Double Blind

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Chapter One

"Max, you've got to do something!" Mom shouted into the phone, "Ned is going to go through with it!" Some women outgrow drama, some hold onto it like a worn, stuffed animal. That would be Mom.

To give her credit, Ned, my younger brother, did have a few problems, including low-grade paranoia. It was nothing to be locked up for, you understand, but enough to use his personality for birth control. Perhaps that's Nature's way of weeding out the truly strange, but he'd never actually go through with much of anything, which is why he's held a succession of entry-level jobs his whole life.

"Mom, what is he going to go through with?" There's a fancy term called in media res, which means 'start in the middle'. Works great for stories, but for conversations, not so much. I had to guide her to the beginning, and let the pieces fall more or less in order.

"Those web sites, those awful web sites."

"He's been in the porn again?"

"Worse! Those meet some foreign woman and get married!"

I scratched my head. For all her harping on Ned to get married, you'd think he was a dutiful son. But there are evidently degrees of complying with your mother's wishes.

"Has he actually corresponded with a woman? And she responded?" I could imagine what sort of response he'd get.

Her voice sounded agitated, and a little fearful. "Max! He's been what you called it..."

"Corresponding, ma. As in writing to..."

"Writing to some woman from Guozong. I can't even find it on the map!"

"Probably some island kingdom in the Pacific somewhere. She probably just wants to get him married to get a green card."

A heartfelt sigh at the other end told me she thought the same thing. "He's going to get hurt, Max. I love him like he's my son..."

"Ma, he is your son..."

"But I think he needs a special woman, an American woman, a good girl."

"Ma, you were the last good girl, and Dad married you. Pickings are a little slim." Appeal to her vanity, which usually works.

"That's so sweet." So on and on it went; it even bores me talking about it. I agreed to call Max, and try to talk him out of it.

So, I gave my bro a call, to get the facts. He answered, knew immediately that Mom had sicked me on him, and started defending himself.

"So who is this paragon of virtue?" I started.

"Her name is Meiling. She's from Gouzong, and she's got an H1B visa, so there's no need for her to worry. She's bright, and interesting, and she's a total knockout."

"I'm waiting for the other shoe?"

"What?"

"The one that's supposed to drop," I added. He 'harrumphed', something I don't hear him do often.

"Max, I'm getting tired of women who don't measure up, who have some fatal flaw. I know there's a woman out there for me, who's perfect in every way."

I hoped my eyes were rolling silently; they don't make 'perfect', just 'human'. Well, there's those androids they make for rich playboys, but they didn't fit into either of our income brackets. Even in 2048, they were still easy to spot.

"So, have you checked her out?" Knowing the answer before I asked. But, Mom had asked me to ask, so I did my duty.

"Scanned her, the name's real, no record, had all her shots, she's just about perfect. No boyfriends, no allergies, I think she might be the one."

That had me wondering. He usually went through this phase in the beginning of a relationship; before he started complaining about this tic, or that habit. When his own reciprocal problems were pointed out, he'd break off the relationship. The trick was to get him to that stage before he made a commitment he couldn't undo. And this could be expensive.

"So how much are they soaking you for?"

He got silent, so I knew some money had already changed hands. "Ned? How much?"

"A thousand dollars."

"Old or new?" Some places hadn't taken to the revaluation yet. At 10 to 1, it would be annoying, but not a major headache.

"New." Oh fuck.

"Ned, let's have details. Is she on her way?"

"She'll be landing on Tuesday." Five days away. Too late to stop it, but maybe I should see if it could be steered. Being the family peacemaker sure sucked at times.

"And you're going to meet her at the airport?"

He got quiet again, not a good sign. "Well, there is one thing..." Alarm bells are going off already. I've developed the ability to watch his mental gears in motion, and I can hear the clutch slipping already.

"Talk to me, Ned."

"She's got a sister, and..."

"No. No, Ned, absolutely not. I just got out of a bad relationship, and I'm not ready to get back on the horse yet."

"She's pretty."

"I don't care if she's Venus de fucking Milo, with the arms glued on, I'm not interested." I hoped I sounded as angry as I felt. If he was present, he'd give me this dopey look that made me feel like shit. What is it about younger brothers, anyway? But I had to be firm.

"Well, then she can stay at my place. I'll find a friend for her."

That stopped me. His friends were all as unbalanced as he was; some more so. When they all got together, it usually ended in complaints and blue lights. Some of his neighbors had the PD on instant call. Some poor woman, almost alone in a strange country, with my brother trying to make time with her sister, it wasn't...wait a fuckin' minute. I knew what he was up to now. Not going to work.

"Well, Ned, if that's the way you feel, I wish you the best of luck." Called, and raised. Deal with those cards, sucker.

"So you're not interested?"

"I just told you. I'm still paying the lawyer for not paying alimony. Seeing his rates, I probably should have paid the alimony and saved on the lawyer. I don't have any disposable income. And it still hurts. They even have a name for it; 'cuckolding'. If you think it's fascinating, you try it sometime."

"I told you there was something wrong with her before you married her." Bro, don't lecture me about women. While I've had my failures, I've also had a lot more dates and relationships than you have.

"Ned. Name me a woman you didn't find something wrong with!"

"Meiling, and she'll be here Tuesday. C'mon, it's going to be awkward if I have to fix her up with Jeremy." My heart dropped to my shoes. Not that wastrel; he was a Ren-faire escapee who was stuck in the 20th century, or whenever the Middle Ages were. For the nation, I had to make sure that Jeremy didn't prejudice her against the US. Yeah, I thought weakly, I'll take one for the country.

"I'm not promising anything. I'll be polite, but I'm not in any way interested..."

"Great. She arrives at 9pm." The phone went dead. When the family peacemaker deals with the family weasel, the manipulators have to be watched closely. I cursed him halfway into the next life. I probably should...yes!

We both had an older half-sister, Peyton. She should have been consulted with first, anyway. If anyone knew the ways of women, it would be her. Besides, with her handy, I don't think this mysterious sister had a chance. What could go wrong?

After a short conversation, she reluctantly agreed to come with the both of us, just to keep Ned honest. Between the two of them, sibling rivalry was more like sibling guerilla warfare. Which is why I wound up the ‘peacemaker? ?'

"I'm not comfortable with this, Max," she said, a tense note in her voice, "There's just too much possibility for manipulation. I don't want to see some woman come 12,000 miles just to get dirt from Ned. And I'm concerned about what I've heard about some of these matches."

"Like what?" I had to ask.

"Well, I know someone at work who brought over a woman, married, had a kid with her, for krissake, and as soon as she got her green card, and skips town with the kid, to divorce him and marry the guy back home she was really in love with."

"Sounds creepy."

"Worse than that; she convinced his friends to up with her friends, and they all left in a group."

I thought about it. It wouldn't take long to discover that Ned wasn't a pile of cash, and if that's what they wanted, they'd probably call a plane on standby to skip back to Goungzo, pronto.

"And another one? This girl marries a guy, they send almost all their spare cash back to the home country, to get his family over, one at a time. They live like homeless people."

"You collect these stories?" I kidded her.

"No, but there's a lot more men trying to find some servile doormat to keep house and whomp up rugrats." The battle of the sexes had changed over the years, but she was still soldiering against men in general, aside from temporary boyfriends here and there.

I had to laugh, no one has talked like that since the 20th Century. "I'll keep one eye on him, you keep the other, and we can make sure she doesn't wind up a charity case. Ned's never had any money to speak of. I just hope she has a return ticket."

"That makes two of us." She hung up the phone, and I stared out the window to the parking lot below the apartment. Well, I had to login early tomorrow, so to bed, and worry about it on Tuesday. At least I knew I wasn't going to have to face anything like that.


Tuesday night finally came, and I met up with Peyton at my apartment. We were going to ride to the airport in my car. It was not a great night, rain, limited visibility, and traffic was tense. Even with self-aware cars, machines could only handle so much; you had to be ready to take over at a moment's notice.

I watched the road flow past, thinking about nothing in particular. Diving’s a pretty boring pastime; my mind often wanders with nothing pressing. It was more dangerous, though, listening to the music on the media projector, the slap of the windshield wipers, and considering how little driving has changed since...oh, the early 21st. Someone from then would find little changed; except maybe the traffic broadcast boxes in the road, or maybe the controls to the car, the limited signs on the roadside for those poor or crazy enough to drive in this drizzle.

Ned was dressed surprisingly well, I think Peyton might have relented long enough to make sure he wasn't a fashion disaster. He stared out the back seat; Peyton called shotgun first. He was nervous, and kept fidgeting behind us. I gave Peyton a look, and she returned it; we were worried he was going to go through with it after all.

The woman had a two-week stay, so she was spending precious vacation time to be with him. I seem to remember from the history books that Goungzans were fairly conservative, so if he thought she'd jump in bed with him, he'd have a surprise or two coming.

The car darted off to far parking; that much hadn't changed at airports over the decades. Great, a nice stay in pouring rain in some too-small bus stop while occasional blasts of jet traffic whooshed by overhead. Sure, they were 'quieter' and got better mileage, but still, there's only so much you can do.

Naturally, we couldn't get anything close to the stop, even with 'optimize parking' set on the autocomp. Peyton was fine, hats were back in, and hers was waterproof. I managed a disposable umbrella, which Ned kept trying to hog from me. We were in a fine mood by the time the autobus pulled up.

"I'm going to look like a drowned rat," he groused, as Peyton's eyebrows raised slightly.

"And how is that any different from normal?"

"Funny, sis."

"Positive mental attitude, Ned," I prompted, "You want to make a good first impression."

With a hiss and a clatter, the buss rumbled over the acres of car lanes, limping towards the terminal, giving Ned a chance to try to slick his hair into position. Looking at him, I sighed; he needed a hair drying unit more than anything. Peyton removed her hat, folding it into a raincoat pocket, while easing towards me.

"Ned never was much of a planner," she observed, as I silently nodded.

"Maybe if he had a comb, he could use one of those hand driers in the men’s' room."

"They still have those?"

"Unfortunately, yes. How is he going to recognize this desperate woman?" I hadn't even see a still picture. And full-motion video is too easy to fake. I wondered if she'd have more chins...

She grinned, pointing to a rolled-up placard sticking out of his coat. "Hope he spelled it right." I shrugged. We'd find out soon enough.

After being scope, prodded, wanded, and invaded in several unpleasant ways, we were in front of her particular boarding zone. We were a minority of European-types in a sea of Asians. The plan must be packed. The rain drummed a counter to the jet noises outside, streaking the windows to give the runway a misty, soaked appearance, colored lights leaving long streaked reflections on the concrete.

The jet finally landed, and I watched Ned tense up. It's not something he does often, or even well. This was going to be a disaster.

"Ned, did you bring a picture so we could help look?"

"Why?" he snapped, showing his anxiety.

"Well, they look a lot alike to me." He waved me away, intent on finding his fantasy woman.

"Funny, they say the same thing about us."

The first ones were off the plane; the pilots and occasional flight attendants. It was a mixed bag of old and young people. Lots of couples, a few families, and even some single elders, but nothing our age, or that attractive. Ned was almost biting his nails looking for her. I'd never seen him this anxious, and I looked to Peyton for assurance. She looked back at me, as puzzled as I was. What was Ned getting us into?

From up the tunnel from the plane, several insistent voices were arguing in whatever language they use in Goungzo. Someone wasn't happy, it sounded like a man nagging a woman, and a woman trying to get away. The footsteps grew closer; we were suddenly nearly alone, almost everyone else had left for the baggage and bus.

Some Asian man backed into the entrance way, cajoling a woman, or rather two women. He had some friend with him, another guy, both suits, both trying to pick up the women, and not getting anywhere. I'd seen that face at bars before, the guys had struck out innings ago, they just hadn't realized it.

Ned pushed past me, bumping Peyton, who squawked back at him, but he was a man on a mission. If I'd had a red balloon, I think I would have let it go about then. The woman looked over at him, and pointed, her face going from night to day. I've never seen anyone change attitudes that fast. But then, it could have been her using Ned to shake off lover boy and his sideman.

"Meiling!" Ned almost shouted, as she brightened on seeing him.

"Ned-uh!" she shouted back, pushing past the suit, and running towards him, trailed by Mr. Loser and his friend.

"Give me a break," Peyton muttered, making gagging motions.

"I know, it's enough to gag a diabetic." About then, they collided, exchanging a passionate kiss. Oh, this is not happening, I thought. Ned, the romantic type?

"Ten says they don't last the night," I nudged Peyton.

"You're on. New or old dollars?"

"Old. The day I spend real money betting on Ned's love life..." I left it at that.

"Who's the woman with her," she pointed out. I turned to follow her finger, and saw her.

I don't remember what I said, or did, or what happened. All I saw was a beautiful woman looking at me, and smiling. Long, lustrous black hair down to her waist, wonderful lips, deep black pupils that seemed to draw me in. A sense of calm, of attraction, of...I noticed something else.

This girl had a rack. Oh, not all that big, I estimated about a C-cup. But women from her side of the world aren't known for being buxom. But I didn't care. All I saw was her. I don’t' know how long I stood there, but Peyton finally poked me in the side, breaking my concentration, or maybe just finding it. At that moment, I thought little bro was a fucking genius!

"Max! What's wrong with you?"

"I...damn, Peyton, she's beautiful." I said softly. I didn't think she heard, me, so I repeated it. Peyton looked at me like I'd gone crazy. Maybe she was right.

"Max, I expect this sort of behavior from Ned, but you? Aren't you still in mourning over your ex?"

Something about that really got to me. Yes, it had been a couple years since I'd be cheated on, cuckolded, whatever you want to call it. I glared at her, and almost said something stupid and hurtful, but noticed that the woman was standing next to Meiling. She was glancing over my way, as if she couldn't keep her eyes off of me.

"Peyton, you're my sister, but I got to say..."

A beefy hand clamped down on my shoulder, and I was spun around to face the first suit, and his buddy. He looked as angry as I felt, and for a moment, I saw his hand cup, not a western fist, but some sort of karate movement.

"You will leave these women alone. They are for Guongzan men, not pasty westerners like you." I saw his friend moving out to flank the two of us.

"Excuse me?" I said, quietly, but coldly. "First off, it sure looked to me like they didn't want anything to do with you. Second..." He tried to interrupt me, but I'd had enough. "Second," I repeated, "you're guests in my country, as they are. Thirdly, in this country women do as they please. If they want to go with you, that is their decision."

The room grew silent, his face well within my personal space, which was beginning to piss me off. I was sandwiched between the two of them, with the promise of violence just on the horizon. I certainly didn't plan to get in a confrontation with these two assholes, but something about them just got on my last nerve.

"Is there a problem here?" a deep voice behind me said, in the tones of someone from security. I backed up, not taking my eyes of the two, then turned to face the policeman

"Just a cultural misunderstanding, officer. They're new to our country, and don't know our ways. I was just explaining to them..."

"Whatever. You two," he pointed to the travelers, "I think you'll find your baggage walking off without you if you don't get down there soon. And you," a thick finger pointing at me, "I don't want to hear of any more trouble from any of you. We'll be watching." He stood there, until the two men sullenly strode off. The head bully turned to me, and mouthed 'this isn't over'. I watched them until they were out of sight, followed by the guard.

"Thank you," the other woman said, as I turned to them. "It's nice to know there are a few gentlemen still around," she replied in a clipped English accent.

"Max, Max Benedict. I'm sorry about the mess, I don't know what came over me."

"And I'm Jie. I'm Meiling's sister, and chaperone, I suppose. No trouble whatsoever. If you'd heard what they were suggesting in English, you might all be in handcuffs." She smiled at me, and I could feel my intelligence draining out of my shoes. A black eye almost seemed worth seeing those lips and teeth.

"Well," I temporized, "I guess we'll get to baggage ourselves, before it leaves without you. Ned here," I deftly elbowed him, "didn't mention anyone traveling with Meiling, but I can't fault the company." Behind me, Peyton was quietly sniggering; she probably thought the whole incident was testosterone poisoning or something. It took a little of the wind out of my sails, but right now, I didn't care.

"Thank you. Younger siblings can be quite the handful at times," she sweetly inserted the verbal knife at her sister, who rolled her eyes. "We must of course set an example for them. Which way?"

"Follow the two idiots that just left, but not too closely." She giggled, which just melted me further. Peyton was looking at me as if I'd been replaced by a zombie. I don't know what the problem was, I'd begun to even have second thoughts about Ned, giving him the benefit of the doubt. Every time I looked at Jie, she seemed more and more beautiful.

After the usual 'hurry up and wait', I had the car loaded and ready to take them to Ned's. Five in a modern car is a bit cozy, but Ned didn't mind it a bit. I was even a little jealous, as they talked and laughed while I scanned the streets. They'd crossed a good dozen time zones on the way in, so we were all a bit punch-drunk, so I made allowances.

I dropped them off at Ned's, wanting to go in with them, but Peyton pulled me out, claiming an early morning the next day. Since I'd driven her in, I was obligated, but given half a chance, I would have followed Jie in for the night. I almost sprained my neck trying to watch the place as we drove away.

Peyton hit the 'autopilot' button, then grabbed my shoulders and shook me, hard.

"What the fuck, Peyton?"

She stared at me, nostrils flared, clearly disgusted about...what?"

"What the fuck? I thought you were going to keep an eye on him, not fall for a girl yourself!"

"I...I haven't fallen in love with anyone," I said, perhaps too quickly. Not yet, but damn....

She laughed, not a pretty one, either. "You've been on the bench for over a year, and the first pretty girl that smiles at you makes you into instant superhero? You were going to duke it out with those two, if the popos hadn't appeared. Worse case of testosterone poisoning I've seen since...whenever."

"Well, I wasn't going to 'duke it out' with anyone. They were assholes, something no nation has a monopoly on. It just bothers me that someone can say that they own a woman who just happens to be from their country. I'd think as a woman, you'd take my side."

"As far as that goes, yeah, sure. But I swear you jerked as you saw her. I'm not fooled by that cultured attitude. There's something not right about them, something not natural."

"Huh? They looked extremely natural to me."

She shook her hair back, looking out the front window. "Well, they're a little too perfect."

"Are you jealous or something?"

She whirled back to face me. "Fuck no! Max," she started lecturing, "there are a lot of things about women you don't know. We do a lot more communicating without words; the way we stand, the way we look at each other, the way we hold things. It's not something we can explain to guys, but I was there, observing, protecting almost. Most other women would see that and silently acknowledge it, and accept the current situation. They didn't respond to any of that."

"It could be cultural differences."

"No Max, this is universal stuff. If I had to put it into words, it would be something like..." she considered for a few seconds, "'I'm the big sister, and I'm watching out for these guys. Don't cause any trouble.'"

"You're serious."

"Yes, I am. I told Mom I was coming, and she thought it was a great idea. I thought you'd be ok, since it was going to be just you, me, and Max. I didn't realize she'd bring someone with her. And you almost dropped one wing and started running in circles. Just because she's a bit exotic, and a little more gifted in the boob department, you go all brainless over her."

"She also sounds pretty intelligent to me." She might have had a point, but I wasn't really listening. Ok, listening, but I wasn't agreeing with her, which is how most women I know see listening.

She sighed loudly, and even growled a bit. "Max, you're an adult, and I can't give you charley horses any more, but I'm telling you, there's something wrong about them."

"Aside from the hidden language of women, what?"

Her shoulders fell. "That's just it. They look like women, and they act like women, but...I can't put my finger on it. Please be careful. I don't want you offshoring your bank account, and living like a church mouse, just for a piece you're overdue for."

"My my, my," I said sarcastically, "your concern touches me. But yes, I am an adult, so I'll be careful. Do you have any info on her from the web?"

She bent forward, as if someone could hear. "Meiling is a derivatives operator for a Goungzan bank, one sister, whom we've evidently met. No record, no boyfriend, no...well there's not much on her, at least more than a year ago."

"Hmmm. Do they keep tabs on their citizens?"

She nodded. "And they're not good for sharing with others, either. They evidently do more checking on us. Ned's account records were examined, for the fee to fly her over. Mom says she got a call about Ned, asking some very pointed questions. But you know Mom, she stonewalls with the best of them."

"I see." Maybe I should be careful. I mean, the sister was a stone cold knockout, a fantasy come to life. I couldn't get over how good she looked, and if she would be interested in me. But wouldn't it be nice?

"Maybe you're right," I said, "I'll check up on Ned tomorrow, and I'll be careful with Jie. I've got an early day tomorrow, so I'll just sleep on it." The car chose that moment to pull up against her car, and the doors opened on each.

She looked at me closely, wondering if I was just bullshitting her. "Be careful, Max, I don't think this is going to end well."

"Now you sound like Mom," I chided, watching her nod.

"Yeah, but even sometimes, Mom is right."

And with that, she got in and drove away. My car finished parking, unlocking the front door, while I got out and dragged myself in the door. The place looked empty, somehow. I'd moved after the divorce, but even the apartment felt lonely, although it never had before. No one to speak to but me, no one to eat with, but me. No dates, no plans, just work ahead of me.

How had I gotten into being this alone?


Chapter Two

That night was a disaster. I tried to sleep, but Jie's face kept appearing in front of me, in my fantasies, calling for me, beckoning to me. I called myself three kinds of idiot, sitting on the side of the bed, telling myself how ridiculous I was being, but still I couldn't find sleep. If she'd been there with me, even without sex, I would have slept like a baby, even though I'd only seen her for an hour. Like a character in a bad romance, I was pining, or something like it.

Finally around four, Lethe took me when Eros couldn't hold me anymore, to continue the bad romance angle. The alarm went off about ten seconds later, if felt like. The morning was a half-dream state, where somehow I managed to shower my toast, or eat a shower, and get dressed with my pants facing forward. Success, or as good as it was going to get.

Thankfully, I work from home, so I didn't have to look good above the waist, for any video conferences. I do Popularity on the Interweb, sort of the granddaddy of network stats, as a consultant for about a hundred web places. It would be boring to explain, but it was piecing together stats on viewers, while noting any coincidences, or undiscovered links between ages, faces, you name it. The job didn't exist twenty years ago, so I was the first generation of that.

I wasn't moving as fast as I usually do, because my mind kept drifting. Ned has a brick and mortar job, meaning he has to be at place x at time y, so he was going to be out of communication until that evening. I even snuck some of my own research in, about Jie, and found out she was in robotics, of all things. She'd taken vacation from Marching Mandarins, an android development firm, and the goofy name indicated certain irreverence towards society. They made workbots, brothelbots, companions, and other grades, right down to those decades-old mechanical arms that put almost every unskilled laborer out of work. Their unofficial motto was 'where the meat meets the metal,' which had some connotations that would spark investigations on our side of the International Date Line.

I noticed that someone was looking into my stats and background, from my ID defender. You don't think? I should be so lucky.

Since I attract some of the wrong sort of attention (not everyone wants their hidden desires catered to; some even believe in something called privacy, for heaven's sake), I have an industrial-strength version of defense, so I soon found out who was scanning me. Jie, herself. I could choose to respond, so I chose.

Finding anything interesting? I sent. Video and sound were usually out, if you wanted to be anonymous, text was the way to go.

Oh! Mr. Benedict. You must forgive me, but Ned has said some things I wanted to be sure of.

Call me Max. Younger siblings often say some things that are not true, or exaggerations. As you must know.

Nothing happened for a few seconds. I stared at the screen, hoping I hadn't scared her off.

I agree. If you speak with Meiling, you must discount half of what she says.

So I don't have to explain that bank job in Philly, I had the perfect alibi. I hoped she had a sense of humor, or at least I hoped mine worked.

You are funny, came back, I would like the four of us to meet again.

My sister bothered you?

Tick, tick, tick...I didn't get a response for a while. I realized I'd better save the witty comments for later. I couldn't use emoticons, I could barely remember which ones were what. No one had used them in decades, once embedded vidisnips came along.

I realize she was fulfilling her familial responsibilities. This is not uncommon in Goungzo, and I appreciate formalities being observed.

Sheesh, remind me never to play tridi scrabble with her.

Mothers worry about their sons, I'm sure fathers worry about their daughters.

My yes. We almost had to chain father to his desk. If I had been a son, I'm sure he would not have relented.

Wha? It's the other way here. Tread carefully here.

You mean because you're a woman, he let you go?

Old ways die hard among my people. I'm glad to say it's changing, but still...this would be better discussed in person.

That's an invitation, son, I told myself. Opportunity is knocking, answer the damn door!

Do you have plans for this evening?

I do not. Ned says he knows a good restaurant, but he is not as social as Meiling had indicated.

Men will also exaggerate to impress women. Another wait. She was playing me, but hey, I think it's worth it.

I will have Ned call you. Being the extra woman, especially when the two of them are so close, is not as entertaining as I imagined.

I look forward to it. If you find my blue socks out there on the web, let me know.

This is another joke?

It was, it was insufficiently baked, so I forgot the yeast, or it just fell flat.

I look forward to more jokes. Until tonight.

Then she was gone. I wanted to continue the conversation, even with the grin on my face. She was interested, she thought I was occasionally funny, and she was a knockout. It was hard to finish up work, my mind still wouldn't focus. I needed to see her. At far longer than usual, I finished the project, sent it up to the client, and leaned back in my chair. I know most people have pads, but I have an actual personal computer. It lets me control more of the work, and I can use it for personal business, instead of being stuck with a pads' 'always observed' status. Sometimes I wish I'd been born in the 20th, where you had near-total freedom, and no one was paying attention. I could have done a lot more checking of Liu than I was able to do.

Ned finally called, and we were to meet at a buffet off the main drag; a safe choice, since we could show them American food, and they could pick what they wanted to eat. I thought a show, or dancing, or something should be next, but Ned’s' not comfortable in large groups. I made a few fashion suggestions, and he accused me of talking with Meiling.

Now I've know my bro long enough to realize his medipod must be close to being out. His paranoia, kept in check by a constant stream of psycoactive drugs, as court-ordered after his 'incident'. Strapped to his body in a relatively innocuous place, most people wouldn't even know if he had one. I was a bit cagey about bringing it up, because he thought I was using it unfairly, accusing me of using it as an argument. I usually managed to avoid bringing it up, but I had to do something.

"Listen, Ned," I started, "We have been two extremely lucky sons-o-bitches, with these two women. They're smart, friendly, and damn fine in the looks department. I don't know when we would have another chance like this. We need to make sure we don't fuck it up, you know what I mean?"

"You're not talking about my medicine, are you?" Uh oh, already with the suspicions.

"Maybe there's something more important. How about we try really hard not to bring up stupid stuff about our childhoods, not bring up politics, things like that, until they know us a little bit better. We're trying to make an impression."

Ned sat back, partially out of the camera, and thought. "Ok. I'm really surprised at Meiling, she's just so...perfect."

"I think I might have a chance with Jie, so what say, dinner, dancing, the works? Movie experience? Sports?"

"I dunno. You're the one with all the dating experience."

"Ned, that was eight years ago. I got married too early, and the seven year itch was too strong for Marci. I hope I've learned something from that, so I just want to have a chance."

We talked a little longer, and tried to hash out a plan. I was to come over at seven, and we'd see how it went. I worked on getting ready, butterflies in my stomach filling with butterflies. It was like middle school all over again.

All the way over that night, I started preparing...well, over preparing. Still a little gun-shy about relationships, I didn't want this chance to slip through my fingers. It was becoming a mantra.

Still, it did nag at me; why did someone so fine looking want to go out with me? I mean, I'm not chopped liver, but she was so fucking beautiful, she could have any man she wanted. And she was unusual in a way, I couldn't get over how stacked she was, even for an occidental woman. It almost seemed like they were growing in front of my eyes, not that I was complaining. Guongzan medical techniques weren't as regulated as ours were, was it possible she was actually getting bigger?

I'd love to find out. But not tonight; don't push it, just go with the...whatever it was granddad always said. The car notified me we were within a block, allowing me to straighten up and get my attitude right. Ned's place was a two-storey townhouse, a relic from the last century, not even wired for universal comms. Oh, the outside looked all right; seasoned wood, the window glass starting to 'drip' the way historic buildings usually do. I've heard there's even incandescent light bulbs!

Ned was there, already pacing. "They're locked up there, doing some sort of women things," he muttered, glancing up the stairs to the bedrooms. I shrugged, content to wait.

"Ned, they're wanting to make an impression," I told him, "it would be good to be suitably impressed when they come down."

"I'm just tired of waiting. Did Marci do this to you?"

"Sometimes, when something special was going on. It's a lot better if they're doing it for you...rather than someone else." Bringing up my ex was not something I wanted to consider right now. Look forward, not back.

"Are you ready?" an excited voice upstairs called out. Two pairs of feet started slowly down the stairwell, toned legs coming into view on...my gawd, how many inches are on those heels? The dresses were scandalously high, not that I was complaining, firm hips swaying in that age-old rhythm. For a short moment, that stupendous rack that Jie had bobbled into view. I swear it looked bigger than last time, if that was possible. They didn't shake as much as before, but those curves, so nice, so firm, so....

"What do you think?" Meiling asked, looking at Ned.

"Uh..." he got out. Not the most verbose at times, I think the effect said everything she wanted to hear. I had to rearrange the downstairs, because I was getting hard just looking. Jie smiled at me, walking over.

"And do you approve?" she asked, that faint hint of British accent giving her sophisticated expression a hint of authenticity.

"Ladies, you've outdone yourselves tonight," I started, "We'll be the envy of every man we meet." Flowery, but there's actually a time for that sort of thing. From their smiles, and sidewise glances, I think I got points for that.

We got to the restaurant, ate our meals, and shared life stories. I'd remember more detail than that, but the cutout in Jie's dress top drew my eyes like a magnet. I didn't want to stare, but fuck...I'm not dead, you know? All I wanted to do was get her alone, and do some very ungentlemanly things with her. From the looks of things, Ned's mind was on the same track as mine. I did manage to get some humor in, and there's nothing sexier than a woman laughing at your jokes.

One nice thing about automatic nav in a car, is you can get a little tipsy and not have to worry about getting arrested. We'd had a few over dinner, and I managed to convince the party three to one (you can guess who the holdout was) to go dancing. It wasn't Ned's strong point, but even he agreed to pace himself (a few direct threats on my part helped).

I couldn't get over Jie, though. I could swear she was a C-cup or so at the airport, and now, scarcely a day later, she was in D territory. Now that just doesn't happen naturally. I'd heard about some of the Goungzan treatments, and there was something about breast enhancement treatments, because half the strippers in the US were booking overseas flights there, and coming back more top-heavy than ever. There were even some of the same for men, and a porn star or two had come back with tighter pants as a result. Could she have got herself plumped up just for the trip? If so, I was a very lucky man.

I didn't even know why I was thinking about it, because her eyes were full of sparks, staring at me with a sensual look that had me going. I noted all the classic signs; mirroring my stance, touching my arm, and staying very close, all through dinner, and the ride to the club. Her hair was long and silky smooth, I just wanted to run my hands through it, or even just run through it altogether. She licked her lips at times, still staring at me. The world just seemed to narrow down to me, and her, and that couple up in the front seat. I don't even remember the name of the club, I just wanted to start dancing vertically, with hopes for horizontally.

The tension was almost solid enough to touch; even between Ned and Meiling. It suddenly hit me how long I'd been without a woman; to even talk with, much less kiss, hold, and even cuddle. Call me romantic, but sex is just the icing on the cake for me. But I had a serious craving for icing right now.

"Do they have different kinds of dancing in Guongzo?" I asked Jie.

"For clubs, it's a universal thing. I look forward to seeing how you dance." There was something almost predatory in her voice, and it probably matched my own senses.

"Well, I've been off the market for a while, so I'll need some time to catch up." She smiled, nodding slightly.

"I am sure that I can instruct you adequately. You can tell a lot about a man by the way he dances." Ah, a challenge.

"I look forward to it, Jie." We entered the door, paid the fees, and headed towards a table over the dance floor. Strange, aside from some virtual reality effects, a discotheque hasn't changed that much in nearly a century. You could put guys in two piece suits and fedoras with done-up molls in the crowds, and they wouldn't look out of place. Bright lights over a dimly-lit room, splashes of color and vibration as the latest in make-out music droned through the speakers.

"As do I."

It doesn't get any better than this. I placed a hand on Jie's back as we angled through the crowd, and she didn't move away, or tense up. A good sign indeed. Meiling was already pulling Ned out on the floor, starting to dance to the music. There was something liquid about her, something that suggested precision, but in an organic sort of way.

"She's very good," I remarked to Jie, who leaned forward to hear me. Our faces got within inches of each other, and I suddenly became very aware of the beautiful woman next to me.

"That's my sister," she said calmly. "She's been dancing since her teens. I was the studious one. I must confess, I'm not nearly as good as her, I hope you won't be disappointed."

Shaking my head, I put a hand on her arm, looking at her. "Jie, you couldn't be any less graceful as your sister. I'm sure if you had your legs tied together, you'd command the dance floor just as well."

"Now you're making fun of me," she objected.

"Not at all. You're both quite symmetrical," I joked, "and you look to be in very good shape." This got her laughing.

"Well, thank you. When they come back, do you want to dance?" The eager expression in her eyes could only have one answer.

"I can hardly wait." We watched the people on the floor, as her hand crept up to mine. I looked down, then took hers, and gently squeezed, relishing the contact. Looking up, she looked so happy. If we could just...

Suddenly someone shoved me in the back, hard. It was too forceful to be an accident, so I started to turn around.

Even in the darkness, I saw both the assholes from the airport. "I told you it wasn't over," he said, trying to pull me out of my seat by my shirt. Jie stood up, angry, and insulted, and the two of them started shouting in Guongzan, while Meiling and Ned came up to the table. I couldn't understand a word of it, of course, but it was obvious they weren't playing nice. Meiling launched into the fray, and suddenly it was two on two, while the rest of the patrons backed away from the fight.

The lead asshole suddenly tried taking a slap, or a swing at Jie, and didn't connect. I swear I've never seen someone move so fast. She just effortlessly moved out of range, and did something with her hands to keep him off balance. He pivoted, trying to regain control, and bounced off a bouncer, who had just arrived.

I don't know who he was, but he had muscles in places most guys don't even have places. He was about nine foot for, or so he seemed at the time, and he grabbed asshole number one, and started moving him towards the door. Asshole number two had already vanished, but a second bouncer came up to us.

"Folks, I'd like to know what started this," he said, very reasonably.

"They did. We were just here to dance," Ned got out. Meiling nodded.

"You know these guys?" he jerked a thumb over his shoulder. We had to tell him the sad, sorry tale of the airport lounge, and Jie translated the more family-oriented parts of their argument. I have the distinct feeling that as far as cursing goes, I was in the company of a master.

"We apologize for the inconvenience, " the bouncer replied, "this is unwelcome behavior, and they've already been expelled from the club. Allow us to offer you all a round of drinks for the trouble."

"That's very gracious of you," I said, and he snapped his fingers, and before the sound had died, there was an employee taking our orders.

I looked at Jie, still a bit disheveled from the verbal fisticuffs, and Meiling was comparing notes with her sister. Ned hadn't seen anything but the end of it, but I was silently grumbling about them breaking the mood. Do not pass go; and don't collect the beautiful woman on the way through. She looked back, smiling again.

"They are a throwback, some sort of quadrad organization from my country. They believe that traditional values should be returned to, and women become chattels again."

"Cattle?" Ned said, and my eyes rolled involuntarily.

"Almost the same thing. There is a great imbalance in the population, now that people can pick the sexes of their children. It's almost two men to every woman now. They're trying to get immigrant women in to address the imbalance, but people like that," she almost spat, "don't make it any easier on the women, here or at home."

"Well, they're gone, which is the important thing. We're alone at last, which is the important...Ned, what's wrong?" I hadn't seen that face on him since, oh, about...

"Max Benedict, as I live and breathe," a deadly familiar voice behind me cackled, "Out for a night on the town? Trying to become something you're not?"

Someone up there hates me, I'm convinced of it. Ten billion people in the world, and who has to come up behind me but my ex? I took control of my anger, and slowly turned around. "Hello Marci," I got out.

"Introduce me to your fancy ladies?" she snapped, taking in the three people behind me. "Hello, Ned," she added, looking down her nose at him, "how much did these women cost you two?"

"Marci, these are two guests to our country, and you're making a bad impression on them. Don't you have somewhere else to be?"

She smiled wanly at me, oblivious to sarcasm, or even simple politeness. If anyone could gut my chances with Jie, Marci would.

She grinned, eyes squinted, an evil look on her face. In fact, I think that her picture is there in the dictionary, under 'evil'. "Maybe I'm looking out for her. I wouldn't want any other woman disappointed, like I was." She turned to Jie, raising an eyebrow. "He's really all talk, and no action. If you need a real man, I know where to go."

"Then perhaps you should go there," Jie replied, in a voice that could freeze helium. I could love her just for that alone.

"Don't say I didn't warn you?" Marci sang, as she turned to go. Some big brute came up behind her, and possessively grabbed her arm. "Who you talkin' to now?" he growled. "You stay away from her, she's with me."

"Oh, Marci's all yours, jack," I responded, "I wouldn't dream of interfering..."

She looked up at him with those gooey eyes that used to get me in so much trouble, and for once, I was glad I wasn't on the receiving end. He eased her roughly out of the way, towards the dance floor. I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding.

"Jie, I must apologize for that woman, she's my ex-wife," I got out, before she touched my lips.

"A story for another time," she said softly. "I sense no love between the two of you." She smiled at me, and at that moment, I could have married her.

"No, she had a wandering eye, and we just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I think this place is rubbing me the wrong way. What say we leave this taco stand, and head somewhere else?"

The nodded, and we started out the way we came in. I stole a glance back, and saw the mistress if mistakes cast a forlorn glance my way as we left. I gave her the fingers, and turned away. Strike this club off my list. I watched Jie moving in front of me, the view as enticing from the back, as from the front. She had a feline way of walking, so controlled, even though I think there was a hint of sashay, just for my benefit.

Meiling and Ned were already spooning in the front seat, and Jie and I got in the back. Ned told the car to take us home, which was all right with me. I was a bit wound up. I was still angry for Marci trying to torpedo the best chance I had had for happiness, and I was extremely flattered that Jie had taken a near-stranger's side against the ex. I looked over at her, getting a crooked smile on my face, and reached up to touch her cheek.

She held my hand in hers, looking into my eyes. "I think this evening has been more excitement than you had planned for," she said.

"I was hoping for more nice in the excitement. I didn't plan on becoming a portable riot." She giggled slightly, taking my hand.

"You were quite the gentleman. There were so many wrong ways to react, but I think you played it perfectly."

"You were quite the lady. Marci has this way of getting under anyone's skin. If I'd met someone like you, I think my life would have been a lot happier."

She smiled back, her eyes shining. I think that might have been the right thing to say. We leaned towards each other, and I saw her eyes start to close, as her lips opened slightly, I leaned in, holding her hand. It would have been beautiful, if Ned hadn't jostled me. I gave him the stare of death, growling. "What?"

"Hey, you guys want to come in?" Wait, Ned was offering hospitality? I was glad I was sitting down for that one. Maybe Meiling was a good influence after all.

"I dunno, you're your usual expert at breaking the mood," I replied flatly. Jie still looked hopeful. Maybe I could salvage this after all.

"He's just being nice," Meiling said, holding his arm, looking back at her sister. There was something in the look, something I needed to ask about. Later.

We all got out, going into his house. I took the opportunity to take her hand, which also seemed to be the right thing to do. Ned was already 'pushing the envelope' as they used to say in the last century, with his arm around his date, but she didn't seem to mind. I thought about it myself, but I didn't want to do the 'monkey see monkey do' bit. They were more like teenagers, and I wanted to set a more mature example. Well, on the surface. I was feeling a bit anxious myself.

He turned on the entertainment console, and turned down the lights some. He actually had the foresight to have two couches, so Jie and I sat fairly close on ours, holding hands, and talking. We did short versions of our life stories, hers living in a reclaimed bayside city, me in a typical post-burb arrangement. She was actually a good storyteller, better than me, and the mutual admiration just continued to grow.

I took an occasional look at her top, but with the cleavage on display, I'd have to be dead to ignore it. She caught me looking, but didn't scold, and even rearranged herself to give me a slightly better look. I tried to figure a way to ask about the size, when she brought it up first.

"I'm not full Guongzan, you know," she started, "Grandmother was a westerner, and I've inherited some of her...attributes."

"You carry it off so well," I improvised, "a woman of your country, but something special, that stands out..." I panicked, "uh, not that I meant that in a bad way, you know..."

She threw back her head and laughed. "I know what you meant. I find it very flattering, in fact. I should mention, though, that that sort of activity is never engaged in on the first date," she mock-warned me.

"Of course, but it just makes me want a second date all the more," I riposted. She nodded, and leaned forward. It looked like our interrupted kiss was going to be consummated, as it were. Our eyes closed, and lips did as hands do, and the first kiss turned into something I'd never forget. She was a master at kissing, and something most guys dismissed as a ticket to bigger and better things turned into something I could do all night.

I think it was her response, she seemed to flow into the kiss, her body closed, but not overwhelming. Her arms drew around my neck, and she pulled me into her grasp. I pulled my arms around her, feeling a very feminine woman. Her mouth opened hungrily, and her tongue met mine, sensuously sliding everywhere, each of us tasting the other.

We kissed passionately for a week or so, each wanting the other. Time and space don't have much meaning when you're lip locked like we were. She started to slide backwards towards the cushions, so naturally I followed her down, never breaking contact.

I realized I had a hardon from hell, but somehow I didn't think too much about it. As my hips met hers, she groaned, low in her throat, her legs parting eagerly. My hands were locked around her back, though I felt more and more that they'd be better used up front. Her back was arching upwards, pushing her surprisingly solid chest against me. I wanted to see her tits; to fondle, lick, suck, whatever she'd allow.

She pulled one of my hands free, and placed my palm squarely on her nipple. Who could refuse an offer like that? A gentle squeeze, and a lusty sigh on her part told me I was giving her what she needed. I couldn't get over how packed they felt, as if they were way too big to fit in that bra of hers. The fabric seemed to be straining under my fingers, and I couldn't get a finger under the bottom to save my life.

She pulled back, looking into my eyes, and smiling. "I want..." she started, then pulled me down to kiss her. Hoping she wanted the same thing I did, I slid my hand lower, over her belly, until she grabbed it and stopped me. I could have forced it, but I knew I might not get another chance, so I pulled it back up, and she rolled next to me.

"Not here, Max," she breathed, that marvelous chest of her rising and falling, "I don't go that far on a first date."

"I can respect that," telling a lie so big that only politicians should be allowed to use it, "I'd love another date."

The way her face lit up, I knew I was burning through my allotted luck. She kissed me again. Looking over at the mechanical clock (Ned had a thing about the turn of the century, who knows why), I saw it was already after midnight. She pouted again, and drew herself up. For a woman in her position, well, physically at least, she was surprisingly strong. The jerk at the club would have been knocked into the next row, if she had muscles like that.

Grumbling silently to myself, I composing my clothes, I made it to my feet, as she helped me. Solid girl, that. We flowed into a hug that was a promise of sex to come, or at least I kept telling myself that. She giggled slightly, something I hadn't heard yet. I like the sound of it, someone that sounds that good should be kept in stitches, at least temporarily.

"We have to stop, Max, or you'll never get home."

"That's a bad thing?"

She shook her head. "I don't trust myself. I hope we have a second date very soon. Give me a call when you get home."

Nodding numbly, I climbed back into my car, punching the passenger seat in frustration. I was climbing the walls already, and it had only been a few seconds. It was amazing, half a week before I didn't know she existed, and now I couldn't imagine being without her. It was going to be a long night.

As the streetlights flashed by, I thought about how I could postpone work, or maybe rearrange my schedule, to take a three-day weekend. Something, anything to get back to her. The feel of her body trembling against mine, the legs seductively parting, the nipples swelling under my fingertips, she'd been as ready as I was. And those tits!

That had me wondering. When she got off the plane, I would have said a healthy handful, but tonight, she seemed a cup size or so larger. And that flimsy nothing holding them up was about to split like a hot dog in a microwave too long. Was she getting bigger? How was that even possible? I mean, yeah, women do get bigger over time, but she looked to be in her mid-twenties, if not older. It was hard to tell with Asian women; she could even be older than me. Well, in that case, the cougar was going to score, if I had anything to do with it.

I was at the house before I knew it, woolgathering again. In the door I went, car turning off behind me. A short while later I was in bed, tired, but too keyed up to move. I could remember every inch of those mammoth globes, the shape was off, or so I thought. Most of the pics and vids of Asian women were conical, though there a few 'western-style' women out there, especially with the emigrants from the west. Gail at the office had once told me that I was being silly about it, that a woman's breasts were so individual that they could be used for biometrics, and that any size and shape was possible in any type of woman.

That wasn't helping, I visualized oceans of swelling breasts, hard nipples, spread around me. If I got any harder, I'd probably spontaneously erupt. Warm milk, counting sheep, none of it seemed to work. All I could think of was Jie, naked, under me, over me, doing all those heavenly things a woman and man can do together. All right, fucking our brains out. I wish the second date could start....

A knock from the front door startled me. Fully awake now, the doorcam showed Jie, wrapped in a raincoat, standing nervously looking around. I stumbled down the stairs, not quite remembering how I even made it out of bed, until I opened the door, startling her.

"Jie?"

"Max, would you think me a..." the word that followed was one I couldn't pronounce, " if I started the second date now?"

"No, of course not. Where do you want to go?" I managed to get out.

"Your bedroom, right now." She eased past me with a grace that couldn't be faked, even though I was sure I filled the whole frame. Taking my hand, she looked hungrily at me. "Where is it?"

"Upstairs, just..." she was already pulling me upwards. Damn, this woman was strong! Before I could point it out, she found the room, disheveled from a good hour of frustration, and pulled me inside.

"Sorry if it's a little messed..." was all I got out before she silenced me with a kiss that insisted, demanded, that we get our clothes off, and get to it. Reaching for her, I found all that she'd left on was the bra and panties. I stared down at the most delectable cleavage I'd seen on anyone. They were as heavy as I remembered them, and felt even better on my own turf. She was still trembling, and pointed out a snap in the front.

"Please, " she got out, before I could hook a thumb and finger in. A couple of fingers, then the whole hand, there was some serious resistance going on here. I hadn't felt anything this strained since I popped a finger with a gun spring my uncle had showed me, when he'd tried to teach me about firearms. But I could care less, I finally got enough purchase to unsnap the cups in front.

Among my most treasured memories will be those mammaries almost leaping into my hands. She let a long, seriously relieved sigh out when the cups flew off onto the floor somewhere. I swear the things grew another inch as they parted company with their recent jailors.

"Damn, Jie, why did you wear such a small bra? Were you afraid I wouldn't like them?"

That giggle again, it always seemed to make me hard and ready.

"It's the biggest size available in Guongzo, at least without custom sizes. One reason I came here was to find some comfortable bras."

"How big?" I started to say, but she looked at me, boldly, and unafraid. "I knew you liked them from the moment I saw you. And I don't know the American sizes yet, but I could give you the Guongzan size. It translates to 'fat baby,' which is all that most of my countrymen think they're for."

"They're morons for not appreciating them," I softly murmured into her ear, as I placed a hand on each one. They were way beyond a simple handful, I'd say D cup and beyond. Unencumbered, they flowed through my fingers, making her shiver with anticipation. Her nipples were relatively small, compared to the sheer amount of pliable flesh they rested on, but no less sensitive for that.

"How did you get so big?" I asked her.

She looked down, almost embarrassed. "I am not pure Guongzan," she said softly, "my grandmother was a westerner, one reason I was accosted by that man at the airport. I wasn't pure."

"You're not pure? Who gives a fuck?" I blurted, my mouth getting ahead of me again.

"Among my people, there are those who hold themselves superior to all others."

"You're not alone, I know the type. But look at you, you're beautiful. I have to pinch myself to make sure you're even interested in me!"

She smiled at that. "Why wouldn't I be? You defended me against him every time he showed. It was gallant, and I like that. Not that I couldn't defend myself, it's the gesture that counts."

I rubbed a hand back through my hair. "But any guy would do that, Jie. Just the chance to see you smile over him. Any man would."

She laid her head against my chest, and I could feel her hot breath flowing over it. "I am starting to realize that. Among my people, I'm not that unusual, but here..." she looked up at me, "here I am exotic, and attractive, and I've never really had that before. You've made me feel wonderful."

"Any one would have done that. It's a wonder I got to meet you at all."

"And I feel fortunate to have met you as well. But come," she pulled me towards the bed, "there's a lot of catching up to do."

"What?"

"I had to leave Ned's place, he and Meiling are exploring the harmony of the universe. She's quite noisy, I could just picture them together. It made me very uneasy. And then I knew what I had to do." She skinned out over her panties faster than an Olympic event. "Please," was what she said, and that's what got my attention. I stumbled out of my nightclothes, until we were both naked.

She positioned herself under me, and this time, when I reached downwards, she guided my hand straight to her pussy. It was very wet, this girl was ready! A shy hand groped towards my cock, clasping gently around it. "Please," she repeated, "I have a surprise for you."

"I can't wait," I temporized, and watched her smile again.

"Neither can I. I want you inside me."

She spread herself even wider, so I maneuvered myself into those willing nether lips of hers, and started to push. This had to be the tightest pussy I'd ever been in, at least since high school. Watching her face, I was surprised to see the emotions there; fear, lust, and anticipation.

All too soon, I bottomed out, or thought I had. Her breath caught in her throat. "What is it?" I had to ask.

"I want you to have me, Max. I want you to take what I have to offer. I'm ready." She arched her back towards me, the curious resistance seemed to part slightly, as she hissed in pain. That's when I figured it out.

"Jie, you're a virgin?"

"Not for very much longer, I hope," she said through gritted teeth. "Don't tease me, I beg you."

"Jie, I'm shocked. This is a gift a woman can give only once." Not that I didn't want to, far from it. I just wanted to be sure.

"Max, are you going to deflower me or not?" Almost a touch of anger there, which started to wilt my flower.

I kissed her fiercely, tongue deep in her mouth, as I drove home, and felt her stiffen beneath me. The final bit was open, and sliding to the end, I stopped.

"Are you all right?" I asked.

She nodded, tears in her eyes. "Finally, goodbye maidenhead," she sighed, "Meiling lost hers years ago, but I was waiting."

"For who?"

She threw her arms around me, and responded with a kiss that fogged my eyeballs. "For you. I didn't know until I saw you, but then when I did..."

"I have to be the luckiest guy on the face of the earth," I said. That reminded me of someone, a quote, but right then my brain was blood-deprived, all the juice going to a rapidly hardening cock. She looked up at me.

"Now, I do believe there's a bit more you're supposed to do. Let's," again with a word I couldn't understand.

"You know, if you're going to be around for any length of time, I'm going to have to learn some of those words."

"You'd be surprised how many people learn languages, just like this. Or so Meiling says."

"Fuck Meiling," I said, which got her giggling again.

"That's what Ned has been doing since you left. She sounded satisfied." She turned her face up for another kiss. "Now how about me?"

The rest of the night was a blur. Oh yes, she was shy, but enthusiastic, once the soreness was gone. We fucked in the bed, until she came, causing me to come too. That caused her to come a second time, and then all bets were off. Cunnilingus she loved, I couldn't get over how many times she threatened to crack my head like a walnut with those creamy thighs. She tasted different from most women, but I was having too much fun to care. Nothing so wonderfully concentrates a hard cock than the knowledge you're hung as far as she's concerned.

I don't know how many times we fucked; I showed her various positions, and she wanted to try them all. Before I could explain it, we were at the porn sites, and she was treating the vids as a private buffet, wanting to try everything. Doggie, cowgirl, reverse cowgirl, and probably Greco-roman style, she wanted to try it.

We did the tour of the house; bathroom, kitchen (tables are cold in the middle of the night!) even the odd closet for some of the vertical positions. She just seemed to drip, she was so wet. I started to flag about the fourth time, I'd never got this lucky in my life. She had a deft hand with hand jobs, getting me up in almost minutes, and I'd lick her into frenzy in order to recover. We didn't keep track of how many times she came, but she just seemed like a machine, crying out each time. The neighbors were likely to kill me in the morning, if not from sheer jealousy, then from a very noisy evening, and morning.

I finally fell asleep, Jie curled tightly beside me, head on my chest. She was warm, and undulating against my leg. This woman was insatiable! But she was nice enough to let me sleep, if only to ravage me later. I slept the sleep of the thoroughly fucked, if not the dead themselves.

The next morning, a shaft of sunlight caught my eye, rousing me, well, nagging me, into opening an eye. I was staring at the ceiling, and the most fantastic sensation on my cock made me look down between my legs. Jie was there, my shaft buried deep in her mouth, bobbing back and forth, staring at me, watching me, seeing what effect she had on me.

"Ohhh, fuck," I whispered, "why didn't we try that earlier?"

She shrugged, and went back to running her tongue delicately over my skin, causing me to shake. She was good, not very experienced, but what a quick study! I watched, fascinated at seeing her lips descend slowly down, taking more of me in on each stroke. She was hesitant, not sure what she could do yet, but I felt myself getting closer.

"Hey, Jie, if you keep that up much longer, I'm going to come." She smiled, and winked, speeding up some. She tried different things, slurping slowly up the front, darting a tongue tip into the end, even sucking the balls. Now I'm not huge, but I'm fairly thick, but she found a way to cram most of it in her face. If she kept it up, she'd deep throat me.

"That feels so good," I moaned, trying to encourage her. "Oh, you are getting so much better, I can't believe you haven't done this before." She took me as far as she could at that, and held it for a second, before almost choking and coming off of it.

"I haven't," she said, "but I found some sites after you went to sleep on how to do it, and I had to try it." She made an 'om' sound as she pushed back onto me, a hand pressing against my prostate, which just made me hotter. She moaned around my dick, massaging between my legs. If she didn't stop soon, she was going to get a mouthful.

"Hon, I'm going to come really soon," I cautioned her, "so if you want to stop..."

She fixed me with a determined stare, and sped up still further. Her neck was going to be useless if she kept that up. My own head sank back into the pillow, as I restrained myself from grabbing her head and skull-fucking her. It sounded crude, but I was that close, and I could tell she wasn't going to stop, until I did.

"I'm gonna come, I'm gonna come," I got out, before she slid a lubricated finger up my ass, and massaged from inside. It was like a switch that caused me to blast inside her mouth. After a night of no-holds-barred sex, she should be getting fumes, but it was as if I'd never come at all. I swear my toes curled as she let her mouth fill with spunk, her cheeks started to bulge as she tried to hold it all in. I was shaking like a patient in a mental ward, or so it felt like.

She looked at me the whole time, just relishing the sight of bringing a man off, until the last drop had been drained. Propped up on my elbows, she opened her mouth, to show me the liquid pool of jism, then closed her lips again, and noisily swallowed. It took a couple of swallows for her to manage it, at that. She licked her lips, and lay down next to me, hugging me against her.

"I liked that. Do you want to do it again?"

I started to laugh. "Give me an hour or two, and I might at that." Rolling over, I saw the clock, and said something uncomplimentary. "I have to get up, and do my work."

She made a face, then snuggled up closer. "I don't know what it is, but I can't keep my hands off of you. I just want to feel you inside me, all day and night, giving me one climax after another. And this," she said, grabbing my dwindling manhood, "it just doesn't seem right if it's not hard. Meiling said men couldn't keep up with women, and I guess she's right."

"If we didn't, the world would come to a stop. I get breaks, and a lunch, you know."

She rolled on top of me, pinning me down. "As long as I'm on the menu. You make me feel so good." The rest was just kisses, until I managed to get cleaned up, and sit down at the computer.

She was fairly unobtrusive the rest of the day, making a call to her sister that involved a lot of whispering and giggling, all in Guongzan. They could have read a script for all I could tell, I didn't understand a word.

But something had switched in her. I knew it when I got summoned into a video conference, she slid under my chair, out of sight. While I was trying to run down the latest trends, she was running down my zipper. While we respectfully watched the boss summarize, she was watching me grow in front of her eyes. Thankfully the thing ended before I did, but Candace from work gave me a look, that probably showed she knew exactly what was going on.

I slumped back in the chair, as Jie daintily wiped her chin. "I'm sorry, but it was such a challenge, I couldn't resist."

"Well, there are popularity jobs in porn, but they're not worth much."

"Why not? Watching all those people cum, all those hungry cunts and thick, long cocks swaying back and forth."

"Hmm, your English is certainly getting more colorful."

She wrinkled her nose at me. "I was watching the sites this morning, while you were working. There's a whole section on talking dirty..."

"You're a fast learner."

"I certainly try."

She got up from under the desk, sitting next to me on a coffee table. "You're not put off by my fascination with sex?"

"I'm not, but I think it's becoming more of an obsession. And I love it." She threw her arms around me, pushing those...fuck, are they bigger?

Looking down at those swollen globes, I realized she didn't have a bra on. It probably wouldn't have fit around these babies. I think she needed some shopping. The clock said it was lunchtime, so we decided to go to the mall, for an antique experience enjoyed for over a century. They were kind of specialized, dealing in perishable goods and stuff, not the clothes racks of yesteryear, but I think there was one that had what she needed.

Before we left, the phone rang, and it was Candace. "You guys going out for lunch?"

"Sure, heading to the mall." I left it loose, not really wanting to share the moment with anyone. I mean, Candace was nice and all, and certainly friendly, but right now Jie was more than I could handle.

"Oh, great! I'm taking a half-day. She appeared to gaze over me. "Aren't you going to introduce me?"

I spun around, seeing Jie dressed demurely in what she had on last night. She winked at me again.

"This is Max Benedict, and I'm Soong Jie."

Candace laughed. "Well, congratulations, Soong. After nearly a year, someone's finally landed him."

I gave her a scowl, "it's not like that, Candace. What, is there a pool on me?"

She laughed, looking back. "Yup, and you're going to make a few women losers today. Let's meet at the mall, and you can tell me all about it."

Something made me bristle a little at that. But something else made me want to shout to the world about the wonderful woman that had come into my life. Nodding meekly, I got some pants on, and we set out.

"I'm really surprised that Max would go for something like this," Candace was saying over the latest food sensation, a sort of mex-chinese hot salad.

The day was annoyingly bright and cloudless, considering that I'd got going on only about 3 hours sleep. Jie, bless her, looked as fresh as a daisy. A crowd of unremarkable people were filtering by the various shops, doing whatever it is other people do to distract you when you'd rather be at home, naked and fucking.

"Not as surprised as he was," Jie smirked, working some chopsticks with unnatural dexterity. "Ned and Meiling, my sister and his brother, met through the Interweb, but I had nothing going on in Guongzo, and I wanted to come to America to peruse my career."

"Ah, I see, and what career is that?" Candace said, a little too archly. I was getting the impression that they weren't going to get along.

"I've masters in robotics, and I'm working for my doctorate." Wow, I had no idea. When I was showing her the interface for the computer, she must have been laughing her ass off.

"Really? What was your dissertation?" Candace could be gratingly thorough. What next, 'where were you on the night of the 17th?'

"Non-Verbal Simulations in Proto-Androids; Tells, Twitches, and Random Gestures in Humano-Simulation." I was becoming even more impressed. She was going to be way smarter than I was. Time to restrategize.

"Really. Well you shouldn't have trouble with Max, he's depressingly easy to read." She caught my eyes, then twitched her own at Jie's rack. I frowned warningly, and she returned an innocent eye-bat my way. What was wrong with her?

"I am still researching the situations, " she replied primly, "perhaps we could compare notes." Oh no, no, Candace will eat you alive! I racked my brains, hoping for a way to change the subject. Candace, as usual, beat me to it.

"Jie, it's a custom of women here to go to the ladies' room together. I obviously couldn't ask Max. Care to come with me?"

Jie thought a minute. "It is much the same in our country. I will go. I'll see you soon," she added to me, and the two walked off. This is not one of the more brave moments in a man's life. Oh yes, bodily functions might be attended to, but character assassination was more likely. There's no way to defend yourself. What was wrong with Candace. Oh, she could be the soul of propriety when she was in a social situation, but she could slide the knife in with the best of them. I hoped I survived the meal; it was ok, but I swear some of this stuff was thought up with a list of ingredients and a dart board.

But one bit of prophecy didn't come true; Jie and Candace didn't come out, not soon, not for a while. Against my better judgment, the meal was done, and I was expected back on the clock. Hopefully, the millennial 'authenticity' didn't extend to no interweb, but I found myself already started back at work.

After a while, I noticed another woman go in, and two voices were disagreeing loudly enough, I detected Candace's slightly nasal voice. They were debating doormats, but before I could get details, the door closed again. The woman came back out, and motioned to her friend, who joined them behind the wood core. The second came out, and motioned to a third, which made me wonder what the carrying capacity of that particular lavatory was.

Laughter, that dashing of hopes, leveler of egos, and warning of things to come filled the restaurant as they all came out in a body. A few skeptical looks were sent my way, but Candace and Jie came out, arm in arm, the source of the hilarity. I was on edge by then. Candace winked at me, and deposited my...what, girlfriend, squeeze, future wife...? The third possibility rocked my world, and I had to scramble to hide it.

"So we may go shopping later?" Jie was asking her new bud.

"No, no need at present. Besides, I have to get back to my ball and keyboard," she sighed, leaving me off the hook. "Max, we'll talk some more next Tuesday. Building meeting, presence required. See you then." With a flip of her ass, she was already strutting out, doing a good loose caboose that was distracting.

I stayed silent, until I felt her arm on me. "Max, you do not understand her."

"How's that?"

"She was interested in you, but you didn't reciprocate her desire."

"Candace? We're talking about the woman who just left?" I turned to look, but she'd already left the building, like the fabled Elvis.

"She expressed great frustration, and some jealousy directed at me."

"You're kidding." Candace was friendly, but not hardly what I'd call approachable. I mean yeah, there'd been a convention or two, and even a holiday party where we kissed...but...Candace?

"I am not. She called me a doormat. Why?"

Now that made me see red. I started to rise, to follow her out and give her a piece of my mind, but Jie grabbed my arm, and lowered me back to the table. Damn she was strong!

"Jie, as you said, you're practically a doctor, which means you're nobody's dummy. You're beautiful, gracious, exhausting, and there's no other woman I'd prefer to be with. You're hardly a doormat."

She looked down at the ruins of her...whatever it was called. "I know I'm not actually a doormat, but what does she mean?"

"A doormat," I began, "is something...or someone who gets walked all over. No freedom, no resistance, just passive and unfeeling. She means that you're not demanding enough of me."

"We don't have enough sex?" I restrained an urge to choke on my bread.

"If I have any more sex, I'll be six feet under." Seeing her blank stare, I amended, "dead."

"Oh. Well, you need to get back to work. Do you want me to stay with you, or go back to Ned's?"

"With me. Unless you want to see your sister." Please say you want to be with me, I thought. She looked at me for a long moment. "We'll go back to Ned’s," I must have looked crestfallen, because she added, "to pick up a few things I forgot. May we continue our date?"

"Of course. Any time you're around me, it's a date." Arm in arm, we headed back to my car, to see what my brother was up to.

I forgot to mention to her that Ned was going to be out, he had a 'locational' job, the kind of job where you have to be in a given location, as opposed to 'situational', where they can get any gutter bum in the less-developed world to take yours from you. Usually, if you have something that means you're working on American audiences or customers, you can get some stability, but they can work you from a trailer in the woods as easily in a modern low-rise.

So Meiling was there to meet us, and the two of them launched into full-blown Guongzan for about five minutes. Meiling was actually getting a bit bored, so we stayed over for a while. Meiling was very happy with Ned, which was a surprise to me. Maybe the restorative powers of women were real after all. We told them about the conversation, with foreign language 'subtitles' and asides between the two of them, so I only felt half left-out of the subjects.

Since Ned had taken his car, Meiling was stranded. She wanted to make him a classic Guongzan meal, which required ingredients, which required a trip to the food mart. We were back within the hour, and the two of them took to preparation like they'd been doing it all their lives, which they had. Institutional food just doesn't taste as good as homemade, 'because they left the lovin' out', as grandma always said. Whatever it was, it smelled great.

Ned came in the front door, a little suspicious, but somehow his stomach convinced his mind that he was safe. They gave each other the kind of kiss most folks would prefer being done in private. I nodded in the direction of the living room, and we turned on the display to catch a movie, sort of a 'rom-com', which usually doesn't fail on a first date. We were snuggled next to each other, content to just hold our bodies together, while Ned, damn his eyes, was making the sort of noises that a lifetime of brain bleach won't scrub out of my mental vid collection.

We smelled something burning, and Meiling shouted something excitedly. Jie turned to me, mouthing the words 'wait here', then scrambled through the living room into the kitchen. Somehow the couch seemed a little colder without her. I hoped the emergency would be over soon. She came back in, shaking her head.

"That kitchen is a fire hazard. Meiling will be cleaning it for weeks!" I nodded, trying to appear wise.

"Ned was never much for cleaning. I hope he doesn't lay all that on Meiling. She seems like a nice woman."

Casting a sidelong glance towards the kitchen, where the smooching noises resumed, she leaned her lips ever so close to my ears. "She's the younger daughter, and she got away with murder."

"I know exactly what you mean. At least your sister didn't set you up to take responsibility for something they did."

"Once or twice. Dinner's almost ready, so wash your hands." She gave me a dirty enough kiss to warrant a second trip to the restroom, but somehow I'd survive.

After dinner, I sat back, belt unbuckled, and marveled at the cuisine. I sincerely hoped Jie would be as good a cook. Meiling's strategy seemed to be that if she couldn't chase Ned down, she'd just feed him until he couldn't walk. I could barely manage myself. Who can resist a cook that says, 'fourths? Why not?'

The movie was just past boy meets girl, and into boy loses girl, so Jie and I were as close as two people could be without wearing the same clothes. There was something comfortable about having Jei next to me. It wasn't just the sex...ok, maybe it was mainly about the sex, but there was something extra there, something you could build a relationship on. She actually liked me for me, and wasn't just there for a quick jump in the back seat. Well, once the movie was over, we did wind up in the back seat, but afterwards, we still lay there, cuddled and snug, despite all the mess.

And I felt something too, something like the way I did when I first met Marci, and we were still discovering each other. Jie wasn't bored, at least not yet. She cared about me, and laws help me, I felt the same way about her. This was going almost too fast, and I wanted to slow down, before I...whatever I was going to do. We had the doormat conversation again, and I demonstrated once again that she was her own woman. If she wanted to settle in the US, no one would be happier than me. We even delved lightly into the future, and she was willing to take it one step at a time.

I invited her in, and we went up to bed, and the fun began again.

I found out she was a junky for experiences, and she wanted to try everything once. If she liked it, she might try it again. We'd found a Kama Sutra on line, and quickly discovered that a) there weren't more than about twenty-thirty positions in it, and b) it actually had a bunch more advice on personal grooming, acting normal around the opposite sex (and their relatives), sort of a How to Score with Chicks written e few centuries back. She showed me some of the more extreme kinks out there, most of which I gladly skipped. Role playing was interesting, but I wasn't cut out to be the Viking raider while she was the Irish nun. Still, it does give one ideas.

We started spinning out our life stories, which turned interesting right in the middle of hers. The plethora of LEDs that faintly illuminate most of your modern bedrooms went out, along with all of the motors you don't notice running, until they're off. Even a few groans from around the neighborhood indicated it wasn't just my power.

I got up, and noticed a faint glow in the east, so some of the city was still lit. I grumbled a bit, then went back to Jie. "It's only a power failure, Jie. Nothing to worry...are you all right?"

She was sitting absolutely rigid, eyes wide, to judge from her eyelashes. You forget how much light a city puts out, until the power goes out. How dark your home gets, and how the floor turns into a minefield for the unwary toe. But she was taking it so seriously. She was almost catatonic. I put my arms around her, holding her close.

"Hey, Jie. It's only the power. It'll be on in a few minutes, maybe an hour. There's nothing to be worried about."

"No, it's Hangshai all over again!" she moaned. "The pumps have failed."

Hangshai, that sounded familiar. Hmm...oh yeah! About twenty years ago, a 'reclaimed' bit of a bay next to Goungzo lost its power, and the pumps had stopped. About two thousand people were swept away, before they could get it back on.

"Were you there?" I asked

She nodded against my shoulder. "Our whole family. Father was at work, so mama..." she started to shake, and I realized she was crying.

"You lost your mother in the flood? Oh, baby," I said, hugging her tighter. She snuggled into me, and started to speak.

"It was a school night, and we were barely old enough to go. Too young to understand, but too old to forget. Mama told me to look after Meiling, don't ever let her go. And I haven't, Mama." It was then that I realized she wasn't talking to me anymore.

"The whole city became quiet. I hadn't realized how loud the pumps were, even from the next block. Father was on shore, working a night job, while mama worked days. We saw darkness around us, everywhere in the village, but not from the city around us. It was like they stole our light away.

"Then we heard the water. It was just a small stream at first, but mama was smart. She got us to the roof, and said she would bring father. By then the water was up to her knees, and she could barely walk. But she went to find father. We never saw her again. Just endless amounts of water, of people, animals, machinery, the whole world was washing in front of us. The smell was horrible.

"They came slowly at first; the mayor, the chief of police, the political officers, lift sleds carried them all to safety. We sat on the roof all night, glad that our house was tall enough to save us. I'll never forget it."

I pondered that, unsure what to say. The worst thing that had ever happened to me was that my dog got run over when I was a kid. I guess I had it pretty easy, even though at the time I was inconsolable.

"We're on a plateau by the ocean, the water's oh...about thirty feet down from here. There's no pumps keeping out the water, gravity does all that. You're safe here with me." She grasped me tighter than ever, and once again I felt some amazingly strong muscles holding me back. If she ever loses her job, she's got a good future as a chiropractor.

"Thank you, Max. Max?" she said, leaning up towards me.

"Yes?"

"I...I love you, Max," she finished. I would have given anything to see her face at that moment, but memories would be all I had.

"I think I love you too, Jie. I know it's not what you want, but I have some things to work through. Marci really hurt me, and while it's unfair to you..." I was rambling, and I knew it. It's a good thing I never finished, because she shut me up the old-fashioned romantic way. She seemed a little passive, but strong emotions might do that to a person.

When I came back up for air, she lay there quietly, as if she was conserving energy or something. I was minus a goodly number of hours of sleep, so I took advantage of it. She nestled beside me, and we both gave up on worrying, and went to bed.

Then next morning both I and the power were more or less under control. I didn't want to mention that power outages, to conserve energy, were a semi-regular part of the city, since they still hadn't done any improvements. I mean, some of these poles and wires were older than I am. We just sat there looking at each other, a goofy grin on our faces, eating breakfast, and sneaking out to make love a few more times. Strangely enough, I remember that day because she offered me her anal virginity, and professed to find it different, but not too unpleasant.

"I don't know about it," she told me afterwards, "I mean, it doesn't do as much for me as it does you. You're huge in there, by the way. We'll do it from time to time. Does that make you happy?" The look on her face, apprehensive, yet hopeful, was something I wanted to remember.

"Jie, you make me happier than anyone ever has. I don't need to go up the old dirt road to know I've got a good thing." Something was bothering me, and that was her passport. She had about three more days, and then she had to head back. It hung over us like a storm cloud. I know I should have brought it up before, but I was having too much fun enjoying her, both physically and mentally.

She leaned back into my shoulder, pulling my arms around her. "Max, I've made a decision. I want you to hear it." You could have heard a pin drop, as I stiffened, listening for her next words.

"I know I only originally was to be here two weeks. In all that time, you've been the perfect gentleman. You've shown me pleasures I couldn't have imagined. It's nearly perfect."

"Perfect?" I looked around, wondering how to dodge the other shoe that was about to drop.

"It's Ned," she said sadly.

"What about him?" Oh, I really hope he didn't dial down his medipod. He and Meiling looked happy together, they looked about as much like teenagers as we did. It was kind of scary, actually. Even Mom was dropping pointed hints to him.

"He's...I'm afraid for Meiling. I don't know if you are aware of it, but he exhibits symptoms of mental aberration."

Letting out a breath I didn't know I was holding, I turned around to face her, and gave her the whole story; the childhood diagnoses, the problems at school, the court-ordered medication, and his struggles with it over the last decade or so.

"...so we've done genetic makeup’s, and Peyton and I are normal human, but he has some genetic abnormalities. The medipod is supposed to be voluntary, but if he ever takes it off, he'll be locked up." I was trying hard to meet her eyes, she must think we were a family of monsters. Would she use this as an excuse to go back? We said we were in love, and I know I meant it, but this was enough to break the deal. And then she changed the subject.

"Max," she said, pulling up my chin, looking straight into my eyes, "I want you to know, that if you ever ask, the answer is 'yes.'"

I must have dropped my jaw, because she had to pull it up again. I was speechless, I mean I had fantasies of marrying her, but it had only been two weeks, not even that. Plus, I had rushed into the last marriage, and look how that had turned out.

"Jie, when I ask, and I'm more tempted every day, I'm not going to take 'no' for an answer." We kissed, and almost got started again, but she held a hand up in front of me.

"No, I need to say it. I've been to your government, and they've granted me an H1D." Then she had to explain the whole process, which was Greek to me. But, as grandma used to say, 'long story short', she was staying, and already had a job lined up, just with an American branch of Marching Mandarins. I'd buy that for a new dollar, as they say. Her skills were what they were looking for, and she'd be working in her field, with practical experience to boot. Life couldn't get any better, could it?

"So, if I haven't asked, are we engaged? Or is it pre-engaged? I swear women have more circles of relationship hell than Dante." She drew back at this, and decided I was joking. She held my hands, pulling me closer. Those eyes just melted me, and then she popped her own question.

"Do you want to spend the rest of your life with me, Max?"

"More than anything."

"Then once you have a ring, we'll be engaged. Proprieties must be observed," she mock-lectured me. I was already setting aside some money, but she didn't know that. And then we fucked each other's brains out, or at least mine. Anal, deep-throat (she'd been practicing), and as many positions as we could make up. I could get used to this. I could almost hear her purring next to me, as I watched her sleeping.

Her face lost a lot of its tension as her eyes closed, and the soft, even breathing started. Even our bodies seemed to mesh perfectly against each other. I was ready, or I felt I was. It had been too long, I kept telling myself. It wasn't much longer after that that I joined her in dreamland.

In most fiction, our story would end here, but this was life, so I didn't get the fairy-tale ending wrapped in a bow I was hoping for.

The next day, Meiling showed up at our place; alone. She looked heartbroken, crestfallen, gob smacked. Jie hugged her, and using that special shorthand that sisters instinctively know, got the skinny on what was bothering her.

Once I heard the word 'Ned', I started doing some shorthand of my own. It was getting close to the end of the month, and Ned always tried to 'save a few bucks' by running his medipod to the bitter end. Naturally, the supply varied by then, so his moods and his madness started creeping upwards. Most of his girlfriends got the 'heave ho' at this time, and as much as I hoped this wouldn't be different, he was up to his old tricks.

"Meiling, I apologize for my brother, I'll speak to him if you wish."

She looked so hopeful, it almost broke my heart. It wasn't as selfless as that; if Meiling went back, I was likely out of a girlfriend, or whatever, as he was. Plus, I had the legal right to check his medipod, though he usually put up a fight about it. Head full of black clouds and thunder, I set out to deal with brother dear, before he screwed this one up for the both of us.

He met me at the door with the scowl I'd learned meant trouble. He let me in, then closed the door behind me.

"Ned..."

"Max, before you begin, I want you to know that I've thought about this, and I'm sure that I'm right."

"About what?" Here it would come, Ned pulling defeat out of the jaws of victory.

"There's something about those two that isn't right."

"Ok, I'll bite." I watched his face change, he was actually torn over this. Maybe Meiling was getting to him, after all.

"Meiling and Jie are androids."

"What!?" I couldn't help it, I burst out laughing, almost falling over the couch. His eyes rolled, probably matching mine. "That's bullshit! Prove it."

He sat down, sighing heavily. "It's the simplest explanation; Occam's Razor."

"Which you probably cut yourself with shaving as a kid." I watched him, as his shoulders tensed. He was really broken up about this. "So, Ned, prove it."

He actually blushed. "Well, there's certain things women do at certain times of the month..."

"I get the picture. I was married, remember?"

"Well, she hasn't...."

I shook my head. "There's two very good reasons, Ned. First, it only happens once a month, and she hasn't been here a month. The second is that...well, how do you feel about the term 'Daddy'?"

He almost locked up on that one, and began babbling. "But she said she was protected, and we haven't don’t it that much..."

I let him babble for a minute more, then held up my hand. "What you two do on your private time is none of my business. But let's be logical, are there other reasons, that can't be explained as coincidence?"

He stood up. "The power blackouts. Have you ever noticed that they get frantic when the power goes out? Then they get really...lethargic?"

"That's explainable. They were both in a flood caused by malfunctioning power plants as small children, and they lost their mother. I'd say that's a pretty good reason."

He shrugged. "Well, maybe so, but they really lose steam once the power's been out for a few hours."

"Proving? I don't see them in the middle of the night sneaking power cords up their wazoo or something. And if someone's been scared for a while, they're burning adrenaline; naturally you're going to calm down once it's used up."

"And what about their bathroom habits?"

"Ned, don't go there. One thing that I can tell you as a formerly married man; don't mess with a woman's bathroom, or barge in on her. I thought you'd know that by now."

And so it went on, more or less in a similar vein, until finally he gave in. I checked the medipod, just to be sure, and he was actually on a higher dose. Thinking there was hope for the old fellow, I got back in the car and headed home, Ned's promise to behave with me. I smirked at his explanation. Everyone knew you could tell an android; they had limited reasoning, moved a little stiffly, and their skin was a bit on the plastic side. Robots...what a laugh.

Meiling thanked me with a hug, and went back to make up with Ned. I told Jie a heavily-edited version of the conversation, which she took in with a serious expression. She had a few questions, most that didn't make much sense, but it seemed she was fascinated with the idea.

"Would you like to have sex with an android?" she blurted out.

"No, Jie, I would like to have sex with you," I whispered, nuzzling her earlobes. She always like that.

"I mean, would you like me to act like an android? Just as a role-play?"

"I'm not a nut-bolter."

She drew back, looking at me.

"What's that?"

"Well," I started, " a nut-bolter is a man who has sex with an android. They've been doing it since the turn of the century. It's considered a little perverse, but it's been commercialized. There are fembots, bot mistresses, guardian bots, and fucking machines for the ladies. I haven't really paid that much attention, except for a contract I did a few years back. That's why I was able to persuade Ned not to fuck up the best thing that ever happened to him."

She sat back, and started asking for details. Surprised, I started showing her occasional web sites, and she seemed to drink it up. Then I almost smacked my head with my hand, it made sense. She was a robotics expert, and studied emotional reactions. Naturally she'd want to study it, in a clinical way. Well, that was fine, unless she wanted me to put a colander on my head and wrap up in aluminum foil.

"I'd think you'd have had access to this in Guongzo," I asked her.

"No, much of this area is censored by the Conformation Committee. I'd meant to study this when I arrived, but I have been..." her tongue went over my earlobes, which started me going, "distracted. Let me thank you for the research sites." Oh fuck, did she. Ten minutes later, drained, and very happy, we finally got the day done and into bed.

After that, we danced around the subject of marriage; obliquely, at tangents, and making comparisons. Ned and Meiling, not so much. They seemed happy, but I knew Ned wouldn't let that insane idea of his go. Several times I considered another frank and earnest discussion (I'd be Frank), but something just got in the way.

They hadn't broken up or anything, but several evenings Meiling would come by, searching for companionship, and they'd talk with each other. I was gradually getting some phrases down, 'bar Guongzan' they'd call it in the military, but I could catch every fourth or fifth word. It seemed to be about Ned and Meiling tying the knot. I never did find out what it was that Meiling did for a living, but she was having more problems finding a work visa than Jie. I made a few recommendations, and she had some offers out, which helped.

Still, I didn't have a good feeling about it, and it continued to nag at me. I even watched Jie for a day or two, but no programmer could have made that sultry, smooth-as-silk walk of hers, or those steadily increasing tits grow. That did intrigue me, I asked her about it several times, but she just seemed to bypass the issue, distracting me with a hot fuck, or languorous blow-job. I finally put my foot down, one day, and got an explanation.

"I didn't want you to be displeased with me, so before we left, I took some 'billowing clouds.'"

"Wha?" I asked. Probably the name of some genetic enhancement drug. They were a bit looser on that sort of thing over there, like ensuring more boys were born, taller and stronger, that sort of thing. I'd heard stories of penis enhancement drugs, but those were as old as the net.

"It's actually a discovery from a Chinese person," she sniffed, Chinese and Goungzans weren't that fond of each other. "The active ingredients came from a box of traditional medicine found in the US, of all places. It's been synthesized." She looked at her shoes again, and went on.

"Max, I didn't know if I could 'compete' with the Western girls for your attention, so I took it faster than I should have. I meant to slowly grow, but it's been almost visible, at least to me." She looked up at me, part fearful, part hopeful. "Does it bother you?"

"Fuuuck, no..." I got out; she was pressing them together in front of me. Billowing clouds, more like all sails set, and full speed ahead. I reached out and gently held one, well, more like held onto one, and slowly squeezed. Her eyes closed in pleasure.

"So, how much bigger are you going to get?"

She pressed closer to me, and got that lean and hungry look. "I have more. How big do you want me to be?" I had both hands working now, and her tits weren't the only thing increasing in size.

"You're plenty big now. You're getting evil looks already from the other women. Save the rest, and we'll see how it goes." I fondled the tightness of her top, worming a finger or two around front, to free the girls for both our sakes. She almost purred as she dropped a hand to cup me and return the favor. Damn she had an educated touch.

Five minutes later I was seated on the sofa, while her wonderful lips did wonderful things to my cock. When she studied a subject, she had a laser-like focus, and was ready to apply her lessons with a will. He tongue slid seductively over the hard shaft, making my legs spread in delight, while she had a hand of her own working her wet pussy from below. I watched in rapture as she slid farther and farther, until my pubic hair rubbed against her lips, tickling her. Now who could design a robot to do that?

Her E cups (I asked) flattened against my thighs as I enjoyed her world-class sucking. I don't know what sites she went to, but a big round of applause to whomever gave her the pointers. I was already shaking, trying not to come, and she was grinning, knowing she'd have me in the end. Her speed increased, and the buttery wetness of her mouth was driving me crazy.

One of the best things about her was her attention; she'd always experiment with different things, and when she found something that worked, she'd give me plenty of it. I tried to reciprocate, once she got over her relative shyness and got pretty graphic about what she wanted. I think my lovemaking improved as much as hers. If not, there was always next time.

I knew I wasn't going to last much longer, and by the wolfish face she was giving me, she knew it too. A woman who swallows is one in a million, or so gramps said once, trying to embarrass me. I'd have to agree with the old coot, but such thoughts faded to her steady licking and sucking, watching me, anticipating a mouthful of what she wanted. I was going to try hard not to disappoint her. A low chuckle formed a backbeat to her pistoning mouth, and I started to breath fast, catching every second or so.

"I'm gonna come, lover," I rasped, as she smiled around my shaft. She sped up more, trying hard to push me over the edge. I could feel the tension as my balls swelled up, her hands working their magic between my legs. One finger was already massaging my prostate, causing me to buck and hunch as she assaulted me from both ends.

"Oh fuck, oh fuck," I must have said a couple dozen times. An erotic flame was growing down under, and she grinned as she felt me lose control.

I felt it rocket out of me, straight into her mouth. She groaned in satisfaction, loudly swallowing, which just made me come more. Whatever those mystical eastern philosophies teach about nirvana, or whatever, I was there! Then everything changed.

Her head whipped off my cock, fast enough to break the sound barrier. She stared at me in horror, spurts of come still splashing down on those cleavage-laden breasts of hers. I was too out of control to stop myself, but she quickly rose and ran towards her clothes, wiping herself off with the nearest towel, as I tried to come back down to earth.

"Max, we need to go. I'm sorry for cutting you off, but there is a problem."

"Wha?" I'd never seen her like this. "Was it something I've done?" Not that I could think of, but it never hurts to check.

"Not you," she said grimly, "but your brother. They're fighting."

"How do you know?" I asked, "why now?"

She finished the last shoe, and tossed my underwear at me, overhand. It landed right where it fits, my shrinking member under it. She lifted her hair under the right ear, showing what I thought was a stubborn pimple. I'd never given it any thought.

"We had these implanted when we came of age; it's the governmental policy. We can communication. Please, we must hurry...it's getting serious."

I had to think about that on the way down the stairs, frog-hopping as I tried to get the last shoe on. What had Ned done now? She was wired? Who else could be listening in? By now I was in the driver seat, ready to go to Ned’s, but she elbowed me out of the way. I'd never seen her so determined before, but it was her sister.

"Where to?" I asked.

"Outer ring...oh, Max, he's taken the car off automatic, he's driving erratically. He's screaming at her...I..." It must have been horrible, because her eyes were wide with shock.

We pulled onto the highway, zipping past cars and other vehicles. If we ever have kids, I swear she can drive to the delivery room, she would have put a racecar driver to shame. The intense focus she used in the bedroom and elsewhere stood her well here, because we squeezed enough lemons to build a lemonade stand.

A few minutes later, we were heading towards the outer ring, some of the oldest concrete under tires in the state. Some of it was even primitive enough not to have sensors for the autopilot, and that was where we were heading. Traffic, initially pretty easy enough to navigate, suddenly slowed, and came to a stop. Angry red tail-lights stood in front of us to the horizon. Something was blocking traffic, and Jie was determined to find a way through. She was crying, which scared me more than anything. What was she hearing, what was happening?

After a few maneuvers that probably bent the law enough to break it, we were stuck. A few forlorn horns sounded, as if people expected the miscreant to magically get out of the way. Jie looked at me sadly, and kissed me as if she never would again.

"I'm sorry, Max, but I have to know!"

I looked at her, still confused, as she burst through the door, and did a sprint down the shoulder that would have done the Olympics proud.

Stay, go, what the fuck should I do? I couldn't leave the car here, it was the only one I had, and they don't come cheap. I stared after her retreating back, hearing a few jeers and whistles as she bounded past the frozen lines of steel, her colossal breasts must have made quite a show. Wish I could have seen it. Some idiot charged out after her, but she left him in the dust. Good for her. I just wished there was something I could do.

My comm went off. "Maximillian Benedict" the voice said.

"Yes?"

"There has been an automobile accident at, " he read off some coordinates, "and you are listed as next of kin. Please place your car in gear, and we will give you access to the station."

I looked up at the horizon, and there was already a life flight hovering down. How the fuck could there be a traffic accident? After automation, and the removal of old-style cars, there hadn't been so much as a fender-bender in three years. I remember, it made the front page.

"Mr. Benedict? Are you there?" The official-sounding voice repeated, as I tried to process the information.

"I'm...here," I got out.

"Stand by while traffic reroutes." Around me, the whole jam seemed to melt away, as everyone's car got out of the way for me. Traffic control made a single lane past where Jie had run off to. A larger square formed outside of the mangled remains of my brother's car, the life flight already shrinking in the sky. Jie stood there, mute, in shock, tears streaming down her face. Two policewomen walked her back to the car, and waved a remote at us. I held her in my arms as the door closed, and the car took us to the station.

"She tried to warn me," Jie sobbed next to me, "she said there was something wrong with him. And it kept getting worse!"

"I know, Jie. I told you about it earlier. But he has a medipod, it's supposed to keep him from being dangerous." I didn't know what I was saying. "I have to see him once a month, to verify it's reading what it should. The police have a monitor on it, and if it runs out, or he gets too...strange, it's supposed to notify them. It's supposed to be foolproof."

She looked up at me, wiping her eyes. "Max, I don't blame you, you couldn't have known. But Meiling told me he was obsessed with it, and was always trying to find ways around it. She said he heard voices telling him to take it off."

"He can't. It would immediately notify the cops. He's always been like that; untrustful, something they used to call paranoid, at least until a few decades ago. I'd hoped..."

She looked at me, waiting for me to finish.

"What, Max?"

"Jie, you are positively the best thing that's ever happened to me. With my last wife, I learned you don't have to be paranoid to have real enemies. I've been nursing my wounds for too long, and I've found that it's a lot easier to go through life with someone, than be completely alone."

"I know. I suppose you want to give me the box in your inside pocket?" She smiled, tentatively.

"Sugar, now is not the time. I wouldn't do that to you. But if you're ready to say 'yes', then I'll give you the box."

She started crying again, whether from grief or joy, I couldn't tell. But by then, we were pulling into the station.

I suppose there's a sort of timelessness to police stations. I'd manage to avoid them most of my life, except a few times with Marci. They're always a bit worn around the edges, concrete and cinderblock, a type of linoleum that probably was older than I was. People you wouldn't want to meet in dark alleys were hauled past others you wouldn't want to meet in police corridors, uniforms going up and down through hardened doors; the shouting behind them, crying, and even worse.

Outside, the life flight had landed here, and a heavy fist clenched around my heart. If Ned were alive, he'd be headed for the hospital. If he landed here, he was dead. I desperately hoped it was some other poor bastard. Fuck, this would kill Mom. I couldn't tell where they went, because it sounded like it was on the other side of the building.

A uniform came up to me, and directed me to follow her. It was eerie that they could single you out of a crowd, but that's facial recognition for you. The lady cop arched an eye at Jie.

"My fiancée, and Meiling's sister." That got a minute expression of sympathy, considering they dealt with death on a daily basis. Jie squeezed my arm, even though I'm sure her heart was breaking.

A short while later we were under fluorescent lights, talk about last century. There was a small waiting room, and the coffin-sized shelves in the next room told us exactly where we were. A crowd of medical types and police were emptying two body bags onto the slabs, carefully shielding us from the grisly scene. I held Jie, as she stared helplessly at the crowd.

"I'm Dr. Castro, Mr. Benedict, " a voice behind me said.

"Is...is he...Gawd I must sound like an idiot," I said.

"You'd be surprised how often I get that question," he responded sympathetically, " but yes, I'm afraid he is. His passenger, a Ms. Soong, is also dead as well. I regret that your trip to our country had to end on such a sad note."

Jie nodded silently, glancing towards the window to the morgue.

"So we're to identify the bodies?" I asked, hoping to get out of there as quickly as possible. I so wanted it not to be true.

"It's not a requirement any more, despite the crime movies you've seen. We're absolutely sure that these are your relatives. However, sometimes it helps, to see for yourself. " He opened the door, and we went in.

The smell was the first thing that got me; a chemical smell, almost lifeless, like most of the inhabitants here. The days of autopsies were long gone, they mainly put them in the scanner, and recorded the results. Ned was already being wheeled in, and I noticed there wasn't much wrong.

"Broken neck," one of the technicians, the other one nodded, and checked off a box on his form. Shit, they were still using paper? Some things don't change after all.

"Time of death," the first checked readout from the officer's wand, "about 2:42pm, plus/minus ten seconds. Death was instantaneous," which I suppose was to make me feel better? My brother was dead!

Dr, Castro motioned me forward. "This is your brother?" he asked

I nodded, dumbstruck. In some bizarre fashion, his life was flashing before my eyes. I choked back a sob of my own, not realizing how much I was going to miss him.

"Id'd positive," the geek behind me said, and the other guy checked off another tick for the grim reaper.

"What the fuck!?" the scanning technician shouted, as they pulled Meiling's body in for a scan. "Jeez, look at this, willya?"

I may not have done well in biology in school, but what was showing up on the screen wasn't homo sapiens as I'd studied them. The bones were wrong, too regular, too artificial, and some of them were missing. A box in the center held what looked like some sort of device, wrapped around a set of tubing that doubled for a spine. On the sides facing outwards, the familiar bone structure masked a wholly alien interior.

"What the fuck?" I echoed. Jie gasped, then looked at me. "I..." was all she got out.

"I can explain everything..." a vaguely familiar voice behind me said. This was getting to be too much, I was going to start standing against the wall so that people wouldn't do that to me. I'd just lost my brother, and Jie her sister.

The voice belonged to that belligerent asshole I'd seen in the airport. His flunky was with him, and they both stood there, staring at the screen.

"I'm Dr. Tsung, and these are my creations," he said in a clipped English sort of accent totally at odds with his earlier one.

I somehow got my mouth closed again, looking at Jie. She stared back at me like a rabbit in front of a snake.

"Is this some sort of joke?" the first tech said. The second threw up his hands. "I gotta start a 47d now!" He glared at us like it was our fault.

"Jie?" I asked her, coming forward to hold her. It couldn't be true, she was real, she was the woman I was going to marry...

Dr. Tsung looked at Jie, and barked a short sentence in Guongzan. Jie froze, and then she died.

I was too shocked to respond, but I saw the light go out of her eyes like an incandescent bulb from the history books. She stood there, motionless, not breathing, eyes completely vacant. I'd lost three people I cared about in less than an hour, and I needed to sit down. So I sat.

Dr. Castro looked over Meiling and Jie, and nodded. "Brilliant work, sir, but we at the department would really rather you didn't conduct experiments on real people. Mr. Benedict there," he pointed at Ned, "is dead. If I were you, I'd be looking for a lawyer." I nodded, still trying to wonder how it all went wrong. A robot? An Android? How the fuck!...

"I do regret the demise of your brother, Mr. Benedict. The Guongzan government will make full restitution to your family. Perhaps if we discussed this in the waiting room?" He motioned to the techs, "that won't be necessary gentlemen. A major repair, but she'll be leaving with us."

He barked Meiling's name, and more Guongzan at her, and the creepiest thing in my life happened.

Like some horror flick, Meiling's eyes opened, or at least the one that was still there. She lifted herself out of the scanner, and stood, naked, in front of the growing crowd. The creepy techs backed against the wall, horrified, which for some odd reason made me feel better. Her left foot was bent, but she managed to stand, then hobble towards the body bag, which contained her clothes. Like some broken puppet, she managed to get them on, until she stood, regarding us with a pirate's scowl.

Jie, mechanically followed her into the room.

Numbly, I followed them, half expecting someone to do the same for Ned. I hadn't gone far towards the waiting room before I heard a scream, followed by Mom and Peyton. Mom barged past me to stare at Ned, and the screaming began again. Peyton and I looked at each other, helpless, then went to Mom, lawd, this must be hard on her too.

"My baby boy," she kept repeating, as I stood there like a fifth wheel. I needed to be there for Mom, but I was dying to know the truth about Jie. Ned was gone, I knew that, but it hadn't sunk in yet. A policeman came, and pulled me aside.

"Mr. Benedict, we need to ask some questions. Were you aware that the woman was an artificial?"

"Fuck no, I mean no," I corrected myself. "I'm sorry, I'm just a little confused right now."

He nodded. "It's understandable. It changes some things, but there's still a question of the events. It says here that your brother was on medipod support."

"That's right."

"Were you aware that his medipod was a fake?"

"What? How the hell?" This wasn't making any sense. I'd seen that plastic cylinder, the readouts, the questions I had to ask, for years.

"It's been medhacked, sometime around two months ago. He's been without medication for over a week. Had you noticed anything unusual?"

"He's been a little hotter than usual, and he and..." I looked through the window to see Meiling standing there, "Meiling and he were having problems. I don't have any details." How the hell had he had it offline? Every ten minutes it changes.

"I see. Mr. Benedict, by law I can't really ask any further questions without counsel present. I will say that, judging from the nature of the hack, this was set to fool an average layman, so charges against you won't usually be an issue. The robot thing," he shuddered as he looked at the 'accident victim', "will likely be against Dr. Tsung. Here's my card," by gawd, it was actually made of paper too, "if you think of anything else pertinent to this issue, don't hesitate to comm."

And then I was alone with Mom, Payton, and myself. And I was alone, or was I?

"Mom, I've got to find out what's going on. I'll be right back." She looked up at me, a little accusingly, and nodded.

I opened the door, and found the Doctors speaking in medical shorthand at Meiling, who smiled at me. Jie...she stood there looking at me.

"How you must hate me," she whispered, "knowing what I am."

I hugged her as hard as I could. "Did you know?" Fuck me, I had to ask.

"No. The 'experiment' was a double-blind; neither party was to know." She lifted her head to look at me.

"Well, we both know now."

She looked over at Tsung, who was pointing out some glint of metal bone over the thin skin of her sister.

"Does this change the way you feel about me," she asked, in a small voice.

I looked at her, silently. Well, yeah, but...

"I don't know. This has been a really bad day," I started. "I...maybe I'm going to hell for this, but I still love you."

She threw her arms around me. "And I still love you. Though, I wish..."

"What?"

"The only thing I can't do is give you children. I would love to watch you make a baby with me." He face fell. "But I can't do that."

"I...waitaminnit," I got out. There was something I had to do first.

Grabbing Tsung by the arm, I whipped him around to face me. "I. Want. Answers."

He started at me in surprise, then shrugged. "Very well, the short version, if you please. Do you know that in my country that people can choose the sex of their children?"

"What does that have to do with the price of tea in..." uh oh, foot in mouth, "Ceylon?"

"The Guongzans are a traditional people, Mr. Benedict. Boy babies are prized, girl babies are not."

"So?"

"The current imbalance in my country is 60/40, in favor of boys. That's a lot of lonely men."

"So make 'em do it 50/50." I was not following the logic here.

"Mr. Benedict, there are limits to even the Goungzan government. Alternatives had to be considered."

"So you think a guy's going to accept an android, knowing there's no children possible?"

He looked at me curiously. "Don't you?"

"I..." Holy fuck, he had me, he really did. "That's..."

"Yes?" he said, clearly enjoying himself.

"So you came over here to test it? Not on Guongza? Kind of out of your target market, don't you think?"

He smiled, a kind I didn't like. "We've been working on that in my country for years. Thousands of unknowing men have taken Goungzan hybreeds to wife, though it is becoming noticeable. The dearth of births from that subject group is being remarked on. But...we thought of the export market. We need the most cynical, the most skeptical, the most suspicious people on earth to verify it would work overseas."

"But why did you come here?"

He rolled his eyes. "Perhaps I'll explain it later. I must take these hybreeds back to the laboratory and send them home."

"What? You can't do that!" I stared helplessly at Jie, who looked ready to cry.

"They're our property. Unless you have 1.5 million dollars, new, for each." He crossed his arms, and was back into the insolent prick I'd known of before. I had to think of something. I stood there, racking my brain for an idea, when suddenly it came to me.

"Well, I'm sure you're a genius at making...hybreeds, but you've got a lot to learn about marketing."

He looked at me suspiciously. His counterpart edged closer, confirming he was the business end of the pair.

"I do work in marketing, and you're creating, " I paused, "a durable good. This isn't something you trade in once a week, or a year. This is something you keep for life. How are you set for long-term studies? What would you want to know about the first decade, or the first half-century?"

Silent boy to his left started rubbing his jaw, thinking it over. Tsung, out of his depth, glanced over at the other, who nodded, ever so slightly.

"What are your terms?" he said in an unmistakable Brooklyn accent. No wonder they hadn't let him speak.

"Jie and I stay together," I ticked off, "for as long as we can. We'll be a normal couple, and not reveal anything to anyone. We can always adopt," I pointed out, "but I want her, and she wants me, and that's all there is to it."

"You realize she's not a human being. She can't own property, you can't marry her, and most of all, you can't have children, and even adoption would pose a problem. And how can you love a machine?"

"That's where you're both missing the point," I said. "The early Turing tests determined that someone couldn't identify text as coming from human or machine. The Zeong test, If I have it right," they nodded, "says that until someone can't identify a machine as machine, would mean you had a true android.

"I've only know Jie for a few weeks," I admitted, "but the most important point is not that she's a what, but a who.."

"Like Horton?" someone piped up.

"Shaddap," I eloquently replied, "what I mean is that there is a person inside her, whether silicon, or flesh and blood, with dreams, hopes, and feelings. You're going to be the Newton of the twenty-first, Doc, because you've finally bridged the gap. She may have parts on the inside, but she's actually someone you can know...and love," I said, slipping an arm around her.

"What is your response?" Tsung said, looking at Jie.

"If it is possible to know love as a machine, then I love him, Doctor. Please let me stay with him."

"You will not age, nor fade," the doctor replied, "he will fail you, once he's older. Your life will be centuries, his, only a few decades."

"Then for the time I have left, I want him," she replied, winking at me.

Tsung looked at his partner, who nodded. "We'll require some data from time to time," he added, "so do not think of trying to disappear."

"We may travel, but I'm sure you always know where she is."

"Very astute of you. Very well, you may stay with him."

"What about Meiling?" I asked. She had made an impression on the both of us, and even though she wasn't really Jie's sister, I thought it bore bringing up.

"She will be repaired. She'll need a new sponsor, of course. But she may contact you when she wishes." Jie seemed delighted, and I felt better, knowing that.

I forgot Mom! Peyton motioned me out to Ned, and I kissed Jie quickly, and ran out to my family.

"Mom, I'm so sorry."

She sighed heavily. "I know. The police explained everything. I can't believe he'd tinker with his medicine," that was what she always called it, "and he seemed so happy, towards the end."

"Mom, about Meiling..."

"I know, your brother was a nut-bolter. It makes sense, the way he kept scaring off real women," she murmured.

"Mom, where did you even hear about..."

"Max was always the innocent one," Peyton said, deftly rescuing me.

"I know, dear. And you, what about this Jee?"

"Jie, Mom. I haven't had much luck, except with her." She stared at me, resigned, a little sad.

"You'll grow out of it, I know you will. Remember, she can't give me the most important thing."

"What's that, Mom?"

"Grandchildren. You're still young. Your clock doesn't tick like a woman's, honey, but don't keep me waiting too long."

I had to hide a grin at that. That's Mom, all over.

"What are we going to do about Ned, Mom?" I asked.

"It's all being taken care of. We'll be at the cemetery on Tuesday. I never thought we'd have to do this..." she started to tear up again, so Peyton took her back to the car. I watched them go, and turned one last time to look at my bro. I hoped that he was at peace, wherever he was.

Jie touched my shoulder. "I'm so sorry it didn't work with your brother. Evidently he hid it from Meiling, the therapy."

"I know. Listen, after the funeral, what say I do give you this ring, and we go to Vegas?"

"You want to gamble?" She wasn't completely up to speed on Sin City yet.

"Don't have to. I already won. We can get married...believe me, they won't care about...us." I added shyly.

"But it wouldn't be legal, would it? I mean, I thought you'd want a traditional wedding."

"Who has to know?" I put an arm around her, and we walked out of that depressing room, the last two living people, leaving the dead, the past, and all the depressing things behind us. I had a feeling life might get better, but at least it would be interesting.


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