It was a quiet night in the tavern. At least, it was quiet until Neelam tried to break my ribs. The persistence of the snow had irritated me earlier in the evening, so I had made myself a hot rum toddy, something I had not had in a long while, and settled down in the hope of advancing Edmund’s adventures beyond emerging from his room at the Mariners’ Rest.
I was suddenly tackled without warning, and found myself in a bone-crushing embrace with some unknown woman. After a couple of moments, I realised that it was Neelam, albeit a somewhat changed Neelam, behaving in a rather excited manner, which seemed an odd thing for a machine to do. I recalled that but a few evenings ago, she had begged Aoibheann for an advance on her wages in order to pay for modifications and enhancements to her body. This changed appearance would appear to be the result of that. She looked much more like a real, human woman, aside from a strange cable that protruded from her back like a tail. She was dressed differently too. In place of the rather strange body armour, she was clothed in a way that would not have looked out of place in Fiendish Pleasures. It would have been a pleasing appearance, save that it reminded me of my much missed friends from Fiendish Pleasures; especially Catt and Valene.
Neelam seemed eager to show off her new… body. She even offered me the chance to try out her control panel, which she could materialise over her breasts. Given the chaos I managed to create just in dealing with the microwave oven and espresso coffee machine, I declined, citing my ineptitude with technology as my excuse. I also expressed a fear of accidentally activating some futuristic weapon. She assured me that she would not attempt to kill me, adding, not entirely comfortingly, unless somebody ordered her to do so. I do hope that machines are able to make jokes.
She asked my opinion of the new look and I told her that I approved, but did warn her that her clothing might give the impression that she worked at a house of ill-repute, of which Aoibheann might not approve. When she eventually realised that I was speaking of brothels, she was entirely unfazed by the idea and informed me that she was completely functional in that respect and more than willing to provide such services to those who wished. I almost choked on my drink at the idea of a machine offering sexual favours, but not as much as I did when she suggested it would be a good revenue stream for the tavern. Tempting though the idea was of seeing Aoibheann’s reaction to such a suggestion, I felt it incumbent upon me to persuade her that this was not a good idea. I hope I succeeded.
I left soon thereafter, in a decidedly contemplative frame of mind. I suppose that I should not be surprised that machines would be used to satisfy the carnal needs. I found myself thinking of dear Helene and the ‘treatments’ she was receiving at the hands of that so-called doctor. As I settled down in the apartment, I became somewhat maudlin, thinking of the dear friends I was missing so much – Helene, of course; my dear, dear Valene, whose very presence always made any day seem better; and, more so than anyone, dearest Catt, last seen as a cold, blue figure outside Underhill. Sometimes the scar on my wrist tingles still, when I think of her. I fell asleep with my copy of Walt Whitman in my hand, wondering when I would see my Captain again.