Pearl looked up from the service desk. “Good, I’ve got to leave soon. Vivian and I are going to the star port to attend Margaret Dominique’s bon voyage party. Now, you’ll be by yourself the rest of the day.”
“Call me only if it is an emergency or extremely urgent.”
“And please remember everything we’ve been over the last two weeks. Don’t seduce anyone. Don’t undress for anyone. Don’t have any form of sex with anyone. Don’t even mention anything remotely related to sex to anyone of any gender.”
“Of course, mistress. You have no need to worry, I understand what it means to be in a monogamous relationship.”
“Relationship?” Pearl couldn’t believe what she had just heard. “Nina, where’d you get the idea we are in a relationship?”
“We fulfill all of the parameters of the definition. We live together, we work together, we spend our leisure time together, we share the same bed and we’ve had sex— “
“Just once, only one time,” Pearl interrupted. “You’ve forgotten one important part of the definition, entering a relationship is mutually done by all parties. I don’t recall entering a relationship.”
Nina gave Pearl “the look” again, only this time it seemed to imply Pearl had forgotten something important. “Don’t you remember the morning that we did have sex? You said I should have sex with no one but you, only you. Then, you whispered— “
“Yes, I know what I said. But it was a moment of passion!” As the words left her lips, Pearl wished she hadn’t said them. They were the same empty words of dismissal she had heard herself many times. She hoped she hadn’t hurt Nina’s feelings, if an android had feelings. Feelings or not, she decided Nina deserved better. “Nina, it’s complicated. We’ll have to discuss this at a later time.”
“Yes, mistress,” Nina responded. Pearl thought she detected some disappointment in Nina’s usual cheerful chirp.
“Do you still think this is a good idea? Her assistant said she was out of the office,” Tanya said grabbing a handrail as the train lurched against the wind.
“Her assistant sounded like a recording. It won’t take long, I promise. If she’s not there, I can leave a message, and if she’s hiding in her office, we can ferret her out,” replied Kate.
“Didn’t you look at her rap sheet? Multiple arrests for solicitation, prostitution, public lewdness, disorderly conduct, petty theft, aggravated assault, assault with a deadly weapon, illegal possession of a weapon, illegal possession of explosives, criminal trespassing, inciting a riot, resisting arrest… I don’t know if I would want to be related to her.” Tanya turned her gaze to a seedy dive the train was passing. The storm was still blowing, but the winds were not as strong as they had been earlier.
“Did you look at her convictions?” asked Kate.
“Yeah, only one. She did thirty days for prostitution eighteen years ago,” Tanya answered.
“That means she’s smart, street smart. Even if we aren’t related, she’ll know where to look next. Besides, what are you afraid of? We’re marines.” Kate pulled up her mask and began adjusting it as the train pulled into their stop.
Tanya snorted, “Huzzah, two of the galaxy’s finest. Somehow I’d feel better if we were armed.”
Pearl Lemay’s business, Astra Security Services, was just a few blocks from the train station. The buildings were the same square buildings made of concrete with rounded corners Kate had seen around the star port. When they reached “Enterprise Drive,” a long succession of these buildings formed the strip shopping center where Astra Security Services was located.
A chime sounded as Kate opened the glass door. She and Tanya stepped into the office. The office décor was stark, there were no pictures on the walls, no carpet on the floor. There were a few chairs in front of a desk. Behind the desk was a hallway leading to the back of the building. A young woman was in the hallway walking toward them.
“Hello, and welcome to Astra Security Services. My name is Nina. How may I assist you today?” she greeted them with a cheerful voice. “Please, be seated.”
Kate sat in one of the chairs in front of the desk. Tanya remained standing. Nina motioned toward one of the chairs, but Tanya shook her head and said, “No thank you, I would rather stand.” Nina nodded and smiled before sitting down herself.
“I’m afraid I haven’t completed training on the services we provide. Ms. Lemay is out of the office today. I’d be happy to take any message and have her contact you tomorrow,” Nina began.
“Is there any way I can contact Ms. Lemay today? I have a private matter to discuss with her,” said Kate.
“I recognize your voice from the phone. You called earlier. I’m afraid Ms. Lemay is unavailable.” Nina was struck by facial similarities between Pearl and Kate. If Pearl’s instructions had not been so explicit, Nina would have performed a genetic analysis.
“Excuse me, could I use your restroom?” asked Tanya.
“Certainly, miss. It is down the hall, the last door on the left.” Nina answered.
“Please, Nina, couldn’t you at least let her know I would like to see her?” Kate asked. “It’s very important.”
“Would you say the matter is ‘urgent’?”
“Yes, I would.” Kate answered wondering why Nina was mincing words.
“Very well,” said Nina. She tapped her cheek with her index finger and went silent. For the next couple of minutes, Nina didn’t stir. Kate thought the behavior odd until Nina started speaking again. “I’m sorry, I called Ms. Lemay and she was quite adamant, she will not return to the office today. She asks that you leave a message or return tomorrow.”
“You’re an android!” exclaimed Kate. “I would never have guessed until just now when you made a phone call without a phone.”
“Yes, miss, I am an android. You can also tell your friend that Ms. Lemay is not in the other office or store room in the back.”
“Tanya, come up here! Lemay’s not in the building.” Kate called out to Tanya. “Look,” she said to Nina, “seriously, I need to contact Ms. Lemay. I have only today, tomorrow will be too late.”
“She will not be in the office the rest of today,” Nina reiterated. Kate looked dejected. The genetic similarities were too great to ignore. “However, I’m thinking out loud now, I happen to live with Ms. Lemay and she will have to return this evening to take me home.”
“Thank you, Nina. We’ll try later. Come on, Tanya—let’s get a bite to eat.”
As usual, the space port’s metal detector screamed as Pearl stepped through. The noise startled Vivian. Pearl raised her hands and used her chin to point at the shoulder holster concealed under her duster. “Excuse me, ma’am,” said the policewoman as she carefully drew the gun out of its holster. “Do you have a license?” she asked.
“Yes, I do,” Pearl answered as she took her wallet out of her purse. She handed the license to the policewoman who scanned it. The scanner gave an audible beep.
“I’m sorry ma’am, you’ll have to come with me.” She led Pearl to an office door.
Vivian followed shaking her head. “Why is it we can’t go anywhere without you being armed to the teeth?” she asked. Pearl grinned and started to reply when a tall man with short chestnut brown hair stepped out of the office holding a cup of coffee.
“Well, I’ll be! Look who we have here, Pearl Lemay and Miss Vivian Garnet. Ladies?”
“Hello, Sam. It’s nice to see you,” said Pearl. Vivian blushed and looked at the floor. “What’s up, Sam? I’ve got a carry license.”
“Sorry Pearl, its standard procedure,” he replied. Even though you have a license, you still have a record and that means we have to check you out.” Detective Sam Richardson, who Vivian found to be very handsome, grinned and stepped back into the office doorway, he stuck his head in the office and exclaimed “Hey, Sarge! Come see who set off the alarms.” He then moved to the side of the door.
A woman came to the door. She was much like Pearl, only she was twelve years younger, slimmer, and in better shape. Detective Sergeant Sally Blue narrowed her eyes into a steely stare. “Lemay,” she said almost with a hiss.
“Blue,” replied Pearl. Sally Blue was wearing boots, a black skirt, and the same sea-foam green sweater that Nina had chosen to wear. But what set Sally Blue apart was her long hair dyed bright blue and one of the largest pistols Pearl had ever seen holstered under her left shoulder. Sally Blue wore a wrist brace in order to fire the thing.
They faced each other like a pair of gunslingers waiting to see who would flinch. A wicked grin appeared on Sally Blue’s face. “The cons say your body is your house and your rectum is the closet. Let’s step into the office and take a peek in yours, shall we?”
“I thought you liked me, Blue,” said Pearl. “When you snap on the rubber gloves, will you use a little lube and talk dirty to me?”
“Funny girl, very funny. After you, please,” she said extending her hand toward Pearl, beckoning Pearl to enter the office. “Sam, why don’t you get Miss Garnet, a cup of coffee while she waits.”
“Are they really going to…?” Vivian asked.
“Oh no, it’s all done with ultrasound,” said Sam. “Unless they find something,” he added. “Cream or sugar?”
Vivian had only taken a few sips and had just learned Sam was single, when Pearl and Sally emerged from the office. Sally handed Pearl back her pistol and Pearl slipped it back into its holster. “You’re clean, Lemay. Mind your p’s and q’s, and stay out of trouble.”
“Thanks, Blue. You and Sam coming to the party?” Pearl asked.
“Margaret Dominique’s bon voyage party? Yeah, I think Sam and I will swing by when our shift ends,” replied Sally.
“By the way, why are you and Sam out here in the first place?”
“It’s all of the marines. They’re all on leave today, so the chief beefed up security across the whole city. Called in everybody.”
“At least we’re getting time and a half,” Sam added.
They said their goodbyes and Pearl and Vivian continued down the concourse toward the lounge where the party was being held. Pearl’s phone rang. Pearl reached up and tapped the small receiver clasped to her left ear. “Hello, Nina, how are things at the office?”
“Hello, mistress. There are two marines here looking for you,” said Nina.
“Marines? Looking for me? Did they say why they are looking for me?” Pearl asked.
“One of them insists the matter is private and urgent, which is why I called since this is an urgent matter,” Nina answered.
“Nina, when I said not to call unless it was urgent, I meant that it was urgent to me.”
“Yes, mistress, but there is something about this young lady. I suggest it may be something important to you.”
“Young lady? One of the marines is a woman?”
“Yes, mistress, both of them. If I read the emblem on their berets correctly, they are Force Reconnaissance Rangers.”
Pearl wondered why two marines would be looking for her. She had a lot of enemies, but none she knew of who would send marines after her. “They won’t tell you what they want?”
“No, mistress, only that it is private and urgent.”
“Tell them to leave a message and how I can contact them tomorrow.”
“They insist tomorrow is too late. Mistress, I really do suggest you should meet with them.”
“Nina, the answer is ‘no,’ I’m not coming back to the office until after the party. Now, I’ve got to go.”
“Yes, mistress, understood. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye, Nina.” Pearl sighed as she tapped the receiver ending the call.
“Trouble at the office?” Vivian asked.
“Nothing Nina can’t handle. I hope. Nina means well, I think. It’s just, just…”
“Well, go on, just what?”
“Oh, I don’t know. She just frustrates me at times. I expect her to behave like the androids you see in the vids, doing boring repetitive tasks and providing statistical analysis. But Nina’s behavior is so… human. Half the time I think she has feelings, but then, whoever heard of an android with feelings. Yet, I can’t bring myself to treat her like a machine, like someone who doesn’t have feelings. Do you know what she said today? She said she and I are in a relationship.”
“Yes! It sounds crazy, right?”
Vivian was silent for a moment before replying. “No, it doesn’t sound crazy, for you.”
“For me? What does that mean?”
“Look, I’ve been doing your hair for over ten years now. In that time, we’ve become friends, right?”
“More like twelve years, but yes, I consider you my best friend. Maybe my only friend. What are you getting at, Vivian?”
“Ok, here goes. You have some deep scars. With all of the abuse you have been through, there’s no way in this lifetime or the next you will ever be capable of loving a man. Your life in the shadows has made you so suspicious that you suck at being a lesbian. Nina, unlike anyone else on this planet, has the rare gift of loving you with no conditions at all.”
“Unconditional love from an android? That’s crazy talk.”
“Is it? You yourself admitted that you think she has feelings. If she has feelings, she can express love. Have you had sex with her?”
Pearl blushed. “You know we have, I told you about it.”
“Ah, but you didn’t tell me if you liked it or how it made you feel.”
“So, based on knowing you for twelve years, I know you liked it.”
“I can’t love an android. That would mean I’m some kind of pervert.”
“Not if you accept her as a sentient being. Which I believe is what you are struggling with. It’s not that you are worried Nina may have feelings, you are worried you may have feelings for her.”
“Vivian,” Pearl protested, “that’s just absurd.”
“I don’t think so. Do you want to put it to a test?”
“Take off an entire weekend. Spend the whole time together fucking each other’s brains out, and then the following Monday, ask yourself if you had sex with just a machine, or if you found happiness in the arms of your lover. If you are lucky, you may have someone in your life who can give you some healing from all you’ve lost.”
“You think a machine can bring me healing from what I’ve been through? Give me a break.”
“Not a machine, Nina. Your marriage went to hell in a handbag soon after your baby was born. Your husband turned out to be a real bastard. He embezzled from the company you both worked for. He drugged you up and paid a judge to have you committed to an asylum. While you were being raped by the orderlies, he left the planet with your daughter, who you’ve never been able to find. They tossed you out of the asylum onto the streets. No one would hire you, so you turned tricks until you’d had enough and climbed out of the gutter.
No, sister, no machine could ever begin to heal those wounds. And no human could ever do so either, not without becoming scarred. But I think Nina might have a shot at bringing you some peace and happiness.”
Pearl gave a heavy sigh. “Please stop, Vivian. You’re going to make me cry. Let’s go enjoy the party and deal with all of this later.”
“Did you mean what you said?” Tanya asked setting her glass on the table.
Kate took a sip from her glass. The restaurant served a good ale. “What did I say?”
“When you told Neumann that it was hard for you to step out of the hatch during jumps. I’ve never seen any signs of fear in you at all.”
“I don’t know if it is fear,” Kate began. “I’m beginning to think it has to do with age and the number of jumps one has done. You do know we’re playing a game of chance up there. The more you play, the more likely the odds will turn against you. It makes you a little cautious as time goes on.”
“You’re kidding. You believe all of that nonsense about odds? I’d rather believe I packed my chute correctly and that my gear is in prime working order.”
“No, I’m just saying you become more cautious the more you do this. Look at Gunny, he only makes the annual qualification jumps. He doesn’t jump near as often as he once did. I don’t think anyone would say he’s afraid or superstitious.”
“Well, if you ever need a push just let me know,” Tanya laughed. “How about another beer?”
“Sure, we’ve got time for one more before we go back and wait for Pearl Lemay,” answered Kate.
“What do you expect to get from this Pearl Lemay?”
Kate leaned forward putting her elbows on the table. “I’m hoping she’s an aunt or maybe a cousin. I’m hoping she can tell me something about my mother, maybe even what happened to her. I’d like to understand why the records don’t add up to what my father told me. I think most of all I’d like to close this chapter on my life history and move on.”
“Well, I’ve got to go pee. If the waitress comes by before I get back from the head, order another round,” said Tanya standing up and leaving the table.
Someone opened the restaurant’s door allowing a gust of wind bluster its way in. Kate looked at the floor and tried to remember.
“Don’t be afraid, Katie. It’s just the wind blowing outside. Come get in bed with momma and we’ll snuggle.” The voice was so clear and full of love. Kate wondered how it could have been the voice of a drug addict, the voice of someone who didn’t want to be a part of her life.
Pearl had left the party early. She had decided to have a real discussion with Nina when they got home. The last bit of the sunset was a hazy orange just above the horizon. Street lights began to flicker on. Dust from the day’s storm still hung in the air giving everything an ethereal appearance. Pearl came to an abrupt stop. Across the street two marines rattled the office door and tapped on the glass. They had to be the ones Nina had called about. She wished they would move on, but the way they peered through the glass door, she knew they were going to persist until Nina came and unlocked the door. It was up to Pearl to persuade these two to leave and come back at a later date.
“Crap,” she muttered. She started across the street, opened her duster, and reached across her body. She shouted, “Excuse me! May I assist you ladies?” with her fingertips resting on the butt of her pistol.
The two marines stiffened and turned toward Pearl. The taller one had dark brown hair, while the other had hair as black as the expanse. They both wore berets and had several stripes on their sleeves. Pearl knew nothing about military rank, but she had been around enough cops to know these two were sergeants of some kind. In addition, there was something about the tall one, Pearl was picking up weird vibes from her. Her eyes were wide and her head was tilted as if she were listening for something. “I’m Pearl Lemay,” she announced continuing to close the distance between them. The tall one’s lips began to quiver. “I understand you— “
“Momma, oh Momma!” Kate cried launching into a run toward Pearl.
Operating on instinct, Pearl threw open her duster drawing her pistol out of its holster. In a smooth motion, her thumb cocked the hammer while extending her arm.
“Gun!” shouted Tanya. “Kate, she has a gun!”
Bringing the gun to bear on her target, Pearl saw tears. Her assailant was crying. The word “Momma” suddenly clicked and she felt it deep in her soul. In a split second, she realized the slightest pressure of her finger would send forth a messenger of death. She opened her hand and let the pistol drop to the ground.
Suddenly, a different instinct took over. Pearl opened her arms wide. Kate collided with Pearl in a massive embrace. “Momma, Momma, it’s you,” Kate sobbed. Pearl wrapped her arms around her daughter.
“Katie? Are you my Katie?” Pearl asked as a groundswell of emotion rose through her body. She shuddered and tears began to flow.
“Yes, Momma, I’m Katie,” Kate sniffed and began crying again. Tanya picked up the pistol and removed the clip and emptied the chamber. She shook her head and sobbed tears for her friend. Pearl could no longer stand from the weight of emotion. She collapsed to her knees taking Kate with her. The women cried as tears from years of loss became joy.
Nina stood at the office door and watched with the impassive expression common to androids. Her genetic analysis had been correct. While she watched the reunion of mother and daughter, she monitored a sensory feedback coursing through her circuits. According to the dictionary, this was a feeling. Though she would later run thousands of processing cycles, she would not find any logic behind what happened next, Nina smiled.