Hayley fumed. Holding a grudge was not her normal modus operandi, but still, she fumed. "Puppet? — Parrot? Groundless accusations. If I hadn't been so taken aback, out of my league—Grandma, what would you have said?" Hayley stopped her pacing and took the frame in her hand. "Christine says I was perfect. I just wish I had spoken up, said more, done more. Asked Light Horse about how she felt rendering the Confederation, the institution to which she had just sworn allegiance? I wish I had given her bit of my mind. I know you would have." She set the frame back on its shelf. "Can't go back in time an' change my response. Can't do anything now." She sat back at her net console. "I just wish I'd spoken up for myself."
"You're still working?" Christine entered her office. "We have a reservation."
In the two weeks following the encounter with the notorious Dr. Light Horse, work, wiping out the enemy in the VRC, knocking out a couple of sets of tennis, and swimming countless laps, and the explosive frenzy of exhilarating sex with the gallant knight who had so publicly declared her love consumed her every waking moment. Work validated that indeed she was a historian. The VRC and other athletic endeavors were just darn good therapy, and fun, especially when Carol could get away for a day here and there of leave, breaks she called them from preparations for her big move, but no more fun than the sex, which with Christine was as much of a work out as her other athletic endeavors. During those times, she tried to solicit and occasionally received the sympathetic touch she wished Christine was more able to give. In the last several days, the sex had been less frequent. With her speaking engagements commencing on Earth, Hayley had spent several nights off-station.
"I forgot," Hayley apologized.
"That's all right. I know I keep you busy with all my requests." Christine kissed the back of her neck. "I understand the in-services you gave yesterday in Philadelphia and London were very good. The President of the Intergalactic Union of Social Studies Teachers contacted me this afternoon. She offered nothing but praises."
Hayley felt a foolish grin slide across her face, but she said nothing. Christine's so intuitive. She sensed my need for a positive stroke. Saving and shunting the subroutines and programs that had occupied her day, she let the ill-humor that had caused her mind to wander and belabor the infamous Dr. Light Horse for much too long fade into the background.
"I missed you today." She threw her arms around Christine's neck and gave her a kiss.
Christine returned the kiss. "I knew there was a reason why I should come in here. I need to come in here more often." She kissed Hayley again. "Are you ready for your night on the town?" She offered her arm with a charming little bow.
Graciously, Hayley curtsied, as they would in the old films she loved and batting her eyes, much too comically, she took Christine's elbow with hers and followed her from the office.
They took the station's internal transportation system from the first tier and the offices of the executive branch to the second tier where all the station's inhabitants lived and played. The shuttle stopped outside the area known as Little Paris.
Littered with small boutiques of every imaginable description, bakeries, open-aired cafes, and the best French restaurants anywhere, it was a favorite of those in the top echelons of government. Christine certainly knew the haunt well. However, Hayley's more pedestrian tastes would always relish a good garbage pizza, a dish of pasta with a side of garlic bread, or a large salad over a cuisine known more for the aesthetic appearance of its small dabs of mystery food than for fulfilling the needs of a famished, slightly irritable historian. However, as Christine had spoken often of the magical evening she was planning, Hayley said nothing. She wanted nothing to wipe away the juvenile delight that spoke of her pleasure.
Entering the restaurant's main foyer, they were greeted by a penguin attired maître d'. About forty-five with gray streaks and a thinning hairline, the host was busy with a small recessed net. Even when Christine cleared her throat, he paid them no attention. He only looked up when Christine addressed him in French. Seeing then who it was, his eyes widened with embarrassment.
From that point Hayley understood only bits as the entire conversation was in French. Luckily, Latin and Spanish had many similarities.
The restaurant was divided into two sections. The interior, which was not large, held only a dozen tables, most small and intimate. Along the walls and in the corners, booths provided adequate room for larger groups, or young lovers wanting total privacy. The interior was dark. Small candles flickered within glass Tiffany holders provided glowing warmth. Much of the room remained in shadows. The rest quivered in dancing rosy-amber-blue-green auras.
The maître d' took them through the restaurant interior and out through a portico filled with hanging baskets overflowing with waterfalls of flowers and vines of jasmine and grape hyacinths to a secluded patio. Surrounded by a lush garden, classically sculpted statuary, a sky inhabited by a full moon and thousands of naked stars, and a small gurgling fountain shimmering beneath a flood of playful lights, the patio had room for only five small tables draped in the finest white linen. Each table, secluded from the others by a portion of the garden, had only two chairs and two place settings of the finest French china and crystal.
The maître d' pulled Hayley's chair out from the table and held it as she took her seat. Keeping an eye on Hayley's face as it caught the glow of the Tiffany candle forming their centerpiece, Christine sat across from her and accepted the first of two menus. She thanked their host and ordered a bottle of wine. "Christine, this is so beautiful," Hayley whispered.
"I'm glad you like it." Her lips curled. "I wanted some place special. We've both been so busy. Now that your speaking engagements have begun on Earth, I hate it when you're away. I'm not use to having an empty bed at night."
"But you have Sparky to keep you company," she giggled shyly.
"Not the same," a touch of cynicism tinge Christine's laugh. Cupping Hayley's face in her hands, Christine pulled it close and kissed her lips. They kissed again, their lips intertwining, their tongues pushing into willing mouths.
"Well, your office was the one who set up my speaking tour." Hayley reminded playfully after she gave Christine's lips one last kiss. "Besides, you were supposed to meet me in Paris on Wednesday. Is that the reason for this tonight?" She gestured, still playful.
Hayley understood that the debates on the legislative floor over the new mining programs and compacts with Mars and several intergalatics, treaty proposals with Trinidia, Light Horse's mountain of proposed sanctions, and the recent petition from Ceta Bine Two for sovereignty had increased tempers and factionalized even staunch government supporters. DeBow had needed Christine's talents to calm tensions and oversee the success of the administration's programs. Still, Hayley had counted on the romantic rendezvous and the magical walk she had planned for the Champ de'Lyses.
Christine tilted her head in that innocent little way Hayley loved. She was so adorable. In the light the green flecks in her brown eyes twinkled.
"Perhaps, you'll be able to meet me when I go to San Francisco? If the weather is clear, we can stroll the Golden Gate. It's supposed to be quite romantic."
"I would like that, and then perhaps a walk along the waterfront. I know of some interesting sights. Is Carol still joining you for your stops in Tokyo and Beijing?"
"She hopes so."
"Chief Stone?" a waiter interrupted.
The waiter opened a small portable table and set a silver ice bucket holding a thin bottle of wine on top. Taking a bottle opener from his jacket, he removed the seal and then the cork. He poured Christine a taste of the Merlot. Christine took a sip and nodded. The waiter filled Christine's glass and then Hayley's. Giving them another minute to look over their menus, he bowed and took his leave.
"To the most beautiful lady on this station . . . in all of Sol . . . maybe the galaxy," Christine toasted.
Blushing, Hayley picked up her glass. "And to my beautiful, gallant knight." They clinked glasses and sipped. Returning to their menus, which were in French, Hayley's brow furled. "You don't suppose they make a respectable pepperoni pizza?" Christine laughed and then described each of the items.
Hayley looked at her plate when the waiter set it in front of her. She had ordered a pasta dish. With clams, mussels, crab, shrimp, and lobster it resembled a seafood ciopinno, except it had a fancy French name. Covered with a smattering of cheese, the aroma was pleasing. She took a slice of French bread from a small wicker basket and began to eat.
As they ate, the conversation that had flowed came only intermittently. Perhaps, they were just hungry. Hayley had often noticed conversation lagged when people were famished. She, personally, hadn't realized just how hungry she was. Christine's attention, though she seemed very content with her lamb chops, seemed to wander. Looking out at the patio, and at the three other couples seated in the garden, and the door, her eyes darted about expectantly.
"Bruce was telling me that your parents have invited almost every important political figure on Mars to their party."
"My parents have never known how to throw a small, intimate affair. They're almost always quite lavish. To tell you the truth, if I was celebrating my thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, I wouldn't want everyone on the planet in attendance, or even half. I've never understood why they don't just have a quiet little dinner—maybe with the family or a friend or two."
Christine chuckled. She pushed her empty plate back.
"I guess you're not looking forward to the party?"
"Not really." Hayley still had not changed that much. "I'll go, but I don't want to play politics. I just want to wish my parents well . . . to tell them I love them. You understand?"
"Yes." Christine smiled warmly. The flame in the candle danced in her eyes. "I guess the press will be there."
"Kimberly probably. She's a family friend and covers the social scene—probably a few others," Hayley shrugged. "I know they've been covering Delores's move to bring the Quantum Conglomerate to Mars, and Dad's been asked to head another geological survey of the asteroid belt." Hayley listed the recent headlines made by the family. "Then of course there's us and my run in with the wonderful Dr. Kaliska Light Horse!" Hayley seethed again. "You know they blew that entire discussion completely out of proportion, especially the Green Press. I am not a propagandist and I'm certainly no one's puppet. I'm a simple historian."
"I know, Darling." Christine cooed.
"Then to imply our relationship is solely political? I've been so angry—even in London last week, a reporter asked me about it. `During sex does Chief Stone dictate how you should twist history to fit the needs of the administration?' Damn them! The Green press wouldn't know the truth if it bit them!"
"I think I brought up a topic that would be better forgotten." Christine took her hand. She smiled until Hayley calmed down. "Your eyes are so beautiful," she said, oozing with silver-tongued romanticism. "I didn't mention the press to bring up sore points, I brought up the press because," she paused as the waiter cleared their empty plates. She remained quiet. In the background, coming from the interior of the restaurant, they heard the dolci vibrato of a roving violin player. Christine cleared her throat. She played with Hayley's fingers, lacing them together. She smiled again, almost sheepishly. The mischievous little glint, the twinkle dancing with the flame from their table's candle, mesmerized.
"I love you Dr. Hayley Michelle Genetti."
Slowly, Christine reached over and brought Hayley's lips to hers. Pressing tenderly, she kissed her. She kissed her again, and then opening her mouth, she pressed inside, passionately. Her hand intertwined with her long flowing hair.
"I love you Chief Christine Allyson Stone," Hayley practically sighed.
"I want you to marry me," Christine said, her eyes not moving from Hayley's. She reached into her jacket and brought out a small box. She opened it and produced a small ring with a diamond. "Please — I wasn't kidding when I told Kim I thought you'd make a good wife. It just kind of blurted out—all of a sudden making sense." She removed the ring. "Say you'll marry me." She slipped the ring onto the hand she held. "Marry me." Lifting her lips, she kissed her again. "I love you."
"Christine!" Hayley gasped with surprise. "I—."
"I never thought I would ever find a girl—a woman—I'd want to share my life with, but the first time I saw you on the videocom I knew you were the girl for me. You're so beautiful. In your parent's kitchen with the strawberries, you were so shy, I just wanted to take you into my arms and protect you. Yet, you're so vibrant, fun, smart. I give you an assignment and presto, it's done—more thoroughly than I could have ever thought possible. And most importantly of all, when you share your bed with me, I'm in heaven. You're sexy and the most wonderful lover I've ever had. I could ravish you right now," she said hungrily with an impish chuckle. "I love you. Take a chance, share my life with me."
Hayley blinked as tears leaked from her watery blue eyes. She didn't know why, but that was what her eyes wanted to do. Never in her life had anyone said such things to her. Never before had anyone made such a declaration of love. And never in her life had she said "yes" so quickly. "Yes," she repeated. "I'll marry you."
Christine brought the hand she held to his lips. She kissed it. "You've made me very happy," she smiled. "Waiter," she called. "Champagne," she beamed. "And glasses for everyone," she trumpeted loudly. She stood. Those on the patio were now watching, their eyes opened wide with recognition when they realized who she was; and, who they were. "The most beautiful and luscious woman in the galaxy has consented to be my wife this very moment," she said almost out of breath. "I would like to drink a toast." She waited for a moment as the waiter hurried back with the Champagne. Popping the cork, the effervescent liquid erupted in a spray of foaming bubbles. Christine motioned for the waiter to serve everyone. "To my fiancé," she claimed, relishing Hayley's blushing smile. "The soon-to-be Mrs. Christine Stone. My beloved, darling Hayley." The patio toasted and then applauded.
A moment later the violinist emerged. Playing a sweet romantic etude, he stopped by the table. Standing, Christine held out her hand. Nervously, but totally under her fiancé's spell, Hayley gave her a hand and followed her out to an opening before the fountain.
"I don't know how to dance," she whispered.
"Neither can I," Christine grinned. "The moods right, let's fake it."
Under the gigantic lunarscape and a field of a million blazing stars, and in front of a glowing fount, on a patio filled with flowers, lost, arm-in-arm in one another's embrace, they danced. ##
"Warren," Light Horse rose and circled her desk so as to extend a hand and then greet her new friend in a warm embrace.
"Kali, I hope you don't mind my just dropping in."
"No, I said, `drop by when you get back from your sojourns.' How did they go? Any luck on Mars? Warren, can Hanna get you something to drink?"
"A little water would be nice. The air on this damned station is dry," he burred in his brogue.
"Coming, up" Hanna gave a nod. "How `bout you, Kali?"
"Same please," she nodded.
"I hadn't noticed. You don't have a bar in here."
"No," Light Horse replied. "I keep a small lunch room instead so we can share. More homey that way."
"You are certainly different." Warren sat in one of Light Horse's dark leather upholstered chairs. "I think these are standard though."
"They are. No prejudice in accommodations, except in the executive offices, but we did have out choice in lay outs. I took this one. I wanted everyone to be comfortable, including my staff."
"Your assistant with you long?"
"About ten years."
"Since your professorship?"
The door opened and Hanna returned carrying a large pitcher filled with ice and water and a stack holding two multicolored tumblers. She set them on the coffee table in front of Warren. She pulled two sandstone coasters from a drawer in a nearby end table and poured out.
"So, I gather you be the drone be `round here to Light Horse?" he asked the assistant as she performed her task.
"Pardon?" Hanna squirreled her face in confusion.
"You rather run the place. Take care of the lass."
Hanna chuckled. "Interesting idiom," she replied. "I'm not much the drone. No pollination going on from me. My husband wouldn't approve."
"I couldn't do anything I do without Hanna. She's spent the last decade keeping me on an even keel."
"Do you require anything else, lass," Hanna mimicked Warren's brogue with a chuckle.
"No, ma'am," Light Horse laughed enjoying the humor of the moment. "Thank you. Now why don't you get home before your husband reprimands me for keeping you here too long?"
"I just have a couple items to order and finish, then out I go. Nice seeing you again, Mr. McClurg." Hanna gave a final nod and left. The door closed. Light Horse sat in the chair opposite her associate. "Tell me. How did it go?"
"Europa, only has commonwealth status," he began telling her nothing she didn't already know as he took the closest tumbler and drank.
"They're happy with the status. For all intents and purposes, they're pretty sovereign."
"But like the Lunar Colonies, they're experiencing the same problems with the mining congloms." Light Horse knew the facts, but remained quiet while Warren spoke. "Mars, however, was a different story. I don't know how those outside the main bubble deal with their place."
"The Martian elite is quite capable in twisting the truth just so. The workers believe they are gaining, when in fact they are stagnant, and in too many cases, losing status—both economically and politically," Light Horse said.
"Well, they're totally blind to the truth of own situation, and of course the planet's government is as provincial and conservative as Parliamentary and a majority of the wealthy states Earthside. I don't see where you're going to get the support we need for your bills on our behalf."
"Sadly, Warren that is the key. Unless we can get someone in the administration to take our side we're going to be buried in committee this go-round."
"Then what do we do?"
"My people won't be for long. They are determined, at least most of the population. And if you don't win when the next election cycle comes around, what happens then?"
"Warren, you've made a number of good allies. I'm not a lone crusader."
"Just their voice. Without you any chance of reform fails," he said. "What about that new historian they've tagged?"
"Dr. Genetti? I don't think so."
"I met the lass outside Stone's a couple weeks back. When I spoke to her about my people's longing for independence, she was instantly on my side of the discussion. Her girlfriend didn't look too please. You should have seen the malevolence of her glare. I think she might be an ally."
"You'd have to approach her," said Light Horse. "I believe my face-to-face made a poor impression of my manners. I don't think she'd even give me a listen. Take the documents you've been showing around"
"I heard her girlfriend when I left; well, hear isn't exactly correct. I peeked back on my way out. I think the lass might'a had some scare put into her."
"Perhaps. I don't know."
"You can do it, Kali. Talk to her academic to academic. You're both social scientists and after listening to her speech on the vid, she sounded just like you."
"She's a Genetti, good with propaganda."
"Hooey! She's a first-class historian. Unbiased. You read her work. You've said so. Kali, she's a true believer. I can tell. You talk to her. I know she'll listen. She speaks your language."
"By Jon'ai, I don't know." Kali picked up the tumbler filled with water and drank.
"You do it, lass." ##
Christine had just come and slumped into her embrace. Hayley softly stroked her lover's damp mane that spilled down like a blanket across their nakedness. Their breathing, which had been quick and difficult to catch midst their passion, was subsiding and calmed into a peaceful languidness. Hayley felt her eyes closed. This is bliss, she thought. She was worn out. Drowsy. Falling asleep like this, or with her own body posing as the night covering, she imaged a life filled with such glory, such perfection.
"Honey?" Christine's breath echoed the same dreaminess Hayley sensed at the edge of consciousness.
Hayley pulled the head resting on her shoulder up. Staring into the lascivious gaze fixed on her, she guided the lips she wanted to taste down for a brief repast. Again, the number of times too frequent to count, they blended. When the music of their mouths came to the final coda and faded, Christine pushed herself upon her elbows, her gaze more serious. With a thumb, she caressed Hayley's cheek.
"What is it, sweetheart?" Hayley sought an answer from the dark eyes searching hers for an answer. Permission?
"I've been thinking."
"Something you do very well." Hayley smiled and ran a hand through Christine's mane.
"Two things actually." Christine spoke in confession.
"A multitasker." Hayley gave a gentle laugh. She stroked the hair again. "Tell me, sweetie."
"Two things. The wedding."
"I know Carol's shipping out in three weeks."
"Ah huh," Hayley swallowed.
"Do you want her as your maid of honor?"
"More than anything, and Delores as my attendant."
Christine smiled. "I thought so. With you parent's fiftieth wedding anniversary next week end, I thought we might combine them. That way Carol'll still be around and can stand by you."
"I don't want to overshadow my parents. They've been planning this party forever."
"I know, but when I was on Mars the other day, I went by and spoke to your parents."
"Ah huh. I know how important tradition runs in your family. I brought up the issue of Carol. They agreed that she you would want her to be part of the ceremony and I can't use my office to give any special treatment. So they said if you agreed they wanted to combine the celebrations. Your father even said `I think it would be great to have my daughter share her most significant date with her mother and me.' So," Christine took a quick kiss. Marry me in two weeks?"
Hayley couldn't help herself. Tears poured forth. "Thank you so much. Thank you. I had wondered. I so want Carol with me. She's always been part of everything I do, and I her. I can't imagine marrying anyone without her present—or without Tanner."
Christine kissed a tear from her cheek and wiped away a few more with her thumbs. "I can ask General Franklin, but he's still in route and can only be back in time if he left almost as soon as he arrives and uses a fighter at hyper-Sol plus speed."
"I know,' Hayley inhaled. "I know. I'm so glad we can have it while Carol's still here."
"So the answer's yes?"
"Thank you so much, darling. Thank you. Yes, yes, yes." She pulled Christine's head down and took hold of Christine's lips with her own. "I love you so much."
"I love you," Christine breathed heavily and pushed herself up off the bed.
Hayley tried to grab her hand, but Christine stole it away. "Chris?"
"One second." She reached into the bureau drawer where she stored the undergarments she had moved in and pulled out her male half. With a practiced hand, she attached the belt. She opened the reservoir basin which held the artificial semen that added to their fun. Hayley expected her to disappear momentarily into the bathroom, and she did, but instead she returned with not only the large blue vial adorned with a ring of ♂ representing the God of Mars and the male organism, but a smaller, metallic vial as well. Hayley had seen the second in the medicine cabinet, but had never paid it any attention, thinking it a large douche or something. She watched Christine remove three clasps, releasing to top. The top popped open. A stream of mist exhaled from the opening.
"What is it?"
Christine walked over to the bed and sat next to Hayley. Hayley sat up. She leaned against Christine's shoulder to get a better look. "Honey," Christine moved so Hayley could see better. "You know, I'm not getting any younger."
"You're not the old."
"Seeing your sister so pregnant the other week made me start thinking. I've never considered myself much of a family person. You know I'm pretty much estranged from my parents. That's one reason why I've never run for public office myself. The public is fickle. Over the years, I've lived my life as pretty much a playgirl, out for a good time. A family, phooey. After my youth, I vowed never to put myself into that position again. You know I gave Delores and Bruce a hard time when they decided to get married. Why go through all the rigmarole of the whole ceremony and promise things when being single is so less complicated? I can go anywhere, do anything, not worry about explaining why I'm not close with my parents. That's why I preferred being behind the scenes. Sure reporters and people in general are pretty nosey, but my face is not the one plastered on the vids and mags. DeBow, your parents, sister, and brother-in-law, they can have it. But now, after meeting you, falling heads over heels, even with my rotten temper, and then seeing Delores ripening with her pregnancy. I know now how wrong I've been. I've wasted that part of my life."
"Maybe the right person simply never came along." Hayley gently rubbed Christine's exposed arm.
Christine's head turned, a fond look touched her. "I think you're right." They brushed lips. "I can't believe how you've come into my life. I love you so much. I love you." A tear leaked and trailed down her cheek.
Hayley tenderly wiped it away. "I love you, sweetie."
"Hayley," Christine took her hand. "Honey, I want a family with you."
Terror flashed in Hayley's eyes. "I don't—."
"I know I'm springing this on you. I know. But I'm not getting younger. I'm in my forties and all of a sudden I have this need, compelling. I've found someone I love. Someone I've entrusted to take care of my heart. I want a family, and I don't want to be like your grandparents—so old that they can't play with and enjoy grandchildren. This vial holds a portion of the sperm created from an embryo I had aborted back in college. I'd accidentally gotten pregnant and at the time, my frame of mind was like what I've been telling you about. The technician I went to see was one of the pro-lifers. She encouraged me that instead of undergoing an abortion that I cryogenically store the embryo until I wanted a family. Instead of arguing, which was so unlike me, I followed her advice. However, a couple months later, I told my parents about what I had done. We had a huge fight. I made sure I would never have children."
"Why did you do that?" Hayley kissed the hand in hers and pulled Christine close.
"My parents told me that I was too wild and self-centered to have a family, ever. I'd simply destroy and ruin any life I would create."
"And you believed them?"
"I know I shouldn't have. They were always cruel like that. I had been an accident. They already had the perfect son, with the perfect grandchildren. Me, I wasn't needed, or wanted. So, I guess I went a bit crazy. I had a complete hysterectomy. I also said, `what the hell'. I could play all I wanted and not worry about another mistake. Or so I thought."
"Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry."
"A couple of years ago I started thinking that maybe I'd made a mistake. I sent the embryo to the reproduction center in Chicago and had them isolate embryonic stem cells. From these they isolated the spermatogonial stem cells and grew these into enough sperm to eventually create a family should I ever find the right woman." "So you've been thinking about this for a long time."
"I guess so." Christine gave her a sheepish smile. "So," she held up the vial. "I know we're not married yet, but I just can't let this dream go. It's what I need more than anything else in the whole world."
"Sweetie," I understand. Hayley kissed her cheek. "My dream is your dream. I never thought of children before, but—I'll do it. We can have lots of fun all weekend, and who knows? Maybe in the process, you can really become a papa."
Christine's desire sparked, her emotions full and open. "And you my beautiful mama." She removed an inner cylinder and opened the cap. "And you," Hayley picked the dildo up from the bed. She held it out so Christine could fill it first with the regular semen serum and then add a several drops of the real thing. Hayley closed up the dildo reservoir, making sure to seal the cap so none of Christine's precious liquid could escape. Christine affixed the top to the vial and bottles of semen and returned them to the bathroom's medicine cabinet. Christine returned to their bed exuding a raw masculinity Hayley understood. "You know," Hayley claimed her lover as she placed herself in ready for the activities that would fill the rest of their night, "I've never ever wanted to sleep with a real man," she said in jest. "And after tonight, my love, you never will."
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