By Ken Green
“Is all this mine?” Natsuko Tomoko McKenzie gazed in wide-eyed wonder at her new habitat unit. It was so big! She stood in the middle of her living room and spread her arms. Stretching as far as she could, straining till it almost hurt, she could barely touch the walls with the very tips of her fingers.
“Actually,” Susan Campos, who insisted that Natsuko call her Suzy, the lady from Social Engineering, said, checking her datapad, “Your job classification qualifies you for a luxury unit. Would you like to look at one of those?”
“Oh, no,” Natsuko said, “I couldn’t possibly.” She had been raised as a proper New Reformed Buddhist, and eschewed displays of wealth. She stood on tiptoe and stretched her arms toward the ceiling. She could just barely touch it with her palms.
“I’m afraid I’ll get lost in here,” she said. She glanced toward the far corner of the room. The toilet/shower unit had a privacy curtain! The wall facing the sleepshelf had a fold-down counter, an ultrawave oven, and a built-in chiller. Such luxury made her blush. She made a mental note to pray extra hard that night, before she tucked into her sleepshelf.
“I’m glad you like it,” Suzy said, smiling her big warm smile and tapping her datapad, “If you’ll just thumb here, you’ll be all set to move in.” She handed the pad over, and Natsuko pressed her thumb to the screen, then handed it back.
“Well, we’re all done here,” Suzy said, still smiling, “I’ll come collect you at Oh Eight Zed Zed tomorrow, and we can tour your work area.”
“Eight a.m., got it,” Natsuko said, tapping her the side of her neck to key it into her subdermal, “See you then.”
“And after your tour,” Suzy said, as she turned toward the door, “I’ve scheduled a little meet and greet with your co-workers.”
“Oh.” Natsuko said, her lips pursing up as if her mouth was trying to disappear, “That really won’t be necessary.”
Suzy stopped in mid-turn, narrowed her eyes, and stopped smiling.
“Of course it’s necessary,” she said, “You’re going to be working with these people. They’re all eager to meet you.”
“Well, that’s very flattering,” Natsuko said, taking a step back from Suzy, “But, given the nature of my job, I won’t actually need to interact much with other people. Back on O’Neil, I hardly ever saw my colleagues. I mostly just sent them text reports.”
Natsuko was an industrial apiarist, specializing in microgravity beekeeping, and although she’d never admit it, she was an absolute wizard at it. She had bred a strain of bees with the insect equivalent of bulimia, and in microgravity and an oxy-rich environment they grew to the size of sparrows. Her bees produced honey by the bushel, and fertilized crops the way the Vikings fertilized Europe. Natsuko loved working with bees. They never asked awkward questions, or pressured her to date, or asked when she’d start pumping out grandchildren.
“Well, I don’t know how they did things over at O’Neil colony, but here, in New Chicago, we take care of our people. If you’re not willing to make friends voluntarily, I’ll just have to assign you some. You’ll also need a dating partner. Do you have a sexual preference?”
“Yeah,” Natsuko said, blushing, “I prefer not to.”
“What?” hearing that, Suzy dropped her datapad, and had to scramble to recover it, since the habitation ring was spinning at .95 G.
“I’m sorry,” Natsuko said, “I just…I mostly keep to myself. I’m just not a social person.”
“Miss McKenzie,” Suzy said, through gritted teeth, “Your social and mental well-being are my responsibility. A healthy sex life is essential to that. Therefore, you are going to date, and you are going to like it. So tell me, what do you like? Boys or girls?”
“I don’t care,” Natsuko said, “Flip a coin if you want to.”
“Flip a…that’s it, you just bought yourself a course of mandatory counseling. Now, I’m going to ask you one more time, and I want a straight answer. Do you want an innie, or an outie?”
“Fine,” Natsuko said, “Put me down as hetero. But tell him not to get his hopes up. You can’t force me to put out, no matter how well the job pays.”
“Uncooperative,” Suzy noted on her datapad, “I’m sure your therapist will find that interesting. I’ll see you at eight tomorrow. Try to have a better attitude.” She opened the slidey door and let herself out.
“Namaste,” Natsuko said, to Suzy’s retreating back, not really meaning it. She unfolded her sleepshelf and sat on it, absently kicking her feet in the air. Why can’t people be more like bees? Bees never scheduled mandatory counseling for Natsuko. They accepted her for what she was. She sighed and reached down to her box of books, pulled out her dog-eared copy of Fahrenheit 451. She held the book to her nose and took a deep breath, smelling the musty pages.
“Talk to me, Lover,” she whispered, and opened the cover.
Morning came, and so did Suzy, appearing at Natsuko’s door at eight o’clock sharp. Natsuko greeted her. Wanting to make a good impression on her first day at work, she was wearing a brand new papercloth jumpsuit.
“Is that what you’re wearing?” Suzy asked, running her eyes over the shapeless, bulky outfit.
“I’m a beekeeper,” Natsuko said, “These are my work clothes. I actually have a bikini on under this.”
“You do?” Suzy looked puzzled, “Why?” She led the way, and Natsuko fell into step with her.
“Bees work best in warm weather,”” Natsuko said, “I keep the apiary around 34 C. So I tend to strip down when I’m working in there. Back at O’Neil, I used to work naked, but the interns complained. So I bought a bikini. I got one with flowers. The bees seem to like it.” She unzipped the jumpsuit to show Suzy her floral swimwear.
“So, you don’t have a problem with nudity, but you don’t like boning?” Suzy asked.
“Please,” Natsuko said, “I don’t wish to be difficult, but I’m not comfortable talking about…” she shuddered, “Boning.”
“Make sure and tell that to your therapist,” Suzy said, as they reached the elevator.
“So you’re the famous bee girl,” Matt, the senior agronomist, said, looking Natsuko up and down in an unnerving fashion. He had a scruffy beard and intense eyes.
“Oh, I don’t know that I’m famous,” she said, “I just try to be good at what I do.” Why am I always ‘the bee girl’? I’m an adult. I have a master’s degree. Why can’t I be the ‘bee woman? Are you the ‘plant boy?’
She looked around the break room, just to avoid those intense eyes. Somebody had gone to a lot of trouble to set this all up Some poor intern had been detailed to decorate, hanging paper streamers, a banner, and even balloons. Natsuko wanted to crawl under the table. Why did people need to make such a big deal out of everything? There were cupcakes, even. What could be more mortifying? Everybody was looking at her.
“Stop being modest,” he said, “I’ve read your papers. You’re amazing. I had to call in a lot of favors to get you.”
“Actually, my girls do most of the work,” she said, “They’re eager to get started. I’ve been looking over the pollination schedule…”
“We can talk shop later,” he said, “Let’s get to know each other first. After all, we’re going to working together pretty intimately.”
“What do mean by that?” she asked, picking up one of the cupcakes, and holding it in front of her face as if trying to use it as a shield.
“Your bees, my plants,” he said, “It’s going to be like we’re having sex by proxy, all day, every day.” He winked at her.
Why does every agronomist feel the need to bring that analogy up?
She smiled as politely as she could.
“Yes, she said, “I guess that’s one way to look at it.”
“I’m just going to say this up front,” Allen said, “I have a breast feeding fetish.”
It’s very hard to gasp when one has a mouth full of food, so Natsuko merely stared at her assigned date. The evening had started out so nicely, too. She had decided to make an effort, and used some of her recruitment bonus to buy a new synthosilk blouse that complemented her best black kilt and her Mondrian go-go boots. Allen had escorted her to Piranha, the hottest café on the promenade, and the salmon sushi was simply fab. Then he had to ruin everything by talking.
“I don’t know that I can help you with that,” she said, after she swallowed.
“Why the hell not?” he asked, “You’re obviously a mammal,”
“Yes,” she said, looking down at the evidence, “But not an especially good one, equipment-wise. Besides, wouldn’t I have to be pregnant, in order to lactate?”
“You could get injections,” he said, “Hormone shots. I know a doctor who will write you a prescription.”
She thought about it, watching the people walk by on the promenade. New Chicago’s park area was quite extensive, and really captured the feel of an outdoor area. If it was any more realistic, it would have been terrifying.
“That’s more of a commitment than I’m willing to make,” she said, “On a first date, at least.”
She poked at her sushi with the chopsticks. She didn’t feel like eating anymore.
“Well, that’s a disappointment,” Allen said, “As a scientist, I expected you to be more open minded.”
She put another slice of sushi into her mouth to avoid having to answer, and considered what he had said. As a New Reformed Buddhist, she had been taught the virtue of generosity. Was he really asking for so much? He had already bought her a nice dinner, shouldn’t she at least try to reciprocate?
“I’ll think about it,” she said.
“If you don’t want to do it, just say so,” he said, his voice getting angry.
“I said I’ll think about,” she said, and took a sip of tea, “I’m thinking about it now. I might have an idea.”
They finished their dinner in tense silence. He paid the bill, and stood to walk her home. On the way, she suggested that they stop at a store.
“What, we’re shopping now?” he snapped.
“Trust me,” she said, “I have an idea.”
She headed to the back of the store and grabbed a quart of yeast-grown soy milk, (Real cow milk costs a fortune in orbit,) a baby bottle, and a roll of duct tape.
Yeah. It’s the twenty-third century, and people still use duct tape. Deal with it.
“What are you doing?” Allen asked her, as she was paying up.
“Being open minded,” she said, forcing a smile.
When they got to her hab unit, she unfolded her sleepshelf and told him to get comfortable. Then she set the ultrawave oven to 37 C to warm the milk, and unbuttoned her blouse. When the milk was done, she poured it into the bottle spilling some on her hands. She shrugged and wiped the excess on her belly. Then she tore off two strips of tape, took off her bra, and secured the bottle between her boobs, pointing down.
Huh. I’ve never wondered what I would look like with three boobs, and now I know.
She made a brave face, turned around, and asked, “How do I look?”
He was naked. Sprawled across her sleepshelf like he was posing for a calendar, there he was, naked all over.
“You dropped something,” she said, pointing at the pile of clothes on the floor.
“You said to get comfortable,” he said.
“Well, shove over, let me sit down,” she said.
He moved, she sat, and he arranged himself so that he was resting on her lap, his face between her breasts.
“Bon appétit,” she said.
He licked his lips, wrapped them around the rubber nipple, and started sucking like a starving toddler, or a French rock band. He closed his eyes and settled in, rhythmically slurping and moaning.
Natsuko glanced around, thought about hanging pictures, checked out her manicure, mentally composed a grocery list, then reached under her pillow and fished out a novel.
“Hey,” she said, “Do you mind if I read?”
He pulled away and swallowed, soy milk rolling off his lips and onto Natsuko’s kilt.
“Why aren’t you stroking my hair, and telling me what a good boy I am?” he asked.
“Sorry,” Natsuko said, “I didn’t know I was supposed to.” She shifted her grip, held the book one-handed, and put the other hand on Allen’s head.
“What are you doing?” he asked, glaring at the book.
“Well,” she said, “We’re not talking, and I have a free hand, so…”
“No, you do not,” he said, glancing down at his nether region, “Little Allen needs some attention.”
Following his gaze, she looked at his lower region. He had a raging hard-on.
“Yeah,” she said, “I don’t think this relationship is working out. Get off me.”
“But…I’m not finished yet,” he said.
“Actually, I think you are,” she said, giving him a push, “I mean it, get off me, and get your clothes. I’m sorry, but…just go. Please.”
He stood, got his pants on, shrugged into his shirt, and stormed out of the hab unit.
That is going to cost me.
She stood took two steps, and closed the slidey door. The only sound was the drip-drip-drip of the rubber nipple, as it leaked onto her foot.
Oh, the joys of motherhood.
She went back to the sleepshelf, folded her blouse, took off her kilt, folded it, and placed both in the wall niche. She set the baby bottle next to them. Then she bunched up her pillow and lay down. She opened her copy of “The Halloween Tree” and began to read.
“Oh, Ray, why can’t more men be like you?” she cooed, “You always know what I need.”
Presently, she realized she was thirsty. Out of habit, she reached for the chiller, but it was too far away. She glanced up to the niche, at the baby bottle.
“Eh, why not?” she said, and reached for it. Holding the book in one hand, she put the nipple to her mouth and began to work it with her lips. Surprisingly, she enjoyed the experience. It wasn’t even remotely sexual, but she found it oddly comforting. In this fashion, she read herself to sleep.
“So, how’s the dating working out for you?” Tracy, her appointed therapist, asked. The walls of Tracy’s office were lined with books, but they were fake books, holographic projections, and the pleather couch smelled funny. But Natsuko was obligated to be there for the next fifty-three minutes, so she resolved to make the best of it.
“I think Suzy’s deliberately setting me up with freaks,” she said.
“That’s a pretty strong accusation,” Tracy said, “Why would she do such a thing?”
“Well, obviously she’s punishing me,” Natsuko said, “I told her I don’t like sex, and that doesn’t fit her world view, so…”
“Wait. Back up,” Tracy said, “What do you mean, you don’t like sex? Everybody likes sex. Not liking sex is just weird. Stop being weird.”
“That’s your advice? ‘Stop being weird?’ What kind of advice is that?”