Liene Ozolin swept her gaze across the city below, the wind tugging at her clothes, buffeting her as if to cast her off her perch.
It wouldn't be a bad thing if I were to fall and die, she thought, a stain on the sidewalk, a smudge of grease on pavement. She often came here after a liaison, hoping the wind might take away the stain of what she did, the smudge of shame on her soul.
It wasn't as if she were treated disrespectfully. In fact, they accorded her the deference given to the messenger of God. And the pay was bountiful enough that she could afford the luxurious penthouse aglow below her. A glimpse inside was all someone needed to see the ostentation, to luxuriate in envy at the privilege she enjoyed.
And yet …
Cold fingers of wind reached into the hot, shame-filled chambers in her heart, annealing and anointing, taking some of the sting from what she'd done. Up here, Liene could sometimes forget what she did and block from her mind the fact that when they called again, she'd do their bidding just as she'd always done, and deliver to her employer one of the two most precious commodities to be found in the galaxy.
An Ofem engineered with specialized vesicles in both mouth and vagina, Liene was a collector. A suave manner and impeccable breeding complemented a seductive beauty and a perfect body. She was equipped to do one thing and one thing well: Gather semen.
"Liene?" called a voice from below.
The Ofem sighed, wanting to be left alone.
"You've been up there an awful long time."
She's right, Liene thought, her despair more pervasive this time. Reprieve elusive, she climbed down from the roof and dropped nimbly to the balcony.
Iveta wrapped her with a waiting sweater, as usual, and escorted her inside.
The aroma of freshly brewed tea wafted to Liene as she stepped in the door. Curtains made from Forlis tafeta fell back in place as the door slid closed behind them. Real Ilurak rugs covered the Tinglit-parquet floor. Works from last century's masters of abstraction graced the walls. The furniture was a coordinated Zulamin segmented design, the couch pieced together in a u-shape around the immersie.
Lying down, Liene gave herself over to the ministrations of her wife, hot tea and warm caresses chasing away chill night.
"Tonight was a bad one, wasn't it?" Iveta asked.
She almost never asks, Liene thought. Sometimes the encounter was like this, when the memories were seared into her brain, her customer making a lasting impression on her, either for his utter indifference to her person or his gentle, reluctant demeanor. The Bremales nearly always found her alluring, and they often requested her again. Some she'd been with for years.
Today's liaison had been someone she'd never met, an older Bremale, his Ifem wife hovering nearby, his face and manner reeking with guilt and shame. For this liaison, she'd left her clothes on, exposing just enough of her body to give him access. Once he'd delivered, she'd straightened her clothes and had departed without another word, the Bremale in tears, his wife white with fury.
Liene rarely felt so sullied. An act once regarded as a sacred joy was now reduced to the mechanics of delivery, its sanctity replaced with mortification. She didn't blame the wife for remaining close by, as if to insure not a moment of intimacy occurred between them. Nor did she blame the Bremale for the brevity of his intercourse, the older man delivering within moments.
It was one of the few occasions when the perfection of her beauty had worked against her. Her admirable, nearly perfect appearance had magnified the Bremale's degradation and the Ifem's jealousy. Their despair and torture, these two, a Bremale husband and an Ifem wife enamored of each other, perturbed Liene.
"I suspect I won't go back," Liene said, realizing she'd been silent for a long time. "They'll probably ask that I not come back."
"Did something happen?"
Liene shook her head, indicating she didn't want to talk about it. All she wanted to do was forget.
"What can I do?"
"Lie down beside me, let me hold you."
Iveta took her tea and set it aside, and then did as Liene bade her.
Holding her wife, Liene drew comfort from the feel of Iveta against her, but only briefly.
Her mind soon returned to the awful scene from earlier in the day, the Ifem treating her with barely-contained disdain, her gaze raking Liene's body, so provocative in the skin-tight formalls, every perfect curve emphasized.
Iveta, she realized, was shaking. "What is it, love? What's going on?"
"I hate it!" her wife hissed through gritted teeth. When she brought her face up from Liene's shoulder, it was streaked with tears. "I hate the way they take you away from me. It's not right! You'll be preoccupied for weeks! Cold, aloof, distant. You might as well not even be here!" Iveta rose and stepped toward the balcony, her shoulders hunched and shaking.
Her soft sobbing sounds sank into Liene's chambers of shame. The room blurred, and heat rushed through her face like flame through bone-dry tinder. I had no idea! Liene thought, aghast, her wife's reaction a complete surprise. But when she looked back across the years, Liene realized that the signs had been there all along. The worried, furtive glances, the slight strain in the voice, the line of tension in the shoulders. She simply hadn't seen the signs, so wrapped up in her own misery that she hadn't noticed her wife's despair.
Liene went to her, the light through the curtains glinting off Iveta's tears. "I'm so sorry."
"Get away from me, bitch! I hate you when you're like this!"
Stung, Liene backed up to the glasma, which slid aside, the taffeta curtains bunching up. The wind swirled vigorously around her through the open door. Liene looked past her wife at their luxurious penthouse, not seeing the ostentation, seeing only the despair it was derived from. "What would you have me do?"
"Go brood on your roof, you jerking whore! Just get the hell out of my sight!" And Iveta ran from the room into the corridor. A door slammed, but even around the corner and through the door, her strangled sobs clutched at Liene's heart.
She's right, the Ofem thought, turning to look out over the cold city.
The wind drew Liene outside, its chill fingers finding their way under her clothes.
She glanced at the ladder to the roof, where she was wont to go after each liaison, where it seemed her time alone, shielded from humanity and its degrading demands, was her only relief from the terrible toll taken by the function for which she'd been grown.
A Bremale sperm receptacle, that's all I am.
She found herself climbing the fire escape, her body taking her up the ladder without her volition.
Iveta was right. It was why she came up here, to spare her wife the profound depths of her shame and humiliation, to keep the horrors of what she did out of her relationship.
If only that were possible, Liene thought, the wind tugging at her clothes.
It wouldn't be a bad thing if I were to fall and die.
A stain on the sidewalk, a smudge of grease on pavement.
Detective Maris Peterson stepped from a magnacar and took in the scene. The vehicle slammed its door shut and whined away to retrieve its next customer.
A hastily-erected enclosure obscured the impact point on the sidewalk. Immediately, he tilted his head back to gauge the distance from the top, some primal instinct driving the glance.
Eight, nine stories, easy. Maris ducked under police tape and stepped into the enclosure. He glanced over the Coroner's shoulder at the pile of flesh on the sidewalk. "What do you think, Urzula? Pushed, fell, or jumped?"
"Not my bailiwick, Detective," the Coroner said, looking up from her work, a bug-eyed holocam on her shoulder recording her every move. "Cause of death is why I'm here." Urzula Ezergailis didn't mince words—she ground them through her teeth.
"Oh, come on, Urzula, speculate a little. Let your imagination wander free of that bear-trap mind of yours." Maris goaded her, the two of them having worked their respective sides in scores of cases.
"Blunt force trauma, delivered at the speed of a sidewalk from nine stories up. You do the physics, Peterson."
Maris had been on his way home when he'd received the neuracom, the death suspicious enough to entertain its having been a murder. It was the suspicion that brought him in, nothing else. "Identity," he murmured on his trake.
The victim's demographics cascaded across his corn: Thirty-four year old Ofem, specialized design for the pleasure trades, but with a twist. She was a walking sperm bank, vesicles in mouth and vagina designed to hold semen in stasis until she could deliver herself to the laboratory, where it would be extracted and stored in zero-kelvin cryo. Within the demographics was her socio-economic status: Wealthy, married, living in a penthouse.
His gaze went again to the roof-line, nine stories up. Palatial, he knew, without even looking in the door. Suspicious, he knew, without even interviewing the spouse. "Angle, Urzula?"
Indicating a jump, but not conclusive. "I'll be up there if you need me, Coroner."
"I won't, Detective."
"Warm and personable as a glacier, Urzula, that's what I love about you."
"Jerk off, Maris."
He did, entering the building. Marble wainscoting with chrome trim graced the halls. The stairwell railing was wrought from Mirnavian beetle-wood, the steps from Worlian travertine. He took the first flight just to get a feel of the building. New money mixed with old in this high-rise, the flats owned rather than leased, the tenants prohibited from having renters by covenant, he was sure. "Tenants," he murmured on his trake, and their demographics filed past on his corn.
"Ninth floor or roof, Sir?" the officer in the elevator asked, the investigative team having already commandeered it.
"Ninth," he said, seeing buttons for nine floors and the basement. Below the buttons was a sensor; the roof, Maris guessed. The elevator was as plush as the ride to the ninth floor was silent. He was there almost before he got on. Degravitized, he decided, eight stories without the sensation of motion.
There was only one door in the penthouse foyer, and it was open, a uniform beside it. At the officer's feet were four pairs of shoes. Wailing came from within, striking him like a caterwaul as he stepped off the lift. He checked the victim's demos again. Oh, a female spouse, something he'd missed the first time he'd glanced.
"How long she been like that?" he asked the uniform at the door.
"Since I got here at eighteen-hundred," the patrol officer said.
He gave her a brief grimace. "Bereavement en route?"
"Yes, sir, they are."
"Have them interrupt me." He was as personable as the Coroner. Maris glanced again at the four pairs of shoes in the foyer.
The quality of sound was as much an indication of ostentation as the way the penthouse was furnished. No echoes, nearly nothing through the walls, and he was certain the floor and ceiling were impervious. All of it meant to seclude and isolate. Even the décor insulated the occupants from the terrible world that swirled around them.
He found the spouse in the living room. On the balcony beyond a sliding glasma door was a forensics team, taffeta curtains diaphanous enough to obscure what they were doing, but sheer enough to let in abundant light.
She was sitting on a sectional, her elbows on her knees, her face buried in her hands, a wail finding its way between them. Her feet were bare.
She jerked upright as if struck, the wail ceasing.
"Detective Maris Peterson." He tucked his badge back in his pocket. "Sorry for your loss." He saw they'd been married ten years, tying the knot shortly after the victim's emancipation, something the Ofem had earned in meteoric time.
"You don't know the half of it!"
In other circumstances, he'd have ducked.
The sobbing resumed anew, the face planted in the hands.
She deserves the benefit of any doubt, Ohume or not, he told himself. Iveta unemployed, the penthouse and its ostentation had been supplied solely by the victim. She'd even bought out Iveta's indenture. Maris looked around, knowing Iveta lacked the resources to maintain the lifestyle. A double loss.
"What happened?" he asked below the lugubrious grief.
She sniffled her wails into submission, wiped her face, shook her head, was seized with a sob, and sighed. "She came back from a liaison, disturbed. She hated her work. I hated her work." Iveta finally raised her gaze to him. "Then we argued, and I ran into the bathroom. When I came out, I saw she'd gone back to the roof."
"She went there often, almost always did after a liaison. I called her to come down, but …" And Iveta disintegrated into her delirious dolorum.
"Sir?" A tech stepped in from the balcony. "They've got something on the roof." He pointed over the Detective's shoulder, indicating the elevator.
"One more question, Iveta. You're not wearing shoes. Is it a custom in your household to take off your shoes before entering the home?"
The woman nodded, head buried in hands, the lament unabated.
"Please call me if there's anything I can do."
The wail rose an octave.
He left a comcard on the couch beside her and escaped to the foyer.
Bereavement was coming off as he was getting on. "Hey, Maris," said Aska Gulbis, Bereavement Counselor and Police Chaplain, "compound grief, looks like, eh?"
"They argued beforehand, Aska. And did you see that the victim bought out the survivor's indenture just before they married? An extra dollop of guilt frosting her double-layer grief-cake."
The Chaplain winced. "Thanks, Maris. Wish me luck."
He watched her enter the penthouse. Gulbis hadn't asked about culpability—never did and never would. She never let such questions cloud her work. Stepping onto the elevator, Maris admired her ability to extend compassion. "Roof, please," he told the officer.
There, two forensi-techs in hazmat knelt at a spot near the roof edge. "Proto, Sir," one said to him over her shoulder.
Both techs stepped away as he approached and knelt. He looked at the small puddle of brown-red goop in the gravelly pitch beside his knee. Maris had heard the term before. "Proto? What's that a mix of?"
"Eighty-two percent oxygen, thirteen percent hydrogen, four percent nitrogen, two percent calcium, and a variety of other minerals in trace amounts."
Maris brought his gaze up to the female tech, who looked fetching even in hazmat."No carbon." It wasn't a question. Nanochines disassembled organic compounds into their molecular components, incorporating liberated carbon into new nanochines.
"No, Sir. Pure proto."
He stood, not daring to lean out far enough to see the grease spot on sidewalk below. A moment of imbalance would take anyone over the edge. "Urzula," he said on his trake.
"Yeah, Maris?" she replied, her voice on his coke, her image on his corn.
"Do a content analysis down there, Coroner, particularly on the feet. I think we've got a murder."
"Pushed, eh?" Urzula asked.
"By nanochine, not spouse."