Chapter One

“I can’t believe you,” hissed Mai.  “You said you knew how to dress up!”

Alecto glanced in the mirror, taking in the silk and wool that accentuated her neat figure.

“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”

“A long sleeved shirt? A vest? Slacks?” Mai ran a finger along the subdued embroidery that decorated the vest just below Alecto’s breasts.  “You’re even wearing gloves!  To a wedding!”

“It doesn’t do to outshine either of the grooms,” Alecto retorted, “and I know that I look good in burgundy and white.”

“How do you expect to find your soulmate when you cover up every inch of skin?  It’s a wedding.  Everyone is supposed to be celebrating the Love.”

“I’m not looking for a soulmate, Mai.” Alecto rolled her eyes.  It was true that what she was wearing would be considered a bit unusual – nothing at all like Mai’s bare shoulders and frothy, short skirt – but Alecto wasn’t interested in the casual skin-to-skin contact that most of the world reveled in, searching for their Bonded. “And I really don’t think weddings are the place to go hunting for one.”

“Alecto,” Mai chided, “Weddings are the perfect place.  It’s said that it’s good luck to have someone find their Bonded at a wedding.”

“How could it possibly be good luck?  After all, the intended are taking the plunge, despite the fact one of them might meet their soulmate.  One would think that it’d be a terrible reminder of the risk they’re taking.”

Mai stared at her.  “You know, that’s the reason you need a soulmate – you need someone to add some romance to your soul.”

“I’m not romantic enough, is it?” Alecto swept her long, dark hair into a neat chignon. “That seems fair enough to me.  I’ve my work, which lets me Love everyone pretty much equally.  A soulmate would just get in the way of that.”

Mai stamped her foot.  “You’re ridiculous. You deserve more than lonely hours coaxing nanomachines to do your bidding.”

“How could I ever be lonely when you’re just down the hall doing the same thing?”

“I—that’s not the same.  I get out.  You just do the same thing, day in, day out.  How can you be so impossible?”

“It’s easy.” Alecto gave Mai a bright grin, unable to explain that she loved her life as it was.  “Just let it go, Mai.”

“I don’t want to let it go.  We’re going to a wedding and weddings make people happy and horny and Bond-hungry.  You should take advantage of it. Drinking and dancing and touchy-feely fun!  Lots and lots of touchy-feely fun!”

Alecto laughed.  “Oh, touchy-feely fun, is it?  I thought we were going to celebrate your friend’s choice to marry his lover.  Is that just a cover for when everyone is drunk and someone breaks out a game of twister?”

“Ooooh, I need to suggest that to someone. Drunk, half-naked Twister.”

“We could put out signs inviting everyone to drop in.”

“And use clothing forfeits.  It’d be an instant orgy.”

“At a wedding reception in the poshest hotel in the entire world.”

The Pax Gloriana was one of the oldest and most elegant hotels in all of Earth’s holdings.  In the days before the Accord, when the Global Conflict was brought to its end, the Pax Gloriana had hosted the surviving world leaders and their entourages.  The Accord itself had been signed in one of the receiving rooms. It was a landmark, a historical treasure, a place of somber, sober dignity… They stared at one another and burst into giggles.

“All the more reason,” Mai gasped out, holding her sides.  “With some official guy standing in the doorway being all severe about it.”

“I worry about you.” Alecto headed into her tiny kitchen, only to receive a head-butt to the leg from Uncertainty Principle, her grey tabby.  “Hello, great shedding one. Am I insufficiently coated for the day?”

Uncertainty mrfed at her and pounced her toes, gnawing lightly.

“Food it is, then.  Get off.” Alecto poked him with her foot and set out his food.  He mrfed again and set to his meal while she skritched his back gently.

“You worry about me?” Mai asked from the living area that was dominated by a vid screen almost the size of the wall, a dozen gaming systems, and the most comfortable couch known to mankind.  “You still live in your student apartment.  With a cat you named after the bane of your job.  You could have a house in the Ascendancy with servants with what you make. And you worry about my exhibitionism?”

“I like my apartment and my neighbors,” Alecto protested, digging out the new shoes she’d purchased for the wedding. “It isn’t as if I need more than this to be content.”

“You’re a weirdo.”

“Ah, ah, ah!” Alecto shook her finger.  “Thou shalt show Tolerance and Respect for the lifestyles of others.”

Mai squinched her nose up and an oddly adorable pout.  “Don’t you point the Tenets at me, Alecto.  Thou shalt Love, above all other things.”

“True.  How that translates to you pestering me about soulmates and my perfectly adequate living conditions I don’t understand.  It’s not like the Tenets say anything about either one.”

Mai opened her mouth and then closed it again, eyes thoughtful. “Hmm. Love, Logic, Tolerance, Acceptance, Respect, Sacrifice –“

“Altruism!” Alecto huffed.

“—Reciprocity, Secularism, and Education.” Mai gave her a wicked smile. “But Love is chief among them –“

“Arguably, Secularism is –“

“—Love is chief among them, and a Soulmate is the ultimate expression of that, Tolerance, and Acceptance.”

“If you think that, why are we going to a wedding then? Do you suppose the grooms are somehow lacking in Love?” Alecto lifted her eyebrows in a polite expression of utter disbelief.

“Of course not!” Mai looked horrified. “I didn’t say that at all!”

“Didn’t you?” Alecto’s lips twitched in a sharp little smile. “Logic!”

“You’re impossible,” Mai rolled her eyes. “You know that’s not what anyone means when they talk about soulmates.”

Alecto nodded agreeably. “Just playing Logic’s Advocate.”

“You always make it sound as if seeking your soulmate is illogical or irrational,” Mai complained as Alecto picked up her purse.

“It is,” said Alecto as they exited her apartment. “I could shake the hands of a million people and not find my soulmate, provided one exists for me, but it’s just as likely to be someone I brush by in the street. Why expend extra effort?”

“Alecto, you always wear long sleeves. You wouldn’t recognize your soulmate unless they shoved you against a wall and snogged you senseless.”

“Um. Ewww?” They approached Mai’s Personal Transport, a sporty little two-seater that seemed to flow through the air while sitting still, its sinuous curves seeming to slip through the air with sensuous ease. Alecto’s sturdy little flycycle looked a bit forlorn next to it, as though it was feeling a bit self-conscious about its utter lack of style. Alecto gave it a little pat, trying to remember that the damn thing didn’t actually have feelings, but it looked so sad sitting there.

Mai sighed. “I’m not sure I’ll ever understand you. You’re the Director of Nanotech Research and you’re living here, flying a cycle that was ten years old when you bought in school. When was it you graduated with your last degree? Six years ago?”

“There’s nothing wrong with here, Mai. And I can repair my flycycle myself. It seems more beneficial to me to give money to the Education fund.”

Mai unlocked her PT. “Alecto? Has anyone told you that you might take Altruism a bit too seriously?”

“You have.” Alecto slid into the passenger seat. “Many, many times.”

 


 

It was early on a Sunday morning, so the traffic was light as they headed from the University District toward what has come to be known as The Ascension. The sturdy, practical architecture of the Learned Quarter gives way to the whimsy of Commerce – the Market Districts employ lights and holograms to catch the eye and hawk their wares. Alecto idly noted half a dozen soulmate-finding services, thirteen holo-boards recommending eight more, and four crèches operated by Endimion Biotech and Infans Bio.

Commerce gave way to Residential, and the architecture flowed from whimsical to the elegantly practical. Towers of apartments soar in an aching beauty near the interface with Commerce. It’s lazy of a Sunday, but at night it dances with lights and music from the restaurants and clubs that thrive in the intersection of the Districts. Farther out, the buildings scale down to quieter neighborhoods, individual dwellings becoming common. Every home and housing unit is unique, but all are touched with the same artistic dream.

Such beauty and utility to come out of the Global Conflict, after which the world began anew.

Further on, she could see the fantastical arches that lead into The Ascension. Having been born and raised on Moonbase Alpha, the Ascension has long since been one of Alecto’s favorite places to visit on days off. The ancient architecture from the Days Before mixing with the fantastical architectural glories permitted by modern technology pulls at her in a way that the boxy sameness of Base life cannot inspire. It’s fascinating to see how the Ascension shows the rise of humanity over its baser self, honoring both what came Before and the peace they have achieved under the Protectorate of Earth.

Alecto hummed a bit in pleasure.

“So, how did you get invited to the wedding of the century, anyway?”

All of the papers have been calling it that. Elek Veasna and Amiri Dekany have been big news in the infosphere. Veasna is the head of biotech research at Infans Bio and Dekany is a globally recognized artist in any medium one can name. In a world dominated by holographic art, Dekany is known for working in oil paint, clay, and marble. They have been hailed as the coming together of Love and Logic, of Art and Science, of Emotion and Thought.

The hysteria around the wedding is hilarious, in Alecto’s opinion. The media has played down the very relevant that Elek Veasna is likely to be elected as the operational head of the Britech Family when his great-aunt dies, and Dekany is the most well-known son of the small, but influential Dekany Clan.

It was a match made in someone’s pocketbook, or at least in someone’s politics. Britech and Dekany rarely agreed on anything, so the silence about the potential waves in the Spheres of government was curious.

“Mmmm. Went to school with Elek. We had nanoprogramming with Dr. Nyong’o.” Mai shuddered. “If anything will bond two people together without the mystical tie of soul-to-soul, it’s being paired in Nyong’o’s classes.”

Alecto stifled a giggle. “Dr. Nyong’o is infamous to the point of legend.”

“Legend? I wish.” Mai stops at an intersection and waves a hand as though at a projection. “‘What is it we see here? Is it precision in thought? NO! It is the Rusty Blade Of Inept Conceptualization! Do not let this happen to you!’ and then he’d rant about every nanite that, you know, Larid Dunkeld ever built or programmed.”

“Oh, Larid.” Alecto laughed outright. “Redundancy and adaptation were thy watchwords. Larid’s designs were always robust – that’s why they’re still around – but even Larid admitted they lacked elegance in her memoirs.”

“So Dr. Nyong’o always saying,” Mai pouted. “So Elek and I spend months trying to reproduce the efficacy of Dunkeld’s eco-nanites, the ones that were released to pull contaminants from the Misippy, and do it with elegance and style.”

“Went well, did it?” Alecto focused her gaze on the green-space known as Tenets Park to avoid Mai’s scorching glare. Everyone studying nanotech got that assignment at some point. Eco-nanotech was an enormous undertaking, where the mathematician’s desire for grace and elegance in the math and design tended to run head-first into the engineering and go *SPLAT* on the wall.

“Just because you managed it –“ Mai grumped. “—which is why you’re you. Our final product was clunky and prone to random failures. Nyong’o pronounced it adequate.”

“Did he? High praise from him.” Alecto snorted. “My solution wasn’t elegant – I just added a layer of adaptation that bolstered one of the typical redundancies in a way that was more efficient.”

“Which won you the Rhodium Prize,” Mai pointed out.

“Which got me attention for no good reason,” Alecto frowned. “Jordan Helwitt’s work on neuro-network regeneration is much more important. She gets cheated of recognition every year. I should save up some credits and endow a Helwitt Award in Neuro-Nanotech. And then award it to her every year.”

Mai’s laughter was bright as they crossed into the Ascension. “That might be a little much.”

“Have you read her papers? She’s disgustingly brilliant and makes me feel like I don’t know anything about nano or biology.”

“Alecto, you know that most people don’t get excited about feeling like a dolt.”

“They don’t? They should, because that’s when you know you’re learning something.”

The silence that followed was deafening.

“Are you sure your parents didn’t drop you on the head when you were small? Frequently, even?”

Alecto broke into laughter, unable to keep a straight face as Mai pulled up to the Gloriana’s vehicle port. Mai rolled her eyes and swiped her invitation at the valet-service gate. A service-bot in white-and-gold livery trundled up to the door, opening it with an oddly obsequious grace. Alecto murmured thanks as she exited the vehicle, causing Mai to snort.

“Mai Carpenter and guest,” said the bot in a deep, mellifluous voice. “Please present your identification for security confirmation.”

Alecto handed over her ID, grinning at her friend. “What? Bots are people too you know.”

“You and the crazy, crazy AI guys.” Mai sniffed delicately. “Bots are bots.”

Alecto sighed and looked at the bot. “I apologize on her behalf, I can’t take her anywhere.”

“Your concern is appreciated, Dr. Etana.” Something about its posture suggested a smile as it returned their identification. “If you will follow the right hand path, it will take you to the grand receiving room where the ceremony will be held.”

With that, the bot turned toward Mai’s PV, guiding it toward guest parking.

“Up for a walk?”

Mai looked down at her feet. “My shoes are no more impractical than yours.”

Alecto raised an eyebrow and clicked her toes together once. The heels of her shoes retracted down, leaving her in flat sandals. She grinned. “Pretty and practical.”

“You are the most impossible being on the planet, Alecto.”

“It’s just sensible to find out a bit about where you’re going…” They passed through an archway into the grounds of the Pax Gloriana, and her breath fled in reflexive awe. “’In Xanadu, did Kublai Khan, a spacious pleasure dome decree…’”

“By my parent’s gods,” said Mai. “I’ve read about it, but…”

Alecto nodded. Tenets Park, which they had passed on the way toward the Ascension was a green space filled with grass and small copses of trees. It had playgrounds sprinkled about its edges and a lake stocked with edible fish for any who wanted to go about getting their dinner the old fashioned way. It was a popular place for everyone who lived close enough to take advantage of it; it was a tamed nature that could harm no one.

But this – this was a natural preserve far beyond what Tenets Park dreamed of being. The trees beside the pathway were ancient; their muted stillness like the cathedrals of old, hushed and sacred. Birdsong rang from tree to tree, and Alecto spotted small wildlife in some of the branches, staring at them curiously.

From here you couldn’t see the mirrored edifice of the Pax Gloriana, only marvel at what the ancient engineers had crafted within the confines of its walls. After the Accord the Pax Gloriana had been rebuilt – it had been a so-called sky-scraper in its day, some forty stories tall and filled with rooms upon rooms. Like so many buildings, it had been badly damaged, though it had retained most of its structural integrity.

The newly born Protectorate of Earth decreed that it would be repaired and the land immediately around it would be reclaimed for nature, making the Pax Gloriana unique in the world that when cities were rebuilt, it alone had acres of rubble cleared away around it and the seeds of as many compatible species planted to create a haven and ecosystem for the devastated local flora and fauna. The land grant extended down to the shore of the sea. The entire thing was ringed with the most advanced shielding that could be built, disguised as the ribs of the transparent dome that covered the entire area.

And the result was this – trees as old as the Accord itself, rising toward a distant sun in hushed tranquility.

Alecto and Mai walked along the meandering path, absorbing the peace offered by their unexpected surroundings. The path spilled out into a riotous meadow filled with long grasses and wildflowers. Down the hill, the Pax Gloriana glowed in the mid-morning sun, the mirrored windows of the tower glittering like diamonds. Alecto imagined that if she were to stand at the apex of its height, she’d be able to see a lush panorama unequaled in all the world.

“No wonder they don’t let you drive up to the front door,” said Mai. “It would be… disrespectful.”

“It’s an amazing achievement.” Alecto sighed. “But… is it just me, or isn’t the Gloriana itself… well, the most phallic thing ever?”

Mai coughed. “Alecto! I thought you didn’t bother with phallic things.”

“I’d have to be blind!” Alecto waved at the tower. The initial structure had been tall, rising straight toward the sky, but when the tower had been repaired, they’d added a ring-like building at its base, some five stories high, housing high end business and commercial interests. Delicate-seeming bridges of glass and steel connected the outer structure to the inner one. “Somehow the holos of it just don’t do it justice.”

Mai considered it as they approached the doors. “Well, that’s true. Just as the grounds aren’t really captured either. Those trees… It’s one thing to know they’re as old as the Protectorate, but seeing them…”

“…is different. I wish I’d thought to spend some time here,” Alecto mused as they passed into the building. “But the rest of the Ascension is fascinating.”

“I don’t understand your fascination with boxy concrete,” said Mai.

“It’s not all boxy concrete, for the Love of Logic.” Alecto tapped a toe to a heel and the heels of her shoes extended once gain.

“Seriously, only you –“

“Mai Carpenter? Is that you?” A tall, elegant black man interrupted.

Mai glanced over and then grinned. “ELEK!”

It appeared that Elek Veasna was accustomed to Mai’s enthusiastic greeting method, accepting her half tackle-half hug with easy grace. It wasn’t clear to Alecto how he did it, but his bronze-and-gold wedding attire wasn’t even rumpled once Mai consented to let go. Alecto always ended up looking like she’d been trysting in a supply closet when Mai felt the need to hug the stuffing out of her. Then again, Mai thought Alecto should spend time trysting in supply closets, so it probably wasn’t a coincidence Alecto ended up rumpled.

“It’s good to see you, too,” Elek’s smile was beautiful and clearly sincere. Mai punched him in the shoulder.

“It takes a wedding for you to talk to me?” asked Mai, pouting. “I thought we meant so much more to one another! We promised eternal bromance!”

Elek laughed, his dark eyes crinkling slightly at the sides.

“Mai – never change.”

Alecto snickered.

“Ahhh, who is this? A new girlfriend?”

“She only wishes,” said Alecto, earning Mai’s surprisingly effective puppy-dog eyes. She offered her hand to Elek. “Dr. Alecto Etana, this one’s friend and boss.”

“Dr. Elek Veasna.” He shook her hand, eyes bright with curiosity. “But please call me Elek. It’s an honor, Dr. Etana.”

“Alecto, please. It’s a pleasure.”

“So very proper,” Mai teased. “There was no need to make it sound like I was desperate for a date, Alecto.”

“Guy cancelled on you,” Alecto reminded.

“We-elll…”

Alecto turned and raised her brows in polite inquiry.

“I may have asked Mai if she could bring you,” said Elek. “You didn’t respond to your own invitation, and I’ve been wanting to meet you for a while.”

“Really?” Alecto blinked at him. “Whyever for? I read the last paper you put out in Biomedical Nanotech about the effects of modifying hair alleles for non-natural coloration in engineered human infants – which was fascinating, though it isn’t my field. You’re very passionate about your work, so I can’t imagine you’re that interested in Biosphere and Immunological Nanotech.”

Elek stared at her for a moment and then looked at Mai.

“Yes, she’s like this all the time. Alecto, your last paper in the Protectorate Journal of Nanotechnology has applications everywhere. People sometimes want to talk to you about it.”

“But at his wedding?” Alecto frowned at him.

“Peace, peace!” said Elek. “I just wanted to make your acquaintance, and what better place than a celebration of Love?”

Alecto’s lips twitched. “I suppose.”

“Also, your social calendar, according to your secretary, is filled up until the tenth of forever.”

Mai choked. “What?”

Alecto’s laughter rang through the room. “I apologize. I was tired of fielding calls from every biotech firm on the planet trying to seduce me into leaving Nova, so I told Balthasar to say that to everyone.”

“I imagine. We’d love to have you at Infans.”

A slim arm wrapped around Elek’s waist, a distinguished older woman tucking herself under his arm. “Darling, didn’t I tell you that this was to be a business-free zone? You’re getting married to that delicious young man today, in case you haven’t noticed.”

Elek glanced across the room, drawing Alecto’s eyes to a beautiful man with nature-bronzed skin, dark eyes, and a slow, sensual smile.

The holos of Amiri Dekany did not do the man justice.

“Aunt Evalina. I believe I am aware.” Elek smiled wickedly. “In fact, if I may leave you with these lovely ladies – this is Dr. Alecto Etana from Nova and I believe you’ve met my friend Mai – I believe a small taste is in order.”

“Elek –” but he was gone in a loose, sensual saunter that bypassed guests and put him directly into his fiancé’s personal space. The kiss that followed was anything but chaste.

The silver-haired woman exhaled gently, the sound too refined to be called an exasperated sigh.

“That boy,” she said. “His mother did teach him better manners, I assure you.”

Mai just grinned. “It’s nice to see him so happy, Madam Britech.”

“I believe I’ve told you to call me Evalina, Mai.” Evalina Britech raised a finger. “I know that it was some time ago, but I’ve been following your career with interest. The work you’ve been doing at Nova has been fascinating.”

Mai blushed and Alecto suppressed a gleeful smirk.

“Mai is very, very good at what she does,” Alecto agreed, holding out a hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Madam Britech.”

“I’d heard you were a bit of an old-fashioned one, Dr. Etana,” Evalina said, her handshake firm. “But I don’t suppose I’d expected to see anyone adhering to the tradition of gloves at a wedding.”

“I prefer honor the courage of the intended spouses. So many people refuse to marry because they might find their soulmate, even though they love one another.” She glanced at Elek and had to laugh a little since Amiri was doing a fair job of rumpling the man up. “It isn’t likely that any of us will spontaneously bond, but why take the chance? They have courage because they Love, truly and deeply. It’s a small enough sacrifice to honor that.”

Evalina studied her with piercing eyes and Alecto wondered what the older woman saw. Alecto knew herself to be many things: young by the standards of many, but brilliant and principled; pretty by most conventional standards, but unconcerned by the standards of beauty; opinionated, nitpicky, stubborn, and driven. With a mental shrug, she stared back. Alecto was what she was and content with it.

“Your work on regenerative cycles of nanobots in non-Earth environments is amazing,” said Evalina. “Your last article was very impressive, doctor.”

“Alecto, please.” She smiled. “It was an adventure, let us say. I’m Moon-born and raised, so my interest in nanostructures and regenerative cycles is inherent.”

“I didn’t know that,” said Mai. “Is that where your emphasis in eco- and medi-support come from? I’ve always wondered.”

Alecto shrugged. “Quarantined epidemics, they tend to motivate a person.”

“Quarantined epidemics?” Evalina’s eyes misted softly. “Oh, my dear child. You must be the daughter of Mireille Etana and Jakob Forsan. I was very sorry to hear they were lost to that outbreak of Bririnovian influenza on Moonbase Alpha. I know it’s been a long time, but I am so sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” It was simple and straightforward to push past the stab of grief. “You could say that it was a bit of a motivator. The enclosed environments of the biodomes seem to rapidly mutate common pathogens, so finding a way to combat that is a personal priority of mine.”

“And an excellent reason to stay with Nova.” Evalina laid a hand on Alecto’s arm comfortingly. “No matter what my nephew might try and say. Your work is remarkable. Now, it seems that I must extract my nephew. I believe I may shake him out and dust him off a bit before the ceremony starts. Amiri seems quite adept at wrinkling him.”

“Mmmmhmmmm.” Mai, who had been watching the ever-more-explicit osculatory action, smiled. “Elek is extremely hard to rumple. I think I may need to congratulate Amiri on his technique.”

Alecto sent Mai a look. “You do it on purpose, don’t you? That thing where you hug me and somehow make it look like I’ve been having quickies in the janitorial cupboard – that’s deliberate.”

“I can neither confirm nor deny that.” Mai waited a beat. “But it does do wonders for my reputation as a seductress.”

 


 

The ceremony was gorgeous. The celebrants had chosen one of the oldest forms of vows – to love, honor, respect, and guide one another, for so long as their Love held true. Their true and honest affection spilled out as they exchanged their oaths, and the kiss that sealed them was as chastely passionate as their previous kiss had been roughly carnal.

Love, as pure and complicated as that could be.

“They’re so beautiful together,” Mai sighed. “I want holovid.”

Alecto swallowed her laughter. “Of what? The two of them holding hands?”

That got her a swatted arm.

“Shut up. You know what I meant.”

“I suppose I must.”

The men pulled apart, silly little grins gracing kiss-glossed lips. Alecto couldn’t help but smile helplessly at their happiness.

Amiri turned and gave a little bow.

“Thank you all for coming and standing Witness for us. We are most grateful.”

“In exchange for a few minutes with my husband,” said Elek, “We are prepared to offer a buffet, wet bar, and as much dancing and debauchery as you can stand.”

A laugh rippled out through the crowd of guests.

“We will be back to drink and dance you into the ground!”

With that, the grooms were whisked off by their attendants.

True to their words, there was a buffet spread out in the dining room and there was a live band in the ballroom. Alecto found herself pulled into a lively debate between a group of biotech and cyberware researchers regarding the ethics of creating humans who could breathe water and naturally withstand the pressures of the ocean’s greatest depths, when cybernetic enhancements and nanotech restructuring was available.

Mai disappeared shortly after the debate started, in search of more touchy-feely fun.

Alecto wasn’t sure how much time – or how many drinks – it was later when Elek came up beside her while some Britech and Dekany cousins started shouting at one another about the innate ethical quandaries of genetic manipulation and the creation of new species.

“Gentlemen, ladies: When I said as much dancing and debauchery, I really did mean dancing and debauchery. Not debate and debauchery.” Elek’s voice was a little rough, and he had the air of a man thoroughly well shagged. “Keep it down to a dull roar, will you?”

“Come now,” Amiri slid his arms around his husband, looking equally well-satisfied. “Our Families have somewhat opposing views when it comes to genetic manipulation. This was inevitable.”

“We had to do something,” said one of the many Dekany cousins, waving an empty glass. “Your definition of a few minutes might need work – two hours and change is a bit longer than traditionally expected for the post-vow consummation.”

Amiri grinned wickedly. “Who won the pool?”

“Pretty sure I did,” said Cislan Castlethorpe, one of the designers at Infans. “As if my boss would let some paltry social deadline get in the way of taking his time and getting it right.”

Alecto choked on her drink.

“Oh, he was very thorough,” assured Amiri. Elek groaned.

“As fun as being embarrassed by friends and family is, I’m mostly here to remind you that I married the most amazing man in the world today,” said Elek. “Dr. Etana, I don’t know if you’ve made my husband’s acquaintance.”

“I hadn’t.” Alecto smiled. “It’s an honor to meet you both. Mr. Dekany, I attended the unveiling of your piece Ad Astra Per Aspera – it’s a beautiful monument to the Space Born and all we’ve lost.”

Amiri looked surprised. “Amiri, please. Not many have said that about Ad Astra. I’d thought I’d have to be satisfied that Shenzen Mikata at Moonbase Alpha was delighted with it.”

“He’s not the only one,” said Alecto. “Ad Astra Per Aspera resonates with everyone who survived the quarantines. It evokes so much – too much, perhaps, too many emotions, but shouldn’t all art do that?”

The table fell silent.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Alecto forced a small laugh. “I didn’t mean to kill the mood. It’s just a very beautiful and resonating piece.”

“No,” said Amiri. “You didn’t. I am pleased to know that other Moon-born like it. I can only hope that there’s never again reason to commission anything like it.”

“We’re hoping to avoid the same problems on Mars Colony Alpha,” said Elek. “Infans has been working on the distribution systems for some of Dr. Etana’s –“

“Alecto, please –“

“—Alecto’s environmental nanobots. They’re a marvel at maintaining healthy biome balance.”

“Which is why we’re taking our honeymoon on Mars?” asked Amiri. “All work and no play?”

“We’re going to Mars because it’s Mars. Also so I can check up on operations, but mostly because the most amazing man in the solar system deserves to see one of the most amazing places in it.”

“We’re taking grandfather?”

Elek swatted his husband on the ass. “Behave.”

“No, seriously, he’s the most amazing person in the solar system.” Elek pulled his husband away from the table.

“How is it I can’t even take you to your own wedding reception?”

“Well,  you could take me back upstairs.”

They faded into the crowd and Cislan began giggling, which set the whole table off.

“Soooo… I read the article in the Protectorate Journal of Nanotechnology – can you explain how you got the dormancy and regeneration cycles to mimic real biomes?”

Alecto snorted. “That was subtle.”

“Like a freight transport,” agreed one of the others. “But she’s right – the math was brilliant, and clear as proverbial crystal, but how in the world did you get there?”

“You do understand it’s a research group, right? It was my project, but I didn’t do it alone?” Alecto shot everyone a mock glare. “Someone get me a margarita the size of my head. This’ll take a while. Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Huzenga were arguing over the life cycles of deep-ocean vent biomes…”


The party went on for hours. Eventually even the most hardened scientists broke up to dance and flirt and get pulled into supply closets and bathroom stalls and occasionally not-so-subtly behind potted flora and marble columns.

Mai was right, this was an event that had a lot of touchy-feely fun going on. Alecto mostly just averted her eyes and laughed when people stumbled back into the room with their clothing even more askew than it had been before. She’d seen at least four women and six men stare at Mai’s rather easy-access skirt and bodice with absolute envy, and a dozen more individuals who had been even less subtle about their intent to make assignations simple harassed for the name of their clothing designers.

“All alone?” asked Elek.

“Elek!” Alecto smiled the smile of the pleasantly drunk and gloriously well fed. “Congratulations!”

“Thank you.”

“You two have chosen well, I think.” She squinted up at him. “Is that a margarita?”

“I am told that it is. According to the bartender, you quite like the mango ones.”

“Mmmmm.” Alecto pondered. “Can I have it?”

Elek laughed at her. “I procured it for you, but I’m beginning to wonder if I should have.”

“Eh. Mai’s driving.” Alecto made grabby hands. “Gimme. Also, sit down, you’re making me dizzy.”

“Thanks again.” Elek set the drink down before her. “You’ve done us a great service, Alecto – you kept the cousins from killing one another over ethical quandaries.”

“That was fun. The argument I mean.” She giggled. “I have to say that I’m really with the Dekany’s, though, mostly because I think people should have a choice about body modification that extensive.”

“I agree,” said Elek, surprising her. “But don’t tell my aunt.”

“Mum’s the word.”

“Why’s that?”

“I have no idea. To keep mum, I guess? But why not dad? Or daffodil for that matter?”

“A mystery for the ages.”

“The infosphere will know. If I care later.”

Elek laughed, deep and rich.

“Amiri wanted to be sure that you were enjoying yourself, since you don’t seem inclined to join the dancers or the debauchers.”

Alecto snorted. “I’m not one for casual contact.”

“Why not?” Elek sounded sincerely curious. “For all you know your soulmate is over there feeling up someone else.”

“For all I know, my soulmate is on a boat in the arctic, feeling up fish.” Alecto sipped her margarita. The bartender had magical, magical hands. “If it’s destined, it’ll happen. I don’t need to help it along. I don’t need to touch every person that comes along. What if my soulmate is married? Or involved with someone? Or has kids?

Elek raised an eyebrow. “Has kids?”

“Everyone’s got a deal breaker. That’s one of mine. That and marriage.” Alecto sipped her drink. “I don’t know if you can give a soulmate back, but I’d certainly try.

“Why?”

“You have a bajillion people here celebrating the love you and your husband share, and you have to ask?” Alecto’s smile was rueful.

“You would really try and resist a bond?” Elek sounded shocked.

“Wouldn’t you?” Alecto nodded to Amiri, surrounded by hot, young bodies and grinding away with good cheer. “To keep him? To keep what you have? How is it different that I would choose to preserve that for others?”

“Oh, dear,” Mai cut in, sounding a bit breathless. Alecto eyed her rumpled and well-shagged state with a lifted brow. Mai eyed her back and grinned unrepentantly. “Elek, did you ask her about soulbonds?”

“I did.”

Alecto ignored his stare, which had morphed from social curiosity to scientific inquiry.

“Alecto has a thing for Sacrifice –“

“Altruism! For the love of Logic –“

“And also doesn’t think she deserves one, or something.” Mai sat down and stole the remains of Alecto’s margarita.

“Hey!”

“You’re drunk and you have work in the morning.”

“You’re mean.”

“Maybe, but I’m also your favorite.”

“Right now, I’d take Barzin over you.” Alecto snatched her glass back and tossed back the dregs. “He doesn’t steal my drinks and make fun of me.”

“Hector Barzin makes you break out in hives, Alecto. You have seizures when you talk to him. You’ve threatened to slap him with a dead fish if he didn’t shut up.”

“They’re better than a holo,” Amiri draped himself over his husband’s back. “People are beginning to make out on the dance floor.”

“They’ve been doing that all night.” Elek sounded unconcerned.

“They’re beginning to make out horizontally on the dance floor. It’s a menace to safety.”

“Right. We did promise Aunt Evalina that we’d interrupt anything resembling a real orgy.” Elek stood, signaling one of the many white-and-gold clad servers. “I think that’s the signal to shut this party down.”

“And get back to our own?” Amiri waggled his eyebrows. Alecto shared a glance with Mai, and they began giggling uncontrollably.

“I think,” Mai hiccoughed, “that’s our cue to leave.”

“Yes.” Alecto swallowed down her giggles. “Congratulations again to you both. It’s been a pleasure meeting you.”

“Thank you for coming and standing Witness, Dr. Etana,” said Amiri. “It was an honor to have you here. Dr. Carpenter, thank you for your many kind words and…,” he glanced at Elek, “I promise to keep him as rumpled as possible.”

Elek groaned as the grooms headed toward the band. “You are not to take advice from Mai Carpenter. The woman is a menace.”

“But she’s your menace…”

Alecto broke into helpless laughter. “What did you say to him, Mai?”

“I just complimented him on his ability to keep Elek speechless for minutes at a time. I may have suggested the strategic use of rumpling and certain oral fixations.”

“Uh, huh.” Alecto stood with a minimal amount of wobble. “Are they going to make us walk back in the dark?”

“I think there’s some kind of shuttle,” said Mai.

“Oh, good.” Alecto leaned on her friend. “This was fun. Even if you were being sneaky-underhanded.”

“It was in a good cause!”

“Oh?”

“You’re drunk in public, Alecto. Guy owes me fifty credits. Now we can go to lunch at Giovanni’s.”

“Fine. You’re paying. And paying me back the forty you owe me for that ludicrous holonet debacle you made me go see last week.”

“Alecto!”

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