Your lips were warm, of course, and your shoulder sweaty where I tried to rest my hand. My fingers kept sliding down your skin. The wind whistled over the roof of the hothouse, and when I inched closer to you on the bench, you smelled of wood steam and the squash that we ate for dinner. You pushed your tongue tentatively against my lips and I opened my mouth. Your tongue swept slowly along my teeth and palate and tongue. I sat up in your arms, our lips making a soft smacking noise. My hand went to your head to thread its fingers in your hair.
“Oh,” I said, pulling back, surprised at myself, “Is that okay?”
“Mm. Yes,” you managed. You forced yourself to focus on my face. “Can I touch you?”
I blinked, watched a drop of sweat roll down your neck. I nodded.
You put your palm on my hip, rough skin of your palms, and squeezed. I pushed into it, feeling strong. I took your face in my hands and concentrated on your lips. A tug, my nipple between your fingers, heat inside my belly, a fine sweat along my breast bone.
You pulled back, saying against my lips, “You are very soft.” I pushed against you, thinking I might burst my skin.
“Please,” I said, letting my knees open.
“I can?” you asked. I nodded.
You rested your forearm on the bench one step up, my head cradled in the crook of your elbow, and pulled my leg over one of yours, turning me towards you. I went for your mouth again as your free hand trailed up my thigh. You could tell I felt a little frantic.
“Yes?” you asked, and I nodded, going limp when your fingers made it to their destination. Carefully, you fingered open the linings, slowly running the tips up and down. I pushed into your hand; you slipped a middle finger inside, and, finding a little more room, your ring finger too. You dragged them slowly along the inside of my belly, and, like it was a button on a bot, I rose toward you, hooking your neck in the crook of my elbow. It put my mouth right where I wanted it: near your jugular.
This had begun three weeks before, when the river seemed to have re-routed itself through the city. Streets raged with iridescent water that made abrupt turns as if incensed by competing traffic. My traveling companion, Jill, and I had thought we’d spend the rainy winter writing a trashy romance novel; we figured we could sell the novel to a few people we knew who still traded in books, or give in and get it copper-printed. We’d take whatever goods we made and head out while our permit plates were still good. Neither of us had spent any time outside of the city, and the travel-permit plates being hard to procure, it seemed one of our most viable options.
But a sturdy tinker with a studio and small living loft seduced Jill, and last I heard she was living in the northeast quadrant, writing scripts for the tinker’s copper-bot puppets.
Permission plates or no, I left the city, stopping in the southeast quadrant to trade a child several grommets for a tin of Delights, something sweet to cut through the rain, and to bulk up my stores, which included three packets of muscle nutrition, two of brain nutrition, and a bar of soap. The last bath I had was in the hot springs on the coast, which I found on the poor directions of urban mythology.
I hitched inland for two weeks, unable to take in the breadth of a field, the girth of a tree. I couldn’t comprehend trees, couldn’t think of them as anything other than structures. I knew the word, tree, since folks in town loved to pass around the stories of the Unbuilt Hinterlands—full of organisms, things growing that are not ourselves, that we maybe can’t see. Even now its hard for me to understand that things grow. I caught myself wondering if folks lived in secret out here, constructed these things, made them look soft and dewy or stiff and leafy, set the mist on the ground each morning and evening, and what sort of alloy would you use for each structure? As I walked, I tried not to touch anything, not sure what might happen.
You sat suddenly upright with my body overflowing your arms. You picked me up and walked down to the lowest bench, which was the widest and closet to the stove, and you laid me down there, and then yourself alongside me. Your fingers sank again between my legs, and I finally got a taste of your neck. Cinnamon, squash, salt, oil. I sank my teeth in experimentally, then withdrew, looking up at you with a raised eyebrow. You nodded, and I pushed sweaty hair from your neck, happily applying my teeth to the newly bared area. The skin gave way and pushed against my incisors satisfyingly. I felt another finger worm its way inside, and my nipples grew harder.
At my ear you said, “I want to fuck you.”
I pulled myself away from your neck. “Tell me how,” I said.
“I’m going outside for a moment,” you said, “and when I come back, I want you sitting against the wall, legs spread.”
I blinked, but managed, “Yes.”
And you thrust your tongue in my mouth one more time before getting up and pushing out of the door.
I shivered for a moment at the gust of cold air, the sudden quiet in the room. Inside the stove, the dead trees on fire popped, and in the dark, I sat up, scooted backward until my back felt the warm wall. I stared at the glow of the stove, so that when you came back in, all I could see was your dark outline, and something in each of your hands.
You kneeled on the bench in front of me, setting your things behind you, and now I could see you small breasts with their nipples standing up fiercely, defying gravity in a way mine never would. You let me lay my hands on your thighs, hard and shaped by the stove light. The heat seemed impossible to survive. You reached behind you and offered me a jug of water. I took it and tilted my head back.
As I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, you looked me in the eye. “May I do what I like?”
I didn’t look away. I said, “Until I say no.”
The last forty miles, I’d ridden in the back of a scrap metal truck, the drivers offering to put me up for the night but refusing to name a destination. I sat in the wagon, no way to look out, only the dim translucence of the waxed canvas covering the wagon. Jostled by the steam of the truck, I pulled on nearly every layer of clothing in my pack, trying to protect my skin from the sharp edges. When the truck sputtered to a halt, I struggled out of my metal nest, my layers hanging limply about me. In the pearly wet evening, I found tiny shards of copper standing all over my clothes, the back of my hands. In the corners of my vision they glimmered in my hair and on my cheeks.
The truck stopped at the edge of a field lined with big structures, and you hung like a spider, suspended from one of the structures—a white oak, I have since learned—harnessed, hair hanging down. Your hands were sunk inside the first of a long row of boxes, familiarly made of alloy and rivets and ringing the edge of the roof of a glass building, each box bedded with a nest of green tentacles, swaths, and shoots. You tinkered, cranked on bolts, pulled at grommets, tongue escaping the corner of your mouth. The mist pulled at the line that held you. I couldn’t look away. The drivers silently set me aside and hauled out their load, tossing my pack on the ground.
You looked up. I like to imagine your seeing me, upside down, my grimy face, my hair a storm, the copper dust and slivers. I couldn’t breathe deeply, not really, lungs likely full of copper shards and 25 years of city metals. From that distance I could tell you were looking at me. I continued to stand there, and you looked back to your work, wrenched and pulled, deftly, effectively. The drivers finished unloading, caught my eye, and nodded toward a small path, behind the glasshouse at the far end of the meadow. They hoisted their belongings and walked that way. I took my pack as well, like a dead thing, and stopped at the base of your tree. Your eyes, I could tell, were a shade similar to the things bedded in the boxes.
I cleared my throat and you glanced down, then back at your work, hands never stopping. “Where are we?”
You made a particularly strong torque with your wrench. “Nowhere of consequence,” you said. “Not anywhere you could get to.”
This prickled, the indirectness of it. “I am not supposed to know?”
You made a sound of assent deep in your throat.
I watched you turn the wrench again. “I can handle that,” I said. I looked up and down the rows of boxes, suspended above my head. “I can leave whenever I want?”
Another grunt of assent.
I nodded up at the boxes. “Are these organisms?” I was trying to apply my vocabulary.
You sounded amused. “I suppose so,” you said. “As much as this oak, or you or I.”
“I’m getting used to trees,” I said. “Wild, thats the word?”
Again you sounded amused. “Wild, sure. But these here aren’t wild.”
I blinked. “Are they people?” I asked. “Or are they bots?”
“Ah,” you said. “How long have you been gone?”
“From the city? A couple weeks.”
“Come up,” you said.
I raised an eyebrow, wondering if you thought I was a bot myself, able to levitate, but then I noticed the rope you was feeding down, a thick double ply of fibers. Near the lower end were two loops; several feet above that, a big knot. I dropped my pack, shoved a foot into each loop, wrapped both hand above the knot. You pulled at a knot on the other side of a gadget, and slowly in fits and starts I rocked up through the air. When I approached eye level with you I understood that a double pulley system held each of our ropes, parallel to the trunk of the oak. You held a length of doubled webbing in your hands.
“May I?” you asked, and I nodded, unsure. “Keep holding the rope,” you said, and wrapped the webbing deftly about my hips, pulling both strands harmlessly between my thighs, tying it off at my waist. Then you hooked a locking copper loop from the front of my webbing to a loop in the rope. “In case your hands get tired,” you said, sitting back in your harness.
You gestured with your chin, the ends of your sandy hair flicking slightly in the twilight. “These are plants,” you said, and I leaned forward gingerly in my harness to peer into a box. Earth lay at the bottom, and soft green tissues emerged from the earth.
I looked at you. “Like trees or fields?”
“Yes, but not wild. Cultivated.”
I must have look mystified.
“Like a parent raises a child,” you said, “Only, according to the needs of the organism.”
“Needs?” The wind was rising slowly, maybe with rain.
“Water, nutrients, tenderness.”
You shook your head. “Horseshit.” I must have looked mystified again, because you laughed. It was so sudden and brazen, cutting through the tiny misty world between us, that I started backward in my webbing, wheeling my arms. My rope swung in a pendulum, rocking yours, and you reached forward to steady me.
“It hurts,” I said, wiggling to keep the webbing from digging into my thighs.
“Makeshift,” you sighed.
I wriggled again and threw myself into a wild swing, heart surging. Your reached around my waist, pulling me forward and taking the weight off my thighs. My bellybutton pressed above your hip. I used my palms on your shoulders to steady myself.
“Too much in your space?” you asked, from somewhere near my jaw. I stood several inches above you in my stirrups, looking over your shoulder at the purple on the horizon.
I considered. Your warmth seeped through your shirt into my hands. “No,” I said, “This feels fine,” and I could feel you nod.
“Let me know,” you said.
I sniffed, took a deep breath, let it out. You smelled strange, but appealing.
You held my gaze, taking the jug from me and setting it behind you. When you turned back, you held a length of cloth. “Arms up,” you said.
I settled back against the wall, watching you, and slowly raised my hands. You took a wrist and brought it against the wall. I looked up and saw that, beneath each small wrought iron shelf upon which candles sat, a loop of twisted iron hung. You wrapped my wrists carefully and tied each to a loop. I squirmed into a comfortable position.
“Legs apart,” you said.
I squinted up at you. “You planned this,” I accused, complying, bending my knees and settling my soles on the bench. I felt the heat on my labia, and a long wet drip.
You looked at me. “I hoped,” you said, and leaned down to kiss me. I wrapped my legs around your hips. You pulled your mouth away, weighing my breast in your hand. You kissed the nipple, and straightened up, turned away. This time you came back with a solid object, dark and long and blunt. It looked heavy, the way you were holding it.
You looked up and smiled, your hip and hard thigh lit by the stove glow. “Its warm,” you said, and settled in front of me.
You slid the tip from my knee down the inside of my thigh.
“What —” I asked, and you slipped the warm length inside me. If it felt any bigger, I probably would have objected. You looked at me and pushed and turned it, and the straps that hung from your end made a sound against the bench. I felt torn between bringing my mouth to you and pushing my hips toward you, and I couldn’t do both because of my wrists. You saw, and leaned in toward me, letting your small breasts brush against mine, your tongue sliding along my lips, your hand on the object. I let my legs settle around your hips, and I pulled you toward me, and your hand pushed the object deeper.
“Oh,” I said, because I couldn’t help it. You pulled away and fiddle with the object. It curved up on your end. Kneeling, thighs open wide, you raised up and fitted the end between your thighs, squirming until it disappeared inside you. This whole event caused vibration and pushes that sent little jolts through me. I squirmed. You wrapped the straps around your hips and thighs, fastening them and adjusting until you nodded, satisfied. You eyed me.
You lowered me down from the tree in the dark, then yourself, landing both feet and a thump. You’d given me your name but to be honest it was a whole two days before I could remember it. The air was too thin, full of water vapor and void of particulates, and my gaze seemed to slide off of you. I couldn’t make my eyes stick.
Through the cold wet dark you led me down a trail, through a patch of trees and then to another clearing, some structures and more fields behind them.
Inside one structure, seven others sat around big table, chewing, imbibing, red earth walls illuminated by what appeared to be plants on fire. I think in my tiredness I asked a lot of questions, stopping now and then to examine the food that didn’t look like anything from a nutrition packet, eventually struggling to hold my head up. You led me to a mattress, up in the air, under the eaves, where it was dark and warm and I listened to the murmurs until I slept. You didn’t stay, only handed me a blanket, grayish and soft, and climbed back down.
For four days I wandered around the land, happening upon your landmates doing strange things. I watched Lou take a creature, no bigger than a seven year old child, by its horns, open the front, and slide it out of its skin, which was covered in thick white hair. In the dirt beds, I helped you take plants out of the ground and put them back in somewhere else, where there was more sun. The best, by far, was finding Gael in a tree, pulling soft purple things off and tossing them into baskets. They oozed a sticky golden substance, and when you opened them up, the insides were a mass of pink and white wiggles. It was hard to put them in my mouth at first; later it was hard to stop.
That evening, I followed you to a clay structure, with an oven, which we fed with pieces of dead trees from the outside.
“Everyone else is inside,” you said, and opened the door.
Your landmates lounged unclad on the benches, and I blinked and backed out. You turned to look at my face, and then walked back to me, shutting the door to keep in the heat.
“Ferret,” you said. “Is it the no-clothing?”
You’d been calling me that, and I didn’t know what it meant; it was one question I hadn’t asked. The word startled me every time.
“I don’t know what it is,” I said. “I’m not afraid.”
You considered my face.
“Seems true,” you said, tucking your hands in your armpits and continuing to studying me. “We don’t have to go in.” The late light caught the fine wrinkle at your eye, the hair tucked behind your ear. I studied your jaw.
“No,” I said finally. I shivered.
“Its warm in there,” you said, nodding toward the door.
“Yes,” I said. So we threw our clothes down quickly and scurried in.
An aroma rose from the wood of the benches, which you called cedar. Your landmates greeted us lazily. All that was visible to my eyes were the outlines of bodies in a fine sheen. Someone was telling a story, which seemed to be about a trip to the city.
I stretched my legs toward the fire, leaned back on my elbows, and set about examining my body. It seemed like I hadn’t seen it before. You sat nearby, turning your head to check on me. I was absorbed in the new brownness of my forearms, the dark matter under my fingernails, the stretchy feeling in the backs of my legs.
“Ferret,” Gael said, “You haven’t asked a question yet,” and everyone laughed. Ginny handed me a bottle, something spicy and bubbly.
I could see people better now. “What is this place for?”
It was quiet and then they said things all at once, about washing and relaxing and muscles.
“Like a tune-up,” you said, grinning, “You know, to make the body work well. Like eating or sleeping or kissing.”
I raised a brow. “Like a bot needs oil?”
“Well,” you said thinking, “Sometimes you want a bot to do more than move. You want it to do a little dance, right?”
In the corner Ginny and Lou were turned towards each other, nose to nose, Ginny’s hand on Lou’s hip. Corke tipped back the last of a bottle while Gael told a joke in a low voice, hands waving in the air. I stretched my toes toward the heat, settling into the corners of my skin.
“I haven’t danced in a while,” I said. I felt power seeping in through my feet.
You leaned forward, forearms on knees. “Neither have we,” you said, like a confession. “Too much work.”
“In the tree, it was kind of like dancing,” I said. I turned my head and your shaggy one was there, inclined towards mine.
“Yeah.” You hesitated, then said, “I wanted to kiss you right then.” We were quiet. “Maybe I shouldn’t say that,” you said.
I looked at you, upside down. The light flickered on your cheek, your green-brown eyes.
“The funny thing,” I said, “was that I was going to write a story. About kissing.”
You raised a brow and waited.
“But I didn’t even know that I wanted you to kiss me,” I concluded.
“Well,” I said, “How was I going to write a story in a state like that?”
You shook your head, grinning. “You’re a writer?”
“Would you kiss me now?”
“As fodder for your story?” you asked.
“What’s fodder?” I asked.
You laughed. “This is just grease for your story? Me kissing you?”
“Grease for me.” I squinted up at you. “Please.”
The door opened and let in a gust of cool air, and I shivered. I saw the goosebumps on your skin, too. You raised your head to look around the small space; it seemed the others conveniently exited, or had just gotten too warm.
You turned your eyes back to me.
“I would do this,” you said, “even if it was just grease for your story.”
I lay at an angle against the wall, my legs bent over your thighs and around your hips. Reaching out, you ran a knuckle between my breasts, down my belly. You moved your hips, pushing into me. I couldn’t open my legs any wider, but I could close my eyes. You pushed again harder, tweaking a nipple roughly, running your nails down my side. I wanted your mouth, but you shook your head.
“I have to look at you,” you said. You pushed again and again, the smooth rippled object sliding slickly, gleaming in the stove glow. I could feel it bottom out inside. You held it there, deep, and ground your hips, holding the backs of my knees in your hands. It was too soon by far, but I couldn’t help it. When I made that sound, you started fucking me in earnest, punctuating the slides with deep round strokes like a mortar and pestle.
“Please,” I said, trying to sit up and give you my hips at the same time. You acquiesced this time, laying hands on either side of my face against the wall, letting your tongue in my mouth. I sunk my teeth into your lower lip, wrapped my legs around you, and let my body do what it wanted, muscles clenching around your object.
“Oh,” I said, over and over as you continued to move in me. You reached up with your hands, hips rolling, and untied my wrists. I slid down the wall until you lay on top of me. You propped yourself with your hands, and I reached up to touch your neck, your nipple.
“Thank you, Ferret,” you said, moving, moving. I wrapped my hand around your neck and brought you down to me, my legs locked around your waist, my tongue opening your mouth. Your coming made the object tremble inside me, and I wrapped my arms around yo
u, ran my fingers up and down your spine. Eventually you stopped shivering, and we lay there quietly, moving our hips and hands lazily, enjoying the surprise jolt now and then.
“Its hot,” I said.
“It’s you,” you said. You wrapped your arms around me and sat up, you on the bench, me on your lap facing you. It seemed to take you little effort. I used my thumbs to wipe the sweat from the freckles on your cheekbones.
“I know of a softer place to lie down,” you said.
“Oh?” I asked.
You used your hand to wiggle the base of the object. I looked down between us and we watched a bit of goo ooze from me, down the object toward you.
“I’ll wipe you down,” you said, “and then will you come sleep with me?”
I nodded and began to undo your straps.
Now its time to sleep, since I’ve told you all I know of this story. Tomorrow, there will be more.