After arriving home from the airport, Dexamene sat with Alfred and they discussed his new assignment. Andresklo was on his way to pick up Alfred, flying himself over from Virginia. If all went well, Alfred would be able to take Andresklo's place in Virginia and then Dexamene would again have Andresklo at her side. She had trained intensively with Andresklo and felt exposed and vulnerable if he was not near at hand.
Andresklo had originally been called to Virginia on the pretext of assisting for a day or two with a minor problem that had arisen in the work of another Interventionist. However, it was now more than a week since Andresklo had gone to Virginia and Dexamene needed him back so that she could continue her own work.
Between the two of them, Dexamene and Alfred knew very little about Alfred's new assignment. Dexamene said, "All Andresklo would say is that it involves a military research facility. I don't even want to imagine what kind of technology is involved."
Alfred did not understand why Earthlings spent vast amounts of money funding military research. Genesaunt civilization did not include warfare among its cultural elements and when Dexamene brought Alfred to Earth, his training had not even touched on military matters. Alfred was still hoping for more explicit orders from Dexamene. In Japan she had informed him that he would receive instructions from Andresklo. Alfred trusted Andresklo, but where was he? Why wasn't he here waiting when Dexamene and Alfred arrived from the airport? Andresklo was taking a risk, flying at low altitude across parts of five states...delay might well indicate...no, Alfred did not allow himself to imagine such a thing. Alfred knew there was rain, and most likely difficult flying conditions had slowed Andresklo.
A kind of nervous silence settled over Dexamene. Alfred was comfortable waiting in silence, but then it occurred to him that he could follow Dexamene's vague standing orders by commenting on military research and technology. Normally humans did not expect him to speculate, but he could imagine no other useful action at the moment. "In Japan there is much debate about anti-missile technology."
Dexamene was pleased that Alfred had become familiar with with Japan. She expected to move on to Japan after completing her current mission, but she could not fathom Earthly politics, particularly rogue states like North Korea. Dexamene accepted the fact that she was new at her job and could not possibly understand everything about Earth and she had to rely on the help of others...particularly robots. Alfred was a kind of scouting force, a pair of eyes and a pair of legs that could do preliminary field work for Dexamene. Still, Dexamene never asked very much of Alfred. His abilities were limited and the main task she had delegated to him was in communications. On the drive home from the airport, Dexamene had tried to make that clear,
Andresklo landed his flyer out behind the house and transmitted a radio signal to Alfred, telling him to come outside. Alfred was immediately on his feet and striding towards the back of the house. Dexamene followed along and said to Alfred, "Remember, you are still under my command. Virginia is only a temporary assignment and your first priority is always to your role as Alfred Lincoln of the New Zealand Police."
Alfred paused and turned back to Dexamene. He asked, "What if I have to go under radio blackout conditions in Virginia?"
Dexamene suggested, "If that happens then make sure that Andresklo and I know so that we can answer and calls that are sent to your Alfred Lincoln persona."
Andresklo opened the back door and said, "Alfred, let's go!"
Dexamene called to Andresklo, who was already turning away, "Can't you stay the night?"
Andresklo shook his head emphatically and replied by radio link, "I must return to Virginia immediately."
The two robots were quickly away and Andresklo's little flyer silently sped away into the night. Dexamene was left alone in the quiet house.
Dexamene slept little and was up before the sun, eager to be at work and away from the echos of the empty house. She went out to the big old barn that served as a garage and got into her favorite car. Soon enough she was back on campus and walking into the dorm where she rented a room. The night desk attendant was still on duty and they chatted for a while. Dexamene finally managed to force upon the girl a little mp3 player she had picked up in Japan. Dexamene hoped that such little bribes might limit the amount of gossip that would be stimulated by the unusual schedule she kept.
Dexamene was in constant radio contact with a nanorobotic probe in Stefiz's room. The probe had slipped into position a week earlier when Dexamene had first decided to approach Stefiz in person. The probe was transmitting images to Dexamene using a conventional cell phone communications protocol. The images of Stefiz were received by a nanite prosthetic device located inside Dexamene’s brain then they entered into Dexamene's consciousness in a manner similar to the nested images on a television with a picture-in-picture feature.
Dexamene's conventional visual field was filled with a magnified external view of the window of Stefiz's dorm room. Wisps of Dexamene's external nanite prosthetic system arched out in front of her eyes, forming a system of lenses. Thus, Dexamene had two simultaneous views of Stefiz as she spoke, "Then I think this conversation is over, and do not call again."
Dexamene's nanodevice implants made it a trivial matter to sound like a man. She said, "Wait! Let me explain! Don't hang up! Listen to me..."
Stefiz was done with the conversation, "No, you listen to me. If you really want to talk to me, send me an email with your real name and explain what you want to talk about. If I decide I want to talk to you, I'll call you back." And with that, the conversation ended.
Dexamene chuckled quietly to herself and let her voice return to its normal unmodified pitch. Well, that had not been too bad. Stefiz now knew that "PAlbert" was trying to make contact with her. Next would be the email contact and then, in a few days, the face-to-face meeting.
Dexamene brushed the nanoprosthetic telescope away from her eyes and turned away from the window. Dexamene looked around the nearly empty dorm room. She decided that she would have to spend some time that day decorating the room.
When she arrived on campus the previous week she had finalized her admission to the college and paid in advance for an entire year’s use of the dorm room. When the money had started flowing, most of the questions about enrolling so far into the semester and wanting a room on a particular side of a particular dorm had evaporated. They had made her register for one course, an English class that ran the second half of the semester and was designed for students who had flunked out of their first semester Freshman English. Dexamene had no intention of attending the class. With any luck she would be done with Stefiz and moved on to her next assignment before the end of the current semester.
Dexamene reminded herself that it had been foolish to get a room across the street from Stefiz. It just was not necessary. Andy had arranged for a comfortable off-campus base of operations, but Dexamene found it hard to think of that house in terms other than those she was familiar with from Earth's fantastic literature of hauntings and supernatural abodes. During her studies of Earthlings, Dexamene had been surprised to learn that so many people who lived on Earth believed in things like haunted houses. However, her thinking had changed after spending a night alone in a big old house on Earth. She tried to laugh at herself, but she could not avoid the fact that she had arranged to rent this dorm room because it gave her a place to sleep on nights when Andy was out of town.
Really, she could only blame herself. She had complained bitterly about living conditions in England, so Andy had done the obvious thing and arranged for Dexamene to have more secluded and tranquil housing here in America.
Dexamene turned back from her consideration of how to decorate the room and through the window could see Stefiz in her dorm room rise from her desk and prepare to head for class. The still images from the probe in Stefiz’s room kept flashing into Dexamene’s brain every five seconds. Dexamene had trained extensively to make use of nanodevice probes, but she still liked the familiarity of using her own eyes.
Dexamene thought back over the five months she had been on Earth. Most of that time had been spent acclimatizing and scouting. Adjusting to Earth’s gravity had only taken a few days, thanks to her nanodevice implants. She pulled open her closet door and looked at herself in the mirror that was mounted on the back of the door. She was still startled by the extra muscle mass she had put on, particularly in her lower body. The closet was nearly empty. Not only did she need to decorate the room, she needed a wardrobe.
She looked out the window once more and saw Stefiz running down the sidewalk towards her 8:00 class. Watching Stefiz and the other students along the street, Dexamene tried to focus intently on what the students wore. They all looked about the same to Dexamene who was used to the greater diversity of dress –and undress- that existed on the Moon. Many of the residents of the Moon’s underground city designed their own clothing or sported creative nanodevice prosthetics and body modifications. In contrast, the students were so similarly dressed that it almost seemed like they had a dress code and standardized uniforms.
Dexamene sighed. Well, there was no avoiding it, no matter how much she hated shopping. The problem was, Dexamene had absolutely no fashion awareness and was totally at the mercy of the sales people. Still, if enough money changed hands, everyone seemed satisfied, even if Dexamene was unable to explain her needs in a conventional way. “Just give me a dozen outfits like you have recently sold” was her usual approach. She thought back to her last few weeks that had been spent mostly in Cambridge, England and the closet full of clothes she had left behind. The feel of the scratchy wool skirts that were in style there had nearly driven Dexamene crazy and she had been happy to abandon them.
Dexamene felt some of her nanodevice prosthetics moving over the surface of her body, in automatic cleaning mode. It reminded her that she had not had a shower for the past three days. She had taken a quick trip to Kurashiki to tie up some unexpected loose ends with another of her projects. It seemed likely that she would next spend a few weeks in Japan after things were settled here with Stefiz.
Dexamene pulled off the clothes she had bought in Japan and headed for the shower. She shared a suite of rooms with six other women, five of whom were at that moment making use of the sinks, showers and the other core facilities. Dexamene had received extensive training in using these types of shared facilities that were so common on Earth. Of course, on the Moon she had grown up taking for granted the availability of a Personal; a full featured set of facilities that were hers and hers alone. In Cambridge she had lived in a house that rented rooms and the owner and three tenets all shared a single bathroom. Dexamene’s training for such field conditions had proven its utility and she had merged effortlessly into the schedule of the house. Her body prosthetics had made it possible to survive the landlord’s rule of only two showers per week per person.
Another item of her mission training had concerned the norms of personal modesty that would be encountered on Earth. Dexamene just could not understand why anyone would care if they saw a naked body. Public nakedness on the Moon was not even noticed. People dressed –or didn’t dress- as they pleased. In Cambridge the landlord’s wife had finally given Dexamene a bath robe and as long as she could remember to use it, all was well.
With no landlord to worry about, Dexamene simply walked from her room the shower without giving the matter of nakedness a thought. Dexamene responded to the greetings of her suitemates and she made a point to reply to each of them by name. Dexamene vaguely noticed that all the other women wore something, be it a robe, a towel, or undergarments and she even wished she had some sandals to protect her feet from the cold tile floor.
Mary exited one of the showers and Dexamene slipped in. She could hear the others tittering and talking about her traipsing to the shower without even a robe or a towel. Dexamene had left her only towel hanging near the shower the previous week when she had taken her first shower in the dorm. She was vaguely aware that she did not have the expected standards of modesty, but she did not care. Dexamene called out, “I don’t have anything you haven’t all seen before.”
Mary was probably the most uptight and conventional of the group. She commented, “Just the same, I’d rather not see it now.”
Victoria said, “You see, Dex, it’s just that you make us all envious. Are you a gymnast or something? I’d probably flaunt it if I had a body like yours.”
Dexamene could not explain that she was the result of thousands of years of genetic engineering with nanodevice implants thrown in to top everything off. She called from the shower, “I dropped out of gymnastics when I had my first period. Now I rely on my men to keep me in shape.” The others laughed and Mary turned blotchy red from her forehead down to the towel she had wrapped around her. One of her probes provided Dexamene with a nice view of Mary blushing before she headed away to her room. Dexamene chastised herself for trying to embarrass Mary, but she really could not understand why so many Earthlings thought the human body should not be seen.
There were about a dozen bottles of shampoos and body washes on the shelf in the shower. Dexamene selected one. “I’m going shopping today. Anyone need anything?” The others requested that she get them a few things. By the time Dexamene came out of the shower only Cathy was still there.
Cathy was an electrical engineering major and had been in the army. She asked Dexamene, “Where were you all weekend?”
Dexamene dried herself off quickly. She had never adapted to the primitive conditions of Earth. She longed for a shower with a hot air drying cycle as was standard on the Moon. She replied, “I made a quick trip to see a relative in South Bend.”
Cathy was surprised, “Do you have a car?”
Dexamene remembered that this was a Freshman dorm where the residents were not supposed to have automobiles. Cathy read Dexamene’s hesitation as confirmation. “Just don’t let Mary know. She’s on the dorm council and she’ll have you kicked out of here in a minute.”
Dexamene laughed. “I’m sorry I teased her. It is so easy to picture her as being from a family where daddy would stick her in a restricted dorm, but what about you?”
Cathy shrugged. “I can’t afford a car. I wanted to be in this dorm because of the study groups. I really need all of the help I can get with my class work. I don’t need any distractions from cars, men, or any other sort of socializing.”
Now that she was dry, Dexamene was warm enough to linger a few moments. “What classes are you taking?”
Cathy explained her problem. “I’m used to just fixing things, but here they want me to learn all the theory of electromagnetism. The math is beyond me.”
Dexamene had a vague understanding that most Earthlings never learned calculus and many were mystified by Maxwell’s equations. “There are a few mental exercises you can do to strengthen your thinking about electric fields. I’ll show them to you tonight if you like.”
Cathy crossed her arms and looked suspiciously at Dexamene. “Who are you, Dex? You blow in here in the middle of the semester like no student I’ve ever seen. You talk like some kind of professor from Australia or some place. And what kind of a name is Dexamene, anyhow? Now you are going to tutor me in physics?”
Dexamene realized that there was very little that escaped Cathy’s attention and there was probably nothing that she was willing to accept without explanation. Dexamene's habit of spinning falsehoods would need to be refined if she spent a significant amount of time around Cathy. She replied, “As you’ve noticed, I’m not a typical student. I have spent a lot of time out of the country. I attended The University of Auckland for two years before returning to the States.”
Cathy shook her head. “With that kind of background they would not have let you into this dorm.”
Dexamene shrugged. “When I applied here I did not mention my time in New Zealand.”
Mary was walking by just then and looked in. “Don’t they wear clothes in New Zealand?”
Dexamene laughed. “Only in July. But that’s because then it’s the middle of winter, down under.”
Mary was not amused and went off to class. Cathy said, “You have no chance to survive. Mary will have you out of here within a month. Sooner if she hears any of what you’ve told me. I don’t know what your game is, but I’ll take you up on those mental exercises. See you this evening.” With that, they both went back to their rooms.
Dexamene picked up her clothes from Japan and shook the nanobots off of them. They had scoured the fabric clean and even impregnated the fibers with a faint citrus odor. Dexamene dressed and headed out on her shopping trip.
You have mailEdit
By mid-afternoon Dexamene had completed her shopping trip and she returned to the campus with a car load of purchases. Getting all the stuff to her room would have been easier if she had been able to just pull her car up to the side of the dorm, but she had not wanted to risk making it known to anyone in the dorm that she had a car.
Still, it was easy enough to start struggling out of the parking garage carrying too big a load and attract a helpful guy. The first guy to offer to help had been some burly athlete who was passing by the parking garage. He had called over to her, "Hey there, need some help?" Dexamene had handed him the heaviest packages and made conversation by asking him about how the football team was doing. He had launched into a description of the entire football season and the outcome of each game.
As they made their way past the main mathematics building, Dexamene had still been struggling with two hands full of bags and one of the bags had slipped out of her control and fell on the ground. Another guy had picked it up almost instantly. Dexamene had turned to pick up the fallen bag of clothing and she came face to face with the same strange guy she had spoken to in the airport on Sunday. As he straitened up, holding the bag, he saw her face and also recognized her. She held out a hand towards him and said, "Thanks."
He had slipped the handle of the bag over her extended hand and said, "Hey, are you a student?"
She had nodded and said, "Yes, and I see you are, too. Small world!" She had turned and continued on, but also left a small nanite tracker probe on him. Given the fact that Alfred had attracted the attention of Observers, it was ominous to see the same person first in the airport then here on campus. Had she been followed?
The rest of the lugging of her purchases back to her room went without incident. The helpful athlete had been easily dismissed in the lobby of the dorm after loading the packages he had carried into the elevator. He had offered to go all the way to Dexamene's room, but the dorm monitor in the lobby had not permitted him to do so.
Now Dexamene's dorm room was well stocked with ‘’things’’ so that it would pass casual inspection as a student’s room. She turned on her new powerbook and composed an email to Stefiz.
As you requested, I am contacting you by email. I’m sorry if my phone call upset you. I had not been certain that I had found you until I spoke with you. I am reluctant to say what needs to be said over the internet since I am certain that my accounts are being monitored. This is what I want to warn you about. I feel like my troubles started when I was criticizing your online article. Whoever has done this to me already knows this, but I wonder if you are involved in some way. Please call me.
Dexamene reread the message and was satisfied with its mixture of information and disinformation. She sent the email and put the computer to sleep. She was following standard methods in trying to get Stefiz to start thinking about the idea of being watched and spied on. This was a proven way to soften the sudden shock that was normally experienced by Earthlings at first contact.
Dexamene reviewed the stored nanoprobe tracking data that showed how Stefiz spent her day, and specifically did a quick skim and review of the time Stefiz had spent with Charlie. Dexamene decided that Charlie was a potential problem that needed to be neutralized. It was easy for Dexamene to imagine how Stefiz would be prevented from becoming a useful tool if she fell into Charlie’s orbit. Dexamene was not going to let that happen.
Dexamene let her mind center on Charlie who was an interesting case independent of Stefiz. Although Dexamene’s mission was focused on the future of the internet as a critical developing element of Earth culture, she knew she had to be flexible enough to not ignore good chances to influence the growth of other technologies. For a moment Dexamene wondered if she should simply turn this into a double operation. She even went as far as to review his genetic profile. Dexamene saw that Charlie had a known mutation in one of his endothelial adhesion protein genes, probably the same one that was killing his father. But it was worse than that. He had an interacting gene variant from his mother that meant that one of his coronary arteries could burst at almost any time, most likely not long after the age of 26. The genetic profile indicated that there was no hope for Charlie as a long-term asset and no hope for getting any real use out of Stefiz if she hitched her star to Charlie.
Dexamene considered the likely options for subtracting Charlie from the Stefiz equation and quickly decided that the safest option was the direct one. Dexamene listened one more time to the nanobot probe’s recording of Charlie telling Stefiz about the pair of show tickets he had received from his mother. Dexamene figured that if he was “joking” with Stefiz about being attracted to other women, he probably was thinking about dropping her and trying his luck elsewhere.
Dexamene stood up and said to herself, “Very well.” She commanded the nanite probe that was watching Stefiz study in the library to split itself in to two parts. Dexamene then sent one half of the probe to search for Charlie in the physics section of the stacks.
Dexamene opened up the powerbook and did a quick search of the campus website. She found an image of Dr. Wedden who had been blessed with large eyes and full lips. Dexamene let the nanite prosthetic embedded under the skin of her face shape itself into a pattern similar to that of Dr. Wedden’s face, only more classically beautiful.
Dexamene turned from her image in the mirror and examined the freshly stocked contents of her closet and pulled out the new pair of jeans that she had been assured by the sales clerk look like, “they were custom pained on your ass.” By the time Dexamene had struggled into the super tight pants and was headed out of her room, the probe was transmitting images of Charlie browsing the new physics acquisitions.
Dexamene had the probe scan the shelves in the library near to where Charlie was. She needed to find a physics book that she knew something about. When she reached the library she went directly to the physics section, made sure to walk in front of Charlie and took a copy of ‘’Quantum Electrodynamics’’ off of the shelf and started reading. Dexamene kept her back turned towards Charlie but the images from the nanoprobe confirmed that Charlie had noticed her. For five minutes Dexamene waited but Charlie seemed content to simply enjoy his view of her bottom. Dexamene commanded the nanoprobe to move in and do its best to disinhibit Charlie. The probe filled the air with pheromones and Charlie itched his nose while microscopically thin chains of nanites invaded his body and started tweaking his emotions with doses of neurohormones.
When his pulse and respiration rates were clearly elevated, Dexamene went and sat down at his table. She pretended to ignore Charlie and refreshed her memory of Feynman’s approach to physics, which had been part of her training in Recent Earth Culture, but she had never before actually held one of his books. Charlie asked, “Are you in the physics department?”
Dexamene looked up and pretended to see him for the first time. She said shyly, “No.” She went back to reading the book.
Charlie nodded knowingly. “I thought not.”
Without looking up, Dexamene asked, “Why not?”
Charlie replied, “I know everyone who is. I thought maybe you were a new graduate student. You don’t really look old enough to be a postdoc. But you don’t really look like a physics student.”
Dexamene looked up again and asked with a hint of indignation, “What do you think I look like?”
Charlie looked a little puzzled and thought before answering. “Well, let’s see….you look like a dance major, but now that I hear your accent I think you are a lifeguard from Australia.”
Dexamene laughed. “I’ve never been to Australia and I do not know how to swim. I have not declared a major, but I do like dance, particularly ballet.” Looking at the subtle indications showing on Charlie’s face, she could imagine the wheels turning behind his forehead as what remained of his wits, those mental faculties that had not been scrambled by the hormones, calculated what might be gained by mentioning the two tickets he carried in his pocket to a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The calculations must have come out in favor of not breaking his plans with Stefiz, for he changed the subject. Charlie pointed to the book on the table in front of her, “So this is just recreational reading?”
Dexamene shrugged and could not be bothered to try to invent a rational excuse for why she was looking at this particular book. For a moment she wanted to shout at Charlie- Stupid! It is just a trick to attract your attention! Wake up, you silly boy!
As she looked at his dilated pupils and commanded her nanite prosthetics to dilate her own, she thought how it really was far too easy to manipulate people. This was exactly why what she was doing was illegal. It took almost no effort to make use of advanced technology to manipulate creatures from a less advanced culture. The temptations were just too great. Even if you started with good intentions, as she felt she did, suddenly you found yourself playing games with people’s lives. She shrugged. Long ago she had committed herself to this course of action. This was not the time to have second thoughts.
But now Charlie could see that she was lost in thought. A new idea came to him. “Now I wonder if you are even a student. You aren’t the wife of one of the physics professors, are you?”
Dexamene held up her hand to show that there was no ring. “I’m not even engaged. No, I don’t know any of the physics professors. Actually, I need to do a book report for my English class.”
Charlie thought that was hilarious. After he stopped laughing he said, “Even I would not be able to get away with that trick, although it is an amusing idea. Who is your English prof?”
Dexamene had not thought seriously about the course since registering, but her nanite brain implant flashed an image of her course schedule before her inner eye. She replied, “Dr. Lehar.”
Charlie said, “Hmm, I had Koernecker. He teaches a special section for science majors, but the reading list is all restricted to what he considers safe. Still, it is better than dealing with traditional English literature.”
Dexamene noticed a change in the continuing stream of images from the nanoprobe that was monitoring Stefiz. She was now loading books into her backpack and was probably getting ready to leave the library. Dexamene suggested to Charlie, “Let’s go get dinner and you can tell me why physics nerds do not like English literature.”
She led him quickly to the exit and timed it perfectly so that Stefiz saw them departing together. Dexamene kept up a steady stream of chatter, “Or we could skip dinner and just go back to my place. By the way, my name is Lanora.”
“I also have a rather old fashioned name, I’m Charles.” Charlie asked, “Do you live off campus?”
Dexamene replied, “Yes. I’d never let myself be stuck in some dismal dorm.”
Charlie said, “I’m on a scholarship that pays for housing, but only on campus housing.”
Dexamene groaned, “That sucks. You ever wonder if it’s worth it?”
Charlie explained, “It’s the only way I’ll ever afford the cost of becoming a doctor. But it would be nice to get out of dormitory existence. I’m in the premed dorm which is very depressing.”
Dexamene could not imagine why that should be so, but she did not want to display her cluelessness about Earth culture. She pointed ahead. “I’m parked in the visitor’s lot.”
Charlie was surprised. The visitor’s parking garage was the most convenient place on campus to park, but it was not open to students. They got to her car and Charlie saw that it did not have student parking sticker. They got into her car and Dexamene exited the garage after paying $4.00 for three hours of parking. Charlie commented, “You must be rich if you can afford to park in there.”
Dexamene glanced sideways at him. “Is that a problem for you?”
Charlie shook his head. “No. I just wonder why you would come to a state school like this if you have so much money.”
Dexamene suggested, “Maybe I do not have as much money as you imagine.” She took hold of his hand. “You seem nervous. Am I moving too fast for you?”
He tried to sound calm. “No. It's actually refreshing after what I’ve been through.”
Dexamene turned a corner and they were off the grounds of the campus. She asked, “Bad breakup?”
He explained, “My girl friend put our relationship on hold until we graduate.”
Dexamene offered her sympathy. “Ow, that must be frustrating. She sounds like some lily waiting back in the pitiful little hometown you both grew up in.”
He hesitated then said truthfully, “It’s not like that at all. She’s a student here.”
Dexamene moaned. “Oh, you poor dear. That must be really frustrating. The forbidden fruit. She must be really something special for you to put up with that.”
Charlie agreed. “She is very special. She’s worth waiting for.”
Dexamene pulled his hand to her lips and nibbled his finger. “Then why were you flirting with me in the library?”
They rode in silence for a while then she pulled into a hotel parking lot. Charlie said, “Hey, I thought we were going back to your place.”
She stopped in front of the lobby. “This isn’t a good time to go to my place. No, don’t ask me why, I won’t tell you. I’ll be right back.” She went inside and came back with a room key.
As they walked to the room, she said, “You do not seem at all enthusiastic. Don’t you think I’m sexy?”
Charlie laughed nervously. “You know the answer to that question. It’s just that I feel like I’m cheating on Stefi.”
Dexamene laughed too, “Stefi, eh? You know, it does not please me that you can’t get her out of your mind. I’m going to have to meet this Stefi.” They had reached the door of their room and she unlocked the door. “Maybe if you saw us side-by-side you’d see how really special I am.” She closed the door and put her arms around Charlie.
He experimentally tried to fit his fingers into the back pockets of her pants but failed. “Damn! I’m really wondering. Are these pants painted on you?”
Dexamene was standing on her toes in order to get her arms up comfortably on his shoulders. She tried out a phrase she had learned in her Current Earth Studies, "No, but I'm superwoman, I have buns of steel."
Charlie was truly impressed and decided that she must be an athlete, maybe a track star. "He patted her buns and said, "Clang, clang."
She laughed, turned and walked across the room to the small refrigerator. “It is widely agreed that my ass is my best feature.”
Charlie sat down on the bed. “The term “widely” hardly applies.” Now that he had just seen her face at the distance of a few inches a new doubt came to his mind. “Just how old are you anyhow?”
She pulled some bottles out of the refrigerator. “Oh, you are so sweet! Do I really look like a teenager? “
He replied, “I had assumed you were wearing makeup, good makeup, but you are not. I’ve never seen anyone with a perfect complexion before.”
She handed him a drink. “Oh, I’m perfect all the way through, Charlie. Too bad you’re, like, engaged and everything.”
Charlie asked, “Can I call you Lani?”
“Sure. What ever you like.” Dexamene was looking through all the drawers in the room. “She pulled out two robes and threw one to Charlie. “This place has a hot tub, I suggest we take a soak.”
While they undressed he said, “I’m not really engaged. Stefi and I never made any promises.”
Dexamene pulled on her robe. “I get the picture, Charlie. I really want to meet this jewel, Stefi. Maybe the three of us can meet for breakfast tomorrow.”
The idea even telling Stefi about Lanora filled Charlie with uneasiness. But after she led him naked into the hotel’s hot tub he decided that Lani lived in an alternative reality where the unthinkable constituted her every day experience. When the manager came to ask them to wear swim suits Lani pointed out that there was nobody else around and he left promising to bring them dinner by the pool. They ate at a small table by the pool wearing their robes and the more Lani talked the more Charlie became dazzled by what had been her apparently very unconventional life.
The temperature was dropping rapidly and by the time they had eaten they were both quite chilled. They went back into the hot tub and Charlie told her about his plans for becoming a medical doctor. Dexamene said, “It does not stifle you to have your whole life planned out in advance? What if you train for years and then discover you do not want to be a doctor after all?”
Charlie tried to explain himself. “What is the alternative? I’m not a free spirit like you. And I’m not willing to just go through school aimlessly, sampling what ever strikes my fancy. Sure, my plans might not work out, but I like having a plan. You know, people expect me to have such a plan.”
Dexamene was over-heated now and pulled herself up to sit on the edge of the hot tub. She asked, “People?”
He replied, “Maybe it starts with parents and then it’s like you have a role to play and then other people see you in that role and they come to expect you to keep playing that role.”
Dexamene nodded. “Well, that’s a good thing about going off to university. You can get away from all that and define yourself. There’s nothing wrong with change. Hell, if you make a bad change, you can always change back.”
Charlie mostly agreed. “Not everything is reversible. I’m not sure Stefi would ever forgive me if she knew I was here naked with you.”
Dexamene laughed. “It sounds like she is testing you. If you can’t control yourself and be a gentleman for a few years, then she has learned that you are not what she wants. That’s her. It's up to you do decide if you want to put up with her games and tests. Anyhow, what could she complain about? Who cares if we are here naked? We’ve done nothing to be ashamed of. You were excited to see a sexy woman reading a physics book. I asked you out to dinner. So what? Or are you telling me that it’s you, that you think you have done something wrong?”
Charlie thought for a while before answering. “No, I’ve done nothing wrong. It's not every day that a beautiful woman throws me in her car and takes me to a hotel. When I first saw you I went a bit crazy. I haven’t felt like that since I first met Stefi. I was not sure anyone else could ever make me feel that way again.”
Dexamene sank back into the water part way, trying to find a depth that was optimal for warding off the cool night chill. “So I taught you something today. Good. I like to think of myself as a temptress, every woman does.”
“At first, I thought you felt the same way as I did.”
“Well, Charlie, it’s hard for me to grow close to a guy who keeps telling me about his girl friend.”
“Ya, I can see that in you, Lani. I apologize for my emotions. I should never have come here with you. I can see that now, but I really was not in control earlier.”
“No harm has been done. I’ve enjoyed your company. You got to satisfy your curiosity and see that my jeans weren’t really painted on. Maybe some day we can talk about dark matter and string theory and you still owe me breakfast with Stefi. All that, and the night is still young.”
They went back to their room and Charlie started to get dressed. Dexamene sat on the bed and said, “Going somewhere?”
“I should go. I should not have come here in the first place.” Dexamene groaned and rolled off the bed. “What’s the matter, Lani?”
She held up her jeans, “I think I ate too much dinner and I might not be able to get back in these things tonight.” She picked up the phone and called the hotel office. “Yes, I want to know, how much do you charge for these robes? Okay. Right.” She put down the phone and bundled up her clothes. “Okay, let’s go.” As Charlie went out the door she dropped a hundred dollar bill on the bed and then followed him to her car.
Twenty minutes later she was back in her dorm room after having dropped off Charlie and let her features return to those of Dexamene. She put on some comfortable clothes and went to check her email. There was no reply yet from Stefiz. There was a knock on her door and she expected it to be Cathy. But when she opened the door she saw that it was a uniformed campus security officer. “Can I help you?”
The officer looked at her clip board, “Sorry to bother you, but are you Dexamene Gregores?”
“Yes. Is there a problem?”
“No problem. You were flagged by the registrar. And we got a complaint from this building about you.”
Dexamene figured that “this building” meant “Mary”. She let the officer in to her room and closed the door. She asked, “Would you like to sit down?”
“No, this will not take long.”
Dexamene realized that she had left her powerbook displaying her email account. She went and sat down at the desk and closed the laptop. She turned back to the officer and asked, “What do you mean I was flagged?”
The officer explained. “We are always watching for predators who might want to move onto campus for easy access to the students. Anyone who registers and does not seem concerned about a course of study is flagged.”
“I understand. It’s true that I am here under unusual circumstances.” She wrote a phone number on a piece of paper. She handed the number to the officer. “This is the police station in Drury, New Zealand. They can provide you with details on my background. I am in their witness protection system. I came here on an emergency basis and what I mainly need now is a safe place to hide. I admit it is not a conventional reason to come to a university, but I would appreciate it if you could accommodate my special circumstance.”
The officer looked through the documents on the clip board. “You mentioned none of this to the administrators when you registered.”
“And you need to handle this on a confidential basis. I want nobody here, administrator or student to know my circumstances.”
The officer sounded dubious. “I’m not sure that full confidentiality is possible. I have to make a report to the Registrar’s Office.”
“That’s fine. I’m sure that they will understand and not find it necessary to enter any of this into my file.” Dexamene opened the door to let the officer leave. “May I ask what the nature of the complaint was against me?”
“The front desk reported that you came in wearing a robe and carrying your clothes.”
Dexamene chuckled. “Is that against the rules, officer?”
The officer replied, “Not really, but this is a restricted dorm. The staff is required to report anything unusual. Are you a swimmer or on some sports team?”
“No. I was at a private party off campus and was in a hot tub. I just came home wearing a robe.”
The officer started writing on the clip board. “Address?”
Dexamene replied, “It's none of your business, officer.”
The officer clipped her pen to the board and slapped it under her arm. “Here’s some free advice. When in public places on campus, wear street clothes. Things might be more casual in New Zealand, but I don’t care. Frankly, I think it’s more likely that you are trouble and I don’t want you bringing that trouble onto my beat. Good night Ms. Gregores.”
Dexamene closed her door and leaned against it. She wondered at the tightness of campus security. There was another knock at her door. This time it was Cathy. “Hi, Cathy. Come in.”
Cathy asked, “What was that officer telling you about wearing clothes?”
Dexamene pointed to her robe. “I came into the dorm wearing that robe.”
Cathy shook her head. “I'd guessed that it was Mary complaining about your naked strolls to the shower. Someday I want you to tell me who you are and what you are doing here, but tonight I need help with my homework.”
Continue the story at Chapter 3 - Charlie, the star-crossed lover
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!).