Renee got a voke request from Lacag some hours later. She accepted. “Hi Lacag. Sleep well?”
“Very. I just waked up and thinked of you. You would like playing game with me?”
“What? A game? Er. What do you mean?” He had already offered her sex earlier. Was this what he meant now?
“I playing game called ‘Iron Shield’. You played?”
Chessie spilled images, video snippets, and basic info about the game in Renee’s field of view. “Oh. No. A shooting game?”
“Ya. Huge fun. Wanna play with me?”
Renee stifled a giggle. English had gotten so messy. It was going to take some getting used to. “Um. Sure. I guess. I haven’t played video games since I was a kid. I think I played Pac-Man and … Space Invaders. And some other things I don’t remember.”
After a pause Lacag laughed. “Ah-wow. Ya. Come join.” He sent a teleport offer.
“Oh. Well, let me find something appropriate to wear. Give me a few minutes. I’ll voke you when I’m ready.”
The connection dropped. She hoped that meant he agreed. And that he wasn’t offended or something.
Renee read up a little more about Iron Shield. Chessie gave some insights from her own instant research. Renee marveled at how Chessie could talk like an expert about something she had known nothing about moments earlier. She could look up information quickly and have lengthy conversations with other sapients and get very direct answers to whatever she thought would be relevant to Renee’s needs. And consequently Renee too could sound like an instant expert. It was going to be difficult for Renee to read whether other people really knew about topics they discussed or relied on their personal assistants for instant expertise. Just like Renee was doing right now. Lacag had probably learned about Pac-Man and Space Invaders from his own PA a moment after she mentioned them.
Chessie suggested a few armored outfits appropriate for Iron Shield because nothing in her vast wardrobe was. She selected something not too heavy duty that also let her look at least a little feminine. Then she sent a teleport request to Lacag. After about ten seconds he teleported her over.
The room was dimly lit. Lacag was pointing his still-smoking rifle in various directions. He lowered it a little and looked at Renee. “Ah-hey. It’s good looking on you. You came prepared. Need gun now.”
A similar rifle appeared in front of Renee and she plucked it out of the air. Chessie floated some labels and lines indicating the key controls on it. Trigger. Safety. Telescope. Rounds remaining. Gravity here felt about one G on her body but the gun felt much lighter than she expected. She voked Chessie her surprise.
“Almost all firearms of your time were made of heavy steel and plastic. The heaviest portion of this one is the ceramic rifled barrel core but it is wrapped in a special kind of carbon that is very lightweight. Microscopic voids manufactured into the carbon make it even lighter. Intelligence-controlled thrusters at the end of the barrel increase targeting accuracy and reduce recoil, allowing it to be lighter still. The rounds are lighter than lead but they contain guidance packages and programmable explosives that increase their lethality.”
“Jesus. I didn’t even follow all that but I’m impressed.”
“Of course this is a synth but this is a faithful reproduction of the real rifle. It’s a very light and smart weapon that does most of the work for you once it knows what you want to shoot at and what you want to happen to your target.”
“What I want to what?”
Four rounds went off from Lacag’s rifle. Renee dropped to a crouch behind the makeshift wall of pallets and metal carts that defined Lacag’s defensive nest. She heard the sound of some unfortunate creature dying somewhere behind the wall. She aimed her own rifle in the direction of the sound and peeked over the wall.
Having watched some videos about Iron Shield Renee understood that the basic idea was that players spread out within a vast 3D building complex to act as snipers to stop zombie-like creatures from getting to some protected treasure in the center. The creatures could appear from just about anywhere in never-ending waves so the game was essentially nonstop. Players fight in shifts. Each player will eventually get overwhelmed or surprised and killed. The team tries to see just how many weeks they can fend off the creatures until they get thinned out enough and are finally overwhelmed. This was apparently a practice mode where anyone – including Renee – could join at will.
This cold dimly lit room seemed a miserable place to spend one’s time. But it was nice to know that Lacag could find enough time to flirt with girls in coffee shops between slaughtering sessions. Renee chuckled to herself.
Renee took a moment to study Lacag. He was a tall, lanky black man with very dark skin and short tight curls. In the coffee shop his form was largely hidden behind a snappy suit. And now it was hidden in body armor. Most of the men and women of Kalju seemed to favor form fitting and otherwise minimal clothing. Oh well. His deep voice reminded Renee of Lou Rawls. She wondered if Lacag had ever tried singing. In any case Renee found him quite handsome. It seemed that most humans in Kalju were. All youthful and beautiful. The gift perhaps of genetic engineering and god only knows what plastic surgery. Then again this was a synth. Renee reminded herself she hadn’t seen the real Lacag at all. Did he even look anything like his avatar here? Would she ever find out?
Renee looked around but saw and heard nothing for a few seconds. “So. This is what you do for fun?”
Lacag laughed. “Yeah-ha. It’s very fun. You take next fuck.”
“Me? I’ve never shot a gun before. But okay. I’ll try.” She stood up and hefted the short rifle the way Lacag held his. He wasn’t looking through the scope. She wondered just how smart the gun really was and how it could aim itself. And smart bullets too? She heard a shuffling in the corridor she was aiming at. Time to find out.
Lacag said in a near whisper. “Ya. From there. Get them.”
Them? The zombie-like creature came into view in the doorway. Renee was stunned for a moment when it screeched at and started walking toward her. Without taking time to actually aim she pulled the trigger and held it. She felt an initial sideways kick from it and then felt the recoil as the first round went off. Then two more in succession. The first hit the creature in the face. It exploded in a small flash. The second hit it in the neck which similarly exploded. The final round shattered its head further. It fell in a heap and started to fade away.
Renee’s heart pounded and she felt a wave of nausea. She let go of the trigger and set the rifle down to settle her breathing. Another creature shambled in. Lacag realized that Renee was shaken and took the beast out himself. Then he moved toward Renee. “You okay?”
Renee breathed sharp steady breaths. “Yeah. I think so. Jesus.”
“Man. I’ve never done that before. I wasn’t even aiming. I don’t know how I managed to hit it.”
“You did good. You want more?”
This wasn’t how Renee had imagined spending her time at Kalju. But she was touched that Lacag had remembered her and reached out to invite her to come play this game with him. She was here to experience new things. Not just to seek out the familiar. She reminded herself this was a synth. No real monsters were hurt in the making of this massacre. She chuckled. “Yeah. Let me try again.” She stood up and hefted her gun.
Lacag chuckled and nodded. “Good. I think I hear more coming.”
Surely enough two of the creatures came in from two different doorways. Renee took one doorway and Lacag took the other. No sooner did the first two drop than several more came in behind them. Renee just aimed in roughly the direction of each target and pulled and held the trigger. She could feel the gun’s little thrusters jerking the barrel into a more precise aim before firing each round. Every one hit with deadly accuracy. The small thrusters were doing the aiming and countering the recoil of each shot. She had no idea how but the thing just knew what to shoot at, and how many rounds were necessary for each target.
Chessie voked a warning tone and indicated that she was nearly out of ammunition. She took out one more beast just in time to run dry. She fumbled for a few moments trying to figure out what to do. Lacag took over. She watched him swap out his rifle magazine for a fresh one. Chessie indicated a pile of magazines on the table next to her. She flashed instructions and arrows for releasing the empty magazine and installing the next. Renee was stunned at how quickly she was learning to do something she had never even contemplated. She took her stance and released the safety as the glowing arrow reminded her. In came the next screeching beast and down it went under her fire.
When the last of this wave of creatures was finally gone Lacag and Renee relaxed a little. Renee said, “I can’t believe I’m doing this. And I can’t believe how easy it seems to be to kill them.”
“Ya. This is relaxing shooter. Easy aim. But you gotta stay awake. You easily get tired and make mistakes and get killed. You how?”
“Me? I’m okay. I’m getting over all the blood and stuff. I’m glad it disappears. Could you imagine if the bodies just piled up?”
Lacag laughed. “Ya! It would awfully stink.” He chuckled again. “Hey. I need to toilet. You can keep watch for few minutes?”
“What? Oh. I guess so. I’ll try.”
“Wait. I called my friend Castor. He will stand with you while I’m away. It’s okay?”
“Oh. Sure. Thanks.”
Castor Hobart appeared between the two of them with his name shown over his head. Like Lacag he was tall. Given Renee’s and Lacag’s armor, Castor looked out of place wearing only leather pants and boots. His muscular bare chest was clad only with the drapes of his long white hair. A rifle appeared in front of him and he plucked it from the air. He turned to regard Renee. “Hello Renee. I’m here for shooting.”
Lacag quickly faded away. Renee dispatched another creature and then shouted, “Nice to meet you too. I guess I’m here for shooting too.”
A fresh wave of targets emerged. Renee went from feeling like her smart weapon was making this too easy to feeling a little overwhelmed by the onrush. Meanwhile Castor was taking out even more of them coming from the door he was covering. And still finding time to take out a few of Renee’s targets. She was surprised that neither of them shot at the same target. Could the two guns be talking to each other about target selection?
Several minutes passed. The bodies were piling up. The creatures were crawling over their fallen fellow targets. Renee was starting to feel nauseous again. And mental fatigue was quickly pushing its way past the adrenaline rush. One of the beasts made it all the way to the other side of the pallets Renee was behind. It almost grabbed her gun’s barrel before she took it out.
And then it was done again. The echoing of gunshots faded and the heaps of dead creatures vanished. The acrid smell of spent gunpowder lingered in the smoke cloud. Castor laughed. “It’s good Lacag called me for he taking a shit. We maked lot of meat.” He laughed again.
Renee’s daze gave way to a chuckle. “Wow. Man. That was crazy. And thank you.”
“I think they liked you. Coming for kissing you.”
She frowned. “Gross.” But she couldn’t hold the serious look for long and laughed. “You were really good. You got a lot of them.”
“I played muchly. You are new to Kalju? You played shoot-em up synths?”
“Yep. I’m new. But I’ve never shot a gun before. This is a bit strange to me.”
“It’s relaxing. Mostly easy. But it’s popular. Iron Shield is uniquely Kalju.”
“Oh. Only available on Kalju? I see. Cool.”
Renee couldn’t say why but she found Castor instantly attractive. At least physically. Perhaps it was his long hair. Most of its length was pure white. The roots were black or dark brown gradually fading out to white. She couldn’t quite tell the exact colors in this light. That his hair draped over his bare, muscular chest left Renee thinking he needed an electric guitar instead of his rifle and a little face makeup to completely transform him into a 1980’s heavy metal star. She caught herself staring a little too long at his chiseled face a couple times. He seemed at least superficially charming. Certainly nonchalant and confident in his skill in this game without sounding cocky.
The next wave of targets was lighter. Renee was getting the hang of the game. She wasn’t all that interested in violence generally. And hadn’t ever had much interest in video games either. But she had to admit that this game gave an unexpected thrill. It took almost no time to learn to play. It had bursts of action and then longer stretches of silence. And this gave her time to talk with Castor. Meeting new people and learning more about Kalju’s culture were Renee’s mission for now. As they talked Renee found Castor relaxing. Comfortable. And easy on the eyes. She decided to make a point of keeping in touch.
Nearly an hour later Lacag returned. Castor laughed and said, “Some shit. You breaked all plumbing?”
“Ha. They still fixing pipes after your last shit.” The two laughed. Lacag turned to Renee. “I got pulled aside by something for little time. Sorry. Castor being useful? Or he is making you want friending with meat sticks?”
Renee said, “Meat sticks?” Chessie indicated the creatures they were shooting at. “Oh. Ha! They seem friendly enough. I think they just want to snuggle.”
Another wave came in. Castor and Lacag instinctively took them on. Renee stepped back to watch them at work. A few times she considered helping out but they seemed to be doing just fine.
When the last one was dispatched the three of them continued their laughter-laden banter. She encouraged them to talk so she could listen and learn. And one thing she was learning is that both of them seemed quietly interested in her. Kalju’s culture was surely different. People seemed to be more forward, especially about sexuality. These two were not lunging at her but she could read their flirts. What surprised her was that they did not appear to be competing with each other over it. They weren’t showing traces of jealousy the way Renee had always sensed when she was the object of attention for several men in a room. Were they really flirting? Maybe she was just reading them completely wrong. Maybe they would even act this way to their own grandmothers.
Castor had been fiddling with his rifle while they talked. Eventually he tossed it over his shoulder. It disappeared. “Time I’m going. This was fun.”
Lacag hugged Castor with his free arm. “Yeah. Fun. I play alone always. Fun change. Voke you later.” The two shared a light kiss surprising Renee.
Castor reached out to hug Renee as well. She set her gun aside and embraced him. She said, “Thanks for rescuing me. Nice to meet you.”
Castor gave Renee a similarly light kiss. She had kinda hoped he might. “Voke me,” he said.
“Sure. You too. This was fun.”
Castor disengaged and then poofed from the scene.
Lacag was looking at Renee. “He’s good man. I don’t sex many men. He’s one I do.”
“Oh! Is Castor gay?”
“Gay?” Lacag paused a moment. “Oh no. Castor sexes women and sometimes men.” He nodded at her smile. “He’s liking you. Maybe you fuck him.”
“You fuck me too if you want. I’m liking you.”
Renee shook her head in astonishment. “Wow. Maybe let me take some time to figure out what I want. I’m not in a rush.”
Lacag chuckled and nodded. “Ya. Take who you want when you want. Kalju is full of lovers. No rush.”
Renee was quiet for a moment but the question was nagging at her. “Can I ask you something? If you’re interested in me then why would you tell me to go out with Castor?”
Lacag took a moment to interpret her question. Probably with help from his PA. “Why not? No need to choose.”
She decided not to ask what that meant. This was already pushing her comfort level. Renee was starting to get used to taking virtual men to bed but it wasn’t something they discussed much. Kalju was going to take some getting used to. At least Castor hadn’t been quite so forward. Nor had Xiao actually. At least not until she kissed Renee.
Ah Xiao. Renee wondered if she was again awake. And now was probably a good time to leave here. Enough meat grinding for today.
Renee found an excuse to bow out and leave Lacag to his usually solitary game. He offered a hug. She smiled and embraced him. He kissed one cheek and patted the other. And with that Renee had Chessie return her to her home synth.
Chessie reported that Xiao was currently unavailable in response to her voke request. For privacy her own PA would not say why. But Chessie guessed that Xiao was probably still sleeping. Her public profile made it clear she was something of a night owl. If she had gone to sleep immediately after she left the Carousel Cafe then she would not have gotten a full eight hours of sleep yet. Renee decided once again that she needed to work on filling out her own profile.
Renee didn’t want to be alone just yet. She voke requested Castor. He responded with, “Hello again. What’s there?”
“Hello Castor. I was just wondering if you might like to spend some more time together. If you’re not busy. I enjoyed meeting you earlier.”
“Ah. Yes Renee. I liked too. Let’s. Give me ten minutes finishing a thing. Okay? I’ll voke you when.”
“Oh. Sure thing. I’ll be here.”
While she was waiting Aurora voked her. This was a surprise but Renee realized it shouldn’t be. Aurora may be a ship but she was also her own deeply interesting person. She accepted the request. “Hey hun. What’s up?”
“Oh. I just wanted to check in on you. Everything going well so far? You having fun?”
“Yeah actually. I’m enjoying. I’ve met a few cool people already.”
“That’s great to hear.”
“Yeah. I just got back from some synth game called ‘Iron Shield’. Shooting up zombie things I guess.”
“Ha. I didn’t figure you for the violent type.”
Renee laughed. “I’ve never done anything like that before. I didn’t think I even could. But it was surprisingly easy. The guns do most of the work.”
“Yep. It looks like there are nearly a thousand people playing it right now. One of the more popular synths it seems.”
Aurora voked, “So hey. I was wondering if you’d like to join me at a much less violent synth I’m exploring now.”
“Ooh. Maybe. I’m waiting for some guy to get back to me.”
“Oh! Really? You vixen you.”
“Not like that!” Renee scoffed. “He’s just a nice guy I met today. He’s good at shooting things.”
“Oh stop it. And okay. He’s cute.”
“Shut up. Okay. So where are you?”
Aurora stifled her giggle. “I’m in a collector.”
“A very relaxing class of synths that are oriented toward wandering around large worlds and collecting interesting items you find.”
“That sounds more my speed. I wonder if Castor would be up for joining us.”
“There you go. Come on out if you’d like. Invite him along too.”
Renee had been unprepared for Blackmore’s beauty. This was a sprawling synth with a richly surreal fantasy theme. Ruins of an ancient city mingled with natural overgrowth and newer structures with a medieval fantasy flavor. Aurora and Renee were emerging from a dark chasm filled with rock dwellings. She had clambered up to some that were nearer to the ground. Blackmore’s low gravity made it possible for Renee to hang and even climb using little more than her fingertips.
They emerged into a glen surrounded by high cliff walls. Water lazily trickled over them in various places. The streams broke up into large blobs as they wafted downward to splatter rocks and mosses below. Stands of twisted trees battled for ownership of the space here. Renee could see and hear various birds and climbing creatures that leapt from tree to tree. Peeking over the rock walls were the decrepit hulks of high-rise buildings. They were difficult to make out because most were nearly completely covered with trees and vines and ringed by schools of birds roosting and hunting among them. The scene reminded Renee of a coral reef.
Renee found a wooden shack nestled between two great tree trunks. She couldn’t resist breaking in to explore. The hovel was filled with candles and other primitive bric a brac. On what looked like a candle-laden altar Renee found a winged fairy statuette made of molded brass and colored glass pieces. Renee picked it up and admired how the candlelight played through the glass. She told Chessie to collect a copy and then put the original carefully back in its place.
Half an hour after her last call Castor voked back. Renee accepted and greeted him. He voked, “Okay. I’m done. We going where?”
“Me and Aurora are wandering around Blackmore. Want to join?”
“Oh. Okay. Teleport me.”
Renee accepted his teleport request. He appeared near her still wearing only his leather pants and boots. Renee rolled her eyes at Aurora and they both smirked as he looked around.
“Pretty. I didn’t explore this part yet. You getted good loot?”
“A few things. I’m mostly just enjoying the hike. It’s beautiful here.”
Castor turned to Aurora. “Speaking of beautiful. Hello Aurora.”
Aurora bowed. “Greetings Castor. You collected here before?”
“It’s quiet synth. I comed sometimes for aloneing. Sometimes for fucking.”
“I’m sure.” She smirked.
The three talked a while about the glen here and the crevasse before. Castor indicated that one of the nearby high-rises was an excellent place to explore. They made their way down alongside the stream for a bit until they found a stone stairway up to the ground level above. They walked toward a stand of tall buildings. They had to walk through and under the collapsed hulks of some structures. Castor seemed to know where he was going but Renee had doubts.
Eventually they reached the foot of the building he had pointed at. It wasn’t really the ground floor. Renee had been realizing that a deep layer of soil had been deposited over the street level. She had noticed the pipes, bricks, and asphalt protruding from the canyon wall they walked up. They were covered by several floors’ worth of silt and stone. She wondered if it could have been laid down by a flood or glaciers or if it was simply artistic license by the synth’s designer.
Castor led the way into the building through a window hollow. There appeared to be few whole panes of glass remaining in the windows that she could see. Inside was cave-like. But they were on the side of the building facing the sun. It poured in enough to illuminate some of the cave. And to grow a thicket of small trees and brush. Renee was unnerved by a cacophony of animals moving and calling from within. The three were walking along a path that had been kept clear of soil and plants. Enough to see the wet red granite floor in the dim light. The path led to the central space where iron candelabra stood to illuminate ancient elevator doors. Renee marveled at the tarnished brass art deco features including large stylized eagles keeping guard over the elevators. Some of the lightly polished brass gleamed in the candlelight.
The party entered a side stairwell, which was lit by small candle lanterns affixed to the handrails. Renee mused that she would not want to have the job of maintaining all the candles every day. Although this floor was at ground level Renee could see that the stairwell went down. She couldn’t see how far down though. The lanterns led up and so did Castor.
The stairs were a lightly cascading waterfall. Each step was part of a long stream that came from far above. Some of the water from above was spilling down in the gap between staircases. The light slapping of water streamlets and drops on every step combined to fill the stairwell with a dull roaring of a great waterfall. And although it wasn’t particularly deep water Renee’s shoes provided no protection from its chill.
She had been used to taking the stairs. Her New York apartment was on the fifth floor of an old tenement building. But she had already counted out twenty five floors on their ascent. At least the low gravity was making it a modest effort. They had stopped on a couple of lower floors to marvel at a few hovels built into the space. Most were surrounded by vegetable and herb gardens watered by clay sluices that ran from catch funnels at the windows and some from the stairwell. Here near the top there were very few signs of habitation. All floors had thickets of plants wherever there were scraps of sunlight. Thick soils built up among their roots, probably fed by wind-blown dust in the lower gravity. Renee wondered if there were any real places on Earth or around Sol that looked like this or if it was just an amazingly detailed product of some designer’s imagination.
Finally they reached the roof. And now the source of the stream on the stairs was apparent as quite a gush poured in through the open doorway. A steel grating had thankfully been erected over it so they could step above some of the onrush. They made their way outside and found a stunning garden ringing a large pond. A curving brick wall about a foot tall had been erected around the doorway to hold back the pond but water was spilling over its top. Renee followed Castor and Aurora up a masonry step and walked along the grass-topped berm cutting through the pond leading to the outer ring of trees and meadow.
The trio reached the edge and looked out over the high-rise reefs and the forest below. Renee held onto the branch of a tree perched here at the edge and looked down.
From behind them a man’s voice boomed, “Castor! Why-fuck you are here?” He stormed up to Castor looking ready to hit him.
Castor stood still as though he were unaware of the danger. As the man pointed an angry finger in Castor’s face he grabbed the hand and tugged him over the side of the building.
Renee was stunned. “What the fuck?”
Two women had been running up. One named Joyeuse Etoile slowed now and stormed up near Castor as well. “What? You are throwing me off too?”
Castor said dryly, “If you want to join O’lgan come closer.”
“We told you staying away from us. Stop following us.”
“I don’t know you here. I don’t care.”
“Dog shit you don’t.” Joyeuse slapped Castor.
Castor slapped her back. “Go on. Hit me again. O’lgan is waiting below.”
Joyeuse groaned and stormed off back toward the stairwell. The other woman, named Umenzi Wokuthula, threw her hands up, shrugged, and shook her head.
Castor put a hand up and shrugged as well. It seemed to Renee that the two were sharing sympathies.
The woman walked quickly after Joyeuse.
Renee looked over the side. She couldn’t see O’lgan. Did he die? This is a synth though. “What happened to him? And what was that about?”
Aurora said, “This is a no-death synth. Your avatar won’t die and you won’t suffer any serious pain here.”
Castor said, “He’s fine. He’s asking for that lately. He will just walk back up.” He chuckled. “It’s only rancor. Joy telled him lies about our together days. She’s hating me. Makes rancor for fun.
“Ah.” Renee nodded. Good old drama with exes. That never goes away.
Castor said, “I love this place. So beautiful. Joy and I comed here sometimes. She stopped after that. I didn’t expect seeing her or O’lgan. Sorry for rancor.”
Aurora said, “Don’t worry about it. Rancor happen. It’s worth seeing this place. You are visiting often?”
Renee was impressed at how easily Aurora could slip between speaking dialects comfortable to Renee and Castor as needed. Was that a sapient thing?
Castor said to Renee, “So. You are changing your profile when?”
“What? Oh. Right. Soon. I haven’t gotten around to it just yet. I’ve been busy doing important things, you know.”
Castor and Aurora chuckled.
Renee added. “I suppose I should read yours. Do you guys usually read people’s profiles when you meet them?”
Aurora said, “How else are you going to get to know someone honey?” She winked.
Renee nodded with a grin. “Yeah. How else?”
Castor and Aurora continued bantering. Renee was happy to just listen rather than face more questions.
Renee received a voke request from Xiao Yuan. She accepted. “Hey you. What’s up?”
“You coming to Lust tonight with me Jiaren?”
“Best sex event in Kalju. Every deci-third.”
Detecting Renee’s confusion Chessie displayed an explanation. “A ‘deciday’ is a 10-day cycle alternative to 7-day weeks. ‘Deci-third’ means the third day in a given deciday.”
“Sex event? What does that mean?”
“Tsk. Just come out. Dress hot. Meet people. Drink. Talk. Fuck if you want. Nuit Rouge starts in two hours.”
Renee didn’t know how to feel. But she did want to get to know Xiao better. It sounded like she would be able to meet new people too. And maybe get more of a taste of what the people of Kalju do for fun. “Can you help me pick out something to wear?”
Xiao giggled. “Yeah-ha. Teleport me where.”
“Er. Give me a few minutes. I need to finish up here.”
Xiao dropped the connection. Renee decided not to take it as an insult. The abrupt starts and ends to conversations were going to take some getting used to.
Renee took a step forward drawing Castor’s and Aurora’s attention. “Thank you so much for showing me this. I’m definitely going to come back soon. And thank you for helping me in Iron Shield earlier. I need to go get ready for something guys.”
Castor and then Aurora hugged Renee and kissed her cheek. Castor said, “Voke me.”
Renee smiled and felt her heart race for a moment. Then she rushed toward the low wall at the edge of the building and dove over it. She heard her friends laughing for a moment before the rushing of wind drowned them out. On the way down she voked Chessie to teleport her home.
Renee wondered if it was wise to invite Xiao into her personal wardrobe synth to help her find an outfit. Xiao laughed at how small it was with only a bit over a thousand items. She promised to help her shop more sometime. She was polite and did admire Renee’s very retro taste. She said that that and her old dialect helped her stand out in a crowd. Which is the opposite of what Renee wanted.
Xiao gently teased Renee about how her clothes all covered her body so much. “Modesty’s good sometimes. Nuit Rouge is for unmodesting,” she said. She gestured a rectangle with her hands. “Proper clothes frame your body like painting.” She wagged her finger and said, “Picture frame never covers painting.” Xiao showed Renee some outfits she had worn to past Nuit Rouge events. Her own personal assistant remembered every last detail and could instantly reconstruct the clothing and makeup ensemble for her here. Renee was stunned by Xiao’s utter immodesty in doing so. Most of them had her partly or completely naked such that what she wore was more window dressing than clothing. She was second guessing the idea of going to Lust tonight. But Xiao ended up choosing an outfit less apparently appalling to Renee.
Renee was impressed by how Xiao could be simultaneously bold and sensitive to Renee’s needs. She showed an utter lack of body consciousness in her own nudity around Renee. And more than a few times she groped Renee’s breasts and grabbed her ass while adjusting some clothing or illustrating some point. And yet somehow Renee was not offended. The moment she started feeling afraid, Xiao would do or say something that made everything seem normal and harmless.
Eventually Renee settled on a form-fitting green sweater dress that Xiao rolled her eyes at but liked. She paired it with thigh-high leather boots, an intricately braided updo, and green makeup. Renee’s overall taste in crafting the look impressed Xiao enough to make her modesty forgivable.
Perhaps the only embarrassing thing about the two and a half hours they spent together was that Renee was feeling oddly aroused by Xiao. She was thankful right now that she didn’t have a penis. She did her best to not look like a gawking teenage boy with a raging boner.
Renee was quite curious about Xiao’s sexual tastes and romantic habits. Their long first conversation over coffee left Renee with the distinct impression that she was into both men and women. And Renee could see why both would be into her. But that conversation left Renee with so many unanswered questions. Maybe some of them would get answered tonight by watching Xiao interacting with other people.
Wait. Were they going together? Was this a date? “Are you meeting someone tonight? I mean at Lust?”
“Meeting? Mostly same people. Don’t change much. You’re newest.”
Renee was again reminded that there were fewer than 10,000 humans here. She wondered if some of the hundreds of thousands of sapients on Kalju would be attending. But this was still small compared to the millions of people that had populated New York City. It supplied an endless stream of new faces to the clubs Renee visited. Yet she could tell that most of those City clubs had their regulars. Renee had just made a habit of going to different places in order to avoid seeing those regulars. Surely that was going to change now. She shuddered at the thought that she would have to take more risk of making social mistakes and offending people here. People didn’t move in or out very often.
“Yeah, but I mean are you getting together with someone there. Or are we …?”
Xiao was behind Renee as they looked on at the mirror model standing before Renee for their inspection. She needlessly straightened and caressed Renee’s dress. “Getting together? Tsk. I’m fucking a lot tonight Jiaren. I hope I’m loving so much tonight that I lose count.” She pulled herself tight against Renee and kissed her neck. “I hope for you too. As much as you wanting. Be having fun.” Another neck kiss on the other side.
Renee was finally getting uncomfortable.
Xiao whispered in her ear, “You ready?”
“Um.” Definitely uncomfortable. Renee wasn’t a lesbian. She liked men. She wondered if a man could get so so aroused and so hard that he actually exploded or something. “Oh! To go to the club? Yeah. Ha. Yeah. I’m ready.”
Xiao giggled as she let go and gently slapped Renee’s butt. “We going.” She disappeared and Renee got a teleport offer from her. She accepted.
Renee’s view blacked out and then faded in on a new scene. The night air had a light chill. The gushing of the water fountain she stood next to competed with the rhythmic thumping of music leaking out of the gaudy French mansion it accented. Projected light patterns danced across its surfaces in perfect sympathy with the music. They shifted from figurative scenes to pure abstracts as though an artist were brainstorming in realtime with each passing measure of the music playing inside. A few other people were appearing around Renee and making their way toward a grand entrance in a large rotunda across the cobblestone drive. Xiao was already halfway there. She waved and called out, “Come now Jiaren!” She waited a few more seconds as Renee started walking toward her. The doors majestically swung open for her as for the others and then swallowed her inside.
The doors opened for Renee when she reached them. Bright moonlight poured into the entryway so she could only see the few moon-bathed people just inside. As the doors closed her eyes were adjusting to the warm light from tall candles all throughout the rotunda. Running up its center was a grand staircase to doors on the second floor that were barely visible. A throng of at least a hundred people packed the stairs, the walkway around them, the walkway on the second floor, and everywhere people could stand. And more people were trickling in behind Renee. She moved aside to make way.
Renee looked around to find Xiao. Eventually she saw that she was still right here at the foot of the stairs. A man hoisted her up like a child and she wrapped her legs around his waist. Her cocktail dress’s short skirt hiked right up her legs. She squealed with delight as he parted her dress’s top to expose and manhandle her breasts. Renee suddenly realized why Xiao had chosen a dress with such a deep plunge in front that ran clean down to her waist. There was nothing her dress actually covered when that lithe lady went into action. Renee giggled and shook her head.
And Xiao fit right in. All around Renee were people in a wide variety of clothing. Yes some were dressed head to toe in stunning formal wear. And yet many were essentially nude wearing only accessories like dress boots, corsets, hairpieces, fairy wings, and so much more. Picture framing indeed. Renee tried her best to act like this was nothing new. But she felt like nothing had ever been so new to her as this spectacle.
Still clinging to her friend’s waist with her legs and his neck with one hand, Xiao beckoned Renee over. She grabbed Renee’s neck with her free hand. She shouted into Renee’s ear, “You okay baby?”
Renee laughed. She wasn’t sure what to say. After a moment she shouted back into Xiao’s ear, “I’m a little overwhelmed. I thought I was the naughty one. It’s nothing but naughty here. But don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”
Xiao pulled Renee back and shouted, “Good. I’m going for first fuck. You look hot Renee. Go lose clothes. Get wet. Get sexed. There’s only love here. Voke me anytime.”
As Renee backed up Xiao pulled her in for a quick kiss and caressed her face. “Zaijian jiaren!” With that she kissed her mount and hopped off. She took his hand and trotted him up the stairs stopping here and there to hastily kiss some friends and wave at others.
There was something surprisingly high class about the whole scene. Everyone was distinctively dressed. There were no jeans and tee shirts to be found here. And the whole rotunda was beautifully clad in pocked white marble. It felt like some medieval church or the foyer to a Broadway theater.
They had arrived well after the official opening of Nuit Rouge. Renee wondered how crowded these stairs must have been when the initial throng poured in. Most of the people here were lingering and mingling. They seemed to all know one another. A few glanced at Renee. Some smiled and nodded at her.
No sooner had Xiao left than voke requests started coming in. Within ten seconds there were twenty live requests accompanied by a barrage of plain-text messages piling up in an email-like inbox. Too much attention. Renee stepped away from the stairs. She walked around to the right. The hallway hugging the outer walls of the rotunda here had fewer people. Thankfully most appeared to already be engaged in conversations.
She got around to the other side just under the main staircase. The corridor was darker here. She found a smaller double doorway. The doors opened for her and she wandered in. Ahead of her was a long stairwell going down. She turned right through a small side door. Inside was a dark and mostly empty room. Renee sighed and paced around it. A few dim wall sconces staved off the darkness.
Renee had gotten used to using virtual hands to manipulate things in the private view Chessie presented when necessary. It was the equivalent of voking. Her real hands would move on their own in appropriate ways while she consciously worked controls nobody else could see. She dragged the list of short messages larger so she could read it more easily. She tapped on the first one. It was from someone named Stabant Circum. It read “Welcome to Lust. I don’t recognize you. This is your first Nuit Rouge? I can show you it and give you pleasure?”
She scrolled her way through one message after another. Most sounded like the first. Renee was surprised to see that about a third of them appeared to be from women. She voked Chessie, “Can you like mass respond to them all to give me some space or something? Politely I mean. I don’t want to offend people but I also don’t even know how I’m going to go anywhere here without getting mauled.”
“I understand hun. I’m sorry to say but this can be typical of such places. But it’s not as bad as it may seem to you. Have you noticed that these are all private messages and voke requests? Nobody came up to jump on you.”
“You know. That’s true.”
“They are simultaneously more forward and more polite than you might be used to.”
“Damn. You’re right. How do you suppose they’ll take it if I just don’t respond to any of them?”
“I can’t say for sure about any individual person. But I think you’ll find that most are used to it. You don’t have to accept every voke request. You don’t have to reply to or even read every PM. I think you can safely walk through the densest crowd here with confidence. It’ll be up to you to signal to patrons that you are comfortable with their advances.”
“Really? Okay. I guess I’m a little surprised. It seems like everyone is being grabbed and groped by someone.”
“Do you recall your experience in the Corvus synth?”
“Remember the nightclub there? You walked into the crowd there.”
“And their hands were all over me.”
“That’s right. That was a different time. A different culture. Every place you go will have its own distinct culture. Often there will be many overlapping cultures. Each has their own assumptions about what’s appropriate. This particular club has some clear rules and a long history of community discussion about what sort of behavior is appropriate. I took the opportunity to read much of the literature surrounding Lust and Nuit Rouge. If you give consent to someone then they are pretty much free to do whatever they want with you. At least until you withdraw that consent or clarify your limits. But anyone who takes even small liberties with you will get kicked out for the night or possibly banned for a much longer term. The synthmaster here is notorious for watching everyone like a hawk and enforcing house rules ruthlessly. The consensus from patrons is that that’s part of what makes these events and this club excellent.”
Renee shook her hands out and exhaled sharply. “Okay then. Time to explore.” She walked toward the door. She stood taller with each step. And as the door opened she donned the hint of a smile.
As Renee walked she turned a few heads. She smiled and nodded at some people but didn’t engage anyone. She reached the foot of the grand staircase and paused to look up it for a moment. Then she began walking up with grace and purpose. She made for open gaps but people also moved aside to let her pass. The world seemed to slow down. The ascent took forever. But Renee felt ever more confident and comfortable as she ascended. When she reached the top she turned around to look back. The path she cut had disappeared and everyone had returned to their mouthing and handsing.
Renee turned around and entered as the double doors opened for her. Suddenly the stairs seemed as tame as a convent by contrast. Renee considered backing out but stepped in and out of the way as several women walked in from behind her. The doors closed.
The room was drenched in dance music and screaming moans. The space appeared to be in the shape of a giant cylinder and she was standing around the bottom 1/3 of it. The entire floor below was made up of large hexagonal pedestals rising and falling. Atop each were crowds of people dancing and apparently fucking among pieces of furniture built into each. Some people were jumping from one column to another as they moved up and down past one another. The rest of the space above was filled with floating glass platforms in the shapes of arc segments rotating in one direction or another. Again each was covered with people dancing and fucking. Everything was bathed in projections of underwater light.
The group of women who came in behind Renee climbed aboard one of the passing arc floors as it dipped down to the level of the balcony Renee was on. They began dancing with the men already waiting on it. Renee watched the spectacle through the glass floor as it rose back up and ground onward around the cylindrical room.
Renee saw another arc segment floating downward. She walked to her right along the balcony toward where the arc seemed likely to meet the floor here. This one was very short and had nobody on it. There was just enough room for a backless chaise lounge. She hopped aboard and sat down on it. She leaned against the taller of the two cushioned sides. She appreciated that this was a synth and thus the cushion was perfectly clean in spite of whatever had transpired on it earlier. Her glassy magic carpet ascended and slowly made its way around the room. She kicked her feet up and stretched out. And she watched as various other arcs wafted by going around in different directions and speeds. She wondered what kept them from crashing into each other. She imagined surprised patrons being bulldozed off one by such a mishap.
A trio of men stepped onto her arc as it passed near to the one they stepped off of. The three of them were completely naked and sweaty. Two of them carefully walked around the chaise to the other side. The third plopped himself down against the other cushioned end. Renee moved her feet to make space. “Hello-lo Renee. You’re alone? You’re having fun?” The name Omo Fylios floated above his head.
“I’m fine. Thanks.” She looked out at the crowd as though disinterested. The platform continued on downward and around. The first two stepped off to the nearest balcony. Omo made eye contact with the other two as they left. Perhaps he was voking them about his planned conquest of the fresh meat. She voked Chessie to see if she could conjure up a cosmo. The pink beverage appeared in a classic martini glass with a twist of lime dangling from the edge. She plucked it from the air and took a sip. “You’re not going with them?”
“I’m fucking over hour. I’m needing breaking or I will break.” He kicked his feet up straddling Renee’s. He arched his back and put his hands on the back of his head which was now threatening to drop over the side of the couch.
“Ah. Good. I thought you were going to offer me sex or something. I can’t tell you how many voke requests I have waiting for my response now.”
Omo laughed. “You don’t read my profile. I don’t sex women.” He smiled big. “And you sayed nothing in yours.”
“Oh! I’m sorry Omo. Yeah. I didn’t read your profile. I don’t think I’ve had time to read any profiles since I arrived. I should.” She slumped down a little further and looked at Omo instead of away. “And yeah. I need to edit my profile.”
Omo voke requested Renee. She accepted. He voked, “I haven’t seed you anywhere before now. I think you’re new. You’re thinking what of Kalju?”
Voking was definitely more comfortable than shouting through the music and screams of sex. Chessie effectively lowered the volume of those sounds to make it even nicer.
They chatted for a while about their experiences in Kalju. Omo had been here for a couple years. He was part of a variety of communities here but thoroughly embraced the gay male sex scene. When Renee asked he indicated that clubs for only gay men were fairly rare. That when they wanted an audience they tended to favor open sex clubs like Lust, which was his favorite. He said the same was generally true for the gay female sex scene. But he also indicated that pure homosexuality was not as common as bisexuality. For some reason this stunned Renee. In her life up to now she had met some gay men and women but almost none who were bisexual. She had wondered if bisexuality was even a real thing. And now she was starting to realize that bisexuality was common. Was it even more common than pure heterosexuality? She was now very curious to find out.
In the silence while Renee was thinking, Omo voked, “I can join you there? You like cuddling?”
Renee’s attention returned. “I thought you weren’t into women.”
“Cuddling is good for heart. You don’t cuddle?”
Figures that it would be a gay man that wants to cuddle her. She set her cosmo on the floor and stretched out her arms with a smile. Omo stood up and sat next to Renee as she scooted over to make room. He lay on his side with his head on her upper chest. He was significantly bigger than Renee but not enough to crush her. He wrapped a muscular arm around her midriff and grabbed her shoulder blade with his hand, his thumb above her right breast. He draped his left leg over her thighs and sighed. She appreciated his sudden warmth. She closed her eyes and tried not to think too much about his flaccid penis pressed up against her hip.
Omo voked, “You feel good. You are comfortable?”
“Yes. I appreciate you asking. Strangely enough I am enjoying this. I don’t think I’ll be having sex with anyone tonight honestly. But I welcome some cuddles. It’s nice meeting you.”
“You’re sweet. It’s good meeting you too.”
Omo sighed aloud and started petting her with his free hand. He easily lifted her sideways enough to massage part of her back and side. He continued straight down and massaged her butt and hip and then her upper thigh as far as he could reach. Then he reached around to the front of her thigh and massaged her muscles there. Renee was trying to decide whether to chastise Omo directly or have Chessie report his bad behavior if he did what she was expecting. But he massaged her hip away from her vulva. She relaxed and let him continue. He worked his way up. He surprised her by massaging her breast as though it were any other part of her skin. But he continued on up her chest and then around her neck to massage the back of it. He pulled her up further onto her side and started massaging the middle of her back. She wrapped her arm around his neck and pulled his head more tightly against her chest. When he seemed to be done Renee rolled onto her belly and stretched out. Omo dutifully massaged her back, butt, and legs more.
Omo broke their silence and voked, “You feel good. Thank you for breaking with me. I’m ready for going again.” He stood up.
Renee got up to give him a hug. He surprised her by wrapping his arms around her and giving her a quick kiss on the lips. She voked, “You feel good too. Thank you for the massage. I think I needed that.”
And with that Omo stepped onto a passing platform arc closer to the central axis as it floated by. “Have fun Renee.”
Renee realized she needed to change her expectations of what it meant to be gay.
Renee sat up again and looked around at the crowds. She felt as though the people had just transformed from dynamic scenery into real people. She watched one individual after another with close attention. Here was a tall woman dancing at the edge of a tight throng atop one of the hexagonal floor pedestals. Her dress was quite elegant and somehow flowed gracefully as she danced. There was a shorter man on his knees giving fellatio to another man sitting on a small stool. Renee could see his eyes upturned to meet those of the man he sucked on. Here was a woman laying across the laps of two men sitting on a couch while one of them spanked her. She wore nothing but a lacy red blindfold. And there was a pantsless man wearing an orange trenchcoat and fedora. He was banging a woman kneeling and folded up on a cushioned chair. While one of his hands held her tightly at the waist the other gently caressed her back. Two other women were also caressing the woman’s back and hair. And here was a tall naked man carrying a much smaller woman in a silk slip whose legs were wrapped around his waist. He was dancing for both of them as they both kissed long and passionately.
Each person here was engaged in some unique experience. Xiao had said there was nothing but love here. Renee was starting to understand what she meant.
Renee eventually stepped off her magic carpet onto an upper balcony. She strolled along it. There were various side doors along the way. She walked into a few. Behind each was a room with a different theme. Most were occupied by small groups of two to ten people. In most cases someone there would invite her to stay and watch or participate. She would politely stand off to the side and take in the scene.
After making her way to the next balcony level down, one room caught Renee by surprise. She was watching a gangbang scene. There must have been a dozen mostly naked men surrounding one small woman. Renee could only see small scraps of the girl through the forest of bodies. Then one ass moved aside and Renee could suddenly recognize Xiao’s face and short red hair. Her head was bent down backward off the side of the table and her mouth was full of a very large cock. Renee was alarmed because Xiao appeared to be choking on it. Her wrists were held down by men on either side who were biting and sucking her small breasts. One man was standing on the other end of the table and double penetrating Xiao with what appeared to be a pair of penises lined up for the task. Renee decided not to think too much about that. Two other men held her legs spread open for him. One man standing on the other side of the table from Renee put a hand firmly on Xiao’s throat. He pressed his fingertips tightly against her jugular vein and probably was pressing his thumb against her carotid artery on the other side.
Renee was sweating. She leaned off the wall she was against and prepared to rush to Xiao’s defense.
Chessie snapped in a voke, “Don’t! It’s okay Renee. This is a synth. Xiao is safe.”
Renee folded one arm against her chest, rested her other elbow in its hand, and covered her mouth with a fist.
Xiao’s body went limp. This didn’t stop the man penetrating her but he did slow down. After a few seconds Xiao spasmed and her eyes looked around. Everyone holding her down held firm and petted her a little.
The man filling her mouth paused and asked, “You okay love?”
To which she nodded. She somehow managed to giggle and her eyes squinted.
“You thirsty girl? You want jack?”
She groaned and nodded.
How long had Xiao been in here? She was covered in sweat and bruises. She was even more pale than usual. The hand moved from her throat and Renee could see the red handprint lingering. It seemed like the red cocktail dress and makeup she came in wearing had exploded from her passion and splattered the walls of this red velvet room. It was as though the room had been specifically designed as an accessory to Xiao’s own screaming fashion sense. A blast furnace to contain her radiant flame.
It suddenly struck Renee that these men were not taking advantage of some defenseless woman. To the contrary they were servicing her prurient wishes. She was fully in charge of her little army of men. Renee was about to walk out. Xiao hadn’t noticed her yet and she was clearly immersed in being pleasured. Renee lingered. The man in her mouth finally came. Xiao again spasmed a little because he pushed deep into her throat. When he pulled out Xiao swallowed hard and coughed. Her face looked pained at first. He scooped her head up slowly in his hand to straighten her limp neck out. She smiled and eventually opened her eyes to look up at him. A tear ran down Renee’s cheek seeing that smile. It was the face of pure love and gratitude. The man folded open a head cushion on the side of the table to rest Xiao’s head on it. She closed her eyes and drank in the pleasures of the rest of her army still in action on her body.
Renee walked up to fill the brief void. She bent down and ran her hand through Xiao’s sweat-drenched hair. Xiao opened her eyes and smiled that same love as she recognized her new friend. “Jiaren,” she whispered. She closed her eyes and sighed contentedly. Renee kissed Xiao’s forehead and backed away. Another man lowered Xiao’s head support and pressed the tip of his hard cock into her opening mouth. Xiao looked at Renee and smiled with her eyes for another moment before straightening her throat out for this next mouthful. Her eyes squinted even tighter as the man penetrating her vagina and anus had his own orgasm. He all but collapsed and moved aside for the next soldier to relieve him.
The men made a surprise move by picking her up by all the limbs they were holding and with hands under her butt and back. The table disappeared from under Xiao and the fucking continued. Xiao was a powerful little animal in their hands, writhing and arching her body. They had to work very hard to keep her steady. If Renee had walked in just as this was happening she would have been certain that Xiao was being brutally raped. And now she understood clearly that Xiao was in heaven.
Renee walked out of the room. She stood with her back sweating against the wall on the balcony here just outside Xiao’s furnace and watched the swirling of the platforms in motion down in the great cylinder of the main hall. That was incredibly hot. All those beautiful men adoring every part of her body. She pictured herself in Xiao’s place. Every hand, mouth, cock on her. Held open and forcibly filled by one spurt of cum after another. How much had she swallowed tonight in each of her orifices?
Renee’s hand had been pressed against her mound over her sweater dress. She looked around. She was alone enough here in the dark. She pulled the dress up enough to slip her hand into her panty and her middle finger inside her very wet vagina. Her mind was swirling with lust. She kept switching between the image of her own body hoisted aloft and the image of Xiao’s angelic face pulling her in for a kiss. Her finger moved more vigorously. She was now switching between images of sucking off one man after another and having Xiao sitting with her cum-drenched pussy on Renee’s mouth, drinking and licking her completely clean.
It was the giggles of two women walking past Renee on the balcony that made her open her eyes and straighten her dress. One of them said, “Don’t stop for us.” She winked and said, “Voke us if you needing help with it.”
Renee wiped her fingers off on her butt with a sigh as she walked in the other direction.
Renee glanced at the list of private messages lined up. It had grown to nearly four hundred already. The voke requests had all dropped along the way. She would see a new one appear every few minutes and sometimes a few at once. She ignored all of it.
Renee needed some air and quiet. She eventually found her way back to the grand staircase of the entrance rotunda. What before had seemed a dimly lit din now felt relatively quiet and bright. So many candles around the space that filled the cool air with radiance. She smiled occasionally but mostly ignored the people on the stairs as she descended. She walked out the front doors as they opened for her. She paused for a moment and then walked toward the fountain she had teleported in near. It was quiet enough out here to hear the clack of her boot heels on the cobblestones. She washed her hands in the fountain and sat on its low edge.
What was she doing out here though? Renee checked with Chessie. She had been here nearly three hours already. It had only felt like a half hour. And yet in that time she had already seen so much. Kalju truly was an alien world. One both scary and tantalizing.
Renee rocked forward and prepared to voke Chessie to take her back to her home synth. She hesitated and then rocked back again. No. Nothing particularly bad had happened. Lust wasn’t her speed but it was eye-poppingly interesting. When in Rome do as the Romans do. She stood up, straightened out her dress, and walked back toward the main entrance.
Renee went back to the main floor and danced for a couple hours with various groups of people on the rising and falling hexagonal pedestals. She closed her eyes and mostly ignored vokes and PMs. Now and then she would look at other dancers and sex scenes unfolding around her and on the transparent arc segments floating overhead. Looking up gave her the distinct impression of a school of fish swimming. Most of the room’s light came from sharp spotlights high above projecting white light as though filtered through the surface of an ocean. The silhouettes of furniture and people on the floating platforms above cast ever shifting shadows lower down. The shifting ground pedestals were black with bioluminescence-like lights of all colors trimming them and decorating footprints left by dancers.
Renee had several times noticed people exiting from the lowest balcony opposite the main entrance to this dance floor. It was apparently not yet another of the small side rooms like she had visited earlier. The doorway was arched by glowing red light. She was getting tired and ready for a break. She made her way from pedestal to pedestal as they crossed until she finally landed on that balcony. As she got closer she realized that the glowing archway formed the figure of two snake-like dragons with their heads and upper bodies wrapped around each other. They wriggled a little and their heads and eyes unexpectedly followed Renee. The doors opened slowly with a hiss and a puff of smoke as she approached.
The doors closed behind Renee as she walked through. The dark hallway’s walls had a colonnade motif and animated dragons were flying in and out among the columns. It was lined with doorways. People were wandering in and out of them and along the hallway. The hallway eventually branched and branched again. It was apparently a maze. Chessie offered to give Renee a map with highlights of what was in the side rooms. Renee refused. She decided she would enjoy wandering for a while and select a room at random when she felt like stopping. After maybe 5 minutes of wandering it was becoming apparent that this maze was fairly large. She decided to open the nearest door and see what was inside.
Inside Renee was surprised to find an octagonal room fashioned as a Victorian era library. Some walls featured deep nooks with velvet cushioned seating. Most of the nooks were occupied by knots of people. The room was relatively quiet, with only the crackle of a roaring fireplace, some light music, and the hum of quiet flirting and moaning filling the space. Renee claimed a big couch in front of the fireplace for herself. She stretched out on it and sighed contentedly. She requested from Chessie another cosmo. It appeared in a moment.
As usual Renee received several voke requests and PMs. Chessie highlighted one voke that was from Aurora. “Oh! I wouldn’t have noticed that. Accept it.”
Renee answered the voke saying, “Hey Aurora. I’m in a crazy sex club if you can believe it. What’s up?”
“I know sweetie. I’m behind you.”
Renee sat up and craned her neck over the back of the chair to look around. A hand went up from the middle of a pile of people in one of the nooks. She waved back. Several other hands waved from the pile as well. Renee giggled, lay back again, and sipped her cosmo.
Renee voked, “I had no idea you’d be here hun. You getting sexed up or something?”
“Absolutely. I’m having a ball. I hope you are as well.”
“I’m sorry though. It never occurred to me that you could have sex. Or would want to.”
“I understand. I guess you haven’t taken time to get to know any other sapients here tonight. Although it’s not for everyone, many sapients have desires for and enjoy sexual pleasure.”
“I mean that’s cool. But I guess I don’t understand why.”
Aurora asked incredulously, “Why do you have sex?”
“I guess it’s because humans reproduce and stuff.”
“When you have sex do you think, ‘I need to reproduce now’?”
“No. I just want to feel good.”
“There you go. When I have sex it’s because it feels good. You have urges. I have urges. Scratching that itch makes us feel good.”
“That’s deep. I guess I never really thought about why I want sex. I wonder though. Could you turn it off if you wanted?”
“Yes. And not every sapient chooses to have a libido. But many of us do. We like being able to enjoy the pleasures of living. Mostly the same ones humans do.”
Renee adjusted herself to kneel on the seat and peak over the back again. She stretched her elbows out on the couch back and sipped her cosmo. Aurora looked supremely content. In fact she looked downright regal. Men and women were lounging and playing sexually all around, under, and with Aurora while she petted them.
“You are endlessly amazing Aurora. You’ve got them all eating out of your hand. Come to think of it you’ve got them eating out of more than that.”
Aurora laughed through her voke and her body spasmed a little with her laughter. “Are you having fun tonight?”
“I’m getting my mind blown at least. I’m meeting lots of interesting people. I’m seeing lots of beautiful skin. I may be losing my hearing from all the moaning.”
“No sexing though eh?”
“I’m not in any rush. I’m happy to just scope things out. I’m here to learn and meet people.”
“Well good then. I’m glad. Feel free to voke me if there’s anything you need.”
“Will do hun. Go on and have fun with your little harem there. It looks happy.”
Renee slumped back down again. She shook her head and giggled to herself.
Renee wandered the maze of hallways some more. She eventually found an exit that took her outside the mansion. She walked to a low wall marking the edge of the patio here and looked out over a series of tailored gardens and paths leading into the woods beyond them. There were spots of firelight in many places. The sounds of laughter and play mixed with the mating songs of cicadas and faint music wafting in the air.
Renee descended the patio’s slate steps and crunched her boots onto the gravel path winding toward the darkness of the woods. The path was lit on either side by clouds of blue firefly-like insects near the ground. She passed two couples cuddling and chatting on benches under a vine-wound trellis ringed by roses. She passed a trio having sex up against a fountain wall. She passed several other spots where people were congregating in many intimate manners.
All this spectating was fun. Renee did enjoy being a fly on the wall. But she also was getting sick of being an outsider too. If not for other people reaching out to her she would not have even talked to anyone by now. Chessie confirmed that she had been at Lust nearly six hours already. It seemed like everyone around her was having endless sex, cuddles, dancing, and otherwise interacting with other people. And here she was still hiding in her shell. 752 private messages and 139 voke requests had bounced right off her shield. Countless friendly waves and smiles perfunctorily returned and skirted. Maybe it was fatigue and maybe the effects of a few pink martinis. Could you get drunk off virtual alcohol? Renee decided it was time to dive in. She would join the first group of people hanging out and actually talk to them. Or at least the second group.
Not far into the woods Renee came across eight people enjoying a soak in a large hot tub. Surrounding it were low fire bowls laid out on the flagstone patio. Damn. They were all naked. She decided to walk on and find another group. One of them noticed her and waved. “Please join us. It’s perfect waters.”
Renee waved back and smiled. Don’t chicken out again. You’ve been doing that all night. She sighed. When in Rome. She sat down on a bench to remove her over-the-knee leather boots. She stood up and sighed again. She turned away from her new audience. Most were watching her. Perhaps they were giggling because it would have been just as easy to have Chessie instantly remove her clothes here in this synth. Renee paused for a moment with her crossed hands gripping the bottom edges of her sweater dress. She sighed again and pulled the dress up over her head swiftly. She sighed and turned to walk into the large tub. She took the hand of a man who stood up to help her in. And she dunked her body into the water up to her neck as quickly as she could. She sighed. “Thanks guys. This feels nice. What a night.”
After sharing some pleasantries and light flirts with Renee the conversation resumed as before. Renee relaxed and took opportunities to peruse their profiles. All had years’ worth of photos of themselves visiting beautiful synths with beautiful people doing exotic things. And close up glamour shots. Some seemed more vain in their photography than others. One of the eight had in fact very few photos of himself. His photos were more often of places or other people than himself. Each profile had a home page of mostly text. Most used this to summarize their personalities, often by analogy to certain admirable animals. And they paid homage to some of their best friends and lovers with references to other pages devoted to what each one means to them. Renee dug into some of those pages and found them most touching. The summary texts often described the games people played and social groups they were members of. Renee asked Chessie to keep track of some that caught her eye so she could explore them later.
Still mired in profile perusal Renee was caught off guard by someone’s question. Melanie Cordwain asked, “Renee. Your story is what? Your profile is empty. Tell us all.”
Renee really needed to fill out her profile. She thought about giving a short answer as usual. She decided to continue facing her fears. “I’m old. Over three centuries old in fact.”
All eyes turned to Renee. Melanie said, “I thought nobody being that old.”
“I was actually born 337 years ago I died around the age of 35 and was frozen. Someone gave my remains to a kind sapient named Seshat. She revived me four months ago and sent me on my way.”
Everyone nodded their new understanding. A man named Phuhak Souakhav said, “So long ago. You lived on Earth. It was like what?”
“Well. The year I died I was living in Manhattan. It’s in the United States.” Blank stares at first. “Of America.” Renee paused. Each face gradually lit up with vague understanding as their personal assistants gave them context. “I take it none of you have been there.”
Most nodded their heads to say no. Phuhak said, “I was in Earth once. Short visit. I didn’t go to Manhattan. Earth is huge. Open sky. Only world with open sky.”
Renee nodded. “Yeah. New York was a beautiful city. I’d like to see what it looks like now someday. I’m sure you can see pictures and videos of it. Search around 1996.” Heads began nodding again. “Yeah. It’s beautiful. But life is hard there. Was hard. I managed to find a decent paying job. Enough to afford a little apartment in an old building. But I wasn’t rich or anything.”
Melanie said, “You were being a worker? You were doing what?”
“Nothing much really. I was just a secretary.”
Phuhak said, “Sexy. You were seducing your employer?”
“What? Hardly. He was a toad. Why would you think that?”
“This is just what secretaries do. Right?”
Renee wiped her mouth. “I guess that’s what you guys have seen in movies or synths or whatever.” Several nods from the crowd. “Well. It was way more boring than that. I really just answered phones. I filled out forms. I managed employees’ schedules. I took dictation sometimes. Boring shit like that.”
“Okay. Forgive the joke. I don’t wish offending.”
“So. You growed your own food?”
“Me? Ha. No. I bought food. At the grocery store. Like everyone. Sometimes I went out to eat.” More looks of puzzlement as people consulted their PAs.
Chessie voked, “Most humans don’t cook. Those that do so for fun don’t go to stores to buy supplies. Most don’t see a distinction between ‘going out’ to restaurants and simply eating.”
Renee sighed. She wondered if this is what it would be like for someone from her own past to talk to people of her time. Would George Washington scratch his head if she tried to describe a Big Mac? What alien things would he bring up when trying to describe his own world? She chuckled. “You guys ever eaten a Big Mac?” More puzzlement. She shook her head. “Nevermind. Just kidding.”
Renee continued engaging the conversation. To her surprise people were not getting bored. With each little detail she revealed they asked more questions. And soon most everyone was engaging as well. Renee forced herself to keep chiming in with questions and anecdotes instead of quietly listening. “Oh Jesus. I only figured out I had bought the wrong size from the rack after trying on a different one. It was too late to do anything about it. I ended up standing up at the restaurant because my ass would have split it wide open.” Laughs all around. And a few jibes about how she might have enjoyed dinner better in the buff. “I have no idea. I never flew a plane or anything. Is flying a Soljammer the same? Were you any good at it?” She wasn’t half bad at being a genuinely interactive human being when she wanted to be.
Renee found herself paying special attention to Phuhak. His mixed asian features distinguished him. A warmly dark skin tone, thin moustache and chin beard, and tousled short hair defined his face. His penetrating eyes stripped her naked, as though she weren’t already. She wanted to run her hands over his short, lanky body. And since he was sitting next to her in the tub she found opportunities to touch him casually in conversation. A laugh and pat on the shoulder. A hand mock choking him in response to a snarky joke. A hand underwater patting his thigh as he told a story about a date gone horribly wrong. And she casually crossed her legs so one of her knees rested on that thigh.
Renee should not have been surprised when she felt Phuhak’s hand resting on her inner thigh at one point. Nor when it began petting her mound. Let alone when he began fingering her. She tried to remain composed as the conversation continued around her. But her own participation was reduced to mostly short responses and nods. She coughed and giggled a few times to cover up how she was actually feeling.
Had Phuhak voked or PMed Renee? She asked Chessie. Chessie giggled but confirmed that he had not. Should she voke him? She was actually glad he hadn’t. She decided that their current line of communication was going just fine for now. She grabbed his penis to play with as he continued to finger her. Renee had inched a little closer to make everything easier.
At some point a woman named Yulia stood up in the middle of the hot tub. “I think I’m soaking enough now. Who will join me for rainwalking?” Others stood up and an exodus began as they helped each other out. The water level lowered noticeably. They started walking off the other side of the patio onto a grassy path.
Renee had noticed it had been raining a little in that direction. She asked, “Is it cold?”
Yulia laughed. “Not at all. You joining us?”
Renee noticed that Phuhak and Melanie were not getting out. “Maybe in a few minutes. I want to soak a little longer.”
Melanie scooted over next to Phuhak. Renee let go of him. Melanie kissed him and said, “I’m joining them. You there have fun.”
Phuhak ran a free hand over Melanie’s body as she stood up. He pulled her closer and kissed her belly before letting her go. “Later we’ll see.”
Renee felt a tinge of jealousy. Something seemed wrong about him still fingering her as he lavished Melanie. Maybe Melanie didn’t know what was going on underwater. But something about her demeanor said she did. And yet she seemed delighted. No hint of accusation. Nothing but joy as she climbed out and bounced off after her friends leaving them alone.
Melanie was still walking away when Phuhak reached over and picked Renee up by her butt and back. He sat her down on his lap. She grabbed his face and kissed him hard. They worked together to get his cock inside her. The stone bench he was sitting on was hard on her knees. But she barely noticed. Fucking Vince in the ocean had been such a failure. Fucking in a hot tub was proving to be a hot win.
Renee felt a moment of dread when she looked over and saw Melanie watching them from farther along the path. Was this a hugely bad idea? Then Melanie kissed her hands and swept her arms wide toward her. With a giggle she trotted around the tree marking the first bend in the path to catch up with the others. Another deep thrust into Renee transformed her dread into pure thrill.
Phuhak stood up. He cradled Renee’s butt with his hands. She did not stop grinding against him. He managed to step up onto the bench he had been sitting on and set Renee down on the cold flagstone patio. She yelped from the sudden chill. He picked her legs up and continued fucking her hard. He plunged the fresh water out of her. It was quickly replaced by her own lubricant. After a few minutes of this pounding Renee’s quiet moans gave way to outright screams. He held her legs tightly together with her feet over his shoulder with one hand. And bounced her thighs down hard against his pelvis with his other.
Eventually Phuhak pulled her even tighter against his pelvis and groaned out his own orgasm. A few more light strokes to satisfy himself convulsed Renee with the last gasps of her own orgasms. Phuhak gave himself a few moments to recover. Then he cradled Renee in his arms. He sat back down on the bench in the hot tub. He floated Renee in his arms with her butt resting lightly in his lap. She let her body go limp and just float. Then he curled her tightly up against his chest. Renee hated giving up control of anything to anyone. But in this moment she simply surrendered in his arms. Neither said anything.
After a while Phuhak said, “Come. Let’s go walking.” He rocked forward and Renee got off his lap. He climbed out of the hot tub and reached down to help her out. Renee felt self conscious again. She looked around and sighed. She looked up at at him, smiled, and took his hand. The two walked out onto the grassy path where the others had walked earlier. She was surprised to feel that the light rain was warm. It contrasted sweetly with the cool air. They rounded the tree hand in hand.
After strolling a while they exited the rain as they reached a hilltop. Both sat down still naked in the grass. Dawn was breaking before them. Phuhak lay on his side and spooned up behind Renee. She stretched out her arms to rest against him and pet his hair. Renee was charmed by the fact that they had not said a word to each other since they were alone. But it was starting to feel a little artificial.
After a while of them watching the sun rise Phuhak got to his knees next to her. He said, “Perfect end to perfect night. See you soon beautiful.”
Renee said, “Voke me?” She realized sounded a little too plaintive. Vulnerable. Not good. She smiled and he smiled back. And then he was gone.
Renee voked Chessie to have her clothes returned to her avatar. She stretched out on her belly in the grass with her chin on her folded arms. She continued to watch the sunrise. When asked Chessie reported that Renee had been at Lust over eight hours now. Renee realized exhaustion was setting in. That really had been a delightful and unexpected way to end a strange evening here.
As Renee considered whether to teleport to her home synth to get some sleep she got a voke request from Xiao. “Hey girl. What’s up?”
Xiao voked, “Ohh. Ah-yeah. You’re sounding different. You getted sexed. You did.”
“What? What makes you think … Okay. I got sexed.”
“Yeah-ha. I knowed you’d have fun. You’re where? You’re still fucking?”
Renee laughed. “I’m alone now. He left a bit ago. I’m just watching the sunrise somewhere out in the woods. I’m probably lost.”
In a voice that was simultaneously relaxed and sultry she voked, “Come join me Jiaren.” She sent Renee a teleport offer.
Renee accepted. Her view blacked out and then faded in on the new scene. She was standing inside looking out through open French doors. Outside was a round bed filling a small round balcony. A couple of stone steps led up to the violet cushion and a low stone railing ringed it. Renee stood on the first step and stuck her head out to look around. Xiao was lying naked to her left on a heap of silk pillows.
Xiao patted the space next to her and waved her over. “Come join Renee. Lay with me. Tell me all.” She sounded tired but her face was all smile.
Renee crawled to Xiao’s side. She looked over the edge of the wide railing. They were quite a few stories up. There were people on balconies below. And Renee could see the large back patio below them and people relaxing in the gardens beyond. She turned around and set up some pillows to lay against. She squeezed into the space next to Xiao. “This is a great little spot.”
Xiao turned on her side to snuggle up closer to Renee. She put a leg over Renee’s legs and moved tresses of Renee’s hair out of her face. “I like relaxing here after exhausting. Usually alone. Sometimes people pile.” She sniffed Renee’s cheek.
Renee looked at her askance and smiled. “What?”
“Oh geez. What ever.” She rolled her eyes.
Xiao tapped the tip of Renee’s nose with a finger and giggled. She pulled in tighter and buried her own nose in Renee’s neck. She sighed and snaked her arm around Renee’s ribs. She tucked her hand into Renee’s armpit.
Renee giggled softly and kissed Xiao’s hair. Xiao seemed to purr. Renee said, “Yeah hun. I thought I wouldn’t have sex tonight. But this place does something to you. You said there’s only love here. I get what you mean. It’s … I don’t know how to put it in words. I’ve never seen anything like this.” She kissed Xiao’s hair again. “Thank you for inviting me.”
Xiao’s thumb petted Renee’s nearby nipple through her sweater dress. Renee resisted the urge to grab her hand and clamp it in her armpit. It was a bit ticklish. But it was also arousing. Xiao giggled softly into Renee’s neck as she felt the bump rising.
Renee said, “You’ve been fucking all fucking night. Haven’t you?”
“Fucking all night Jiaren. So much love. Such broken Xiao.”
“So. How many dicks?”
“In which hole?”
Renee shook her head and then spit out her laughter. Xiao emerged from hiding in Renee’s neck. The two looked at each other and laughed. Renee looked at Xiao’s neck and shoulder. In them she glimpsed pure youthful femininity. Xiao pulled away ever so slightly exposing the breast she was keeping warm against Renee. So small and perfectly perky. Renee looked back at Xiao’s face. Xiao’s eyes were closed. Her smile was gone now but her lips were every so slightly parted.
Renee’s face inched closer. She nuzzled Xiao’s nose with her own. Xiao’s eyes opened slowly and looked into Renee’s. Renee kissed beside her nose. She kissed her upper lip. She kissed the corner of her mouth. She kissed Xiao’s lower lip and Xiao kissed her upper. Xiao’s face inched forward and locked lips with Renee’s. Renee turned on her side. She ran fingertips along Xiao’s neck and shoulder. Xiao closed her eyes again and sighed her pleasure. Renee kissed her smile.
Chessie apologized for the interruption and let Renee know there was an incoming voke request from Aurora. Renee voked, “Can you tell her I’ll voke back in a few minutes?”
Renee sighed aloud. She ran her hand along Xiao’s cheek. She ran it down along Xiao’s body. “I don’t know what I want yet. I’ve never been with a woman. You know?” Xiao said nothing. “You are really gorgeous. And somehow you turn me on. I don’t know how. You know?”
Xiao took Renee’s hand and played with her fingers. She brushed her nipple against the back of Renee’s hand. And she kissed her hand. “You’re my friend. You take what you want. When you want. No rush. No rules. Just be good to you and me Jiaren.”
Renee kissed Xiao’s lips again. “Thank you. Give me some time. But hey. You wanna meet one of my besties?”
Xiao looked quizzically at Renee. “Sure. Teleport them.” She smiled and stretched out again on her pillow pile. Obviously still not the least bit concerned about being naked. No matter who was about to arrive.
After another voke and invitation Aurora arrived. She was also naked. But she was adorned with many colorful tattoos contrasting with her dark skin. “Greetings ladies. Oh my Renee. You have good taste.”
“What? Oh. We didn’t … We’re not …” She laughed and shook her head. “Aurora. This is Xiao. Xiao, Aurora. We were just chatting.”
Aurora flopped herself down next to Renee and snuggled up.
Xiao draped her leg across Renee’s legs again. She said, “Renee needing more cuddles. Come help.”
Aurora draped her own Amazonian leg over Xiao’s small knee. The two giggled at each other. Renee stretched her arms out and the other two laid their heads on her shoulders. She shook her head and sighed. “You guys are great.”
The three talked about their exploits. Renee couldn’t believe that anyone could have such a strong libido let alone the stamina to spend an entire night having sex. They explained that it’s about pacing. You spend most of the time relaxing between bursts of energetic activity. And with men it helps to have several available to work in shifts.
Renee said to Aurora, “I’m sure it helps that you’re a machine. Right? You don’t have to get tired out.”
Xiao said, “Ah. Sexy sapient. Good.”
“Yeah. She’s my ship. She flies it I mean. Or is it. Or whatever.”
“You got ship? Your own?”
Aurora said, “Her benefactor kindly donated me to Renee as parting gift.”
“Generous gift. You are circumsol?”
“Yes. I’m traveling throughout Sol almost 180 years.”
“Wow. Let’s be friends. Tell me all your stories.”
“I’ve always got room for new friends Xiao.”
Renee said, “So is Kalju unusual? Is Lust unique? Or is this just what people do every day.”
The other two giggled. Aurora said, “Lust is most definitely unique. There are sex-oriented clubs like Lust in almost every world throughout Sol. Most of them are older even than Kalju. Lust was crafted by sapients who already had experience creating some of the most successful clubs out there. They helped guide the design of Kalju. The trend on other new spinners had been toward large open spaces. Extravagant views. Whereas Kalju is all about what goes on in synths like this one. Kalju is a massive synth farm in a compact package. You won’t find anything like it in Sol right now. But new spinners are in the works that follow Kalju’s example.”
Xiao said, “And no rancor here. Only love. Anyone causing trouble they’re gone.”
Renee said, “Really? I guess I saw a little rancor earlier in another synth.”
Aurora said, “Xiao means in Lust. People have a lot of freedom here on Kalju. Especially in its many synths. Out in the real you have to behave. But in synths you can be as wonderful or awful as you want. Except in synths like Lust that have strict codes of conduct.”
Xiao poked at Renee’s chest. “You being good girl Renee. No rancor.”
Renee nodded. “Yes ma’am. Promise I’ll be good.”
Xiao smoothed her pokes out with her hand. “Maybe start by nakeding.”
“Tsk. Oh you.”
The three continued their banter for a while. Xiao was the first to fall asleep. She was still laying across Renee with her warm hand rising and falling on Renee’s breast. Renee and Aurora continued chatting softly. And eventually Renee succumbed to sleep as well. She was letting Aurora do most of the talking by then. The main thing on her mind was how she had never before felt so loved.
With over 16,000 words this section is about double the length of all previous ones. But I’ve been looking forward to this one because it’s the first section to really dive into what has become culturally of humanity.
To be sure the story points out that Kalju is singularly distinctive in several ways. For one thing it is a world where humans spend even more of their lives in synths than humans on most other worlds do. Hopefully this signals that this is a direction humanity is going and that the world Renee is now exploring is by no means static. Considering Renee individually you may notice that the avant garde lifestyle Kaljuans enjoy is already the normal experience for Renee. After all her head is...