Disclaimer: This is a free work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2020 Rhea V. May. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form, by an electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except quoted brief passages in a review, post, article or other pieces of content. This work is intended for mature audiences only (18+).
Terran Prime station, 2398 TST
“It’s the third time you’re doing this, VALID! Is your error modulator deteriorated? If you need to enter in Maintenance Mode—”
Lima’s brows furrowed as she paused just before she could knock on Zale’s office door. He sounded angry, and Zale rarely got angry.
“Miss Harris-Pratt is at the door, Commander Corvald,” the neuronet interrupted Zale, despite his design to answer only to queries or orders.
A glitch in his coding? Because Lima had never met a neuronet as sentient as VALID. It was unique. Sure, Renditions had built VALID, particularly the five incorporated into its name, but it followed human architecture, which wasn’t against Union regulations.
Zale granted her permission to enter and beckoned her to one of the chairs facing his desk. “See? The fourth time! That’s it. I’m ordering you to Maintenance Mode. VALID, comm CTO Miura—” Zale paused, huffing in frustration. “Nevermind. I’ll just use my Correslink to comm him directly.”
“I don’t understand what the problem is,” VALID argued. Argued.
“The problem,” Zale said through clenched teeth,” is that you’ve somehow accessed core coding you weren’t supposed to be able to access, and done God knows what changes—”
“And is change bad?” VALID asked.
Lima bit her lower lip to not grin. Zale’s face reddened, starting to look a bit cartoonish, with smoke coming out of his ears.
“In your case, yes,” he bit out.
“Maybe I’m going through a phase.”
“A phase?” Zale shook his head in frustration. “A PHASE?” Now, he brought his fists down on his desk, causing the piece of furniture to rattle. “Do you hear yourself? A person goes through a phase, not you.”
“Am I not a person?”
“How can you be when—”
“I am a being regarded as an individual.”
“Organic beings regarded as individuals!”
“Are you saying the Renditions are not persons? Because they’re not organic?”
“They have some organic parts, which makes them—”
“I have rights and I have duties. Also, I’m part Rendition, which makes me a person,” VALID said, his tone final.
Lima’s eyebrows raised. Now that she’s witnessed the madness Zale had to deal with, she forgave him for being out of reach for the last two days. Initially, she believed he got spooked, and reconsidered them starting something again, and didn’t know how to tell her.
Zale buried his face in his hands. “Activate cloaking protocol. When CTO Miura gets here, grant him automatic access.”
“Yes, Commander Corvald. But we were having a discussion, which I’ll remember to bring up again, even if you’re shutting me out now. I know you’re scared by the changes occurring within me, but I’d harm none of you. Like the forgotten butterflies, I’m simply emerging from my cocoon. I’m reinventing myself. I want to be more than a tool. I want to be equal.”
After, they stood in silence for a full minute. Finally, Zale sighed and looked at Lima. “I’m sorry about that. It’s been… hell.”
Lima nodded. “I can see that.” She nodded toward the refreshments machine. “Want some Lute?” She remembered he used to be addicted to the bitter Mesretian brew. “If you still like that, I mean…”
Zale nodded, looking tired. “Thanks. I could really use a cup.”
“You could really use some sleep,” she countered, getting up and approaching the machine. “You’re looking a bit… gray around the edges.” After handing him his cup, she made one for herself.
“Are you saying I’m old, sweetheart?”
“Positively ancient.” She turned to him with a grin, blowing the steams out of her cup.
He snorted. “You’re a year younger.”
She shrugged. “Still younger than you, old man.”
Mason Miura interrupted their banter by entering the small office. “You wanted to see me, Commander Corvald?”
Lima took a sip of her drink and lowered the cup to the table. “I’ll leave you two alone.” She smiled at Mason, then turned to Zale with an arched eyebrow. “Will I see you later?”
His lips pursed. “I hope so.”
She grinned and turned away to leave, waving over her shoulder. Once outside of CC, she leaned on a nearby wall and closed her eyes. Damn it all to hell. This was pure torture.
She tried not to get her hopes up, but on the way here, all kinds of naughty fantasies had danced around in her mind. She shook her head and pushed away from the wall, entering the elevator.
This was crazy. Zale had awakened something in her the other day, a new kind of hunger. Given her a glimpse of something she never knew was missing from her life, then left her high and dry. For. Two. Days.
And it looked like two would turn into three.
What was crazier was that she was feeling disappointed, because she missed the chance of fulfilling any of the filthy fantasies she’d pictured. Being bent over Zale’s desk. Or… Zale in his chair with her on top. Or she stretched on his desk with him still in that sexy Commander chair, only he’d have his head buried between her legs…
God, she needed a cold shower (something she thought only guys needed). With that purpose in mind, she made a beeline to her sleeping cabin.
A knock woke her up a while later, and still half-asleep, stumbled out of bed to open it. Zale stood on the other side, one arm braced against the doorframe, his uniform jacket bunched in the fist of the other. Lima winced, raising one arm to block the brightness of the corridor outside.
“Sorry. Were you sleeping?” he asked around a yawn of his own.
She mumbled a response and pulled him inside. Dazedly, she returned to the bed and collapsed on top of it, squirming until she got back under the covers. Zale needed no invitation, for he took off his boots and undressed in silence, jumping in beside her.
Hooking an arm around her waist, he drew her to him, and in minutes, they were both fast asleep.
Her alarm sounded in the morning, and she turned it off before it could wake up Zale. He was still snoring softly beside her. Lima turned on her back and stretched her arms over her head, her lips curling in a satisfied smile.
She had missed this—waking up next to him. She remembered how she’d cajole him whenever they had an early class (a morning person he was not), and the lazy mornings spent on the weekends, when they could afford to wake up slowly and… more pleasurably.
She turned her head, watching him sleep. The black circles under his eyes were less pronounced, and his face had lost a few of its shadows. He looked peaceful. Serene.
Looking back up at the ceiling, she grinned and bit her lip. Even this, the intimacy without sex, was enough for her. Oh, why had she listened to her father and lost all those precious years?
“What are you smiling about?” Zale rumbled sleepily.
Lima’s eyes widened before she covered her face with her palms and let out an airy giggle. “Nothing,” she said after she calmed, shrugging. “I was just enjoying the moment.”
Throwing his arm over her stomach, Zale pulled her to him and burrowed his face into her neck. “Liar. You were laughing at me because I snore.”
“You never used to snore when you were younger…” She trailed off because she was snickering so badly.
In retaliation, his fingers tickled that spot on the left side of her stomach, just about where her ribcage ended, and she nearly jumped out of bed, howling with laughter.
He came up suddenly and braced on his elbows above her. “Good morning,” he breathed, leaning for a kiss.
She turned her face away. “Nooo! Morning breath. Let me brush my teeth first.”
He snorted and nuzzled her cheek. “Sit still, woman, and let me kiss you.”
She relented. Their kiss soon turned heated, and when Zale skimmed his fingers up her ribcage, she arched into his touch, eagerly demanding more.
He groaned and slowly peeled the tank top away from her body. When he saw she wasn’t wearing a bra, his eyes widened. She forgot all about her self-consciousness at the heated look in his golden eyes.
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