Read chapter Two of Laid in the Future


Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library

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I woke to the feel of a naked body alongside me. My eyelids rose. It was David, breathing softly. His left arm was about me, holding me close. I kissed his hairy chest, very tenderly. I bit his nipple, nibbling it.

My hand went downward. Then I remembered and sat up straight. David moved protestingly. I was going into the Future today. I swung about to the clock radio on my night table. It was almost nine.

I flopped down on my case officer and hugged him.

“David, an hour. It’s nine.”

“Jeez!” he almost screamed. “We’re late!” He was out of bed, running naked for his clothes. I might as well have been a clothing store dummy. I was sitting there bare naked and he was worried about shooting me off into the Future.

“David,” I wailed.

He swung about to me, reached for me. At least, I thought he was about to grab and console me. But the tenderness time was over. His big hand grabbed the covers and flung them back, baring little old me to the whole world.

“Raus mit! Up, up!”

“The hell with you,” I yelled.

So he grabbed me, yanked me onto my feet and clapped a hand to my bare behind. It was the signal to go to work. I sighed and shrugged.

I got dressed. We had a little less than an hour to get to the National Institute for Advanced Scientific Research, which left us very little time for breakfast. And David likes his breakfast.

I grabbed up my black nylon brassiere and panties. I was reaching for a garter-belt when David said, “No garter-belt, no stockings. No time. Besides, you don’t get to wear clothes, going into the Future.”

I did a double take. “How’s that again?”

“No clothes. Transitimer won’t take them.”

“I go naked?” I howled.

His eyes went over me in my bra and panties, telling me I had nothing to worry about.

I yelled, “Oh, no. I’ve been planning on wearing that new black and white crepe number by John Kloss, the one with the diaphanous midriff.”

“Well, you can’t take it with you.”

I stamped my foot.

David ignored it, I put on the black and white crepe anyhow. I was determined that I would be the belle of the ball until takeoff time. It was kind of appropriate, that.

We feasted on hot coffee and crumb buns in the little shop down the street. Then we beat feet for the car. David Zoomed out of the parking lot and into the morning traffic.

At one minute to ten we strolled into the Institute. A special elevator ran up to the fifth floor. There were uniformed Marines on guard. Their eyes in their hard young faces turned to follow me as I went in to my fate through the swinging glass doors.

The General glanced at his wristwatch. “You just about made it. All right, all right, I know how you must feel. Let’s move it.”

We moved it into a big room that was empty except for a metal cube about ten feet tall and five feet wide. Its sides were of dull gray metal. It seemed to scowl at me.

“Is that it?”

“It is,” growled The General. “Get undressed.” There was a lot of brass there, men from damn near every country on the globe. Not to mention all the scientific eggheads. And here I was in my John Kloss original, about to get rid of it before their eyes. I didn’t feel like doing a strip. Hell, all I felt like doing was turning on a heel and bolting out of here.

David stepped forward. “I’ll help you, honey.” He bent and raised my skirt. Everybody stared at my legs, at my pantied hips and brassiere and bare midriff as the black and white crepe went up. My brassiered breasts hove into view, then the thing was up over my head. David handed it to The General.

David undid my brassiere. He pulled down my panties.

“The shoes, Eve.”

I kicked out of them.

A uniformed man opened the door of the Time Traveler.

I stepped forward, letting my hips swing. I might as well give the boys a show while I was at it. My breasts jounced, my buttocks shook.

Some nice man gave a wolf whistle. I beamed at him. Then I was stepping inside the transitimer, onto warm carpeting. David blew me a kiss. My lips quivered. Somehow, I was disappointed about the whole thing. I’d expected fanfares of trumpets, I guess. Maybe The General was smarter than I gave him credit for.

He was dealing with a female. The idea was not to futz around but to shove her the hell inside the goddamn thing and get rid of her. Let her do her bawling in 3693. Which is just what they were doing, all right.

The man at the door swung it shut.

The clang almost deafened me. I stared around me. The inner walls were clear plastic or clear metal, like glass. I could see banks of wired relays beyond the three transparent walls, and a heterogeneous mass of gadgets that I could make neither head nor tail of. I knew this thing was an invention of the future. The Resistors had told our boys how to build it. This was the result.

Then the thought touched my mind: Suppose the damn thing exploded, midway between here and my destination point?

“Hey, get me out of here,” I yelled. I tried to take a step forward. Nothing moved. I told myself to try harder, like Avis. I was as if turned to stone. Then I glanced down at where my hand should have been. My hand was not there. Neither was my body.

Just mist, shaped like Eve Drum.

Gray mist, tenuous and stirring. I vaguely remembered that someone had said that my body would be changed into some kind of energy, thanks to the action of the transitimer.

Inside the walls, lights were flashing on and off. There was a faint humming. The cube seemed to shake, quivering. I got a bit panicky; I knew I was on my way. I had not the faintest notion how this thing worked; maybe if I’d understood its functioning, I would have been more at ease. Or maybe I wouldn’t.

I was growing. Yeah, spreading out like the mist I was. I no longer had eyes and ears, but I could see and hear. My entire body covered the inside of the box. I had become a part of the gimmicks and the gadgets beyond the walls.

There was no sensation of movement, as such. I just sort of hung inside the metallic cube and the relay circuits and all that complicated gadgetry did its stuff. I felt real stupid, not knowing anything about this time car I was riding in, then I remembered that I would have been just as dumb in one of those space capsules that go to the moon and back.

I could never understand those things and what made them tick, so why should I bother about understanding something that was built by the men of the future?

Ease back, Eve, I told myself, and just enjoy the ride.

The ride took forever, it seemed. Later, I learned I had spent two and a half hours inside the transitimer.

My first indication that I was in the future was when I was no longer so nebulous. The gray mist that was me began coming back from the far corners of the cube. This mist shaped itself slowly into something like feminine curves.

Then it started to solidify. Finally I stood in the cube, stark naked. I waited. The humming was growing fainter, the vibrations were lessening. The flashing of lights slackened off.

My heart was thudding excitedly. I was not sure just what I expected to find in the year 3693. Brilliant, handsome men and gorgeous women, of course. That went without saying. Marvelous inventions, too. Any civilization that could build a transitimer could certainly have other marvels at which a twentieth-century girl-girl would ooh and aah.

Machinery whirred.

The door slid open, slowly. I peeked around the receding edge, and found myself staring into a chamber of blue metal and gray, with tinted glassite columns. The air was cool and sweet as it flowed inside my time car.

But there were no men and women. Oh, there were people, all right. But no men and women, nor children, either. The people I was staring at—and who were staring back at my face just as hard were neither one nor the other.

They wore futuristic costumes, of a metallic cloth and some kind of transparent plastic (I had to give them twentieth-century names because those were all I knew), that fitted to their bodies. This metallic cloth and plastic bent when they bent, stretched when they stretched. The colors were red and blue and gray, pink and purple and white. All sorts of colors, all sorts of costumes.

The people themselves were neither male nor female.

Honest Injun! They were a little of each. You might say they were effeminate men, or very manly women. Take your choice.

One man was lean and well muscled, he looked like a fighting man, except for his torso. Behind twin shields of plastic he had breasts that I envied. His nipples were dark brown and long, clearly revealed behind the transparent stuff. And his hips were as rounded as my own. Beside him was a man-woman with legs to rival those of Dietrich herself, and soft, slender arms. A face that would make this one a movie star after a single screen test. But in between he-she had the body of an Olympic weightlifter.

If a mad deity with godlike powers had decided to scramble the sexes, this might have been the result. The two examples I have mentioned were a little extreme. The others were more in the soft gray range, neither too much of one nor too little of the other. The worst part of it was they had had expressions of outraged horror on their faces.

I was standing there naked, of course. You’d have thought I was at a convention of priests and ministers, except that the laity would have been more understanding. They made gestures of disgust and turned away their faces.

And old man stepped forward. “You please to forgiving them. Not knowing how it was, long ago.”

I nodded dazedly. “I don’t get it.”

His face went blank. “Get it?” he repeated.

“I don’t understand,” I murmured. His pink face brightened. “I explaining. Me am Talnov Kuyzen. Others,” he waved a hand at the people who were staring off into the distance, at any place but me, “are not conditioned as me, from seeing pictures of sexes.”

“Sexes,” I said slowly.

His head nodded happily. “Sexes, yes. No sex in future, no more. All gone. Sex just something to read about in history books.”

Oh my God! If David Anderjanian could hear that. I tottered slightly in utter shock. His thickly veined white hand caught my wrist to steady me. He could not control his grimace of disgust, but like a gentleman, he covered it up.

“Well, for Pete’s sake! If you folks are so dead set against sex, why did you bother sending for me?” I yelled impolitely.

“Needing someone from past, to do kill.”

“Oh, yeah. Anders Orion. Is he one of them?”

The white-haired head shook slowly. “No, no. He is Tyron of Earth. Most powerful man. Rule all.”

A cold wind swept down the corridor, raising my goose bumps. I shivered and looked appealingly at Talnov Kuyzen. He hit his forehead with the heel of his hand. At least some things haven’t changed very much, I reassured Double Oh Sex.

“You come me,” he stated. He started walking off across the metal room. I ran after him on my bare tippy-toes, casting curious glances at the averted faces of the welcoming delegation. Their disgust was clear to read, amounting almost to a sickness. I noted that most of these people were in early middle age. The only old person was Talnov Kuyzen.

“What about babies?” I asked, innocently enough. He whirled like a dervish, clapping his hand over my mouth. His black eyes glared at me. “Ssssh! You must not speak of that. It is forbidden.”

“Well, okay, okay! If you say so.”

“Indoctrinating you necessary. Must teach you is what good to say and such is bad.”

I giggled. His English was awful. When I told him so, he got a dumbfounded look on his face, and drew himself up proudly.

“I is foremost scholar of era, about olden time things. I only man speaking old language as she is—was,” he corrected himself hastily.

“You may be the foremost scholar, Pops, but your Syntax is still god-awful. I can hardly understand you.”

I remembered the old Anglo-Saxon words, like in Beowulf, that I’d read in the past. There wasn’t much more than a thousand years between those words and modern English. There were a couple of thousand years between my time and this.

“Nonebody speak your language but me,” he went on proudly. “Must teaching you mine own language.”

“I hate school,” I groused. He laughed softly. “Not school. Nothing more schools. Is got better way learn. Easy, like grapff.”

“Well, if you say so,” I muttered dubiously. If the kids I knew back in the twentieth century could hear that. No more school. Perpetual vacation time. Wowee!

The metal corridors were a labyrinth of tunnels, swept with a clean, Sweet air that bore in places, the tang of pine and the scent of salt water, the fragrance of honeysuckle and the lemony smell of sage. It was very pleasing.

We came to a blank wall. Or what looked like a blank wall, to my untrained eyes. Talnov Kuyzen waved his hand at it. Part of the wall slid back. I walked into a room where all sorts and manners of costumes (I could not yet bring myself to call them clothes) hung in the empty air.

“What keeps them up?”

“Magnetic controls,” he said impatiently. He moved along the row of garments, shaking his head at this one and then that. He went too fast to please me. David would have loved me in a couple of these numbers.

There was one clear-plastic creation that he would have flipped over. It was pre-shaped to the body and it had been made for a person with a distinctly feminine body. I would have looked scrumptious in it. The only trouble was, it would have showed that Eve Drum was very deserving of her nickname of Double Oh Sex, and “sex” around these parts was a real dirty word. Like “babies.”

The old man yanked down something in blue metal and plastic and held it up. With his head tilted to one side, he considered it, then let his prejudiced glance run over my nakedness.

“This may do,” he nodded. “Put it on.”

I ignored him to slip my legs into the thing and wriggle around until I had it up to my armpits. The thing was damn tight about the bosom, and I protested loudly to Talnov Kuyzen.

“It hurts,” I told him. “It squeezes.”

“Good. It will hiding your—ah—feminine attributes.”

“Oh, yeah? Well if that means I get to suffer, forget it. My feminine attributes are hanging out, pops.”

I reached for the clear-plastic number. When I had it in my hands, I saw that colors had been tinted into it, so that some of my body would be hidden, once I had it on.

I shrugged out of the blue metal job and into the plastic. It fitted like a glove. My legs were clad in shimmering rainbow tints, so were my hips. In between hips and breasts the clear transparent plastic permitted my navel and lower ribs to show. There was a faint strip of color where my breasts bulged, not enough to hide them, really, just enough to make them provocative.

I modeled it for Talnov Kuyzen.

His face was glum. He said, “It shows you being a female woman.”

“Well, in case you haven’t noticed, Pops—I am.”

He made himself smile frostily. “Is make you very visible. Get many notices.”

What woman wouldn’t respond to that? “I’m ready,” I told him.

He nodded and led the way out. “Must teaching you talk words,” he mumbled. “No good not able making self understood.”

We went into another room. There were two men-women in it. They stared at us, then looked away quickly.

Almost angrily, Talnov Kuyzen spoke to them, and they looked somewhat shamefaced. He spoke a language that made no sense to me, though there were some words that sounded more or less familiar. It was as if he were leaving out certain vowels and consonants that would have made all the difference in the world.

The old man led me to a red metal bathtub from which varicolored cables and wires fed off into the walls and ceiling. With an impish grin, he turned to me.

“Is school. You learning.”

I went to school by lying down in the bathtub. It was not a bathtub at all, of course, it was some sort of gadget with a soft lining and fresh air fed into it, which I discovered when they put a top on the damn thing.

Talnov Kuyzen waved a hand at me. I fell asleep. I woke up just as they were sliding the lid off.

One of the schoolteachers said, “Did you sleep well?”

I understood him perfectly. I said, “Fine, thank you.” I had to help myself up, neither of the people would touch me with a ten-foot pole. I was a female!

“Why?” I asked. “Why won’t you look at me?”

I flaunted myself before their averted faces. I looked damn good in my rainbow-tinted bit of transparent plastic. Real sexy. The two schoolteachers looked sick.

One of them said bravely, “I’m sorry to say this, but the sight of you is sickening to us.”

“Gee golly. Thanks.” I hesitated, then asked, “What do I call you? Fellas? Girls?”

I did a boo-boo with that word “girls.” There was no such thing on Earth any more. I apologized fluently, feeling sorry for their stricken faces.

Talnov Kuyzen came into the room, beaming with happiness. “Now I can speak to you and teach you things myself,” he said.

“First of all, there is no sex here in the future. Everyone is of one sex. A unisex. Neither man nor woman, a little of each, perhaps.”

“Yech,” I said.

He smiled, nodding. “I can understand how you feel. In turn, you must try to understand us.”

“In the year 3524, this planet Earth passed through a dust cloud. The dust cloud affected the hormones and the genes in the human body. It altered the sexual characteristics of almost everyone.”

He shrugged. “Naturally, there was panic and chaos everywhere. The people were faced with a completely sexless future. It drove many people mad. There were many who could live with such a prospect, and these took hold of the reins of government, all over the world. National barriers went down before this—to them—catastrophic happening.

“Perhaps governments, like the former males, lost much of their aggressiveness with their change of sex. At any rate, for the first time ever, the entire world was at peace. Ideas were exchanged, delegations from one nation to another became the order of the day.

“The world prospered, really.

“There were new inventions, fresh ways of doing old things. In one century there was a renaissance of culture and technology. The unisex people built a whole new world. A better world.”

I wanted to argue, but I kept my mouth shut.

“You see, without sex to distract one, more things could get done, faster and better. Today we have many new wonders because of this resurgence of brain power.”

“If you say so,” I murmured.

He turned a smiling face toward me. “I cannot expect understanding from a twentieth-century person. I know that. Your kind are too ridden with sexual needs and hungers. You cannot help it, it is the animal in you.”

I could have swatted him. “But it is this very animalism we stand in need of, at the moment. Not only is sex abhorrent to us, but so is violence.

“I believe you have been told by your own leaders that we of the future need a paid killer. None of the unisex can kill. It is anathema to their very natures. The most we can do is stun.

“You will kill for us.”

“Anders Orion,” I nodded. “Tell me about him.”

“He came to power about fifteen years ago, during the days when the entire world was thinking about creating a unified world government. While all of us talked about it, pro and con, Anders Orion acted.

“He formed a small, mobile army—”

“How?” I asked. “If all aggressive instincts were weeded out of your people, how could he do that?”

“I do not know, but he did. And this army simply moved in on the various world capitals, arrested the men in high places, put them in jails. He appointed deputies to serve him and his one-man government. Today he is Tyron over everybody.”

“Not a nice Tyron, eh?” The old man threw up his hands in holy horror. “A vicious, cruel man. Not content with governing us, he has set out to rule the past, as well. You saw the discorion, that purple disc that razed your Kansas farmlands?”

I remembered the purple disc and felt anger gather inside me. This was my job, to destroy Anders Orion. I would do it, then run, not walk, back to the arms of David Anderjanian. I nodded.

“I’m ready, any time you are,” I smiled.

“We must be careful. Secretive. If Orion ever discovered what we’re up to, he’d blast this corner of the World out of existence.”

“Just what and where is this corner of the world?”

“We who are rebelling against the Tyron call ourselves, ‘The Sisters.’ It is a contraction of ‘the resistors.’ We are dedicated to the continuance of individual freedom. We are against tyranny.”

“I’m with you there,” I agreed.

“I knew you would be,” he said complacently. “But what do I do? How do I get to see this Orion?”

“All in good time. You see, we must place you so that your—ah—sexual characteristics are not so noticeable.”

“Hey now, if you’re thinking of operating—”

“There is no need. I have not told you of the Mating Huts as yet.”

“Yeah, tell me about them. They sound real interesting.”

He smiled thinly, without humor, “Obviously, we must have some way of reproducing. Otherwise, by this time the human race would have ceased to exist.”

“I wondered about that.”

“When the dust cloud blanketed the Earth, there were some who were not affected by it. They remained—ah—men and women. They could have children. They did have children.

“For some years, these poor unfortunates were hunted down and killed by unthinking unisexed ones. Luckily for the race, all of them were not killed.”

“Hey, now wait. This aggressiveness was wiped out, remember? How could the unisexed ones kill?”

“The aggressiveness went slowly, slowly. It seemed the only thing that affected the angers of mankind was sex.”

Dog in the manger stuff, I thought. If I can’t enjoy sex, neither can you, buddy. Well, it might have been like that. But I began to have my doubts. Maybe—just maybe—Talnov Kuyzen was not telling me all he knew.

I played it cute. I said, “All right, I’ll buy that. Go on.”

“Buy? Oh, an idiom of your time era. Hmm. You possessed a most colorful language, I must say. But to get back to the Mating Huts.

“There were intelligent unisexed ones among us who realized the danger of human extinction. Laws were passed. Mating huts were established, compounds where man and women might mingle and live, and freely mate.

“Naturally, there was no such thing as marriage, any more. And it was a selective breeding. The weak ones were destroyed. Only the finest specimens were retained.”

I felt disgust.

Talnov Kuyzen went on. “When certain of the babies are born, tests are given them. If they retain any aggressiveness, they too are done away with. It goes without saying that if any—er—males or females are born, they are put to death, except for those chosen to be future mothers and fathers.”

Yeah, hay. The dreamed—of future, where people are treated like cattle. The unisexes I did not think of as human beings, they were some sort of freaks born in an Earth-wide catastrophe.

We came into a big room fitted out with dining tables and chairs.

The old man said, “We shall eat, it is time.”

“I suppose we eat pills in this time,” I said disconsolately. “Or maybe we drink something with all our vitamins in it.”

“We are not barbarians,” he chided me. “We enjoy the finer things in life. As a matter of fact, we have more time for them. Without sex to distract us, we can spend hours in lingering over a savory meal.”

My stomach told me it would like to linger. I sat where Talnov Kuyzen told me to sit. We were the only folks in the place. Then it dawned on me. At my expression he nodded, smiling slightly.

“The sight of you would upset their digestive systems,” he said softly, almost sorrowfully. His words as much as told me he was making one big sacrifice, by eating with me.

It made a girl feel great.

“No waiters? No plates?” I asked.

His smile was very broad. There was a soft whoosh, and a hover-cube sped toward us on its air cushion, without sound. It stopped at the table and a soft feminine voice asked for our order. “Anything you want,” amplified my companion. The cube blinked its lights as I said, “Tomato juice, a health salad. Iced tea.”

Talnov Kuyzen smiled and ordered a small steak, rare. With hot coffee. The hover-cube turned and sped off toward an aperture in the wall into which were fitted many other such mechanical waitresses. I admired the clean, crisp efficiency of the machines.

“Machines do most of our work, naturally. This frees us humans to a greater enjoyment of the sensual things, such as art, music, good food.”

“But no—pardon the expression—sex.”

“I’m sorry. No. We unisexes realize we are the ultimate adaptation of the human body. Sex was too much of a distraction in your day. We have done away with it, in ours.”

“It was the one pleasure everybody could indulge in, rich or poor. It brought love and true companionship, it made our wheels go round.”

He shook his head sorrowfully. “I could expect no other attitude from you, but you are wrong.”

Another whoosh and the serving-cube slid up to our table. Metal strips jutted out, containing my order and that of Talnov Kuyzen. The food looked terrific.

“Efficient,” I muttered.

“Computers do much of our work. A computer accepts electronic orders from the hover-cubes, relays them on to the preparation machines. In a matter of seconds, the helping is ready.”

I ate like there was no tomorrow. Maybe there wouldn’t be, for me, I told myself morosely. I polished off my health salad and tomato juice, sipped the iced tea.

I asked, “If you’re putting me into one of these Mating Huts, how do I contact Anders Orion?”

“He will contact you. For some reason we do not understand, Anders Orion often visits the Mating Huts. He claims that it is merely to make certain that the race is in no danger of extinction. This I do not believe. I feel confident there is another reason, but none of The Sisters knows what it is.”

I stood up. “I’m ready.”

Talnov Kuyzen nodded happily. He walked ahead of me out of the dining hall, where a large number of unisexes were waiting, faces averted from me, ready to enter the dining chamber for their midday meals as soon as I was out of it.

We stepped onto a strip of moving metal with a handrail that carried us for about a mile along a straight tunnel. We emerged onto a landing from which escalators traveled upward. These escalators had seats affixed to them, they are not the escalators we know in the twentieth century.

They made no sound, they simply moved, silently. We came out on a flat street that ran off between towering white stone and glass buildings that rose upward into the sky itself. I guess I goggled a little, because Talnov Kuyzen chuckled.

“You are in the greater megalopolis of New Yorkon. It comprises what, in your time, was New York, Westchester and Putnam Counties, parts of Connecticut and all Long Island. It is one of our larger megalopolis. More than twenty million people live here.”

He lifted a small metal ball. When I stared at him inquiringly, he nodded for me to wait. In seconds a hover-car came swooping down a side-street. It drew up before us. The door opened silently.

“These hover-cars are free to the public,” my companion told me. “You merely signal with this metal ball. The signal travels to the nearest hover-car that is empty. It accepts the signal, automatically shuts it off so no more that one hover-car responds. In this way, street traffic is kept to a minimum.

“As you will realize, the air cushion on which these cars travel cause no friction. There is no wear on the city streets and hence, no repairs are ever needed. The cars themselves move by means of solar energy, gathered in a tiny cell on top of the car and stored against need.”

Talnov Kuyzen leaned forward. “The Mating Hut,” he said and relaxed.

The hover-car gathered speed, it must have gone at over a hundred miles an hour, but there was no vibration, just the sound of softly whooshing air. It was very pleasant, the seats were soft and held one like a pair of lover’s arms.

A huge round building loomed in the distance. This was the Mating Hut, my companion informed me. It was round to distinguish it from the rest of the buildings. There were round glass windows in it that glinted with afternoon sunlight. One thing I did not see, and that was doors.

The hover-car swung into a side-street. It headed straight for the Mating Hut wall.

“We’re going to hit!” I screamed.

The old man chuckled. At that moment, a section of the wall slid back and the hover-car stopped before a landing platform. The door opened.

We got out. Talnov Kuyzen shivered and sighed. I knew what he was thinking. It was against his grain that he should walk into a Mating Hut. I guess he thought he was getting contaminated by his mere presence here.

“Cheer up,” I told him. “You can leave right away. I’m the one who gets to stay.”

He nodded glumly. Then he said, “Do not be surprised at what I tell the attendant. I can’t tell them you come from the past. You are going to be an escapee from the Philashington Hut. You have been captured. You are being returned her for a fresh mating.”

“Well, goody goody,” I grinned.

“Please,” he begged. “No obscenities.”

I began then to feel a little sorry for the unisexes. We walked through a bronze door into a carpeted lobby. To my surprise, a man—got up from behind the desk and stepped toward us. He had no eyes for Talnov Kuyzen. His big blue eyes were on me in my plastic and rainbow-tinted garment.

“Ah! A human being,” he said, smiling.

The old man drew himself up to his full height. “You —you sexed ones are becoming entirely too insulting. You must remember that we unisexes are the true men. You are freaks!”

“Hi,” I said.

He winked. A flood of relief washed over me. It had been a lecherous wink, one that told me I was one doll of a female and that the winker would love to bed me down. It made me feel right at home.

“I’m going to find you a special one,” he said. “Somebody you can have some fun with. I take it you’ve been in the mating huts before?”

“I’m no virgin, if that’s what you mean. I’ve been around, here and there.”

Talnov Kuyzen was choking. “Please,” he managed to get out. “No more, I beg you. These obscenities are making me actually sick to my stomach. And let me remind you that I consider myself a free thinker and extremely liberal.”

The attendant grinned at him. “Sure thing, Pops. Whatever you say. And my thanks and that of all the Hut for finding us this one. She’s going to be real popular here.”

Talnov Kuyzen sniffed. He looked at me for a moment, nodded, and turned to leave. The door opened and closed behind him. I was on my own in the Mating Hut.

Not until later did I stop to realize that with all I had been through, all I had learned, nobody had bothered to tell me anything about Anders Orion. I had no special orders, no briefing, no orientation of any sort. I was on my own, with a vengeance.

Maybe I would get my orders later. Or maybe Talnov Kuyzen figured I’d know how to carry on by myself.

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