by Peter Jerrim
A scent of lime, a hint of tobacco, a timbre of molasses. Oil of eucalyptus edged with ambergris. Dominated by lime--fresh, green, subtropical. The perfume poured through the chamber.
It was Tuesday.
Lequila yawned. Sunlight shone through the upper casements of the obelisk. She turned in bed and blinked. Huan was breathing in her face. Her eyes rolled back and forth under their lids. Lequila placed a fingertip on Huan's brow, just above her nose, and massaged between the frown lines. Huan relaxed and woke.
With one finger, Lequila pushed back the hair fom Huan's face then stroked her cheek. She drew her thumbnail along Huan's jaw line, slid it up to her bottom lip, tugged it and played with it. She released it and kissed Huan on the forehead. 'Bad dreams?'
Huan cleared her throat and raised her eyebrows in a half-smile. 'Uh-hm.'
'Digesting yesterday? Level 17 was quite an experience.'
'Wait a minute.' Huan slipped out of bed and went to the toilet. When she returned she lay on her back, pulled the doona up to her chin and breathed deeply. 'Except it wasn't yesterday,' she continued.
'But yesterday we worked in the fungifarm, until the slorm...'
Huan interrupted, 'Think. What were the smells of yesterday, before they were overpowered in the fungifarm?'
'Oh, God,' said Lequila. 'Friday smells... Cologne, violets, musk, Rosa centifolia. That means... Three days have passed. Where have we been?'
'READ THE BULLETIN,' said Huan with the edge in her voice that demanded a speak-easy response.
A baritone purred through the chamber. 'The bull for Tuesday. It's a lover-ly day outside and...'
'Give us the full version, please, Henry.'
'Pardon me, Ms Huan. I'll start again. The Flame Academy bulletin for 0700 hours local time, Tuesday 6 January 3198 Common Era, Standard Day 2889106. Distance from home planet 49·13 parsecs oriented towards SuperVirgo reference point zero. Your local community has determined that the weather today will be fine and mild with a minimum of 15 degrees rising to a maximum of 25 at 1400 hours. Zephyrs of 4 &endash; 5 knots will flow in a north-easterly vortex under 12% random cloud cover. Light precipitation at 1137 hours. Heavy rain at midnight. Here is the news.'
'Just local news, thanks,' said Lequila as she put her arm around Huan's shoulders. Huan snuggled against Lequila's breast, gave a tiny smile, then frowned.
'The explosion that marred New Year's Eve celebrations for Zyklus residents has been traced to the glassworks deep under section 50. Security personnel are checking leads from the public suggesting that a human fabrication plant in the area had been attacked by nats. The investigation is hampered by loss of intelligence due to a series of data blackouts that coincided with 31 December's ritual visual blackouts.'
'Next, please,' said Lequila. She squeezed Huan. 'If only...'
'Nats are also being held responsible for the disappearance, three days ago, of ten soldiers on patrol with Commander Flame in Sleeve Sector 17. But in a statement issued this morning, the principal of the Flame Academy denies the presence of nats or glits on the expedition.'
Marta's recorded voice came on. 'The Citizen's Committee asked me to investigate possible abuses by Mance doctors in experimental areas. The restricted sector contains new facilities that are vital for the long term survival of the Sleeve. It would be out of the question for me to prejudice the operation by involving nats or glits.'
Huan ran her fingers down Lequila's thigh. 'I suppose we'd better get up. We still don't know where the last few days have gone to.'
'Though I feel stiff and sore,' said Lequila. 'And used, and sort of dirty...'
'And now for some messages from our sponser,' continued the speak-easy. 'All nats are to report at 0900 hours to the principal's colloquium. Unauthorised glits are warned to stay away. The beverage of the day is cornapple slam, available at the giveaway price of point zero two credits from the academy canteen. Here is an announcement. If you are the person who virtualled my pet computertron Nightjay 5...'
'OK, Henry,' said Huan. 'That's enough. I think we need a glower.' She slipped out of bed and pulled Lequila by the hand towards the personal hygiene area. Not that bathing was strictly necessary. The nanobots that ceaselessly cruised their skin and cavities kept them cleaner than any detergent could--without altering the bacterial balance needed for a healthy epidermis. The morning routine was more for pleasure than anything else. And bonding. A good way to start the day.
In the glower Huan preferred light music with a stimulating beat but Lequila couldn't shut up about the music she had heard the glit play when they were tussling in the Cube. She raved about weird shapes that rotated in her head. Each note an individual sensation in itself. 'This stuff was composed by Hirota just as they started building the cylinders in Earth orbit a thousand years ago,' she said. 'I'd never heard of it before. Listen, I'll ask Henry to play some.'
'I'm sorry, Ms Lequila,' Henry purred through the hiss of the glower, 'but that's classified material.'
'Classified?' shouted Lequila, as she bent over and parted her buttocks for Huan to sponge her bottom. 'Who's ever heard of classical music being classified?'
'I'm sorry, Ms Lequila. Would you prefer some Johann Sebastian Bach from approximately the same period? Or Bing Crosby? Or Lead Zeppelin?'
Lequila grabbed the sponge and threw it against the wall. 'Play me something quiet for a change!'
During the next three minutes there was perfect silence. Lequila could not even hear the slight tinnitus that had remained in her left ear after her experience in the pipe organ. The glower sprayed a soft mist of noiseless light.
Huan smiled at Lequila, then solemnly bowed and emphatically mouthed Jay...Ess...Bar... Lequila spun round and curtsied, holding between her fingers and thumbs the imaginary folds of a gown. The glower glowed brighter as the girls danced a sarabande through rainbows and slowly falling stars.
Their mood was shattered at 0900 hours.
As Marta strode the stage of the colloquium she blasted the students who stood before her clothed in stretchies and martial arts gear.
'And if I ever have to remind you again, then it will be the last time you'll step foot in this academy. The unauthorised use of anaesthetics is absolutely VERBOTEN!'
Two tall, blond males with identical blushing faces stood to rigid attention.
'Fortunately the subjects of this outrage are unharmed and have joined us this morning. The perpetrators will now APOLOGISE.'
Huan nudged Lequila and stood on tiptoes to whisper in her ear. 'van Dim and van Dum. Now what have they been up to?'
The blondies turned hard left and marched hup-two-three out of the ranks and along the side of the colloqium till they came to Lequila and Huan.
'Woops,' said Huan. 'It must be us they have violated. I assume that's what they've done. What a pity they anaesthetised us first.'
As nearby students stood aside, the two hunks wheeled to attention before Lequila and Huan. Their blue eyes stared straight ahead. Lequila looked up between van Dim's bulging pecs at the profile of his chiselled chin. They're each so perfect, she thought. Like androids in old feelies, before they were banned.
Lequila remembered way back a century ago grossing over an antique feelie, the kind that allowed full body contact. She had been on mid-year vacation at their Sky Haven ranch, in an old sector that had since been dissolved. After breakfast her father had gone to his studio to work on an alchemical painting of the periodic table which had been ordered by an Outlander merchant for his new mansion in Zyklus. It was her father's first non-virtual commission for years. He would be lost for hours particle-spraying the ten metre square of platinum with a coating of jewels, symbols and signs.
Everyone else on the ranch was away for the day and Lequila was bored and twitchy as a teenageer on heat. As soon as her father was safely absorbed in his work, Lequila slipped down to his basement room, closed the door, switched on the feelie, slipped into her father's voot suit and thought, PLAY.
After an hour's windsurfing on a variety of ocean planets and hunting dinosaurs on Jurassic Earth, Lequila had gone to the Kombat Zone and picked out a male android to wrestle with. She wanted to test the skills she had recently acquired at the Flame Academy. 'Machine-flesh! VERBOTEN!' Marta had said when Lequila asked one day about using the academy's feelie archives for such a purpose. Now, here she was in her father's study, alone and ready to fight.
The droid she picked was her height and weight, with a skill level a few notches higher than hers. She switched off his speech function but allowed him maximum energy level. The location was a standard wrestling ring in a darkened auditorium. There was no referee. Overhead lights glinted on the droid's slicked-down crew cut and glistening neck. He stood for a while, considering her, smiling. He didn't seem to want to do anything. So Lequila attacked. In three moves she had the droid pinned to the floor, her legs straddling his chest, his arms locked behind his back. The droid kept smiling. He stared at her with his laserlite eyes and laughed when she started counting under her breath. Then he rolled back his head until his forehead touched the canvas, drew back his feet and arched into a classic wrestler's bridge. Lequila was lifted with him, his arms were free and she was catapulted across the ring.
The droid ran at her.
She held him off for some time tossing him this way and that. Each time he crashed on his back to the canvas, breaking his fall with his feet, then jumped up, still smiling. And came back for more. Playing with her.
Lequila was tiring. The droid got serious. He feinted left, then right, dived between her legs, stood behind her, got her in a hold she hadn't experienced before--a sort of one handed half-nelson--and dragged her to her knees, changed his grip, forced her down. He held her with one hand and with the other tapped the canvas, waiting.
Shit, she thought, He wants to tell me something and I've turned off his speech. What do I do now?
They remained like this for a full minute. Lequila had forgotten it was just an interactive feelie. Her legs were aching, her neck was ricked, her face pressed into the floor. The droid's breath was hot on her neck. His free hand began to wander. He massaged her right breast, twirled a finger round the nipple and tugged it. She felt his erection against her buttocks. She started to cry.
The memory faded.
And there were van Dim and van Dum standing before her. Huan was saying something.
'If you've done to us what I think you have, then an apology is not enough.'
Marta had joined the group and the rest of the students stood in a ring around them.
'The medical evidence has been removed from your bodies,' she said, 'and the memories repressed...'
'But it's the facts that matter,' said Lequila. 'Is it a fact that you two had intimate relations with us when you found us coming out of Sector 17?'
The twins breathed heavily in unison. They each blushed suddenly from head to toe. The embarrassment surged over them then receded, leaving their faces pale beneath their tans.
Lequila continued. 'And is it a fact that you doped us--anaesthetised us--before doing so?'
The twins struggled to say one word between them. 'Yes.'
'So you could do your male thing without our having any say in it...'
'Any sen-say-tion...' interrupted Huan.
'That's enough,' said Marta. 'The girls may choose. An apology or a fight.'
Huan and Lequila ran their eyes over the hulks standing in front of them, then winked at each other and nodded.
'A fight,' they said.
Martha smiled grimly at the brothers. 'Then may God have mercy on your souls.'
'And bodies,' said Huan.
'The girls have chosen to fight,' said Marta. 'The boys can choose the venue.'
Without hesitation van Dim and van Dum said together, 'The Cube.'
Combat-ready the two girls sprinted through the slave market. Their feet slapped and slid on the frosty cobbles on which a dozen armed men lay sleeping. There were twenty seconds left for each of the girls to choose a partner. Huan and Lequila had agreed to a fight with four on each side--two males and two females. On entering the Cube the first act of each person was to choose a partner. van Dim and van Dum had gone to the harem to choose their girls. Lequila and Huan had chosen the slave market in which to find a boy for each of them.
'Heave ho, me hearty,' said Lequila as she grabbed the hand of a huge man dressed in pirate costume. He opened his eyes as if coming out of an anaesthetic, twitched for a few moments, then leapt to life, slapped his new mistress hi-five and checked his ammo belt.
'Come on, tiger,' said Huan as she prodded a young giant to his feet. 'Though I hope you're not too big to go where I want you to.' Huan eyeballed the giant's navel and ran her fingers over the striped skin of his thighs. It was hard to imagine that he was pseudo and not a freak of genetic engineering--strips of asian skin like hers alternated with darkest negroid, almost pure black. She had only seen it once before, on an Outlander brat who was conceived during a spore storm. But this slave was no Outlander stripling but a tower of muscular confidence with a brain that might be pseudo but would know every detail of what the Cube could present to them today.
Then they were running out of the slave market and down the tree-lined boulevard that led from the downtown slums to the business and cultural precinct. The van brothers and their female partners would also be hurrying there from the other side of the city.
'Why are you running?' asked the giant, as he loped beside Huan.
'First in, best dressed,' said Huan. 'The Grand Old Opry is the scene of my greatest triumph.' Huan recalled her first decade at the Flame Academy when she had concentrated on vocal accomplishment. It was a time of mostly music when she had developed her voice to the extent that she could karaoke along with most of the old hyperoperas from the 21st to the 24th century. She had even attempted ancient stuff like Mozart and Birtwhistle but that was dull for a girl whose main aim was to develop her voice as a weapon. Huan had always been proud of her parents for designing her to be small. It had advantages in a world where, compared with archaic humans, most people were tall, or very tall. The advantage of surprise, for instance, when they expected you to run away from a fight and you kung fu'd them instead. Or you sang so loud their teeth nearly fell out with the vibration. It was funny. It was in the old opera house that Huan had first done this to a glit. With disastrous consquences.
A hand the size of a baseball mit touched her shoulder and the giant said, 'There's no need to run. The opera house isn't here today. Not in this version of the city.'
Lequila and the pirate had caught up to them. 'What do you mean?' Lequila said.
'I just know the opera house isn't here,' said the giant. 'There's no use looking for it. It's been temporarily removed for archival purposes.'
'For someone who's only a day old, you know a lot,' said Lequila. 'What's your name?'
'I don't think they gave me one.'
'Then I'll call you Damon,' said Huan as she wrapped her fist around his index finger and squeezed. 'That's close to Day One and Demon.'
'Alright, Damon,' said Lequila, 'tell me where we're to meet the twins then, if the opera house has gone.'
'What about the forest?' said the pirate, who had caught up to them. 'I'm sorry,' he panted, 'I'm good for fighting, but I never get a chance to run on my little frigate. The deck, you know, it's not very long...'
'What about the forest?' said Lequila. 'And what will we call you? Roger, I suppose.'
'That's a jolly good idea,' said Huan.
The giant plucked Huan from Lequila's reach and strode to their right towards an avenue that formed a T junction with the boulevard. The pirate followed. 'Roger...' he said, 'I like that.'
'I take it the forest's this way,' sighed Lequila, and followed.
Back to the chapters