“Remember how you wanted to show each other our versions of the city?” as Chloe nodded, Luna continued, “Well, I’ve chosen my twenty-four hours.”
“Really?” Chloe looked up, sounding excited, “When?”
“Absolutely. We start at one, this Wednesday. I’ve told Archer. Remember to sleep in.”
“Okay…You’ve that smile again. Wicked,” Chloe said, “you’ll stay on Tuesday?”
“I’m on the late, and we don’t need to be anywhere until one. No early wake up call, ‘cause I’ll want to sleep in.”
“Deal. Stay,” Chloe smiled, “please.”
“Okay,” Luna blushed as she returned the smile.
Chloe shuddered, as she sunk into the sea, her skin hot under the warmth of the sun, languidly turning as the ocean swelled around her. She felt restrained, unallowed to turn, to move until she slipped into vague conciousness, blinked herself further from the dream, her mind clinging to feeling wet and warm, her body flushing with pleasure, moans eliciting from her lips as tingling sensations wrap up her spine and reverberating into her still waking brain. Fluttering open her eyes, she looked down her body in the half dark half light and found Luna gently snuffling inside her, swirling her tongue against the excitement thickening within her.
“Luna…” she whispered, her voice husked with sleep, rolling her body, “…please…”
Luna caressed her, stroked down her ribs, never moving her face away, persuasive with the motion of her tongue, whispering kisses over the swell of her clit. Chloe closed her eyes, lamenting her sanity as she felt her body building as surround sound tension echoing through her, her mind edging towards oblivion.
Luna continued to leisurely suck while bringing her hand up, drifting inside and lightly twisting her fingers until Chloe, sobbed deeply, reverberating her off the bed. Luna persisted, leisurely relishing in Chloe’s taste, and her swaying motion beneath her, drawing her further out, watching her relinquish completely abdicating to Luna’s control, as her body tightened around her fingers, griping them as her body tensed, held, collapsed to the bed. Luna slowed, kissing against her thigh as she moved her fingers out, licking them clean of her favourite taste.
Chloe, desiring closeness, attempted to grasp at Luna to pull her up, but finding herself too limp to move, whispered, “Luna, come here, please.”
Luna slid up Chloe’s body, kissing points up her body with sticky, swollen lips until Chloe’s impatience tugged at her urgently. Luna rolled on her back, pulling Chloe to her, siphoning them together, wrapping them close, mumbling between kisses over Chloe’s forehead, “Go back to sleep.”
“Mmmmmm,” Chloe incoherent, struggled to form words, “you broke the deal.”
“Shhhh. I got you. Go back to sleep,” Luna lightly spoke, caressing Chloe as she drifted in bliss until she relinquished to sleep.
Hours passed until Chloe woke, sudden and impatient, traced her finger down to bubbled, darkened flesh bunched in the corner of her lovers back. Luna is beautiful. A thin white collection of scars are jumbled just beneath the crease of her ass, the same side as this burn. Her voice is soft, delicate, as she asked, “What are these from?”
Luna, arm strung across Chloe’s waist, dopey against the hush of her nails over her skin, the warmth of love, “The hip is from a fire I sat in when I was a toddler, barely able to walk and fascinated by fire. I don’t remember it. The cuts are from glass I fell on not long after we came here.”
“You sat in fire and glass?” gentle mirth swung beneath Chloe’s voice, “am I sensing a theme?”
“Probably. The adults freaked out, it took ages to heal. The medic we had dressed it and all I remember doing is crying,” she became contemplative and sad, flat, “the glass was different. It was in this skanky, dirty abandoned building, and I was lucky to be wearing jeans. Kai freaked out, didn’t cope with the blood. Jamere took me to a clinic in the end.”
“Is unbelievably calm in an emergency, however these were both before we met.”
The intimacy between them is a strange and beautifully rarity, a struggle imitating of winter chill. Chloe’s hands continued to trace the exposed skin, pale in the illumination of the moon, “Beautiful,” Chloe exhaled, “beautiful.”
Luna blinked slowly sideways at Chloe, “Stop looking at me like that.”
“Like what?” Chloe voices is still floating over Luna’s body.
“Like I’m you end.”
“You are my end. You’re totally the end for me. No one else will fill this place beside me, inside of me. Our love, us, is never a beginning style of love, never a starter love. Ours is the ever forever,” Chloe shifted, worried she had revealed too much, spoke of love, whispered, “don’t you feel it?”
Luna sniffed as she snaked up over her body, drifting her lips over increasingly feverish skin, “You’re such a challenge,” her mouth remained open as she scaled up her body, “to live without,” her voice rasped, declivitous, “I can never unlearn these things you say to me. They’re etched, permanently, on me, now. How do I live without that?”
Chloe softly began to babble, tumbling closer to an edge only Luna could get her too, her mind unstructured itself as her body avaricious, yearned for more kisses and light caresses as Luna’s voice drifted to her again, “How do I hear anyone else’s voice when yours is incessant in saying beautiful things and filling my head with such things…”
Luna laved her tongue around Chloe’s nipple, tracing pink over plumb, scratching her teeth around pliant flesh before switching to the other side, bruising her nails over skin mischievously up Chloe’s thighs.
“Authenticity in this world is always complicated, wrapped in the ambitious schemes of exiles from this world not wishing to seem outdated, sharp edges diffusing even the most opaque of light, even in this fog you put me in, I feel you,” Luna resonance low and deep, placing open mouthed kisses up her sternum, the crease between swells, “massive shadows sleep like monsters coiled in the dark and cast shady prisms over the day, where we dream in clarity and reality,” Luna drifts down her stomach, tasting the salty sheen covering Chloe, smelling the soft intoxication she loved so much, “every wrecked ship retains its own beauty, its own allure for inquisitive souls,” Luna could feel Chloe’s mumbling intensify along with her jagged, hesitant breath, and she lowered herself even more, inching her way to committing heresy against perfect flesh, “raging to find the loss of cruel and vindictive vengeance out here on our tangled cusp of life, it takes fury and fire and flames to untangle our bonds,” Luna’s story muffled itself as crooked fingers became indicative of hungry savages seeking there meal.
Chloe shivered, lost within her desire until for the second time that morning, her orgasm crept up and stole any comprehension left. Luna felt her tense, searing heat escape, then collapse back into the bed. She shuffled back and crawled up the bed to pull Chloe into her arms.
“There are no ethics to love, only different parts of you once scattered into many places, now collected into this heavenly form,” Luna whispered, gently running her hands up and down Chloe’s back, “and I adore every single part.”
The rest of the morning quiet, staying in bed until their desire for food drove them into the kitchen. Luna drifted to the bathroom and to get ready, haphazardly in jeans and a torn shirt picturing a roller derby unicorn. Chloe came in as she was brushing her teeth, dressed in the jeans and crisp, white shirt Luna laid out for her.
“This is what we’re wearing?”
“Absolutely. Its very functional,” Luna spat out white foam, running the tap.
“Okay. When are we leaving?” Chloe, barefoot and looking magnificent, asked.
“As soon as you’re ready,” Luna rinsed her mouth out, and turned as she lifted her head to grab a towel, before dropping it, distracted by Chloe’s beauty, exhaling sharply as she said, “wow…go, go put sneakers on.”
“What?” Chloe frowned.
“You’re insufferably beautiful,” Luna leaned forward with minted breath to kiss Chloe, “wow. Go. Before we get distracted.”
Walking out to the post midday sun, shifted high in sky, a mini-bus was waiting. Luna opened the door, following Chloe as she stepped in and sat halfway down the back, the van worked back through traffic until moving into the Yoshiko district, a family orientated suburb south-west of the city.
Yoshiko was full of large and manicured lawns, candy coloured flowers in geometric designs, vans and soccer mums. This was the quietest place she had been in the city, the most she had seen in an attempt to make it pretty, and keep the bleak blue gray empire of cement and steel away. The van drove to a generic house.
Luna leaned close and said, “Words are permanent, scaring between us to knit lives together.”
Chloe turned her head and looked at Luna slightly confused.
“This is SPW Alpha House. These women here are very damaged, destroyed, scared, and haven’t been put back together yet.”
Chloe nodded following Luna out of the bus, “Okay.”
“I come to one of the houses once a week to do various things. Today, we make lunch.”
The two story timber and cement home was quiet. The backyard had a playground with several children swinging upside down. Walking into the kitchen carrying shopping bags, Chloe watched four other volunteers separate, two went out the back, as the other two delved deeper into the house with two boxes.
Luna and Chloe stayed in the kitchen with the table full of bags, and started unpacking, Luna separated sandwich ingredients from the rest and left them out together on the bench. It took several minutes of shuffling around to finish. Luna picked up the several bathroom products left, and indicted to Chloe to wait before slipping into the house.
Chloe began on the sandwiches, looking out into the yard, negotiating the gravity of Luna bringing her here, the trust she is sharing, letting her into a fundamental part of her life. Chloe simultaneously filled with a feeling of unworthiness, while falling further in love.
Luna shuffled back in, carrying a box. She slid it on the table before walking over to help, “Thank you for getting it started.”
“That’s okay. What’s the box?”
Luna smirked as she looked at Chloe with a wicked grin on her face, “Well…”
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
“I know,” Luna kept the wicked grin as she continued, “this is Alpha House. It’s the first house battered women, and their children, come too. They don’t really leave until at least the bruises fade. Sometimes until the trial, if there is one. There is therapy, medical and a teacher comes on-site to home school the children, before they transition back to school. Clothing and food is provided while in Alpha. The box is part of book exchange with the other houses so donations are rotated.”
“Okay,” Chloe hadn’t seen a resident yet, but could hear the mower start out the back, a vacuum whirr overhead, “why here?”
“Because sometimes others stories become our own. Jamere mother’s, Asher and Charlotte, ran Ash’s before she did, as a bespoke smash repair shop. Asher trained with her father as a mechanic, always tinkering as long as she could remember. She knew no other life than the one with her father, who knew no better way to raise his daughter than by his side. Asher met Charlotte while she drove for a towing company, bringing wreckage’s to be repaired or disassembled,” Luna’s knife sliced cucumber.
“They circled around each other for months, flirting beyond the comprehension of Charlotte’s husband. When courage finally sent a bruised and broken Charlotte away from her husbands violent hands and vicious demeanour, she hid with Asher, cocooned herself with comfort yet still maintained this awful state of emotional fear while he stalked the shadows, relentlessly watching Charlotte after he found her at Ash’s. His mind unravelled, descending into paranoia and pain, loosing his grip on reality, until eventually he was committed to Avalon Asylum. This is Jamere’s biological contributor. Charlotte created a life with Asher and they told her pure facts when she found out two women couldn’t have a child together. They explained he was sick and no longer alive. I suppose to a certain extent, he wasn’t, especially to Charlotte, who didn’t recognise him any more. When Jamere found out the truth, Charlotte’s truth, she founded SPW to honour Charlotte. She collects the unwanted, abused and neglected and gives them a home to honour Asher, who had given her and Charlotte the best possible life.”
Chloe quiet and contemplative, continued through two loaves of bread, a salad and three jugs of juice and iced tea. How could she respond to such an admission, even if she could talk around the lump assaulting her throat? Her mind whorled around Jamere’s experience, filtered via the extraordinary woman working beside her. Placing the completed meal on the table, the two volunteers from inside the house came, bringing another two boxes to join them in the kitchen, “Ready?”
“Yes,” Luna said nodded, walking back to the van and waving goodbye to the children.
Luna turned to Chloe as the van drove towards the city, “This house is the quietest. Bravo house is better, kind of a respite for longer term recovery. Charlie is almost a halfway house. Delta is long term accommodation apartments. All are, obviously, run by Smash Punch Women, privately funded by Pacer, Ash’s and the annual charity ball. Sometimes by public donations.”
Chloe nodded, listening as her soul ached for Luna, until the van stopped and Luna entwined her fingers with Chloe’s, pulling her out of the car, calling thanks before slamming the door to weave her way into the crowd.
“It seems…” she squeezed Luna’s hand, silence within the crowd surround them, daylight flickering with Chloe’s gentle voice as she settled into Luna’s comfort wrapping around them, “both excellent that a service such as Smash exists and awful that it needs too.”
“One’s future, anyone’s future, is driven by desire,” Luna’s mouth curls into the smile that makes Chloe’s heart stop, a half hidden truth in the crest of her face, “irrelevant of money or status, passion and desire is what spurns us, coverts us, goads us. We all know of people who’ve spent every last penny pursuing desire, and others who pulled themselves from poverty to make millionaires lists. Passion, desire. These things are intangible, but dictate us. I desired freedom. Still do, I guess. I may not have it, yet I seek it as ants do sugar, involuntarily, impulsively, in the pauses of music, in the dawn of light, in the musk of desire. SPW exists for the same reason. Passion. Desire. Errant as it may be.”
“Hmm,” Chloe agreed, kissing Luna while murmuring against sun warmed lips, “what’s this plan?”
“Violet Pier,” Luna smiled as she raised Chloe’s entwined hand to her lips, “Arts festival.”
“Violet Pier has an Arts Festival?”
“You’ve never been?”
“No…” Chloe couldn’t remember even having heard about this one. She usually attended the Briar District Arts and Cultural Festival.
“Good. We can enjoy it together.”
“But, you’ve been here…”
“I performed here, for the last four years, never been socially.”
“So, no performing this year?”
“No. This year, I get to share it with you.” Luna raised their hands as she gently brushed her lips against Chloe’s hand again.
Violet Pier is busy, the sinking sun light fading against the flood of neon fluorescent lights, as rising tide caused petite spitting at the wooden pylons. The water slightly purple, sparkling shade against the reflecting sun. Stalls intermingled with circus tents and stages, sections weaving together, food knitted with painting, hemmed by leather work, scattered by gilded toys. Blending with the crowd, frequent voices called hello to Luna as music reached them, drums beating a rhythm into their throats. Waist-coated clowns juggling fire stalked through the crowd, casting shadows wrought from flame.
“Hi, Bree,” Luna smiled, rounding stilted legs hitching lecherously through the crowd to the small wooden stage housing a vast collection of life re-purposed as instruments. Bree lifted her head, twisting the lid back on her bottle of water, as she leaped up and hugged Luna.
“Hi Luna,” a wicked smile crossed her face as she held up a hand, “wait, I’ve an idea.”
Bree moved to pull up a case from the box behind the stage and handed it across to Luna, “Play?”
Luna unclasped the case and picked up the violin, looked between Bree and Chloe, who nodded happily, before answering, “Okay.”
Luna walked and stood behind left of Bree as they danced against each other, music drifting from them, bouncing around the crowd. Chloe melted back into the crowd wanting to observe. Standing between art stalls, she noticed the sign pinned to the outside wall of the stall behind them stating, “All contributions will be donated to Smash Punch Women.”
Playing to a crowded liturgy, Bree concentrated, swinging against Luna’s osculation, the violin taunt against the curved tension strung in Luna’s arm. Chloe watched the precision of movement, the drift between the bow and fingers etched in heaven. Music swung back and forth between them, winding the sound out to the crowd, yet only Chloe stood, enraptured by Luna. Chloe fell deeply into the chasm of Luna, scared as hell she wanted her so badly, the sound lingering in her soul, buzzing through her body as if it is always meant to be, here, now, perfect.
Luna put the violin away and said goodbye to Bree and drew Chloe further into the deepening sky, turned through a tent and out to a circle of performances within sideshow ally, noisy and lit up against the darkness.
“Pick what you want to play,” Luna said, digging into her pocket for cash.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played…” Chloe shrugged,
“So? Its not like any of them are highly skilled…”
“What about that one?” Chloe pointed to the shooting duck game. Luna paid the vendor for three games, and gave Chloe the faux gun. She missed in all of these.
“See. I told you…” Chloe, laughing, placing the gun back onto the counter.
“That’s not the point of playing, though….” Luna giggled, “Its to have fun and we are.”
“So, you try then.”
Luna picked up the gun after acquiring three more plays. She hit the first shot, which Chloe cheered at, before she missed the second shot. She clipped the last one. The vendor showed them cheap trinkets to pick from.
“Go on,” Luna indicated the tray.
“You won,” Chloe shook her head.
“My day, my rules, now pick.” Luna demanded, pointed at the tray.
Chloe pursued the items and picked a small magnet of a Violet Pier, “happy?”
“Yes,” Luna snarked, happy beneath the armour.
Chloe lent in to Luna, wanting her, all of this craving between them for each other, and kissed her, “Why here?”
“Because I volunteer, perform and have worked at this festival every year since I’ve been here. I like entertaining. But, also, its nice enjoying something for pleasure, just for us.”
A voice drifted as a hand appeared with squares of fried food in a chip container, “Hi Luna.”
Luna turned to find stilt legs before bright stripped tent and she looked up at the face attached to smile, “Thanks Kali,” grabbing some of the chips, as another figure appeared before them, “Hi Estella.”
“Hi Luna, go on in,” Estella nodded at Chloe, waving them through into a darkened space without tickets.
There are contortionists in various shades of flexibility hanging from hoops and ropes strung from the sky. Chloe scanned the roof while breathing in the powdered, scented air as bodies twisted above them, enchanting with movement softly broken over time while the figures remained suspended. Gradually the pair wandered out into pathways strung with fairy lights pushing darkness to the corners. Coming out of the festival, Luna led them to the monorail.
“You seem to know a few people.”
“Most of them were Pacer staff.”
“Okay,” Chloe stood, observing the stillness of Luna, “a lot of them were performing.”
“Yes, Pacer prides itself on its talented staff,” Luna shrugged, “Pacer is really a performance emporium. Like I said, I would’ve performed, but I preferred to take you.”
“Thank You,” Chloe, her hand taking Luna’s, as she leaned closer, responding to the breeze rippling across the platform. The carriage squealed to a halt for them to step on, “Will you tell me where we’re going?”
The carriage pulled out as Luna snorted, “No. Where’s the fun in that? I can tell you that its three stops from here.”
Riding the rest of the way in silence, quietly looking at each other, undercurrents sparkling between them, resting inside their heartbeats, filling wounds fractured against their matching souls. Luna led them out, down the cracked cement stairs to the pavement, and took them up the street. A crooked turn in the road curved into an illuminated a group of bars and restaurants nestled together. Luna led Chloe to the sheltered awning four doors down with an old mortuary sign hung over the door. ANTIQUE ATELIER.
Luna walked in and the maitre‘d, dressed as an undertaker, leaned in to kiss her on the cheek, “Luna.”
“Ophelia,” as Luna reached across to hug her.
“The usual booth?”
“Please,” as they were led to a booth secluded at the back of the restaurant, and once seated Luna turned, “Thanks, O. Whose on the bar?”
“Excellent. She’ll know,” Luna smiled as Ophelia walked away.
“So,” Chloe looked at the exposed brickwork, “Antique Atelier. Another place where you know everyone? Where are the menu’s?”
“Yes, I know the staff. There are actually menu’s, but this is my twenty-four hours and I already planned our meal.”
Their waitress walked up with cocktails and settled them on the table, “Thanks Mia.”
“You’re welcome. Enjoy.”
“What’s this place to you?” Chloe asked.
“When I was homeless, I got a job here. Washing dishes. They let me shower here. There was always a staff meal,” Luna looked at Chloe, “they didn’t ask questions I couldn’t answer. Paid in cash. It used to be a funeral parlour. That’s why all the names are death associated.”
“Cat and Mia?”
“Yes. Catastrophe and Anaemia,” Luna swallowed her drink, “I like this space. Galla and I play a jazz night here on occasion. Its not overly obnoxious with the theme.”
Chloe sipped her drink, comforted in listening to Luna’s voice, inevitably eliciting soft smiles from her lips.
“How young were you?”
“And they employed you?”
“Yes, I wasn’t the only one. They employed a lot of us undesirables. Paid fairly, gave us benefits.”
“Were you scared?”
“No. Yes. Never. Always.” Luna shrugged, “of course, we made friends here, play jazz here, we earned enough to survive.”
Chloe reached over and took her hand, “was survival enough?”
Luna sighed in return, “I’ve never desired human company before. You, I seem to want irrevocably.”
“Why? And Galla? Archer? Kai? The ladies?” Chloe questioned, having taken to referring to Abraxas and Jamere appropriately.
“Kai is my responsibility. The others are an accident as much as you are — accidents of love and fortune. In a world of muses, only the constant stay to sabotage and to provoke, excite and love, as both the outrageous and the intimate, elegant lines of the future perfectly drawn. At the end of any tunnel is illumination, a pulse of light where one can either defy or define their humanity, by choice of surrender or retribution. Unstoppable force, immovable object. Us.”
“That sounds brutal, as if you are dead reef spinning off into currents, out of control, with nothing to hold onto. You seem to break me, in so many ways. You make it sound bleak, as if what matters not what we think…”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to. I mean a lot of it like an act of beauty, not all of what we’re told matters. I know you matter. We matter. Surrendering to love is not a brutal thing. Its an amazing thing, really. Being raised the way I was, as a child, I was in a tunnel coming here, and remained one for so many years. Galla and Archer and Abra and Jamere. We are all together, each others lights in life, shining.”
Chloe is still, paused, captivated by Luna, but then a little hurt that she wasn’t mentioned as a light.
“You’re my illumination, you know. Everyone I love is a torchlight, but you. You are brilliant. We were raised to be completed, thought to be beyond the physical and rule the spiritual. We were not taught how love can fracture you, crack you apart,” Luna shrugged, as her voice snaked around Chloe, appetisers filled the space between them and fresh drinks appeared as old ones emptied. Main meals shared within the curved booth, winding closer together until curled together as dessert was served.
“Why do you know exquisitely perfectly words to say?” Chloe sighed, finding there continual mention of love endearing without actual statement.
“Because careless words allow people to love you less. They alter the way you feel, quiet insidiously, creeps up on you. Its crucial to evaluate every emotion you articulate,” she deftly leaned in and kissed Chloe, “actions should support the power of words, however never overshadow them,” she plucked another kiss, “even though the physical is fun.”
Luna led them out of the booth and away to the midnight chill, walking to an underground station and down to the yellow train.
Chloe yawned, “We’re going to be sleeping?”
“Not yet, Princess,” Luna stretched the gap between them, tasting the infinite within their kisses, “two more stops before bed.”
“Two?” Chloe murmured.
“Yes. This one I think you will like,” Luna gripped her hand, taking them out the train and up to ground level, the midnight moon shimmering.
Chloe looked around in the darkness, street lights scattering orbs of yellow at distant intervals, “Where are we?”
“Kahtya. You trust me?” Luna answered, taking Chloe’s hand, not needing to add the “slums” on the end of the district name.
“Yes,” Chloe, looking around the desiccation, assaulted by the smell, bodies moving in the shadows.
“Good, come,” Luna led her along the street they exited onto and over to an odd warehouse, giving Chloe barely enough time to notice the river gleaming in the background.
There are quite a few people joining their walk inside, ghosts against the random spotlights haphazardly set up. The inside of the building is dilapidated, smelling of water and dirt, and Chloe tripped over cords tangled on the wet cement, helicoptering out as Luna’s arms extended to catch her, grateful for the sneakers.
“Careful…” Luna stabilised Chloe, “its not particularly safe.”
“I guess not,” Chloe heard the voices of others around her, musicians playing somewhere in the corner.
“Let me show you,” Luna, taking Chloe’s hand, bringing her out of shadows and into the space, filled with crumbling brickwork and bodies moving within the artwork, becoming part of it. Luna threw a scattering of of gold coins donations into a coffin presided over by a terrifying horror movie clown manning the entry.
“Luna…” Chloe, loosing the breath held within her, whispered. Still griping Luna’s hand, she shuffled her head, absorbing the scale of architectural art, sweeping within the building. She could glimpse actors performing a play in one section of the space and is lost within this. As they walked further into the space, they stopped to watch clowns, mimes, see graffiti art, chase through mazes and climb stairways to perspex tanks filled with poisonous fish, distorting the swelling crowd.
Luna finally pulled her into a corner, “Chloe, you okay?”
“Yes, this is so…” Chloe lifted her hand to caress Luna’s face, “…impressive.”
“I thought you’d like it,” Luna stole a kiss.
“This place?” Chloe asked, brought back inside their adventure.
“This is the Renegade Idiocracy Transformation. Its an annual instillation art event, and held in whatever abandoned relic is left in Kahtya between 11 at night and 3 in the morning. The donation coffin goes to the medical clinic. The clowns are Troupe de Travesty, mimes from Symposium of Silence. The Architecturelist…” Luna pointed to the stairs and sky pool, “…Ana Kiset Theater,” indicating the play still evolving in a corner.
“I’ve definitively never heard of this,” Chloe smiled, “Can we see more of Ana Kiset Theater?”
“Of course,” Luna smiled, and lead them over to the performance.
“But you didn’t tell me why.”
“I found out about it when we lived here. Kahtya is easy to disappear within,” Luna shrugged, “Its just one of those events you find out about, and it does support the free health clinic, which I definitively needed during our first year.”
Chloe squeezed her hand, unable to find anything to say.
“Chloe, don’t,” Luna halted, turning Chloe to look at her, “don’t look so…hurt…when I say something about being homeless. Please. I’m alive and living.”
“You give so much….” Chloe said quietly, “volunteering and supporting events like this…”
“Of course I do. I used a lot of the services I now support. I survived because of them. Its only right to pay them back, but, please, Chloe, don’t feel sorry for me.”
“Okay, I promise,” Chloe quickly kissed Luna, “really, we’re together, which is for more important than your past.”
As it edges towards half past two, Chloe looked tired. Luna tugged at her arm, and lead her back to the subway. Chloe buried her face inside Luna’s neck, hedging their bodies against each other, before moaning as Luna led her out into another place she wasn’t familiar with. Slipping through the darkness and into the flashing lights of Harper’s, Luna melted through the crowd to reach Galla on stage. The crowd was dancing and Luna encouraged Chloe to join her, pulling her into the deliberate exhibitionism, swirling creatures of circumstance and bodies flowing around them.
Daylight filtered through the grimy window as Luna’s alarm sprang beeping into the morning. Luna’s mattress on the floor shifted as she struggled to untangle herself from the sheets.
“What time is it?”
“Eight,” Luna reached the alarm to silence it.
“But, we got back at five.”
Chloe slept shakily in Luna’s flat, with the coldness of the room and the haphazard bare mattress on the floor. She cannot remember ever having slept on a mattress on the floor before. In a tent, on a beach, in hostels, but nothing like this. The ambient sounds loud and immediate, as if the cars were in the room and the monorail just outside the door. Nothing is silent. This is the first time Chloe had been inside Luna’s place, let alone stayed the night.
“Come on. Get up. We need to shower and get out of here. We have twenty minutes.”
“Chloe. Lets go,” Luna tugged a still groaning Chloe out of bed, “You requested twenty-four hours of my city. Lets go.”
Chloe became extra cranky that the shower is not large enough for the two of them, managed to finish and dress in the clothes Luna had for her, thumbing the fabric, “This is beautiful. Silk?”
“Yup. I wanted it to feel like raw silk yet look like Egyptian cotton. Breezy and flowy like your body.”
“Thank You,” Chloe looked at Luna with unbridled fondness, “where did you get this.”
“Little market stall in Violet Pier,” Luna hustling her out and onto the bright street, leading them through monorail stops and alleys to Ash’s.
Jamere joined them while waiting for their take away order, “Ladies. Coffee?”
“Jamere. Please,” Luna smiled.
“Yes, of course. Cappuccino, no sugar?”
“Yes,” Chloe said as Jamere efficiently made them and brought them over.
“This coffee is closer to a thick shake,” Chloe sipped at Jamere’s coffee, softly moaning at the density.
“So, hows it been?”
“Good,” Chloe shrugged, still waking with the coffee.
“Just good?” smiled Luna smirked, “well then.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“We went to Alpha, VPF, Antique, RIT and Harper’s.”
“Oh, well, lucky I made you coffee triple strength,” Jamere laughed.
Three voices chatted over coffee until three plain paper bags appeared. Luna pulled Chloe up and back out into the sunshine, calling, “Seeya Jamere.”
“Where are we going?” Chloe twisted her gloved fingers within Luna’s, knowing she wouldn’t tell, wondering why they did not bring coffee with them.
“Its just past nine. You’re almost done.” Luna nudged her, seeing the question on her face, “we’re going to visit Archer and Ivie.”
“Yes, but just so you know, Archer has always been a prodigy, understood the mechanics of the world and how it all fits together. Except how people work. She rebuilt a nineteen twenty nine Ford Model A with her father, Saber, while she was so little it dominates her earliest memories with the smell of oil and grease. Entwined through all of this encoding she learnt. She has obsessively created Ivie and reconfigures her incessantly, because she misses the human clues. You are warned.”
“You’ve that devilish smile…” Chloe, disorientated as to where exactly they were, said, “And she needs a warning?”
“No. You do. Don’t freak out. Archer and Ivie are awesome.”
“Hmmm. What are you leading me into?”
“You’ll love it,” Luna answered as she walked down a steep set of stairs to a coded door, which Luna promptly entered and pushed open.
The place was full of deceptively white hallways. Luna swiped a pass card at the next door. The elevator was swift in decent. Luna led Chloe along and into the Hive, took the bag she was carrying and put them, rustling, onto the kitchen bench, wondered over to the coffee machine, buzzing it to life and pulled out Ash’s coffee brand. This left Chloe to look around, bewildered and out of place, wearily around the underground room.
“LUNA,” a voice yelled.
“Archer. Its about time you got up,” Luna walking around the Kitchen, extracting plates and cutlery, food from bags and finishing off coffee.
Chloe’s eyes finally found Luna, plating the food over the stainless steel bench. She walked over to sit at the breakfast bar.
“This is a stupid time,” Archer grumbled.
“I’m sure Chloe would agree with you. It’s edging towards nine thirty. But we are late, and I’m sure you’ll survive,” Luna called back, before saying more softly, “Did you win Ivie?”
Chloe jumped as a disembodied voice emanated from the room.
“Of course. Their methodology was flawed.”
“What was the final score?”
“Hundred percent wins. Baseline one eight two over two one nine.”
“Good Girl Ivie,” Luna finished Chloe’s cup of coffee and put it in front of her as Archer staggered out and over to a chair only to rest her head on the breakfast bar groaning as Luna pushed a cup at her.
“Archer. Seriously,” Luna reached over and smacked her across the head, “this is Chloe.”
“Ow. Coffee. Champion,” Archer lifted her head, “Hi.”
“You brought breakfast. Luna, you’re amazing.” Archer finally realised, pulling a plate towards herself.
Luna pushed a plate at Chloe and took the last one for herself. Chloe abstractly ate, too distracted looking around. Archer’s eyes were startling aquamarine. The apartment an open plan space, the kitchen in one of the corners. The living area next to this, the bedroom opposite to the kitchen, the bathroom in the other corner. The central area a blue corded tunnel roof to floor with four screens set at intervals about a meter off the ground. Four square seats sat in front of them. Silence broken only by the sound of coffee and food. Archer finished and stood to wash her hands. Chloe looked back to find Luna watching, her eyes soft and with the gift of a smile.
“Sorry, Chloe,” Archer returned from the sink and sat back down, “I wanted to meet you and I’m afraid I was up late last night and am not a morning person. Luna just does not shut up about you. Always wrapped in that smile.”
“That’s okay. I’m just surprised. You’re quite…elusive. You’re Abraxas’ niece?” Chloe turned to Archer, and gasped as her eyes were Luna’s shade of green, “Your eyes?”
“Not really. I can escape more than people think. Very few people know what I look like. Those who do would never tell. I dance upstairs. I’m able to run around the store, access security feeds. I’m never bored,” Archer giggled softly, “Sorry, they do that. I was born blind. They’re completely fake, computers really.”
“I’m sorry. I forgot to tell you, but I did warn you,” Luna flushed and Chloe realised there are two many things to focus on.
Archer shrugged, “I was born without eyes but with sockets and my father and Aunt made me these. They were changed as I grew older, and I learnt to reprogram and use them. They’re useful. I can change their colour. If I’m lazy, like now, I’ve them set to reflect my company, people I love. With Abraxas and Jamere, my eyes almost go black. With my mother, they’d go opaque. With Cressida, the world was one of soft focus yet harsh realities. With Abraxas, life is one of distinct, sharp focus, yet attainable pursuits. I developed my eyes along with technology, adding filters and shades, projected life and streamed it, always tinkering with the orbits shaped items.”
“Ah. Okay.” Chloe saw Luna smile as she forged ahead, “Infamous because of the privacy?”
“You got it. Ivie’s programmed not to appear unless explicitly stated,” Archer flashed Luna a smirk, “She tends to scare people. But I heard you asked about her.”
“Yes. I did. Why does she scare people?”
“She is a learning AI. Her interactions allow her to learn at an exponential rate. When she wants to ask questions, there’s always the staff, but she could also interact with customers. There are specific protocols…” Archer shrugged, as her eyes reflected Chloe’s unrepentant sable brown, “…but, she runs Pacer. All interactions are already her. Would you like to meet her?”
Chloe smiled at Archer. Luna is breaking her open to fascinating worlds and none of this was terrifying to her. Humans had the greatest capacity for evil, and there were no protocols or electricity controlling them,“Okay.”
“She is waiting for you to ask.”
“Ivie…” Chloe said, her voice as sure as she was, “…can you please come out?”
A figure flickered to visibility a meter from Chloe. Ivie looked startling like Archer, but had sharper cheekbones and teal eyes.
“Hello,” Ivie tilted her head.
“Hello,” Chloe smiled, delighted, “I hear you like to ask questions.”
“Yes.” Ivie walked over and shimmered in the chair next to Chloe.
For the next two hours Ivie spoke intently with Chloe, until Luna said they would return another day. Luna took Chloe back out into the day, and strolled towards the street.
“That was amazing. All of it. Thank you.”
“Your welcome,” Luna said stopping next to where the town car was waiting, “I thought you may need the car instead of the way I travel.”
“You’re perfect,” Chloe slipped in and sunk into the seat, checking her watch, “Your twenty-four hours is up thirty-two minutes.”
“I’m deliciously imperfect and I’ve only one extra thing,” Luna rested her head down onto Chloe’s shoulder, “on the list. But it may extend past the allotted time…”
“Really?” Chloe’s voice softer as her breathing deepened. Luna ran her hands over the shirt, slipping her hand underneath and gently raked her nails over the skin of her stomach, raising the desired reaction as Chloe gasped, “Okay, Okay. I’m awake.”
The car glided to a stop for both to exit and walk past the doorman to the elevator. Chloe felt Luna’s insistent touch at the base of her spine, slow caressing finger’s tingling against her skin. Daylight flooded from the windows as they fell through the door and Luna pulled at Chloe’s shirt. Chloe responded quickly, rapidly unzipping Luna’s pants, moaning as she saw Luna’s eyes darken to obsidian.
Luna’s kisses twisted from her mouth to run down to her neck, teeth running the gauntlet of Chloe’s body, pushing her against the wall to feel the drenched, slippery tautness. Luna dropped to the floor, beneath the body breathing heavily above her and sat against her knees as she snaked her arms around Chloe’s quivering legs, lifting her face to perfection.