Honest Impulses 22: High Speeds

Anar, Yavar 08, 03262

Shandy sat on the couch of her new apartment, looking around at the small space with its oddly purple walls and the suspiciously tough-looking carpet. Linia sat next to her, hip bumping hip in a way that still made Shandy’s heart pound a little louder. “How are you feeling?” Linia said.

“‘Tis somewhat I no wanted or expected, but I can no complain.” She looked at the plaque on the faded, low table and smiled. On it was written a short word of thanks for Shandy’s quick action, action that had saved much of the campus from ruin, and quite possibly saved a few lives in the process. That it had come with a reward of exactly one heavy industrial unit had astonished Shandy even more. “I’ve no thought to what to do with the money. ‘Tis more than five years of pay for a driver.”

“You could buy that motorcycle you wanted.”

“Aye.” She leaned against Linia, and Linia put an arm around her shoulders. “Or a horse. But that I could no take home.”

Linia nodded. “Or a new suit.”

“No need to there. ‘Twas a note from my patron, I can get what I need to fix the suit.”

“But I thought it was crushed?” Linia said.

“‘Tis only the legs. And no too bad, either. I can repair it. Seven weeks ‘til class resumes, and I think I’ll have no more problems with the new teacher.”

Linia laughed. “I believe you’re right about that.”

Shandy, Sennis, Pierre, and Chiisau had all been both astonished and delighted when their class had been reassembled and Trianna had walked in to announce she was their new driving teacher. Shandy had asked how it was even possible. Trianna had said she’d come to Hiroshi to renew a low-tech engineering certification, but she was fully qualified to teach driving. With two weeks left in the quarter, plus finals, plus the long break, Shandy had time to spare.

Shandy had been just as relieved that her three friends had circled around her as their new heroine, and Cal had voluntarily taken himself to the other side of the half-round classroom. Shandy wished him no ill-will, except perhaps in the form of a woman who’d teach him a thing or two about manners in bed. She chuckled. “Hmm?” Linia said.

“‘Tis been but five days since you kissed me,” Shandy said. “And already I’m feeling a wee bit sorry for those who have no someone like you to be so kind the first time.”

Linia nodded, turned and brushed her lips against Shandy’s cheek. “Being kind is my selfishness. It makes me happy.”

“Aye.” Shandy kissed her, and each tilted her head until her mouth interlocked, lips pressed and tongues tasted, and Shandy took a deep breath as she realized just how lucky and how happy she was that Linia was in her life. “I was reading, too,” she said as they parted to gaze into each other’s eyes.

“About?”

“How this works.” Shandy tossed her head gently. “Poly-something?”

“Polyamory?”

“Aye,” Shandy said. “I’m no sure it’s what I would want, but I’m grateful Misuko and you have no fight over it. ‘Twas a phrase back home, ‘friend of the thigh,’ that I never understood before now. Back home ‘twas a bad thing, a sin. The book says ‘friends of the skin,’ which is truer.” She looked up. “I’m sorry you can no stay the night.”

“I will during the winter break.”

“Aye? How?”

“Misuko’s finals are all packed into the first day, and that night she has to get on a starship headed for Stinz. There’s a conference there she wants to attend, and after that she’s headed to llerkin to talk to an AI about getting the actual lift component of Chance Lifter financed. She’ll be back just before class starts again in winter. We’ll have five weeks.”

“Oh,” Shandy said.

“You don’t sound so happy.”

“‘Til be so hard to let you go if you spend five weeks with me!”

“Then let’s talk and plan before she goes. You, me, and her. We’ll have dinner. You and I can cook for her, and we’ll plan.”

Shandy shook her head. “‘Tis the strangest part of my education. I was no ever taught, no ever told, that love was a thing one could plan. ‘Tis still strange and cold in my head, but this, you, are no cold at all. And no is Misuko either.” She placed a hand on Linia’s chest. “Nae cold at all.”

Linia smiled at her. “I still think about the times I didn’t tell you what I was.”

“You have no need to apologize, Linia. You did no hide. You just did no think anyone cared.”

Linia nodded. Shandy said, “Can I make you somewhat?” She stood up, suddenly feeling as if she had to or she’d throw herself on Linia right now and baptize the couch with her desire. She’d woken lonely and warm the morning after, found Linia’s note, and held it to her naked skin and wished for more. She’d spent two more days in the hotel until the disaster liaison had found her a new apartment and delivered boxes with her dorm’s contents to it.

She liked her kitchen most of all. It had a real oven, and she had her own countertop oven if she needed it. She had cabinets, and if she didn’t have all the supplies she needed she soon would. “Whatever you like,” Linia said, watching her with a smile.

Shandy let her hands do most of the effort. She topped Linia’s tea with a dollop of HN-66-2480, which Shandy had research to discover was the most efficient material Linia’s internal reactors needed to maintain her best health and appearance as a woman. She came back with two mugs, one oversized. Linia inhaled deeply. “I’m not sure 2480 and cocoa quite go together. And you put cocoa into a tea?”

“‘Twas a blend I found in town one day when I went shopping for supplies. Smelled too good to no bring home.” She grinned.

“It really is very—” Linia hand froze with the cup halfway to her mouth, her eyes suddenly wide. “Oh, no.”

“What is it?”

“Governor Moor was just found dead.” Her voice hitched on the last word.

“What?” Shandy’s mouth fell open.

Linia put the cup down and touched her head in a gesture. “Suicide, it looks like. Report says there was a note and an order that all backups be destroyed.” Linia swallowed. “It says he took a dive off the balcony of his fifth-floor office. Oh, that poor student him found him!”

Shandy stared. “But we just saw him this morning. He looked exhausted, but no like that. Gazelle was—” She paused. Gazelle had known. Gazelle had seen it coming. She may have even expected it. “Linia! Gazelle! What would Gazelle do now?”

“I don’t know,” Linia said. “Let me… Oh. She’s gone quiet. That’s not a good sign.”

“She’s dead too?” Shandy said, trying not to panic.

“No, not yet. But—”

“Where would she be? Where would she be going?”

“The refactory,” Linia said. “Swadjtwai’s clinic. It’s the only one in the city. If she wanted to end her purpose, that’s the most reliable way to do it.”

Shandy put down her cup and ran to the door. She shoved her feet into her boots and pulled the laces tight. “Come on,” she said. “I do no ken what I can do, but I can no sit and ken that…”

Linia nodded. “Let’s go.”

Shandy loved Linia’s motorcycle almost as much as she loved Linia herself, but this trip she had no time to think about how Linia felt. They roared through the city with an unnatural speed and Shandy marveled that no traffic officer even tried to stop them.

“There she is!” Linia shouted, and Shandy leaned to look around Linia’s shoulder. Gazelle walked toward them, her face smooth, unemotional, intentional, her sharp sunglasses now a mask against the world. She looked as if she were heading to an ordinary meeting and didn’t want to be impeded.

Shandy gripped Linia tightly around the waist as the motorcycle came to a shuddering halt at the limits of its braking system. Shandy hopped off the bike first and pulled her helmet off. It deactivated and Shandy shoved the now limp magcloth kerchief into one of her larger pockets. The two of them ran along the grassy walkway.

“Gazelle!” Linia said. “Don’t!”

“Linia,” she said.

Shandy was trying to catch her breath, but a half-block at a full run, especially after the past few days, was more than she was used to and she felt dizzy. “Shandy, stay with us,” Linia said. Linia wasn’t panting at all.

“What do you want?” Gazelle said calmly.

“Don’t do it. Don’t go to Swatdjtwai’s. You don’t have to.”

Gazelle’s shoulders slumped. “Geroma… is gone. What more is there for me to do?”

“You don’t have to shut down, that’s one thing!”

“But I have no purpose, Linia. A machine without a purpose is a useless thing. I am a useless companion. I failed him, Linia. And I have failed myself.” The words came with that terrible clam that speaks from a heart that has lost all hopes and owns only a few more words. Shandy had never before heard a voice so desperate, so lost, and yet so determined. Even as she had fought to escape the life she’d known in The Landing she hadn’t felt that kind of desperation.

“We can find you a purpose.”

“Linia, please get out of my way.”

“No.”

“I won’t thank you for stopping me.”

“Gazelle, this is stupid!” Linia said. “We can find you a new purpose. Someone who needs you. Better, someone who wants you. Someone you can orient yourself to. I did it. Other robots have done it. You can. You’re not a machine, Gazelle, you’re a person. You have a right to live even when your relationship falls apart.”

“But it was everything to me, Linia. You’re a primitive. Not like me. And could even you survive the end of your beloved?”

Linia looked behind her at Shandy. “I’m learning how. It’s not going to happen. Not today, not anytime soon. Hopefully never. But I’m learning in case the unthinkable ever happens. Because I’m worthwhile even without Steven.”

Shandy heard every word. She’d chided them that afternoon at the stadium for using sub-channels, but Linia and Gazelle were having all of this out in the open. It still wasn’t making sense to her. Or perhaps it was, but it made a terrible, logical kind of sense, one borne of an inevitability in the way humans thought of robots, in the way robots were designed to think of themselves, and the way the entire Corridor culture with its wealth, its power, its dedication to one peculiar idea of freedom, created people who would live the way Saia and Gazelle had lived: manufactured, used, abused, and discarded without safeguard or care. “Gazelle?” Shandy said softly. “Do you no want to live?”

“That question doesn’t make sense, Shandy,” Gazelle said. Her voice shifted. There could be no good outcome if Gazelle completed her intention, but she was still trying to explain, to make the best of it. “I want to serve my Purpose. I don’t have one.”

“Then let it be me,” Shandy said. Shandy held her hand to her mouth as if she couldn’t believe that mouth had spoken those words.

Gazelle took a sharp breath. So did Linia. “Shandy, you don’t have to do that.”

“I do. I can no lie to myself anymore, Linia. I can no be true to what we are and lie. I’m going home no ever. I knew for sure that the second I kissed you.” Tears rose in her eyes. “I lied all the time to myself. I lied that I was just here to learn. I lied that I would go home. I lied that I would settle down and have the sort of family my mother and father wanted me to have.”

She looked up at Gazelle. “You told me that we treat our future selves as strangers. If it lets me save one life, let me treat the one who would go back home like a fool and tell her goodbye. If giving her a chance means I fail to save you, I want her to fail instead.”

“You’ve saved many lives already,” Gazelle said steadily.

“That does no mean I can let one more go. ‘Tis no like God gives me a ledger, Gazelle, and because you saved some lives today you just let one go. Please, Gazelle.” The feelings storming Shandy’s heart overflowed until the tears streamed down her cheeks. Sadness. Responsibility. Hope. She grabbed Gazelle’s jacket, the same black one Gazelle had worn the day she’d saved Shandy from a minor fall, the one Gazelle always wore when she stood near Moor and tried to protect him from a world that had exhausted him. She held onto it and her knees buckled and willed that Gazelle hear her. “Please.”

“I’ll be second hand,” Gazelle said.

“D’you think I care about that?” Shandy said, letting one hand flail behind her to indicate Linia. She looked up the length of Gazelle’s body, up to her glasses. “I can no let you go yet, Gazelle. ‘Twould no be fair, ‘twould no ever be fair.” She put her head against Gazelle’s chest. “Please.”

Shandy felt Gazelle shift, and then arms surrounded her, held her. Gazelle’s arms. Strong arms. “Yes,” Gazelle said.

It didn’t feel at all as Shandy had expected. It was good, Gazelle’s body against her own, but there was no huge flow of love, no immediate endorsement from the universe that she had done the right thing, made the right choice. There was only relief. They both had a chance now. Just a chance. Shandy felt Gazelle shift again, heard the taller woman’s voice, cracked and unsure. “How?”

“I don’t know,” Linia said. “But I’ll do my best to show you. How am I going to explain this to Misuko?”

“I can’t be you,” Gazelle said.

“I don’t want you to be Linia,” Shandy said, a strange giggle arising in her throat. “I already love her.”

“Then… why?”

“I told you why.” Shandy reached up and touched Gazelle’s cheek. “I can only say how Linia taught me to say it. I yearn to be worthy of you, Gazelle. I want you to learn how to be yourself.” She wiped tears away from her eyes. “And maybe we can learn to love each other.”

“It’s true,” Linia said. “Shandy will make you what you’re going to be, Gazelle. I’ve only known her a little while but I think you’ll do okay with her.” She grinned. “It’s not so bad, being purposed to a college student.”

Shandy didn’t want to let go, and Gazelle held onto her, and the two of them stood silently on the grassy walkway. It felt calm and safe within Gazelle’s embrace. Linia said, “Um, we’re attracting attention. If we’re not going to go see Doctor Head-Up-His-Twai, we should think about going somewhere to talk about this.”

“If I let you go,” Gazelle said, her voice so soft Shandy couldn’t believe it came from the same woman she’d met before, “will you change your mind?”

“Nae,” Shandy said

“No,” Linia said. “If Shandy has one quality, it’s that she keeps her word.”

“I just no want to let you go,” Shandy said. “You were too close to going. And I do no ken how long it’s been since someone hugged you.”

“Too long,” Gazelle said. “One, two…” They separated, but Shandy knew Gazelle had been as reluctant as she had been to stand apart.

“Can I make one request?” Shandy said.

“You can make any you like.”

“Can I see your eyes?”

Gazelle smiled and gave a tiny nod. She pulled off the glasses, looked at them carefully, then tossed them in a perfect arc to land in a public dustbin. Shandy took one of Gazelle’s hands, then looked up at Linia. “You really don’t like him, do you?” she said, pointing down the street.

“Swadjtwai? No, not at all. He’d probably try to talk you into giving up on this repurposing, Shandy, and letting Gazelle finish. It fits his prejudices. Swadjtwai has opinions about second-handers. He really doesn’t like them. He doesn’t like me, especially.” She rolled her eyes. “Come on, you two. I’ve called a cab. Take it to my place. Gazelle, you and I need to talk, and Shandy, you and Misuko too. I guess we’re all going to have that dinner earlier than I expected.”

Once upon a time, Shandy would have braved the stars themselves to have dinner with Misuko Ffanci. Now, she just looked forward to it. It wasn’t going to be feed her awe of of Misuko and her achievements. It would be hard work, listening and learning. She tightened her grip on Gazelle’s hand, and the other woman squeezed. Gazelle’s fingers were long and noticeably warm even in Hiroshi’s blaze. “We’ll meet you there, Linia.”