Chapter 2: Mating Ritual

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"You didn't come in person?"

"No, why would I?"

"I thought we might...I don't know. You know."

"My back still hasn't healed since the last time. I think you permanently damaged something."

"You're too skinny. You need to exercise, or maybe regrow yourself into a new body."

"I like my body."

"You would be crushed by a hard wind."

"Which is why I'm here in The Hub, and not risking my luscious self there with you on Terra Prime."

She snorted. "You flatter yourself."

"You slept with me, remember? I submit my broken back as evidence."

"Your back is not broken. I already scanned you."

"It's still a hairline fracture. In my back."

"Whatever. There was an actual reason I wanted to meet you."

"I know, my irresistible body."

"You know what? You're right. It's a very good thing you're not here in person right now."

"Aaand my irresistibly stupendous, precognitive mind."

"I could move this myself, you know. If you weren't going to be here in person, we could have just done this over the comm."

"We could have, couldn't we? I thought you were just being dramatic."

"Horny."

"Same difference with you."

"It's because you're human. I'm attracted to humans."

"You slept with the gwyrlock."

"On a dare. It wasn't so bad."

"Didn't you also sleep with the Twins?"

"In my defense, I was very, very drunk. I thought I was seeing double."

"You disgust me."

"I can even tell from your hologram that you're wearing the same unwashed shirt you were wearing when I last saw you a standard month ago."

"Not that this isn't fun, catching up and insulting each other, Onyx, but I really should get off the line, soon. This is a pretty big hack."

"If you had come in person, you'd have been on and off the line in a second."

"More like twelve seconds. It takes us mere mortals a bit longer. I would also have been on Terra Fucking Prime. There's no civilization, no people, nothing. It's like going camping without any home to come back to after the nightmare is over."

"There are also no people here, Lizard."

"Stop calling me that. I hate it when you call me that."

"That's why I do it."

"And there are bearcats there. Hungry bearcats."

"Who only come out at night. I gave you a nice, safe gridmark. At the proper timeline to avoid them. I made a fire, there is a tent, and some nice, soft furs. I also have a marvelous assortment of designer drugs from at least fifty different worlds, cigars and tobacco-"

"So much effort to seduce me. But you should have led with the cigars."

"I was going to, if you had been man enough to show up."

"And then you would put me through the aggressive mating ritual you call sex."

"I'm still practicing. We didn't do that where I came from."

"Where is that, anyway? Ever gonna tell me?"

"I can't tell you what I don't know."

"Bummer. Why don't you know?"

"Because my first world jump was wild and blind. I didn't have this wrist processor you made for me to track my position like I do now."

"Yeah, but it's your home. Can't you just return by feel? You said yourself that you're a bitch. A bitch can always find her way home."

"Everywhere and nowhere is my home."

"Poetic. You don't even want to go back."

"Not really. Not anymore."

"Oh. Well, I suppose it's just one place out of many for you."

"And you, too."

"We aren't in the same league and you know it. I have to use the routes that already exist. You just crash through and make your own."

"I've made plenty of routes for you already."

"Which is why I'm still dealing with you."

"I have made you a fortune."

"No disagreement there, either. You're also the closest thing I've got to a friend, and about the only person I trust."

"I did save your life."

"I saved yours, too. We're even. Don't even keep count. It's a friend thing."

She smiled. "Thanks. You know, it would have been nice to see you."

"So you keep telling me. Another time, after a few more nanite injections in my back. Why don't you come to the Hub?"

"You know why."

"Galls," he said, whining in slang. "I've got to wrap this up. Standard split? Fifty fifty?"

"It's been sixty forty since forever."

"Define forever."

"Why don't you define it? You're the one with the time limit, Izz."

"Fine. I've made all the arrangements. Send the pod to the gridmark I just beamed you. I'll do the exchange with Ozo. Which 'strider did you want?"

"His Reejin model."

"The Fencer? Interesting choice. It is not nearly as armored as the others."

"But it's the fastest, which means it's more fun."

"Give me a standard day, you'll find it at the drop. Gotta go, babe."

"If you don't come see me in person the next time, I'm coming to find you."

"Then you won't see me the next time."

"Asshole."

"Granted."

His hologram winked out and she was left standing alone on the mountain. Then she navigated her wrist menu, and selected a destination. The glucose injectors kicked in a split second before she pulled everything into herself, felt the blazing stars in her belly, and jumped.


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