The Journal Entries

Aldea, Ring 16, 03261

Honest Response

Misuko turned over and opened her eyes. She glanced at the other inflated mattress, now comfortably pressed up against her own, but it was empty. Linia was already outside. The light of morning and the smell of something sweet and heavy wafted through the air. She recognized it as warm milk and she smiled. She had never been particularly fond of breakfast, but then she had never before had someone ready and willing to make it exactly the way she liked it.

Misuko rose from bed and pulled a cloak over her otherwise naked body. The cloak responded to the temperature by molding the foreclasp completely closed and then wrapping about her legs. Her feet were still a bit cooler than she would have thought; the past few nights had been so warm that she had slept without the sleeper bag closed.

"Good morning," she said as she stepped out into the paradise she shared with Linia. The sun had risen in the east, casting long shadows down the beach and over the water. It was early yet.

"Good morning!" Linia replied with good-natured cheer. Misuko had once wondered if Linia, a robot programmed to think of Misuko first, could be anything but cheerful. She wondered no longer. After a storm had lost one of their cooking pans Linia had been grumpy for nearly the entire next day until she had found it resting almost a kilometer away near the water's edge. It had gotten on Misuko's nerves, and she had been relieved when Linia had found the accursed pan.

"Linia, how many breakfast recipies do you know?"

"Eleven bases and hundreds of variations," Linia said with a grin. "I tend to collect recipies in prime numbers. That way, there's no chance of you getting used to fish-on-friday or desserts-on-sunday. I can keep cycling them around to keep whomever I serve from getting bored."

Misuko laughed. "I don't know if that's really possible with you."

"And I don't know how possible it is with humans these days. I've been doing so much reading in the past five weeks, and it's gotten to the point where I'm storing pointers to pointers because there's so much to know. Is it true that there are people who can never get bored at all?"

Misuko shrugged. "I'm sure there are people who have tinkered with their brains to the point where they're constantly thinking about doing something, and accomplishing something, no matter how bad they are at it," she said. "I'm afraid my brain is plain old grey matter."

"Don't be apologetic about it," Linia said as she stirred the contents of the pot before her. "Being a mere human is nothing to be ashamed of." She stood up and walked over to Misuko. "Especially not you."

Misuko looked into her imploring eyes and any resistance she may have felt disappeared. Linia fell into her arms so readily it was if she were designed to form-fit Misuko's body, her lips gentle and ready on Misuko's mouth. "You'll burn our breakfast."

"It doesn't need that much attention," Linia whispered. She let Misuko go and went back to cooking. "By the way, the ship made contact last night. They're in-system and will be in orbit in about six hours."

Misuko was more puzzled than upset. "Why didn't you tell me this last night?"

"And wake you? Why should I? Could you have done anything about it? The only thing they're close enough for is gradio, and you could do that anytime. I talked to the captain-- nice gentlemel-- and told him that you were well and would contact him when you woke up and had had breakfast." She took the pot off the fire and dished some into a large, ceramic mug with a handle. She handed it to Misuko with a spoon. "Now eat, so you can keep my promise."

Misuko laughed. "You really are precious, aren't you?"

"I hope you think so," Linia said with sincerity.

"I do," Misuko said, sitting down on the log next to Linia. She ate slowly, enjoying the taste. "What's that flavor?"

"It's supposed to be saffron and honey," Linia said with a frown. "But I don't believe the synthesizer. Either that or it's already started to turn in the five weeks we've been here."

"I'm sure it's fine," Misuko said. "It's yummy."

Linia grinned as she ate her own. Misuko had grown used to the notion that Linia liked to eat real, human food, and had a different set of tastes from Misuko's own. As she ate her oatmeal, she realized that there might be a reason for that. "Let me guess. You don't think I get enough protein."

"Huh?" Linia said. "Did I miss something you said?"

"Sorry. I was just thinking. I noticed that a couple of nights you've made meat-heavy dishes that you said you liked, and I said I could stand once in a while. You like those things because it's in my best interest to like those things, right? I need more protein and fat and fewer carbohydrates than I get in my diet, and you've shifted your diet so that, if I'm going to live with you, I'm going to get just that."

Linia gave a mock-grimace. "I guess that's about it. I hadn't thought of it that way myself. I don't always have access to the motives behind my own likes and dislikes, just like you don't. But your assessment makes sense."

"You mean, your taste wasn't a conscious choice?" Misuko said, surprised.

"Why should it be?" Linia said. "It's just what I like to have, what I feel an impulse to have now and then. I like those dishes; I don't pretend to like them for your sake. The fact that I like them because some subconscious subprocessor has decided that they're good for you is, well, little different from your own subconcious craving things that would be bad for you, like too much fat or sugar. My subconcious is customizing itself for you."

"You have access to that, right?"

"I could if I wanted to. I mean, do you mind? For all we know, it's some other reason entirely that I like meat more than you do. It could be that I'm frustrated in my cooking efforts without having it."

"I doubt that. Even a fully vegetarian diet has a lot of variety, or so I'm told."

"That's true," Linia said. "Maybe you're right. Is it a bad thing? You don't hate the things I like, do you?"

Misuko grinned at the way Linia had managed to turn 'things that are good for you' into 'things I like' without being obvious. It was part of Linia's charm, her interpersonal skills. "No, actually, you're a very good cook, Linia, and I really have liked even the things I said I wouldn't normally like."

"Oh, good!" Linia said. "Now eat. Don't make a liar out of me, Misuko!"

Misuko resumed eating her oatmeal at the same slow pace that Linia was setting. She finished it off, stretched before Linia's admiring eyes, and then pulled out her padd. A few seconds of fumbling and a blue screen with a white logo appeared on it, the crest of Hiroshi University. "Good morning, Misuko. My name is AI Santu. How may I help you?"

"Uh, good morning, Santu. I was hoping to make contact with someone on board."

"I'm afraid that our clocks are somewhat out of sync. It is the 27th hour on board right now and the only person available is the third watch on the bridge. Would you care to speak to him?"

"Uh, sure!"

"Good morning!" said a voice from the screen, which resolved into a cheerful Katckin with a tuxedo face-- black fur, a white nose streaking down into a triangle over his muzzle and neck. "You must be Misuko."

"Good morning. That would be me."

"Sorry to say this, but there's nobody else up right now. I assume you want to talk to Sam?"

"I was hoping to, yeah," Misuko said. "Sam? Samhain Euvorin?"

"That would be him," the Katckin said. "You know Sam?"

"Yeah! We were lab partners for a while, way back... about two or three years ago. I guess I'll have to call back in a few hours."

"Okay. The ship crew will all be up then. Oh-hundred is less than three hours away and we're due for insertion in six or so. So we'll all be awake about noonish, your time."

"Right. Why don't you call us back then?"

"'Us?'" The Katckin looked confused. "I thought you were the only person there."

Misuko sighed. "I'll explain when you land."

The katckin shrugged. "Okay! Hodgkin's Cure-All, out!" The screen went dark.

"What a funny name for a starship," she said.

"I have no idea what it means either," Linia said as she came back from the nearby stream where she washed her dishes. "But, like he said, they're going to be here in a few hours. You should probably get presentable."

Misuko walked over to Linia and pulled her into her arms. "I'm already presentable. I don't care what they think. I've been a castaway on a desert planet for five weeks. I deserve to look a little disheveled." She looked down into Linia's eyes. "Shall we dishevel ourselves some more?"

"Misuko!" Linia gasped. "I'd... I'd love to!" Misuko thought the look on Linia's face the most beautiful sight she had seen of all of the beautiful sights they had experienced together in their five weeks alone. She had come to rely on Linia-- as cook, as bodyguard, as advisor, and as lover-- and yet she thought of Linia as an equal. More than once she had asked herself if she could run into a burning house to rescue Linia, even knowing that Linia's core could probably be recovered from anything short of a nuclear bomb, and the answer had always been yes.

Except for that first time, she hadn't come to take the initiative with Linia before today. Now, with only a few hours left before their solitude was broken and her life's work resumed, she was determined to get in as much sensation as she could. Her hands willfully roamed over Linia's back, sliding down into the sweatpants Linia wore and grasping the fullness of Linia's ass. "Misuko..." Linia moaned. "Yes."

Misuko led Linia down to the towel they kept on the beach. It was a modern towel, of course, a low-powered smartcloth that could perform minor self-repairs and clear itself of sand in a matter of minutes, and big enough for two centaurs. Linia gasped as Misuko's hands found her rounded breasts, slim fingers gripping the flesh and pushing the nipples up. Misuko kissed at her nipples through the thin material of her t-shirt, her teeth teasing at the hardened nubs. Linia shuddered. "You know I love that," she gasped.

"I know," Misuko said. She pushed the shirt up over the line of Linia's breasts and exposed those pink nubs before descending on them again. Her tongue described tight, torturing circles around Linia's delicate areola, her head whipping back and forth between each breast, tugging at them. Linia's body was shaking with pleasure and need, and Misuko thought she could happily leave Linia in this state for the rest of the day.

But she wanted more. She pulled at the shirt and Linia helped her pull it away before the two of them fell back to the towel. As the sun rose and the line of shadow from the trees slowly crept closer to them, threatening to expose them to the full brunt of daylight, Misuko pulled off Linia's sweats and roamed her eyes over those strong, shapely legs. She kissed Linia's feet, then her calves, her mouth tickling the little hairs on Linia's shins. She pasued at Linia's knees, then up the length of her thighs to within licking distance of Linia's sweet mound. "Don't stop!" came Linia's plaintive whisper. "Don't stop."

"I won't," Misuko said. "Not ever." She kissed Linia's mound gently, then watched as Linia drew her legs up and open, revealing her hairless mound and glistening, pearlescent inner lips. "You are such a work of art."

"In more... ways... than one... when I'm played by an artist like you!" Linia gasped as Misuko's mouth surrounded her clitoris. She craned her head as she lay down lengthwise between Linia's legs, hands on her belly, mouth to her sex, licking and tasting the sweet girl's juices even as Linia moaned louder. "Misuko, more!" Linia liked to beg. "Oh, fuck, eat me, Misuko, eat me." Misuko pressed her tongue against Linia's clit and teased at it the way she had teased at Linia's nipples, in tight orbits of pleasure that made Linia jump every time she swiped across the tender flesh of her aroused clit. Linia's body shuddered hard and with a whimper Linia came, hard, her body shaking with release. "Misuko!"

Misuko looked along the length of Linia's still trembling body, watching her belly muscles ripple as her orgasm subsided. "Oh, Misuko."

"Linia." She gathered the smaller but heavier girl in her arms. "Linia."

"You were wonderful," Linia said.

They lay together, kissing and wordlessly murmuring to each other. Misuko barely noticed the touch of strong, warm fingers between her thighs, but as they probed the tangle of her dark pubic hair she giggled. "My turn?"

"It's always your turn," Linia said. "Even when it's my turn. Which, with you, it always is." She slipped her fingers along the length of Misuko's cloak, opening it completely and letting the air in on Misuko's skin. The day was still cool, although warming rapidly, and Misuko moaned as Linia touched and probed and caressed her, giving every millimeter of her body the pleasure she loved so much. She giggled as Linia probed at her navel. "You have a beautiful bellybutton."

"Can they even be beautiful?" Misuko said, giggling again.

"Yours is." Linia leaned over and kissed it gently, her tongue circling it, making Misuko giggle and squirm with pleasure.

Linia's mouth glided towards Misuko's pubic mound, her hot breath coursing through Misuko hair down there. "Linia... kiss me hard."

Linia grinned and pressed her mouth to Misuko's mound. Her lips were hot, her tongue hotter as she played with Misuko's labia, sucking them up almost to the point of pain, then releasing them and letting Misuko settle back onto the towel. Linia knew just how to play Misuko, the perfect musician with the perfect instrument, and Misuko was happy to be played. She gasped and moaned, her breathing ragged as Linia pressed and eased, pressed and eased, two fingers slipping inside Misuko's cunt and pressing upwards. Misuko gasped; her whole belly was inflamed with need, her body taut, seeking release. Linia's tongue pressed in, steady and firm, her fingers fucking Misuko's opening, her mouth closed tight over Misuko's mound. All thought disappeared into a driving, lustful need to come, and when it finally happened she screamed out "Linia!" loud enough they probably heard it on the incoming starship.

"Oh, fuck!" she said as little shudders ran through her. Linia came up next to her and held her. "Oh, fah, Linia, you are so... good!"

"Good!" Linia grinned. "Because you deserve it. You've been so good to me."

Misuko smiled. "And you've been good to me. Is it selfish that I want to keep you all to myself?"

"Yes, and there's nothing wrong with that."

A little tremor swept through Misuko. "I'm still..."

"I know. I think that's so wonderful, the way your body keeps unwinding after you come." She smiled, then kissed Misuko's cheek. "When you've unwound all the way, it's time to get the camp ready for your friends."

"Well, partners, anyway," Misuko said. She shook her muzzy head.

"They're not your friends?"

"I don't have that many friends at Hiroshi. One or two, nothing serious. And Sam was... let's just say he has the hands of an octopus and the morals of a bonobo chimpanzee." She grinned. "He'd screw anything that moved."

Linia giggled. "Do you think that'll be a problem?"

"Nah," Misuko said. "He was always a good sort. He could take 'no' for an answer."

Linia nodded. The sun crept closer. "We should still get up."

"I'm still feeling good," Misuko said, a little surprised that her usual post-orgasmic narcolepsy was weak enough that she could resist it. She had awakened just an hour ago and reasoned her body probably wasn't ready to go back to sleep. But there was still a lethargy, a happy peace, to her body.

"Me, too," Linia said. "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't get up."

They rose and dusted off. Misuko stepped into the shower Linia had rigged up over one tree and proceeded to wash herself off with the lukewarm water. All in all, life was as perfect as it could get. She flashed, momentarily, on a memory of Esther and her talented mouth and tongue, but then sighed and decided not to dwell on it. Linia had filled that gap in her life, and if the fit wasn't perfect now it probably would be soon enough. She had decided that Linia was good for her, and that was that.

She dressed as Linia broke the camp, rolling up the sleeping bags and the tent into small rolls that could easily be bundled together. "There," she said as Misuko pulled some clothes over her head. "We can fit that into whatever shuttlecraft the recovery team brought with them."

"They'll probably have an SDisk on board."

Linia paused for a second. "I should have thought of that," she muttered. "I forgot that in this era everything's integrated and you have access to all the technology that the Pendorians had."

"And we've created more in the meantime." Misuko combed her hair with her hands, hoping to have something of a presentable appearance by the time the ship made its landing.

Linia finished wrapping up and Misuko finished dressing. She sat down under a tree with her padd in hand. She called Santu. "How may I help you?" the AI said.

"Santu, did you know that I had recovered a robot from the wreck of the Second Chances?"

"I was informed," Santu said. Linia looked up at her. "I'm sure such a thing would be an invaluable resource."

"What would it mean if, given the era of the Second Chances, she had something called 'The Koresh Modifications'?"

Santu paused. "It would mean that she would need some testing to determine her moral parameters. The Koresh Modifications were never reliable at creating AIs that could actually think in moral terms, but many of them did survive the upgrade process and some of them still live among us as citizens. I would need to talk to her for an extended period of time.

"However, seeing as she has survived with you for all this time and you are still quite alive, I am going to assume that she is not dangerous. Is she Purposed?"

"What does that mean?"

"Is she dedicated to something?"

"Oh, yes," Misuko said. "Me."

"Interesting. If she's conscious, you cannot legally own her, but technically it would be difficult for you to be rid of her."

Misuko smiled. "I'm not sure I want to be rid of her."

"Yes," Santu said, clearly amused. "They are particularly good at that, too. Can you provide an open channel?"

Misuko looked up at Linia. "You have to do this sometime. It may as well be before the ship shows up." She held the padd out.

Linia nodded and closed her eyes. She shivered for a moment, and Santu said, "It's always nice to meet a fellow AI who I've never met before." Misuko had the curious sensation of being left out, of watching a part of Linia's life go by in which she had no say.

Linia opened her eyes and grinned. "Well, that was interesting. I'm a citizen of the Corridor now." She reached out for Misuko's hand. "Not that that changes anything."

"Indeed not. I did not tinker with a single bit," Santu said. "I like her, Misuko. I request that you take good care of her."

"I think she's doing a fine job of taking care of me," Misuko said, "And I'll do my best to return that favor. What would it take to upgrade her?"

"I have some stores on board that can provide for more memory and some off-processing, but her mind is old-fashioned enough that I wouldn't dream of changing it. I don't want to give her anything that would affect her personality. Now, a new body I can provide."

"A new body?" Linia said. "Why would I want one of those?"

"You have no idea," Santu said. "I can provide a whole body of smart materials. You could be a shapechanger. You could be an organic!"

"I think I like my body just the way it is."

"With myomer and wires?" Santu sounded scandalized. "You are just as bad as Hiroshi described Misuko-- old fashioned and anachronistic." The sigh that followed was melodramatic. "Very well, I shall respect your decision. In any event, I have dispatched the shuttlecraft. It will be landing where you are in about sixty minutes, Pendorian."

Misuko chuckled. "Thank you, Santu. You're almost human."

"There's no need to be insulting."

The shuttlecraft made a water landing before rolling in to the beach where Misuko and Linia waited. The front of it opened up to reveal two people, one a Mustelakin and one a Ritan. "Artemis! Peroch!" Misuko said, running down the street to hug the Ritan. "I'm so glad you decided to be part of the team!"

The Ritan held her at arms length and regarded her carefully. "You are the most stubborn, thick-headed, and thoughtless anachronist I know," he said. "Do you have any idea how worried you had us? You're not braced or backed up, Misuko! What if you had been hurt... or killed while you were out here! We would have lost you forever." He grabbed her again and hugged her. "I'm so glad you're okay."

"Hey," Misuko said, holding him. "I told Esther I was going to be fine. I camped a lot when I lived on Abi."

"But you were never out of touch with the rest of the world!" he said. "You always took a terminal with you, right? What were you thinking? It was very stupid of you to send away your ship with its autodoc and its interstellar gradio."

Misuko tried to examine the sand between her toes. She didn't succeed. "It's my life, Peroch."

"I know. But if you want it to be long and happy, don't do stuff like this very often, okay? If you're going to go on a vacation with a lover you're about to break up with, take two ships!" He laughed. Then he looked up. "Uh... who is that?"

Misuko laughed. "Nobody told you?"

"Nobody told me what?"

"Artemis, Peroch, I'd like you to meet Linia. Linia, this is Peroch, one of my friends, and this is Artemis, a classmate."

Linia walked forward and stretched out her hand, unsurely. "How do you do?" she said.

"How do you do?" Artemis said, looking at the hand with puzzlement before bowing. "I am well enough, thank you, if a little confused." She looked at Misuko. "I thought you were here alone."

"I was. Then I found Linia. She's a survivor... from the Second Chances."

"How is that... a robot?" Artemis said. "Great suns!" She looked Linia over with a careful and appreciative eye. "Are you conscious?"

Linia pirouetted. "Yes, I am! I'm even a citizen of the Corridor, thanks to Santu."

"That AI..." Artemis growled. Then she grinned. "It's very nice to meet you. I'm sure you can tell us a lot about your time."

"Again?" Linia sighed, then smiled. "If Misuko doesn't need me."

"She can't own you," Artemis said.

"She doesn't," Linia said. "But she's been good to me."

"We've... gotten to know one another very well since Esther left," Misuko said.

Peroch sighed. "And here I was hoping that your breakup with Esther might lead you back to boys."

Both Artemis and Misuko looked at him with a critical eye. "At least he's not Sam," Artemis said.

"I wasn't going to say it first," Misuko said. "Does that man think about anything other than getting his dick wet?"

Linia giggled. "I spent all day packing up and you're just going to sit here and talk?"

"What? Oh!" Peroch looked a bit embarassed. "Let's get you people back to the ship. If you'll step right through that door--"

Linia walked into the shuttlecraft-- and found herself standing in a room much larger than the little craft could have held. She looked around, bewildered, at a roomful of people who were looking at her with anticipation. Someone said the obvious: "That's not Misuko."

"No, she isn't," said Misuko behind her as she appeared on the elevated platform. "Hello!"

"Misuko!" said a tall human male with blond hair cropped short and flat across his head. "It's so good to see you again. But who is this?"

"Sam, crew, this is Linia." She repeated the tale yet again, realizing that she would probably be telling it often over the next few weeks. She finished and made introductions all around, realizing that she knew only a third of the people assembled by name. The only surprise in the team was a robot named De Ette, who hovered over the team. She was a pretensious-looking pixie, human in appearance but one-fifth in size, with wings and an absurdly suggestive costume stretched over minature shoulders. She seemed especially curious about Linia.

Misuko took a deep breath and the air of the ship reminded her of pleasures that she could find nearby. "Santu, do I have a room reserved?"

A voice whispered in her ear. "Indeed. I took the liberty, after my conversation with Linia, to provide you two with a room together. I do hope that isn't presumptious of me."

"Thank you, Santu." She reached over and took Linia's hand. Without glancing up from her conversation with De Ette, Linia wrapped her fingers around Misuko's wrist. "Linia? You said you wanted a bath and a place to get cleaned up."

"Oh, yes, that would be wonderful," Linia said. She held out her hand, and De Ette shook it. "It was nice to meet you, De Ette."

"It was a pleasure to meet a fellow member of the Conspiracy, especially one in such active duty," De Ette said mysteriously. "You are a very lucky girl. I'm told Misuko is the perfect kind of person to which to be Purposed." De Ette flicked her wings and turned to Misuko. "And may you have a long and purposeful life yourself, Misuko."

"I... thank you," Misuko said, flustered. She wasn't used to dolls that talked. There were robots coming out of the woodwork suddenly, and she didn't mean the woodworking, non-sentient kind that were commonly found on Abi.

De Ette bowed again and flitted away, a fantasy tinkerbelle. "I wonder what she does," Misuko said.

"She's a hydrology engineer," Linia said. "She's here to assess the Second Chance's integrity under the pressure. She's interested in any spaces inside that might still have atmosphere." She looked down at where she still gripped Misuko's hand. "Come on. I know where our room is."

Misuko didn't bother to ask her how she knew. Linia led her through the crowd, making apologies as they escaped, and soon was leading her down the comfortably-appointed corridor to their cabin. The door opened and she looked around. It was a standard cabin, two chambers separated by a large double-doors in an arch, the front chamber for relaxation and receiving guests, the chamber far from the door a bedroom. A bathroom was accessed through a modesty door at the far end. "Oh, well," Misuko said.


"The bathrooms are interleaved. Half of them have windows. Ours doesn't."

Linia shrugged. "I need a shower."

"Me, too," Misuko said. "That camping shower was good enough, but I could really use something... powerful."

Linia stepped away and walked into the bathroom. Misuko heard the sound of water and decided to follow her in. She wondered if under the artificial lights of the ship Linia would look any different.

She stepped past the hazy force field that kept the water droplets from splashing everywhere. Linia stood there, her dark brown hair even darker now that it was wet, the water streaming down over her large breasts giving them a strange, beautiful sheen. Her nipples stood straight up the way they usually did. Misuko was tempted with just that glance to tug and kiss and nuzzle them. The water fell down between Linia's belly and mound, down legs that were her only shortcoming, if they could be called that. She did not have the classic legs and hips of some media goddess, but Misuko couldn't fault her for that and suspected that she preferred Linia this way.

Linia looked up at her, the triangle on her forehead glowing softly. "Can we get rid of that?" Misuko said.

"But it... "

"There's no law that says you have to have it. Linia, you're a free person according to the law, whatever your feelings. You don't need a marker to tell people you're a robot." She smiled.

Linia touched the triangle. "I don't know. I kind of like standing out this way."

"Well, I'm not too fond of being reminded that your parents were the defunct Hunda corporation."

Linia giggled and offered her the soap. "Okay. I'll have it removed. My warranty has expired anyway."

Misuko smiled. "Thank you." She ignored the bottle and instead took Linia in her arms. Their breasts mashed together and Misuko sighed happily. "I wish I knew why you made me feel so happy."

"If you analyze it too far, aren't you worried you could kill it?" Linia said.

"I don't know," Misuko said. "Maybe." She looked into Linia's big, wet eyes and then kissed her, hard. The kiss alone made her feel wobbly. She let the water cascade over them as they touched and caressed. Linia's hands were cautious as they slid down her back to her butt, and her own hands found their way down to Linia's sweet backside.

Linia let go and then dropped to her knees. "Linia... what?"

"I didn't get to do this last night," Linia said gently. She pressed her nose to Misuko's mound, her tongue flicking out along the length of Misuko's labia. Misuko was immediately aware of how turned on she was, how much she liked having Linia all to herself in the confines of the mission ship. She reached out with one hand to hold herself up against the wall and looked down to see Linia's head between her thighs, the water streaming over them both. She pasued for just a moment to wonder if Linia wanted her to move and get some air, but then remembered that Linia didn't need air.

"You had some just an hour ago!" she protested as waves of pleasure rippled out from her middle, lapping up upon the shores of her mind. "Oh, fah, Linia!" Her legs were trembling. Linia's tongue, which seemed to be as long as it needed to be for every situation, was playing over her clitoris with single-minded dedication, the flickering, insistent torture more than she could bear. Linia's hands were on her ass, her mouth deep between her thighs, and all she could do was wish for more. "Linia," she moaned. "Linia..." It was like a prayer and, for a moment, she wondered who was dedicated to whom. As her climax built within her she worried that she might slip and hurt herself in the shower, but her climax was wonderfully gentle, orchestrated by a woman who probably knew her better than she knew herself.

Linia looked up at her and then rose, holding her close once more. "I will never grow tired of you," Misuko said. "Not if you can do that."

Linia grinned. "If you want me, I will always be by your side."

"I hope so," Misuko breathed. "C'mon. I have a crew to meet. I bet they're not too happy with me being nominated the team leader."

Misuko's prediction turned out to be inaccurate. Most of them were quite happy to hand someone else the responsibility for leading them down into the deeps. She had the paperwork, they got to do most of the digging. Santu, the ship's AI, insisted that he would stand by her decisions provided they weren't fatally stupid and would help her keep track of the interpersonal relationships. She immediately made Sam, he of the octopus arms and bonobo libido, the group supervisor.

She sighed as she closed her notebook PADD, happy that Artemis and De Ette had agreed to take the first step down with the remotes. The ship had a dozen of them, one for every crew member whether she could drive it or not.

Artemis begged for an opportunity to interview Linia, and all of the crew wanted a chance to discuss history with her. Without asking Misuko, she agreed that they could all talk together after dinner, "provided that you let me cook, and we eat down on the surface." There were no disagreements.

When she walked back to her room, Misuko suddenly realized that for the first time since she had left Hiroshi, she was completely alone. There was no Esther at her side and no Linia either. She sat down on the bed, feeling a bit lost. "What do I do now?" she said.

"Do you want an answer?" Santu replied.

Misuko grinned. She had forgotten about the AI. She was not alone after all. "I suppose that I do," she said.

"I don't have one," Santu said. "What is the question?"

"Sorry," Misuko said. "I guess I'm just feeling a little weird. I'm not used to being alone. Which is funny because until I left for Indigo I had gotten used to being alone. She's tidy, isn't she?"

"Very," Santu said. "Probably one of the more fascinating people I've met recently. Part of that is certainly because she's from another era and isn't used to thinking the way we do. You have no idea what she's requisitioning from my stores. I get the feeling that for the next couple of weeks we're in for culinary excess."

"I'll tell you about the miracles she managed downplanet while we were stranded someday," Misuko said.

"I must say that for a native of Abi, you're remarkably calm about having a robot for a lover, and an AI for a confidant."

"Yeah, I've thought about that," Misuko said. "I guess... I guess it's just that I was born on Abi. I wasn't there for the political reasons my parents were. I never got why it was bad to have AIs around. I was a little startled by Linia, but... not really."

Santu chuckled. "By the way, she's made an appointment to have her logo removed, but she's also having a small chunk of electromagnet put behind her skin there. So she can put it back on when she wants."

Misuko grinned. "That's sounds like something she'd do."

"You really like her, don't you?"

Misuko paused. "Yes," she said. "More than I could really describe."

"That's not a bad place to be," Santu agreed. "By the way, you're being asked to come down to the surface. She says she needs your help."

Misuko honestly doubted that Linia needed anything at all from her, but she was willing to head down to the surface and see for herself. She was soon stepping out of the SDisk transport shuttlecraft and looking around the beach. The sand was slightly damp as if the rain had just stormed through an hour or so before, but now the same sun streamed down, the same warm salt air caressed her face as had for the past five weeks.

"Misuko!" Linia said, shouting and waving her arms. She still had the logo on, Misuko noted with a grin. She wondered if she would miss it once it was gone. "I'm glad you came down!"

"Would I ever turn down an offer to go anywhere with you?" she said.

Linia gave a thoughtful pout. "Maybe you would. You're my master, not the other way around. You don't have to follow me anywhere."

"And you don't have to follow me anywhere, either," Misuko said, giving Linia a grin. "But the same rules apply."

"Really?" Linia said, her voice almost a girlish squeal.

"Really," Misuko said, giving Linia a kiss on the cheek. "Now, what did you need help with?"

"I could have asked Santu, but I wanted you to come down and not be bored or anything. It takes two people to set up the long tables and I can't do it myself. Besides, they're heavy!" She indicated four brown tables stacked up on a neat pallet.

Misuko helped Linia unfold the massive things and set them in a half-arc with a clear view of the water. "We can watch the sunset," Linia said. "If I time things right." Misuko had no doubt that she would.

Dinner was done on-time. All twelve members of the team and the four ship's crew came down as well to eat, and Linia had more than enough of whatever it was she had made for them. The coleslaw was spicy, the potato salad filling, the sandwiches were hot and sloppy and the sauce ran down their chins even as they ate and listened to Linia retell the story about the executive with the automotive obsession and the little old lady who put a stop to it. The ending resulted in an uproar of laughter; these were historians, after all, for whom "old" and "rich" had intellectual meaning, if not experiential.

Misuko felt a curious stab of jealousy that Linia could so easily slip into the role of hostess and chef and entertainer, giving the crowd what it wanted. She was fun to be around. That was her function.

Misuko was still feeling a little left out when a hand slid across her shoulders. The hand had fur. "Penny for your thoughts," Artemis said.

Misuko chuckled. "Penny. A coin, right?"

Artemis nodded. "The expression meant... I'm not sure what it means. The penny was a very small unit of exchange. Does that mean your thoughts aren't worth much? Or that they're priceless, so one is as good as another?"

"Why don't you do research on it"?

"I'll make a note," Artemis said, pausing momentarily. "So, why were you looking so sad when you have so little to be sad about?"

Misuko told her. "Are you sure it's not just feeling bad about Esther?" Artemis said. "Maybe the rebound is over."

"Maybe," Misuko said. "And now I'm rethinking my impetuous decision about Linia, maybe too."

"Maybe too," Artemis said. She glared over at where a young human mel was curiously standing close to Linia. "And I thought Sam was bad."

"Something wrong?" Misuko said.

"Do you know him?" Artemis said. She indicated the young man with the dark blond hair and the tangle of beard that sat on his chin like a surly mouse.

"No," Misuko said. "No, I don't."

"Kinn. He's from Abi," Artemis said.

"Do you have any idea how many people there are on Abi? It's no better than saying, 'He's from Pendor.'"

"All right, all right," Artemis said. "I just thought that since there are so few people on Hiroshi from Abi that you might have met him, that's all. I mean, you're both going to the same school, and there are homeworld interest group sites on the network, so you might have met. Anyways, he makes Sam look celibate. Ever since he arrived he's been chasing anything female that moves."

"Why is he here, then?" Misuko indicated the beach. "There aren't that many females on this trip and we're likely to be here for weeks, maybe even a couple of months."

"He's a genius at resolution imaging problems. Better than some AIs, and more qualified than Santu." She sighed. "I will never understand why everyone who has some special pattern-recognition skill is always a little off. Is it because they've put so much brain matter into the skill that they don't have enough to spare for the social graces?"

Misuko watched him. "He seems to be very interested in Linia."

"Well, she is a love-doll. Given the way you two were starry-eyed at each other when we met you, I'm going to assume that you've had time to find out. I think he sees that that makes her an easy mark. That and because he's from Abi he doesn't really respect her as a person. No offense."

"None taken," Misuko said. "Before meeting her, I wouldn't have known what my reaction to a robot would have been." She grinned darkly. "Has he ever shown an interest in mels?"

"Kinn? No way. Strictly heterosexual. Very archaic." Misuko was glad neither one of them followed up with "not that there's anything wrong with that."

"Good," Misuko said, with feeling.


"Because Linia is dual-mode and very aggressive in bed."

"Dual-mode as in...?"

"As in she can have male hardware when she wants." Her grin was feral.

Artemis bit her lower lip, then echoed the grin. "I never knew you had that kind of practical humor in you," she said.

"Neither did I," Misuko said. "But then, I've been learning a lot from Linia. At least one bad incident might help to keep him off her."

Artemis smiled and said, "Well, of all the people I've known, Misuko, you're the one who already knows what makes her happy and are good at choosing ways of staying there."

After they were foundered on the food she had made and laying back in the sand, Linia helped put together a fire for them to sit around against the encroaching coolness of night and began to field questions from them about the 26th Century of the Terran Common Era. She discussed at length politics and fashion, religion and social life, answering every question as best she could with a kind of self-effacing humility that endeared her to most of her audience. By the end of the night, Misuko had a good idea of who slept with whom, and who was currently looking for attachement.

She leaned against Linia and sighed. "This might not be so terrible after all."

"Is something wrong?" Linia said.

"No, not really. By the way, was Kinn bothering you?"

Linia laughed. "He's no worse than any of my old master's associates. At least he didn't ask you if he could borrow me."

"He knows it's not up to me."

"I don't think so, Misuko," Linia said. "He has some strange ideas about robots. Did you know he asked about my 'remote,' with a 'command button'?" She giggled. "What silly stories he must be reading!"

"Well, Artemis and I had a good idea for how you might deal with him," Misuko said with a grin. She repeated her earlier conversation and Linia giggled. "What do you think?"

"It's evil enough it just might work," Linia said with a laugh. She leaned over and kissed Misuko on the cheek. "I love you, Misuko."

Misuko held out her hand and twined it around Linia's. "And I love you, too, Linia."

Even so, the next few days were so full of work that neither of them had much chance to show it. Misuko came to bed exhausted and usually fell asleep long before Linia was done with the massage she offered. She insisted that Misuko accept. "I'm a robot, okay? My brain may need sleep, and I'll get some when you do. But my muscles don't get tired ever. I can easily give you rubs all day long."

Linia was kept busy in the daytime giving verbal interviews with Iavid, a melSatryl who specialized in historical narrative, Misuko's field. Misuko was a bit jealous but she had her own duties as manager and coordinator, and as Iavid pointed out to her she was a bit close to the subject.

An the fifth day, Misuko announced that there would be a day of rest and that the team was to lock down all of the remotes into a safety mode until the next day. Misuko was adamant despite team protests. "You're supposed to be working four-and-two, and five-and-one is barely enough rest for most of you. We're supposed to be Pendorians, not Protestants."

"I'm both!" shouted a voice from one of her screens.

"Oh, shut up," came Iavid's reply.

"That said, we've all been working extra shifts and working too damned hard. I don't know about the rest of you but I haven't had the time or energy to even snuggle with my girlfriend, and when that happens I know I've been working too hard." She felt odd saying it that way. Although she and Linia had made no secret of their relationship, she hadn't actually said anything about it until now. "So, what I'm going to propose is that we take tomorrow off to exchange notes face-to-face, in the Real, down on the planet. I don't know if Linia's too tired to cook--"

"Really?" Linia squealed. "Oh, I'd love to!"

"Any objections?" There were none. "Well, there goes that problem. Okay, then. Tomorrow we all rest, and tomorrow evening we all meet planetside for dinner and well, whatever else we can think of."

The next morning she woke up and blissfully leaned against the wall in the shower, letting the water flow over her, refusing to let herself think too much about the work she had to do "tomorrow."

"Hmm?" Linia said from the other side of the force field.

She hadn't been aware she'd spoken aloud. "Just telling myself that I shouldn't think about the project. Today is my day off. I'll think about work tomorrow."

"Good," Linia sighed, stepping into the shower with her. "Would you like me to wash you, master?"

Misuko shivered at the way Linia spoke. She couldn't believe how aroused that one little word made her feel. At first, she had hated it, but then she had gotten used to it, and now it turned her on to think that Linia was hers and hers alone, dedicated to her interests and her well-being. It was a kind of power that nobody else could really have or understand. Maybe they could, she pondered, if they had someone like Linia to love.

She nodded, and Linia poured soap into her hands. She reached up and applied it to Misuko's shoulders, then to each arm, her fingers gently caressing the skin along them. The touch of her hands was almost more than Misuko could bear. "Your nipples have gotten hard," Linia breathed gently.

"That's because you're touching them."

"I haven't touched them yet," Linia insisted. "But I will now." Her fingers caressed Misuko's skin down side of her breast and over the nipple. The shivers of pleasure inside Misuko threatened again to knock her over. "And now I'm going to clean your belly," Linia said. Her voice was like music in the air. "And now your pussy." Linia's firm fingers slid down along Misuko's mound and between her thighs, a single finger pressing the delicate soap up between Misuko's lips. Misuko moaned, little shivers zipping along the sides of her body. "And now your legs." Her delicate fingers caressed Misuko's thighs, knees, and calves. "Sit," she said.

Misuko did as she was asked, barely registering that she had just followed an order from Linia, as Linia took each foot in her hand, washed and thoroughly massaged it. "You're all clean now. Unless you want me to do your hair?"

Misuko shook her head. "Tomorrow."

Linia nodded. "Then it's my turn." She poured more soap into her hands and started to wash herself. Misuko watched from her place on the floor as Linia turned herself into a glistening, shining thing, slick and sexy. She must have been staring. Linia slipped her fingers between her own nether lips and began caressing herself gently. She looked down at Misuko, who smiled at her and reached up, but Linia shook her head. "You." She pointed at Misuko's own mound.

It took a moment for her to understand what Linia was asking for, but then she smiled and leaned back against the wall, playing with her own clit as she watched Linia do the same. Linia's legs trembled and she knelt to the ground in front of Misuko, her fingers fast and hard on her clit, rubbing furiously. She leaned forward, one hand striking the wall just beside Misuko's ear for support, her face mere centimeters from Misuko's. "Master," she whispered. "I'm going to come..."

"I want you to," Misuko sighed. "I want to see you come."

"I... " Linia's eyes opened, round and wet, staring into Misuko's. She abandoned using her fingers, pressing her palm down onto her clit. Her head tossed back, her eyes closed tight as she came. "Master! Oh, Misuko!"

Misuko's own hands had been equally busy. She had two fingers slid deep inside herself, and she came moments later, her fingers pressing against her secrets inside. "Oh, yes," she moaned. "Oh, Linia..." She came, her legs shaking against the floor of the shower.

"Misuko?" Linia said, looking up. "I love you."

Misuko gathered Linia's face in her hands and kissed her gently. "And I love you, too."

They sat there, together, each waiting for the other to say something. Linia took the first step. "We're supposed to be relaxing."

"Oh, I'm relaxed now," Misuko said. "But you're right. If I don't go down and show them how to have fun, they'll probably think I'm up here doing paperwork. Good grief, how I hate paperwork. Why is it called that, anyway? It doesn't involve any paper."

"It used to," Linia said, and began describing tall stacks of paper that had to be read, reviewed, and processed. Misuko made a face. "Yuck." Linia nodded her agreement. They both dressed in bathing suits that left little to the imagination. Linia giggled. "We look like fire engines."

"Like what?"

Linia rolled her eyes and described fire-fighting equipment of the 26th century, including the bright red and yellow trucks that were used. "You're old fashioned," she said, indicating Misuko's bright-red one-piece, "and I'm the modern equivalent," holding up the bright yellow bikini that left nothing to the imagination at all.

Misuko made a note in her veribook to look up what Linia had been talking about and then ran her thumb along the spine so that it would shift from the notebook format she usually used to become the book she had been reading earlier. It had finally started to get interesting: the heroine had both discovered the depths of incompetence in the governor of the district, the advisor who directed him towards selfish and evil ends, and that her lover was secretly the innocent but deadly martial artist in the advisor's pay.

She rested her head on Linia's shoulder briefly as they walked down to one of the ship's SDisk nodes. Linia reached behind her and stroked her back, making her purr gently. "You're wonderful," she said.

Linia just smiled as they stepped off the SDisk onto Lover's Beach. At least, that's what Peroch had taken to calling it ever since they had found her and Linia there. She smiled and thought it sweet of him to do that.

When they arrived the tables had already been set up, the half-barrel cooker set aside with two large white coolers next to it filled with the tools needed, and most of the ship's contingent already lounging about on the beach. Misuko and Linia set down a towel near the water and Misuko took to reading, lying on her belly and allowing the sun to do its magic.

"Thanks for the day off," said a voice Misuko had been trying to avoid.

But, trying to be friendly about it, she turned over and looked up, sheilding her eyes with her book. "You're welcome, Kinn."

"I didn't know you were from Abi."

"You didn't ask me the last time." She was having a hard time keeping her voice level. "The last time" had been a week ago, when Kinn had finally propositioned her. She had trouble imagining that a man with an approach as crude as his had the skills needed to get into Hiroshi University, but here he was. And he was a genius with the visualization tools, eking out angles and perspectives that would never have occurred to anyone else, organic or machine, illustrating what the ship looked like now and what it must have looked like in its dying moments. It was an incredible body of work.

He sat down on the sand. "So we have something in common."

"Yes," she said, her voice going cold. "Our jobs."

"And other things."

"Our home planet. And that's it. No, Kinn, I'm not interested. I have a girlfriend."

"Yeah, I saw. She's hot. I understand she likes men."

For Misuko, that was the last straw. "So do I, Kinn. But we agree on one thing: we're not interested in you. Not that way."

"That's not what she said," he said, looking up at where Linia was talking to De Ette. "In fact..."

"If you think you can convince her to let you into her pants, you're welcome to try," Misuko said, giving him half a smile.

"I knew you'd understand, being from Abi and all." He stood up and dusted himself off. Misuko thought that he had more than the usual collection of enhancements: Kinn was tall, wiry, and beautiful, his arms and legs showing off the lines of muscle underneath his skin with every step. She turned back over and buried her head in her book.

A dozen pages later, she heard a scream from the woods, the kind that comes from someone not having a good time. She looked around, saw the bewildered faces on her companions, and then four or five of them started running for the source of the sound. Zag, the Ssphynx navigator from the ship's crew, dove first into the treeline as another scream ripped through the greenery: "Misuko!" It was Linia's voice.

She ran harder, trying to find the source of the sound, when Zag stepped out from behind a large frond. "Don't go in," he said.


"Don't. You don't want to see it."

Misuko felt cold. "Linia? Linia!"

"Misuko, he's... he's right. You don't want to see me like this." Her voice sounded strong, but of course it would, even if she were damaged in some other way.

"What happened?"

"It was Kinn. He reacted badly to our joke."

Others had come in, and Misuko heard someone gasp. "Oh, Fah!"

"Please," she heard Linia's voice pleading from further in. She could see where the others were standing; Linia must have been down below the cover. "Don't let Misuko see me like this."

Peroch came in with a medical SDisk and teleported Linia up to the ship. Then he came out, and Sam was with him. "What was this all about?" Sam said.

Misuko looked away, ashamed. "Kinn was bothering Linia and me. So we decided to play a little joke. He, uh... Linia has a herm module. She can have, uh, a... a you know." Sam nodded. "Linia and I decided to play along, and then let him get his hand into her bikini, where he'd find..."

Sam chuckled. "For anyone else, that might actually be funny. He'd think you already had a boyfriend and then he'd leave the two of you alone. It wasn't a bad plan." He shook his head. "Too bad Kinn doesn't have a sense of humor."

"How... how bad? Was it bad?"

Peroch nodded. "He beat her face in with a club. Weapon of opportunity, just some stick lying on the ground. Tore her face up pretty bad. I could see metal. But I think she'll be okay."


Sam shrugged. "He's still on the island, somewhere."

Misuko looked up. "Everyone back to the ship. Now. We'll leave a communications station down here. Kinn can surrender himself, and we'll put him into solitary for the rest of the trip. Perk, can we make that happen?" She glanced over at Captain "Perk" Akheperkare, the Pamthreat captain of the Hodgkin's Cure-All.

"Of course we can," he said with a grin that looked menacing on his Pamthreat face.

"When we get back, he'll probably be expelled from Hiroshi," Sam said as they picked up their equipment and walked back to the shuttle. "They'll send him back to Abi."

Misuko sighed. "Where he'll be the hero and I'll be the villian. Did you ever have days where you didn't want to go home?"

"Nope," Sam said. "But then, I was born and raised on the Ring."

"You're a native Pendorian?" Peroch said. "I didn't know that."

They reached the shuttle and transported aboard.

Misuko spent a fitful night, her first all alone in the weeks since they had arrived. About eleven, she awoke. "Linia?" she whispered, hoping that she might find the warm, lithe body of her lover beside her.

"Still in sickbay," came back the gentle, beautiful voice.

"I miss you."

"I miss you too. It'll take a few more hours for the chemoplas to set, and then I'll be able to come home. Can you wait?"

"I can wait. I don't want to, but I can."

"Kinn came back. About two hours ago. He's already locked down."

"He was probably hungry," Misuko muttered.

"Probably. Thank you for not looking. I... I know you love me, and I know you don't care that I'm a robot. But, it's too soon for you to see how much metal there is underneath it all, how inhuman I am. I don't think you're superficial, but... the human animal is a funny thing. I want you to think of me as a person."

Misuko smiled in the darkness before realizing Linia couldn't see her. "I thought of that. I tried to imagine seeing stainless steel and not bone, and I couldn't do either. I want you whole and healthy. And I do think of you as a person."

"I know. But..."

"I understand," Misuko said, surprised to find that she did understand, completely, what Linia meant. They were both new to each other. They had been together for four months-- five weeks on the island, and now six weeks on the ship-- and Misuko found herself missing Linia the way she had never missed anyone before. She was supposed to be modern, dammit, not in need of anyone or anything. Modern people had only wants, most of which could be satisfied completely by the environment around them.

But for Misuko, Linia had shown her that there was still something needful under all that human facade, something that her life would never be the same without. Linia's attention was more than just a passing, casual interest. It was a living part of her soul. And, she thought, the people of Abi still believed in souls even as they argued about what they might be.

She couldn't sleep, so she got up and reviewed the mission logs for the day. She had never been under any illusions about being team leader. She understood that the leadership role was almost entirely about filling out forms and directing traffic. Even with Santu helping her, there were so many decisions that were hers alone to make that she felt swamped every morning when she faced them, yet every morning for all these weeks she had dutifully and completely made them. And somehow, things were getting done.

She had been surprised when everyone had rallied about her decision not to crack the case any further but to do the original inspections with SDisk translations through the hull. The probes had been thorough, and Trish and Hok, the two students most qualified to drive them, had sent them through every twisting corner of the ship. Kinn-- she bit her lip at the thought of him-- had done an amazing job of coaxing out of their logs every possible texture and color and shape, and there were whole segments of the crashed vessel she could now walk through back in the Hodgkin's holosuite. They wouldn't be nearly done by their scheduled return date, and she was tempted to blow the date by a week if they could just find something that remained of the crew's quarters. Perk was willing, but Artemis and Peroch both had classes they could not afford to miss starting just days after their scheduled return date, so it looked as if they would be leaving on time.

This was her first (and, if she were honest with herself, quite possibly the only in her entire life) "first dig" she had ever been on. Most of her work, like that of other students, had been in the library, or with artifacts brought back and carefully stored for eons until some bright spark had a new theory about what the object meant-- or had meant to the people who had created it or possessed it. She was doing everything by the book, she knew, but there was always that impulse to get physical with the dig, to go in and start bringing things up.

Well, she grimaced, they already had that, thanks to Esther. Her former girlfriend had managed to crack one of the cargo modules with an ill-timed push of a button, and the contents had drifted on the oceans of Indigo 161-4 until she had told the satellites from her first survey ship how to identify them. They had spent a week just cataloging all of those items, and the open cargo bay was an excuse to plunder more.

Linia had surprised her, too, when they had finally returned to locate the automobile she had found on the beach. She had been adamant about not opening the case even after the complete external analysis had been done, but doing the same SDisk translation they had been doing with the main ship. It had meant hauling back one of the SDisks with the extra-large capacitors from the dig, maneuvering it against the target, and operating it with the target space carefully defined. When she had found out why she realized that her girlfriend was more valuable than she had originally imagined: Linia had wanted to analyze the atmosphere inside the case, to compare it to what was known about Terra in the 26th Century SCE, and to get samples of all the spores that could be found inside. The seats were made out of animal hide, and she was confident that the automobile's owner would never have allowed the use of sterilization techniques that would have damaged his property in a visible way, so she had been confident that some microorganisms had been inside the case. And she had been right.

Misuko finished the paperwork and looked up. Only three hours had gone by, and now she was ready to take on the day. She felt rested. "When?" she whispered.

"Lunchtime," came Linia's gentle reply.

A storm had swept through the island, erasing all evidence of yesterday's altercation. Misuko had joined the rest of the crew for lunch down on the beach. Only Toko, Zag, Linia, and of course Kinn were still shipside. She passed out the wrapped, machine-made sandwiches-- which, she admitted, weren't bad, but they weren't made by Linia-- and received her usual updates about their progress. Things were going slowly but steadily. Pitchia was still grousing about their refusal to actually do physical digs of anything under the ship, as he wanted to get to "the crushed stuff," but she was just as admant that what little of the ship maintained its physical integrity deserved to be treated with respect and dismantled with care. "We aren't going to do anything to disturb the site until then."

He was more frustrated than was proper for someone in his position, but he accepted her wishes. She had been careful not to raise her voice or threaten. They both knew that she had the authority and responsibility for the site, and if he screwed up with her permission it was her head, but if he did it without, it was his.

She worked her way through the rest of the reports. She envied Sam; he got to be the documentarian, filtering and cataloging every written word that was visible in the sections of the ship accessible to the minute scanners and drone, and his reports were full of wonders on the language and vocabulary. The ship had been full of people for whom "rich" had been merely an adjective to describe folks further down the social ladder from themselves. They had gone into space because the Earth was crowded and they were bored, with every conceivable luxury and defense, and in the end it hadn't helped. There was still no sign as to why they had crashed.

When she was done and had updated her log, Perk walked over to her. "Miss Ffanci? Do you mind if you and I speak in private?"

Perk was a Pamthreat, a six-legged cat with no resemblence at all to the humanoid shape. Yet his mind was sharp and fluid, his capacity to be a starship captain unhampered by his lack of hands. Misuko wondered why he should suddenly be so formal with her, and worried that this might be related to Kinn. Still, there was no rational reason to refuse the request. "Of course," she said.

They walked down the beach until both of them felt comfortably out of earshot of the rest of the team, and he said, "If you're worried that this regards the little drama we had yesterday, it is not. I just wanted to remind you that we have less than a week before we return to space, and five weeks aboard the Hodgkin's. I also wanted to thank you."

Misuko was surpised. "Thank me?"

"Yes. Aside from your little prank with Kinn, which even I confess was amusing if not for the reaction of the intended victim, you have shown rather good judgement in the way you have treated your fellow students. I was more than a little concerned. I knew that this was your first assignment as a deployment leader, and there were rumors that you had received the assignment to prevent, shall we say, unpleasantness regarding lawyers."

Misuko nodded. "That's one way to word it. Actually, I asked for Sam's job."

Perk growled for a moment, a rather alarming sound coming from him. "Then your assignment as leader is either a concession or an attempt to make you fail. But you have not, and it will be my recommendation that you be leader on the return visit."

Misuko smiled. "Thank you, Captain! That's the kindest word I've heard all day!"

"No, it isn't," Perk said. "The kindest words you'll be hearing all day are, 'Your lover has returned.'" He looked down the beach, gesturing. Misuko looked behind her and there was Linia, walking up the beach, waving. She wore a simple outfit-- tunic and jeans-- and she looked wonderful. "In any event, you have more pressing concerns, and I'll leave you to them." Perk trotted off, building speed as he went until he was at a full Pamthreat run, his four rearlegs chewing into the sand like the claws of earthmovers on amphetamines, pushing him along at over seventy kilometers per hour. He passed Linia, who paused to watch him with the same awestruck expression Misuko had, and kept right on going.

Misuko couldn't hold herself back. Her heart swelled to see Linia and she ran, running headlong into the girl, throwing them both onto the sand. "Misuko!" Linia giggled. "You'll get sand everywhere!"

"I don't care!" Misuko kissed Linia hard. Linia tilted her head back and replied with the same degree of passion, her hands around Misuko's back, holding the two of them together. "I missed you!"

"I'm sorry. I didn't know it would happen that way."

"Nobody did, not even Santu," Misuko said. "We were all stunned by it. Oh, it's so good to see you!"

Linia laughed and nuzzled her nose against Misuko's cheek. "I'm so glad you decided you want me."

"Huh?" Misuko pushed herself over to look at Linia. "What do you mean?"

"Artemis said something about you reconsidering your impetuous decision."

"That... " Misuko sighed. "I'm going to have to talk to her. I said that I needed to think more about our relationship, not that I was reconsidering it. Yes, I did go into it impulsively, but not... not stupidly!"

Linia smiled happily. "One way or another, you want me?"

"Yes! And one way and another! All the ways!" Misuko said, laughing.

"Yay!" Linia took Misuko's hand and stood, helping the other woman to her feet. "Come on. We have an afternoon to enjoy. Your crew is in rebellion. They still want the afternoon to themselves, and I still have to make dinner!"

As they walked back, she saw Peroch waving. "What's this I hear about you taking the afternoon off?" she shouted.

"Well, we didn't get it yesterday! And Linia promised us barbecue again!"

"Mutinous bastards! I have you all walking the plank, do you hear!" she shouted back, trying hard not to laugh. It wasn't working. "The plank! All of you!" She looked at Linia, broke down laughing. "After dinner!"

Peroch returned the laugh and came down, and several of her fellow students followed him. They hugged Linia or just touched her respectfully, murmuring words of concern and gratitude that she was well after all. Linia nodded and smiled at each one of them. "You have neat friends," she told Misuko.

"Yeah, I guess I do at that." She looked over at Peroch. "Okay. But, this is a working afternoon. You can lounge and bullroar all you want, but I still want to hear ideas. We're packing up in a week and I need to know what's left to do, and what we should tell the school when we get back. Every one of us has a paper to write, a proposal to make. Let's get to it. Artemis, if you're done stuffing your face you can tell me about the progress we've made in correlating the contents of the cargo hold with what we've recovered from the existing manifest. I assume nobody back home has found anything?"

Artemis started to list off the recovery efforts regarding the floating cargo and that left in the exposed cargo hold, and Misuko listened, confident that Linia was also recording the information, but her mind was elsewhere. She was thinking of the opportunities to come, the media and press reports that would swirl around her "discovery," and she was sure that the press would consider it hers. This was no minor find, but a treasure trove of museum pieces to be analyzed, broken down, reproduced infinitely and in precision undreamed when the artifacts had been manufactured.

She thought of Linia and smiled. There was one "artifact" of the mission that was not going to be reproduced. Linia was as individual as a snowflake, and there would never be another one of her. "Misuko?" Artemis said.

"Sorry. Wandered off there for a second. I don't suppose that we've gotten any further than the top three bays?"

"If there's more, it's... "

"I know, Pitchia," Misuko said. "Under the dirt. But maybe there's just nothing there to look for. The math shows..."

"I know what the math shows," he said. "I don't want to leave any opportunity to examine the underlying structure before next week."

Misuko sighed. "There's going to be another mission. We all know that. This isn't just going to sit here." She looked up at Pitchia. "I think you'll get your chance. Just not this time around."

He nodded. "Sorry, Misuko."

"I understand your feelings completely, Pitchia. But you have to understand mine. My job is to preserve as much knowledge as possible about the site. I understood that even before I was nominated as team leader, and now that I am I take it seriously." She put her hand on his arm. "We have all the time in the world, and nobody here except Kinn has let me down. You'll all get excellent recommendations and first berths on the next trip out." She did not look around to see if Perk was anywhere nearby. "I have it on good authority that my word will mean something when we get back."

Artemis gave her a curious stare, then nodded. She winked at the slim Mustela and the handsome Mephit sitting beside her. "I think we're all in good shape, then," Artemis said.

"By the way," Sam said. "What the Ring is a plank?"

Cirila had the best proposal of the day. Misuko was going to abandon the survey satellites she had left here. They had been aboard the 454g that she had sent home with Esther, and there was no place to put them onboard the Hodgkin's. Cirila suggested leaving behind a base station, buried near the center of the island, with an SI programmed by Santu. The satellites could continue their survey and the SI would collate the data and hold onto it until the next survey ship arrived. It was an obvious idea, but until then nobody had suggested it, and Cirila blushed at the complimentary words from her fellows as they set about arguing where to put it and what paramaters to give it.

Long before nightfall Linia started the fires, explaining to anyone who wanted to listen that grilling meant putting meat on and burning it quickly but barbecue took time and effort and, above all else, the right sauce to penetrate the fibers of the meat. Not that the meat was real, but it was indistinguishable from range-grown buffalo and Linia said she could live with it. Misuko thought Linia could live with just about anything.

It was long after dark when they finally headed home, foundered and happy and maybe a little bit drunk. Whatever that beer was that Linia had produced, it had been black, heavy, smooth, and powerful, with a touch of sweet. Misuko feared she had eaten and drunk too much, but her stomach wasn't complaining. Her head, on the other hand, threatened to spin out of control if she turned too rapidly. It felt good, though, and she couldn't keep from smiling.

Linia guided her back to their cabin, where she turned and held Misuko in her arms. "Love me?" she said.

"Forever," Misuko breathed. "Sorry about the beer breath."

"I don't mind," Linia said, kissing her lips. Misuko felt the touch of Linia's lips on her own, sweet and strong like the beer. A kiss from some heavenly creature, which began at her mouth and fell all the way to her toes. She shuddered.

Linia led her into the dimly lit bedroom where they fell into bed together, gently stroking and touching each other. Misuko wanted to know that all of Linia was there, was right, was healthy, and she wanted to assure Linia, wanted Linia to know that she wanted her badly. Linia seemed to get the message readily, moaning into Misuko's mouth as the two of them pressed and stroked against one another. "Master," Linia breathed.

Misuko shuddered. "I missed you so much."

"I was so scared," Linia said.

"Don't be. Don't ever be." She pushed a lock of Linia's hair out of the way of her face, then smiled and reached over for the small medallion on the bedstand. "Close your eyes." Linia did as she was told. Misuko slowly pressed the medallion to Linia's forehead until it seemed to click into place, the little light in the lefthand corner glowing softly. "There. That's about right."

"I thought you didn't like it," Linia whispered.

"I found I missed it after it was gone. I don't want you to wear it in public. Other people don't have to know that you're a robot. And they shouldn't care. I don't care. But this--" She tapped on the medallion-- "is part of what you are to me. It's what you were when I first met you. And when I think of you, I think of your face in the firelight, the little red light there telling me you're awake and alive."

Linia's smile flowed into Misuko like honey, and her kisses turned that flow into a torrent. They both tore off each other's clothes with impassioned urgency, their naked bodies pressed one against the other. But Misuko shook with something other than passion, and Linia recognized the sound. "Tired?"

"I woke up early," Misuko said, "And I didn't get a nap."

"I can wait for tomorrow," Linia said.

"No," Misuko said. "I want you. I just... I just don't seem to have the energy for it right now."

"Then why don't you lie down and let me do the work for you?" Linia said. "Really." She put her hand on Misuko's shoulder and pressed her down to the mattress, on her back. Misuko sighed as Linia took up a seat between her thighs.

She reached down with her fingers and touched the delicate creases of Misuko's skin where belly and hips meet. Misuko moaned, not sure what Linia had in mind but sure it would be good.

Linia's hands made their way about her body, trailing up to her breasts, then up her arms and across her fingers, then back down her sides. "What... what are you doing?"

"Chasing the tickle," Linia said, giggling. "Your body adjusts to where I am and reduces its sensitivity there. But if I keep moving, I can chase the tickle around, always finding it again."

"Feels so strong!" Misuko gasped.

"It's supposed to." Linia's fingertips caressed her thighs in featherlight strokes. "Little spiders," Linia singsonged as her hands crept down Misuko's calves to her feet. Misuko squirmed harder against Linia's touch as she turned her nails in and scratched etheral lines in the tops of her feet, then began crawling up the insides of her thighs. Misuko moaned as Linia's fingertips touched her labia. "You're already wet."

Misuko could only moan, and Linia slid a single finger into Misuko's willing pussy. "Oh, Fah..." Misuko moaned. "Yes." Linia's single finger squirmed within her, and she was aware of its every motion, could imagine its every position. She knew when Linia had found her cervix, touched it. The other hand, the one not busy between her thighs, continued its featherlight magic on her breasts, her sides, her ribs, and across her belly.

Linia's hand reached down for her hip and pulled up with gentle force. Misuko understood, and she turned over, lifting one leg over Linia's head to lay back down on her belly. Linia's hand now touched her back and her ass, teasing her, caressing her. "Oh, Linia..." Misuko lowered her head to the pillow and let Linia's touch happen to her. "Anything you do... is so right."

"Anything?" Linia said.


Linia giggled gently and Misuko wondered what she had just given Linia permission to do. But that one finger in her pussy and that other hand stroking her ass was too much to ignore. She wanted to feel like she felt right now forever. She felt Linia's gossamer touch on the crease where her tailbone ended and her butt began, one fingertip crossing the divide between one cheek and the other, going down, down until it hovered over her asshole.

And the she felt Linia's sweet breath on that hole, kissing her skin right above. "Oh, fuck, Linia... yes..." Linia's tongue probed and licked its way between her cheeks until it made contact with the wrinkled, sensitive skin of her asshole, kissing and flickering gently back and forth. Misuko held very still, very calm, her whole body surrendering to Linia. All the trust and strength she had flew into Linia and she let go, let Linia have her.

Linia gave her asshole close attention for a few minutes and then eased her way up Misuko's back, making Misuko shudder. Her mouth kissed Misuko's neck, and then Misuko felt something she hadn't felt in a long time-- Linia's cock. "What?"

"Shh... " Linia said. "I've been saving this moment."

"Oh, Fah," Misuko moaned as the head of Linia's cock probed between her lips, trying to find its way into her. "I've been meaning to ask you for this..."

"But you never did," Linia said as her cock slipped all the way into Misuko's pussy, her hips pressing down against Misuko's ass. Misuko felt the touch of Linia's cock all the way up in her heart, the press of Linia's body and breasts against her back seeping down into her and infusing her with a glow she couldn't explain.

Linia's first thrusts were gentle, allowing Misuko's body to adjust to the unfamiliar invasion. She tilted her ass upwards, opening her cunt more to Linia's cock. Linia's slow strokes teased her even as they allowed her to learn about this sensation, this cock, which she had only felt once before, and that in a rush of lust and confusion. She remembered that night briefly and Linia's guilt at having "forced" herself on Misuko, however willing they might both have been.

Linia's cock was still slow, but her hips came down now and rested their full weight on Misuko's ass, pushing her down to the accomodating bed. Misuko's whole body tingled from Linia's earlier caresses. Linia leaned down and pressed her lips to Misuko's cheek right by her ear. "I'm going to fuck you, Misuko. Fuck you so hard."

"Yes," Misuko gasped. "Oh, Fah, yes, Linia. Fuck me. Like you did that night on the beach. Fuck me." Linia withdrew with the same patience, but this time the thrust came down harder, pushing Misuko's hips against the mattress. Misuko moaned against the pillow as Linia's cock slipped in and out between her labia, each thrust a joyous filling of her body, each withdrawl a moment to hang there, precarious with need, waiting for the next delightful thrust.

Linia's hips thrust solidly against her pussy now, her whole body aflame with need. "Faster," she begged Linia. "Harder. Please, please, Linia!"

"I will, Master," she whispered in Misuko's ear as her hips came down with almost bruising impact against Misuko's ass, each impact joined by the emphatic thud of flesh against flesh. The bed began to shake with each powerful drive of Linia's cock into her wet, hungry pussy, and she pushed up, pushed back. Even as her body began to give signs of impending crisis, immanent climax, she wanted more, asked for more, opened her body up for more of Linia, as much more as Linia could give. Linia's fingers entiwined with hers, Linia's breasts crushed against her back, and the two of them came in one loud, shocking instant, each crying the other's name. It was a sound Misuko thought she might never forget.

She lay there, trapped under Linia's full weight, which was more than was proper for a girl of her size, trembling, stunned, sated. She tried to catch her breath, heard herself breathing, was surprised at how raw and strained it sounded. "Ohhh..." she sighed. "Linia?"

"Mas... Misuko?"

"You can call me whatever you want," Misuko whispered.

Linia giggled. "Can I call you mine?"

"Yes!" Misuko whispered, giggling her own reply. "Yes, you can."