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Lécher (Thursday, 2011 May 12)

May 12th, 2011

["Santiago"? I wanted a name that sounded, well, unhinged. At least you’re not getting another Narrator named "Narrator".]

We burst onto the scene fashionably late, me, Buddy and Cherry Drop, late by about a day and a half, but that meant the party was in full swing already. The Mission house was more-than-full; people were already provisioning couches, sofas, floor space. It was Iago’s going away party, so he was in evidence, as were Wheaton, Jamie, Laras 1 and 2, Lily, Bauer, Sonja, etc.

My priorities were drink, food, and shower. Drink was well under the control of Jamie and Buddy — it was unanimously decided that it would have to be a sachet night. I sought food; I returned with a plastic bag full of omelette, salad, and meat. With the immediate needs taken care of, I needed to wash off the burnt-celery smell of being too long in a closed space with Zhenae. I needed to do it soon, because if experience was any indication, before too much longer I wouldn’t be safe standing in a shower.

A few sachets later, I found myself weaving through the kitchen, where Buddy and Lily were arguing over which Missionary cluster could outdrink the other. They were settling the argument with sachets. They locked eyes and tilted back as I wandered out to the porch.

I sat down next to Sonja and was starting to size her up when the door in the front wall opened and in walked Neena and her friend Cass. Neena looked delicious, and I had a vivid memory of the way she’d looked at me in Low-at-the-River, back when I had a reason to be polite, dignified, restrained. That was a lifetime ago, before the mess in Capital City, before the meltdown in Mountain Reflex. I guess it had been a week.

I tried to play it cool, stared at my glass (sachet and juice). Neena’s no fool though, and I’m sure she noticed, but then she and her friend were gliding past to the kitchen. I tried to flirt with Sonja but my heart wasn’t in it and when she turned her head to talk to someone else I decided to go to the kitchen too. Buddy and Lily were still there conversing. "Don’t one or both of you have a boyfriend?" I slurred. For once I was reading the situation completely correctly. Then I put my arms around Buddy and licked his neck.

"He just licked my neck, didn’t he?"

"Yep, he just licked your neck."

I giggled, then I licked it again for good measure and then I guess I must have left because I staggered into Lara 1, who wanted to Talk. Specifically:

"We need to Talk," she said. "Listen: she doesn’t know what she wants." Followed by fifteen minutes of sloppy conversation that really doesn’t further our story. Highlights: I told her what happened in Mountain Reflex, she told me that appearances notwithstanding, Morgan still cared very deeply about me, I swore her (Lara 1) my undying allegiance, she told me I was a good guy, I asked her not to repeat what happened in Mountain Reflex, she swore she wouldn’t, I complained that the whole thing had just come out of nowhere and then suddenly I caught a look at her profile and she looked so old, aged, sallow, sunken where she used to look lean. Maybe it’s all the travelling, maybe she’d just gotten off the bus too. Then she lay her head back (we were seated at this point) and closed her eyes.

"Hard-dream-sleep," I said, using the Sumi salutation. I got up and turned to leave, and suddenly there was Neena.

Thinking back now I wonder how much of the conversation she’d heard. She’s sharp, though, and I’m sure she worked it all out one way or the other. At the time, though, it didn’t occur to me to wonder. I could only say: "Hi".

The next few minutes are a little foggy. I have no idea what I said, if I managed to accomplish anything with the tatters of charm or wit I had left. I’m sure both her and her friend, standing behind and off to the side, could read just how entranced I was with her. So maybe it was just my sincerity. Like: I was sincerely astonished by how fresh she looked. I was sincerely interested in the dress she was wearing. I was sincerely attracted to her lips, her eyes, her skin.

I don’t really understand how she did it. In principle she’d just gotten off a bus too, but she wasn’t rumpled, or sticky, anything. It’s a woman thing, I guess. You know how some women, they make beauty completely natural? Like "disheveled" is just a river in Egypt. Case in point: Neena didn’t smell like burnt celery.

Instead she smelled like cinnamon.

The next morning Jamie, Buddy, Wheaton and I were up bright and early again on another adventure. Wheaton was going to take us over the border into a neighboring state. Strictly speaking this would be legal in certain circumstances, which didn’t apply, so it might have been illegal, but according to other regulations it was probably legal but anyhow definitely against policy. Well, Jamie’s a big fan of adventure and the last week had taught me the hard way that Jamie’s vacations are generally better than mine, so just stick with her and everything’ll work out.

Half a bus-ride later I got a message from Neena, a scathingly funny indictment of how I was "chain-smoking" rebounds, "lighting one from the ashes of the last". Yep, she’s sharp as tacks. "Ouch," I said to myself, then snickered, then I grimaced, and finally I deleted it and napped until we got to the next town, where we were to descend and switch to motos. We rode across hot sand and dry riverbeds, past scrub and occasional herds of animals. Eventually we got to the border, stopped at a government building with a flag out front, basically the same Zhenae color scheme but subtly different. We paid a "crossing fee" bribe that was actually probably a legitimate fee, although it might have been a legitimate bribe. Either way a few minutes later we were under a sincerely woven thatch hut drinking a local fermented grain product, plus some standard Zhenae beer just to be on the safe side.

"This is really cool," I said, marvelling at how lucky I was to be here, on this planet, steeping in the local color (and flavor). "Thanks for this, Wheaton."

"It’s my pleasure," he said, though of course his face was as neutral as always. "I really enjoy when I can show off the bounty of my post."

"It’s just so surprising, man," said Buddy, his eyes tracking a skitter, "How peaceful Zhen is. Like, the Mission just withdrew from Nairv. The D-Range just declared martial law. All the Sumi colonies, really, none of them are really stable."

"I wonder why Zhen’s different," Jamie said.

"Too many racial groups," said Wheaton. "There’s no unity. Without unity, there can be no war."

There was silence for a minute. "That’s totally Newspeak," commented Buddy, turning it over. "But I like it."

"It’s gonna be interesting when the next brood-group shows up in a few months. I wonder if they’re gonna be professional like ours, or party people like the others."

"Is our brood-group really more professional than others? I mean, you’ve seen a few," asked Jamie of Wheaton.

"No, but yours is more mentally unhinged," he responded with a significant glance in my direction.

"No, that’s just Santiago," Jamie replied. Then suddenly they were all three looking at me. "It just came out of nowhere," said Wheaton.

"If you please," I replied loftily. "I maintain that my behavior in Mountain Reflex was rational and carefully plotted."

"I think you mean erratic and carefully rationalized."

"Come on," I continued. "Ever drink too much at a party? Felt like crap? Made yourself throw up? That’s what I did, just with emotions. Puke and rally. Completely reasonable. Hinged, I’m super mentally hinged. Oh, shit," I said. "I just remembered I licked your neck last night."

"Dude," Buddy said. "You totally did."

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