“Wow.” Cassil exhaled deeply, wiping sweat from her brow. “That was…”
Safris grinned, swiping her leggings from the pipework she’d tossed them over. “You really needed that, didn’t you?”
“Mm-hm.” Cassil let herself slide down the wall until she was sitting. She closed her eyes. “Thank you.”
“Thank you!” Safris sat next to her and ruffled her hair. “I haven’t had that much fun in a long-ass time.” She unzipped the carrying bag on the floor and took out a soft burgundy robe. “This is yours, right? No need for that prisoner getup anymore.”
“Mm. Yeah.” Cassil took the robe and squeezed it tightly to her chest. “Thanks.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you need to get dressed anytime soon.” Safris wrapped Cassil’s discarded detainee greys around her arm and draped them over the bag, then reached over and took Cassil’s chin in her hand. Cassil blushed and glanced away as Safris leaned close and kissed her on the cheek.
“For a… a security officer you’re… you’re really sweet.”
“Pushing people’s buttons is what this job is all about. Or stroking them, in your case.” She brushed a finger across Cassil’s exposed clit and Cassil squeaked, pulling her legs up tight.
“Stop it! I’m still sensitive.”
“Why do you think I did it?” Safris wrapped an arm around Cassil’s shoulders and pulled her close. Cassil leaned back, resting her head on Safris’ shoulder. “One of the first things they teach you on Tel Casran is people are always more vulnerable after you hurt them or scare them a little, no matter if you’re interrogating them or fucking them. And vulnerability means it’s easier to get inside their head. They have you do actual exercises practicing on other trainees.” She giggled. “Sort of like the Annuals but for secret police instead of soldiers, yeah?”
“…you’ve been to the Capital?”
“Yeah. That’s where they train all Shevran officers, even lowly little varlasar like me.” Safris massaged the back of Cassil’s neck and she murmured happily.
“What’s it like there?”
“I only saw a little part of it. Security there is crazy; nobody is allowed to go anywhere without orders. But it’s…” She gestured expansively. “It’s big. It’s not like our little rantalar. You could see Central Tower from where I was bunked. Three times taller than the tallest hab block I’ve ever seen. Then there’s the League Parliament, this big low building right in the Tower’s shadow.” She smirked. “I think whoever designed it wanted to remind those League fucks whose planet they’re living on.”
Cassil entwined her legs with Safris. “You really believe in the People, don’t you?” she murmured, watching status lights blink on and off across the heat exchanger.
“Yeah I do, little miss rebel.” Safris gently ran her free hand up and down Cassil’s bare leg. “In my role, I see the worst the Society has to offer. Corruption, abuse, cruelty. You know why I still believe?”
“Because when I walk away from an action, the wound is gone.” Safris kissed the nape of Cassil’s neck. “See, a few years back there was this commune, Varshal. Social structure broke down completely. Civil servants were enforcing labor quotas with beatings and public humiliation. There was looting and rioting. Drug addiction. It was a nightmare. The opposite of everything we’re supposed to be. The civvies couldn’t do anything because they were too fractured. The civil service was too incompetent to run the place correctly even if they’d felt inclined to.”
“The Shevran found out. I was fresh out of the Academy when they put me on the task force. High Command called blank slate. They packed five railcars with soldiers, and sent us in to Varshal on the Core Line. We took control of the whole rantal by force, arrested damn near the whole civil service. Then we interviewed all thousand residents, invidually, and resettled them where we thought was best.”
Cassil shuddered. “So you do a lot of that? Dragging people out of their homes and forcing them to live somewhere else? I don’t want to leave my mine. I can’t imagine making a thousand people do the same thing all at once, permanently.”
“That’s because Tegvar’s a good kind of place, sounds like.” Safris put her arms around Cassil’s waist. “In Varshal, it was neighbor against neighbor. People had enemies. They wanted out. And they wanted to get away from the bad memories.”
“All of them?”
“Not all of them. But nobody put up much of a fuss about being relocated.”
“Who would when you’re pointing rifles at them, right?”
“Non-pen rounds and dusters only. We weren’t trying to get anybody killed.”
Cassil shrugged. “So what happened to Varshal?”
“It was a beautiful place when we built it. Lakeside dormitories, lots of arable land. It deserved a second chance. So after we cleared it out, we refounded it as Lismad.”
“Wait, Lismad? Lismad used to be Varshal? Aren’t you a Lismadi?”
Safris laughed. “Yep! I was sitting out on the pier one night, listening to the lakebirds sing, watching the comets, and I just thought, ‘I don’t want to leave when we’re done.’ So I asked to have my name put on the resettling list. It’s my home now, when I’m off-duty.” She squeezed Cassil. “So yeah, there is some brutal shit that happens sometimes. But we make sure everybody gets happy endings. That’s why I believe in our people, babe. We don’t take the whole damn Universe for granted like the Echoes, sitting around and letting robots pamper them all day long, and we sure don’t starve and murder and torture each other to get on top like the Rosies. We work hard, we know what life is worth, and—” She leaned in and kissed Cassil on the shoulder. “—and we take care of each other.”
“I’m still not convinced Seruan didn’t put you up to this.”
Safris slapped her ass gently and Cassil twitched in her arms, blushing hard. “And here I thought we were just having sexy pillow talk.”
“Propaganda is like. The opposite of sexy.” Cassil squirmed, trying to get free. “Also we don’t have any pillows.”
Safris pushed her to the floor, pinning her arms and straddling her. She leaned close, letting her lips brush against Cassil’s, then kissed her cheek and in a sultry voice, whispered right next to her ear, “From each as she is able—” She pressed her knee sharply against Cassil’s mound. “—to each as she has need.”
Cassil was shaking with laughter. “Get off!”
“Rise up against your oppressor and make me, bitch.” Safris nipped her lip tenderly. “What, don’t you have the righteous will of the proletariat behind you?”
Cassil strained, squirming, trying to break free of the officer’s hold. Safris smirked.
“What are you, a gray sash in UC? You’re almost service-age, you should be green at least by now.”
“I’m a gold-sash marksman, you piece of shit! If I had a gun—”
“—and I was a few hundred meters downrange, you might be able to take me?” Safris kissed her again, long and deep this time. “Then you should never have let me close range. Rookie. Mistake.” She punctuated the last two words with bites to Cassil’s neck.
“Mmh.” Cassil’s eyelids fluttered slightly. “Fuck you.”
A tremor went through the floor and Safris sighed, reluctantly releasing her. “Feel that? Your ride’s almost here. We should get dressed.”
Cassil nodded, and Safris offered an arm, hauling her to her feet. “Here,” she said, unfolding Cassil’s robe. “Let me help you with that.”
Cassil smiled faintly. “There’s someone I know back home. We always dress each other in the morning when one of us stays the night. I don’t know how it got started, but it’s our little tradition now.”
Safris stopped. “I’m not crossing a boundary, am I?”
“What? No, not at all.” Cassil shook her head. “It’s really sweet, is all. I like it a lot.”
“Good, good.” Safris lifted Cassil’s arms and wound her robe around her. As she pulled it across her chest, Cassil blushed.
“I don’t usually wear robes that tight.”
“You do today.” Safris kissed the back of her head, and fastened the tail of the robe around her thighs. “I didn’t see any beads or armwraps or a scarf in the bag they put your things in—”
“I don’t wear any.”
“You are a rebellious little thing, aren’t you?”
“You’re one to talk, with the one sad little bead.” Cassil reached back and batted at Safris’ braid. “Aren’t you suposed to be a big badass patriot or something?”
Safris smirked. “Beads are for show.” She adjusted Cassil’s robe slightly, leaving one loop wound lower than the rest and baring a small arc of skin. “My uniform says all I have to say.”
Cassil bent and picked up Safris’ robe. It was a heavier fabric than hers, rough leather on one side but silky-smooth on the other, dyed Shevran green. Except for the color, it looked a little like a military dress robe. She wound it snugly around the officer’s breasts, enjoying the expression on her face as she did.
“You can dish it out but you can’t take it, huh?” she teased.
“Big words from a girl who was just flat on the floor naked.” Safris grabbed her around the throat in one swift motion and dragged her closer, squeezing slightly as she kissed her. Cassil couldn’t help but lose herself in the sensation, closing her eyes and wrapping her arms tightly around Safris’ lower back. Finally, Safris released her, and Cassil rested her head on her chest.
“I want to see you again,” she said. “I really do.”
Safris laughed. “Don’t you think that’s a little ideologically incoherent? The brave, outspoken rebel leader shacking up with an evil, oppressive cop on the regular?”
“Maybe I’m just trying to seduce you to my noble cause.” Cassil stepped back and finished looping the fabric so as to leave part of Safris’ upper thigh uncovered. “A member of the evil regime would be a powerful ally to the Rebellion, after all. Who’s to say I can’t fuck the love of liberty into you?”
“Is that how you thought that was going? ’Cos it looked more like I was fucking the love of being naked and helpless into you.”
“I was not helpless!”
“You just loved being pinned to the floor so much you couldn’t bring yourself to fight back?”
“I’ll show you a fight,” growled Cassil, dropping Safris’ breastplate and swinging a punch. Safris easily caught her wrist, spun her with her own momentum, and forced her into a double shoulder lock.
“Definitely gray-sash. You don’t even have the muscles for black, let alone green!”
“I am black-sash, you fucking prick.” Cassil tried to throw her but Safris effortlessly pushed her loose and forced her to the ground in a tight wristlock.
“With that kind of swing? I thought black was where they started teaching offense.”
“Ow! The hell are you, gold?”
“White, actually.” Safris hauled Cassil to her feet and shoved her, forcing her back against the wall. “It’s a Shevran thing.”
“Fuck, can you all fight like this?”
“Pretty much, yeah. We’re specifically trained to counter the kind of self-defense they teach you in UC.” Safris kissed her again, fingering her nipples through the thin fabric of her robe. Cassil shivered. “Can’t keep a population of freedom-loving, highly-trained soldiers properly oppressed without some kind of edge, can you?” Safris winked.
“That’s cheating. You cheated!”
“Cassi, girl, I didn’t need to. You really need to spend some time at the sovrad and earn your sash back.”
Cassil flinched. “People normally call me Cas.”
Safris ran her fingers through Cassil’s hair. “Do I look like I care?”
“The only person who calls me that is a psycho fucking bully—”
“So it makes you feel small and vulnerable, is what you’re saying?” Safris grinned. “I think that’s exactly where I want you… Cassi.”
“You are such a piece of shit, you know that?”
“You know how I’m different from our evil overlords?” Safris dug her fingernails into Cassil’s neck. “They think dignity is a right.” She leaned forward and brushed her lips against Cassil’s. “Me? I think it’s a privilege. One you are so, so far from earning.”
“You and that bitch Lisuan would get along so well.”
Safris laughed, and pulled Cassil into a tight hug. “For real, though. Stop starting fights until you know you can win them. I don’t just mean with me.”
“I mean it.” Safris held her at arm’s length and looked her straight in the eye. “You’re gonna get hurt real bad one of these days if you don’t. You’re brave, you really are. You’re fiery and sharp and so damn special and I don’t want to see you hurt, okay?”
“What are you, my girlfriend now?”
“I think I might like to be someday. Let’s keep the option open?”
Safris’ tone had gone from flirty to genuine so quickly Cassil felt blindsided. Unsure of what to say, she just nodded.
“Okay.” Safris patted her on the back. “We need to get back to the lounge before your train shows. My counterpart is probably already wondering where we are.” She reached down for her breastplate, but Cassil snatched it out of her hands.
“Let me finish, first.”
Safris laughed. “Alright.” She held up her arms.
Cassil pulled the plate down and secured it around Safris’ chest. “There.” She picked up the holster from the doorknob it was hanging on and handed it to Safris. “All set.”
Safris pulled her leggings back on and strapped her holster across her waist. “You ready to go?”
“I think so. Wait.” Cassil rummaged through the bag with her seized possessions and pulled out a silver necklace with a red gem pendant. “Can you—?” she asked.
Safris stepped behind her, tenderly brushing her hair out of the way and fixing the chain in place. “That stone,” she began. “Is that a—”
“Carnelian, yes,” said Cassil, smirking.
Safris whistled. “Damn that is bold, girl.”
“You think?” Cassil tilted her head playfully, and kissed Safris on the cheek. She shouldered the bag. “All right. I’m all set now.”
Cassil retraced their steps through the maintenance access, and paused at the door back to the lounge. She turned.
“Hey. For the record?”
“It is totally ideologically incoherent for a fucking mega-patriot like you to be screwing an anarchist hellion like me.”
“I don’t know.” Safris grinned. “I might fuck some loyalty into you yet.”
The other guard greeted them as they reentered the lounge. “Where exactly have you been?” he asked, glaring at Cassil. “You’ve been AWOL for almost an hour.”
“Sorry,” said Safris. “I was just helping her get changed. Back into her civilian clothes. You know.”
The officer stared. “Helping her get changed?”
“I was really shaky after — um. After everything. I needed some help,” said Cassil, nodding. “Because my hands were too shaky.”
“Yep. That’s why it took so long,” Safris agreed, grinning at her colleague. “I really had to lock her down.”
He glanced at her waist. “So why have your robes come loose all of a sudden?”
“No reason at all.” Safris pinched Cassil. “Isn’t that right, Cassi?”
“…Cassi?” said the guard.
They were interrupted by the blare of an alarm, and a synthesized voice over a loudspeaker. “Incoming train now decelerating. All passengers prepare to embark.”
“Well, that’s her ride!” said Safris.
“At some point we’re going to have a long conversation about appropriate behavior with prisoners, Safris-varlas.”
“Hey, I’m not a prisoner!” Cassil protested.
“You’re subject to Shevran custody until you’ve cleared outprocessing at your destination. And that,” the guard continued, glaring at Safris, “means a certain degree of professionalism.”
Safris smirked. “Cassil can confirm that I’m very professional at what I do.”
“Damn, is she ever,” Cassil agreed.
“Bay doors closing. Compartment pressurizing.”
“Safris,” said Rostag, pursing his lips, “sometimes I get the impression you don’t take your work as seriously as you need to.”
All trace of humor vanished from Safris’ voice. She stepped forward, unhesitatingly, into her colleague’s personal space.
“Rostag-varlas,” she said, in level tones, “you impugn my commitment to the Shevran and my belief in its principles.”
“Safris-varlas. You will address me by my title when you speak to me.” Valit til pares dovit sulim las vali.
Rostag stiffened at her sudden shift to dominant pronouns. “I don’t know what authority you think you have to—”
“No. You really don’t. And that’s your problem, varlas.” Safris clasped her hands behind her back. “How many actions have you served in, officer?”
“I don’t see how that’s—”
“You have a fancy rank and a fancy uniform. That might impress a civvie but don’t act like it means you have the first fucking clue what serving the People actually means. Varlas.” She spoke the rank like it was an insult, and turned away.
“Compartment pressurized. This platform is now boarding.”
Cassil looked hesitantly at Safris. “Do I—”
“Off with you.” Safris waved at the portway, whose airtight barriers were retracting. “This is where we part ways. We’re not even allowed to step on board that train.”
“Okay.” Cassil nodded. “Um. Thanks, I guess. For… keeping me company.”
Safris laughed. “Thank you, Cassi.” She bowed, and Cassil, after hesitating a moment, returned the gesture.
She walked toward the portway. It lit up green, and she stepped through. An armored rail guard met her on the inside.
“Hello, ma’am.” He inclined his head politely. “Could you please identify yourself? Name and—”
Cassil rolled her eyes. “Cassil Tegvari, ward seven-oh-seven-fifteen-four-eight-ten.”
“Thank you. Would you be so kind as to bare your neck?” He held up a reader plate.
“Seriously? Is this really necessary? If I wasn’t free and clear every fucking alarm would have gone off the second I crossed the threshold. We both know that.”
“You are of course completely correct, ma’am.” The guard smiled apologetically. “But this depot is marked as a Black Zone adjunct and that means everyone who boards or disembarks here needs to submit to a near-field read, for the sake of redundancy. If you would?”
Cassil sighed. She turned and held her hair out of the way. “Go ahead.”
Cold metal on her neck. The familiar click. The guard nodded, and plucked a handset from his utility belt. “Clear. Ready to depart.”
Cassil took a seat as the hatch hissed shut, and sank back into the heavy cushions. The muffled “Bay depressurizing” announcement over the depot intercom faded into nothing as the air evacuated the chamber. Green lights in front of them. The bay doors retracted, and then without the slightest hint of sound or friction, only crushing acceleration, the train was moving. In seconds the depot had vanished into the darkness of the Core Line.
Cassil caught the arm of the guard as he passed her, headed for the front cab. “I don’t suppose you serve whiskey on this thing, do you?” she asked.