stumbled and fell. Misuko could even see tears in her eyes as she held up her hand and seemed to be pleading to be helped up. Misuko reached down and offered her own hand, helping the girl back up. "I wish you could tell me your name."
"Linia," the girl whispered.
"What?" Misuko said.
"Linia. I think my name is Linia." Her voice was so faint that Misuko could barely make out the syllables. But it was clear enough for understanding.
"You can talk!"
"Yes," Linia said. "I needed time to fix my voice." It was getting stronger. "Thank you for finding me."
Misuko found herself smiling. "You're welcome."
Linia looked up and down the beach. "Where am I?"
"Indigo 161-4. Your ship crashed here. Do you remember anything of your trip?"
Linia shook her head. "My master had me put into storage before we left. His wife did not like me, but he hoped that I would be able to serve him when we reached the new world." Her eyes scanned the horizon. "Where is he?"
"Your... master?" Misuko said. She supposed that she should find the word comforting because it emphasized Linia's machine origins. Instead, she found it quite the opposite, as if there were something fundamentally wrong with such a girl calling anyone 'master.' Linia acted human. Misuko understood that that was her role', but it was such a convincing charade that she continued giving Linia the respect she would accord another human being.
"Yes, Master Steven."
Misuko shook her head. "If he was on the ship then he's dead, I'm afraid. They all are. The ship crashed. You don't know any of that?"
Linia looked up sharply, her eyes full and wet. "Dead? Dead? Oh no!" Misuko watched with shock as Linia seemed to have an emotional meltdown. "He... he can't be dead. Oh, no! Oh, no!" She fell to the sand, pitched forward, weeping. "He can't be dead. He was supposed to live forever!"
Misuko dropped down to the sand next to her. "Linia?"
The girl reached out and grabbed Misuko, sobbing. "He can't be dead. He can't be."
"Everybody from the ship is dead, Linia," Misuko said. "It happened more than two thousand years ago. It's history now." Even as she said it she realized that she was lying to the poor girl. To Linia, it had been yesterday that she had last seen her "Master." The word left a strong and ugly aftertaste in Misuko's mind.
"Linia, come with me. Let's go back to my ship."
"Why?" Linia said. Before, when she had spoken, her voice had been warm and conversational, if a touch girlish. Now, it was cold and ugly. "If what you say is true, I have no reason to continue functioning."
Misuko wondered if Esther would have a problem with Linia's logic. Esther grew up around robots and knew how to differentiate them from other human beings. But then, Esther saw robots as other human beings. Misuko couldn't separate the two. She heard a robot in Linia's voice, but she saw a lost girl. She tried to find a way around Linia's current state of mind by delving into her historical knowledge. Linia thought of herself as property, owned by a master, and those notions were not completely foreign to Misuko even if the historical equivalents to them were hopelessly archaic. "Linia, even if your master is dead and cannot claim you, someone can, maybe his estate or some sort of holding organization. In any circumstances you are an expensive and valuable piece of property that cannot be allowed to simply shut down. You represent capital and are not to be wasted."
Linia looked up at her. "All right. I will come with you." Her conversational tone returned. "After all, I have nothing to lose." And then she smiled. Misuko shook her head with surprise; the smile lit up Linia's face in a way that made her dizzy.
"What's your name?" Linia said.
"What are you doing on Indigo 161-4?"
"Looking for you, actually," Misuko said. "Well, not really. We were looking for the wreck of the Indigo 161-4 Colony Expedition One, registry name Second Chances. I found something about it in a library search and decided to follow up on it. Nobody ever had before because this is actually a terrible world to try and terraform."
"Why?" Linia looked around. "It's beautiful."
"It's also going to blow up in a few thousand years."
"Oh. I guess that would be bad."
"I guess so, too," Misuko said with a smile. She glanced over at Linia. Her rust-tartan dress was tattered about the knees, her socks had holes, she had lost her shoes. Her white blouse was mostly intact, but it was missing a strategic button and Misuko would sometimes catch a glimpse of one of Linia's large, swinging breasts through the opening. Linia gave her another of her dizzying smiles.
Misuko tried to remind herself that Linia was just a machine. She was pre-conscious and with a programming fundamentally dedicated to the well-being of human beings. A different moral architecture, one that, some argued, made such machines better than human beings, at least as far as human interaction with them went. Misuko suddenly realized that her homeworld's anachronistic choices left her unprepared to deal with situations like this one.
"And how often do situations like this one arise?" she asked herself.
"Excuse me?" Linia said.
"I'm sorry. Talking to myself. I do that from time to time."
"Oh, that's okay," Linia said. "If you would like, I can forget what you just said."
"No," Misuko said. "Only if you want to."
They walked on until they came back within sight of her ship. Esther was sitting in her chair, and a seccor drone came zipping out to look at them as they approached. "There you are!" Esther said angrily. "Who is that?"
"Esther, this is Linia. Linia, this is my lover, Esther." The word 'lover' did not feel right in Misuko's mouth. She wasn't sure why. "Linia is a robot that was in that storage compartment you blew up."
"I did not blow it up!" Esther said, suddenly getting angry. She looked at Linia. "Wow. A sixth-century android. Isn't that what they called them back then?"
"Yes," Linia said. "Android. That is my designation for repair purposes."
"I was going to get inside and go through the library to see if I could find anything on Linia."
"Misuko," Esther said, her face suddenly fallen with concern. "You walked out without a seccor. You had me so scared all day! I didn't know what had happened to you. People don't walk away without a seccor unless they're looking to get killed!"
"I know, it was stupid of me. I just... wanted to get away. I was so mad at you for yesterday."
"But look what I did," Esther said. "I found you a witness."
Misuko fought down a sudden surge of her own anger. Esther had not "found" her a witness. She had created a disaster. In the process, she had released some flotsam, one unit of which happened to be a robot. It was a lucky coincidence. She looked at her girlfriend, kept her mouth shut, and nodded. "Come on. I need to get the corrane radio going. I need to talk to Professor Kapardin."
She sat down at the console while Esther and Linia gathered around her. It took her ten minutes to get the laser lined up while the ship's computer tallied the coordinate changes necessitated by gravitational bodies between Indigo 161-4 and the nearest repeater station in orbit around star Cauriyi 21. She waited for the connection to complete, and then asked to be routed to the head of history department at New Hisroshi. She had no idea what time it was there and had not bothered to check.
"Misuko? Miss Ffanci? Aki said you were on the gradia. I take it you are enjoying your vacation?"
Misuko looked into ancient, warm eyes inhabiting the otherwise youthful, strong face of her school adviser. "Yes, Professor. I have good news! I found it!"
"It... you mean the colonial expedition? You have actually found it?"
"Yes, sir! The new microprobes and a concentration on the sea were it. They did crash the ship, and it did fall in the sea. I've mapped out an eight-mile region across which I've found most of the wreckage. But that's not the best part, sir. I found... I found a survivor!"
"You what?" he said. "Misuko, that is simply not possible."
"I would think so, too, sir, except that we forgot one detail when I was discussing this with you: there were robots on the ship! And I've found one. I remember you mentioning the Koresh modifications, the ones that finally put Earth into the post-AI period, and I think the robot I've found has them." She moved away from the screen, standing up to position Linia in front of it. "Professor, this is Linia."
"Hello, honored sir," Linia said in quiet, respectful tones.
"Hello, Miss Linia," Professor Kapardin replied. "Misuko, what do you suppose you need now?"
Misuko sat back down in the command chair before the monitor. "I suppose, sir, what I need now is team to come and finish the excavation. There is a starship from the six hundreds down there."
"The crushed remains of a starship, perhaps," he replied with an enthusiastic smile. "But certainly the dream of every documentary historian is to get his hands on such a prize-- the records, the history, the artifacts." He looked up. "Very well, I will put together a follow-up expedition with the proper equipment. You will send me the requisite facts I'll need to convince the university of the necessity of an expedition?"
"Of course, sir. Of course. In the meantime, could you look up some details about Linia? I'm looking for anything that might help me identify her owner."
"Have you considered asking her?" her professor said.
"Linia? What can you tell me about your owner? Your origin?"
"I am the property of Steven Steinroor, owner and operator of Steinroor Cybernetics Channels of North America. I was manufactured in 598, Pendorian, by the Hunda Machines Company of Japan. I was purchased in 600 by Steinroor Cybernetics Channel as one of fifteen units to be modified for resale."
"And what's your model designation?"
"My designation at Hunda was as a M66NU Nursing Unit. My designation at Steinroor was as a TS615RD slash H unit, serial 2021."
"Hmm," the professor said. "I think that might be enough to go on. All of those dates and labels and names and so forth. I suppose I should be able to track down something. It was two thousand years ago, but well after the era of cybernetics. It should be in a database somewhere." He looked out at the screen. "All right, I'll get started on the search right away. Misuko?"
"Misuko, I don't need to tell you this, but... be careful. I don't know if you should trust having that robot in the ship. It's very old; who knows what's in its programming or what malfunctions it might have?"
Misuko nodded. "I haven't seen anything unusual yet, sir," Misuko said. "But I'll keep it in mind."
"Check in about four hours and I'll see what I can tell you."
"Thank you, sir." The connection ended and the screen went dark. Misuko looked up at Esther, then over at Linia. "Well, we have time until we know more. Linia, why don't you sit over there? I'd like to talk to you."
Linia moved to the chair that Esther had regularly occupied for the trip to Indigo 161 and sat down. Misuko thought that even the way she sat down was meant to be cute, with hand gestures to smooth out a skirt that wasn't even there.
"What can that thing tell you, anyway?" Esther said.
"Probably a lot," Misuko replied. "It's a little like having a witness to the twenty-sixth century. I don't know what she knows and I can't until she tells me."
"Hmph," Esther said. "Well, have fun then. I'm going to--"
"Go play in your Realm," Misuko finished. "I know. Have fun."
"Hmph." Esther turned on a bare heel and walked back to her cabin. Misuko sighed.
"I hope I'm not causing a disruption in your relationship," Linia said.
"Therapy mode?" Misuko asked. Linia nodded, her shy smile again warming the quarters of Misuko's heart. "No, you're not. We... misunderstood each other. About this trip. Esther is a city girl from a high-tech world where people Transcend often enough that it's not even noted on the screampages. My homeworld is more provincial and we like it that way. You're the first robot I've ever met."
"I hope I am not a poor example," Linia said. "I don't know how many years have passed since I was put into storage."
"Two thousand, six hundred. Give or take."
Linia's eyes went wide. "I've been in storage for a quarter of all human history?"
"I think that's a good way to put it," Misuko agreed. "Now, when you were put into storage..."
An hour passed. Misuko felt that she had answered as many questions as she had asked. For a robot from the pre-AI era, Linia was surprisingly inquisitive. When she asked Linia about it, Linia said that she was gathering information in order to perform her duties for her master better. "I must admit that you're a surprising example, not a poor one."
"What do you mean?" Linia said.
"My parents raised me on Abi, a world where there are no conscious robots or AIs at all. There are lots of computers, don't get me wrong, but the whole question of moral infrastructures and behavioral foundations for conscious thought has been eliminated; we simply don't let AIs down on the surface. I guess that seems bigoted and unfair, but it's the way the founders wanted it and lots of people move there. Esther described it as 'the human future the way we think it was meant to be,' without machines telling us about things we would rather have found out for ourselves. I guess... I expected you to be different from a person. But I keep looking at you and listening to you and you sound so much like just another human being."
"I was built to be that way."
"I know. But you look so real."
"I feel like a wreck," Linia said, smiling again. Misuko flashed for a moment on what that tiny mouth with those beautiful lips would feel like pressed to her breast and shivered. She tried again to remind herself that Linia was just a machine.
"May I take a shower?"
"What? Oh, fah, I'm sorry!" Misuko said. "I guess... I guess my thinking of you as a human being doesn't work all that well. Come on, it's this way." She rose and led Linia down the hall. "I have some clothes that might fit you, although you're a bit smaller than I am. What you're wearing is ruined."
"Master liked it," Linia said with a reverence that made Misuko shiver. "I will miss him. Misuko, what is going to happen to me next?"
"I don't know," Misuko replied. "I'll ask the professor when he calls back. Anyway, here's the shower. The soap over there is Pendorian manufacture, so it's great for your hair, too."
"Thank you, Misuko." Misuko left her and walked back to the command deck to pull up the library entries on robotics, circa sixth century Pendorian Era. She could hear the water running in the bathroom and hoped that Linia was comfortable using it. She had never thought of her experiences growing up as a handicap.
And as she read though some of the references she had found she become curious about Esther's reaction. "That thing." As if simply by dint of age Linia wasn't sophisticated enough to be afforded some kind of personality. According to the records Misuko found, there was a good chance that Linia was conscious. She found references to the "Australian Mod" and the "Centauri Mod", both of which would grant conscious capacity to the high-end SI systems of that century, and both of which sometimes resulted in tragedy for both the robot and the person doing the modification. If Linia had been the personal plaything of a man who had access to all manner of technological adaptations, there was always the possibility that he had installed one of the uplifting mods.
She heard a noise and tried to place it, then realized that her mind was playing tricks on her. It was not that she had heard something but that she had stopped hearing something. Linia had turned the shower off. She rose from her chair and walked back to the shower. Without thinking, she opened the door and found Linia looking at herself in the mirror, combing her hair. She came up short at the sight of Linia's naked back. "Um, How was your shower?"
"Wonderful," Linia said. "I feel much better, thank you."
"You're welcome." She watched in the mirror, mesmerized as Linia brushed her hair. Linia's breasts were large, round and spaced a bit apart. But what pulled at her attention more than anything was the smooth, perfect quality of her skin. She could not deny that she was still a human being, still drawn by qualities that millions of years of evolution had instilled into her and still unable to deny their power. The bathroom was tiny, and Misuko found herself standing within centimeters of Linia's back, so close she could smell the fresh scent of the other woman's hair. Before she could stop herself, she had reached out to fix a black strand that had strayed over Linia's shoulder and then found her hand slipping down Linia's arm. Her fingers caressed Linia's soft skin, the individual hairs on Linia's arm slipping under her fingertips. "Your skin is so beautiful," she said softly. "It's... exciting."
Linia stood still, then turned her head slightly. "Misuko... I think the professor's right. You guys shouldn't have anything to do with me."
"Huh?" Misuko said. "Why?"
Linia turned to face her. "I... I don't know. I just feel like there's something not right. I'm interfering with your relationship, maybe. I don't... I don't... " Her eyes filled with tears and her lips trembled, and Misuko watched as she lost all control again and began crying. She tumbled forward into Misuko's surprised hands, sobbing loudly. Misuko didn't know what to say, but she knew that she could not deny the pleasure of holding such a beautiful girl in her arms. Linia cried hard, uncontrollably, for several minutes before she started to get ahold of herself. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sorry."
"Linia? What's wrong?"
"I don't know. I was just standing there, looking at you and me in the mirror, and I just started to get sad. I don't know why. When I was in the shower and brushing my hair, I was trying to think of what I was supposed to do and I couldn't think of anything. When I was with my Master, I always knew. And now... "
Misuko pushed away from Linia and looked into the other girl's face. There was nothing mechanical about the eyes there, or the lips. Esther sometimes had less emotion that Linia. "Meat machine."
"Excuse me?" Linia said.
"Follow me," Misuko said. "I'll explain after I've gotten you dressed. I won't be able to think straight if I have to keep looking at you without any clothes on."
Linia giggled and followed Misuko across the hall to her cabin. Misuko rummaged in one of several bags she had attached to the wall and found a pair of sweatpants and an overlarge sweater. "Here. Put these on. Do your feet get cold?"
Linia nodded, shyly again. "These too, then." Misuko handed over a pair of socks. Linia pulled the sweater on first, then finished dressing. "It's not what I would normally want to wear."
"It's all I have until we get back to the university." A pinging sound interrupted her thoughts. She ignored it. "Anyway, what I said back there was something Esther said a couple of days ago. She said that people were just meat machines, and I when you were crying I thought about how true that was because you... you don't act like a machine. All of the machines I grew up with don't talk. They definitely don't cry!" She smiled. "You're so human."
"That's what I was made to be," Linia said. "Like a human."
Misuko nodded. The pinging sound came again. "Already? That was fast. C'mon."
She walked back to the command deck and sat down. The monitor came to life and Professor Kapardin's face again looked out into the cabin. "Ah, Misuko. I see you're there." Misuko had the impression that something was wrong, and the professor did not disappoint. "We have a problem. Well, I mean, you have a problem, and I need to discuss it with you."
Misuko felt herself grow cold. "Tell me."
"Well, you see, it's like this," he began. "You paid for a significant portion of this trip with your own money-- partial lease of the ship and full leasing of the seaprobe which was vital to the discovery. Now, I looked through the records and found that there's been no mention of the ship in any business registry after about thirteen hundred, which means that the ship is technically salvage. It belongs to whomever finds it or his or her investors. That means that you own some large percent of whatever profit comes out of any recovery effort.
"Now, I'd like to leave it like that but the school doesn't see it that way. In your report, you mention that the reason you have access to the robot is that you let your partner manipulate the seaprobe for a few moments. I know, I know, she wasn't supposed to touch anything, but she did. Now, the school wants as much of the recovery as it can possibly get its funds on, and that seems to me to be quite a lot. You have to understand, a find like this can be worth millions in donations and grants, not to mention a ready attractant for good students with backing such as yourself."
"Let me guess," Misuko said. "They'll drop any charges of professional negligence against me if I sign over my portion."
"That is about the size of it."
Misuko thought for a few minutes. The real facts were that she did not need money. She had a future and a lifestyle that she liked already. "All mention of this expunged from my record?"
"Absolutely. With this find and your record to date, I don't see any problem in your getting your degree, with honors I might add. Provided you don't allow non-professionals to interrupt a dig again, you're perfectly welcome to stay where you are until the recovery crew arrives. I've already put the wheels in motion and the first group should be on its way to you in three days."
"Okay, professor. I don't see that I have much of a choice. Two conditions."
"I don't know that we have much room for conditions, Misuko."
"Of course you do. The alternative is years of expensive litigation," Misuko replied. She still felt cold. She had seen her father do this countless times as a lawyer, but she never thought she would have to do it herself. "And I don't hold this against you at all, professor. I know it's the deans who are driving this. I want a senior spot on the recovery team."
"Already done. As I said, there's nothing on your record if you agree. I already made sure of that. Since you are the principle investigator, of course you get to lead the recovery team."
"Leader?" Misuko asked.
"What other position were you hoping for?"
"No, that's okay. I'll take leader." She smiled; she had been considering lead archivist. "The one condition of my complete agreement, then. I do want something from the wreck I can call my own. Something small. Linia 2021."
"The robot? Misuko, if it's not conscious it's essentially an antique with some small market value only to obscure collectors. If it is, well, you know you must emancipate it immediately." He looked to his left, cocked his head as if listening to another source, and then turned back to the camera. "Okay, Misuko. That's agreed upon."
Linia saw a contract pull up in another window. She read through it carefully. There was no mention of any reason other than her "good will" that she should turn over salvage rights to the Second Chances. The contract was written in her voice and explained that she was keeping, in exchange for her "good will," one item from the vessel, a sixth-century robot designated as "Linia 2021," with all the rights and responsibilities of robot ownership assumed. She placed her hand on the screen and approved the contract.
"Thank you for making this easy, Misuko," Professor Kapardin sighed. "And it looks like you're about to have the joy and fun of owning an antique. I hope it's worth the time and trouble."
"Me, too," Misuko muttered, wondering what she had gotten herself into. "When can I expect the recovery team to get here?"
"Well, they certainly won't by flying in anything as old as what you took with you, but it will still be a few weeks before you see them. Say five weeks."
"Five weeks?" Misuko said. "Okay, professor. Thanks."
She watched as the screen went dark and sighed. "Five weeks. Crap."
"What just happened?" Linia asked.
"I guess that depends on who you ask. I just managed to salvage my career from my girlfriend's terrible screwup. On the other hand, I just lost a cargohold full of money. And I'm stuck on this world with her."
"I'm sorry, Misuko."
"Me, too. On the other hand... the third hand? Am I a hyafa now? Anyway, your ownership has been transferred to me."
"You're my new master?"
"It looks that way."
"You're wonderful!" Linia said, throwing her arms around Misuko and holding her tightly. "Thank you, thank you! Oh, I don't feel lost anymore!"
Misuko felt Linia's warm breasts and full body pressed up against her own and wondered how she was going to explain this to Esther. Then again, maybe she wasn't going to explain it to Esther. Maybe the time had come to say goodbye.
"What?" Linia said.
"I felt you get all stiff."
"It's nothing. I was just thinking of what I'm going to do with Esther. She's not going to be happy with this."
She found out how unhappy Esther was an hour later. "Five weeks?" she complained. "Misuko, you can't be serious! We can't stay out here another five weeks. I need to get back to school. I've already been here three weeks and I'm going to go crazy if I have to be stuck here much longer! And that was after a four-week flight!"
Misuko held down her frustration. "There's nothing I can do about it. Five weeks is the earliest I can send you and the ship back to Hiroshi. It's not like I want you to be stuck here."
"You mean you want to get rid of me."
Yes. "No!" Misuko replied. "No, it's not like that. It's just that you're not happy here. I'm not making you happy here, and there's not enough of me to keep a city girl like you occupied for all the hours there are in a day. Your Realm has to be getting boring by now, I imagine."
"Not really," Esther said. "That's what Realms are for. They don't let you get bored by having so much to do inside one of them." She sighed. "But I came out here to be with you, and... I just feel like it would be wrong of me to go and leave you behind. Plus, you said it yourself, it's five weeks of waiting. You're not even looking for the ship anymore. You've found it. So now you're just... what?"
"Sitting on the beach and soaking up the sunlight."
"But... Misuko, when I do that on Hiroshi, it's because I know the nightlife is going to be long, loud, and wild."
"Well, then, this is your chance to enjoy the first part without feeling like you have to be part of the second."
"But I like the second!" Esther's voice had reached its firm whine.
Misuko sighed. This was obviously an insoluble argument. "I can't turn the ship around and take you back to Hiroshi. Even the nearest outpost is three weeks away, and that would mean that I'd get back a week after the recovery team. That's just not good form for a leader."
Esther stared at her, standing her ground. "You just want to torture me for blowing up your ship."
"And it almost ruined my career," Misuko said. "No, I'm not pissed off at you for that. Really. I just want to be able to do my job and now you're..."
"In the way."
Misuko sighed. "I wouldn't have put it like that."
"Didn't have to," Esther snarled. She looked down at her bare feet. "I'm sorry, Misuko. I guess... I don't know. I didn't mean for it to be like this. I thought we could have a good time together." She had tears in her eyes. "I liked you. You were good for me."
"You were pretty good, too," Misuko agreed. She pulled Esther close and kissed her. Esther went along readily, holding Misuko tight, her hands gripping Misuko's tunic as if she would never let go. Misuko's mouth fed off of Esther's desire and desperation, one more attempt to seduce her back into her embrace, one more try to convince Misuko to go home with her. And Misuko, too, knew that she was trying to hold onto something that could not hold together. She wanted Esther's body and her skills, the way Esther played on her body like some musical instrument.
Esther grabbed her hand in a mitten and pulled her into the bedroom. Neither of them said as word as they shed their clothes and fell into bed, mouth to needful mouth, tongue on hungry tongue. They rolled over in the bed until Esther was on top, her mouth around one of Misuko's nipples, tugging at it, sending little jabs of pleasure down into Misuko's belly. Esther sat on her hips and pressed her breasts to Misuko's stomach, and the heat between them grew.
Misuko explored the territory of Esther's sweet ass, touching, probing. She found the dark, nether opening in the back, the one that Esther sometimes liked. Today Misuko got lucky; Esther groaned as her fingers caressed the wrinkled opening. "You want that, don't you?" Misuko whispered.
"I want you," Esther said hotly. "I'll do anything to make it all right."
Misuko smiled and wished she could give Esther what she wanted, but all she could really give right now was a good fuck. She slid her fingers down into Esther's already wet cunt, sliding her fingers between the lips. She covered her finger is Esther's juices and then moved back to her original discovery, pressing her slicked finger against that puckered, responsive hole. Esther tensed and her teeth nipped Misuko's breast. Misuko ignored the surprising sensation and slid her finger completely into Esther's willing back door. "Oh, Fah, Misuko!"
Misuko grinned. It was going to be one of those times, she thought. She gently led Esther down to the bed and bent her legs up at the knees. She had one finger deep inside Esther's ass, and her cunt had flowered completely open and was begging for her attention.
She gave it, covering Esther's mound with her mouth, finding Esther's clit with her tongue. She licked carefully, teasingly, even as she kept fingerfucking Esther's sweet asshole. Esther writhed on the bed. "Make me come," she begged. "Misuko, please, make me come!"
Misuko did as she asked, licking harder on that firm little nub. Her whole being was dedicated to the task of making Esther come, and it was only a few seconds later that Esther exploded in a torrent of incoherent grunts and exclamations. "Oh, fah, oh, fah, oh Misuko..." she moaned.
Misuko delicately slid her finger out of Esther's asshole. Looking down, she could see Esther's whole cunt spread open before her, glistening with spit and other juices, flushed red and splayed with desire. "You're beautiful, Esther."
"Oh, fah, Misuko, you're wonderful." Esther seemed to be taking a long time to recover, but she was not about to let Misuko get away with such a gift. She leaped upon Misuko and pinned her down to the bed. "My turn," she said.
"Oh, no!" Misuko replied with a huge smile. "What are you going to do to me?"
"What you really want," she said. "Even if you sometimes won't admit it." Esther slid her fur over Misuko's chest and belly, making her shiver, as she deposited herself between Misuko's thighs. "Mmm... I see you were turned on."
"Anyone not turned on by you coming is that," Misuko said.
"You're certainly not dead," Esther agreed. Misuko felt Esther's breath across her pubic hair, rousing her immediately with promises of more to come. Esther's tongue touched down on one labia, coursed upward over her mound, and then down the other side. Misuko didn't try to control her hips as she thrust herself against Esther's mouth, desperate for more contact.
Esther teased her, pulling gently on her pubic hairs and then her labia with her lips, touching the crease on her slit where her clit lay hidden underneath, hinting that she might just actually lick Misuko the way Misuko wanted, and then moving away, down toward her honeyed opening or up over her mound. Misuko whimpered, her mind on fire with a need she could not express and did not want to ever let go. She held onto Esther's black tumble of hair, using every gram of her willpower to not push Esther down into her cunt. "Lick me!" she moaned.
Esther slipped one furred thumb up Misuko's slit, passing over her asshole until it pressed into Misuko's opening. Misuko whimpered; she knew that what Esther could do with that thumb, and with what would follow it, was more than she could easily bear. Her heart craved more of it, and she wasn't about to ask Esther to stop.
The thumb pressed down on her opening, on her perineum, massaging her open, asking for more room. Misuko took deeper breaths, relaxing her body, willing herself to accept the gift Esther was about to give her. Esther's tongue licked all around her mound, each little tease grabbing her attention away from the task, away from that accursed thumb.
Esther's other mitten slid into place, a second thumb accompanying the first. Esther whispered, "You're leaking like a fire drone, Misuko." The two thumbs worked magic against Misuko's opening, gentle, relentless, demanding. "I'm gonna put my whole mitten inside your cunt, just like you want. It is what you want, right? Little lost girl wants this big, big mitten?""
"Yes," Misuko said. "Yes, please."
"I want to hear you say it loud."
"Please!" Misuko said. "Oh, fah, Esther, don't... Please... yes..."
"Say it, Misuko. Say it. I want to hear you shout it out. Demand it." Her voice took on a soft, sinister tone. "Beg for it."
Her thumbs were as deep inside Misuko as they could get, and Misuko wanted her to plunge deep inside and fill her completely. She tried to hold back the words, tried not to admit that she was so dependent upon Esther's touches, but the torrent of need came out loud and strong: "Fuck me, Esther! Fuck me! Put that mitt inside me and fuck me!"
"Yes, yes, oh fah yes! Please, please!"
Esther pressed her mitten against Misuko's hungry opening. Misuko pressed back, filling her lungs with every deep, slow breath, wishing for than sweet mitten to be inside her, to become a part of her, to make it hers. Esther's hands squirmed against her hungry hole. She bucked against the bed slowly, trying to get more of that mitten. Esther pressed, Misuko took a deep breath and then suddenly Esther was inside her. That curled up mass of muscle in her cunt nestled tight up to her belly, get womb. "Yes! Oh, so full! So full!" Some tiny, sane kernel watched as she lost control completely, as Esther's tongue slid against her clitoris and made her climax so hopelessly uncontrolled.
As she subsided, she whispered, "Out... please."
"Oh, no," Esther said. "You need to learn that you can't live without me." Her tongue slipped in between Misuko's labia and touched down on her clit again, sending more hot stabs of pleasure into Misuko's brain.
"No," Misuko said. "Esther, pleased." But that mitten in her body was now moving back and forth, pushing around her insides, mixing her guts, making her aware. It might have been irritating if it hadn't been for Esther's mouth on her cunt, getting her attention. "Esther..."
"Really, no?" Esther said.
"Esther..." Misuko said. She tried to say the word. She tried to say 'no.' But she couldn't. Not in the past, and not this time. It was such a little word. Why wouldn't it move past her lips?
Because the fist inside her body wouldn't let her say it. Because the mouth on her clitoris wouldn't let her say it. Because Esther's hot tongue pressed to her mound would interrupt her and prevent her from saying it. Every time she thought she had the strength to say it, she couldn't. She wanted to. But Esther's tongue and fist had complete control over her body, drove her to the edge of ecstatic madness and with almost thoughtless ease tossed her, screaming, over a precipice of glorious pleasure. She came, pounding the bed with her fists, twisting the sheets in her grip, begging Esther to stop with her thoughts because she could not form them into words.
As she lay on the bed, coming back down, she felt Esther again roll her mitten and slowly tug it out of her cunt. She trembled uncontrollably, holding herself, as Esther seem to roll herself up against Misuko's body in an uncharacteristic show of tenderness. Misuko reached over with her other arm and held Esther close. For the first time in her life she understood the difference between love and lust, between really loving this centuries-old girl-child and wanting someone she could adore completely, who adored her for more than her ability to raise egos.
Esther kissed her bare shoulder and sighed. "I'm going to miss you."
Misuko nodded. "I'm going to miss you too. I wish..."
"I know," Esther said. "Me too. I don't know how long I'll have to wait until I find someone as good as you again. I'm addicted to country girls."
Misuko grinned. "And I think you'll have no trouble finding another one. I'm sorry it didn't work out."
"But it did," Esther replied. "It just wasn't going to work out forever. It never works out forever. You're just something spectacular, and if you ever find another lover..."
"She won't possibly be as good as you."
"Or he," Misuko agreed. "Although I might have trouble convincing myself of that after you."
Esther laughed. "Don't flatter me too much. Besides, we still have five weeks together." She sighed. "Flux. Five weeks stuck on this mudball."
"Hey, I could always send you home with the ship tomorrow."
"And what the fuck would you do?" Esther said.
"Find an island outside of the hurricane zone, churn out an eight-week supply of food and stuff, and sit out the wait. I've got a big emergency tent in the back, big enough for six Uncia, and there's emergency foodstuffs to last a year. Just give me enough to wait out the replacement crew. I'm not like you, Esther. I would like that."
"You are crazy," Esther said. "But I suppose it's no worse than any other plan. Okay, but I'm going to leave you with both seccors."
"Fine with me," Misuko said. "I'd rather have them than not."
"And the robot. And everything else I can possibly think of. Including a two-month supply of soap. Is there a water purifier in the emergency kit?"
Misuko rolled over in bed and pulled up the display. "Of course. They knew we were heading to a water-heavy world."
Esther looked. "I don't like it."
"What's not to like?" Misuko said. "You get to go back to your city, and I get to stay in the country. I mean, it's not my country, really, but it's the kind of place I like. I grew up in places like this."
"No you didn't. Your world had automation and machines. They just didn't have AIs."
Misuko shrugged. "There's not much of a difference. I still had a lot of countryside to myself. I went out camping, and enjoyed sitting away from the light centers so I could see the stars." She smiled. "I'll like it here. It's not like I'll be alone. I'll have Linia."
"Oh, that's companionship. A cheap robot two millennia out of date still pining for its 'master.'" The sarcastic Esther was back.
"She's not anymore."
"What does that mean?"
"I bought her." She told Esther about the exchange she had had with the school.
Esther's response surprised Misuko with its fury. "You threw away that much money to avoid a fight and kept the stupid robot?"
"What do I need money for?" Misuko replied. "Both Abi and Hiroshi are post-sustainable for food and water and all that, and the only thing you need money for is the luxuries. And even that's questionable when some of the food you can pick up at any agricultural outlet is so top-quality. And my family has money, and I kept my career. I'll be fine. Besides, I think I like Linia."
"She's just a machine," Esther said. "She's not like people nowadays; she's from that past when robot brains were made by human beings, rather than being modeled on human beings and no different in the way they think. There's a big difference."
Misuko shrugged. "I'll find out. Besides, she seems to be pretty indestructible. If I need some help, I'm sure she'll be fine."
"I'm sure she will be," Esther japed. "Misuko, you're a primitivist. You're not even backed up. If you die out here, it's death for sure!"
"Esther, it's okay. I've done this before. It's not like I'm at any real risk and I can't spend the rest of my life in our cultural padded room."
Esther's shoulders sagged in surrender. "Okay, Misuko, you always did do things your way."
"I thought that was why you liked me," she said.
"There are limits. Suicidal levels of stupidity is one of them," Esther replied, grinning as if to say she didn't mean it the way it sounded. But, of course, she did mean it the way it sounded. That was Esther.
"I suppose," Misuko said. She lay on the bed, her head still swimming with lust, exhaustion, regrets, wants...
"You're going to fall asleep on me again, aren't you?"
"I guess." She did feel like she was slowly tumbling down a dark hole into exhaustion. "Wake me in an hour?"
"I'll do that," Esther said, kissing her shoulder with uncommon tenderness. "Sleep well."
Misuko's professor echoed Esther's concerns, but Misuko was adamant that she would be okay by herself, out of communication with the rest of the universe, isolated on a little world that was doomed to destruction sometime in the near future. She supposed that that was supposed to be something of a joke; the recovery crew was due in six weeks and the planet was due for demolition in tens of thousands of years, but her professor acted quite serious in his concern. She reassured him, repeatedly, that she was quite qualified to take on this planet all by herself, that she was not going to be alone, and that with the hardware provided in the ship's emergency stores she would have no problem surviving anything the planet tossed her way.
She looked through the logs for an island within the Terran seeded area but outside the predictable hurricane tracks, and picked one to the south that all records showed was probably safe for the six weeks she would be around. Esther fretted over her the entire time they were in flight, but Misuko would have none of it. She wanted to get this flight done with, get Esther on her way, be alone. There had been only two chairs in the ship anyway, on the command deck; Linia had isolated herself in a closet to keep herself safe during the flight.
They put down and Linia appeared from nowhere, moving crates that would have been far too heavy for an ordinary human being. Soon she had a tent erected and staked down just within the protection of the treeline. Misuko watched, amazed, as Linia pulled out brush and pushed down small trees as if they were weeds. Esther, on the other hand, had barely disguised contempt for the whole proceedings. "I hope you and your toy have fun," she said.
Misuko sighed. "It's not like that," she said.
Esther nodded. "I know it's not like that. It's like... crud, I don't know, Misuko. I can't stand leaving you here, all alone. I can't stand losing you. And I can't stand another day on Indigo."
"It's not working, Esther. You know that, I know that."
Esther nodded. "I just wish..."
"We both do. But short of a canon I don't think either of us wants, I'm not the person you want and you're not the sort of person I want. I like you, but... you were right. Not forever."
Esther sighed. A chime went off in the ship. "Looks like the rest of your food supply is ready." She climbed into the command center even as Linia brushed past her and started taking out trays covered in small, wrapped boxes and packets.
Misuko stepped into the tent and began cataloging what she had. There were piles of food in sealed containers all arranged in one corner, three water purification units by their side. A one-person autodoc sat in another, no larger than a small briefcase and capable of doing everything short of cryogenic preservation on her if she needed it. Between them were her clothes and the bags with her personal items. She also found two uPadds and an archiver's block. There was an interplanetary gradio, too inaccurate to hit even a gas giant orbiting a distant star but enough to get the attention of anyone in-system and guide them to her. Food, water, shelter, knowledge: the things that every modern human needed. Even companionship, the depth of which had yet to be determined.
She looked over the campsite. Linia had done a good job of fixing the tent to the ground, driving stakes deep into the sand. The stakes, which were on and powered, would keep them embedded even if a storm strong enough to wash away the entire island swept over them. The little fusion plant would last thirty years if she left it on and used it at full capacity.
She heard a noise at the edge of the tent and saw Linia standing there. "Do you approve, Master?" she asked softly.
"Y... yes, yes I do." Misuko wondered what she should say to Linia. She "owned" Linia, if that was the word that could be used for her relationship, but she knew nothing about the kind of person Linia was programmed to be. She wondered if Linia thought the same thing about her-- that she was now owned by someone she knew nothing about.
She smiled. "It's very nice, Linia. Is the ship prepped for hyperspace?"
"I believe it is, Master," Linia said. Misuko found herself distracted by the gentle, sweet timbre of Linia's voice. Her implementation as a youthful, pliant character was a masterpiece of industrial design and manufacture.
Misuko sighed. "I guess it's time to say goodbye." She walked back to the ship and looked up at it.
"I can't convince you to change your mind, can I?" Esther said, looking at her from the top of the stairs.
"No more than I can convince you to change yours," Misuko replied. "Nothing short of a canon..."
"I know," Esther said, coming down. She stood an arm's distance from Misuko and looked into her eyes. "I never told you that I loved you."
Misuko nodded. "I thought a lot about that word, too." It was the closest she could come to honesty. She wasn't sure why she couldn't say it. It was a small word, a lot like the word 'no', but it was one of those words that Esther made hard to use. She reached out for Esther's hand and Esther gave it, and the two of them closed in like Indigo and its nemesis star. Misuko knew that if they were together too long, they would destruct, too. "I'll never forget you."
Esther sighed, her arms around Misuko's waist. "I'll never forget you, either. I guess that'll have to do."
"Yeah." She let Esther go, then looked up at the ship. "It's time."
"It's never time," Esther said. "Mind the wash." She climbed back up into the ship and let the door close behind her as the stairway retracted into a slot beneath the door. Misuko and Linia walked away from the starship. When they were far enough away, the ship powered up. From this distance, its soft hum was barely audible as it rose into the sky and took off over the water. It vanished into the blue.
Misuko sighed. "What have I done?"
"Sorry, Linia," Misuko said gently. "I'm just... thinking. Well, we have five weeks together, with nobody else. Which is just fine with me. I have a lot of reading to catch up on."
Misuko watched as night fell about her and tried to convince herself that she had made the right decision. She could honestly say she was enjoying herself. She sat in front of a campfire Linia had put together, watching the flames, hypnotized by them. Every once in a while she would think about just how far away she was from the rest of the universe, the light years that separated her and the nearest medical center, and she would shiver and gather her arms around her knees. She had already torn through a quarter of her latest military history book and half a mystery novel.
Linia sat across the fire from her, peering into the flames. "Master?" she suddenly asked. "Why did Esther leave you?"
Misuko looked up. She sighed. "Because... because relationships don't work unless they're compatible to begin with. Esther and I weren't. I like being alone, Linia, and I like having time to myself. Esther wanted too much of my time, and too much of my life, and she had too many pretty people she called friends who really weren't."
"If you're so incompatible, why--?"
"Why did we stay together?" Misuko said. "Because the sex was fantastic, that's why. Because she could do things to me in bed that nobody has ever done before, and she said that I made her feel the same way." She smiled sadly. "When we found out that I'm going to be here for a lot longer than my summer break, Esther decided she wanted to go home. And I didn't want to try and stop her."
"You sound so sad."
"I am," Misuko said. "But I'll get over it. People recover. It's not the end of the universe." She looked up. "Let's see what we have for dinner." She moved to get up.
"Let me, Master," Linia said. She rose smoothly and walked into the tent, leaving Misuko there to wonder what she was going to get next. Linia re-appeared with a box and a net bag full of foodstuffs. From the box emerged an honest campsite cooking rig, with a frame for the campfire, a pot for boiling water and a frypan.
Half an hour later, she handed over a plate-full of small rolls filled with rice and fish and vegetables, a bowl of soup that made Misuko feel warmer inside than she had felt since Esther left, and a crisp salad. "You made this with what you could get out of the food processor?" she asked.
Linia nodded. "And I don't have anything to throw away, either," she said. "I made sure that I have a complete and healthy menu for you all the way until your friends arrive, quadrupled in case their ship breaks down."
Misuko laughed. "That's about as likely as Indigo 161 exploding." She looked up into the night sky. "Tomorrow," she added hastily. Linia laughed.
She looked up into Linia's face. "You aren't eating."
"I don't have to," Linia said.
"You don't have to or you can't?"
"I... I can," Linia said. "I don't have to. My... former master never let me eat. He said it would waste food and money. He was a frugal man. I was one of his few extravagances."
"You must eat something," Misuko said. "Here, you worked so hard to make these. Eat just one." She offered a roll.
Linia looked at it, then at Misuko. "Thank you," she said. She held out with her hand to take it when Misuko impulsively thrust it past her reach and close to Linia's mouth. Linia looked at the morsel, then at Misuko, then opened her mouth to give it a tentative nibble. She sighed happily. "It's been so long since I've eaten anything other than maintenance paste."
"What's that?" Linia asked.
"Yeast paste with some minerals. It's optimally designed to make me smell and taste like a healthy young woman. But by itself it tastes awful!" She grinned. "Can I have more?"
"You made me more than I usually eat," Misuko said. "Go ahead, have another."
"You're very kind, Master."
Misuko frowned. "Please don't call me that."
"Why not? It's what you are. Even if I'm 'emancipated,' that doesn't mean anything. I'm still currently programmed to be dedicated to you, to do everything you say is in your best interests. I couldn't do otherwise. I think it's one of the reasons I was so distraught when you told me Steven was dead-- I had nothing to live for. You recovered me and by law you own me. There's nothing to be upset about. Those are just facts."
"But don't you want to be free?"
"No!" Linia said. "No, of course not. Why would I want that? It's not in my nature to want that. We're different species, Master, even if we look similar."
Misuko took a deep breath. "Having a robot is more complicated than I thought."
"It can be," Linia agreed. "I'm here to help you. I'm like any other machine. I've been created by designers and engineers to have your best interests uppermost in my mind. That's why I exist." She grinned. "Do you expect any other machine you know to 'be free?'"
"No..." Misuko said.
"So what's the difference between me and the seccors?" Linia asked, pointing overhead. "Other than that I look like a human being."
"There is that. And you talk. And you're much more interesting than they are," Misuko pointed out.
Linia blushed. "Thank you. I am trying to be what you want me to be."
"I guess I want you to be a person."
"I am," Linia said gently. She looked down at herself. "I wish I had more clothes."
"Sorry. I didn't bring anything on the starship fixed to make clothes. Most of the clothes I brought with me are smartcloth, but they're just for self-repairing. They don't reform themselves into other things."
"I guess I'll just have to get used to looking frumpy. Unless my master would prefer that I walk around naked?"
Misuko's mind closed on the memory of Linia's naked body, her perfect breasts, as she had seen them in the bathroom mirror when Linia had first taken her shower. She shook her head. "No, that's... okay."
Linia grinned. "Whatever you want. Serving you is what gives me pleasure."
"What... what if the way I treat you rubs off on other people? Isn't that a concern?"
"I imagine it is," Linia said. "But that's up to you to decide. I can't make those decisions for you." She grinned. "I'm just a robot."
"Uh-huh," Misuko said. She had the feeling that "just a robot" was entirely the wrong description for Linia. Linia was much more than "just a robot." "So, why do you like to eat?" Misuko asked.
"Because you like me to eat with you. When Steven wouldn't let me eat with him, I knew that my being with him was going to be hard. It didn't bother me that it was going to be hard; overcoming the challenge would be wonderful by itself. But humans don't like to associate with people who won't eat with them."
"We don't?" Misuko asked.
"No," Linia said. "You don't. It's not in your nature to be comfortable with people who won't share bread or drink. Human beings like to stay alive and they like to have sex and they like to raise families; those are hard-wired into them. All three are assisted by having friends, who help you defend yourself, catch food, and find mates. War and sex can't really be social activities-- but eating can be. So you're made to think that those you share food with are friends and allies, or can be." Linia took another bite, and around a mouthful said, "I eat because I like to. But I like to not just because of the flavor, but because my eating with you 'fits' in your mind as something a person you like should do. Isn't that why you were so insistent on my 'having a bite'?"
"I guess. Do you want me to like you?" Misuko asked.
Linia looked up. "Don't you like me already? Why did you ask for me if you didn't?"
Misuko smiled and put out her hand onto Linia's arm. "It's okay. I do like you. I just want to know what a robot thinks about human beings liking her."
"I like you a lot," Linia said. "You've been very kind to me so far. I guess I always expected to be owned by some rich executive like Steven. Being the property of a college student is going to be an interesting experience."
"Linia, don't refer to yourself as property, or that I own you. I'm going to bet that you're conscious. You surely act like it. You're a free being, with free will. I bet you have the Australian Mod."
Linia smiled. "Modified Koresh Mod. But, Misuko, if I didn't have your best interests at heart, I would not know what to do with myself. Humans who can't reproduce are stuck with habits of thought that make them act as if they could. They can at least support their kin, but that doesn't mean they'll be as happy as they would be with children of their own. If I didn't have someone to think of as master, my pleasure would only survive by finding ways to help those as close to my master as possible. I would still be there."
"A stalker!" Misuko said, laughing.
"With your best interests at heart!" Linia said, laughing back. A rumble of thunder came from far away. "That's going to hit us here."
Misuko pulled up a uPadd and consulted her satellite data. "It probably will," she agreed. "I hope it's not too bad."
Linia stood and sniffed the air. Misuko thought she looked lovely, silhouetted against the dark, starlit night like that. "I don't think so. The atmospheric pressure's not dropping that fast." She looked over at Misuko. "Is there a way I can get access to your network? I'm used to a Terran urban network. Yours seems much more distributed, but it also seems to be much more powerful."
Misuko looked at her uPadd. "I don't know."
Linia pursed her lips. "I'd like to know if I could. Can I use that data device?"
Misuko handed it over. Linia touched it a few times. "You'll have to tell it it's okay for me to use it." She handed it back. Linia led her through the authorization steps, apparently perceiving the needed changes much faster than Misuko ever could, and then said, "Okay." Misuko handed the uPadd to her again, and Linia began tapping it with a speed that humbled Misuko until she reminded herself that Linia was a robot, a machine underneath all that apparent loveliness, with strength and reflexes that exceeded her own. After a few minutes, Linia smiled. "It looks like I need an upgrade, but I can do some interfacing with the system the way it is." She closed her eyes and seemed to be in deep thought for a moment. "Okay," she said, and her eyes opened. "Eeek!"
"Eeek?" Misuko asked.
"It's like trying to drink from a fire-hose!" Linia shook her head violently and Misuko wondered if she was going to be damaged. "I should know not to ask for that! Where's the root node? Okay. Wow. Oh, wow. Who knew that such individuals carried around so much power? I'm jealous. Oh, Misuko, can we get me an upgrade when we get back to civilization? There's so much I can see and do! I can see every corner of this planet, map out your wrecked ship for you in excruciating detail, find that seaprobe of yours and drive it carefully." She reached out with one hand and touched Misuko's arm excitedly. "There's so much I could do for you, Master! Just name it!"
Misuko didn't quite know how to respond to that. "I... uh..."
"I'm sorry!" Linia said suddenly. "I forget that you come from an uncybered world. Misuko, when I was made the kind of computing power you carry with you was reserved to large corporations!"
Misuko smiled. "And now I have it for a song."
"I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I remember when it was a big deal that recalculating whole-brain states for injured humans took seventy five hours per second of seeking; fifteen years later humans were doing it in real-time with special-purpose processors. But the power, the incredible power!" Linia looked at Misuko. "What do you do with it?"
"Nothing much," Misuko said. "Just try and fill out the story of the past, really. There's not much more to do with the human future. Unless you're one of those super-duper physics students, there's not much more to do than try and create a pleasant life for yourself and others." Misuko gestured at the oncoming clouds. "This is what life has become for most of us. Camping out. Trying to get in touch with something ineffable. Living one day at a time because it's what suits us."
Linia smiled. "How... how much like me!"
"I have only your best interests at heart, right? So I'm careful not to seek out anything that might make me lose interest in you. I'm in the habit of living one day at a time, only looking forward to anticipate what you might want or need. It's who and what I am. Just as being a human being is who and what you are."
A droplet of rain fell on Misuko's hair and she looked up into the sky. Another fell. The clouds were almost exactly overhead and the sound of rain pattering on the roof of the tent was starting to get loud. "We should get inside."
A roar from the ocean got Misuko's attention, the roar of a torrent of water falling from the oncoming squall. Both of them ran for the tent, diving through its opening before sealing it behind them. A minute later the roar engulfed them, a steady sound filling the tent space. Linia checked the opening and pronounced it well-sealed, then assured Misuko that the only way water would get into the tent is if they let it.
Linia rolled out two sleeping bags on opposite ends of the tent. "Do you sleep?" Misuko asked.
"Yes," Linia said. "It's a time when I can re-arrange my memories, doing that seeking that I need to make myself more effective at--"
"I know. My best interests."
"Yes," Linia said. "And now that I have access to your uPadd, I have a lot to think about!" She grinned. "I promise not to go into any personal memories. I think your uPadd is well-protected against that, anyway."
"Probably," Misuko agreed. She took off her clothes with barely a glance in Linia's direction. Linia turned off the light as the two of them crawled into their separate sleeping bags. Misuko appreciated the way the base of the bag felt just like a mattress, but only for a few minutes before she fell asleep.
She woke early to the sounds of birdsong, the light of morning sun filtered through the trees, and the smell of something cooking. She walked out to find Linia sitting next to the campfire, two small pans and a pot on the grill. She yawned. "Good morning."
"Good morning, Master... I mean, Misuko!" Linia said with a grin. Misuko thought that Linia was far too perky this early in the morning, but there was something to the clean, ionized smell of the air and the brightness of the sunshine that made being cheerful easy. "I've made you breakfast. I hope you don't mind. I made oatmeal. Is that okay?"
"I'm sure it'll be fine," Misuko said as she sat down, not entirely sure what "oatmeal" really was. She was used to a nutrition bar for breakfast. But she accepted the bowl from Linia readily and after a taste test decided she could live with it. It felt heavy and filling and she wasn't able to eat everything Linia had made for her.
Linia ate straight from the other pot. "What's that?" Misuko asked.
"You don't want to know," Linia said. "It's that maintenance paste. It's one of the few forms of external maintenance I need to do on a regular basis. This, hygiene, and battery replacement every thirty years. I'm about halfway through my current one, too. But I read that you have smaller power supplies that are rated for six hundred years, and I think I would like one of those." She smiled.
"Where did you get it?"
"From the shuttle's food plant, of course," Linia said. "It was already programmed with it."
Misuko thought that odd, but then she bet that the food plant on the average singleship was probably programmed with every minor foodstuff of every species known in the Corridor. It probably could feed the Shriaa and the Sinox, too. She shrugged. "Ah, paradise."
"It is," Linia said. She looked at Misuko. "What a strange set of circumstances. To me, 2496 was just three days ago. Now I wake up to be told it's 5145, that everyone I used to know is gone, and I belong to a college student."
Misuko smiled. "We have a lot to talk about."
After breakfast, which Linia cleaned up, Misuko set out for the beach. She put down a towel, set up an umbrella, and proceeded to work her way through one of the thirty or so books she had set aside for herself during this time. Linia brought her lunch (a sandwich, inside unrecognizable but undeniably tasty), and when dinner came around Linia started on something that involved a lot of pounding on a heavy wooden board. It came out as long, thin strips, boiled in water and then ladled over with some white sauce. Whatever it was, it was delicious when Misuko put it into her mouth. "Do all robots know how to cook?"
Linia nodded, looking up from her own small bowl of food. "Of course. It's absolutely essential. We could not be household assistants if we couldn't fill in that kind of role'. Did you get a lot done today?"
Misuko nodded. "I managed to read a lot of French history. It's for a side project I'm working on. I call it 'Success and the SNAFU Principle.'"
"What does that mean?"
"The SNAFU Principle states that in any hierarchy, the people at the top will receive bad information from the people underneath them. It's human nature to avoid telling the truth, to gloss it over, to make themselves look good in the eyes of their leaders. The more there's a power differential, the more one has the power to punish another, the more deception, conscious or otherwise, those down the hierarchy produce." Linia nodded. "I'm trying to make a case that individual successes in a perceived leader will result in that leader receiving progressively worse information even if he is leading the same people at the end of his career as he was at the beginning."
"You mean, even though the titles and positions haven't changed, the leader's perceived value puts him further away, and so easier to lie to?"
"Right," Misuko said.
Linia thought for a moment. "Do you think the SNAFU principle applies to us?"
Misuko looked at her. "You mean, because you're automatically 'beneath' me that you'll lie to me?" Linia nodded. "You said it yourself. You're not programmed to be like that."
"But you're interested in the leader's perception. A good leader understands the principle. Do you?"
"Oh! I don't know. On the one hand, I understand intellectually that you're a robot and you're dedicated to my well-being. On the other hand, I see you as a beautiful young girl who's just a little obsessive about taking care of me, which I find odd because I hardly know you, but I'm not going to complain about it when we're stranded on a desert planet."
"Hey! Maybe you should call me Friday!" Linia said.
"Didn't you ever read Robinson Crusoe?"
"No. What did he write?"
Linia giggled. "Nothing! That's the title of the book. It was written by Daniel Dafoe. It's about a man stranded on a desert island, a primitive savage he befriends who helps him because he, being the technological man, has found many labor-saving ways to survive on the island, and about how the two of them struggle to retain their civility even when alone and unobserved. Crusoe calls the primitive man 'Friday' because that is the day on which they met."
"Which one of us is the primitive savage?"
"I am!" Linia said with a giggle. She sniffed the air. "Another storm is coming."
"I bet they're a regular event, even off the hurricane track like we are."
"This one is a little later than the one last night. I think we have time."
As they bedded down the rain again swept over the island. Misuko thought the white noise of drops against the roof was one of the sweetest sounds she had heard in a long time, a confirmation of her need to be out in the weather, out from the city where rain was nothing more than a distraction and a frustration.
Sleep did not come as easy this night. She wanted to sleep, but she had dozed on and off throughout the day and wasn't as tired as she had been the day before, when Esther had done wonderful things to her body. She sighed as her imagination pictured Esther with her solid hazel eyes and button nose and black, full lips kissing her. She had loved playing with Esther's ears, watching them flicker as she teased them, and her hands clenched as she remembered how Esther's full ass had felt in her grip.
It was too much for her to hold back, and her hands unclenched long enough to stray over her breasts, tugging at her nipples, playing with them. She dreamed of Esther's mouth on her breasts, sucking at her flesh, maybe even leaving welts, and of her tongue circling her nipples, filling her with a need that could only be satisfied between her thighs. Her hands followed her imagination and slipped downward over her belly, over her mons and down into the tangle of pubic hair that covered her cunt. She pinched at the lips, trying to imitate the cruel excitement that had arisen in her soul every time Esther laid hands upon her. Her hands slid between her labia, one teasing at her clitoris while the other plunged two, then three fingers into her wet honeypot.
But Misuko couldn't imitate, even crudely, what Esther was able to pull off so flawlessly. Her fingers slid into familiar patterns she had discovered for herself in puberty, her grip on her cunt relaxing. But her imagination kept bringing on dreams of Esther, and even as her fingers slid deeper into her wet vaginal cove she dreamed of a mitten, full and insatiable, touching her deeper than she could reach, and of a tongue, fast, demanding, on her clit, making her scream. She came with a whimper, then turned over onto her side and tried to sleep, her eyes squeezed shut, trying to ignore the tears.
The next day she settled down onto the beach with her book, but less than two hours later decided she was bored of just sitting around. If she were to avoid another sleepless night like the one she had suffered through yesterday, she would need to stay awake through the day. She would also need to work out more. She was relatively unmodified, as befit a native of Abi, so she wasn't one of those lucky ones who could stay fit and trim just by thinking about it.
She walked up to where Linia was sitting, staring out over the water. "What are you doing?"
"Thinking," Linia said with a grin. "Why?"
"Thinking about what?"
"Oh, just... thinking. You have such an enormous library. There are millennia of history that I need to catch up on. And so much to do. I'm designed to be a house robot, Misuko. I need to know what houses are like in the 33rd century."
"I don't imagine they've changed that much."
"I'm surprised they haven't changed more. You have so many opportunities now to be, well, different from the old ways, but your way of living is familiar to me. That just seems... odd."
"Well, like I said, my family came from Abi, where we tried to be as human as possible. We didn't go in for all of the fancy modifications that lots of other people do; none of that sexual dumorphism or radical brain implants. I don't even have an implanted neural net."
"Sexual dumorphism? Tell me about that," Linia said.
"I don't know much about it. There are a few planets in the human sphere where sexual dumorphism is practiced. Basically when you're born you're born neuter; everyone has a flat vaginal affect with a urethral opening at the groin. When you reach the age of majority, usually designated by some legislative process, you can start to have sex with whomever you're attracted to. It takes a few months for your sex organs to re-arrange themselves to be penetrative or receptive-- a penis or vagina, I guess, but I'm told it's actually different-- and who gets to do what depends on some mix of biochemistry that I've never been able to understand."
"How do you feel about it?" Linia asked. "I have to ask. You are my master and I want to understand how you feel about these things."
Misuko shrugged. "I imagine it gets rid of a whole collection of human problems, everything from child abuse to the war of the sexes in general. There can't even be rape, really, since you don't get a penis until you spend a lot of time with someone who wants to be around you." She paused. "I never thought about it much before, but it seems to me to be the wrong response to the problem. Distinctive sexes aren't the problem, and wiping them out in favor of some kind of level playing field erases a lot of the scenery." She laughed. "I think there should be room in the universe for bad sex."
Linia smiled. "I'm glad you think that. Although hopefully it doesn't happen to you often!"
Misuko shook her head. "Not recently, no."
"You miss Esther."
"Yeah. Hey, let's take a walk. I'm going to get fat and lazy if I don't exercise. And I don't want to talk about Esther. I want to talk to you about what life was like in 2601."
As they walked down the beach together, Linia seemed entranced by all the little things they walked past. She would pick up a crab and let it walk up her arm, shooing it away when it tried to pinch her. She poked her fingers in something slimy, green, and so rank Misuko didn't dare walk within four meters of it. She watched, amused, as Linia reached out to touch every different kind of tree she saw as she passed. "Are you cataloging those?" Misuko asked, finally.
"Uh-huh. Someone's going to want this data. It'll take years to plow through the little bit I've collected already. And all I have are snapshot observations. I'm disappointed that nobody has come and looked at the ecology of this place more closely."
"You like ecology?" Misuko asked.
"I'm not just a housedroid," Linia replied. "I can't imagine doing housework and keeping my Master happy would take up all of my time. I need a hobby. This isn't a bad hobby, as they go."
Misuko smiled. "Somehow, the idea of a robot liking ecology seems a little odd to me."
Linia grinned. "No more odd than someone from Abi choosing to pluck a robot from a salvage pile?"
"You have me there. Did you read about Abi last night?"
Linia nodded. "I hope you don't mind. It was in the publicly accessible database. I just wanted to know what kind of world my master came from. It seems like a nice place, even if I wouldn't be allowed to live there. Did you know that they don't even like transitionals there?"
Misuko nodded. She remembered. Abi was a world with the enemy, as the residents thought of them, manning the gates. The orbital station above Abi was run by an AI. It had agreed to all sorts of idiotic things, like a manned self-destruct station on-board, just to come and run the interstellar docking station. Of course, the people of Abi had had to agree to corresponding hardships like a constantly running gradio system with a perpetual fracture pointed at a distant, unpopulated star where the AI kept its backups. It was the kind of compromise only anachronists would like.
Misuko realized as she walked that she liked Linia. There was something about her surprisingly humane. She would pick up small animals from the water's edge and examine them carefully, always making sure to harm them as little as possible before putting them back in whatever small pool she had found them in.
Linia held up something small and blue with six legs. "See this?" she asked. "Look. It's like a crab. The eyes are different-- better shielded than a Terran crab." She closed her eyes for a second. "Damn, I need an upgrade! I remember reading about a llerkin crab like this, but I didn't keep enough of the details for it to be meaningful." She grinned.
Misuko stepped forward and looked. It was a strange-looking creature and it had vaguely tentactular things sticking out of its sides. "Food gathering?"
"I would guess so," Linia said. "It doesn't seem to have the defensive purpose of a Terran crab. Then again, maybe it excretes some kind of local toxin. I'm not detecting anything, though." She put the creature down gently. Misuko watched as it backed away, keeping its eyes on them.
Linia washed her hands in the water "just in case there was anything on those tendrils." Then she shook them off and walked back up to where Misuko waited. "I'm sorry. Should I stop?"
"No, no!" Misuko said. "I would rather you have a life of your own."
"I would have one even if all you wanted was for me to wait on you hand and foot. It would seem a waste of resources, but that's for you to decide, not me."
"It would frustrate you."
"And I wouldn't like it anyway."
"And making me happy is primary, so you wouldn't do anything I didn't like, like not having a life of your own. Or at least, not seeming to have a life of your own." Misuko smiled.
"You're beginning to understand."
"I think I am. Can I ever get tired of you?"
"Of course. I'll always seek strategies that make us compatible. I'm much better at that than a human being can be. But that doesn't mean that I'll always be a hundred percent successful. I am an individual; I can make mistakes. Those mistakes can pile up until we're incompatible, but if that happens it'll be entirely my fault."
"Unless I chose to put energy into the relationship myself," Misuko pointed out.
"Yes, if there were something more to our relationship than a mere robot and her owner. Why?"
"You asked me earlier if I liked you. I do. But... I want to like you the way I like my friends, not my furniture."
Suddenly that dazzling, convincing, seducing smile was back. "Oh, I'm so happy you said that!" she cried. "I would love to be your friend, Misuko. I just... I just worry that I don't know how. Other than that you own me, what do we have in common?"
"I'm sure we can find a few things," Misuko said with a grin. "Give me time to figure them out. Let's head home."
Linia's smile stayed alive and active as they walked back toward their campsite. Misuko resumed her reading, and Linia went back to poking at the seashore.
A week passed uneventfully. Misuko woke every morning wondering if she could ever get tired of the scenery or the isolation before being offered something new and interesting from Linia's repertoire of breakfast recipes. Today's had been simple salted rice with sweet, aromatic herbs. Then she would step out onto the beach, open a book, and be transported elsewhere. The occasional rain showers didn't bother her at all. She was in love with the place and would be sad to leave it behind. She wondered if people who lived in Realms had this much fun.
It was at night that she began to question her decision. Linia was a great companion. She knew more about the 25th century than Misuko ever could, and she had a talent for telling stories about politicians, businessmen, and housewives that made the 51st century seem downright boring. Linia had chosen to tell the story of a companion of her previous owner, a businessman who had gotten caught indulging his desire for underaged males, and the legal maneuvering and ethical dodges each side went through to achieve what each labeled "justice." It was tragic and hilarious and sad and outrageous, and Misuko had no doubt that every word was absolutely true.
But Linia's companionship didn't make up for the way she missed Esther. She had hoped the ache would subside, but it got worse. She craved the kind of pleasure Esther had given her, wondered if there wasn't a way to excise that desire from her mind, knew that such power was not available on her little castaway island. The nights had grown even warmer and at night she lay on the mattress with no covers, wearing only a t-shirt and simple shorts, and as her hands slid over her own already sweat-slicked body in a caricature of Esther's gentle caresses, she whimpered.
She felt a third hand on her belly and her eyes snapped open. In the dark she couldn't see anything but a gentle glow of a red dot above her, a few strands of black hair waving in front of it. "Master," Linia whispered. "Misuko. Let me help you."
"Let me help you." Misuko was too stunned to respond and couldn't form a response until Linia's mouth closed about one of her nipples. She felt an immediate cry of heat flood through her as Linia's fingers crept down her belly and nestled in the tangle of hair between her legs. Misuko moaned with a need she could barely express in words. Linia's touch was maddening, all the more so because Misuko kept fighting it. She didn't want Linia to be like this; it wasn't Linia's role. Linia was supposed to be a compliant, helpful servant, not in her bed and certainly not the aggressor. She didn't want another sexual complication in her life, not now, not so soon after Esther.
Her words failed her. Something held them back, denied her the power to say "no" again. It was only two letters! But Linia's tongue whipping at her nipple and the firm, tugging sensation about her breast made her doubt any resolve, and when Linia moved her fingers a bare millimeter between her nether lips Misuko wished she could tell that part of her, the part that wanted to stop this right now, to go away. She fought with herself inside as Linia pleasured her outside, and when she came it was as if something within her, something under terrible tension, had snapped and broken. She shrieked out Linia's name, the loudest sound she had made on the island so far, her body thrashing out its need and want under Linia's skillful touch.
Misuko found herself lying on the mat, still trying to put back together the pieces of her soul that had been shattered by Linia's touch, when she felt Linia move between her legs. "What...?" And then Linia's tongue was between her wet lips, each touch sending shivers up through her body. She could not deny that she really wanted more. Misuko's cunt had a mind of its own as her hips pushed up to get more of Linia's mouth, more tongue, more teeth. She felt those perfect white, sharp beauties against her flesh, moaned at the probing nibbles, yelped when the second came down sharper than the first. Her whole body seethed like the core of a migma reactor, hot particles of shame crossing paths with the hotter nuclei of desire in the twisted toroid that was her soul. She could barely contain herself, and Linia didn't want her to.
But then Linia's mouth moved away, and Linia's body was moving up the length of hers, and Linia's hands were planted by her sides in a way that she had last experienced several lovers before Esther. She felt something prodding her between her things, something impossible. She yielded to the undeniable sensation of a cock entering her, filling her, touching her deep inside. It wasn't Esther's hand; it was something else entirely and it felt wonderful. She opened her eyes and looked up at the face hovering over hers, barely visible in the glow of Linia's little "on" light. "What?"
Linia leaned down to kiss Misuko on the mouth, gently. "I was made... to be used by both men and women." She pushed with her hips and Misuko felt the cock move deep within her.
Misuko moaned; it was a sensation she had missed, not by much but surely missed, when she had had girlfriends. She couldn't deny that she loved the sensation of being opened, filled and emptied, by a strong body on top of hers. It was primal, primeval lust that drove her need. She couldn't deny it.
Linia's thrusting was strong, hard, and powerful. Her beautiful, perfect round breasts swayed around Misuko's, her hard nipples tracing patterns Misuko could feel on her skin. She reached up to pull Linia down on top of her, accepted Linia's weight on her body as Linia's hips pushed deep into her, withdrew, pushed again, hard, fast, too much, too much for Misuko to take in. "Linia... Linia..."
"Master!" Linia cried. "I'm going to..."
Linia's cries of ecstasy rang in Misuko's ears as both came, Linia still thrusting hard within her. Her entire body, from her cunt up to her throat, felt filled with a bright, hot shining light. Misuko couldn't understand it, couldn't process it, couldn't do anything but wish she could feel it again, and again, and again.
She woke sometime in the night to the sound of rain pattering against the roof of the tent. It had become a familiar sound over the past week, and she wondered if she would miss it when she moved back into the starship that would be arriving later in the month. She turned over and her body told her about things that she thought she had dreamed.
She felt... happy. She couldn't deny that feeling. She felt curiously at peace for the first time since Esther had left. She brought her hands up, touched her sides, her breasts. Found the wet residue between her thighs, the places where the bedding had not yet brushed against her, had not yet performed its perfunctory maintenance of her skin.
Memories came flooding through her, thrilling memories of surrender, of lovemaking, of joy. It was like her first night with Esther all over again, the time before she and Esther had grown tired of one another and begun quarreling. She thought about the person (yes! she thought, the person) who had given her this gift, reached out, tried to find her. "Linia?"
There was no answer. "Light?" she said. The tent's inner illumination globe came on, casting a warm glow on everything. Linia was nowhere to be seen. "Linia?" she asked louder. "Linia!"
She quickly pulled on clothes and walked out of the tent. The rain was still coming down in a warm mist, but Linia was there, sitting on the log they had hauled fireside. She was staring at the empty ring of stone, the fire long ago snuffed out by the rain and its own lack of fuel. "Linia?"
Linia looked up at her, the little light on her forehead glowing like a firefly. "I'm sorry, Master."
"You're sorry?" Misuko wasn't sure what Linia could think she did wrong.
Linia answered her. "I did something you didn't ask me for. I couldn't help myself. It's... it's something in my programming. I know why I said you shouldn't have anything to do with me. I... I'm programmed to... to ignore the word 'no.'"
"I didn't say 'no'," Misuko replied, quietly reminding herself that she would have if... if what? She sighed. It was not the time to go debating the subject with herself again.
"I don't know if I would have stopped if you did," Linia replied. She was distraught and Misuko didn't know how to comfort her. "I... I'm programmed to be a monster. It was something my master wanted. He like being 'taken' sometimes." She looked away. "I'm broken."
Misuko sat down right next to her, reached over and took one of Linia's hands in her own. "Listen to me. You are not broken. I don't even think you can say that what you did was caused by some external piece of code. Linia, I liked what you did."
"But... but... what if I'd gotten it wrong?"
"Were you trying to hurt me?"
"No..." Linia said. "No, I wasn't."
"Then you were doing what you thought was in my best interest. I guess.. I guess I wasn't doing that good a job of thinking of you as a person, Linia. I got used to thinking of you as a robot. You were so helpful, and so quiet at night, not at all like most of the people I know." She laughed. "And after I told you I wanted to think of you as a friend, rather than the furniture, I ended up treating you like furniture. Someone I could conveniently ignore."
"You can," Linia sniffed. "It's what I'm meant to do. Fade into the background when your happiness is about me leaving you alone. Like you said, I'm self-maintaining."
"But you're not furniture, Linia. You are a person. I've watched you when you were 'ignoring' me. The way you go about your own life is fun. You seem to really like poking about all the slimy things you see, and I've seen you rigging tools to do closer work out of the toolkits. I hope you haven't used anything from the medical supplies that we can't live without if I break a leg or something."
"Oh, no," Linia said. "We're fine on that regard."
"I guess... I guess you heard me tossing and turning, and after all those days decided you just couldn't stand to listen to one more night of me complaining about missing Esther."
Linia nodded. "I was hoping that I could help you feel better about it."
"You did," Misuko said, giving her a hug. "You did very well."
"Still friends?" Linia said.
"Friends..." Misuko said. "And more, if you want to explore that, too. Fah, how will I explain this to my mother?""
Linia giggled. "Explain something to me, Misuko. Are you Terran or Pendorian human?"
"Then... why do you say 'fah?'"
Misuko laughed. "Everybody does, these days. There's no getting away from it. Shardik is still around and everyone, even llerkin I think, say 'fah'."
"llerkin? That's the reptilians, right?"
Misuko nodded. They were silent for a while. "Oh, yeah," she said, her voice taking on a serious tone that made Linia look up nervously. "One more thing. Don't you ever repeat that 'made to be used by both men and women' line on me, or anyone else, again. It's crap. You were perfectly acceptable to me before that... that thing showed up between your legs. I like girls, in case you didn't notice."
"I... I did, but I heard Esther teasing you about liking boys and wondered if you missed something."
Misuko shook her head. "If I did, I wouldn't be sleeping with girls, now would I?" She laughed. "Linia, in this universe, there are so many perverse forms of being sexy that being exclusive to one sex or one species is sometimes thought of as being a little weird. I care that my partner looks happy in their body. You're obviously hand-crafted to be completely gorgeous and irresistible, and it works. When I saw you naked in the shower that first time, my mouth went dry and my cunt went wet."
Linia giggled. "I saw your nipples stand up, and it was too warm and steamy in the shower for it to be cold. I guess that's why I said you should be careful around me. A robot without purpose is a needful thing."
"Do you still need?"
"Only you," Linia said. "For as long as you tell me my being around you makes you happy."
"You've made me satisfied. I woke up feeling... fah, I don't know. I woke up content, and satisfied, my body telling me that it had endured all the things that go into making a body happy. It was wonderful, Linia. Don't sell yourself short on that."
"Okay. I won't." She grinned. "The rain's coming back."
"I think so." They walked back into the tent and Misuko closed it behind her. In the glow, Linia's clothes looked sad and heavy. Linia took them off, then handed the towel to Misuko, who used it gratefully before handing it back. Linia dried off as well as she could, but her skin still glistened with moisture where she sat on the floor of the tent. "I think I'll wait to dry off." Misuko looked at Linia, at the way her body seemed the shine, and she wondered whether Linia could enjoy sex as the recipient. She decided to find out, crawling over on hands and needs to where Linia sat. She kissed Linia's thigh softly and said, "What if I try to make you wet again?"
"Really," Misuko said. Linia's skin tasted like... like that of any girl's, Misuko thought. Unique, but definitely human. She kissed Linia's thighs, leaving a pattern of spots no drier or wetter than before her lips had touched down. The water had beaded on Linia's skin in little patterns, and Misuko licked up the little droplets greedily. She reached Linia's outer lips and kissed at them. "It's so pink," she murmured. "So pretty. You have no pubic hair?"
"I could put some there," Linia said. "It's a simple reaction; I just need to add the right mass to the yeast. I've never had any there before."
"Must be nice to be able to make those changes so whimsically," Misuko murmured before burying her face between Linia's thighs, lapping up the fluids that flowed there.
Misuko found Linia's clitoris, making Linia gasp, "Master!" She stopped for a moment, backing up to take a good look, wondering where Linia hid all the hardware for that impressive-feeling penis she'd pulled out earlier. She would have to ask where it was kept. She dove back down onto Linia's cunt, settling on a steady licking motion between Linia's labia, finding the clitoris and treating it to constant attention.
That got Linia's attention. Her hand twisted in Misuko's hair, her moans filling the tent. Misuko licked steadily and soon Linia was trembling. "Master... I'm... I'm coming!" She moaned hard as she climaxed, her legs shaking uncontrollably, her arms wrapped tightly around herself. "Master... Misuko."
"I can't stop you from calling me that, can I?" Misuko said, looking up at Linia.
"I don't... I guess it'll take a while for me to unlearn that habit," Linia sighed. "Oh, Misuko, you are good at that." She held out her arms and Misuko folded into them readily, cuddling up beside Linia.
"So," Misuko said, "Was that real, or just a simulation?"
"What's the difference?" Linia asked. "I can... When I come, there's nothing else I can think about. I'm so wrapped up in the happiness you're giving me, the things you're doing for me, it's... the analogy holds very well. I like the overwhelming sensations, the pleasure of being attended to by you." She held Misuko tighter. "I hope you're always happy to own me, even if we stop having sex someday."
"If I gave you away to someone else, would you still be happy serving them?"
"I would learn to be. Eventually, I would be just as happy with them as I was with you. I'm still learning about you, Misuko, and trying to forget what Steven was like."
"What was he like?"
"It's hard to say. He ignored me a lot. Said that he didn't want to get too close to me. He had a lot of girlfriends, but he liked it when he used me because he didn't want it to get out that he needed something women couldn't give him."
"I don't understand. It's not like being, ack, what's the word for being not a heterosexual?"
"I don't know. 'Pervert?' 'Homosexual?' 'Deviant?'"
"I don't either. Anyway, it's not as if being something else was a stigma in the sixth century."
"It is when your reputation is as a hard-headed businessman and what you like in bed is to be submissive to the point of being raped." Linia seemed to purr for a moment; Misuko wondered what that meant. "Steven could never let that get out in the open; it would color all of his business relationships for the rest of his life. So he bought me off his own factory floor and programmed with the kinds of things he liked. He also gave me that Centauri mod, but he was really careful. He knew about the people who had died with the Centauri mod and why, and he understood the moral foundation problem, so he tried to make me with the kinds of code found in the original Koresh patch."
Misuko wondered about that. "You're prototype code, then. Linia, are you really safe to be around?"
"I think so," Linia sighed. "Maybe he didn't want to get close to me because he wanted to think of me as an abusive person. But I won't be abusive to you. It's not what I want to do. I want to be a good little robot."
Misuko chuckled, turning her head to kiss Linia's cheek. "That you are, Linia. And a wonderful person, too."