“Why isn’t the plot here, yet?!”

Because I needed to put the third and final piece (eavesdropping and Mackenzie) into place, first.  Now the rest of Part One can begin to unfold.  Things are going to be fine.

In Part One.

“How was your day?” Gil asked from his kitchen refrigerator, putting a few pieces of cold meat alongside some pickles onto a plate. He had a black tee shirt and his underwear  back on.

“Typical,” Nichole replied from his couch, happy to watch him, wearing only an unbuttoned mauve blouse. It had been a bit of a surprise when she’d arrived thirty minutes ago to find he wanted to take her from behind. Besides moaning and bothering the neighbors again, feedback would be difficult! She’d solved that by keeping her head turned back and to the side, her eyes getting brighter as his actions grew more desperate, rolling up into her orbits with a groan from her at his peak.

I’m getting better at this!

“Mrs. Bishop and I had our usual exchange about coding… I’ll get back to that. Erik and I are well away on getting the resources together for his AI lab. You?”

Gil walked to the couch and sat at her left. He was aware that when she used the professor’s surnames she was ‘a visiting graduate student;’ when their given names she was ‘assistant professor.’ Such divisions seemed important to her.

“You were right, back when, when you said biomechanics was interesting,” he said, tossing a pickle into his mouth. “In fact, it’s pretty tough.”

“There was much in that class new to me,” she replied with a nod. Her hair was free of her typical ponytail and flew about her face. “I’m sure it would be basic to those that made my frame, though.”

She extended her arms and rotated her palms up.

“Tell them for me that they did a great job.” He bumped her shoulder with his; for him, normally so reserved, a great display of affection.

“I will.” There was a pause. “Someday.”

He noted the pause.

“You still thinking about going back, summer after next?”

Nichole wondered if her shudder was the anticipation to be in full communion with her family or dread in leaving her new friends… and lover.

“Yeah,” she was quieter. “Depending, of course, on things.”

She waved at the window just ahead of them. It was grey and raining.

Gil knew she meant politics, not the weather.

“Oh! Reminds me: Mrs. Bishop and some of her assistants have been able to recode those sound detectors we use in the Marches. They are almost thirty percent more effective, meaning we can move them further out and apart, giving those brave souls on the border better warning if harm is coming their way!”

“That’s good. Especially as I might be working there one day.” Gil had made a couple of trips to the factory about ten miles to the southeast, in Clackamas: Ludlum’s Electrics. He and the shop floor manager had hit it off: unusual for a grad engineer to know his way around both an electric fab and machine shop.

“Mmm!” she agreed. “What makes that interesting is that they can also make units smaller. Much smaller.”

He knew she did everything for a reason. He wondered what it was this time.

“And…?” he prompted.

“Small enough to go unnoticed in an office, for example.”

Her delivery was her usual, light, sweet voice. But she had kept her eyes on the rain-streaked window. Normally when she was with him, they never left his.

“’Office.’” He reflected, putting his plate down onto the simple wood coffee table. “Nichole?”

“Yes my love?” she turned, eyes bright, lips in a smile.

“Whatever it is you are thinking about… is it illegal or just dirty?”

Her head tilted just a fraction to the right as she blinked once.

“Both, I think!”

“Good Lord.” He picked his plate back up.

“What I’m thinking of doing is – ”

His right hand dropped the cold slice of pork and went to her mouth, fingers pressed to her lips.”

“Don’t, Nichole. Don’t.”

“But… I will not conceal anything from you…?” she mumbled.

“Ever heard the phrase ‘two can keep a secret if one is dead?’” he asked in exasperation. “You’ve told me stories about what you learned on that ship and later, during that disaster ride to The Dalles Dam, about security.”

He drew his hand back.

“I suggest you give those more thought about now.” He picked the meat back up and ate it.

Not hearing anything from his talkative girlfriend for almost ten seconds, he glanced over. Her eyes were still on him, but… He knew this was one of those times she retreated into her mind, thinking faster than he, a human, could imagine.

He ate the last pickle.

“I am older, beloved.” She leaned to kiss his cheek. “I am very young in what I plan to do… thank you!”

She glanced down at his empty plate. Gil saw her face came back up with her lusty look.

“Nich – ” he began, but the plate was out of his hands and his girl in his lap, her arms about his neck, and kissing his face while rolling in his crotch. She started to moan…

A short time later, with a spring in her step and a smile and wave from under her umbrella for everyone, she made her way back home. Up four flights and into her flat, she was just doffing her clothes to get cleaned up when she heard Mackenzie at her door.

“Yes, friend,” she smiled as she opened it, surprised to see her staid friend’s face come to mirror hers, she so rarely smiled.

“Can… I borrow you?” she asked.

Her strength, speed, computational power? Nichole was confused.

“I’ve… I have only seen you nude that one time,” the girl muttered. “But I need more information.”

Ah. When it comes to art, she’s very direct! Interesting she uses the word ‘nude’ and not ‘naked.’

“Of course! Your place or mine?”

“I’ve got all my supplies out… if that’s okay?”

“Sure!” Now only in her blouse and panties, Nichole followed her out into the hall and through the open door.

The mysterious canvas was still directed further into her friend’s room. Mackenzie told her to remove the rest of her clothes and sit in one of the two rickety wooden chairs, her left quarter facing, with her head turned towards the artist.

“My hands?” Nichole asked, pleased at the serious on Mac’s face as she considered the question.

“It… might make for a change… but your left in your lap and your right up onto your shoulder. As if someone is behind you, holding it.” Very direct.

“Who?”

“Who…what?”

“Who is holding my hand? That will dictate how I feel.”

“Oh.” Now she looked about the room rather than at her subject. “Your… boyfriend… I guess…”

“Good!”

Mackenzie’s eyes came back to Nichole to see her sit up straighter, her eyes brighten, and a look of joy suffuse her face.

“So that’s what love looks like…” Nichole only heard with her improved senses.

“Thank you,” she said, picking up her large sketchbook and some pencils. “Not too uncomfortable?”

“Of course not. I can hold this pose until I run out of power and collapse onto your floor.”

She saw her friend shudder and look up.

“A joke, my friend!”

“Oh.”

Time passed. Initially she would look up and down every few seconds. After about twenty minutes her eyes stayed on her friend with only an occasional glance at the paper.

“May I talk?”

“Sure… nice to have a model with such control!”

“You wanted my tattoo in the center of the picture?”

Mackenzie’s eyes had just dropped. They came back up slowly.

“Yes?”

“Do you seek to emphasize my inhumanness?”

“N… no! That’s not it! At all!!” she yelled, on the verge of tears.

Nichole closed her eyes but did not move.

“Thank you for that,” she said quietly. Her eyes reopened.

Mackenzie blinked the tears away and returned to her task, making a single nod.

“Mackenzie?”

“Yes?”

“If the… Mayor’s men ask you about coming to work for them again… please…”

“What’s that?”

Do I take this step? Involve my friends? But, they are all involved, one way or another…

“Please hear them out, at least.”

The artist stopped and held the subject’s eyes. Nichole saw her unhappiness.

“Okay.”

After another ten minutes she saw her friend lean back in her chair as she set the pencil down.

“Finished?”

“Yes.” Her eyes lingered on her special friend. “You’re so pretty.”

“Yes, but it’s a cage.” Nichole replied, lowering her right arm.

“Cage?”

“You are just as beautiful as I am. I bet you were super-cute as a kid!” Nichole said, standing and collecting her shirt and panties. “And, you’re going to be a gorgeous mother and stately grandmother!”

“Mmm… moth…!”

Nichole ignored her and moved to the door.

“I’ll always have this form. Never changing, until I, too, die one day.”

Mackenzie fell silent.

“It’s a cage,” she spoke to the door, her hand on the knob. “Don’t ever be envious of us, you biologic. Revel in your time.”

She opened the door.

“Tolkien.” Mackenzie said.

“What’s that?” Nichole turned her head only a little.

“The writer… humans envied the Elves immortality, never seeing how tired they all were. He called death the ‘Gift of Man.’”

I must come to know this story. My next trip to the library!

“Sounds about right.” Nichole closed the door behind her and took the few steps to her room.

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