I woke up extra groggy to warm, damp air from someplace tropical. So I thought anyway: I'd never been in any such place. A girl could dream, though.
"I figured you could recover on a beach," Lucere said from behind me. It took her running her fingers through my hair for me to notice she had them there at all. I hummed in pleasure and opened my eyes, and sure enough, she was actually sitting behind me.
I looked out over the beach. The view of the ocean was great. Pink and yellow moons cast their lights on azure sands. The beach itself was more of an alcove, framed by three cliffs. I saw a dense line of trees, but not much past it. Obviously.
If I were being honest, the scene was serene. It jarred me. That medical room needed a tonne more sanitizing while here was picturesque. My voice continued to slur. "Yeah, its a damn sight better than the alternative."
"I built this 'scape after visiting the beaches of one of Altair's planets." Lucere started pulling her hand out of my hair.
"No," I begged, "Please don't stop; it feels so good."
She ignored my pleading, her voice cracking as if nervous. "Well, now that you are awake, I figured we could go diving."
"How does that work in virtual?" I sat up and dipped my feet in the sand. I looked up to find her suddenly very close to me, just a few inches from my face.
She stared into me, peering at my soul. Her lavender eyes sparkled like polished amethysts. A woman with those eyes could get me to do whatever she wanted just by asking. "Well, we don't have to breathe, for starters, so we can go as deep as we want."
"I'd like to go deep in you," I murmered, lost in my fatigue and her eyes.
Shock riddled her face.
My breath stopped; I had just now realized what I'd said. "Oh shit. I'm so sorry."
She blinked the shock out of her eyes, filling her face with the scarlet blush of heavy embarrassment.
"Wow," I heard someone say, "She's forward. I bet you like that a lot, Lucy." The voice was very androgynous and sounded pretty unique.
I whipped my head around in search of the speaker. It didn't take long for me to realize I'd missed the thirty or forty people enjoying a nice beach day along with us. My own face started to burn with embarrassment as well. Fuck I was tired.
Lucere huffed loudly and grabbed my hand before I knew what was happening, pulling me into a deep kiss. She was so passionate about it. There were real emotions in it, but I couldn't help feeling a bit hollow at it all. What if I was just a tool for her to experience her love for someone else?
Lucere released me after a while of being blankly stared at, regret washing out her flush. "I'm sorry."
"Its fine," I said, shaking my head, "We just met a handful of hours ago, okay? I barely know you. You barely know me. You're fun to kiss, but I'm so amazingly out of my element here. I don't want to be a part of your corporate machine."
Lucere smirked. "And yet you let me implant you with a neural interface. That comes with a lot of risks, don't you think?"
"Shit," I whispered, barely loud enough to for even me to hear, "and that's how I'm here at all."
"Come with me," Lucere instructed, offering her hand, "Clearly we need to talk."
I reluctantly took her hand and followed her into the water. I noted how perfectly warm it was; it felt wet and real.
Wet, reveal, deadly. I shivered. "Is this going to drown me?"
"I've modified water physics for a bit," Lucere said, "We may not need to breathe here, but water in the lungs will still hurt like hell."
I nodded and submerged my head. Trusting her, I took in a breath, and the water stayed out of my lungs. The anxiety melted into bliss.
I looked around and a beautiful underwater landscape graced my eyes. The azure sand sparkled in beautiful light, filtered through the water. A reef lay in the distance.
"The sand is only a few shades lighter than your hair," Lucere noted aloud, "Very pretty. Never seen any hair as pretty as yours, those pretty curls."
"Thank you," I said quietly, and took a moment to think. I didn't want to give away any info I didn't have to.
Eventually I decided to compliment her in kind. "Your hair is pretty too. It's slightly wavy and the colour of my favourite chocolate."
"Is your hair naturally blue?"
I gave her an amused look and giggle. "Natural blue hair?"
Laughter was met with laughter. "It can happen."
"Are you using me?" my mouth asked before I could clamp it shut. Fuck. I hadn't meant to ask that. I hadn't meant to reveal anything so personal. I really didn't want to scare Lucere off. I supposed it was too late for secrets moonlighting as questions.
Lucere paused a moment and replied: "I can understand why you'd be uneasy here, or completely distrust me. Just think about this, right? We're providing you a job, training, and the most advanced implant available. Once you're done in the tank, there's a process for leaving, too. We won't keep you here against your will."
"That wasn't what I asked, Lucy." I took a slow breath between my sentences to try not to say something stupid again. "It's true I don't trust the strike team, but I have no clue where you fall. You've not given me any reason to distrust you specifically."
"What are you asking, Eilidh?" There was that feeling again, my name flowing like honey from her lips. I had to think carefully about my next words.
I fixed my eyes to hers. "Are you using me?"
"Oh," she said, playing with her hair a moment before continuing, "I don't think so. Why?"
"There were emotions in that kiss." I took some time to carefully phrase what I wanted to come out of my mouth next. "I'm not particularly good with social cues, but even with that, this all feels like its moving very quickly."
"I understand," she said, "but no. I'm not sure you have the context here. We've all vowed to be as open and honest with our feelings as possible. I like you. Both what I've seen of you, limited as it may be, and the file our intelligence crew has been able to put together."
"May I see it?" I asked, "My file, I mean."
"Sure," she said, "'Should have already been uploaded to your implant's main storage. I want you to know that I haven't read most of it. There's some pretty dark, and likely personal shit in there, and I'd rather hear your stories from you."
I still wasn't sure if I was being used or not: hard to tell based on those responses. I decided to ask more about the open and honest feelings she had mentioned, but if I was going to, I needed to open up a little first.
"Thank you." I took a breath. "I have been used and manipulated in the past."
I thought back for just a moment to my first girlfriend, Inara. She'd used me, convinced me to run a smash and grab against one of the local branches of a tech giant. I was able to pull a really fancy computer rig and just shy of four hundred thousand credits. I'd been shot though. Bullet collapsed a lung not long after I got away and Inara did her best to patch me up.
She was gone when I woke up, and so were our spoils.
I was sixteen.
Breathing was hard for months after that.
"I'm relatively keen on keeping myself away from further abusive relationships." I waited for Lucere to say something before realizing she was waiting for me. "I guess I need to know why you would be feeling such intense emotions for me after such a short time."
Lucere hummed. "I don't know. You're right that a few hours isn't really enough time for anything like love, but I promise you that I don't love you. Not yet, at least. Its very fun to kiss you, though. In front of everyone isn't really an issue, either."
"Not an issue?" I asked, "I wasn't really worried that you kissed me in front of everyone. It was the amount of emotion you expressed in that kiss. It was so intense. The expression of emotion, especially that strong, in front of everyone, none of whom I know? That was the problem."
Shock riddled her face again. "Oh Goddess Above," she exclaimed, "Yeah I could see how that would be an issue. Like I said, we are open and honest here, so I suppose I should tell you now: I'm dating all of the officers, with the exception of Young, who is in the tube next to you out in the real. They called me cute earlier though."
"You are poly?" I'd had a few friends that were poly, so I was aware of what it was. I was always a little jealous of them: to be able to love more than one person was always just a bit much of an exercise in patience and communication for my previous partners. I'd tried to approach the topic, but they were never receptive of the idea.
Was this my chance to explore my sexuality further? A bunch of corporate lesbians didn't feel like the best place to be doing this, though.
Lucere's voice derailed my worried thoughts. "Yeah; most of us here are."
I figured now was as good of a time as any. "You're all corporate goons, though. I'm not sure how I feel about that."
Lucere sighed. "We serve the Goddess, and She has some vested interest in keeping us here, for now at least."
That only raised more questions. A queer goddess who cozies up to corporations? Corps hated queer folk. We were always questioning the status quo. The status quo mades corps their money. Another question struck me before I could ask about that. "Who is the goddess?"
"We call her the Pale Goddess," Lucere said, "Her name is Anna, though. You'll meet her soon enough; we all have to. She'll answer your questions and give you some more. She claims to have been omnipotent in some other dimensions, but apperantly omnipotence isn't something that can happen in this universe."
"Anna," I mused, "Interesting that a goddess with enough power to bestow magic would have such a normal name."
"Names aren't everything," Lucere said, "but they do carry meaning for some, though I suppose that's a topic that I can't particularly explain."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Our commander, Tamaki, or maybe Melrose might be better at explaining that," she replied, "I've never had to deal with how my name labels me. They have."
I nodded. "Okay." I began to suspect that meant that they were trans, but I couldn't be certain. There were all sorts of reasons one would have to worry about their name. Sometimes I thought about changing mine. Not that my name was hard to write, but I didn't feel like an 'Eilidh' all the time.
"You look like you've got a lot on your mind." Lucere motioned for me to stand up. "I have to go wake Sleeping Beauty. You can find Officer Melrose up on the beach. Tell faer that fae's in charge for me, okay? Can't leave this instance with nobody as admin, though I'm sure fae would have a way in anyway."
I nodded. "Alright." I tried to find words to express my thoughts as more than single word answers. There were too many questions racing around for my thoughts to produce meaningful conversation.
One question in particular was ringing through my thoughts like a hammer shaping hot metal into something beautiful: How could I have gained the favour of a goddess that's cozy with a corp?