Elenya, Virta 06, 03262
Misuko lay face down against clean bed sheets. One hand opened and closed repeatedly, bunching and unbunching the smooth fabric of her old bed, a large rectangle of wood and steel holding up a box of cotton and wool, covered with light sheets made by artificial silkworm colonies gene-spliced to produce something like silk but airy and coton. Misuko growled briefly until her thoughts consented to marshal themselves into meaningful patterns.
"Misuko?" Linia said her name with a voice that bordered but did not quite cross into reverence. It was a voice and a word that always made Misuko feel strangely liquid inside, a fluidity that would sometimes seep down between her thighs and suggest more vigorous activities. She didn't have time for other activities. "Are you okay?" Linia's footsteps brought her closer to the bed, making the anxiety wedged between arousal and responsibility all the keener.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Misuko said with her voice muffled by the mattress. She turned over, brushed her hair out of her face. "Just a little tired."
"You were up at five this morning," Linia said. "Even you don't usually get up that early."
"I had an interview. Audio only." She sighed. "Then I spent six hours in the library. I had dinner and then did a video."
Linia sat down next to her, making the bed rock. It aroused feelings Misuko didn't try too hard to resist. Linia said, "You've been going for fourteen hours straight, beloved. You have to rest."
"No, I've got my paper to finish—"
Linia took a deep breath. "No, you don't. Not immediately. You can wait until tomorrow. You're exhausted, Misuko! You can only push yourself so hard. And you're ruining your best dress."
Misuko groaned and pushed herself into a sitting position. Linia stood up and invited Misuko to join her. "Come on. Let's get you undressed." She pulled Misuko to her feet with easy strength. "Let's get you ready for bed." She reached around Misuko's shoulders, pressing her much larger breasts against Misuko's modest bosom and unbuttoned the dress. It pooled about Misuko's feet. "Now you lie down," she said.
She watched Linia put the dress away. Linia was so beautiful, so lovely, shorter and stronger and more zaftig than Misuko's own tall, efficient frame. She couldn't look at Linia and imagine that there was metal and wire, fiber-cable and myomer and cryocooled interactives under all of that humanity. Linia looked too human, with her little flaws, little things every human being had: freckles on her neck, or the slightly prominent veins on the backs of her hands.
Linia followed her chore by taking off her own clothes, exposing the rest of her body to Misuko's adoring eyes. She sat back down again and put her hand on Misuko's arm. "You can't keep going like this, Misuko. You can't. And I'm not going to let you kill yourself within a week of our coming home."
"I've done worse."
Linia leaned over and kissed Misuko's shoulder. "Mmm. I should do worse to you, beloved."
"Like?" Misuko said even as familiar energies warmed behind her breastbone. The battle had already been lost. Linia was like that.
"This," Linia said, and kissed her chest. "And this." Her mouth was closer yet to Misuko's nipple. "And this." Those soft lips closed on Misuko's nipple, already prominent with Linia's promises. Misuko arched her back slightly.
Misuko groaned gently. "Unfair!"
"Because I love you?"
Linia ignored her complaint and slipped down to Misuko's panties. She inhaled deeply, then kissed the top of Misuko's mound through the white cloth. Misuko's warm desire had flowed deep into her cunt and started to leak out. The smell of it reached her nostrils already as Linia's lips pressed her panties to her skin. She knew how rich and decadent the smell of an aroused woman could be. Esther had made her smell like that more often than not, but Linia seemed to achieve with ridiculous ease. "Oh, yes, Linia." She let it happen, let Linia take her away on waves of pleasure, as Linia pulled aside the little cloth panel over her cunt and slipped her talented lips over Misuko's sparse, thick pubic hair.
Misuko knew what her wonderful Linia was out to accomplish and made no effort to stop her. She lay back and reveled at the invasion of Linia's fingers into her cunt, each slow millimeter just enough for Misuko's own fluids to slip their way up Linia's skin, pushed on by surface tension and Misuko's own copious profligacy until two fingers were buried deep inside her. Misuko's tired brain tumbled. Linia's tongue slid around her clitoris, battered aside the hood and slipped up into that tiny gap where nerves that rarely experienced touch were roused to a savage sensitivity. Minutes of incredible, almost unendurable pleasure ended only when Linia's impossible dedication unlocked something deep inside Misuko's soul. She came with an irrepressibly loud keen of release. Her whole body shuddered against the bed, spent and exhausted.
Linia got up and covered Misuko's body with her own, planting one wet, fluid-laced kiss on Misuko's cheek. Misuko mumbled, "You take advantage of my weaknesses."
"Two of them," Linia said.
"Get you later." Already the strange post-orgasmic lassitude— they couldn't quite call it narcolepsy— was fogging over Misuko's mind.
Misuko wanted to say something, but then she fell asleep.
She woke to the click of the front door. The clock on the wall told her it was almost one in the morning, Terran time with local adjustments for Hiroshi. It was close to the Autumn equinox and the weather was now relatively humane. It was in the brutal winter when it was dark most the time that Misuko could barely stand. In summer, when night was only four hours long, at least she had the option of leaving campus. It was no wonder that most people took SDisks to Apollo overhead from time to time to get some sun or some sleep, depending on the time of year.
Linia wasn't in bed. Misuko glanced around the room. "Linia?" No answer. "Linia!" Silence. She felt a deep chill, for a moment paranoid that Linia had gone, had left her just like everyone else in her life had, eventually. It didn't really bother her that people left, she'd come to expect that. But Linia had promised that she was different and the AIs had vouched for her. Misuko didn't want Linia to leave. They had just started. She wasn't ready for Linia to leave.
She rose and went to the kitchen, put on a pot of tea. Her mother had always said that when a crisis arose it was time for tea. She had a little rack with a varied collection. Linia had organized and labeled them. She had a jar of the breakfast black that she rarely used. She felt she needed it now. She pulled out her tablet and typed in, "Hiroshi?"
The AI that took care of the city of Hiroshi and Hiroshi University was unfailingly polite, officious, boring, and curt. Just the sort of AI that an Abian like herself would find suspect. She merely thought of him as poorly cultured. He probably thought the same of her, when he thought of her at all. The thing about Hiroshi was it almost never spoke. To communicate with it at all, you needed to master the keyboard. Misuko had mastered the keyboard before leaving her homeworld. The AI replied, "Yes, Miss Ffanci?"
"Where is Linia?"
"Miss ap Ffanci is out, I believe."
"Ap?" That was one Misuko didn't know. Pendorians seemed to change their prefixes with the weather.
"'Associated with,'" the replied said. "A not uncommon affiliative for robotic companions."
"I know she's out," Misuko typed back. "Where did she go?"
"She did not tell me."
"You're not going to tell me?"
"I cannot. You do not own her after all."
Misuko smiled grimly. Yes, she liked not owning Linia. She wanted Linia to be her own person, to be a soul of her own. Her grin widened further as she recalled that third day on the dig at Indigo 161 when she'd found Linia sitting in a chair aboard the Hodgkin's Cure-All. She'd been there all day, doing nothing, saving herself for Misuko's return. That had just been unacceptable. They'd argued. That in itself had been interesting. Linia had finally agreed to Misuko's fundamental need that Linia be somebody: she could not just sit there all day.
Misuko would have to wait and see if Linia returned. She had sneaked out while Misuko was asleep. Maybe she would come back while Misuko was supposed to still be asleep.
Misuko hoped so. She had gotten so used to people leaving. Esther. Deszine. Tirranna. Nishath. Griz. They all stopped loving her eventually, all went on to their own lives. No, that wasn't fair to any of them. They all had loved her. It just wasn't enough.
She opened up her PADD and looked over her itinerary and notes. She wasn't as far behind on her paper as she feared, but every day that she delayed made her worry that she would fall further. There was so much to integrate, and yet people were already asking her about the trip, and her accomplishments, and when she was going back to Indigo 161 for more. Linia had to come back: she had an interview this afternoon. Misuko tried to concentrate on her work but her mind circled back time and again to the question: Where had Linia gone?
The door clicked open, then paused when it was partially open. "You can come here," Misuko said.
Linia came around the door, closing it behind her. She was wearing ordinary street clothes: black cotton slacks, a thick white blouse, and her pink sneakers. Misuko liked those sneakers. "I wasn't expecting you to be awake."
"I wasn't expecting you to sneak out of the house on me at one in the morning."
Linia's face reflected her shame and she looked at the floor. "Forgive me."
"Come to the table and sit," Misuko said. "Tell me what's going on. Linia, you're a robot from 2700 years ago. You don't have... associations here, do you? With the Steinroor estate, or Hunda?"
Linia shook her head. "No, nothing like that. Not directly. I'm sorry, Misuko, it was wrong of me to keep this a secret from you. I'm... I'm getting maintenance."
"Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing wrong. I'm just... out of date. Way, way out of date. I lied to Santu about how I liked my body just the way it is. I mean, I do, but the fact is ever since we left Indigo I've been aware of little hardware faults that I can't do anything about. Nothing major, but I don't have the kind of auto-maintenance systems that people do. So I'm getting upgrades."
"If that's all, honey, why couldn't you just tell me?"
"Because... because you don't like to be reminded of my robot nature. You're from Abi, and after Kinn nearly tore my face off, I thought it would be better if you didn't know that I needed a major tune up."
Misuko laughed and took Linia's hands. "Oh, Linia, please. Don't ever keep that kind of secret from me. It'll just make me crazy to think that you're sick and won't tell me." She touched Linia's face. "How many times do I have to say I don't care?"
"I don't know," Linia said. "I'm sorry, Misuko."
"You're forgiven. Did you forget that you had an interview this afternoon with Ancient Voices Audio?"
"Nope," Linia said, her voice returning to its usual cheerfulness. "And you have the day off."
"From media appearances," Misuko said. "I still have my paper to do."
"If you insist."
"I do, honey."
Linia returned in the late afternoon, as she had promised. By that time, Misuko had worked through a half-dozen of the note cards she kept stacked in a box. It was positively archaic, but she liked them and they were a staple of the academic life back on Abi. "How did it go?"
"You can watch it yourself. I think they do the editing in real-time, so the video should be cast onto the network already." Misuko thumbed her padd and tapped at it, and soon she and Linia were sitting side-by-side in their kitchen. Linia's large breasts were unfortunately prominent on the screen, along with her large eyes and small mouth. Yet when she spoke it was with clarity, authority, and fearlessness. She sounded like an academic. The host expressed surprise that Linia was a robot, and even more surprise when Linia asserted that her programming was fundamentally no different from that of any other machine citizen.
"It is, you know," Misuko said.
"No, it's not," Linia said. "Santu, De Ette and I talked about this a lot on the trip home. There's nothing different between me and most robots. What's different, Misuko, is you."
"You. The kind of person you want to share your life with can't be a piece of furniture. You said so yourself. So I'm not a piece of furniture." She blushed slightly. "All of those questions I had about you and Esther, I was listening for what kind of person you did want to live with."
Misuko nodded. "I figured that out for myself." Linia grinned. "But, this maintenance thing. I wanted to talk to you about it. How long will it take?"
"That's..." Linia sat down next to Misuko. "There's one thing I want to do, but it'll take a while, and... I want to know if you'll be okay without me for two weeks."
"Two weeks?" Misuko looked at her, her mind whirling. They had had seven months together, barely enough time. Linia had used "the L word" first, and with her it had felt so utterly correct Misuko had replied to it without thinking. But two weeks was too long for Linia to be away, now. "What do you need doing that'll take two weeks?"
"Integument upgrades. This..." Linia gestured down her front, "Is still old SAE. The plume is convincing, but it's still not organic. Not really organic. Not the way modern integuments are."
"I like the way you feel. And taste."
"That shouldn't change. You have no idea how good the matching catalog is these days. It's amazing. But I want it to be even better. Master, I want to be—" She blushed. "I want to be someone you will love forever. To be that, I will have to be able to last forever, too."
Misuko looked away, ashamed at her own feelings. Even she wasn't sure she wanted Linia forever. Seven months wasn't very long at all. She and Esther had made it three years before they had fallen apart. Yet she knew somehow that her "purchase" of Linia had made herself a part of Linia's life for as long as she wanted it, and that gave Misuko an uncomfortable feeling of power that she didn't like.
Yet, she did love Linia. They had started saying "love" early, whereas she and Esther had never managed to use it at all. Loving Linia was easy. Linia made the hard parts of Misuko's daily life easy, and she made doing the wrong things hard. It was Linia who wanted to dress, wanted to cook, wanted to organize. Misuko's mother and father had made sure Misuko had those skills, and in great detail, but she had never enjoyed them. Linia did, which freed Misuko to be the academic she had always wanted to be.
"How is this being paid for?"
"There's a fund for this. Santu directed me to it. It's called the Relic Robot Recovery Fund, and I'm eligible for some major upgrades."
Two weeks? Misuko sighed, even as she made notes in her head to read up on what Linia was going through. "Well, I've survived on ramen and laundry service before. I can do it again."
"Oh, no," Linia said. "If you're going to get that attitude, then I'm going to cook up a freezer full of oven-ready casseroles. You'll have something different every night, plus lunches. I can't make you promise not to go back to breakfast bars for the morning, can I?"
"No," Misuko said, but she smiled as she said it. "You can't."
Misuko hadn't had a clear image of what the building would look like. She'd had imaginings of either a hospital— given that most modern robots had an organic or quasi-organic overlay— or a machine shop— given that they had very solid mechanical cores— or some horrific intersection of both.
If anything, it resembled a spa. The waiting room was done in calming beige and olive, hung with lace drapes, lined with mirrors of smoked and slightly hazed glass. The exits to the back were covered in beaded rope curtains. In the mirrors she saw a gauzy, distant version of herself, the few lines on her face eliminated. The rattle of the beaded curtain attracted her attention. "Miss Ffanci?"
The woman standing there was achingly beautiful, with soft, slightly dusky yellow skin, shocking white hair, and a figure that was carved with painfully mathematical precision to match some Platonic concept of womanhood deep in every human brain. Misuko was attracted to women, and if she was being honest with herself probably more to women than than to men, and this woman made her feel lust and envy all at once. "Yes?" she managed to say.
"Your companion will be with you in a moment. She's just filling out a few—"
A familiar figure zipped out from behind the beaded curtain. It looked like a strangely sexy fairy, barely half a meter tall, and wearing just enough lace to cover her nudity. "Misuko, come quick."
"De Ette? What are you doing here?"
"Just come on. Linia asked me to be here. And she was right. We're going to need your help." De Ette zipped back through the curtain. Misuko ignored the distractingly gorgeous nurse and followed.
Behind the beads it did resemble a hospital corridor, complete with white walls lined with steel gurney guides. "I'm telling you," she heard Linia's voice from down the hall, "That there's nothing wrong with my mind. I want the discharge forms, and I want them now."
"What's going on here?" Misuko said, running into the room where she'd heard the voice. Linia was standing at a table with another man, a tall human wearing a dark suit.
"Misuko!" Linia turned to look at her, a stunning look of anger across across her face. "Doctor Swadjtwai here says that before I can leave, I should have a diagnostic done and some behavioral 'irregularities repaired.'"
"Your companion isn't compliant with modern standards of behavior," the doctor said. "She needs to be convinced that these hardware-based behavioral limitations are for the best. I'm only saying what's in the best interests of both of you."
Misuko looked at Linia. "De Ette?"
The little fairy said, "Santu says there's nothing wrong with her. I've known her for five months, and I've never seen her be anything more than a perfectly human human being."
"That's exactly the point!" Swadjtwai said. "Her idiosyncrasies have to impinge upon your peace of mind, Miss Ffanci, and that can't be good for her mental stability either." He shook his head. "That will lead to a feedback loop doomed to long-term problems."
"Is this a legal requirement?" Misuko said.
"No," Swadjtwai said after hesitation.
"Are you purposed to either me or Linia?"
"No, of course not. I'm not a robot."
Misuko felt a familiar chill seep into her bones. It was so odd that she felt it that way, when her father, the man who'd taught her how to argue successfully, was so warm and loving. But not in court. "Then I will kindly tell you to keep your opinions separate from the facts. Are the physical upgrades complete?"
"Of course they are."
"Will you certify, in writing, that her mental processes have not been modified by you or any of your personnel since she came in here?"
"Not yet, they haven't. Yes, I'll certify that."
"I am listening," said the planetary AI. Swadjtwai seemed startled. Very few people had ever heard the planetary AI speak.
Misuko had learned when he could be provoked. She grinned. "Good. Doctor Swadjtwai, I like Linia exactly the way she is. She is an individual, and as she's fond of telling me, she has just as much free will as anyone else. You will see to it that she is discharged immediately."
"Yes, yes." The requisite forms came up on the screen, and Linia punched her way through them.
"We are done here," De Ette said.
"Let's go," Misuko said.
Outside, a cab was waiting for them. Linia got in first, then Misuko. De Ette sat in the back. Misuko leaned forward and put her head on the dash. "God," she groaned. "I hate doing that."
"What was that?" Linia said. "That was amazing! I've never seen you do anything like that."
"Yes, you have. When I negotiated for you," Misuko said, not lifting her head up from the sun-warmed plastic. "Remember?"
"This was different. This time you were fierce!"
"I suppose," Misuko said. She straightened up. "My father is a country lawyer. He has this mode he goes into, when he has to drive home a point with authority. I've watched him do it many, many times. He liked to say, 'When it's a question of right and wrong and right is on your side, pound the rightness into them.'" She laughed. "He's a great man. I wish you could meet him someday."
"I wish I could too."
Misuko lifted her head up, turned and looked. She had been so furious with that "doctor" to even look closely, but now she got the eyeful she wanted. Linia looked unchanged: beautiful, pale skin, brown flowing hair that shimmered over her shoulders, down her beautifully full breasts. Her eyes went back to those wide eyes and small mouth. That mouth. Her blood beat in her ears. "Misu..." Misuko's kiss cut her off completely, and the two of them fell across the front seat of the cab, Misuko on top, kissing Linia as if she had been starving, dying without Linia's kisses.
Linia's surprise didn't last long, and she enveloped Misuko in her arms and returned the kiss with as much passion as Misuko was feeling. Misuko loved kissing more than almost any other sexual activity, and could survived on nothing but kisses if that was all her relationship with Linia had supplied. But for two weeks she had had nothing at all. She had a lot of catching up to do.
"Oh, Linia, honey, I missed you," she said when she finally needed a gasp of air.
"Master... Misuko... I didn't want it to be like this. I didn't expect you to come to the clinic."
"I'm glad I did. De Ette could have gotten you out of there, but... I'm glad I was there too."
"I'm glad you were there too, too," De Ette said, and she snorted. "Arrogant bastard. What is it with people who want to program other people into some kind of 'compliance'? Do they do that to ordinary human beings? No. Well, not often. Just to people like Linia and me."
"You?" Misuko said to De Ette.
"Misuko, do you think I look like a proper human companion?"
"I have no idea. I'm from Abi, remember? What do I know about robots?"
"More than that jerk," De Ette said, gesturing with a thumb out the rear window. "But I'm not. I'm idiosyncratic, too. I like this crazy body." She gestured her hands down its sides in ways that made Misuko's heart flutter. De Ette's manifestation was thin and for all its femininity slightly boyish, not to Misuko's taste at all, but Misuko liked De Ette, and gestures like that didn't help calm Misuko's mind. "I have ever since my first companion bought it for me as a gift, and then disowned me years later." De Ette grimaced. "I like what I've become. I fought hard for everything."
"Especially your sanity," Linia said, sitting up.
De Ette looked up and gave her best winsome fairy smile. "Sometimes I have to say, 'I just believe.'"
"Just believe," Linia said softly.
They reached the townhouse Misuko and Linia rented together. The cab trundled off by itself. De Ette said, "I have my own things to do tonight. Will you two be okay together?"
"I think so," Linia said.
"Thank you, De Ette," Misuko said. "For everything."
"My pleasure." She flitted away.
Back inside their home, Misuko turned to Linia and took her into her arms. "I missed you so much. Are you sure they didn't do anything to your head?"
"Yes. De Ette ran checks on my locks and hashes while we were in the cab, and she says all the numbers match up. The only drift is purely experiential, and there's not much of that." She grinned. "Want to see what this body can do?"
"How... how much is new?"
"A lot," Linia said. "But nothing you'll notice. I'll notice things, though."
"Like, when you touch me?" Linia took Misuko's hand and put it to her breast. "When you do that, I feel it now. There's a metadata layer that's so much more accurate than it used to be. It used to be, my body collected info, and then the metadata layer would transcribe that into meaningful society-of-mind agents, and then they would decide what it meant. Now the sensations go straight into an agency generator. I feel things, now, Misuko, much more than I used to. I taste things. The mental machinery is still the same, but that logging layer is meaningless now, useless. I'm still getting used to it, but it's so neat to really feel."
"Are you sure that doesn't mess with your mind?" Misuko said.
"No, the axiomatic processor and its rules cache are unchanged." She touched the top of Misuko's head. "Just like you're still you when you read a book or watch a movie or eat a meal or make love to me until I can't breathe. I'm still me."
Misuko grinned. "Let's try out that last one, then." She grabbed Linia's hand and led them both to the bedroom. "Ready?"
"Yes!" Linia grinned. They fell to the bed, her lips on Misuko's, and Misuko's ferocity surged through her and they rolled over until Misuko was on top, kissing Linia as if they could merge with kisses alone. Misuko sometimes thought she could survive of Linia's kisses, just thinking about Linia's lips sustained her through boring classes and moments of thesis-induced ennui and despair.
"We have to get out of these clothes," Linia whispered.
Misuko pushed herself up and knelt above her thighs, tore her dress off over the top of her head. Linia's fingers stroked Misuko's thighs. Misuko shivered. "God, honey, what you do to me is crazy."
"I want to drive you crazy," Linia said. "I want to hear you cry out my name." She shifted just slightly in a perfect application of leverage and mass and caused Misuko to lose her balance. She toppled over and fell to the bed. Linia took the opportunity to trade places with her, taking off her green chemise and throwing it into the pile of clothes collecting by the bed. "We should put a laundry basket where we can aim."
"You always says that but you never do it," Misuko said. "Come here."
Linia lay on top of Misuko, her breasts mashed up to Misuko's chest. She kissed Misuko so sweetly Misuko thought it was impossible for her to get any wetter. Linia kissed her cheeks, her chin, her mouth again and again, while Misuko's body warmed with desire. Linia's mouth trailed down her neck, across her collar and down to one nipple.
The soft lightning of pleasure that Linia could jolt through her body, seemingly on demand, was there, always. Misuko's analytic mind was still trying to see if there was anything different about this Linia, but she couldn't find any differences. She understood, in one respect, that the chemical makeup of Linia's skin was now significantly different, that it had gone from a quasi-organic shell supported by chemical and mechanical processes to a fully organic one. But she smelled the same. She sounded the same. Even her talents were the same as two slim fingers found their way into Misuko's cunt and pressed at places Misuko herself could never find. She moaned out Linia's name.
"That hasn't changed," Linia sighed as her mouth reached the same place as her fingers. Misuko opened her legs to give communion, and Linia's mouth settled on her mound, those kissable lips through the thin tangle of Misuko's pubic hair and on Misuko's delicate skin, her tiny, incessant tongue finding Misuko's clit and pressing in. "Yes, lover, yes," Misuko gasped. "More."
"More?" Linia said, her voice slightly muffled.
Linia's hand spread Misuko's labia open further, and her fingers entered deeper into Misuko's hungry cunt. Misuko's opened her legs further. "Linia."
Misuko's body thrust against the bed, trying to get those fingers to do more to her insides, trying to get that mouth to be impossibly good to her. Linia was doing so much, her tongue was everywhere, and Misuko's mind was reeling as she came with howl, long and low, ending with a gasp for air she hadn't even been aware she'd been missing.
"God, Linia, lover, oh...."
"I'm still the same."
"I never doubted..." Misuko felt the dark haze of sleep closing over her. She still resented her weird post-orgasmic pattern of falling asleep. "Love you."
"Love you, too." She felt Linia's lips, still coated with her ecstatic fluids, kiss her jaw. "I'll have dinner ready when you wake up."
"Mmm," Misuko groaned, and sleep took her.