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by Miriam English
Closing the door of my apartment behind me, I rested against it. Usually on my time off I would read and think more about the cases I was working on, but tonight I kept remembering her. Seeing her again, especially like that... what had happened to her... it cut deeply through me. But I don't get angry and I don't cry. You might say that something is missing from me. You might be right.
I looked around my spartan living room. With the exception of a few pictures, the apartment was exactly the same as when I moved in here. I'd been unable to stay in the apartment Brenda and I had shared, yet I kept the pictures. Does that make sense? No.
I walked over to my favorite picture and picked it up: Brenda and me on a brief holiday on Earth. I still had no idea how that had happened. I'd always presumed it was an anonymous friend in Rostering. The picture took me back. The video clip only lasted about a minute before it repeated. I slowed it and studied her face. She was so happy. For a short while she was able to pretend she was human. We were on a large sail-ferry cruising up the Inland Sea from Port Augusta. The wind was blowing in our faces and the weather was perfect. The sky was an amazing blue... and so distant! It was hard to get used to the distances in Australia after having never left Selena City before. The sea was calm with only small waves and the ferry made an irregular rushing, splashing sound as it cut through the water. Seagulls skimmed through the air above the ferry, jostling for position, watching the passengers for thrown tidbits.
I remember stroking her hair. She was so beautiful. She turned to me, her eyes alight with joy, then I remember the adoration that came over those dark, almond eyes. How could I be so lucky to be the recipient of that? How was it possible? I'd had liaisons with other androids before -- who hasn't? -- but this was different. We were perfect together. And I was in love -- saturated with it, besotted. Why? I had absolutely no idea. It had never happened to me before. All I knew was that I was in paradise. I was in love.
She put her arms on my shoulders, and leaned forward to kiss me. If I hadn't been leaning against the railing I feel sure I'd have fallen to the deck on jelly knees. She hugged me and whispered something that my dizziness and the wind snatched away. We stood there, hugging forever. I could almost have cried for joy.
Suddenly I came out of my reverie and was back here, mouth clenched shut, lump in my throat... and without her. And she... she was elsewhere, hurt and lost and confused because I hadn't been able to keep her with me and protect her.
I looked at the picture for a moment, and replaced it on the shelf. I was annoyed with myself and knew I shouldn't be doing this. Beating myself up over it accomplished nothing. I needed to distract myself.
Standing alone in the room, my head bent forward, eyes closed, I spoke softly, "Room service?"
The room's soft, feminine voice answered, as if from air around me. "Yes Ma'am."
I gulped. "Send a girl up, please."
"Right away Ma'am."
I was still wearing my slacks and stretchy sleeveless top, and drinking apple juice some ten minutes later when a knock at the door announced my visitor.
She was new, and had the appearance of someone in their late twenties, early thirties. Being an android though, she was a good deal younger physically, and decades older mentally. Her long black hair, dusky skin, and dark eyes held me. She was slimmer than Brenda, and without her subtle grace, but the simple clothes and open smile... I couldn't speak.
Entering, she introduced herself as Henna. She seemed timid and nervous. When I sighed she misread it, thinking I was dissatisfied with her, and was embarrassed, "I'm sorry, I'm new. All the girls cleaned off my makeup and dressed me in plain jeans and t-shirt. Was it a practical joke?"
With effort I found my voice and reassured her, "No, no. I like how you look. You remind me of someone, which was their intention. You don't have to worry about the girls. They're the best friends you could possibly have."
She relaxed somewhat, then started to remove her t-shirt. I gulped and pulled it back down. I suggested we talk for a while, offered her some apple juice.
We sat on the couch with our drinks of juice. I was wondering if this was such a good idea after all. The girls had meant well sending someone who looked like Brenda, but I felt I needed to forget, not be reminded of her.
Henna asked, "What was her name?"
She smiled and rolled her eyes.
I leaned back and rubbed my face then looked at the ceiling. She waited patiently.
She leaned against my side and pulled her knees up to her chest. "Tell me about her."
I closed my eyes and saw her. The familiar pain stabbed through me. I gasped and opened my eyes again. "I'd prefer to talk about something else, actually. Lets talk about you."
She looked up at me, "I'm sorry. Okay. Well, there's not much to say, really. I'm a very recent model with a lot of nice improvements. I had thought my level of empathy was something to be really proud of, but now I'm beginning to wonder." She flashed me a smile. "I was made only a few weeks ago. My inbuilt memories are of Earth, so Selena City constantly amazes me. They didn't bother to add much about the City, which seems an odd thing to do."
I suggested, "Perhaps it's an experiment in forming unbiased memories."
She nodded. "I guess that makes sense."
"So, what have you learned about the City, and what do you like the most?"
She grinned. "What do I like the most? Oh, no contest! The Gardens. What have I learned? Not a lot. I mean, I know we're on the Moon, under the surface at the equator, and that selene is ancient Greek for Moon, but not much else."
"Do you know why the City was built?"
She put her head on my shoulder. "No. I'd never really wondered about it. It's kinda here and I just took it for granted, like it was always here, I guess. I'd never thought of it having a beginning, or a why."
"Do you know much about the early days of the Unified Earth Government?"
She shook her head.
"Well, one of the first things they did is to outlaw gambling. All the casinos, racing interests, lotteries, and many underworld groups that were allied with them were faced with their planetwide assets being seized. They'd always been able to bribe or blackmail their way out of any situation in the past, but now they were looking at losing everything. Some bright spark realised that the Moon was beyond Earth law and untaxable, both legally and practically -- no man had walked here for the best part of a century. So money was poured into building a casino here. They had more than enough funds. It took very little time to set up a base. There was no shortage of scientists wanting to work on it, since Earth had been closing down space programs for decades."
"So it was started by crooks? I had no idea."
"Well, not quite, but there was definitely an element of underworld here in the early days." I looked down at her pretty face.
"Huh." She frowned. "You'd never know it now. It is so peaceful here. In comparison Earth is a scary place. I'd hate to live there."
"Yeah. I wouldn't like to live there either, but it can be a nice place to visit."
She sat up and looked at me, her face bright. "You've been to Earth?"
I nodded, but hastily changed the subject away from my holiday there. "Did you know they originally used giant chemical rockets to lift things into space?"
"Yes! How primitive is that!? When did they build the space elevator?"
"Oh, it was begun almost immediately, but had a lot of problems before it became workable. The elevator was what really made Selena City. It made space travel so cheap the City could afford to give free travel to tourists, and then things boomed here. I mean, it had everything: glamour, open society, adventure, and free transport. No wonder it was so successful."
We sat for a while.
"Hey Adele?" She turned to look earnestly at me.
"If Earth tried to get rid of the crooks and they all came here, why is Selena City such a nice place to live and Earth so horrible?"
"You're making the same mistake they made. Crime isn't a thing that can be moved around or deleted. It's a very human shortcoming. More than anything else, crime is about power and its misuse. Earth became obsessed with power. They thought they could control crime, but they did the reverse... which is what made it such a terrible place."
"But why didn't the same thing happen here?"
I shrugged. "Right place at the right time, I think. Selena City became a refuge for the smartest and freeest thinkers and they wanted an open society. The Moon, exposed to harsh space, is too dangerous a place to have vulnerable, centralised systems, so open, flexible, self-correcting systems were designed. And I guess the paranoia of the people who started the place ensured those principles got applied to our society as well as the City's engineering."
We sat in silence again for a while.
I laughed. "How boring am I? I have a beautiful girl with me and I talk about history."
She slapped me on the thigh. "You're not boring. And it's interesting. I hardly ever get to talk with people about these kinds of things."
At her insistence we continued to talk about the history of the City. She really was interested and wanted to learn as much as she could.
It was a nice few hours. I feel privileged to meet people like Henna. She is such a good person. On some level I knew that the conversation was largely for my sake -- to put me at ease and help me relax. I actually even forgot about Brenda for a little while. We didn't make love of course -- not out of any silly sense of "morality", but because I wanted to stop brooding about Brenda, and sex would have brought her flooding back -- all the senses, the feelings... everything. So we just talked. Henna kept my mind occupied and gave me companionship. I wasn't alone.
In the early morning I followed her to my front door. She opened it and paused while still in my apartment. The corridor was cool, dim, and quiet; most people hadn't risen yet. She turned to look at me. I stepped forward, gently closed the door again, and embraced her. "Thank you," I whispered in her ear, and nibbled my way down her neck to her shoulder. I gave her a soft kiss on the lips and stepped back.
Henna looked pleased. "I'll see you again?" she whispered.
I smiled. "If I have anything to do with it."
She opened the door again and left with a wave, a happy grin, and bounce in her step.
The City doesn't use psychologists, in the traditional sense. It employs companions (they used to be called prostitutes) who have extensive qualifications in psychology. All the companions are androids, in the interests of safe sex. It has long been known that people are more likely to tell their inner problems to a sympathetic android than to a human. This works well for maintaining the emotional stability and well-being of staff and visitors. And of course the fact that certain secrets can be worth a lot of money hasn't escaped the notice of the City either.
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