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CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: NEW HORIZONS

About a century and a quarter ago, there was a remarkable effort by a group of aggressively political females and their male submissives to force boys and young men to behave as if they were girls and young women.

Despite the futility of this experiment (not to mentionits utter, self-evident stupidity), it continues to this day in East America, the precipitously declining birth rate of which seems to indicate that not all is well in the Kingdomof the Feminized.

The Diaries of Rosalie Frazier Ngu

The Chechen scientists and their guests from Mars and Pallas were on their way down one of the underground legs of the network of tunnels they called the “Spider” to see the System-famous Roger B. Culver Optical Telescope, when they first began to hear the screaming. It seemed to be several voices all at once, coming from the tunnel just ahead.

Llyra quickly found the compact ten millimeter pistol she’d used to good effect on Ceres. Unlike her grandmother Julie, she hadn’t noticed that their hosts, Saladin and Ali, didn’t seem particularly alarmed by the noise, although the larger of the pair of scientists appeared to wrinkle his enormous nose with something akin to disgust or embarrassment. She put her weapon away, hoping it hadn’t been noticed.

Like Llyra, Jasmeen had reached for her own personal weapon when she first heard the screaming, but had managed to stop short, just before the pistol cleared the discreet concealment of her clothing.

Suddenly, for a just a moment, it was completely quiet in the Spider. For the first time Llyra consciously noticed that large, colorful 3DTV displays lined all of the passageways they had been travelling through, offering real-time views of various places on Earth, on Mars, even on Pallas. Llyra thought she caught a glimpse of Lake Selous, from the east shore opposite Ngu House. Some simply showed what the surface cameras were seeing here at Larsen Farside. Life down here, she realized, would probably be intolerable without them.

It certainly would be for her, she thought.

Meanwhile, at something like a steady four or five miles an hour, the slidewalk had soon brought them to the source of the disturbance. A large, noisy group of young people—Llyra guessed that they were all in their early twenties; most of them were boys, of course; and they were graduate students, almost certainly—seemed to be engaged in an unusually silly sport, even for a group of young male graduate students.

In each of the parallel slidewalks, their rubber-covered lefthand rails no more than six inches apart, starting about a hundred feet away from one another, the boys had placed what looked like ordinary plastic sawhorses with pillows fastened around the centers of their horizontal spans. As Llyra and the others watched, a boy leaped onto each of these contrivances. Somebody standing on the nonmoving floor beside the slidewalk handed him a long pole, apparently made from the same plastic tubing that contained the wire bundles on the ceiling overhead.

Each of the boys had a bright yellow construction-worker’s hardhat with its transparent plastic face shield pulled down. Each wore what amounted to the uniform of graduate students in the physical sciences: bluejeans, synthetic running shoes, and a plaid, short-sleeved shirt. Each wore as well, fastened around his left upper arm, a colorful silky scarf that would have looked more at home draped around woman’s neck.

The two dozen onlookers began to holler and whoop, cheering their respective champions onward. As the pillow-saddled sawhorses and their valiant young passengers approached each other at an aggregate speed of eight or ten miles per hour, the boys lowered their plastic tubes (they were using them as lances, Llyra suddenly realized, the ends of which were amply padded) aiming at the unprotected torsos of their opponents.

Well before the two sawhorses could draw even with one another, there came a thump, a crash! and one of the boys was knocked off his sawhorse, onto the handrail, then onto the segmented surface of the slidewalk, to the utter and noisy delight of onlookers on both sides—some of whom were girls. The vanquished knight leaped quickly to his feet, grabbed his trusty “steed” before it was driven off the end of the slidewalk, and shouted, “Okay, then, the best five out of seven!”

Several of the audience booed him, although most of them laughed and clapped him on the back. The victorious sawhorseman dismounted from his charger when he was only a few feet from the visitors and their guides. He gave the two scientists a sheepish look—”Doctor Khalidov, Doctor Uzhakhov, welcome back!”—then, just before he collided with them, hopped over the rail, onto non-moving concrete, taking his well-padded sawhorse and his lance with him. He then jogged back to the terminus to join his excited friends, perhaps for another match.

“Is Society for Creative Anachronism,” Jasmeen’s uncle Saladin pronounced disgustedly, seeming to believe it was an explanation. “We try our best not to bring it here with us from Purdue, to suppress it when we find we have failed, but when subjected to scrutiny or other kinds of pressure, it breaks itself into independent cells and goes underground.”

“Is very much like slime-mold,” Ali suggested, “only a lot noisier.”

******

Around the circumference of Esmerelda‘s common deck, where dinner had just been prepared and eaten, at least half a dozen open oval hatches stood in the floor, tight against the outer wall, with guard rails made of titanium pipe wrapped around them. They led down and aftward.

Aboard Wilson’s little vessel, Mighty Mouse’s Girlfriend, if she’d had hatches like these, they’d have opened directly into the engineering spaces. Here, he gathered, they led first to family and crew quarters, then probably to the cargo bays, and only then to the engines.

It was almost dark by now on the common deck, and the children had all been taken below. One by one the adults had begun drifting away, as well, either to bed, to their duty shifts, or to some appointment Moonside. Keeping a big ship like this in good working order, even when she was lying in port, was a full time job for many hands. Only the three family musicians—Amorie’s grandfather and her uncles—remained. To Wilson’s delight, they played a faster waltz now, that went:

          Oh, this is the place where the rock hunters gather,
          With magnetized boots and their suits battened down.
          All sizes and figgers, their hands on the triggers,
          They congregates here on the rock huntin’ ground.

He’d especially liked the lyric, “Some are mindin’ their consoles while others are yarnin’. There’s some standin’ up an’ some more lyin’ down … ” The verse reminded him of some of the people he’d met among the Ceres terraformation crew, who believed that only a truly lazy man could get the job done right, with the proper amount of labor-saving efficiency.

Amorie’s relatives had also played and sung, “I’s the Bye that Cons the Ship” and another with many verses about a legendary fistfight at a famous party called, remarkably enough, “Lafcadio’s Soiree”. It was all tremendous fun. Just now they were rendering a low, sweet ballad about a dying young asteroid hunter, apparently, called “Port Saint Mary’s”.

Wilson had never heard any of this music before, and wondered where it came from—although it did remind him of some of the stuff he’d heard issuing from inside the slatted swinging doors of Brody’s Saloon back home in Curringer. As a boy, he’d never been permitted inside, although he’d argued with his mother that it ought to be considered educational, since so much history had been made in the place.

The accent this music was being sung in had to be some kind of Gaelic, Wilson knew, but it wasn’t Scottish, he was fairly certain, and it wasn’t exactly Irish, either. He didn’t know what Welsh or Cornish sounded like, or even Breton, but made a mental note to feed some of the lyrics he’d heard into a search engine when he had a chance.

At last Amorie arose. He’d waited for her to do it for what had seemed like a century. She took Wilson by the hand, and pulled him up, out of his chair, and away from the table. Suddenly, remembering why he was here—or at least why he hoped he was here—his heart began pounding so hard he was surprised that she couldn’t hear it, surprised that it didn’t simply smash its way through his ribcage and out of his chest.

He couldn’t think straight like this, not when he was so nervous. His blood felt like molten lava in his veins. He wondered if it was like this every time, and if so, how the human race had managed to survive.

Giving him a big, reassuring smile—and just the merest hint of a flash of cleavage—Amorie led Wilson across the deck to one of the hatches he’d noticed. The hatch lid, he could see now, was tilted back against the wall on hinges the size of both his fists. Amorie placed a softly-shod toe on either side of the ladder, just below the level of the floor, put her little hands on either side of the ladder where it thrust up through the deck, and gracefully slid downward, to the deck below.

Wilson, who’d been practicing exactly the same maneuver daily, for many weeks, aboard Mighty Mouse’s Girlfriend, nevertheless surprised himself, in the circumstances, by following the girl’s example without mishap.

“This is B-deck, private quarters,” Amorie told him when his feet were safely on the floor again. Once more she took him by the hand. She indicated the many doors that lined the outside circumference of the circular hallway. He gathered that these were the less desirable billets, more subject to interplanetary radiation and micrometeorite penetration. He wondered what kind of crew people they put in these cabins.

“The young girls,” Amorie told him matter-of-factly when he asked about it. “These walls are pretty much self-sealing, so we don’t worry overly about micrometerites. We keep hoping for some viable mutations, though, to add to our gene pool. We’re pretty isolated genetically here, you know, and have been for four or five generations. This is the first time the Esmerelda‘s put in to port for more than three years.”

The opposite wall had fewer doors, of course, but was covered in colorful children’s drawings. “We had dinner on A-deck,” she went on, “and there are C-deck, D-deck, and E-deck below this one. Almost no one ever goes down to E-deck, it’s just too creepy down there. Four more decks for cargo storage, and then the engines. We have six of those.”

Amorie dimpled and curtsied sweetly. Wilson wanted her so much it hurt.

She folded herself into his arms. Her scent was intoxicating. His heart raced. She looked up at him and her eyes became his universe. “Do you want to see them now, or can you think of something better to do?”

******

“Is hard vacuum, other side of glass,” Ali told them.

Having left the makeshift jousters and their tournament behind in the Spider, the two scientists and their offworld guests had taken a brief elevator ride upward several floors and passed through a series of heavy bulkheads to enter a large circular chamber built directly on the Lunar surface. At their backs, through a curving wall of glass so thick it appeared to be tinted green, lay the lamp-lighted hills and rilles and craters they’d seen surrounding the observatory when they’d arrived.

What immediately seized their attention, however, lay outside as well, in the center of the circular walkway they all stood on at the moment, partitioned off by even more of the thick glass (the ceiling over their heads was also glass), so that they occupied, in effect, the inside of a very large, transparent, air-filled glass doughnut. In the center of the doughnut hole stood the very heart of the Culver Telescope, an enormous, unreal-looking bowl of scintillating glass or metal, sitting on stout gimbals above a massive titanium and concrete foundation.

High above it, on three deceptively spindly-looking legs, at the focal point of the parabola below, they saw a cluster of instruments, including several cameras of various kinds, thermocouples, and other devices.

Ali continued. “We are having many ‘System’s only’ or ‘System’s largest’ here at Larsen Farside Observatory. Roger B. Culver Telescope is both. Is system’s largest optical reflector, five thousand inches in diameter—which is also being twenty-seven meters—amounting to almost twenty million square inches. Also is System’s first and only ‘smart’ mirror, consisting entirely of hair-fine hexagonal chromium wires, more than two trillion of them, each only three thousandths of inch across, all bundled together, their ends cut and polished by laser.”

“Two trillion?” Llyra exclaimed. “But wouldn’t it take centuries to—”

“Was assembled here by large team of Japanese robots controlled by artificial intelligence resident in Kenneth M. von Flurchick memorial superduper computer in Luna City, industrial suburb west of Armstrong. Comedian graduate students there let computer call itself ‘Mycroft Holmes’.”

Familiar with both literary references, Llyra and Jasmeen laughed simultaneously.

Saladin nodded. “Yes, yes, Sir Robert Arthur Anson Conan Heinlein. On weekends they hold sawhorsey tournaments with graduate idiots in Spider.”

“But you are right, Miss Ngu,” Ali told her. “Even with hundred robots and twenty-four hour supervision by Mycroft, assembling mirror took one year. Seemed longer. Chrome wires controlled by nanomachinery in base, each individually adjustable for height, allowing us to change optical characteristics of telescope and adjust for day-to-day fluctuations of temperature, instabilities of Lunar geology, and so on.”

“It sounds expensive,” said Julie, who was used to big, expensive undertakings.

“Was painfully expensive,” Saladin told her, grimacing. “Woefully expensive. But worth every grain Avoirdopois. This is very profitable operation we are running. And from here, with image-enhancing help from our own, less-gifted computer—without foolish name—we can resolve Pluto as disk, or even see Ngu house on Pallas where niece lives.”

Jasmeen’s eyes got big. She was accustomed to sunbathing naked on the roof of the house when nobody else was home, or flying about the place.

“Do not worry,” Ali told her in a stage whisper. “Secret is safe with us. We could find missing Fifth Force if we only knew where to look.”

“Is not on roof of Ngu House,” Jasmeen offered with an annoyed frown, “If you knew where to look, Uncle, Fifth Force would not be missing.”

Ali looked puzzled. “Didn’t I just say that?”

******

Wilson swept Amorie into his arms. He was astonished at how light she was, and how warm. She lay her head against his chest and murmured something.

“I’m sorry,” he told her, having missed whatever she said while he was catching his breath and trying to regain control of himself. “I didn’t—”

She laughed. To him it was like droplets from a sunlit fountain. “I said that’s my door, right there, dear Willie. Go ahead, it isn’t locked.”

Lacking a hand to spare, Wilson pulled the latch handle down with one knee. The oval door swung open easily. Stepping carefully over the pressure threshhold, he swung the door shut with a heel. Amorie kept her quarters warm, almost at blood temperature. A soft light came from somewhere.

There was also faint, formless music in the background, vague and insubstantial. The room was so small three quarters of it were taken up with Amorie’s bed. It had decorative posts set at each corner that nearly reached the ceiling, with wispy curtains hung between them on rods.

Wilson took the single step that was required to get to the bed. He laid her down gently on the coverlet. She had draped the posts and rods with the same filmy, almost-transparent scarves, in pastel pinks and oranges, that he’d seen in the background while communicating with her over the SolarNet. Her dress tonight seemed to be made of them, as well. He could also smell an elusive, pleasant scent—somehow, it reminded him vaguely of cinnamon—but it was very subtle and not overdone.

Wilson stood for a moment, looking down at Amorie—his Amorie—the blood sizzling through his veins like carbonated water at all the beauty and the promise that he saw before him. Amorie turned on her side, her eyes downcast, one long, smooth leg exposed from the heel—he’d already noticed that she had tiny, shapely feet—to the waist, one small, well-formed breast visible to the rim of its pale brown center.

She allowed him simply to enjoy the sight of her for a long, long moment, then arose to her knees on the bed, facing him. Her dress had now fallen open completely and what he saw was almost painful to behold.

Reaching up, she put her arms around his neck and pulled his mouth down to hers. They kissed for what seemed to him an hour—an hour spent in paradise—and Wilson learned more about the power of a kiss in whatever time it really lasted, than he had ever realized was possible. By the time she finished kissing him, he was shaking all over.

Pulling free a moment, Amorie looked deeply into Wilson’s eyes, took his big right hand in both of her tiny ones, spread it flat, and laid it on her left breast—she radiated heat—pressing it firmly against her. Wilson felt her heart, thudding almost as hard as his, and faster. He felt her nipple, swollen hard against the center of his palm.

Leaving his hand where it was, Wilson pulled Amorie to him for another kiss, an eon long, perhaps two eons. He shifted his hand and took her nipple between his thumb and forefinger pinching it and rolling it gently. Amorie moaned into his open mouth as if she’d been mortally wounded, and where her legs came together, pressed herself hard against him. Then her filmy dress was off the rest of the way, and she began frantically attacking the fastenings of his shirt and pants.

When Wilson’s chest was bare, Amorie surprised him. She put her lovely mouth to one of his nipples, and began biting it lightly and sucking it. It felt as if a fine steel wire running the length of his body had been heated red hot. He hadn’t known that girls did that to boys.

That women did that to men.

He badly wanted to do it to her. He’d dreamed of it a thousand nights, both sleeping and waking. He pressed her backward, onto the bed, to do it. Her legs were still in the kneeling position. Pushing her back onto them made her gasp—possibly with pain—and spread them wide. Possibly she even liked the pain. As he took both of her breasts in his hands and did what he had planned to do, he could feel her grow hot and damp where her legs almost wrapped around him at the waist.

“God, Willie,” she gasped, “don’t make me wait any longer!”

Wilson obliged, turning within the grasp of her thighs and sliding up through them. He fumbled for just a moment—he knew the mechanics well enough, but had no practical experience with them—then found her.

In an instant, they were one being, and it was his turn to gasp as Amorie proceeded to do more things to him that he hadn’t known were possible.

At last came blinding release, a white light like he’d been told indicated enlightenment—or death. He had no doubt it represented an epiphany of some kind. He lay within her for a while—how was it possible that Amorie, who couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred standard pounds, could be comfortable beneath him? He weighed twice what—

Then shock so sudden and complete that it felt as though he’d been dashed with a bucketful of ice cold water. “I … oh my god, Amorie, I … I wasn’t prepared! I didn’t even think—I’m so sorry! I was just so—”

She put a tiny, gentle hand over his mouth. Reflexively, he kissed it. “I don’t think that’s going to matter, dear, sweet Willie. Not at all.”

******

The fastest gun on the Moon was of two minds.

An exceptionally tall man—which was very unusual in his field of endeavor—he leaned on the steel pipe rail in front of ten rows of fiberglass-topped concrete bleachers, overlooking the working floor of the Armstrong Space Traffic Control Center, a private corporation that kept track of, and advised vessels that travelled in space near and around the Moon. The cost of the service was covered by port fees. Visitors were encouraged to watch the great square dance being called here, twenty-four Earth hours every day, twenty-eight days every Lunar month.

On one hand, the man thought, there was the boy who deserved his attention, presently getting his teenage ashes hauled, likely for the first time, up there in that space-travelling collection of junk full of scavenger rats. But the scavengers would be jealously protecting him, at least for a while, which would make his job impossible. The boy had something they wanted—they’d space an obviously deformed newborn, but he was morally certain that they still had monsters chained in their “basement”—and it would take them a while to get it.

On the other hand, there was the boy’s kid sister, that little ice skating devil girl who, he was certain, would someday make a great assassin. At the moment, she was visiting the other side of this freeze-dried owl pellet of a world, which was exactly the same as this side, only there were no decent hotels. If the information he’d just paid for was correct, whether she knew it or not, she’d be taking an even more exotic and spectacular excursion within the next couple of hours.

Because the boy had been spending most of his time aboard his own ship, where he was hard to keep an eye on, mostly in the company of someone he regarded as the most dangerous woman in the System—and the member of the Ngu family the little skater took after most—he’d been watching the girl and her pretty Martian coach, skating every day at the Heinlein, for weeks. He’d even gotten to the point where he enjoyed it. She had powerful protection, too, although she probably didn’t know it. He wished the boy and his sister would stick together. The whole thing was putting quite a strain on his capacity for making decisions.

******

Amorie excused herself for a moment, but she was back before the sheets beside Wilson had cooled. During that brief interlude, he began to worry a little. This first time, it hadn’t mattered to him that everyone onboard the Esmerelda—every member of Amorie’s family—knew exactly where they were now and exactly what they were doing. It had never occurred to him, and he’d been too excited to care in any case.

Now, however, all he could see in his mind’s eye were their faces. He was afraid that thoughts like that were going to keep him from … from being ready for her a second time, or a third, or a fourth … Between the perverted bragging that went on in sex magazines online, and the dry clinicality of the pamphlets his mother had given him to read when he’d turned thirteen, he had no idea what was natural or normal.

“You look unhappy, sweet darling Willie,” Amorie said, startling him. She’d returned quietly through the hatch she’d left by, which no doubt led to a bathroom, one almost certainly shared with the next cabin.

“Not unhappy,” he said, then explained what he was worried about. She was much more than just a girl he’d taken to bed with him tonight, after all. She was the friend—his best friend—with whom he’d shared his every secret on a daily basis for more than a year. He wanted to marry her, to keep her with him forever, have children with her, and grow old with her. There was nothing he felt he couldn’t tell her.

Amorie grinned at him. “I understand what you’re talking about in theory, darling Willie. There’s no such thing as privacy on a vessel like Esmerelda, although we all try hard to respect each other’s space.”

“But I—”

“But nothing. Watch this.” She kissed him long and langorously before she pushed him back into the pillows. She kissed his throat, his chest—when she reached his nipples again, he knew he wasn’t going to have any trouble, after all. But he wasn’t going to tell her, and she probably knew anyway—working her slow, tormenting way down and down and—

Damn! He did know that women did this to men, sometimes. He’d often wondered about it.

“Here,” she said, freeing him for the briefest possible moment so she could talk. “Hold my wrists behind my back.” She put them behind her.

“But Amorie—”

“Just do it! It’ll help!”

He obeyed, clamping her wrists behind her as she went on giving him pleasure while pretending to struggle against him. She was right. It did help. Everything else was forgotten. All too soon, he felt an almost irresistable need to finish right there, right where he was. But he resisted a temptation to put a hand on the back of her head and take her.

Panting, Amorie slid up beside him and rolled him over on top of her again. He took her easily then, that time, and again, and again, until they were both covered with sweat, until the insides of their thighs chafed and their bellies ached from the pounding he was giving her.

He took her from behind, and that helped the pain a little. Each time Wilson reached a climax—one Amorie often reached with him—she excused herself briefly and came back to him clean and sweet- smelling.

He took a shower twice himself, but she followed him into the tiny stainless steel cubicle like a starving thing that would die without his not-so-tender ministrations, and his efforts at cleanliness soon degenerated into more violent and desperate lovemaking. The fourth or fifth time they did it, getting started was the very least of his problems. It took him a full forty-five minutes of fevered, relentless pounding just to feel that finishing was possible, and another twenty minutes to reach a climax that felt as if it would tear him in two. He didn’t understand how her tiny body could take it. She was made of titanium.

The seventh, and last time took an hour and a half, all of the special attention she could give him—this final time she let him finish in her mouth while she was helping him—and left him covered in sweat again, spent in every way possible for a human being to be spent.

Tomorrow, he knew, each cell in his body would scream, each muscle and every joint, as if he’d worked out all night, or cleaned his three engines. He stroked Amorie’s silky hair. What an art, to give someone this much painful pleasure. He never wanted to know how she’d learned it.

“Seven times, Willie! Seven times! I knew I was right about you! You’re absolutely magnificent!” Her voice sounded odd, as if her jaw hurt. He hoped he hadn’t injured her. She left the bed for the bath again. He’d wanted to say the same to her, but he was speechless and exhausted.

And drained.

Copyright © 2009 by L. Neil Smith

lneil (at) netzero (dot) com

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