Lahrrie watched the six young Earth girls group and disperse and wander away. One was from Luna, but everyone except those from Earth or Luna considered it an extension of Earth. She waited to see if the one she was interested in would also wait so that they could be alone together. As she lounged in the grass, she contemplated the thought that she considered them 'young'. She and Mylandah were only a few years older, a short distance on the time line, with sharply different first derivatives. The younger girls were still climbing or at their personal peaks, she and Mylandah were on the downward side. Only a fraction of a percent for now - they would still be more than capable against the Nerelians. Someday soon, they would start to decline noticeably and rapidly. The genetic gifts that gave them super-human strength, endurance, and healing abilities came with a price. Those with sufficient ability to compete at the highest level rarely lived to see their 50th birthday, less than half what an standard human could expect. Was she bitter? Jealous? She didn't feel bitter, or jealous, or much of anything at all.
She hadn’t questioned the price when she held the Cosmo Beauty title. Now that Akari had triumphed, she reconsidered all the trade-offs in her life, those made before she was born, and those she had chosen. Perhaps not so much chosen as not-chosen, she had always done what coaches and family expected from her. She had no regrets about how she had been born, that was part of her, a symptom of her glorious disease. Other sacrifices cut more deeply.
She watched Mylandah stretch, not looking at her, not moving away even though they were the last two in the field. That first Cosmo Beauty year, they had been teammates at University Satellite. Mylandah Arkar-Walder. She even loved saying her name, the clash of rolled Rs and gutturals. They were the top seeded Outlanders, the strongest competitors either had ever met, which combined with an immediate sexual attraction led to months of passion and late-night promises. Mylandah felt even more out of place, she was from a small mining colony at the edge of the Kuiper Belt, compared to which Europa was like Europa compared to Earth. They were a conspiracy of two, invading Earth together.
Then Coach Kanzaki, or Mister Miracle as that manipulative weasel went by in those days, chose her for individual coaching and told her to drop all distractions and emotional attachments. Because of his coaching, or perhaps despite his coaching, she defeated Mylandah in the final round both that season and the next. She had tried to reconnect on several occasions, but Mylandah had developed a near-psychotic grudge.
After they had both been eliminated from this season’s competition she approached Mylandah and apologized, trying to explain how both of them had been manipulated. Mylandah told her to shut up, punched her in the stomach, then offered her a swig from the bottle of vodka she was using to drown sorrows. She woke the next morning lying naked next to Mylandah crusty with blood and vomit, and hungover. They ended up sharing a luxury suite on a seven-planets-in-twelve-days cruise, though they only left the cabin on three of them. Mylandah ignored any attempts to discuss their future, and after the cruise they ended up going separate ways.
Now they were together again, the only non-Earthers in camp. At one point, she overheard Mylandah talking to Kris mention that she had gone home to Colony Three. Lahrrie tried to cut in by asking if Mylandah had hooked up with any old lovers. Subtlety was not her strength. Mylandah glowered at both of them and stalked away.
Even without words, one thing they still shared was palpable discomfort with open skies and the unregulated life-support system of Earth. On several occasions Mylandah had flashed her a not entirely hostile look of solidarity at some outrage, such as the continued falling of water from the sky. So they were still comrades in that way, fellow Outworlders stranded at the bottom of a gravity well.
Mylandah understood why rain was wrong. On Europa, or anywhere but Earth, clean water was an energy-intensive manufactured good. Supplies were carefully conserved and recycled. Free-flowing water meant, in the best case situation, the loss of a valuable resource. In the worst case it was a harbinger of structural failure, a breach could send thousands of liters sweeping through corridors, crushing and drowning, with the possibility of being swept into vacuum if it breached an exterior wall. She never completely suppressed the feeling that she needed to run for safety, or call emergency maintenance when it rained. Plus, it ruined her hair, turning her buoyant blonde wedge into a limp mess.
She envied Mylandah’s foresight in having her blue-black locks treated with bioactive conditioners that kept it curly and cascading regardless of humidity. Similar treatment protected her ivory skin from the Sun and insects. Lahrrie admired the results but could not imagine spending a year’s University tuition and expenses on beauty treatment. She even missed Mylandah’s lectures on proper hair and skin care, she considered it as part of competition. She argued that always looking good helped her morale and intimidated her opponents. And that they would never be frightened by someone with split ends and chewed fingernails. Lahrrie’s hair still tended toward frizz, but her fingernails were now neat and even. A stab of wistful excitement accompanied her memory of the reward and punishment program that Mylandah devised to cure that bad habit.
That was less than three years ago, and it felt like three decades. The championship years were a blur. Being Cosmo Beauty mostly involved dutiful public appearances. At first she had tried to learn about the places she visited, but the grind of travel and training and competition soon numbed her interest. Someday, she would have to take the time to read her biographies and find out where she has been the past two years. Bunny-girl was welcome to it. She seemed to enjoy the attention. Good for her. Lahrrie would not miss any of it, except…..
Mylandah slowly bent at the waist until her face appeared between her calves. Lahrrie noticed she was looking at her, so she pushed the boundary by standing and taking a step closer, then casually stretched her hamstrings. Mylandah turned to face her and was still watching. Another step closer, then she scratched a line in the dirt, “To the river and back.”
A dangerous gleam appeared in Mylandah’s eye, “A challenge?”
Lahrrie thrilled at being directly spoken to, but showed no emotion. She folded into a sprint position behind the line she had drawn. Mylandah crouched next to her, “On your mark…. Get set…. Go.”
The river was only 200 meters from the shower building, but the forest floor was littered with boulders and fallen logs, hazards in the failing light. Lahrrie got the fastest start and led by a meter when they entered the woods. Leaping more than running she took long methodical strides, ready to shift her footing and direction as obstacles loomed. Mylandah bounded close behind, then got better footing at the river’s edge and scrambled back up the muddy riverbank with a body’s length lead.
Mylandah began to sprint, ignoring tree branches and recklessly leaping obstacles. Lahrrie loped faster, but lost ground. Mylandah touched the shower building first and had time to turn and glare at Lahrrie as she sprinted the last few steps.
“You wimp, you’ve gone soft since bunny-bitch beat you,” she accused Lahrrie, “You didn’t even try to catch me when I made my move.”
“If you had broken a leg I would have won by a wide margin. You ran more aggressively and won. Congratulations.” Lahrrie took Mylandah’s shoulders and kissed both cheeks of the visibly angry woman.
Mylandah continues angrily, “I know you’re planning to quit the Competition.”
Lahrrie thought about pointing out that they had both lost to younger competitors that year and by next year they would be lucky to qualify for University Satellite. Mylandah was too angry to listen, so there was no point. She turned to leave.
Mylandah grabbed her bicep and spun her around, “That’s all you have? You insult me and walk away before I can answer. I see that little smile on your face—you think you’ve won and you're laughing at me. Here's what I think of your present.” Mylandah slapped her face.
Lahrrie touched the burning spot on her cheek and looked at the wet red stain on her fingers. There was no hope for their relationship. She had been foolish to try and revive it. She made her face blank and stared at Mylandah until she let go. Lahrrie turned away to enter the showers, wondering if her last memory of Mylandah was going to be the way her lips curled into a snarl when she was angry.
The other girls had showered already and were busy building a campfire. Their happy voices echoed off the tile and concrete as Lahrrie stripped and turned on the water. This was one Earth luxury she savored. In the shower she could relax and enjoy the fresh falling water. No meter constantly counting how much time she had before the water shut off; some of the poorer colonies even had buttons that had to be pushed every few second to keep the water running. Lahrrie closed her eyes when she saw a dark shadow step into the room and concentrated on how the jets of hot water felt on her sore muscles. She was startled by a light touch on her chin and opened her eyes to see Mylandah closely studying her face.
“That’s a nasty cut, I must have caught you with a fingernail, you should wash it carefully so it doesn’t get infected.” Lahrrie tried to read Mylandah’s expression, it was one she had never seen before—worry, perhaps—she must be worried that coach will be even more creative with his training for her if he discovers she has been fighting again. Coach liked to identify someone's weakness, then use it to motivate them. After the first rain incident Lahrrie had been asked to meditate while standing under a falling river that, but that was nothing compared to Mylandah's special training. Mylandah had caught Tanya trying her skin lotion and chased her around camp, swearing bloody vengeance, until the young African took refuge in Doctor Yumiko's tent. Coach didn't say anything but the next day she was assigned to balance atop a tall tree and catch passing birds without harming them in order to attach metal bands to their legs. To a born spacer unenclosed space, without protection, implied painful death. Add the unstable footing and high gravity, and even Lahrrie would have considered refusing. Since then Mylandah had been quieter, but the crazed look in her eyes increased in proportion to the silence. Earthlings could not understand what it was like. But she knew if he heard about any protests it would have meant the same assignment for her, so she kept shamed silence. In any case, Mylandah always interpreted her actions in the worst possible way, she would have found a way to be offended if she had tried to intervene.
“I’m all right,” she took Mylandah’s hand and pulled it away from her face.
“Don’t sulk.” Mylandah began to lather a clean washcloth. “I don’t think you’ve gone soft, you'll do fine against the aliens, probably even beat Akari in a rematch.” She turned Lahrrie's face so it was in the water, then began to scrub. Mylandah was so close her nipples brushed against her arm. Lahrrie kept still, confused by, but enjoying Mylandah's attention.
“We’re going to kill a lot of Nerelians, you and me,” Mylandah said. Lahrrie sensed nervousness behind her usual bravado. It reminded her of what Mylandah was like when they first met, when she was still a small-colony girl new to University Satellite, wondering if she was good enough to compete. An intoxicating mix of vulnerability and repressed violence.
When Mylandah finished scrubbing and leaned close to examine the scratch Lahrrie grabbed her around the waist, then gave her a long kiss. She looked into Mylandah’s dark eyes and said, “I have too much respect for you to ever let you win. There is only a week to go in our training, whatever sadistic thing Coach has planned for us it will only be for a few more days, then we can leave him, and this planet forever. They say it will be two day's ride by fast picket to the Nerelian ship, the contest should only take another day….” She planned to continue by pointing out that the return trip to Europa would be many hours shorter. And she had a cousin who worked for the Europa Carlyle, the best hotel in the Jovian sub-system according to some travel guides, who had made a standing offer of the Presidential Suite to Lahrrie or her guests whenever they were in the area. From the way Mylandah winced when she mentioned the contest against the Nerelians she knew that was what she was actually worried about.
Could Mylandah actually be frightened?Lahrrie explained her reasons to be confident, “We are going to beat the Nerelians. I do not believe in gods, or spirits, or anything that categorically cannot be explained by science. But I believe that bunny-girl is going to save us from the Nerelians.” Mylandah made a sour face, Lahrrie continued, “I am the best physical athlete of our generation, and either the first or second best of this century, and I did not stand a chance against Akari. She has something, a talent, a mutation, a power, that I cannot explain, but it enables her to win contests that she should have no chance of winning. When I faced her she could not score a point at first, then she relaxed, and something changed. At first I thought she was copying my moves, then I realized she was using maneuvers that I had developed for the match, but had not used yet. She began to combine my techniques with a vicious curve shot... the only person who I had ever seen able to put that much english on an air-hockey puck before that match was you. She was not just reading our thoughts, it was more like pure empathy. She merged with us and shared our abilities and knowledge. And not just us, Kris began to rally at the same time. Akari shared her power with Kris, or perhaps her empathy extended itself to include all of us, but Kris was the only one open enough to Akari to be able to benefit.”
Mylandah smirked, “Yeah, I bet Kris was open and spread for Akari.”
“It was not a sexual connection, or at least not a simple sexual connection. I asked Kris about their relationship on the ride here, she says that they had not been physical together yet, despite her best efforts.”
“Were you considering a taste of bunny, to see if you could get in on the performance enhancement?”
“You are the only one I want.” Which was not exactly true, she had considered the possibility that she would need to be intimate with Akari, and decided it would not be an unpleasant sacrifice to make for the future of humankind. Mylandah relaxed and allowed Lahrrie support her weight and keep her from falling backwards. Her lazy smile made Lahrrie bold enough to pull her closer until their wet bodies were pressed together. “That is why we are going to beat the Nerelians.” Locking her arms behind Mylandah’s back she continued, “of course, you and I are also going to kick some alien ass.” She bit Mylandah’s lower lip then playfully spread light kisses over her cheeks and nose.
Mylandah recoiled from the kisses, but didn’t seriously try to escape, “Bunny-girl seems to really get you worked up, that’s more than I’ve heard you say in the past two years.”
“There is so much I want to tell you, but did not know how to start, or if you would listen. Ever since the first time….”
“Y’know, I don’t feel like talking right now,” Mylandah put her arms around Lahrrie’s neck and stuck her tongue in Lahrrie’s mouth before she could finish the explanation. As the aggressive kiss continued she began to run her hands down and over Lahrrie’s body.
Lahrrie braced her feet and let go of Mylandah, before she could recover her balance Lahrrie spun her around and grabbed her from behind, one arm around her ribs and one around her hips, holding them tightly pressed together. “I remember you used to love this game where I pin you and try to bring you to a climax before you could do the same to me,” Lahrrie whispered into her ear. She also remembered that Mylandah played rougher, and liked things rougher than anyone she had been with back home. If she was going to win back her love she would have to show that she knew what it took to satisfy her.
Mylandah squirmed, but couldn’t get any footing on the wet tiles to break free. Lahrrie monitored her involuntary shudders, Mylandah was close to breaking. She focused on matching her rhythm with Mylandah’s increasingly rapid pace. Distracted, she failed to notice that Mylandah’s arms were free and she was flexing her back in order to reach above and behind both of their heads.
With the leverage gained from her grip on the shower head Mylandah was able to pull up and twist out of her grasp. Pushing off the wall Mylandah quickly spun around as Lahrrie stumbled. Lahrrie had a flash of Mylandah’s heel heading for her forehead with a powerful roundhouse kick, far too quick for her to dodge or block. The blow never landed, instead Lahrrie felt the relatively soft impact of the back of Mylandah’s knee followed by the small mercy of thighs clamped around her neck.
“This was always my favorite game, something like your game except the first rule is that if someone has you by the throat, you have to do everything they tell you if you want to breathe. Turn around.” Lahrrie turned around, Mylandah unclamped her thighs allowing Lahrrie to see her everything. She was holding herself rigidly out from the shower pole, the backs of her knees resting on Lahrrie's shoulders. “Just a little closer,” Mylandah pressed her heels in Lahrrie's back.
Lahrrie didn’t object at all, but realized that Mylandah would enjoy it more if she resisted. “You realize this is considered a concession according to the rules of my game.”
“Stop talking, there are far better uses for that tongue.”
“Like this?” Lahrrie gently insinuated herself into Mylandah, while softly kneading her dangling backside.
Mylandah tensed and arched her back, then began to curse and moan as Lahrrie brought her to a series of intense climaxes. Lahrrie shifted one of her hands to Mylandah’s lower back to keep her from falling as she began to shake.
Lahrrie didn’t notice the wiry dark-haired figure that scurried past the shower entrance, trying to avert her eyes.