017 – Liaison

Zee disentangled herself from the bodies piled on a rug near the foot of the bed. In the darkened room she searched blindly for her clothes, trying to avoid stepping on anyone. She bumped into a chair, scraping one of its legs against the floor and stubbing her toe, but no one woke. Baker sprawled naked on the bed and snored loudly, and the male and female Analogs asleep on the floor didn’t stir. By the glowing light of her tab, she found her bag and clothes crumpled in a corner. She quietly slipped on her skirt and shirt.

She headed for the door as quietly as she could, but heard someone stir behind her. Zee winced and froze. “Where are you going?” asked a low, feminine voice. Cyntha had woken. Her blue hair and pale skin glimmered in the light of the tab. She rubbed her eyes. “The captain wishes for us to be here when he wakes up.”

“I doubt he’ll miss me,” said Zee under her breath. Cyntha tilted her head. Zee shook her head. “My boss called,” she said, barely wincing at the lie.

“Oh, that’s right,” said Cyntha, resuming her curled up position on the floor between two nude bodies. “I forgot you aren’t an attendant.”

“Go back to sleep,” Zee said.

Cyntha lowered her head and closed her eyes, and Zee cracked open the door and slipped into the hall. The lights had been dimmed. Clear portholes in the floor, darkened without the Earth-reflected sunlight, revealed glimpses of a nighttime Earth when Zee walked over them. She didn’t pause to admire the sparkling cities or streams of glowing transportation or the deep darkness of the Wilds, but hurried quickly down the hall.

She passed few other people. Helioset’s mining operations remained active at night, crews of miners and their related services working near the poles of the great sphere, but except for a few workaholics the business sector slept near the equator. After consulting her GPS, Zee took a tram to the contractors’ quarters on level seven. A few minutes and a short walk later, she had arrived in front of the guest apartments for the Standard Maintenance crew.

Unlocking the door with a swipe of her badge, Zee slipped inside. Their shared living and eating common room radiated out to their tiny, but private rooms and bathrooms. Zee looked up as she entered and blinked. Rice sat on the couch in the dim light. She wore dark pants and a gray tank top, and she stared directly at Zee.

“Good morning,” said Rice.

“Umm,” said Zee. “What are you doing up?”

Rice shrugged. “I was curious,” she said.

Zee looked away, feeling the heat rise to her face. She dropped her bag and moved to a glass cupboard. She pulled out a mug and a glass bottle of golden liquid. She filled the mug with the liquid and took a gulp of it. It burned her throat, but she took another gulp. Fortified, she turned to find Rice continued to stare at her, eyebrows raised, a smile quirking her lips.

“You are very interesting for an Analog,” she said.

“I am going to drink this,” said Zee. “It won’t take long. And then I’m going take a shower. What do you want?”

“Ben was worried. I told him you were in a meeting,” Rice said, looking down at her hands in her lap. “What did you have to do to get him out of trouble?”

Zee walked to stand in front of her, taking another huge gulp from her mug. “I didn’t think you were as much of an idiot as he was,” she said. She hiked up her skirt and straddled Rice in a quick, smooth movement. Rice’s eyes widened.

“That isn’t really what you want to know, is it?” Zee asked, sliding one hand along Rice’s neck. She leaned close and whispered in her ear, her black hair falling in Rice’s face. “You don’t really want me to tell you the nasty details, do you?” Zee reached up and unbuttoned one button on her blouse with trembling fingers. “I can,” she said, her voice sibilant. She unbuttoned another, “If you”, and another, “want.”

Rice stared at her a moment, eyes wide with surprise. Then she winced and gently took the mug from Zee’s hand. Zee looked away from the expression in her eyes. Rice reached up and caressed the side of Zee’s face with tender fingers.

“Stop it,” Zee said. “What are you doing?”

“I wanted to know what your skin felt like,” Rice said, her voice a whisper. “It feels like skin.”

“I’m a Model Seven,” said Zee, her voice dull. “I have a body made of biological materials and even biological elements in my brain. Top of the line.” Rice’s gentle fingers traced Zee’s clavicle and then lightly down between her breasts. “Stop it,” said Zee.

“You’re the one who sat on me,” said Rice, pulling her hand away.

“I mean stop being nice. Stop looking at me like that,” said Zee. “Just take what you want.”

Rice raised an eyebrow. “Why?” she asked. “Would that make you feel better?”

“Why does it matter how it makes me feel?” Zee asked. She shook her head and sighed, turning her face away. “I was wrong. You’re both idiots.”

Rice touched her chin and turned it back, but Zee didn’t meet her eyes. “Look at me,” Rice said. Zee obeyed, lifting her gaze slowly. “Would it make you feel better?”

Zee clenched her teeth, holding in the sob that wanted to rip through her throat. She breathed and composed herself enough to answer the question. “I just want to forget.”

Rice looked away, pain in her eyes. “I can’t help you with that,” she said, her voice rough.

Zee nodded quickly. “I know. Can I just—” she wiped her eyes, “sit here for a minute?”

“Yeah,” said Rice. Zee leaned forward and pressed her wet face against Rice’s shoulder.

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