Rory and Colin waited for Sheila at a spacer bar called Reentry. It was not what you would call an upscale establishment but it met the criteria for noisy and crowded. It wasn’t all that late in the evening so it wasn’t too crowded but it was unlikely anyone was going to be overhearing them without being painfully obvious. Besides, Rory was a spacer. She didn’t know any upscale clubs. She doubted this was the type of place Dr Livingston frequented so there was almost a challenging aspect to it. A ‘this is me, warts and all’ attitude, take me as I am. How that reconciled with the fact that she put one of her better civilian outfits on and did up her makeup, she chose to ignore.
They got to the club first and grabbed a booth, ordering drinks. The drinks here had fanciful names like Moog’s Downfall, and a festive air with little paper umbrellas. More importantly for the regular patrons, they were cheap and had lots of alcohol. Rory ordered a Downfall and Colin got a Warp Failure.
“That’s a little too close to home,” she quipped after the server bot left.
“Live dangerously,” Colin toasted and they clinked glasses.
“Ah, just as awful as I remember,” he said after taking a sip.
A dancer clad only in body glitter spun in desultory circles on the stage as they sipped their drinks.
Livingston showed up with Forest in tow. Rory was glad she had taken the time on her appearance as the tall woman wore a very understated, very expensive skirt and camisole set with plain black sandals that likely cost the equivalent of one of the pickup’s all terrain wheels. She had her distinctive bracelets on as her only jewelry. Something about the cast of the light in the club made Forest’s skin look paler than usual. That and the slight stiffness of his carriage picked him out as an NCI to those who knew what to look for. The two joined Rory and Colin, squeezing into the booth. It was snug, they had only anticipated needing room for Sheila. Sheila sat down next to Rory.
“I hope this is all right,” Rory said as they settled in.
“This is perfect,” Sheila said in her refined accent. Anyone trying to use a directional microphone to hear us is going to have too much interference and I’ve brought Forest along to ensure that no one has planted a bug on us.”
She looked at Forest. “They’re clear,” he confirmed.
The server came back and Sheila said, “Give me what she’s having.”
Forest simply shook his head in negation and the bot beeped in irritation at him. He beeped back at it and it scurried away in shock.
“What did you say to it?” Colin asked.
“There’s no direct translation,” Forest said, “but I questioned it’s fitness for it’s role and offered to deactivate it permanently. It was too dim to realize that I’m an MCI.”
“Can you do that? Deactivate it, I mean?” Rory asked.
“Yes,” Forest said, simply.
“Forest is too modest,” Sheila said. “He’s one of the four oldest and most powerful AIs in the Federacion. He could likely shut down this station if he wanted to.”
Forest made a dismissive gesture but didn’t deny it.
“And he’s here. With us,” Rory observed. “So this is that big.”
“This is that big,” Sheila confirmed.
“I also happen to care about Doctor Livingston and would be unhappy should something negative befall her. It’s hard enough being friends with you short-lived creatures, but having a friend die prematurely is unconscionable.”
“See?” Sheila quipped. “Isn’t he sweet?”
“A real smooth-talker,” Rory agreed with a slight smirk.
Sheila’s drink arrived and the server bot immediately scurried away.
“I may have made us a little too high-profile,” Forest said, chagrined. “The bot comped your drinks. I believe I scared it. Unfortunately that means there’s a record we’re here if anyone is looking.”
Sheila took a sip of her Downfall and cursed, “Bloody hell what’s in this thing and who in Hade’s name is Moog?”
“Your first question is a closely held trade secret,” Colin replied, “as for the second, Moog is the hero of one of those drinking songs that sort of grow up in any military community that seem to have an infinite number of verses.”
Sheila took another sip and put the drink down, “My old mum would call this drink a panty-dropper. Business first. Captain…no, Rory, I suspect you want to tell me about a dream you had whilst unconscious?”
Rory hid her surprise by taking another sip. “Yes,” she said, swallowing. “But how did you know?”
“Forest told me about your vitals during your period of altered consciousness and I suspected as much. Did you meet another version of yourself?”
Rory and Colin looked stunned. “I, I did.” She answered.
Sheila and forest exchanged a glance. “Tell me, what was the world like that she came from?”
“It’s unbelievable really,” Rory demurred.
“Well,” she said, hesitating. Deciding to go all in she went on, “It was like a fairy story with elves and dragons and, well, aliens.”
“Hah!” Sheila said, triumphally to Forest. “That’s one hundred sesterces you owe me!”
Forest grumbled, “That was a low probability outcome based on the available evidence.”
“Intuition my dear AI, intuition.”
“An entirely unsatisfactory explanation.”
“Right,” she said briskly, turning back to Rory, “So, tell me about this other Rory. Did you speak to her?”
“I, No, not per se. We touched hands and, sort of…merged.”
“Hah!” Sheila exclaimed. “Excellent! You see? It wasn’t a fluke! It’s repeatable!”
“OK you’re losing me,” Colin said.
Rory held up a hand, shushing him.
“You’ve met Leela,” Rory said to her.
“Quite so,” Sheila nodded, primly. “Who, by the way, is actually named Sheila but some of the other denizens of that world struggled with the sh sound so Sheila became Leela.”
Rory blushed a deep crimson and hurriedly took another sip of her drink. Sheila smiled contentedly.
“How…?” Rory began.
“Lab accident,” Sheila replied grinning. “I was working on a mechanical means for piercing the boundaries of the universes, similar to your warp-field generator, when I got zapped.”
“Zapped?” Rory said, smiling.
“Technical term,” Sheila winked. “I believe that because I was already working on ‘piercing the veil’ so to speak, that allowed the connection. We had much the same sharing experience.”
“When was this?” Rory asked.
“Two standard years ago, however I’ve been focused on developing a way to communicate across the boundary without, er, electrocuting myself as it were and have had more limited success, but success none-the-less. But before we go into that, have you told this story to anyone else?”
“Only Colin,” Rory said.
“Excellent! Don’t. Right now you’re both under the Official Secretes Act. Forest is sufficient record to make it stick.”
“Little chance of my doing that,” Rory said. “They’d ground me if I started talking about elves.”
“Quite right, and we’d ensure they did. Looney bin and all that. No my dear Colin and Rory, you’re now privy to the most tightly held secret in the Federacion and thank the bloody gods you are because I need HELP!”
“So I’m not crazy?” Rory said with relief.
“Not at all love,” Sheila assured, touching her knee, “You’re a bloody marvel.”
The touch shot through Rory. Colin sipped his drink to hide a smirk.
“How are we going to help?” Rory asked.
“Because you’ve already made that connection, I believe it will be easier to reconnect. If my theories are correct you should be able to duplicate what I’ve done, which is being able to make a, let’s call it ‘less intense’ connection while in a meditative state. I’ve found that Leela and I can hold what amounts to a conversation versus the total consciousness sharing, which I’m glad of as that’s a bit much.” She went on, “Further, I need to be able to travel without attracting attention. Obviously parties are monitoring my comings and goings, and I’d rather not end up spider food.”
“The Federacion has reactivated your commissions,” Forest reminded them. “You’re officially assigned to Doctor Livingston. You’ll be paid standard mercenary rates with hazard pay.”
“You’re likely in danger now anyway,” Sheila added. “Now that you’ve made a connection I suspect you’ve drawn their attention and they had your counterpart as a prisoner for a number of days. They’re likely aware of what you’re capable of.”
“I call her B,” Rory said.
“B,” Sheila agreed. “If you’re going to be at hazard, you may as well get paid for the privilege.”
“We’ll also add some upgrades to your ship,” Forest said. “At the gubernmiento’s cost.”
“Well, at least you’re buying us dinner first,” Rory said.
Colin snorted. Forest looked blank and Sheila quirked an elegantly shaped brow.
“Old navy saying,” Rory explained. “If you’re gonna get fucked, at least make them buy dinner first.”
“Would you like me to buy you dinner?” Sheila asked Rory over the rim of her glass.
“Hey Forest, how about we take a walk down to the ship and you can walk me through the modifications you’re planning on making,” Colin said, standing up and gesturing to the door.
“Uh, yes. Alright. Certainly,” Forest said, standing as well.
“We’ll probably be a couple of hours,” Colin said casually as they strolled out.
“He’s rather sweet,” Sheila observed. “I think I like this Colin a little more than the other. There’s a maturity about him.”
“He’s the best. As they say in the fleet, ‘we’ve seen some shit’,” Rory agreed. “That either matures you or kills you.”
“Does he know about…?”
“Enough,” Rory said. “It’s all good. Spacers have different rules.”
“Yes,” Rory said simply.
“So what’s the old line? Your place or mine? I’d like to make some memories of my own rather than wanking to Leela's.”
“Your place is probably nicer, but mine is closer,” Rory said feeling the tension in her stomach.
They chose Rory’s. The walk was short. Once in the door the fell into one another, stumbling to the bed, kissing hungrily. Clothing was pushed aside and softness touched softness. Rory had some experience with women but not a lot. Sheila led, Rory willingly followed. The shared memories each possessed made the experience a bizarre combination of a first time and encore, both having access to what the other liked done to them. Surprisingly it wasn’t exact. Sheila learned that Rory liked things much rougher than B, Rory that Sheila was anally erotic whereas Leela was not at all.
Almost three hours later when Colin returned home, Rory lay in bed, naked and alone, reading a book.
“Well?” he asked.
“She’s a redhead, they’re real, and they’re spectacular.”