Aster used to make me chuckle with the story of his brother's search for the 'perfect place.' Apparently, Albie has a bunch of esoteric beliefs about sex and its sanctity, and so he drove his mate crazy looking for a spot with the perfect balance in all five senses. Lupine, his mate, got so frustrated that he convinced Albie to consummate their relationship then and there. They did it under the teacher's hoverplate in Albie's Holistic History classroom.
Neither Aster nor I are sentimental people, so it's funny that we ended having sex for the first time in outer space. In a simulation of it, at least.
It's a foggy day at the end of the first semester. Aster is visiting and we had breakfast together, peaches and almonds in my capsule apartment, overlooking the 32nd floor preschool in the Education building. He accompanied me on the walkways until we got to my first class of the day, Life in Twenty-First Century America. The mats were mostly filled with yawning, chatting students. We stopped walking when we reached the archway.
"Remember, the tenth evening hour," Aster said, leaning in to kiss my cheek. I felt myself blushing, although my students couldn't hear us and had no idea what we were talking about.
"It's a little strange how we're planning it," I admitted, lingering behind the arch.
"Why?" Aster said, genuinely puzzled.
"I don't know... Shouldn't it be spontaneous?"
Aster smirked. "Cassia, are either of us spontaneous?"
I sighed. He was right.
I was barely able to focus that day, which definetly made quite a buzz, since I'm normally the most prim and proper professor at the University.
Now, at five minutes before the tenth evening hour, I'm waiting for Aster in the corridor outside my capsule. I can't stop thinking about how he said that neither of us are spontaneous. There's something I don't like about that. When he turns the corner, looking orderly in a one-piece suit, I walk toward him. I've gotten a blanket from my capsule, which I've compressed and stuffed into the pocket of my robe.
"Come," I say. "I want to show you something."
He stops in his tracks. "Aren't we supposed to-"
I just raise my eyebrows, beckoning him. Whenever I take Aster somewhere new in Rhodium, he doesn't ask and I don't tell, at least until we get there. This time is no different. We take the exterior elevator all the way up to the 78th floor, and then the east walkway towards the Uni's cluster of cone-shaped buildings. Aster looks puzzled, but hurried along with me. We must seem like we have an appointment to catch, the way we hustle down the tree-lined paths. In a way, we do.
The Astronomy building is adjacent to the Administration building. It's open plan like the rest of the campus, except for the top floor. I lead Aster into a giant room, dark and empty with a domed ceiling. The door clicks shut behind us, resounding in a hollow way. The accoustics here are wonderful.
"Here?" Aster says, craning his neck to look around.
"Almost," I say, locking onto the room with my Q-band. "Okay. We're not supposed to use the Simulator after hours, but it's technically not off limits for Uni staff. Where do you want to go?"
My mates eyes me uncomprehendingly. He's lit by a single light coming from the apex of the dome, his features eerily shadowed.
"It's a Simulator," I say. "We can go anywhere you want."
Aster's folds his arms. "Anywhere on earth?"
My Q-band buzzes. We're locked into the Simulation system. "Anywhere in the Milky Way."
His jaw drops, and it pleases me to watch him as he lets it sink in. I imagine his mathematical mind churning, sifting through every location he's ever seen or heard about.
We drift to the center of the room and sit down cross-legged.
"Somewhere dark," Aster says.
I snort. "Like a cave?"
"In serious. Totally dark."
I make a face. "We could go anywhere and you want to see nothing?"
He tugs at his collar. "It's not about what I see, it's about what you see. We talked about this."
I lower my Q-band arm. We did talk about this. I completely forgot about his insecurities towards his body.
"Aster, I don't care about your wires."
He flinches at the last word. "I do. It's just another reminder."
Quswàk. I'm not about to have another argument about this. I pick a crater on the dark side of the moon, and the Simulation creates it for us in each sense. The ground beneath us is a crumbly gray slab of rock, and above us are the stars. I can't see him and he can't see me.
"We're just two people having sex," I say, fumbling for him, unclasping the button as he neck when I find him. I can feel his hesitation.
"Wouldn't you want me," I ask, "If the situation was reversed?"
I seem to have hit the right spot. "Of course," Aster says. "As long as you're still you.
"Exactly," I say. The moon is supposed to be cold, but I'm feeling all warm, even as I pull my robe over my head. Soon, my naked flesh is on his, and our breaths are mingling under the stars.
Dr. Moscowitz's workers undressed Aster with no regard to his limbs or his head, like he was a floppy doll, rather than a conscious being. Perhaps they didn't realize that he was conscious. He hoped to use that to his advantage.
He was in a white, sterile room, with only an examination table in the center and a few floating shelves. His blindfold had been strewn carelessly. When he was down to his diaper, he was wheeled out on the table, lying his side, one arm swinging over the side. They hadn't given him any drugs, so he was conpletely alert. They pushed him down a corridor, the same corridor he'd seen through Cassia's Q-band last night. If it had been last night. After he and Cassia were brought here, he'd been left on the table for a while. He had no idea what time it was.
He hadn't seen his mate or Dr. Moscowitz since then, either. It was quiet, except for the squeak of the table's wheels, but he heard muffled voices, nearby but behind a closed door. One of them was Cassia's. He couldn't do a thing, couldn't call out or lift his his eyes, only lie there and stare at the ceiling.
He was rolled into a larger, airier room, also white but a few degrees cooler. It was the one with the observation deck. The way his head was slanted, Aster could see a dozen or so people sitting in the deck, most dressed like doctors and holding iPads or clipboards. A large shape loomed over him, and a beefy hand slid under his head, lifting it up. He stared directly into the pale eyes of Dr. Moscowitz.
"Hello," The Doctor said in Menghish. "You're looking quite well." He chuckle at his own sick joke, and let down Aster's head, leaving him to stare at the chains hanging from the ceiling.
"I asked you to undress him," the older man said to someone behind Aster. There was some grumbling, until finally Aster felt the tabs on his diaper being ripped and the whole thing pulled out from underneath him.
"Now," the Doctor said, waving a glowing cuff above Aster, "I wonder if you'd recognize what I have here. Oh, I know you're in there. And you can't really ignore me, can you? There's nowhere else to look." Still smiling to himself, he opened the cuff and snapped it around Aster's wrist. "I thought I'd do the honors."
He pulled out another cuff, and then another, snapping them around Aster's other wrist, elbows, knees, ankles, and neck. They were cold where they touched his skin. He felt them locking into place, snapping to attention, and then the Doctor pulled the examination table out from underneath him. Aster experienced a moment of trepidation, but he didn't fall, although his midsection sagged down, held up in midair by the cuffs. He still couldn't move his neck, but he heard the Doctor clicking the controller, and soon his levitating body was moving up, stopping when it reached the Doctor's shoulders.
Then he heard Cassia's voice. She sounded like she was struggling, but he couldn't make out the words.
Dr. Moscowitz peered at his face, his hands behind his back. "Look at those eyes," he said, as if he was examining a child. "You're all agitated, aren't you? Don't you worry. You're mate is right here." The Doctor receded from view. "Cassia, don't you want to say hello to your mate?"
He heard her spit. The next thing Aster saw was Cassia standing beside him, Dr. Moscowitz's hands firmly squeezing her bare shoulders. He felt a surge of disgust.
"Now that we're all here," said the Doctor, "Let's begin. Here's the situation. We've got two Hybrid bodies here, and I need at least one to study. You two will-"
"Two?" Cassia interrupted. Her arms were crossed over her breasts. The Doctor dug his fingers into her flesh, inching closer to her chest.
"I believe I was still talking," he said calmly. Cassia barely grimaced.
"You didn't know, I surmise," Dr. Moscowitz continued, moving his hands up and and down as if he was massaging her. "Aster is the only known hybrid at your point in history, mostly because his model, an early prototype, was an abysmal failure." He released Cassia, coming around to Aster's other side. "Your model, my darling, worked out a lot better."
Out of the corner of his eye, Aster could see Cassia's face had drained of all color.
The Doctor patted Aster's thigh. "I'm not surprised your parents never told you. I was quite well known in some circles, at least before I came here. They called me the Miracle Doctor."
Aster felt Cassia's fingers on his, squeezing them. "I don't believe you."
"Oh, you don't have to." The Doctor smiled. "You know, not a lot of people in your time know this, but playing with embryonic DNA has its dangers. Whenever a baby was born dying, they called me. They never cared to know what I did, that I was turning their children into mechanical devices. As long as I saved lives, right?"
Cassia grip was trembling. "So what do you want?"
The Doctor took a step back, and his voice began to recede. "I told you. Decide who's body to give me. I only need one."
His footsteps stopped. "Oh, and to make it a little easier, here." He whistled. "Jake, bring me the chip."
There was a lot of clanging and talking and people walking. Cassia had moved out of his line of view. Aster hated not knowing what was going on, especially as he felt a syringe prick the back of his neck. It was colder than ice, and suddenly his mind was flooded with an electrifying jolt, and then he blinked. He blinked on his own.
And suddenly he could turn his head and open his parched mouth. A wave of dizziness overtook him, and then a straw was shoved between his lips and when he sucked, cool water flowed onto his leathery tongue. He drank and drank until the straw rumbled with empty air. Then it was pulled from him.
The lights went out, and the only illumination came from the blue florescence of the observation deck.
Aster struggled to turn his head. It seems like everyone had left, save Cassia. She was standing in the corner, arms still wrapped around her naked body protectively. A tinny voice came through a speaker."You have a half hour."
Cassia came up to him, tears in the corners of his eyes. "Say something," she whispered.
He shook his head, scared of what would come out. But she took his hand, so he patted his lips and said, "I love you." It came out in a raspy croak, but Cassia liked it all the same. She wrapped her hands around his chest, smoothing down his hair and stroking his chest . She tried bringing him down a bit, but the cuffs were stuck hard where they were.
"Are you okay?" Aster said. The words tasted sour.
She leaned in close, even though every word was probably being recorded. "Me? I'm... I'm fine."
Aster strained to lift his head. He couldn't, because of the cuff. "You just found out that you're…"
"Like you." Cassia cleared her throat. "I don't know, maybe it makes sense. But I know I'm a conscious being. And I know that you are. So it doesn't matter."
"Not everyone believes that I'm sentient," Aster said. "You're taking a leap of faith."
Cassia smiled thorough her tears, cupping his head and tracing his cheeks, like she was seeing him for the first time. "So are you, I guess."
They were both startled by the sound of drizzling urine. Cassia took a step back.
Aster swallowed. "I'm sorry."
Cassia just shook her head. She stalked over to the side of the room that was right beneath the observation room. "Don't put have any sense decency?" She yelled, looking up. "Why do you need to do this to us? To humiliate us?"
"Twenty-five minutes," the unseen speaker boomed.
"Cassia forget it," Aster said. The stream had stopped. "I think it's pretty obvious who should be the guinea pig."
"I'm not letting you go," she said.
"Cassia, think. If you were to be taken, who would take care of me? You still have a life ahead of you."
"But he can cure you," Cassia said, coming close again. They both tried to ignore the smell in the air. "He just showed us he can. There is no way I'm letting anything happen to you."
"I want to go."
Aster raised an eyebrow. "We don't even know what he's planning on doing with us. Is that why he traveled back here? To dissect humans?"
"Twenty minutes," the speaker boomed.
Molly opened the door slowly. She'd managed to get around the room thus far without waking Samuel, and she just had to get her shoes and then she was ready. She tiptoed in sock-clad feet to the side of the bed, and reached down.
"Where are you going?"
Molly shot up. "I need to pick up some things," she said.
Samuel's eyes were already alert. Damn him, being a morning person. "No you're not," he said, sitting up. "I know you. You're feeling wishy-washy about last night."
Molly hesitated. But the comeback or the perfect lie didn't come to her, so she grabbed her shoes and brushed out of the room.
Samuel threw off the covers, slipped his shoes on and rushed after her.
∆∆ To be continued…