The Morning of the Gala

One hour, forty-one minutes since overload.

Her HUD clock ticked over. One hour, forty-two minutes since overload.

She’d slept for a little under half an hour, nothing more than a tiny break to reset her, to let her deal with the overwhelming set of new data. New data, new sensations, new realisations.

Her body had normalised itself, just like after a spar, just like after a fight, sensitive, reddened skin becoming pasty and monitor bleached while she slept. Her body had normalised, her mind hadn’t.

They’d talked…he’d talked and she’d made small noises and motions with her head to confirm that she was ok, that she was happy, and that she didn’t regret it. For the assumed percentage of the internet dedicated to stuff like this, she couldn’t find words to fit her mouth to describe it.

So simple, so complicated. Feeling normal. Feeling abnormal/ State change, it was definitely a state change. Scary, and not scary.

Grown up.

…but I’m not sure I’m ready.

If you’ll ever listen to me or anyone else, you don’t have to grow up all at once, Spyder.

But this-

It happened, do you regret it?

No.

Did you enjoy it?

I really did. I- I thought I didn’t like this stuff. I thought I couldn’t like this stuff. But I liked it. And I don’t know if that makes me bad. And I don’t know if that makes me wrong. And I made noises. And I think maybe I should feel like-

Finish that sentence so we can destroy the thought.

I don’t want to.

Say it, Spyder.

Shouldn’t I feel like a slut for enjoying it?

We should crowdsource an answer for this one.

Oh don’t you dare!

Dare what, Spyder?

I’m not going to tell him- ‘-that I feel like a slut!’ She clapped her hands over her mouth. ‘Oh you-‘ You fucking rotten bastard! You-! You-! She pushed herself out of the bed, walked to the wall, and thunked her head against it. You ruin everything! You ruin everything!

You’re welcome, Spyder.

She slid to her knees, still facing the wall. I hate you.

I’m not the only one you can rely on anymore.

A hand touched her bare back. Bare back. She still hadn’t bothered to put a shirt back on.

Curt slid down the wall beside her, facing her. ‘Hey newbie.’

‘Sorry.’

‘You don’t need to apologise.’

‘But I just did something stupid again.’

He leaned close, and kissed her temple. ‘We can’t fix stupid if it’s locked up in your head.’

She slowly turned and leaned against the wall beside him. ‘I just always-‘ She drew her knees up to her exposed chest. ‘Most of what I know about sex is second or third hand. Or things I’ve misinterpreted. Or stuff I’ve half-understood and then gotten the wrong impression of. I haven’t wanted to know. I’m still not sure I want to know. I liked that. I really liked that. But I’m not sure I’m allowed to.’

‘Because you’re either a virgin or a whore?’

‘Something like that.’

He smiled, and handed her a cookie. ‘You sometimes want to be normal, mark this in your calendar as one of those days. I mean, not normal for everyone, but you’re definitely not the only person to feel like this.’

She bit into the cookie, then brushed crumbs off her chest, before requiring herself into a loose black-shirt-with-white-writing. ‘So I get be normal for something crappy, that’s even worse.’

He scootred around to sit in front of her. ‘I’ll give you the-‘ His small dictionary appeared in his hand. ‘The TL;DR version of it, as best I can, ok?’

She gave a shrug.

‘Girls and sex is kind of a messy thing,’ he said. ‘Girls don’t masturbate, the female overload is a myth, all this kind of crap. And you probably would have gotten some of that, if only third-hand.’

‘I tried to masturbate,’ she said.

‘Huh?’

‘In high school. There was a lot of girls who had boyfriends, so I had to hear them talk about sex, even if I didn’t want to. It’s impossible to- I was a lot less good at blocking the whole world out back then. They all made it seem like sex was so normal, and I knew I wasn’t, but thought I’d try. ‘

‘And?’

‘I was scientific, I tried three times. It didn’t- I could- I could feel what I was doing, but it didn’t feel like anything. No different to poking my hand.. And that’s why I think I can’t- What if I can’t for you?’

‘We’ll figure out everything as we go, Stef.’ He kissed her cheek. ‘Just trust me, ok?’

‘But you-‘ She hugged her knees tighter. ‘I liked that. And it was all for me. And what about you?’

‘If you think I got nothing out of that, then you’re crazier than you thought.’

She pried her knees away a little and touched a hand to her chest. ‘But- Droids- It was-‘

‘I had a half-naked hacker girl grinding herself against me,’ he said. ‘Making the most adorable little sexy noises. And the insane ego boost of giving you your first overload.’

‘But I’ve got no idea what I’m doing.’

He smirked. ‘That means you don’t know what I’m doing wrong.’

‘That was wrong?’

He shrugged. ‘That’s really up to you to decide. If it works for you, then it’s not wrong. The majority of people I’ve slept with have been professionals, so not a lot of complaints.’ He shrugged. ‘My ex used to bitch at me when we fought. How I was no good, how my dick wasn’t as big as some of the other guys she’d slept with, how she had to fake it.’ He shrugged again. ‘It’s a miracle we were together as long as we were. If I hadn’t gotten her pregnant, I doubt we would have lasted half as long as we did.’

‘You wouldn’t be here,’ she said, ‘if you hadn’t gotten her pregnant.’

‘Is that one of those “everything happens for a reason” things?’

‘If you think I believe in fate,’ she said, ‘you don’t know me at all. It’s just one of those things. One tiny little thing made such a difference. Well, microscopic in your case, One sperm and you have a baby. Baby equals joining a paramilitary cult, Solstice equals recruitment, recruitment equals getting stuck with me.’ For me, I’d say it’s one or two seconds. One or two seconds either way and the truck would have missed us, and I wouldn’t be a scarred mess.’ She pushed a hand under her shirt and touched the scars. ‘But if not for them, I wouldn’t be here. It’s not destiny, it’s just ripples. If it was destiny, then nothing could stop it. Think about how many damn things could have stopped us from getting here, and probably did in parallel universes.’

‘Do you like where we are in this universe?’

‘I has a boy. I has a happy. I- I’m finally starting to feel like a person for the first time in my life.’ She pushed her hand higher and laid it over her rapidly diminishing heart. ‘I just hope I can last through this.’

‘We’ll find the blue phoenix, we will.’

She bit her lip. ‘Promise me something?’

‘Nearly anything, newbie.’

‘Maybe I’ve been misled by the princess movies, but aren’t you supposed to agree to anything?’

‘You’re not a princess, newbie, and I’m not a cardboard cut-out. For the number of things that come out your mouth every day that terrify me, I reserve the right to only go to “nearly anything”.’

‘…ok, that’s fair.’

‘Tell me if I change.’

‘What?’

‘I don’t know how mirror magic works, but if it makes sense at all, I think it’ll take me apart piecemeal before killing me. Maybe take my memories, or my personality, wipe out bits of me before the whole disappears. I want you to tell me when that happens so you don’t have to force yourself to love me if I’ve changed. Unless you like the new me better, then feel free to keep your mouth shut.’

He sighed. ‘I promise.’

She pulled her hand from her shirt and laced her fingers together, staring at the intertwined flesh for a moment. ‘We got off topic.’

‘Which is completely normal,’ he said. ‘Shall I continue?’

She rested her chin on her knees, and nodded.

‘Again,’ he said, ‘trying to keep this TL;DR. Girls just get a rougher time of it than guys do, cause of all those reasons relating to patriarchy and whatnot. A guy gets a high five, a girl gets a walk of shame. A guy sleeps with five chicks, he’s a star; a girl sleeps with five guys and she’s a slut… it’s stupid and it’s not fair.’

‘So I-‘

‘You have no reason to ever feel ashamed of doing anything that makes you feel good – unless it hurts someone else – ever, all right?’

‘Even sex?’

‘Especially sex. Sex is private, so the only two opinions that matter are your partner’s and your own. And I for one, respect you, so I’m never going to make you feel ashamed about anything you do or don’t do, all right?’

‘…I did like it.’

He kissed her cheek. ‘And that’s all you have to worry about.’

Ask him.

But- Okies.

‘To-tonight after the gala,’ she said. ‘And I still refuse to believe I’m getting a stupid gala. Tonight. What if we go back to-‘ Her cheeks burned. ‘it’s stupid. And I don’t even know how to ask. And I’m scared. But if I’m getting a stupid gala then it’s means it’s my day, and I don’t know if I’m going to live to either of our birthdays and it should-‘

‘You’re not ready. We can go back to my place, and we can cuddle and make out and even do something like what we just did. There’s plenty I can with just your shirt off. I know what you’re trying to say, I do, and if you were nearly anyone else, it would be a great idea. But you’re not ready, so let’s just go for some topless overloads before we try anything else, ok? And you sure as hell are going to make it to your next birthday, and mine, and for a lot more after that.’

‘But if it noms me all gone…’

‘I won’t let it.’

‘You-‘

‘I won’t let it.’ He put a crooked finger under her chin. ‘I’m going to look after you. Even if that means saving you from doing the right thing.’

She sighed, and leaned against him. ‘You sure?’

‘Tonight will be great, I promise.’