Andresklo entered the bedroom and said, "Sorry for the delay, but I had to get some new clothes for Lanora."
The woman who Andresklo spoke to had a natural appearance such that she could have been mistaken as the sister of Stefiz al-Arabid...except that Stefi was an only child. Her real name was Ferace Kerneigh and she had been selected by Dexamene to come to Earth from the Moon, mainly because her body shape and voice qualities were the best available match to those of Stefi. Ferace was a carefully selected tool, chosen to speed and facilitate "subtraction" of Charlie from the life of Stefiz.
Andresklo had previously assured himself that Ferace's facial nanites could replicate Stefi's features and he had provided her with clothing matching what Charlie had previously seen Stefi wearing. Andresklo's only concerns now were that Ferace be able to match Stefi's speech and her other behaviors that were so familiar to Charlie.
Andresklo had hoped to spend most of the day working with Ferace to fine tune her voice but he had been busy dealing with Lanora's ridiculous clothing. "Okay, we have at least an hour. How are you feeling?"
Ferace replied, "I'm fine, as long as Lanora drugs Charlie into a disoriented state before I show up."
Andresklo nodded. "I'll take care of that personally, have no fear. Charlie won't notice anything strange unless you do something foolish. Keep everything you say simple and direct."
Ferace asked, "Isn't there a chance that Charlie will freak out and become upset?"
Andresklo had dealt with humans and their emotional responses for the entire history of the species. It was a very rare event now when an Earth human did something that surprised Andresklo. Still, Stefi had been selected because of her unconventional thought processes and it was not surprising that she had developed a relationship with Charlie, another person who could think well outside the box of conventional Earth human thinking. Andresklo felt that Charlie was on the brink of an emotional melt-down, but not of the type Ferace was worried about. "I'll be nearby. If things go out of control, I want you to say good night and leave. I'll step in and put a lid on Charlie, but I do not expect that to happen."
Ferace nodded, but she looked dubious. She asked, "Okay, but what about Lanora? What if she cannot pull it off and get Charlie to fall for her? As I understand the situation, Charlie has already resisted the most outrageous advances she could make. Isn't that why I had to be dragged to Earth on such short notice?"
Andresklo tried to keep Ferace focused on the matter at hand. "Look, you do not have to worry about Charlie or Lanora. Charlie is already on Lanora's hook. When you make it clear to him that he is free to play with Lanora, he will be reeled in by Lanora and he'll never look back. Your job is to look, sound and act like Stefi. That is all."
Ferace sighed. She was resigned to not having any real hope of understanding the complex plans that Dexamene continued to improvise. "Right. I still do not understand how it is that I'm going to happen to walk in on Lanora and Charlie when they are having dinner together."
Andresklo placed a holographic image of the script for that evening in the center of the room. "Charlie has been trying to get Stefi to meet Lanora, but Stefi refused. She finally relented and agreed to come to the party on Saturday. Tonight Lanora will ask Charlie to call Stefi and have her meet them for desert. If for some reason Charlie refuses to call Stefi, then Lanora will call you instead. Either way, after the phone call just wait about half an hour then come into the restaurant."
"If Charlie calls, do I resist the idea of meeting for desert or should I agree right away?"
"At first get him to explain what is going on. If you like, suggest that you are busy studying and you can say that you prefer wait until Saturday to meet Lanora. That has been the type of response provided previously by Stefi. In this case, Charlie will ask you not to wait until Saturday and at that point in the conversation you can relent and agree to join them for desert."
Ferace shook her head in dismay, "I'm not really comfortable with the heavy-handed way Dexamene is treating this poor boy and terminating his romance with Stefi."
Andresklo wondered if he would have to start manipulating Ferace's brain and thought processes in order to make her cooperate with Dexamene. Ferace was ideologically an Interventionist and thus she should be sensitive to some verbally-administered "arm-twisting". Andresklo said, "When Dexamene started to explore the possibility of removing Charlie from Earth it was expected that there would be adequate time to slowly adjust Charlie's thinking. Stefi has already made the decision to let Charlie slip from her life, but she has not had a chance to make the needed adjustments to her emotions. Dexamene wants to retain Stefi as a long-term Interventionist asset and so we cannot risk making major adjustments to her brain."
Ferace nodded, "And now you have an Overseer breathing down your necks."
Andresklo had made perfectly clear to Ferace the dangerous conditions that that now existed for everyone helping Dexemene. "Yes. So we need you to make an emergency appearance here on Earth, playing the role of Stefi. I'm sorry that you are not completely comfortable with the job you are being asked to perform, but it is my firm belief, based on my long experience with such matters, that Charlie will ultimately be thankful that you were willing to help get him off of Earth."
Ferace continued to discuss the details of what was expected for the evening and Andresklo made suggestions that would help Ferace sound and act more like Stefi. With half an hour remaining, Andresklo said, "Keep talking."
Ferace asked, "About what?"
Andresklo replied, "Anything. How are things at Observer Base?"
During their trip to Earth, Ferace had already spoken to Andresklo about what the Interventionist spies on the Moon had learned about Amelia and her search for Dexamene. "Amelia seems to be in no hurry, I suspect she prefers to spend time on Earth rather than just sit around at Observer Base. I hear that she can't stand the new Council President."
Andresklo commented, "The subject should not come up tonight, but if you do mention the Moon, be careful about your pronunciation. You are using the shorter o-sound that is used on the Moon. Americans tend to make it a longer vowel. Moon. Moon. Hear the difference?" Andresklo was not taking chances that Ferace would remember. He programmed an adjustment to Ferace's nanite-based voice prosthetic.
Andresklo continued, "Yes, Amelia is getting sloppy. The entire system at Observer Base is limping along towards the final phase out of Moon-based Observer observations. On an unconscious level Amelia probably suspects that her life's work is a waste of time and effort."
With the exception of her occasional trips to Earth, Ferace had always lived at Observer Base. She enjoyed her life there and could not avoid some anxiety every time someone mentioned the impending changes that would radically change the function of the hidden lunar city. Ferace was a bit irked by Andresklo's condescending attitude. "Is that how you would characterize my life? A waste?"
Andresklo knew that Ferace needed no coddling. "I've always been grateful for you help. Each time you are called upon you immediately come to Earth, even if you think you are being asked to do something silly or distasteful. Just hold you nose for a few hours...I'll have you back on the Moon in less than 24 hours."
Ferace chuckled. "I wish you could tell me what is really going on this time. Its absurd for Interventionists to target someone like Stefiz. Why her?"
Andresklo briefly wondered if he would have to send behavioral control nanites into Ferace to deflect her from this line of thought. "You know your role. You get information when you need to have it. It is best that you simply assume that Dexamene knows what she is doing."
"Ha!" Ferace felt that Andresklo was confirming her views. "It sounds like even you think this is a crazy mission. Would it shatter your brain circuits if you allowed yourself to think too deeply about the illogical orders you must follow?"
"My brain circuits have functioned efficiently through the entire existence of your species. I doubt if any human's orders could damage my brain. Don't change the topic to me." Andre gave an order of his own, "Tell me how you spend your days on the Moon."
Ferace talked about her personal interest and her like-minded friends at Observer Base. Lately she had been taking part in a historical review of the era of industrialization in England. Ferace had not been accepted into the Observer Corps, but she was part of the subculture of history enthusiasts at Observer Base who studied human civilization. Andresklo wanted her to talk about her personal interests because only then did her voice achieve its normal animation and tone. Andresklo wondered who had less interest in their work on Earth, Amelia or Ferace? The more that lunar residents thought about the coming obsolescence of Observer Base the more they lost their ability to take seriously their missions on Earth. Andresklo was thankful that Dexamene took her work seriously. That was the major reason she had been selected to work on Earth rather than one of her sisters.
After an hour of behavioral tutoring, Andresklo was satisfied that Ferace had learned the role of Stefi quite well. Of course, her nanite implants did much of the work, particularly for modulating her voice. Andresklo handed Ferace a set of car keys. "I'm going to the restaurant now. Follow along in about half an hour. Use the black sports car that you were in earlier, it's on the drive just in back of the house. You can expect the phone call in about an hour."
Andresklo went to the garage, got into one of the cars and drove to the fancy restaurant where Lanora and Charlie were already seated for dinner. Andresklo morphed his face and went in and sat on a stool at the bar. He was now less than 40 meters from Lanora and Charlie, but only could see them by way of images transmitted to his brain from nanites that were on the ceiling above their table.
Charlie was saying, "I think Stefi was seriously worried about me, but more importantly, she is very seriously jealous of you." He paused and marveled at the mischievousness in Lanora's eyes. Charlie asked, "You didn't do something silly like call Stefi on the phone and tell her that I spent the night at your house?"
Lanora pretended to be bored with discussion about Stefi and, as instructed, she concentrated on continuing to surround Charlie with clouds of pheromones. "No, I realize how fragile her self-confidence is. I'm leaving it up to you to tell TAS about me and about me and you. Do you plan to tell her that you had dinner with me tonight?"
Charlie replied, "I don't know. I hope to meet her for lunch tomorrow. We'll talk about the party on Saturday and if she seems in good spirits I'll probably mention tonight."
The waiter came to their table with the main course and side dishes. For a while they talked about food. Lanora drank a glass of wine and Charlie was drinking a gingerale. Sitting at the bar, Andresklo had found it easy to use a nanite probe to spike Charlie's second gingerale with a drug that would degrade his senses and make him susceptible to suggestion.
Charlie was enjoying a chance to get away from dorm food and kept eating long after Lanora ignored her food and became loquacious. Charlie noticed that Lanora's cheeks were rosy and that she continued to drink wine. Charlie did not mind that other people drank, he just did not like alcohol. He reflected on the fact that his dislike for alcohol had been important for winning Stefi's heart. Now he wondered what Lanora thought of his refusal to drink an alcoholic beverage with dinner. Charlie figured that she viewed him as old fashioned and hopelessly conventional.
Of course, Lanora would not ever waste her time worrying about convention. She was deep into describing an idea she had for using anti-matter to power a spaceship engine. For some reason Charlie found he was having trouble following the physics that she was weaving into her soliloquy. He decided he needed to stop being such an infatuated school boy; stop looking at Lanora and start paying closer attention to what she was saying. Still, there was no escape from the fact that she was quite visually distracting. She wore the same skin-tight jeans that she had worn on Tuesday and a fancy leather vest over a skimpy tee shirt. Charlie tried closing his eyes, but he imagined he could smell some subtle perfume that magically forced his eyes back open. Charlie noticed that she was saying something particularly interesting about an exotic dark matter particle that could be used as reaction mass in her proposed anti-matter engine.
"What is that particle you just mentioned?"
"It is a predicted particle, but the Large Hadron Collider has good chance of finding such a particle."
"Didn't you use a name for the particle? I missed it."
Lanora realized that Charlie was spending half his cortical processing power tracing the curves of her tight-fitting tee shirt where it peeked out from under her vest and the other half guiding food from his plate to his mouth. She patiently repeated the term, "I called it a saxion, which is a class of hypothetical particles which might be generated by some kinds of matter-antimatter reactions and provide reaction mass for a spaceship."
Charlie tried to steady his thoughts and keep up with her free-style theorizing. In his mind he said to himself that there was nothing more sexion than a beautiful woman who felt comfortable inventing new physics over dinner. "You seem to be suggesting that conservation of matter would be violated by this spaceship engine, so the ship could be very light weight with no need to store its propulsion reaction mass."
Lanora emptied her wine glass and licked her lips. "Ooo, that's it! You've hit the key point. The anti-matter reactor generates the reaction mass and a magnetic field that protects the crew from cosmic rays. The ship can easily reach 99% of the speed of light."
Charlie had finally finished his meal and sat back in his chair. He could certainly get used to letting Lanora spend her money on him. He'd never eaten in such a fancy restaurant. The food was excellent and he wished he could eat more. He tried to decide if the physics of Lanora's spaceship engine made any sense. "I'm impressed. You came up with this idea all by yourself?"
Lanora shrugged. "I read a lot. I don't claim that anything I've said is my idea, nor do I know if a physicist would laugh and easily point out its flaws. I just find it fun to think about such things. And it is fun to have you here because you understand what I'm talking about."
Charlie chuckled, "I think I ate too much and spent too much of the evening drinking you in with my eyes. You lost me half an hour ago. We'll have to go through all this again another time so I can catch up. Or maybe you've written this down and I could read it."
Lanora shook her head, "No, it is not written down, unless it it basically the same thing someone already published ten years ago and all real physicists already know about...and probably have disproved. Anyhow, I'm sorry I talked so much."
Charlie assured her, "I'm not sorry. You can talk physics to me anytime you like."
She winked at him, "I'm planning on talking physics if I ever get you in bed."
Charlie shook his head in wonder. This was the Lanora he did not know how to deal with. He could understand that she might have fun talking physics with him, but he still could not imagine why a rich and beautiful woman would want to get him into bed. Lanora picked up the desert menu and Charlie groaned. "I can't eat another bite."
Lanora said, "Relax. We are in no rush, but look at this....Chocolate Caramel Tarts, I love them with ice cream."
Charlie asked, "I've seen you eat....how do you keep your perfect figure?"
Lanora laughed, "Good genes are the secret to my ability to wear good jeans and seduce young men like you. But now that I think of it, it is not fair to waste all this....you have no intention of letting me seduce you. We should call Stefi and tell her to join us for desert."
Charlie was surprised to see that Lanora was serious. Would Stefi like to share some chocolate tarts and ice cream with Lanora? Probably Stefi had tried to call his dorm room this evening and now she was wondering where he was. Well, why not call her and see? At the very least it would save Stefi from worrying about him. Charlie looked around and wondered where there was a phone. Lanora slid her cell phone across the table to him. "Thanks." He called Stefi and she picked up, "Hello".
Of course, Lanora's phone was programmed to connect Charlie to Ferace, who, for tonight, would be playing the role of Stefi. Ferace said, "Charlie?"
"Yes, it is me. I'm using Lanora's phone. We were just talking about having desert and we would like you to join us."
Ferace tried to sound like she was not interested, but the hurt in her voice could not be missed. "I would not want to intrude on your evening together."
"Don't be silly, Stefi. As long as you do not mind risking the chance that Lanora will keep talking about her designs for spaceship propulsion systems you should grab this opportunity get out of the dorm. I'm looking at a picture of something called Chocolate Caramel Tarts and Lanora says they are great with ice cream."
Ferace said, "You are cruel to use such language in front of a poor dinning commons-fed girl."
Lanora said, "Tell her to take a cab, I'll pay the fare. The whole evening is my treat."
Charlie repeated, "Take a cab: Lanora is paying our way tonight. Do you know Archie's? Right. See you soon. No, you do not have to dress up. Lanora is in tee shirt and jeans. Okay." Charlie handed the phone back to Lanora. "I'm amazed. She is on her way."
Lanora nodded, "What girl can pass up Chocolate Caramel Tarts and conversation with Charles Parker?"
Charlie said, "Your offer was very kind. In fact, I'm baffled as to why you are so nice to me and Stefi."
Lanora shrugged, "Someday you will understand my motivations...probably sooner than you imagine. Until then, just enjoy yourself and think of me a mysterious temptress. Maybe Stefi will dig me as much as you do and we can have a wild three-way tonight."
Charlie chuckled nervously, "Please don't talk like then when Stefi gets here."
Lanora shrugged. "Okay, but watch out. She might suggest the same thing herself."
"You do not know Stefi. It's a miracle that she was willing to come out tonight. All she does is study."
"Incredible. I've never seen a college student who only studies."
"Well, she does have a hobby. She works on a virtual reality version of the campus."
Lanora had read about this virtual reality campus but she did not really understand what it was. "Virtual reality campus? She goes to classes and studies and lives on campus and then for a 'hobby' she makes a 'virtual campus'?"
Charlie explained the virtual reality campus and talked about some of the work he had done to help develop it. "So, basically, it is just the modern way for students to stay in touch. Twenty years ago they would chat on the phone, now they do voice and video chat via computer."
"I see. It does not seem like much of a hobby."
"Well, Stefi is very career oriented. She studies computers and I suppose she will some day have a job where her experience with this virtual reality campus will pay off."
Lanora said, "I find it depressing to think that someone's hobby would be calculated to pay off in terms of career development. Can't the poor girl just do something for fun?"
Charlie winced at Lanora's instinct to go for the jugular and cut right to the heart of human foibles. "She knows how to have fun. She's just not willing to let fun distract her from her drive to build a career in computer science."
The waiter arrived with Ferace in tow. Charlie jumped to his feet, hugged "Stefi" and quickly said, "Stefi, this is Lanora. Lanora, this is Stefi." Then, before the waiter could slip away, he said, "We want to order desert."
After the waiter went to the kitchen with their desert orders, Stefi said to Lanora, "I'm very jealous of you. I saw you with Charlie when you two left the library on Monday and I've been mad at you ever since."
Lanora reached out and took hold of Stefi's hand, "I understand your hurt feelings." Lanora suggested, "You should have joined us at Perry's on Tuesday. I've been dying to meet you. I've been quite mystified as to the source of your hold over Charlie, but now I see you are a very special lady."
Ferace, playing the role of Stefi, was wearing what looked like the one fancy dress and one pair of shoes with heels that Stefi owned. She noticed that Charlie had been correct to say that Lanora was wearing a tee shirt and jeans, but somehow her exotic leather vest and her striking beauty transformed her into something quite appropriate for this fancy restaurant. Ferace wondered if Lanora would alienate Charlie by seemingly mocking Stefi, but although Lanora had an edginess, for the most part she seemed authentic and warm. They chatted about favorite deserts for a while and then their ordered deserts arrived.
When Stefi finished eating she sat back and stared at Charlie. Lanora and Charlie had resumed talking physics. Charlie noticed that Stefi was bored and he became quiet. Lanora then noticed that both Stefi and Charlie were quiet and so she also let the physics talk drop. Stefi said directly to Lanora, "Thank you, Lanora, for this treat."
Lanora shrugged and said, "You are more than welcome....in fact it is a standing invitation....you are always welcome to join Charlie and I for our outings. I understand you already agreed to come to the party on Saturday.....it will be fun."
"I'm sure you are trying to be kind by including me, but you can see that I quickly become lost with the physics talk. I don't want to disrupt your fun. The party does sound like it will be fun because there will be other people there and I will not be required to pretend to understand physics." She turned back to Charlie. "Well, Charlie, I owe you an apology. I'm still jealous but I cannot bring myself to stand in the way of you having friends like Lanora. I'm ashamed of how jealous I am. I see now that I have a serious problem with my jealousy. I'm still not sure how to deal with my problem."
Charlie suggested, "Well, maybe the plan for Saturday is a good approach. Just bring along a friend like Jenny. When the physics talk gets too deep then you and Jenny can talk about computers."
Lanora said, "Yes, that is a good idea, I welcome a diverse party crowd and many topics of discussion. In fact, invite all of your computing friends to the party, we need them to balance all of Charlie's physics friends. Alternatively, if the physics talk bores you, then you can just jump in the hot tub and take a soak. We could have also invited Jenny to join us tonight. By the way, who is 'Jenny'?"
Charlie and Steph spent the next half hour telling Lanora about Jenny and how she had shaped the virtual campus project. Finally Lanora paid the rather large bill and paid Stefi for the cost of her cab ride and then they went out to the the parking lot and got into Lanora's car, a sporty European model with no real back seat.
Ferace sat in the middle of the seat between Lanora and Charlie. The car was narrow and it was a tight fit. Andresklo left the bar and went to his car. He watched Lanora pull out into the street traffic.
Lanora turned on the stereo and drove to the river and parked along the shore where they could watch the lights of Jonestown reflecting on the river water. Lanora said, "Well, the night is still young. Should we cross over to Jonestown and sample the night life?"
Stefi said, "I should get back to the dorm before curfew."
Lanora asked, "Your dorm has a curfew?"
Stefi explained, "Well, I either have to call the desk of check in at the desk within ten minutes after the time that the libraries on campus close."
Lanora handed Stefi her phone. "If you are not up for Jonestown, we can just go back to my place. I love to show it off to friends."
"Well, I'll see it on Saturday. It's best if I just go back to my room. I have classes on Friday and a couple of quizzes."
Lanora put the phone back in her pocketbook and started the car. "My place is on the way back to campus. We have time to stop for tea."
Charlie was slightly dizzy. The drug provided by Andresklo, the motion of the car, a too full stomach and the smell of Lanora and Stefi in the cramped little car combined to befuddle him. Charlie said, "It is getting late. I also have classes to get ready for. Someone has been distracting me from my studies the past few days."
Lanora chuckled, "I was minding my own business in the library, you spoke to me...do not blame me for how I have replied and what the consequences have been for you." Lanora drove down her street and parked in front of her house. The old brick house seemed to glow in the cool Fall night. Charlie said, "I think I saw someone in an upstairs window."
Lanora said, "Andresklo is back. He's helping me get ready for the party."
Stefi asked, "You live in this mansion? Who is Andresklo?"
Lanora replied, "I guess you could call him my guardian."
Lanora made one more try, "Are you sure you don't have time to come in for tea?"
Stefi said, "I'll see your home on Saturday during the party."
Lanora gave up on her attempts to extend the evening's fun, figuring that Andresklo had probably instructed Ferace to get her job done and then make an early night of it. She pulled the car away from the curb and drove towards the campus. "Don't forget to get here early for dinner on Saturday. Just you, Charlie and Jenny. We'll have some time to ourselves before the party starts."
Charlie asked, "Will you pick us up from campus before dinner?"
Lanora replied, "Yes, I can do that...or I'll send Andresklo. I might be busy cooking."
Charlie thought of Lanora as someone who always had cooks available to make her meals. "Do you really cook?"
Lanora asked, "You don't think I can cook? I'll try doubly hard to impress you on Saturday and you can decide for yourself. Stefi, you will surely be impressed by my kitchen. The old brick ovens are gone...replaced by modern appliances, but it is a real kitchen."
Stefi said, "I'm looking forward to seeing it and sampling your cooking. I have no doubt that you are very good at anything you try to do."
Lanora pulled up in front of Stefi's dorm and said, "Thanks for joining us for desert. See you on Saturday."
Charlie got up and let Stefi out of the car. He asked, "Lunch about Noon?"
She said, "Okay. Good night." Of course, it was Ferace pretending to be Stefi. As soon as she turned her back on Charlie she morphed her face back to normal. After a minute Andresklo pulled up and Ferace got into his car.
Charlie got back into Lanora's car and she pulled back onto the street. After a minute Charlie realized where Lanora was going and said, "Don't do this Lanora."
She ignored him and kept driving back towards her house. "Don't make me sleep in that old house all by myself tonight."
"You are not all by yourself. Andresklo will be there. And someone else too. I'm sure I saw a woman in your house tonight. Take me to my dorm. I really do need to attend to my school work and get some sleep."
Lanora said, "Okay, pick up any books and papers you need from your room, then we'll go back to my place. You can study all night if you like and I'll have you back on campus for your first class."
Charlie asked himself what he was doing while at the same time he knew that he could not resist Lanora's suggestions. His head had been spinning all night. It seemed like a dream to be out with both Lanora and Stefi and Stefi had been cool...very cool about the whole thing. Stefi had made it clear that she was sorry she had previously freaked out at the idea of Charlie spending time with Lanora. Stefi now seemed calm and able to try to get over her jealousy. Charlie looked in awe at Lanora and wondered how she had known that she could win Stefi over. Was it possible that Lanora's dazzling physical and intellectual features could win the hearts of women as easily as they had won his heart?
Twenty minutes later they parked in the driveway and walked into Lanora's house. Charlie said, "It sounds like there are several people inside." They found Andresklo, Ferace and Dexamene sitting next to the big circular fireplace and drinking tea.
Lanora performed introductions and then told Charlie, "Ferace and Dexamene are two old friends who I invited for the party."
Andresklo asked if anyone wanted tea and then went off to the kitchen.
Ferace and Dexamene were only wearing bath robes and their hair was wet. Lanora said, "It looks like you tried the hot tub."
Dexamene asked, "Charlie, have you tried the hot tub?"
Lanora replied for Charlie, "We spent time together in a hot tub the other day, but it was at a hotel, not here."
Ferace laughed, "Lani, that's not fair, you always invite me to town after you've already latched on to the cute guy. Charlie, don't you have any friends you could invite over?"
Charlie replied, "All my friends are physics nerds and they will be here on Saturday."
Ferace said, "Well, if you are an example of the modern physics nerd, then I look forward to meeting your friends."
Charlie asked, "So, you are just into town? Where are you from? I cannot place your accent. And you, too, Dexamene, your accent is similar to Ferace's. I'm guessing you are maybe both from...maybe some place like Bermuda?"
Dexamene shook her head, "I've lived in many places. I like to think that my accent is not like that of any particular local population of Earth."
Ferace said, "I'm a military rat. My parents were stationed at various bases and installations when I was growing up. Dexamene was on the foreign service circuit with her family."
Charlie was not surprised to learn that Lanora would have a circle of friends who seemed to be as wild and unconventional as herself, but he had never imagined finding himself surrounded by three such free-spirited women. "So how did the three of you meet?"
Dexamene replied, "At school in New Zealand, but-"
Andresklo returned from the Kitchen with freshly made tea. After serving the tea he continued where Dexamene had left off, "Don't believe a word you hear from Dexamene. She will say anything at any time in order to protect her identity and hide her true history."
Dexamene complained, "Oh, Andy, what good does it do for me to deceive Charlie when you feel free to tell all my secrets?"
Andresklo did not bother to answer Dexamene. "Actually, I cannot stand to listen to any of this nonsense. Charlie, don't let these three trouble makers ruin your night. I see you brought some textbooks...the safest thing for you is to go to your room and study. You can use the room next to Lanora's again." Andresklo returned to the kitchen and a moment later he could be heard outside moving cars from the driveway into the big garage down behind the house.
Charlie was intrigued by Lanora's two friends. He wondered if Dexamene was the daughter of some famous diplomat. He asked her, "Do you have a famous parent and so you like to hide your identity?"
Dexamene shook her head, "I'm sure you have never heard of my parents."
Ferace asked Charlie, "What about you?" Lanora had introduced him as a pre-medical student. "Are your parents doctors?"
Charlie briefly told the story of his family and his life, but he had the feeling that his mundane background was profoundly boring to the three women. He stopped talking and the room grew quiet. Lanora finished her hot tea and said, "It is chilly outside tonight, but the tea warmed me up. I'm willing to brave the hot tub. How about you Charlie?"
Charlie tried to think of a way to say "no" and just retire to his upstairs bedroom, but he also had flashing images of being in a hot tub with three beautiful women. He told himself that he would never forgive himself if he passed up this opportunity. "Okay, I'll give it a try."
Charlie was surprised to learn that the hot tub was on the roof of the house. The water was very warm and there were infrared heat lamps all around the tub, so the cold night air was no real problem. When everyone had disrobed Charlie had been struck by how similar Dexamene's and Lanora's bodies were to each other. Their faces were very distinctive, but he asked, "Lanora, is Dexamene your sister?"
Lanora replied, "I think of her as being closer than a sister....more of a "soul mate", to use a term you have previously used. I hope that does not make you jealous."
Charlie could not tell if Lanora was trying to say that she had some kind of pre-existing physical relationship with Dexamene and Charlie was not sure if he wanted to know the details...if there were such details. He was also intrigued by Ferace. She was a close match to his fantasies about what Stefi might look like naked.
Within minutes, Charlie was seriously over-heating, but Andresklo arrived with a tray full of cold water bottles. Charlie wondered if Andresklo might join them in the tub, but Andresklo said, "Can you all behave or do I have to stay here and watch? For water at this temperature humans cannot stay in the tub for more than ten minutes at a time."
Everyone pulled part way out of the water in the tub. Lanora said, "Thanks for the reminder uncle Andy. I got chilled this evening, but you are right. Now I am toasty."
Andresklo said to Charlie, "I warn you again, do not let these three irresponsible hooligans get you in trouble." He left the tray and returned down the stairs into the house.
Dexamene complained, "It is not fair for Andy to malign our reputations."
Ferace agreed, "Andresklo hardly knows me...he has no right to assume that I am as wayward as you two."
Lanora retorted, "I'm sure that Andresklo closely examined your background, otherwise you would not be here."
Charlie asked, "Does that go for me, too? Is that really Andresklo's job, to do investigations into the backgrounds of your friends?"
Dexamene suggested, "I know that Andresklo can be intimidating....you might even feel that he is not quite human, but he is well-intentioned and his repeated concern for your well being is honest and heart-felt."
Lanora said, "Well, maybe "heart-felt" is not the best way to describe the situation, but I agree, Charlie, that Andresklo is trying to be kind and helpful. He can be too blunt at times, but I value directness."
Charlie felt he should probably keep his mouth shut, but Lanora's explicit praising of directness kept him talking, "So will Andresklo investigate everyone who has been invited to the party on Saturday?" Charlie was imagining that Lanora was part of some wealthy family and calling Andresklo a "guardian" might just mean that he was paid security who protected Lanora and in his spare time cooked meals, made tea and parked cars.
The three women all laughed uproariously. Dexamene was the first to recover, "Well, I suppose there is the chance that an unwelcome gate-crasher will hear about the party....that is a danger."
For some reason that idea provoked Dexamene and Lanora to more laughter. Ferace said, "I do not know Andresklo well, but I have known other similarly grim characters. I think it is unfair for him to cast a dark and foreboding atmosphere over the evening. We should be having fun."
Lanora explained, "Charlie is having lunch with his fiancé tomorrow. He does not want to do anything tonight with us that he will have to lie about in the light of day."
Ferace pretended to be surprised, "Lani, you really should learn to not screw around with men who are not available."
Lanora complained, "There has been no screwing around...it is really getting well past the point of being frustrating. I might just have to throw myself on Andresklo and order him to perform."
This was clearly the funniest comment yet for the three women. Dexamene slipped into the tub and went completely under the surface of the water. Ferace fell backwards and rolled off the raised edge of the tub. Lanora put her plastic water bottle between her legs, "This is how Andresklo does it, 'Really my dear, if you need to respond to your hormones then I'm happy to oblige." She squeezed her legs together and water squirted up out of the bottle. "Did that hit the spot, my dear?"
Even Charlie was laughing now. Lanora wiped tears out her eyes and gasped, "Oh my, that is exactly what he said to me today: 'feel free to indulge the hormones'."
Dexamene seemed shocked, "Are you serious? You jumped Andresklo's bones?"
Lanora shook her head, "No, of course not, I'm not that desperate. Actually, Andresklo's comment was in the context of what he was telling me about Charlie."
Now Ferace seemed shocked. "Andresklo suggested that you jump Charlies bones even though he is engaged to Stefi?"
Lanora laughed again, "Stop twisting my words. Of course Andresklo would not suggest such a thing. You've seen how protective he is of Charlie." Lanora tried to explain the situation. "Charlie is an honorable man and a committed monogamist."
Dexamene tittered, "Which explains why he came on to you in the school library and is now here naked with three women."
Charlie complained, "You are all very unfair. Believe me it is no fun for me to sit here just looking at the three of you."
Lanora suggested, "I suspect that you do enjoy it, even if it is unfair. Anyhow, we are not trying to make you do something you will regret. I admire your devotion to your beliefs, but I can't help wondering just what was going through Stefi's mind tonight. How did she put it? 'I can't stand in the way of you having friends'?"
Charlie said, "Stefi clearly meant friends who share my interest in physics. I think she would be hurt to know that I am here with you three."
Ferace asked, "She'd be hurt to know that you refuse to screw around behind her back?"
Dexamene said, "Charlie's girl has higher standards than you, Ferace. She thinks Charlie should not allow himself to even get into situations like this where the temptations are large."
Ferace looked down at herself, "Charlie, do you think my 'temptations' are large? And more to the point, is your 'temptation' large?"
Lanora laughed and held her water bottle between Charlie's legs. After that the party broke up amid much laughter. Fifteen minutes later Charlie found himself in a bathrobe sitting at the desk in his room trying to read a chemistry textbook. It was hard to concentrate on chemistry when the occasional laugh drifted up from the three women who were downstairs drinking tea next to the big fire place.
Andresklo passed by the door to Charlie's room and sent in a nanite probe to deliver the antidote to the drug he had earlier given Charlie. The nanites also injected Charlie with a sedative, and soon he got up from the desk and fell asleep on the bed.
- Continue to Lincoln - Andresklo's robotic assistant
Here is a map of the chapters:
_> Mary –––––––––––––––––––––> Lincoln / \ / \__> Amelia PAlbert ––––––––––––––––––––> Andresklo / \ \---->Ferace ------> Yasas / \ __----------> Cathy / / \ / \ / / \ / \__________>Tess CC –––> Charlie ––-----–> Stefi \ \ ----------------> Lani \ / \ \ _______---> Jenny –––> Thomas \______> Dexamene
Sunday ----> time flow --> one week in the Fall --> ---------> Saturday
Useful pages for the reader: List of characters and the Glossary. Readers can discuss the story at Talk:Cellular Civilization.
If you want to help write the story, see the meta page (warning: spoilers!).