Disclaimers: None. If you’re still reading my stuff at this point, you pretty well know what you’re getting into. If you don’t have an open mind or if you find something you think needs disclaiming, you are still more than welcome to let me know. It won’t change anything, but it may make you feel better. Ugliness will earn you a smack to the back of your head.
Thanks: To Phil, Mac and Jeanne for reading through this for me to pick up Pink & Fluffy’s dropped letters. Their contribution to making this a better read is much appreciated and they really had to hop to pretty fast to get this done on time since I was writing right down to the wire. Thank you, ladies!
Author’s Notes: This is a short story – actually, this is a bare bones story of what may someday be a full length novel if I ever get the time and opportunity to flesh it out properly. However, I needed something for Valentine’s Day and this is what Pink & Fluffy gave me, even though I had to fight and die over every single word to keep it short and remain true to the idea. Hopefully, it worked.
The Storyteller’s Cardinal Rule is in effect.
Don’t Take the Girl
In the waning days of the Age of Man, when it became painfully clear that the annihilation of the human race by nuclear arms was imminent, a few of the great minds of the world gathered at a mountain fortress in an effort to prepare any remnants of the human population that survived for life after the great nuclear holocaust. They took their combined knowledge and histories and built a super Computer, programming it with all the information mankind would need to rebuild society without the mistakes that had led to the current meltdown. It was hoped that their input would make a difference in the way society developed in the next age.
They could never have foreseen the changes they wrought or the consequences thereof.
The nuclear holocaust did come, just as those minds had expected, and those that survived knew that many things would have to change if humanity had any hope of continued survival. In the aftermath of devastation, the remainder were called to the mountain and it was decreed that the knowledge that had been left to them would guide them into the future – into the Age of Enlightenment.
Computer was put in charge of everything it was felt might interfere with the redevelopment of man and the equality for all they sought.
No more would there be haves and have nots – instead, Computer would ensure that all were the same.
Children would be raised together in group homes until they reached the age of maturity. And upon the first anniversary of the New Age after reaching the age of maturity, they would be assigned a job, accommodations and a mate. The computer would assure they were given the knowledge they needed to accomplish whatever assignment they had been given and for a year, that would be the life that was led.
After a year, everything would change – job, home, lover – based on a profile and parameters fed into the computer on a yearly basis. Jobs were vast and varied, ranging from basic field labor to the delicate upkeep of the bio-domes that housed the population; Computer held all the knowledge necessary to accomplish each task and shared that with individuals as it was needed. Lovers were assigned indiscriminately – men to men, men to women, women to women – it changed each year so every human being enjoyed a plethora of experiences without consideration for personal preference, age, race or orientation. Even children were only conceived by dispensation of Computer’s authority between approved donors to ensure consistent population growth and bright, capable offspring. And so it went. Computer chose each of these things based on the needs of society and any deviation or complaint resulted in immediate termination.
For one hundred and fifty years the Age of Enlightenment continued without interruption and mankind lived in relative peace and harmony with one another and the machines that maintained the status quo.
Then Quinn met Idalia and everything changed
This is their story.
Quinn pressed her palm to the pad beside the door, hearing the satisfying snick before the door swung open. She looked around curiously, noting vaguely that this unit had a burgundy color scheme instead of the blue of her previous residence. She sighed and stepped inside, allowing the door to close behind her. She hated Anniversary Day – everything was in such upheaval as the population shifted into their new roles for the coming year. It was also a new beginning and that made her somewhat anxious as well. Though she hadn’t hated any of her jobs and her lovers had been satisfactory enough, she had yet to find fulfillment. Still, as things went, her life was not unhappy and she was looking forward to starting the next year.
A click alerted her to the fact that her new partner was coming home and Quinn turned to face the door. Idalia stepped into the room, then halted abruptly when she realized she was not alone.
Quinn grinned, blue eyes twinkling. “Hi, Idalia. Welcome home.”
Idalia smiled nervously, tucking a strand of red-gold hair behind her ear nervously. “Please, Quinn - call me Day. Idalia sounds so... formal.”
“All right, Day.” Quinn extended her hand, smiling again when Day accepted it with alacrity. “Shall we see what Computer has issued us for the year?” motioning around the apartment. “I only arrived a moment before you did.”
Day nodded and absently rubbed her thumb over Quinn’s knuckles. “I’d like that,” she said shyly.
It was a standard apartment – complete kitchen, living room furnished in leather and glass, bedroom rich in dark wood. The outer walls were windows that overlooked the interior of the dome, close enough to enjoy the view and far enough away that passersby were mere specks.
“So what do you think?”
“I think you have really soft hands,” Quinn commented, before a wave of heat flushed her face. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Day instructed softly. “I think it’s sweet of you to notice.”
“Hard not to,” Quinn replied as she slipped her hand from Day’s grasp. “My last job was doing field work. Even skin cream can’t keep the calluses from forming.”
“I know – I was a field hand right out of the group home. Hardest work I’ve ever done.”
“No kidding. I had no trouble sleeping, I’ll tell you that. So what was your last job?”
“I was a teacher.”
Quinn blinked. “Yikes! That is one thing I don’t think I could do. Not even having the knowledge I needed to teach children would make it any easier for me to deal with them on a daily basis.”
Day chuckled. “Not a kid person, huh?”
“Not even on a good day. They give me hives – they gave me hives when I *was* a kid.” Day’s chuckles turned into outright laughter.
“Group home must have been a nightmare for you.”
“Let’s just say I was thrilled to reach majority.”
“I’ll bet. So what are you doing this year?”
“Computer maintenance. You?”
“A clerk at the store downstairs.”
“That explains how we ended up here. And we’re close to the rec areas as well,” Quinn commented. “I’ll be glad to get back to playing ball again. Working outdoors eight to ten hours a day such a distance away from the city center meant our recreation was a little more sedate. I enjoyed the dances though, and I got to read a lot.”
“So maybe we can go dancing sometimes?”
Quinn grinned. “Absolutely – I’d love to dance with you.”
Day nodded and blew out a nervous breath when the silence went on too long to be comfortable. “I really hate this part, you know? The awkward ‘getting to know you’ bit we have to go through every year,” watching Quinn nod her agreement. “I know Computer gives us detailed information about our new... circumstances,” waving her arm around vaguely to include everything. “But it’s just not the same as talking to each other or living together or sharing a life. Seems like we might be better off if we were allowed more than a year to get to know one another.”
“I agree on principle,” Quinn said slowly. “On the other hand, I’m not sure I would have been happy had I been stuck with most of my partners or in my job field for longer than that. Besides, it’s not like we only have a year you know – I still keep in touch with most of my ex-partners.” She chuckled softly. “I am better friends with most of them now than I ever was when we were living together.”
“I know what you mean,” Day concurred. “It just seems like we could get more out of life and relationships if they weren’t cut off before being allowed to actually blossom.” She shrugged and changed the subject before Quinn could respond. “Can you cook?”
“Not nearly as well as I can eat, but I haven’t killed anyone yet,” Quinn joked.
Day shook her head solemnly but couldn’t hide the twinkle in her bright green eyes. “All right – how about we go to the kitchen and see what we can find for dinner? After that, we’ll play it by ear.”
“Sounds good to me.” And so began Quinn’s and Idalia’s new life together.
They spent the evening talking, learning more about each other than could be put into a report. It was more casual and relaxed than their beginning had been, until it was time to retire for the evening. Then things became awkward again.
They prepared for bed, taking turns in the bathroom before meeting back in front of the bed. “Hmm, do you have a preference?” Quinn asked, motioning to the bed.
“Um... I’d... I’d like to be on your left side, so I can hear your heartbeat.”
Quinn’s eyes widened. “Wow... that’s um....” She swallowed. “Do you always do that – listen to your partner’s heartbeat?”
Day shook her head. “You’re the first to give me a choice.”
Quinn nodded, though she didn’t fully understand Day’s reasoning. She climbed in on the right side and Day went to the left, crawling in simultaneously and laying stiffly side by side. Suddenly, Day giggled and turned on her side to face Quinn. Quinn mimicked the position, propping her head on her hand.
“I was just thinking how ridiculous we must look – new lovers afraid to touch one another. I mean it’s always been that way for me... at least until I know my partner a little more. Otherwise it’s just forced and uncomfortable. And that’s a difficult beginning to get past.”
“Exactly... that whole awkward thing again.”
“Yeah, but imagine how much worse it was before Computer took over – when meeting someone compatible was a crap shoot thrown by human beings left to their own devices. No wonder the human race nearly destroyed itself.”
“Maybe,” Quinn said noncommittally, shifting onto her back. “C’mere.” she invited, opening her arms and waiting for Day to curl up into her embrace. They both took a deep breath, then released it simultaneously as they relaxed into the new scents and sensations that surrounded their new position.
“This is nice,” Day commented softly, warm breath tickling Quinn’s neck. “Thank you.”
Quinn brushed the lightest kiss over the blonde head tucked beneath her chin. “Goodnight, Day.”
“Night, Quinn,” Day whispered with a gentle hug. Then they settled down into silence.
The next few days were dedicated to settling in, both professionally and personally. But by the end of their first week together, things were falling into a comfortable routine and Quinn and Day decided to go out together as a couple for the first time.
The restaurant was intimate and eclectic and then they decided to go out dancing. They enjoyed themselves immensely and when they returned home....
“That was so much fun, Quinn. We’re going to have to do that again soon.”
Quinn grinned and pulled Day into her arms, hugging her firmly. “Absolutely. I had a great time. You’re a fabulous dancer.”
“I had a great partner,” Day replied, allowing her arms to creep up around Quinn’s neck. Quinn dipped her head, arms tightening reflexively around Day’s waist before sliding down over her ass.
“Day?” she questioned softly, even as she let her hands gently roam up and down the smooth curves under her hands. So far, their association had been moving forward steadily, but slowly and they had yet to consummate their relationship.
Day urged the dark head down until their lips met, capturing Quinn’s mouth in a passionate kiss for a long moment. “C’mon, Quinn,” Day said as their lips separated, sliding her hands down the long arms until she could tangle their fingers together. “It’s time to go to bed.”
Quinn pulled Day back into her body, kissing her fervently as she backed them both towards the bedroom. They stumbled into the bedroom chuckling as they separated for air. Quinn reached out to turn on the lights.
“Do you mind? I’d like to see you.”
For her answer, Day started unbuttoning Quinn’s shirt, her hands deliberately skimming soft skin as it was revealed. Quinn took that answer for her own and put her own hands and lips to good use as she undressed Day slowly. When they were both finally naked, they took a moment to simply look at one another, appreciating the beauty they were fully realizing for the first time.
Quinn let her hands wander down collarbones, around Day’s breasts and over ribs and belly before coming to rest lightly on Day’s hips. For her part, Day traced up Quinn’s body in much the same manner, winding up with her hands tangled in dark hair.
“You are very beautiful, Quinn,” Day said quietly, allowing her eyes to retrace the path her hands had just followed before snaring blue eyes with vibrant green.
“As are you, Idalia. I consider myself a very lucky woman.” Day shivered as her full name rolled off Quinn’s tongue so sensuously, and gently tugged Quinn towards her.
“I think it’s time we moved this to the bed, Quinn.” For answer, Quinn scooped Day up and lightly tossed her onto the middle of the big bed, following right behind her and causing her to squeal. Quinn laughed and Day simply cupped her face, absorbing the joy she felt rolling from the woman in waves.
“Something funny?” she asked with an arched brow, though the sternness of her expression was belied by the twinkling of her eyes.
Quinn rolled onto her back, pulling Day on top of her and causing them both to inhale sharply at the sensations skittering across skin because of the suddenly intimate position they found themselves in. Blue eyes gazed into green for a long moment, softening in intensity as green reflected the same happiness she felt flowing through her veins. She didn’t stop to consider the feeling or the difference she felt because of it. For the moment the fact that she felt it was enough.
Then she rolled them over and tucked Day into her body before capturing the full lips beneath her passionately.
They kissed for long moments, exploring and savoring the tastes and textures of each other. Then Quinn released Day’s lips and proceeded to start a slow investigation of her body. Day arched and writhed under her touches, clenching her fists and running her nails over Quinn’s back. It wasn’t perfect – they were just beginning to learn one another – but it was beautiful and when they found their release, they lay curled up together in a sated ball.
Day smiled lazily, trailing her fingers up and down any bit of smooth skin she could reach. Quinn tilted her head just slightly when she felt the smile against her chest. “What’s that look for, Day?”
Day arched an eyebrow in disbelief, then laughed gently at the satisfied smile she got from Quinn. “As if you didn’t know. I feel wonderful.”
“Yeah, I’m right there with you. And the best part is that it will only get better with practice.”
“I’m all about practice,” Day said seriously. “In fact,” letting her fingers circle a nipple before tweaking it hard enough to elicit a gasp from Quinn’s lips. “I think we should work on it some more.”
Quinn didn’t answer verbally, but Day got the message clearly enough. It was a long time before silence was the only sound in the room.
Every week they took the opportunity to go out – whether it was dancing or to one of Quinn’s ballgames or to a reading of Day’s writing. That had been a pleasant surprise – both for Quinn who enjoyed Day’s literary efforts and for Day who loved the overwhelming support Quinn offered her. It was a completely new experience and one Day especially savored. Never before had she had a partner who supported her as wholeheartedly as Quinn did.
When they reached the milestone of their one month anniversary, Quinn and Day made arrangements to take a couple of days together out of town. It wasn’t completely unheard of in this society, but it was rare. Most couples didn’t bother knowing they only had a year to be together and everyone’s anniversary was the same anyway.
But for Quinn and Idalia, it was something they felt compelled to share, and so they did.
The cabin was nice, set out in a rural area of the dome near a natural spring. For two days they made love and walked around the perimeter of their campsite enjoying nature in a way they couldn’t in the city center.
“I can’t believe I never knew about this place,” Day exclaimed as they sat side by side next to the spring. “It’s hard to imagine this is part of the same dome we live in.”
Quinn nodded, keeping her eyes on the water. “I know. The only reason I found out about it was because I’m doing Computer’s maintenance this year. Otherwise, I wouldn’t even have known where to go looking.”
“Why is that, do you suppose? Why not encourage people to get out of the city center and into the rural areas more often?”
“Probably for the same reason we don’t hear about the other domes,” Quinn said softly as she turned to meet Day’s eyes that widened as the implications of Quinn’s words settled in her mind.
“Um hmm. I don’t know how many of them there are or where they are located yet, but I do know that there are more domes and more humans than the ones that live here.”
“That’s astounding. Why don’t we know about this?”
Quinn shrugged. “Probably because it really isn’t relevant to our survival. Remember, Computer’s job is to keep things balanced. Knowing there is more than just what we have here isn’t conducive to providing that.”
“True,” Day nodded. “Still, I’m glad you found this place. I’d like to come back here again.”
“Maybe on our monthly anniversaries?” Quinn suggested.
“That sounds wonderful. Now c’mon,” Day said as she rose from her spot and brushed off her butt before extending a hand down to Quinn. “We’ve got to get home. We both have work tomorrow.”
Quinn groaned but took the proffered hand and soon they were headed back towards the city center.
The months passed slowly and yet time seemed to fly by as far as Quinn and Idalia were concerned. Though they did not consciously ignore their friends, they were determined to have time to spend alone with one another every week, sometimes to the exclusion of everyone else. They still went out to dinner and went dancing; Quinn still played ball and Day still wrote. And on each of those outings they had occasion to meet up with friends and former partners and work associates. But that was enough socialization as far as they were concerned.
The rest of their time was for themselves despite the odd looks and whispers it garnered them – taking walks through the gardens and arboretums throughout the city; having picnics in the country; swinging together in the park. There was always something to do and explore, and they found a lot of pleasure in doing them together.
And their growing friendship helped deepen their lovemaking – as their trust grew, they found themselves more comfortable and playful in the bedroom. And no one could miss how happy they were together.
They added different outdoor sports to their current activities as they discovered similar tastes in the new things they tried together. Since Computer ensured their days off were always the same, Day made arrangements for them to spend a weekend at a resort that produced snow for skiing, sledding and the like. Only things didn’t quite go like they’d planned.
Their first few runs were fun and exciting, and no one was quite sure what happened on the next one. All they knew was that one minute Day was racing down ahead of a laughing Quinn and the next she was laying in the snow curled into a ball trying to breathe. Quinn slid to a stop beside Day and called for help, and soon they were ensconced safely back in the bungalow that was their home for the weekend.
“Well, this wasn’t the way I was hoping this day would end,” Day commented as Quinn tucked her into bed. Quinn smiled.
“You didn’t want me to put you to bed, sweetheart?”
“Not like this,” Day whined as she held up her cast. “Being put to bed is just not nearly as intoxicating as being taken to bed.”
“I know, but the doctor said it had to set for twenty-four hours. In the meantime, I get to take care of you, though I promise not to cook. At least we can spend the time together.” Quinn covered Day’s lips before Day could open them to speak. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be, Idalia.” She moved her fingers, tenderly tracing Day’s features before traveling down her neck to her collarbones. “And no one I’d rather be with.”
Then Quinn gave in to the gentle tugging at the base of her neck and met Day’s lips in a passionate tangle. When they were breathless, she pulled back just enough to gaze into passion-darkened eyes, recognizing the need and desire she felt reflected back at her.
“Please, Quinn. Our life together is almost half over; I don’t want to miss a minute with you.” She followed Quinn’s glance at her broken arm and bruised body. “I trust you, Quinn – you’re not going to hurt me.”
Quinn leaned forward once more and captured Day’s lips again in all-consuming kiss and felt Day surrender to the passion between them. Quinn smiled into the embrace and lowered herself gently until they were sprawled across the bed together. It was some time before conversation passed between them again.
“You all right?” Quinn asked softly into the blonde hair that was tucked under her chin. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?” She felt Day tilt her head up and met green eyes filled with incredulous disbelief and so many more emotions she wasn’t sure she wanted to identify. Day cocked an eyebrow at her.
“Are you kidding? I’ve never felt so wonderful... so lo... so well taken care of. It was almost worth this,” holding up the bound arm and cursing herself for her near slip of the tongue. Despite the closeness of their relationship, they had never exchanged platitudes about it. Hell, they didn’t even use pet names for each other, in spite of Quinn’s earlier slip. For the most part, no one did these days – love didn’t figure into mating and sex and no one wanted to be caught caring too much. It was considered uncouth and messy and tended to create more problems than it solved.
Besides, it was easy enough to care without inviting love into the equation and that was generally satisfying enough for the participants involved. After all, why love someone when you knew there would be nothing more between you than a year in your life. Love may have been a warm and fuzzy emotion when you were in the middle of it, but it just wasn’t worth the jealousy and heartache that inevitably followed in this time and place... right?
Quinn chuckled, feeling Day relax as she deliberately ignored the possibility of what could have been an awkward confession. “Next time, just ask, okay? I am more than happy to take care of you in a multitude of ways and positions without you doing serious damage to yourself first.”
Day rolled her eyes. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she replied drolly. “What do you say we go get something to eat? I’m suddenly starving and I have plans for you later.”
“Actually, what do you think about a hot bath and room service? I thought we’d stay in tonight and take it easy. Then maybe tomorrow we could go out and walk around a little – see whatever sights we missed today.”
Day sighed. “I think that sounds fantastic.”
Quinn smiled. “All right. I’ll go start the bath. Do you want to order in for us?”
“Absolutely,” Day nodded.
“Good. I’ll be back to give you a hand to the bathroom in a few minutes.”
“Hey, it’s my arm that got broken, not my leg!”
Quinn raised an eyebrow and gave Day an exasperated sigh. “Yes and we were just a lot more active than the doctor recommended. Let me help you, Day. It’s what I’m here for.”
Day looked down at her arm before meeting Quinn’s eyes. “You’re right... sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Quinn said solemnly though her lips quirked. “Just improve.”
Day narrowed her eyes and glared at Quinn, trying to hold the expression against her own twitching lips. “Any more improvement on my part and I’ll be practically perfect in every way,” she growled. “Besides, I know where you live and it’s not like I can’t find you, you know.”
“That sounded suspiciously like a threat.”
“Not at all, Quinn. That was a guarantee.”
They held each other’s gazes for another minute, then burst into laughter. Quinn turned and headed into the bathroom to start the water running and Day reached out to connect to room service. It was turning out to be an interesting trip.
After their visit to the doctor to remove the cast and get a clean bill of health, Day took Quinn’s hand and led them out of the medical facility and into a secluded part of the resort area. There were trees here, so every activity save for walking was pretty much impossible, and most people didn’t come to this place simply to walk around. So they had it to themselves.
Quinn looked around and took a deep breath. From here, the top of the dome was invisible, seen only as blue sky and it gave her a sense of freedom she’d never felt before.
“I wonder if it looks like this outside as well,” she muttered, thinking aloud. Day blinked in surprise. It wasn’t something she’d given a lot of thought to, even as a field hand. She shook her head.
“I don’t know. I never really though about it.”
Quinn smiled. “I know – it was kind of rhetorical.”
“Only kind of? What brought it on?”
“I’m not sure,” Quinn shrugged. “Maybe it’s because I’m so aware of the dome in the city, what with my job and all.”
“And it doesn’t help that our living quarters are high enough up that we can sort of see it.”
“Exactly.” They walked along a bit more, finding bare patches beneath the thick canopy of trees that were not only devoid of snow, but also any biological detritus. Quinn squatted and touched the earth almost reverently. Day rested a hand on her back to keep them connected, but otherwise left Quinn to her silent observation. After a few moments of quiet study, Quinn rose to stand once more.
She took Day’s hand in hers again and they resumed their walk.
“What are you thinking about, Quinn?”
“I’ve learned a lot of interesting things in my role as Computer’s maintenance keeper – things I’m fairly certain I’m going to lose when my job changes.”
Day’s forehead wrinkled in perplexity. “I’m not sure I’m following you, Quinn.” Quinn sighed.
“You remember being a doctor, don’t you?” mentioning Day’s profession of two years previous and waiting for Day to nod her agreement. “But you couldn’t do it now, could you? You remember being a doctor, but you no longer carry the knowledge necessary to be one. I remember being a chemist several years ago, but if I was to try and mix compounds together today, I’d be just as likely to blow something up as to do anything useful and yet I know I was exceptional at my job then.”
Day thought about what Quinn was saying. She’d never really considered it before – there hadn’t been a reason to. Life was like that. Computer gave you a skill that you utilized for a year, then the following year it was replaced with something new. She nodded.
“You’re right. But why is it bothering you now? Life has always been this way – since the Age of Enlightenment began. And it seems to be working. People are happy and content; we live in peace with each other and the world around us. So what’s bothering you, Quinn?”
Quinn looked into Day’s eyes, willing her to see the things Quinn couldn’t... wouldn’t say aloud. Then Quinn took another deep breath and started to speak.
“I’ve discovered that there are nearly a hundred other domes scattered all over the world and there are a series of building tunnels connecting some of them although apparently they are considered impassable now even if I can’t find a reason for it.” She sighed. “Apparently, Computer’s designers saw what was coming and made as many preparations for the apocalypse as they could, trying to ensure mankind’s... our survival, and they did so by building these tunnels and storing supplies in them.”
“We know that, Quinn – it’s in the history books we studied as kids.”
“Only the bit about the designers trying to make sure we had the tools we needed to survive. There’s never been talk of other domes or the tunnels or what life might be like outside of them.” She paused but started speaking again before Day had a chance to process her last words. “Did you know we are all encoded with a chip – not the ID chip that allows us access into our home, but a tracking chip?” Day looked at her like she was crazy. “It’s true. Computer is always aware of where we are if not exactly what we are doing at the time.”
“That’s a little creepy, even if it does make an odd amount of sense.” She looked at Quinn carefully. “So why is it bothering you that you may lose this knowledge, Quinn? Frankly, it’s a heavy burden to bear. Why would you want to continue to do so?”
“I’m not sure,” Quinn admitted. “It just seems like it’s too important to let it simply fade away.”
Day nodded, but didn’t say anything. She was too busy contemplating Quinn’s words. Finally.... “I wonder why,” she mumbled mostly to herself but loudly enough for Quinn to hear her.
“Wonder why what, Day?”
“I wonder why we do lose the knowledge we’ve possessed. Why we don’t know about the other domes; why we don’t know anything about the world outside the dome; why Computer feels the need to keep an eye on us as it were. I think that bothers me more than anything, despite the sense it makes. There is just a squick factor involved there that makes my skin crawl.”
“Mine too,” Quinn confessed. “I’ll be honest with you though – now that I know about the other domes and the possibilities that exist outside this bio-dome, I’d be more tempted to remove it so I could go exploring than because of the invasion of privacy involved.”
Day smiled. “I’d be tempted to go with you.”
They held one another’s eyes for a long moment before both turned away bashfully. But they never loosened their grip on each other, and instead continued their walk through the forested area of the resort until nearly sundown.
They returned to their bungalow, their lovemaking this time marked by desperation – as though their life together was already over and this one time was all they would have to last them for the rest of their lives. It was hot and intense and left them panting in the aftermath of release.
“Wow,” Quinn muttered as she wrapped her arms around Day when she curled up into her. “That was... that was amazing.” She shuddered as Day’s hands continued to wander all up and down her torso, stoking fires whose flames had yet to be entirely extinguished.
“Yes, it was,” Day agreed, turning her head to nip at the smooth skin beneath her lips. “I’ve never had a lover like you, Quinn.”
“Is that a good thing?” asked breathlessly even as she turned into Day’s touch and began to reciprocate.
“Yes and no,” Day replied, feeling Quinn shift again – this time pulling away slightly so she could look into Day’s eyes. “Yes because you make me feel amazing; no because I doubt I will ever be so lucky again.”
Quinn’s eyes softened and she smiled, rolling over until she was on the bottom and Day’s weight pressed into her from above. “Then we should make the most of every minute we have together.”
Day didn’t answer, but captured Quinn’s lips in a kiss designed to ignite their passion. And everything else was put to the wayside.
That weekend marked a change in their relationship – things were more intense and they made more of an effort than they had before to spend time together, even if was only talking alone together or cuddling up on the couch to watch day become night. It was different from anything either of them had ever experienced... different from what most people experienced in their lifetime. Yet they didn’t talk about it. Neither was sure how to approach it, given the rules and regulations they lived under and knowing that their time together was limited and becoming shorter by the day.
On the day they received the data packages they were required to fill out to begin the process for the following year, Quinn came home late to find Day sitting at the table with a data pad sitting in front of her. The look on her face was so lost Quinn almost couldn’t bear the pain she felt. She came around the table and kissed Day leisurely, feeling Day melt into her touch. After a long moment they separated, leaning their foreheads together and breathing one another’s air until the position became uncomfortable for Quinn and she took the chair closest to Day.
“Rough day?” Day asked with concern when she noted the drained look in Quinn’s eye.
“Something like that,” Quinn added with a sigh. Day cocked a brow in question. “Seems like we’re a matter of concern for some people.”
“I had a visit from some peacekeepers today. Now one of them is an ex-partner of mine, so I’m not sure if he came on his own or if Computer sent him – he wouldn’t say.”
“What did he say?” Day asked softly as she tucked dark hair behind Quinn’s ear and cupping her face tenderly. She smiled when Quinn leaned into her touch, allowing her thumb to stroke the smooth skin covering the sharp planes of Quinn’s face.
“He just reminded me that we... us... are only for the year. That when this year is over they’ll take you away from me and we won’t be any more.” She chuckled when both of Day’s eyebrows shot into her hairline. “Okay, he didn’t put it *exactly* that way, but that was the gist of it. And he reminded me that is the way of things and any deviation from Computer’s plan will get us both killed.”
Day sighed. “This came today,” motioning to the data pad resting on the table. “I was sitting here trying to figure out exactly what I put down last year to see if I could manage a repeat with you.”
“As tempting as that is, I don’t think Computer would allow it. I am fairly certain there is something in Computer’s programming that prevents a repeat pairing.”
“I don’t understand that, Quinn. If we are that compatible, why would Computer deny us the right to be happy together?”
“Could you be happy with me, Idalia? Could you be happy with me for the rest of your life?”
“In a heartbeat, Quinn,” Day replied without hesitation.
Quinn leaned forward once more, catching Day’s lips fiercely but briefly before pulling away. Day looked her question at Quinn and in response, Quinn held out her hand. They rose from the table together, then Quinn led the way to their bedroom. Day’s declaration deserved an answer, and Quinn planned to show Day the truth of her heart... all night long.
They had received their new assignments – Quinn was going to be a landscaper and her new partner an Asian man her age. Day had been assigned to manage the resort where she’d broken her arm while her partner was another woman albeit much older than herself or Quinn. By rights, with them only a week away from reassignment, they should have been pulling away from one another, wrapping up any loose ends and preparing for the next year and the new aspects of their lives. Instead, their passion was even more intense and their lovemaking that much more poignant.
Just days out from their final separation, they were curled up in bed together, simply savoring their closeness. Day’s tears were silent – the only reason Quinn was aware that they were falling was because of the wet warmth that trailed along her bare chest. She tightened her arms around Day and rolled them over so she was cradling the smaller woman in her embrace.
“I hate this,” Day whispered, hugging Quinn tighter and missing the confused expression that crossed her face. “I’ve never felt like this before... this makes me feel like I’ve never felt before at all – that I’ve only ever been half alive. And I hate this!”
Quinn frowned and shook her head. “I don’t understand, Day. What are you saying?”
Day shifted until she could look into Quinn’s face, gently tracing the planes and hollows she had come to know intimately. She sighed and tried to find the words to explain, knowing Quinn had the right to understand what she meant.
“For the first time in my life, I’ve completely connected with someone, and I don’t want to lose this. I don’t want to give this... *us*... up. With you, I feel – I feel alive; I feel cared for; I feel what I imagine love to be. But most importantly, I am simply able to feel.” She swallowed hard, knowing her confession for what it was and what it could do to her if she had guessed horribly wrong. “I hate knowing that this is going to be all we ever have together! I hate knowing this is all we’ll be to one another. And I especially hate that in a few days’ time, it will all be taken away again and we will be forced to move on to something new... something that will never again make me feel... anything.”
Day sighed and closed her eyes. “I’m sorry, Quinn. I know this is not normal and it’s not accepted and it’s not possible. It also doesn’t change what I know to be the truth.”
Quinn cupped Day’s face tenderly, waiting patiently for the green eyes to open and track to hers. “I know sweetheart – I understand what you mean... what you feel. But I don’t know that we can do anything about it now; they are watching us. As badly as it pains me to lose what we have together, I’m not sure I would want to survive losing the memory of what we’ve shared together – to go back to only partially living and feeling. Or worse, to lose you completely because my actions got you killed. I wouldn’t survive that.” She sighed shakily. “I’d rather live with the pain of knowing what is possible... even if it will always be out of reach... than losing everything completely.” She held Day’s gaze for a log moment. “Maybe....” Quinn paused in her speech and rose from the bed, walking naked to the small pile of belongings she had prepared to move on into her next life.
“Here,” she said softly as she returned to the bed. “I want you to have this.” She held up the necklace and Day sat up enough for Quinn to put it around her neck. She reached up a hand, fingering the stone that hung from the chain and looking into Quinn’s eyes with a question in her own. Quinn smiled sadly and shook her head. “Just promise me you’ll wear it always.”
Their lives changed again two days later. Quinn moved to different living quarters in the city with her new partner and Idalia was shipped off to her new assignment in the remote resort district of the dome with hers. And so things went for several weeks until they were brought together again when they were called before the city magistrate.
Their eyes widened when they met - innately understanding why they were here, but waiting for the magistrate to speak. She motioned them to a seat in front of her desk before resuming her chair and folding her hands in front of her.
“Do either of you know why you’re here?” Neither Quinn nor Day answered, being smart enough not to say anything too incriminating before they had any facts. When she didn’t get a response, the magistrate sighed. “This office has received a complaint from each of your present partners that you have yet to allow any sort of intimacy in your new relationship.” The magistrate sighed again. “I am aware that there was some concern about the attachment the two of you formed during the last cycle. So I’m here to offer you your options.”
Quinn and Day exchanged glances but they remained silent and the magistrate continued speaking.
“We’ve never had a situation like this before and I hesitate....” She paused. “Given the unnatural fondness you seem to have developed for one another, and your inability or unwillingness to let go of that, I can only see two ways to deal with this infraction. You can either choose to lose the memories you have together and return to your current partners....”
“Or?” Quinn asked when the silence dragged on too long for comfort.
“Or you can choose to be terminated.” The magistrate looked between them. “The choice is up to you.” She rose from behind her desk, but hesitated when Day spoke.
“How long do we have... to make this decision?”
The magistrate gazed at them, then crossed to the window of her office. “I will give you twenty-four hours. You will be sequestered in one of the atrium rooms in Computer’s sanctuary. I should inform you that you will be monitored and should you try to leave and venture anywhere other than here before you’re scheduled to do so, you will be terminated without warning. Otherwise, when your time is up, you will be brought back here to give me your decision. Understood?”
Quinn and Day exchanged glances and the magistrate shook her head at their silent communication – this was far more serious than she’d been led to believe. Still, she’d presented them with their options and she would leave it to them to make the final decision. Neither way boded well for them.
They turned back and nodded at her and she nodded her acceptance. Then she called a peacekeeper to lead them to the sanctuary, confident that there would be a resolution by the following day. She pinched the bridge of her nose, willing away the headache this peculiar situation had caused. And once more she was thankful for year long only assignments.
Quinn and Day entered the room silently, looking around them as the peacekeeper closed the door behind him as he left. Then they stared at one another for a long moment before they wrapped their arms around each other and fell into a passionate embrace.
When they separated, they leaned their foreheads together simply breathing one another’s air. Quinn cupped Day’s face briefly before reaching behind her neck and unclasping the necklace she wore.
“Quinn?” her voice a bare whisper.
“Check the door,” mere thoughts of sound in her ear before Quinn pulled away and moved towards the small table set in the middle of the room.
Day did as she was bade and opened the door briefly, then turned and shook her head. With only a few words, Quinn conveyed her instructions and Day nodded her understanding. Moments later the same peacekeeper returned with a rather irritated looking magistrate.
“I’m sorry,” Day apologized, “but I forgot to ask – our meals will be brought to us, correct?” The magistrate nodded. “Then would it be possible to get some refreshment now? This room isn’t exactly set up for hospitality.”
The magistrate studied Day closely then nodded her head. She should have anticipated this; it was going to take them the full twenty-four hours to come to terms with whatever they decided to do and there was no reason for them to begin badly.
“I’ll have something sent over immediately,” the magistrate promised before turning on her heels and returning the way she had come. The peacekeeper followed in her footsteps immediately and Day watched them out of sight before closing the door once more. She crossed to the room to sit beside Quinn, watching her in silence.
After a long moment, she realized what Quinn was preparing to attempt and her eyes widened but she didn’t say a word.
She moved back to the door to await the arrival of their snacks, accepting them gratefully and stepping aside to allow the peacekeeper into the room so he could place the tray on the table. He looked around briefly until he heard the flush of water from the other room. Day gave him a smile and he returned it before nodding once and leaving again. She held the door for him to pass through and once more watched him out of sight before closing it.
Quinn stepped out of the bathroom and motioned to the table. “Shall we?”
Day nodded and took a seat opposite Quinn, not at all surprised when she removed a knife from her landscaper’s tool belt and set it on the table. From her pocket she removed the numbing agent she’d pilfered from the bathroom’s first aid kit and looked her question at Day. Day simply nodded her agreement and held out her hand.
“You know if we do this, there’s no turning back.”
“I know I can’t live like this anymore, Quinn, and I’m not willing to accept the terms the magistrate offered us. I’d rather take my chances on whatever idea you’ve come up with.”
Quinn smiled. “Do you remember when we went to the resort and I told you I didn’t want to lose all the knowledge I’d been given as Computer’s keeper?” seeing Day’s response in her eyes. “I knew they would look for anything on my person, but they had no need to check you,” holding up the necklace she’d removed from Day’s neck sans the stone it had held. She replaced the necklace around Day’s neck and took her hand once more. Then she blew out a nervous breath before she resumed speaking.
“The stone is a data crystal with all the information I gathered during my tenure as keeper. I knew that if I was to somehow need it, as my friend you’d allow me to borrow it. And if anything happened to us, well... then you’d be here and I could still get to it. It was the best way I could think of to protect us, given the circumstances.”
Day smiled and Quinn felt herself slump in relief. “Quinn?” Day asked in concern.
“I was afraid you’d be angry at me for using you in such a manner.”
“Not angry, sweetheart – cherished and loved.”
Quinn’s smile was dazzling. “I do love you, Idalia.”
“And I love you, Quinn. Now how are we supposed to get out of here?”
“We’re going to walk right out the front door. Do you trust me?”
“Heart and soul.”
Quinn took the hand she held, spraying it carefully and signaling Day to wait a moment. In the meantime, she carefully gathered the provisions they had been given, stuffing them into various pockets, unwilling to waste anything. She had no way of knowing if and when they’d be able to re-supply themselves. She looked over Day’s clothing – not the first kind she would have chosen for the undertaking they were preparing to mount, but still better than a skirt and at least she carried a jacket.
When the hand was numb to all touch, Quinn lifted her knife and held Day’s eyes for a long moment. She quickly cut the tracker from beneath the skin and wrapped the wound in a tight bandage. Then she held the blade out to Day.
“I need you to do the same for me, love.” The descriptive brought a blinding smile to Day’s face and she forgot her fear. Instead, she followed Quinn’s instructions to the letter, and soon both tracking devices lay on the table. Quinn cleaned the knife and re-sheathed it while Day recovered the remainder of the first aid kit.
“Do we know where we are headed?” Day asked as she slid her hand into Quinn’s before they slipped out the door unseen. Quinn had already placed the data crystal into the reading device she carried and it was flowing out a stream of information.
“Do you remember the tunnels I told you about? We’re going to find those tunnels and then... well, I’ve always been curious as to what exactly lies outside the walls of this bio-dome. Who knows – we may find a whole new world to conquer,” her eyebrows wiggling rakishly up and down. Day slapped her arm playfully, amazed that no one was even giving them a second look. The audacity of their actions put her nerves on hyper-alert, and made her forget that the rest of humanity had no idea what was happening.
“I love you, Quinn. Thank you for doing this for me.”
“I couldn’t not, Idalia. I love you too. I think I always have.”
The room was empty when the peacekeeper went to fetch them the following day, and when he found the bloody trackers sitting on the table, he called the magistrate immediately. A fast, silent alarm went up to every peacekeeper around the dome, but the magistrate had very little hope of actually finding either Day or Quinn. If they had been smart enough to elude capture so far, the odds were that they were well and long gone. Still it was her responsibility to at least make an attempt to bring the lawbreakers to justice.
But in the back of her mind and only in the privacy of her own thoughts, she almost wished them well, and wondered if what they had was worth the sacrifice they had made. And she secretly hoped that one day, maybe she would find the same thing for herself as well.
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