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Of Love, Free Will, and Gray Squirrels on a Summer Evening


He first saw her at a party at her house. It was quite obviously an important affair; everyone in attendance was there in person, rather than sending projections of themselves. The fact that they were willing to travel physically to the asteroid showed the regard in which the Pistarchos family was held.

The assemblage was exotic. Heads of state mingled with entertainers, business magnates with culture heroes. Humans of all races, from nearly every settled planet. And there were aliens, too. Over in one corner, a bulbous Aalan was in animated conversation with a hermaphroditic CloBonner concerning ambisexual ethics. A Jezkini sat alone in his chair, his powerful musk driving away all potential human companions. Three tiny Laooo bunched together to one side, slightly terrified of being trampled by the crowds around them. Out on the terrace, where the cool night air was more bearable to him, an aged Fesserank was holding forth on intercultural marriages to an interested group of listeners.

But all these personages could not impress him, for once his eyes had chanced upon her, the rest of the party vanished from his sight.

She might have been just twenty years old, with the look of womanhood just settling into her features. Her hair was light brown, streaming rebelliously down her back. Her eyes were siphons, greedily sucking in all around her. Her nose and mouth were music in counterpoint, and her figure was a triumph of symmetry. She wore a gown of gold and black that clung lovingly to her, exposing only a tantalizing glimpse of waist on her left side.

To say that he was attracted to her would be to say that space was black. But did he dare approach such a goddess? He sprayed himself a drink to bolster his courage and walked with feigned unconcern in her direction. She watched him approach, an unreadable expression in her eyes. She looked at him as though she knew everything about him, more than he knew himself. Her lips traced the faint outlines of a smile.

Her expression gave him the courage to speak. “Interesting party, don’t you think?”

“I suppose so, if you enjoy this sort of thing.”

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