Living in a Constellation

by Nathan Elberg

They were never supposed to need their combat training.  Well, almost never.  And now Constable Gerald Jones, on his very first assignment as a policeman, might have to get rough.  Gerald had feared this might happen.  He was a peaceful man, whose strong sense of right and wrong told him violence should be avoided.  But now, to his chagrin, the anticipation of a fight was exciting him.  “Let’s go over this again.  Explain why you’re so upset.”  Gerald used his most soothing, psychologist tone.

“He had sex with Angie!”

“Yes, I understand that.  What I don’t understand is why you’re so upset.”

“She’s my wife.”

“You know the Codes.  From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.  He needed your wife.  She had the ability to fulfill his needs.  You don’t own your spouse.  She makes her own decisions.”

Gerald thought about Sharon.  How would he feel about her having sex with other people, if she was his wife instead of his girlfriend?

How he felt wouldn’t matter.  Constable Sharon Finer made her own decisions.

The man was getting angrier by the second.  Angie stood off to the side of the common room, shifting her feet and biting her nails as she watched her husband.  Gerald tried to avoid ogling.  She was stunningly gorgeous, and he was also developing a need she could fulfill.  The man should have married someone uglier if he didn’t like sharing.  It was his fault, at least partly.

“My wife didn’t want to have sex with him.”

The Constable looked over at Angie.

“Honey, I agreed.”  She peered at her feet as she spoke.

Laura, the Constable’s Recorder, leaned against the wall a few paces away, taking in everything.  He had initially thought having an official representative make a record of all Police activity was absurd.  Now he was grateful for Laura’s presence.  She documented that he tried to keep things peaceful, that he followed proper procedures.

This wasn’t working; the perp wasn’t getting calmer.  The Constable reached for his belt and flicked the switch of a device he hoped he wouldn’t have to use.  The slightest trace of a smile twitched across Laura’s otherwise impassive face.  She had noted his motion.

“Only because of the gift he gave you,” the husband said.

“Honey, I wanted the telescope.  He was able to fulfill my need, and I his.  Where’s the harm?”

A telescope?  Not jewelry, or something like that?

“I’ll show you where the harm is.”  The man took a menacing step towards his wife.

The Constable quickly grabbed his forearm.  “Sir.  We are a harmonious society.  Violence is not tolerated.  Not even threats of violence.  We will take any action necessary­—any action to prevent violence.”

“I’m not going to hurt anyone.  Am I at least allowed to be angry?”

There was rage in the man’s voice.  There was also trepidation; he knew the answer to his question.  Maybe he didn’t know the Codes as well as the Constable, but he knew enough.  Everyone did.

Angie put her hands in her pockets.  She pulled them out and scratched her hair, tugged at her ear.  She folded her arms over her chest, trying to keep herself still.  Gerald looked again at Laura’s expressionless face, hoping to calm his nerves for what he had to do next.  It seemed there was no avoiding it.

“Sir, you have fallen out of harmony.  You need to be restored.”

“What!  Someone sleeps with my wife, in my house, and I get punished?”

The Constable prayed he wouldn’t have to go further.  “Sir, you are to spend a year in a re-harmonization facility, where you will be restored.  To help you lose your possessive attitude towards your wife, she will be enrolled in a subscription service, fulfilling a different person’s needs every day for the same year.”

The man ripped his arm free of the Constable’s grasp.  There was a stifled scream from Angie as he brought his hands around Gerald’s neck and started to squeeze.  Two long weeks of combat training and it came down to this.  Was there any alternative?

The Constable tore the neural eraser off his utility belt, activating the countdown.  He slapped it onto the side of the man’s head and tried to step away.  The pressure on his throat intensified.

He brought his knee up into the man’s groin.  The man grimaced, but didn’t let go.  Gerald had to move back before the discharge, or it might also erase his mind.  He turned desperately to Laura.  The camera embedded in her eye, the sensor in her nose, the microphone in her ear continued to record.  She ignored the danger to the Constable.

He kicked his feet, he beat at the man’s chest, but the pressure on his windpipe was relentless.  His instructors didn’t cover this in combat training, and Gerald was running out of air.  He shut his eyes and prepared for the blast.  He tried to console himself; the eraser wasn’t actually touching him.  Maybe something would remain of his mind.

Gerald felt himself spasm as he collapsed, face down on the floor.  There was a slight smell of smoke in the air, but it wasn’t from him.  A woman was talking to him.  Did Laura rescue him?  He forced his eyes open.

His Recorder hadn’t moved from her position against the wall.  Rather, Angie’s voluptuous cleavage was in front of his face.  “I’m sorry.  Please, I’m sorry.  It was my fault.  But I pulled you away.”  She wiped tears from the long lashes around her deep blue eyes.  “Don’t hurt my husband.  I’ll go to the subscription service.  I’ll do whatever you want.  Please…”

The Constable sat up and took in the scene.  The angry man was lying on the floor, eyes staring at the ceiling.  He was no longer angry; he was no longer capable of any emotion.  Gerald’s relief at still having an intact mind dissolved into disquietude over the one he had just erased.  “It’s done.  What’s your fault?”

She moved over to her husband, and cradled his head in her lap as her skirt rode up her thighs.  “I should have been more discreet.  I should have known that my husband would be upset.  Look what I did to him.”

The Constable went over and examined the eraser, still affixed to the side of the man’s head.  The diagnostic readout confirmed that indeed the man’s emotions, memories, his personality had been cleaned away.  He continued to gaze upwards, blinking occasionally.  The Constable struggled to keep himself from staring at what was under the barren head.  He put a comforting hand on Angie’s shoulder.  “I’m sorry I had to do this.”

Angie put her hand on his, accepting his solace.

“He should have followed the Codes,” the Constable muttered.

“Do… will I still have to be part of a subscription service?  It won’t do my husband any good now.”  She stroked her husband’s forehead, his cheeks.

“The decree would only have been voided if the blast had killed him.  I can make a decree, but I can’t withdraw it.”  Gerald looked at her tearful eyes, at her inviting chest.  He turned his head away and pointed at Laura.  “It’s all part of the Record, including your admission of responsibility”

“A whole year?  I…um, my job?”  She gave a mournful sigh, and wiped her eyes with her sleeve.

“Including a month’s training.  Subscription service workers have to be trained.”  An idea sparked in his mind.  Gerald shivered, as he quickly thought through the rules and procedures.  Was it wrong to take advantage like that?  Technically, it was permitted.  He looked at Angie’s tearful face.  She was beyond beautiful, even when in anguish.  They had been encouraged at the Academy to take these kinds of perks.  He had to try.

“I can’t… it’s not…  I’m… harmony…”  Angie seemed to be desperately trying to come up with an alternative; an argument that wouldn’t get her sent to a re-harmonization facility, or lead to her mind being erased.

“I could possibly get the subscription period shortened if I took responsibility for training you.  Let me check with Police Central.”  Gerald felt her looking him over as she fidgeted.  Or maybe it was his imagination.  The thought stirred his need.  He turned his back, and pressed his communicator.

Ahh; approved.  A wave of despair flooded his heart, but he pushed it aside.  He was thrilled, not disappointed that he was ordered to proceed.

Gerald furrowed his brow, trying his best to look serious, trying his best to mask his need, which was getting more urgent.  “I can do your training in the evening.  You could continue at your regular work during the day.  That’s feasible.”  No promises though, about reducing the length of the subscription.  Gerald tried to offer a friendly smile, rather than a leer.  “It’s been authorized.”

Angie took her husband’s hand in one of hers, continued stroking his face with the other.  She looked up at the Constable, trails of moisture making their way down from her eyes.

Would Gerald still have energy for his girlfriend?  She had once warned him that she was like a poisonous snake when angry.  He didn’t want to test her.  What would she think about this arrangement?  He tapped his communicator button, transmitting his question.

Angie continued to look up at him from beside her husband.  He gently touched her hair.  “We’ll try it for a month and then reassess.”

Constable Finer responded— yes, she understood.  Sharon had graduated the Academy with him; this was part of his Police responsibilities.  Anyways, she assured him, she would find ways to keep herself entertained.

Angie nodded, ever so faintly.  It was more like a shudder.

“I’ll come back this evening.”  He headed towards the door, his Recorder following.  “I’ll order a transport to take your husband to a facility where he can be at ease.  His possessiveness might distract you from your training.”  Gerald practically choked on the stupidity of his own words.

“Well done,” Laura said as she and the Constable climbed into the pod.  “It’s to everyone’s advantage.”  She winked.  “Especially yours.”

Indeed, it had gone well.  The man was no longer threatening anyone, no longer disrupting harmony.  And an incredibly gorgeous woman was his for a month, obliged to go along with all his carnal demands.

“You’re going to be a credit to the Police.  I can tell.”

Gerald beamed.  “Thank you.”  From most people, it would be a nice compliment.  Coming from Laura, it was a real honor.  She had won a Medal of Valor on a previous assignment, when the Captain she was recording jumped into a river to rescue a little girl.  The strong current made it difficult for him to reach the shore, and he shouted at Laura to throw him the emergency rope.  But such interference would have compromised her neutrality.  At the awards ceremony, they played Laura’s recording of the little girl clutching the Captain as they were both swept down the river.  It earned her a standing ovation from the audience.

This was much better than merely going well.  So why was there a knot in his stomach?  Constable Jones smiled, and gave his Recorder a light hug.

#

“How’s the love instructor?  Are you able to work, or are you all tired out?”  Laura had a thin smile on her face the next morning as they walked from Police Central to the pod.

The Constable wasn’t sure if she was being sarcastic.  He tried to grin appropriately.  “I’m okay.  I didn’t want to be hard on her.”

The thin smile disappeared.  “You’re a man.  You’re Police.  You’re supposed to be hard.”

He blushed.  “Yah, well….  Not the first night.  I’ll give her time to get comfortable with me.”

“You’re sweet, but that’s not the assignment you gave yourself.  You’ve got a month to train her to please other people, regardless of what she’s feeling.”

“She just lost her husband.”

“He’s still alive.”

“You know what I mean.  I destroyed his mind.”

“So?  You took on the responsibility to have Angie ready in a month.  You better treat it seriously.”

Gerald sighed.  That sounded vaguely like a threat.  Recorders weren’t supposed to threaten; just observe.  “Are you going to record us every time?”

“You’ll have to put on a better show if you want to keep your audience happy.  You looked more uncomfortable than her.”

The Constable shifted his feet and tried to scowl.  “We have a large area to patrol today.  Let’s focus on that instead of last night.”

“You have a large area to patrol.  My focus is you.”  She put a hand on his shoulder.  “I certainly hope the action will be better tonight.  This patrol will probably be quite boring.”

The Constable took the command seat and set the pod to low-altitude mode.  The hull faded from sight, allowing him to watch the ground below as they traveled.  The flight path had been automatically entered, so all that was left was for him to do was to lean on his elbow and look down; the chair was designed to keep him comfortable and awake.

Even with the special seat, he still had trouble keeping his eyes open.  He hadn’t slept well.  None of Sharon’s late-night caresses could take his mind off Angie’s unhappiness.  Gerald forced his attention back to the ground, back to the search for anything that looked out of place, anything that seemed out of harmony, besides his thoughts.

This patrol must be even more tedious for his Recorder.  Her only responsibility was to film him as he engaged in his Police responsibilities.  How often did that involve watching people copulate?

“Laura, what—”

There was no point finishing his sentence.  Laura was standing, expressionless, recording him.

“I’m not involved in any action now.  Why are you recording me?”

There was no point to that question either.  Was it because of something with Angie last night?  Laura was starting to un-nerve him.

#

“You were boring on patrol today.  You were boring last night.  I want some excitement.  Show me something new I can do with my husband.”  Laura grinned, and slapped his buttocks as they stood before Angie’s door that evening.

“That would require personal lessons.  But first you’d have to show me what’s under your uniform, so I can decide if I’m interested in taking you on as a student.”  Laura was cute, with short-cropped hair, a small, round face and a slender body.  Her freckles gave her a playful look, but they seemed to disappear whenever she was recording.

“We’ll share a cubicle tomorrow morning and you can do your inspection.  But only if you put on a good show with Angie tonight.”

Constable Jones groaned silently.  She didn’t realize, or maybe she didn’t care that he had been joking.

#

Angie was no more comfortable than the previous night.  The Constable ordered her to undress, but when he put a hand on her knee, she started to shiver.  He wrapped his arms around her, more for comfort than for training, as she burrowed her head into his shoulder.  He looked up at Laura’s passionless face and lifted his eyebrows as if asking “what can I do?”.  They sat that way for an hour, the Recorder documenting their stillness.

His shoulder was damp.  “That’s all we’ll do tonight.  We’re making progress.”  He kissed the top of Angie’s head as he stood.  “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

#

The next morning Laura went into her cubicle and slammed the door closed behind her.

“I have an inspection scheduled,” Gerald yelled.

Silence.  He bit his lip, and went to another locker to change into his uniform.

“I have to take it slowly with Angie,” he said as they stepped into their pod.

Laura scowled.  “I have our orders for the day.”

“Well, let’s have them.  I can’t obey if I don’t know what they are.”

Laura glared silently.

Another day of routine patrol lay before them; same flight path as the previous day.  He sat down in the command chair and turned to her.  She continued her silent recording.  Did that mean he was on probation?  For what?  Being gentle?

Laura didn’t stop all day, even when Gerald set the pod down for lunch.  She followed him into the washroom, watching as he relieved himself; she wouldn’t let him keep his back to her.  He then had to accompany her when it was her turn.  Only when they went back to their lockers did she take her eyes off him.  This was very un-nerving.

#

When Angie opened the door for them that evening, she was wearing only a thin robe, held closed by a loosely tied belt.  Her face looked a little garish; off-kilter.  She was wearing more makeup than usual.  Or perhaps her makeup was just more obvious than usual.

The Constable sat down with her on the sofa and put a hand on her knee.  Laura stood opposite them, taking her standard position.  Angie drew his hand higher and opened her legs.

Ahh, progress!  He put his other hand behind her neck and pulled her lips to his.  He smiled to himself; this proved he was right to be gentle.

She stank of liquor.  Gerald flinched, but didn’t let go.  A mouth rinse must have kept him from smelling it when he arrived, but with her tongue in his mouth it was inescapable.  She slid out of her robe and started to unbutton his shirt.  Gerald stood up, flooded with uncertainty, but she immediately reached over and opened his pants.

She was as skilled as she was beautiful.

#

Gerald had slept poorly again.  It was incredible sex with a beautiful woman, but she was drunk.  She knew she had to “train,” so she got herself intoxicated enough to do it.  Would she have wanted him if she was sober?  Wanted the man who destroyed her husband, who had condemned her to a year of sexual servitude?  He walked towards the lockers, lost in despair.

“Time for inspection!”  Laura grabbed his wrist and yanked him to a cubicle.  Her slight build masked her strength, and he hadn’t been paying attention.  She slammed her locker door closed with him on the inside, and quickly undressed.

Gerald felt like crying.  That wouldn’t do.  He put his fingers on her cheeks, and slowly began sliding them down her body, keeping his face close to the skin he was touching.  He kneaded her breasts, moved his fingers down her belly, stopping at her hair.  He licked his lips emphatically, stood up, and gave Laura his best leer.  “You’ll do.”

She took the hand off of her belly and kissed it.  “When you’re finished training Angie, you’ll train me.”

That sounded wrong.  “How will your husband feel about that?”

“It didn’t take him long to convince me, after we watched the tapes.”  Laura put her uniform on slowly, positioning herself to give him the best possible view.

Gerald turned his back to undress, and then recalled what she had been recording every night.  He faced her as he changed into his uniform, giving her brief cause to smile.

Constable Finer met them at the Police Pod.  “We’ve got a joint assignment.”

Laura grimaced, looking around for Finer’s Recorder.

“Just you, I’m afraid.  My Recorder’s depressed, so he went on leave of absence.  The Captain was in a good mood and has paired me with my boyfriend.”  She wrapped her arms around Gerald’s neck.  He kissed her cheek.

“That’s it?  A little peck?  I heard about what you’ve been doing to Angie.  I want some of that treatment.”  She put her hands on her waist, feigning an angry pose.

Is that really what you want—a year of sexual servitude?  “It’s working hours,” he said.  “If I start with you now, I might not be able to stop.”

Why were all these woman demanding sex from him?  Was it power?  Constable Finer had just as much as him, and Laura, by monitoring him, maybe more.  The only woman he commanded was Angie.

He shuddered at the realization.  He didn’t want that kind of power.

Yes he did.  Those perks were one of the reasons he joined the Police.  He pictured Angie sitting on the floor, her husband’s head on her lap.  He didn’t want that kind of power.  Not anymore.

Sharon’s eye twinkled.  “I can wait till bedtime.”

Gerald glanced at Laura.  Her face was twisted into a repulsive leer.

Constable Finer sat down in the command chair, pointing Constable Jones into the seat behind.  “Five children have been bullying one of their classmates, making fun of him because he’s effeminate.  We have to correct this behavior, bring them all back into harmony.”

“How old are they?”

“Seven or eight.  You took the child psychology specialty at the Police Academy, didn’t you?”

Constable Jones nodded.  That had been one of the more challenging days of his training.  Children’s minds were malleable, and they fell in and out of harmony more quickly than adults.  It was important to make a strong, lasting impression.

“It makes sense that you take the lead with this.  How do you want to handle it?”

Jones shrugged.  “The usual.  Talk first.  If that doesn’t seem to have an effect, we’ll do something stronger to make them more harmonious.”

“All the children together, or one at a time?”

“I’ll figure it out when we get there.”  He turned to Laura.  “Why are you recording me now?”

Laura continued to stare.

“She’s not going to answer, you know.”

Jones sighed.  “I know.  But it’s bothering me.”  He stood up and paced.

The pod settled itself beside the schoolyard.  Five frightened boys were standing in a cluster next to the fence.  Another boy, quite chubby, with his arms crossed over his chest, smiled at the approaching Police.

“You’re going to get it now,” he taunted the five boys.

Constable Jones reached for his belt and flicked one of the switches as he approached the boys.  Finer furrowed her brow, as if asking why.  Laura’s face remained impassive.

“They don’t know I’ve released the containment field,” he whispered.  “They won’t run.  I want to throw them off balance when we walk right through it.  We’ll take opposite positions around them.”

Jones was wrong.  As they got close one of the boys took off, heading towards a wooded area at the top of a nearby hill.  Finer started running after him.

“No.  Get back to the pod,” he yelled, flicking a switch and restoring the containment field holding the remaining boys.

“Why?”

“Do it.  You gave me the lead.”

The two constables reached the pod before Laura, who had tripped over some unseen obstacle.

Jones shut the hatch.  “Take the controls and stay over him.  Match his speed.”

“We can’t operate without the Recorder!”

“We’re okay.  Make the hull transparent, so she can record from the outside.”  Constable Jones removed a cover beneath the control panel, bent down, and reached for a tiny lever.  “Tell me when we’re over the kid, following the same trajectory.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to make a strong impression on him.”

“Is that part of your child psychology?”

“Part psychology, more engineering.”

“Okay, we’re over him; matching trajectory and speed.”

Constable Jones moved the lever.  The pod hissed, and all its systems went dead.  It dropped quickly towards the ground, right towards the boy below it.

Finer’s eyes went wide.  “We’re going to crash,” she screamed.

A moment later the pod wheezed, came back to life, and stopped.  It was a couple of meters above the ground, less than a meter from the terrified boy it was about to crush.  Jones popped open the door, jumped out and grab the boy, pulling him from underneath.  Constable Finer lowered the pod as he threw the boy inside.  From the smell, it seemed the boy had soiled himself.

Finer’s forehead had a bright, sweaty sheen.  “What did you do?  I thought—”

“It’s a trick I learned.  Scared you?”  Gerald grinned at that accomplishment.

Finer scowled.

“Back to the others,” he told her.  “Descend to half a meter and hold.”  He opened the hatch and roughly pushed the boy out.  He hopped out after him, then dragged the boy back towards his friends.  They had all seen what happened.  The chubby boy was grinning from ear to ear.  He came running.

“They’re always calling me fat, and say that I cry like a girl.”

The Constables looked at him.

“I’m not fat; I’m big-boned”

“I’ve heard that before,” Finer whispered.

“You don’t have to explain yourself,” she said to the chubby boy.

“Do you cry like a girl?”  Constable Jones asked.

“Only when they beat me up.  They all gang up on me.”

“That’s because he’s always trying to get us into trouble,” said the shortest boy in the group.  “He takes—”

“There’s never an excuse for violence,” Jones said.

“There’s never an excuse for being mean,” Finer said.  She turned to Constable Jones.  “Well?”

Jones pressed his fingertips to his temples, concentrating.  The image of Angie in her robe, drunk, came to his mind.  The memory of the scent of whiskey on her breath overwhelmed his thoughts, enraging him.

“The four of you need to learn how to respond when you have problems.  Six months in a re-harmonization camp should do it.”

He turned to the boy who ran.  “Running away from peace and harmony wasn’t a smart idea.  You’re going to serve as an example for your friends, so you can all understand how wrong it is to make fun of a boy by saying he acts like a girl.  I’m enrolling you in a subscription service for six months.  You’ll be a girl, for men who prefer boys for their pleasure.  After that, you’ll go to a re-harmonization camp.  That should take care of you.”

The chubby boy hugged Jones’ leg.  “You’re very wise.  I’m so glad you came.”  He looked up and smiled at the police, then scowled at the boy who ran.  “Being mean is so wrong.”

The boy fled again.  He broke free of Constable Jones’ grip and tried for the woods.  Constable Finer pulled a weapon from her belt, glanced for a moment at Jones, then fired at the running child.  The boy tumbled to the ground, slowly pulled himself up, took another step, and then fell once more.  He didn’t rise.

His four friends were crying.  The chubby boy was crying.  This wasn’t what any of them expected.

This wasn’t what Gerald had expected.  He turned to the side, trying to get control of his breathing, control of his tears.  His psychology lessons hadn’t been very helpful.  How could Constable Finer be so ruthless?

But he had the lead; she was only following the path he laid out.

Finer was smiling as she pressed her communicator.  “Let them think he’s dead.  He’s got an adult dose of tranq, so he should sleep for a few hours.  I ordered a transport to pick him up.”

Her words overwhelmed and confused him.  Usually people used their communicators at a distance.  This close, his mind was swamped by the volume.  Or maybe it was swamped by the churning tide of events; the tide he had set in motion   He stepped away, as if another meter of separation would help.

“Don’t smile; don’t let on,” she said.

Constable Jones didn’t need that instruction.  He was relieved that Finer didn’t kill the boy, but smiling was beyond him now.  The Police were supposed to bring people to harmony.  How many would he destroy while doing that?  One was enough for today.

It was time to take the lead.  He flipped a switch on his belt, releasing the remaining boys from the containment field.  “Stop crying,” he shouted at them.  “Listen to me, or it will be worse for you.”  He gave them a few moments to get control of themselves.

“You’re upset by what happened to your friend.  You see where bullying leads?  I think you’ve learned your lesson; more than you’d learn in a re-harmonization camp.  Promise to stay in harmony, and you’ll be free to go.”

“What the hell are you doing?”  Constable Finer’s communicator screamed at him.  He ignored her.

“Do you promise?”

The boys mumbled desperate oaths, promising, swearing; anything not to suffer the fate that had been promised them, or that had struck their friend.

“Go back to school.”  He grabbed the chubby boy’s arm as the others fled.  “I know what you’re doing.  If I ever get another complaint about you being bullied, you’re the one who will end up at the subscription service.”

“I wasn’t—”

“Don’t argue.  Just remember my warning before you try to get other kids in trouble.  Go.”

“The other kids make fun of me because I’m big-boned.  They call me a girl.”

Jones put his hands on his hips.  “Your stomach is big because you eat too much.  If you don’t want them to call you a girl, act like a man.  If you’re not back in school by the time I count to ten, you’re going to spend a year as a girl.  One…”

He ran.

“I can’t believe you did that,” Finer said as they took their seats in the pod.

Jones turned to Laura.  “Sorry I had to leave you behind when we ran to the pod.  I turned it transparent, so you could see what was happening inside.  You can stop recording now.  We’re done.”

He turned to Constable Finer.  “I wish she’d stop that.  It makes me quite uncomfortable.”

“She records when she’s ordered to, or if she decides it’s necessary.  It’s not up to you.”

Finer’s answer made him more uncomfortable.

She glared at him, wagging a finger.  “Did you get permission to reverse the decree for those boys?  It’s not standard practice.”

“I don’t care.  It may not be permitted, but I did what’s right.”  He wagged a finger back at her.  “It’s also not standard practice to trick children into thinking that their friend has been killed by the Police.”

“They tricked themselves; it was their mistake.”

“Well, I used that trick to bring the kids into harmony, without them having to suffer further.”

They flew the rest of the way in silence.

“I’m not going to record you at Angie’s tonight,” Laura said.  “I’ve got enough material.  We’re finished for the day.”

There was something about her demeanor in the cubicle as she changed out of her uniform.  No flirtatiousness, no salacious looks.  Gerald kept his back to Laura as he got dressed.  Neither of them was in the mood to give each other cause to smile.

#

Angie was sober when she opened the door for him.  She had the same robe on, but the belt was tighter, and a couple of buttons were fastened, to keep it from slipping open.  Her eyes went past him, searching.

“No Recorder tonight.”

She hugged him.  “Can I pour you a whiskey?”

“Please don’t get drunk tonight.”  Gerald gently took her hand as they sat on the couch together.

“I need to relax.”

“Can’t you do that some other way?  Would you like to simply sit and talk tonight?  We don’t have to put on a show for anyone.”

“Don’t you have to train me?”

“Maybe you’ll have clients that just want to talk.”

Angie raised her eyebrows at that idea.  “This isn’t what I expected from you.”

“What I did the first time we met isn’t what I expected from me.  I’ll find a way to correct it.”

She raised tear-filled eyes to his.  “I…”

“Shh.”  He wiped her cheeks with his fingers.  “We don’t have to talk either.”

“You’re supposed to train me.”  It was more of a question than an assertion.

“You can be the teacher tonight.”

She curled up, put her head on his lap, and sighed.

Angie stood suddenly.  “Alright.  I’ll be back in a couple of minutes.”

“Where—”

“I’m going to get changed.  We’re going out.”  She disappeared into the next room.

It was more than a couple of minutes, but not too much more, when she returned wearing a loose turtleneck sweater and a just-as-loose knee length skirt.  She had a backpack slung over her shoulder.  She didn’t seem to be wearing anything under the sweater.  Hopefully, she had something under the skirt.

She extended a hand to him and smiled.  “We’re going for a ride.”

“Where?”

“To the stars.  Come; no questions.”

There was a double chair in her pod.  She entered a destination and then sat down next to Gerald, resting her head on his shoulders, putting a hand on his lap.  He held it gently.

They were far out of the city when they finally landed on a grassy hillside dotted with tall bushes.  The aurora borealis shimmered and danced above them, a graceful green curtain in the sky.  Angie spread out the blanket she had brought with her and lay on her back, gazing at the stars.

“You see the four stars zigzagging almost overhead?  A little bit to the left?”  Gerald asked as he lay down beside her.

Angie raised her arm and pointed upwards.  It was hard for Gerald to look at the sky rather than her.  She was relaxed now, more so than she had ever been with him.  It intensified her beauty.

“Those four, with the three weak lights in front of them?”

“You’re very observant.  Yes, those.  That’s the Fire Snake constellation.  The snake is slithering towards its prey: those weaker stars.  It’s ready to swallow them.”

Angie pointed again.  “No.  That’s not its prey.  The Hunter constellation next to it is horizontal in the sky, because it’s been killed by the Fire Snake.  The weak lights- those are the snake’s venom.”

Gerald turned onto his side and lightly draped his arm across her belly.  He leaned over and kissed her cheek.  “And how would you know that, my dear?”

“I’m an astrophysicist.”

That’s why she didn’t want jewelry.  “He bought you a telescope?”

Angie propped herself up on an arm and turned towards Gerald.  “He’s the head of the Observatory, in charge of access to all its equipment.  He’s always wanted access to me, so it seemed the reasonable thing to do.”

She touched a finger to his forehead and began to run it slowly down his face, down his chest.  She slid closer to him.  “I can make you feel like you’re living in a constellation.  Would you like that?”

The Constable had never imagined that his work would make him so happy.  Sharon was fun in bed, but Angie…  Angie had taken him traipsing through the heavens, soaring among the stars.

“I’ve got a surprise for you in my pod.  Wait here; I’ll be right back,” Angie said.

Gerald nodded and groaned with contentment, as he felt the cool breeze tickling the hairs on his chest.  He pulled half the blanket over him and closed his eyes, letting the day’s tensions seep away.

He opened them with a start.  Where was she?  He stood up, to see a pod approaching rapidly.  Why was she in her pod?

No, it was a Police Pod.

“Angie!”  What did they do to her?  “Angie,” he shouted, terrified.

The pod positioned itself above him.  The markings told him it was Constable Finer’s.  Had she come to watch the show?  Did she put a secret trace on him?  That would be against the Codes.

The pod made a hissing sound and dropped straight down.  It didn’t wheeze before it landed.

#

Angie stepped out from behind a tall bush.

Finer walked over to her.  “Satisfied?”

“So I’m released from any obligations to be in a subscription service?”

“As we arranged.”

“You got what you wanted?”

“Yes.”  Finer extended her hand, palm up.

Angie touched her eyes, popping out the temporary cameras.  She wiggled the microphone out of her ear, pulled the sensor from her nose.  “Even one evening as a Recorder is too much.”

Finer dropped the equipment into a bag.  “You weren’t a Recorder.  It’s much worse than what you did for a few hours.”

A soft groan came from under the pod.  Angie arched her eyebrows.

“He may have been in a bad position when it landed.  I’ll leave it on him overnight.  You’ll give me a ride back to Police Central?”  Finer caressed the side of the pod.  “I guess I’ll have to find a new lover.”

“He was your—?”

“I was ordered to get rid of him.  He’d turned renegade, acting without authorization and not following orders.”

“But with a pod?”

The corners of Finer’s mouth turned very slightly upwards.  “I wanted to try out a little trick he taught me.”

The End