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Songs of Innocence and Experience

By Nova
Page 2 of 8

Over the next few weeks she had plenty of time to test this strange new growth in her heart. Time was something they never ran short of on Xenon Base. Long mornings, beginning with a basic fitness session in the gymnasium, after which Dayna and Soolin danced through their karate katas, Tarrant jogged for twenty kilometres on the running machine, Vila played happily with Dorian's collection of antique locks and Avon monitored the galactic news. Long afternoons, beginning with basic target practice at the rifle range, after which Dayna and Soolin stayed on at the range, Tarrant worked on Scorpio, Vila picked pockets (generally practising on a coat hung over a multi-alarmed dummy: but not always) and Avon disappeared into his study. Even longer evenings, watching holovids in Dorian's entertainment centre or playing board games and card games and word games, occasionally inventing reasons to cook elaborate dinners and then trying to expand their comments on the day's routine into something resembling civilised conversation.

All of which left them plenty of time to follow up on their own private projects, bicker and squabble, develop shifting alliances and hidden resentments. Plenty of time to study the changing expressions on a mobile oval face and the play of light across tawny skin. Soolin could watch Dayna for sixteen hours a day, if she wanted to, and apparently she did. Within a week, she'd memorised every aspect of Dayna's body so thoroughly that she could recognise Dayna's shadow falling across a doorway. Her muscles vibrated at the sound of Dayna's footsteps in the corridor. Her heart expanded when Dayna dropped onto the couch, her long strong thigh slightly overlapping Soolin's thigh.

At first she worried that the growth in her heart was malignant, an unnatural obsession hothoused by confinement and isolation. But she felt too happy for that, happier than she'd been since the lost, long-ago time that she could barely remember. So instead she decided she must be putting on emotional muscle, recovering the ability to care.

**A sister again. Dayna's my new sister, filling the gap the crimos left, when they walked into our family room and swung their laser cannon in a casual half-circle. Comforting to know I could never lose Dayna that way. She'd shoot first.**

She might have gone on seeing Dayna as a sister for longer, if Vila hadn't ordered a memory tape of popular songs through the centuries from the **Universal Education Compendium**. After their next trip to Valoonica, he began to annoy everyone even more than usual, by whistling and humming and warbling his way round the base. The tunes were so banal and catchy that they imprinted themselves on everyone's brains. Tarrant kept crooning:

'Flying too high

With some guy in the sky

Is my idea of nothing to do',

then breaking off and scowling. Dayna threatened to shoot Vila if he sang 'You can't get a man with a gun' one more time, although a few days later she cornered him and made him teach her the lyrics. Even Avon succumbed, murmuring fragments of Jek Larsen's 'Lost (without you) in Space' to the main computer, until he caught himself at it and erupted into one of his sudden violent rages.

'You've got to stop this,' Dayna told Vila later in the recreation room. 'It was funny, at first, but you're upsetting Uncle Avon. He doesn't like music.'

'I thought maths and music were supposed to go together,' Vila said, unrepentant.

'Ah, but music's the emotional side of maths,' Tarrant cut in. 'Uncle Avon definitely doesn't like emotion.'

Vila shrugged. 'Who does? That's the best thing about those stupid songs - they cut emotions down to size, so you can handle them. But oh well, if you're all going to turn against me, I'll just have to find another hobby.'

He rummaged through the games box, hauled out his magician's kit and started to check the knots on a string of coloured scarves. Seconds later, he was singing to himself again.

'I would swear I was falling -

I could swear I was falling -

Why, it's almost like being in love.'

Dayna and Tarrant jumped up and advanced menacingly. Vila wailed, 'Leave me alone! I didn't even know I was doing it, honest.' And Soolin rose to her feet, circled round them and glided out of the room, possessed by an urgent need for wider horizons. But Avon was on sentry duty and she didn't feel like facing Avon just then, which meant that she couldn't go and stare through the scanners at the Xenon hills. So she hurried off to the entertainment centre, slammed a travel vid into the projector and collapsed into a padded seat, gazing at images of Obsidian volcanos and the Stardust Blizzard Field, biting at a spike of hard skin on her thumb until it tore and bled.

**Oh, shit. Oh, no. Is that what's happening to me?

Am I in love?**

A subdued clatter indicated that someone had sat down in the row behind her. When she turned, Vila was frowning at her, forehead wrinkled with concern.

'Sorry,' he said. 'That song got under your skin, didn't it? Oh dear, I hope you're not falling for Avon.'

'Hardly,' she said, curt and clipped. 'I do have some sense of self-preservation.'

Vila grinned. 'It's been known to happen. And you're obviously not pining for me or Tarrant, because you could fix that by crooking your little finger. Which leaves -'

'No, it doesn't,' Soolin said, panicking. 'I need to visit one of the sex-houses on my next Valoonica run, that's all.'

Vila leaned forward, propping his arms on the seat beside her. 'Listen, I know how it feels,' he said, ignoring her rationalisations. 'There's itches the sex-workers can't scratch. I saved up three months of what Avon humorously calls a salary and bought myself a whole afternoon with two of Casa Cock's best - but did that stop me thinking about Tarrant? Answer: no, it bloody didn't.'

Despite the misery shadowing his eyes, Soolin couldn't help laughing. 'Tarrant?' she said, momentarily distracted from her own problems. 'The same Tarrant you wanted Avon to abandon on Helotrix?'

Vila shrugged. 'You may've noticed that Avon's not exactly responsive to suggestion. It's easier to make him do what you want by pretending you're drunk ... or by telling him to do the other thing.' He hesitated and added, 'Fact is, I've saved Tarrant's life three times now, if you count Helotrix - first on Terminal and then when Muller's android attacked him. I used to think he was a pompous little prat but - oh well, if you keep saving someone's life, you want it to be worth something. Actually, Tarrant's worth quite a lot: to me, at any rate.'

'And how does he feel about you?' Soolin prompted.

'Wouldn't know,' Vila said briskly. 'Wouldn't have the nerve to ask. I mean, just suppose I made a pass at him and he knocked me back. We'd be stuck here together, day in and day out. It'd be impossible. One or other of us would have to leave. I don't want to leave and I don't want to lose him, so ... I keep my mouth shut and my hands in my pockets.'

He rested his chin on his folded arms, fixing sad-monkey eyes on the viewscreen. Without his usual comic mask, he looked almost handsome. Soolin might have found herself suggesting that a good fuck could purge their mutual obsessions, if she hadn't established a policy of never sleeping with anyone more than once. Besides, repaying Vila's honesty with sex seemed somehow inequitable.

'All right,' she said, opting for her own brand of honesty. 'It sounds as though we do have something in common. Where does that leave us?'

'Up the creek without a paddle,' Vila sighed. 'Never mind, I won't tell anyone about you and Dayna, as long as you don't let on about me and Tarrant. And if you ever want to have another little chat -'

'Thanks, Vila,' Soolin said. 'But I doubt it.'

She turned and gazed up at the fiery surface of Pyrrhus, blazing ferociously from the screen. When she glanced over her shoulder again, Vila had gone. Soolin watched travel vids till her eyes blurred and her stomach gurgled, then drifted down to the kitchen, heated a bowl of Tarrant's specialty - somewhere between a thick soup and a thin stew - and carried it to her room. Ten minutes later, she slid naked into bed and placed an experimental hand on her cunt.

**Vila's afraid to make a pass at Tarrant ... but Vila's a notorious coward. I'm not. If I've fallen in love with Dayna - and it appears that I have - I'll chance my luck. And if she's furious or disgusted? Well then, I can ask around Valoonica Mall till I find someone who needs a bodyguard or an assassin.

As a matter of fact, I can't think why that idea didn't occur to me before.**

She pressed her trigger finger down and began to stroke the cleft between her labia, shuffling images in her mind. Images of Dayna striding round Xenon Base like one of the old hunting goddesses; Dayna patiently filing the rough edges from the butt of her latest gun; Dayna languorously naked on a bench in the sauna. Oh, yes. Images of herself reflected in the mirrors that lined Dorian's orgy room, wiping her mouth triumphantly as she lifted her head from the splayed legs and soaked bush of the woman sprawled breathless on a heap of cushions. Soolin knew what to do with a woman. Well, of course she did: she was doing it now - but she also knew how to gauge other women's responses and track the patterns of other women's orgasms. If she could shuffle the two sets of images fast enough, then presumably she'd soon identify the way to lure Dayna into her bed.

Her finger accelerated, scooping warm liquid from her vagina and spreading it up the labia to the tip of her clitoris. As its arrowhead sharpened, Soolin sent her mind travelling back to the orgy room. I knelt between her legs: but Dorian had already arranged her on the cushions. I said, 'Yes, why not?': but Dorian suggested it. All right then, no clues in the orgy room about how to make the first move. Time to look further back or further forward. Soolin had marked down scores of men - in bars or the training camp, the orgy room or on Scorpio's flight deck - and they'd all obediently followed her lead. How had she gone about seducing Tarrant and Vila, for example? Slow smiles and looks that lingered, with a touch here and there to confirm the promise, after which, of course, they'd done the rest ...

Somewhere in the last few seconds her clitoris had gone numb. She rolled it with the pad of her finger, trying to squeeze out some sensation, but it remained obdurately dry and flaccid. No more images left in her brain either, except for the image of Dayna striding down a corridor: walking away from her. Soolin riffled desperately through her mental files but she couldn't find a way to stop Dayna from leaving. Because Dayna wasn't a man. Because Dayna wouldn't take a smile and a look and a touch as a promise. Because she and Dayna already smiled/looked/touched all the time.

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