The third day of the journey. Seventeen days to their arrival at the Fortress of Scattered Needles. Cheris bade good-bye to the servitors for the night. A transient moment of calm before the inevitable storm.
She eyed the jeng-zai deck on the corner of her table. She had never been much for divination, but perhaps the cards would be at least somewhat reassuring.
She shuffled the deck and drew four cards, the traditional Kel spread. The current situation, the past influence, the future influence, and the doom that arrives.
The Ace of Doors, the Eight of Roses, the Ten of Eyes, and the Three of Doors. A sudden change of position or action, bitter lessons, knowledge or inspiration, and an opportunity to be remembered for her actions. Her position had changed, yes. The bitter lesson of the past was either Shuos Jedao or using heretical adjustments to formations against the Eels. The opportunity to be remembered for her actions and the future influence of Jedao’s knowledge were obvious. She shuffled the deck back.
Cheris slipped into her bed, but sleep didn’t come. At a moment’s reflection, she recognized the frustration for what it was – and groaned internally. Normally, this would be an easy problem, but how exactly did one masturbate when one had another human living in one’s head?
“Did your spread of cards upset you that much? Cheris, you shouldn’t-”
Cheris lifted her pillow and pressed it down against her face. “Shut up.”
Jedao’s silence was more intrigued than damning. Waiting for her to cave, most likely.
“Rest,” Jedao eventually said soothingly. “You need it. At least try to relax.”
“How am I supposed to-” Cheris started, cut her frustrated tone short, took a deep breath, and tried again, this time with more polite verb forms. “Certain forms of relaxation are nigh-impossible when one has an undead Shuos general stuck in one’s head, observing one’s every move.”
“Ah,” Jedao said. It took him a beat to realize what she actually meant, as evidenced by the following “Ah.”
“Exactly,” Cheris groused. She should probably remove the pillow from her face and lie still until she fell asleep out of sheer boredom.
Jedao spoke hesitantly. “I could … look away.”
“Can you not see in all directions at once, further than a human would?”
“I can only focus on one thing at a time. I could very intently observe the wall. Or ceiling. Or floor.”
On the one hand, it would be awkward for both of them. On the other hand, the situation was already plenty awkward.
Then again, it wasn’t like she’d have much opportunity after they arrived. “Please do, General.”
“I have averted my eyes,” Jedao said.
Cheris slipped a hand down towards her crotch. She was momentarily thrown when – oh hell, she really had no use for that piece of Jedao’s muscle memory.
When her hand finally found the correct destination, she started by lightly pressing her clit. She’d long since learned to be quiet, but the time did call for a quick fantasy. She tried bringing out her longtime favorite, her seducing the tall substitute teacher from her teen-years’ school. The young manform’s bashful smile kept turning sober, and he kept shrinking down to only half a head taller than Cheris.
Cheris strangled a groan. Having the Immolation Fox residing in her head was already bad enough; fantasizing about sexing him up was probably going to get her sent to Doctrine after all this was over.
Then again, she would be processed by Doctrine anyway. Might as well get this situation over with. She let her substitute teacher morph into Shuos Jedao, long bangs almost getting in his eyes and handsome face turned slightly away.
“You are quite audacious in some matters, Cheris,” he said. He was not quite leaning on the end of the teacher’s desk.
Cheris took a step closer, crowding him. “Is that a problem, sir?” she asked, voice light.
“Depends on the situation. Willingness to consider bold approaches is necessary, but in the end, the approach that leads to the fewest people dying is the best, no matter how timid.” He looked uncertain on how to proceed.
“I did listen to your explanations earlier, sir.” Since he gave no indications either way, and this was all generated by her imagination anyway – Shuos Jedao had almost certainly never stepped foot into the City of Ravens Feasting, and certainly never into her school – she pressed him down onto the desk and climbed on top of him. Jedao tilted his head consideringly, interest lighting up his eyes, and cautiously ran his hands up her thighs to her waist. Cheris lowered herself down and ground their clothed crotches together, easy to simulate with the heel of one’s hand, and came. The only outwards indication was a hitch in her breath.
She curled up around herself and fell into a satisfied slumber.
The next day Cheris dueled Kel Nerevor. After her hollow victory – her embracing of all Jedao’s reflexes – she retreated to her quarters. Jedao was uncharacteristically silent when she tried and failed to make a dent in her paperwork.
She invited some servitors – two deltaforms and a mothform – over to watch another episode of her favorite drama. The ludicrous duels only set her further on edge, however.
The mothform asked her why she was so tense.
“I am not Shuos Jedao,” Cheris said. She forced herself to release her clenched jaw. A terrible, terrible idea struck her. “Do you know, is there a mirror on the ship about-” she gave Jedao’s height and width “-that would be possible to bring here?”
The servitors beeped in thought. One of the deltaforms informed her that such a mirror was available and could be brought to her quarters at her pleasure. Did she want it now?
“Yes, thank you.”
The servitors skittered off, intrigued.
“I’ll miss the colors,” Jedao said softly. “Though I do appreciate the symbolism of shooting a full-length mirror. Do broken mirrors not bring bad luck?”
“I’m not going to do that,” Cheris said. “As appealing as it would be, I still need you at Scattered Needles.”
“Then what? Merely so you could look me in the face while we chat?”
“You’ll see.” Cheris’s smile was predatory.
The two deltaforms brought the mirror. Cheris thanked them for their service and earlier company – please do bring my regards to the mothform as well – and watched them return to their regular duties.
She looked at the mirror. Jedao looked back from it.
“I admit, this might be good psychologically for a certain type of anchor. I think placing the mirror next to the table-”
Cheris picked up the mirror and tuned out Jedao’s words.
“…well, this is … forward of you,” Jedao said when she had placed the mirror sideways onto her bed.
“‘The point of war is to rig the deck, drug the opponent, and threaten to kneecap their family if they don’t fold.’” Cheris stripped off her uniform, save her gloves. She felt dark. She felt dangerous.
She climbed onto the bed naked. “Do you ever despair of the fact that you can only look, never touch?” Cheris ran a hand down her right side. She was propped up on her left, staring Jedao in the face. His expression was closed and unreadable. “Do you ever despair of the fact that you have no hands or tongue with which to touch and taste and pleasure, and never will?”
“At least I can still speak,” Jedao said.
“At least you can still hear,” Cheris said, and put on a theatrical moan when she slipped her gloved hand to her crotch.
Cheris rolled onto her back so she could stroke her breasts with her left hand. An arch of her back, a toss of her head, a keen from the back of her throat. Look at what you can’t have.
“What is the purpose of this theater?” Jedao asked, voice clean of emotion.
“I am not you,” Cheris hissed.
“The mirror at the table should have been enough for that.”
“I am not you, this is not your body, and I want you to notice that.”
“You know I can’t prevent the muscle memory bleed-through, Cheris.”
“I know you could at least warn me of things like today’s!”
Jedao sighed. “Indeed I could.”
In the ensuing silence, Cheris turned her head to the mirror. Jedao looked back, more tired than anything.
“Cheris, please. Even I don’t know everything, especially about the anchoring process. I have observed it before, but anchors’ reactions seem to be at least partially idiosyncratic. I can try to warn you about things, but there are things I’m unsure about due to insufficient data.”
What could Cheris say to that? She hated it when Jedao sounded reasonable.
She contemplated the chrysalis gun. No, she’d need Jedao when they arrived at the Fortress of Scattered Needles.
“When you are sure, warn me. When you find probable, inform me. When you suspect, tell me.”
“That, I can do.” Jedao paused. “Are we done here?”
Cheris looked at her naked body. “Not necessarily.”
This time, Jedao’s “Ah!” of understanding was nigh-instantaneous. “I’ll admit, this is a novel experience. How would you have me?”
To fully regain the urge partially lost, Cheris crossed her legs and rubbed them against each other. “Speak.”
“Whatever you like, General,” Jedao said, his voice now smooth and sultry.
“Tell me all the arousing things you notice about me,” Cheris said.
The sir had Cheris’s breath catch. The blood that had been slow to return to her groin suddenly found its way. She wiggled her hips to get pressure on her clitoris, then opened her legs. The thought of forcing Jedao to look was arousing. She palmed one of her breasts, pinching the nipple and then letting that hand run down her ribs to her crotch, savoring the glove’s texture. A jolt of pleasure ran up her spine when she touched her clit, making her limbs twitch.
“Your expressions are beautiful, General,” Jedao whispered, trying for dark and sultry but voice too raw to hit the mark. “All the little ways how you twitch and your breath hitches and your breasts tremble, how your hand moves and your eyes scrunch up; I could feast on it for an eternity.”
She kept looking at the mirror, taking a perverse thrill out of the fact that Jedao couldn’t look away. With her right hand, she continued stroking at her clitoris, wetness easing her way. She could not hold Jedao, so she touched the mirror with her left hand.
“Cheris,” Jedao whispered reverently.
She came, a silent shudder and held-in breath.
It took a while for the aftershocks to pass and her breathing to even out. “I should not have done that.”
“It’s not the worst that has been done to me,” Jedao said, distant and mellow. “Not even close. … I liked it, Cheris.”
She did not know how to reply. “Good night, Jedao.” She pulled the covers over herself.
“Good night, Cheris.”
Kel Cheris fell asleep next to her unsleeping reflection.