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“Prostitution involves sex and free enterprise. Which of these are you opposed to?”

—Joseph A. Hauptman

Marta’s phone beeped. She whipped it out and answered, “Lady Alexia.” Business, of course. Kendra politely ignored it and continued listening to Rob spin out a joke for Rupe.

“One moment while I check,” Kendra overheard subliminally. She turned as Marta touched her arm and said, “I hate to ask. Two business gentlemen at Bon Place. I’m set with one, the other wants an exotic woman. They want to hit Bellefontaine, then dancing at Level Three. I can’t think of anyone available and I don’t want to lose what could be some good money.”

“Are you asking me?” Kendra blurted. Three months previously—one hundred and fifty days—she’d been politely cold in her answer. Now, she asked, “Is it public only? No sex?”

“That’s all they’ve asked for. Those are nice places, too.”

“I wouldn’t know how to act,” she evaded.

“I can coach you. Your call.”

Considering for a moment, Kendra replied, “Ohhkay.”

Nodding, Marta spoke into her phone. “I have an associate available who’s very exotic. One eighty-five tall, about eighty kilos, long blond hair, blue eyes, a sexy drawl, measurements about one-oh-two, seventy, ninety-eight . . . Yes, she’s very bright . . . All set, then? Sounds good.” she clicked her phone off and said, “Let’s go, we have to get you dressed,” and stood up.

She followed Marta outside and down Park Street to the clothing district. She’d come here with Rob her first day, but this time she was visiting the more expensive shops. Marta pulled her into a store that dealt in evening wear only.

“White shows you off well,” she said and indicated several styles. They were built for Kendra’s frame and could be tailored in minutes. She tried several in short order and settled on one she thought very daring.

It wrapped around her throat, crossed in back between her shoulders, in front over her breasts, in the small of her back and then formed a four-piece skirt at both sides, front and back. Every step showed thigh almost all the way to her buttocks and crotch. She felt well covered, but showed almost her entire body. Underwear, of course, was out of the question.

“Very elegant and professional,” Marta commented. Kendra still had trouble with local styles. This was not an outfit she would have considered professional.

She winced at the price tag—Cr500. Marta explained, “Your basic fee is going to be a thousand and I’ll lay money you wind up over two; social calls are big money.”

Kendra bought it and a cloak in the same shimmering white, then matching shoes at Mattias Shoes, which Marta specifically chose. “Your client owns this chain. Never miss a chance to stroke an ego.” They used the restroom at the store to apply makeup, including bitter-tasting lip and tongue glitter and temple coloring. Marta did Kendra’s hair by hand, then her own. Several layers of lipgloss shaded from rich blue to violet from the edge of her lips in. Once done, Kendra looked very poised and sophisticated. Some borrowed silver jewelry set off the cool blue tones of her pale skin. To complete the look, Marta took her to a salon to have her nails lengthened and scrimshawed.

As they walked to the hotel, Marta gave her a history. “I’m Alexia Urquidez. We should make you sound Scandinavian. Any ideas?”

“No, not really,” Kendra replied. She was becoming very nervous.

“Let me think, then.” Alexia paused, but kept walking. “Let’s call you Stacia Jorgensen.” She pronounced it “Stah-see-ah,” emphasizing the first syllable. “You’re good with gardens, so work with that. Don’t be afraid to be technical. You’re an immigrant, but with your parents several years ago. You’re thirteen”—Kendra figured that as twenty-one Earth years—“and new to escorting and have only been doing this about three months. You’re part time.”

“Got it,” Kendra agreed. “Who are we meeting?”

“You are meeting Joseph Mattias, as in Mattias shoes. He’s divorced, thirty-three—fifty Earth years—Very wealthy and quite a nice gentleman.”

Marta added a few details as they approached the Bon Place. She drew a half-step ahead and steered Kendra toward two smiling businessmen waiting outside.

“Ryan!” she greeted, hugging one of them warmly and kissing him lightly. “And you must be Joseph,” she said, greeting the other. “This is my friend, Stacia Jorgensen. Stacia, this is Ryan McAran and Joseph Mattias.”

Mattias took her hands in his and smiled. He leaned forward and kissed her very softly. “Delighted to meet you, Stacia. Alexia said you were exotically beautiful, but she didn’t do you justice when she described you.” He looked her up and down, obviously pleased with her appearance. Kendra smiled demurely, while blushing.

They climbed into a waiting limousine, Mattias opening the door for the ladies himself and sending the driver up front. He got in last, spoke directions, then asked, “Drinks?”

Alexia said, “Ginger ale, spiced, please.” Ryan asked for scotch and “Stacia” took a lime ice. Heeding Alexia’s advice, she sipped carefully, so as not to disturb her lip glitter. It was a brand used by professional models and very durable, but not indestructible. She looked around briefly, something she was expert at after seven months trying to adapt to this culture and noted the plush leather interior in soft earth tones. There were two huge seats, an autobar, entertainment system, a comm that made hers look like a toy and a fold-out work desk.

“What are your interests, Stacia?” Mattias asked, reclining. He held her hand in his lap.

“I’m a consultant on Earth culture and I’m a horticultural designer,” she returned. Damn, it sounded swank.

“Really. I’ve always loved well-sculpted gardens. I find them very relaxing. Sometime you must see my home and tell me what you think.”

“I’d be thrilled,” she lied. Mattias seemed nice enough and was in excellent shape. He was decent looking, and she relaxed a little.

“We should discuss business first, gentlemen,” Alexia reminded.

“Of course,” Mattias nodded. “Ryan, you located two stunning ladies to accompany us, please allow me.” He reached into his jacket, shuffled money, then laid four five-hundred and four one-hundred credit chits on the low table between the seats. The tipping had started already, Kendra saw.

McAran nodded, looking slightly put out. Apparently his host had just made points in some business game they were playing. Kendra watched with interest and kept a surreptitious eye on Alexia for clues. When Alexia placed her drink down, she smoothly retrieved her twelve hundred and slid it into a slot in her pouch, apparently built especially for that purpose. Kendra followed her lead, tucking the money under the flap and down with the hand farthest from the group. She felt very self-conscious taking money like this.

They reached their destination soon enough and Kendra was eager to see the Bellefontaine. After her first offer of employment, she’d heard it mentioned several times, always as somewhere the ordinary person could never afford.

As they entered, a girl took their cloaks. She wore nothing save a thong and some jewelry and not much of that. Kendra figured her for ten local years, which was not unexpected. The girl had a willowy figure that bulged when she moved her shoulders and was obviously maintained by a div of hard exercise every day. Muscles were considered attractive here, whereas the Earth style was for softness.

They were greeted by a marginally older boy in the same dress. His deep brown eyes were piercing but friendly, and he locked eyes with Kendra for just a second, lust flaring in them. Ryan McAran was apparently a known name and they were shown to a large booth. Two other couples were there and introductions were made. McAran was a textile producer, Mattias was in shoes. Jesslyn Niec owned a company that specialized in fabricating machines for clothing, and was accompanied by her boyfriend, Garett Kameha. Andrew Garner and his wife Janie were in molecular fabrics.

The woman who appeared at Kendra’s elbow with a menu was in her local early twenties. She wore more in the sense of mass of fabric, but was still effectively naked. Bellefontaine appeared to Kendra to be like the underground adult clubs mentioned in the news back on Earth. Apparently, they were perfectly acceptable here.

Kendra accepted the menu and froze when she saw the prices. Even if she wasn’t paying, they were a shock. She waited while Alexia and the two gentlemen ordered drinks and asked for a lemon cooler when it was her turn. She gave her attention back to the menu, smiling at a funny comment from Mattias while trying to decide on food.

Everything looked good and delicious smells emanated from somewhere. Remembering her personal restrictions on food, she hungrily eyed two pictures on the screen, one of a whole lobster, the other a local shellfish called a spiker. As good as they looked, she recalled Alexia’s advice not to order the most expensive items available and decided on a grilled orange roughy. That was a fish transplanted from Earth, cheaper here than back home, and very tasty. She closed her menu, sat back and froze.

Calan was seated several tables away, with Citizen Hernandez and two others. She hoped he wouldn’t recognize her, but at that moment, he glanced over. He stared for a few moments, then returned to his meal.

Kendra caught Alexia’s attention, gave her a prearranged signal, then turned to Mattias. “Would you excuse me for a moment?” she asked, rising.

“Certainly. Please hurry back,” he encouraged.

Kendra went to the restroom, which was spacious, had private booths with makeup tables and a human attendant who was young, male and very sexy. She waited for a few moments. Alexia arrived and asked, “Problem?”

“Your father and Tom Calan are seated two tables over.”

“I don’t recognize the other one,” Alexia prompted.

“Tom Calan, the slime who tried to force me to work here for a bigger commission,” Kendra explained vehemently.

“Ah,” Alexia nodded. “Hernandez won’t say a word to anyone. I can take care of the other. And remember not to eat too much, as good as the hors d’oeuvres are. How are you holding up?”

“Okay, I guess. This place goes beyond opulent.”

“That it does. I’ll be out in a few. Don’t forget to tip the attendant.”

Kendra headed for her seat, smiling at her companions as she neared it. She was doing a lot of smiling this evening, but didn’t feel most of it. She dropped the expression seconds later when Calan stood and walked her way. He stood nearby and said, “Things seem to have improved for you since you arrived here, Kendra.”

Kendra froze again and was saved by Alexia returning and stepping between them. “Well, hello, Mister Calan,” she said agreeably. Her voice was sultry and enticing.

“Hello, lady,” he grinned brightly, slightly taken aback. “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.”

“You haven’t,” she agreed. “And you aren’t going to. Kendra is with us this evening and you should stay with my father. Get it?” The vitriolic delivery hadn’t budged the delighted smile from Alexia’s face. Anyone watching would feel sure they were close friends.

“I do. It seems that there is a professional breach and I have a fee coming. Or should we go to Citizen’s Court?” he returned, staring unkindly at Kendra.

“I’m trying to decide if you’re thinking with your wallet or your balls?” Alexia suggested. She glanced up and down as if he were a lab specimen and said, “Must be your wallet.” He stared, wide-eyed at her rudeness. “Kendra is here as a guest, if it’s any business of yours, which it isn’t.” She returned to polite manners very smoothly and took his arm, escorting him to his table. While Kendra resumed her seat, Alexia whispered something to Hernandez, her arm over his shoulder in a friendly fashion.

Kendra felt a little better and sipped at her drink while awaiting Alexia’s return. As Alexia sat down, the server appeared at Kendra’s elbow with a folded slip of paper. She opened it and read, “Father is explaining free enterprise to the man. He won’t bother you again. Relax and enjoy the show. A note from the staff always makes you look known and experienced. By the way, Niec’s ‘boyfriend’ is another professional. Destroy this note—Mar XX.” Kendra looked up, crumpling paper, wondering how Alexia had written the note and had it delivered from plain sight. She met her eyes and received a wicked grin and a sexy flick of tongue to upper lip. No one else had noticed, as the show was starting. Kendra turned her attention that way.

The stage was in easy view of all tables, well lit and had a set based on geometric shapes, with many straight lines in neon colors. Two dancers came out, one male, one female, and whipped around athletically. The music score was dissonant but interesting and drew attention to the performers. Kendra watched so intently she was distracted when the food arrived. She placed a serviette in her lap, took a bite and enjoyed a delicious clash of rich flavors. She remarked on it to Mattias, who offered a bite of his smoked venison in honey wine sauce. In return, she offered him a bite of hers and allowed him to slip an arm around her waist. He wasn’t bad company.

She almost choked when she looked back to the stage. The dancers were nude, painted or tattooed with very suggestive marks and fondling each other very sexually. They made another fling across the stage, the woman tumbled back gracefully, slipping her legs over her partner’s shoulders and pressing herself vertically on whipcord arms, legs held in aerial splits. He made a great show of licking her from crotch to chin as she slid down, knees folding against her shoulders. She made contact with him and they were so perfectly choreographed that he slid straight into her. Their eyes bored into each other, muscles standing out all over. There were murmurs in the audience, approving of the dancers’ skill and poise. Kendra stared in horrid fascination.

The stage darkened to applause, which Kendra joined from politeness, then lit with a different set. The next act was even more graphic, involving a woman and three men. Kendra wasn’t sure what purpose the woman served, as she seemed mostly to stand disconsolately in the middle of the stage. Kendra kept most of her attention on her food and client.

After the meal, which McAran paid for, the four waited for an intermission and headed out to the limo again. Mattias held her hand as they rode to the club known as Level Three.

The limousine pulled up to the curb and they climbed out, the men being gallant again. Apparently, the purpose of Alexia and Kendra was to impress the local populace. Kendra had felt a brief moment of panic and an extreme flush of embarrassment earlier when a passerby had remarked to his friend, “You couldn’t afford five minutes with the blonde. And if you could, you’d probably die in the process.”

“Yeah, but I’d die a happy man,” the other promised.

It had taken careful study of the crowd for Kendra to realize that the two of them were held in high esteem as professionals and she still had trouble accepting that by local standards she was regarded as a stunning beauty.

Level Three was three levels under Commerce Court. They took a slideway down, past some of the really expensive shops in Court Mall that Kendra had only heard of and never seen. She hung back for a moment and whispered into Alexia’s ear, “What type of dancing are we doing?” She had sudden images of formal dances she’d never seen and being a total embarrassment to the party.

“Oh. Fairly standard stuff in most cultures,” Alexia said. Kendra realized there was a lot to this business and most of it she didn’t have a clue about.

She needn’t have worried. Club dancing on Freehold was much like on Earth or anywhere else. Kendra had good rhythm, was energetic and even recognized some of the tunes. She’d had dancing in school, including waltz, swing, liquid and meld and most of it came back to her. She enjoyed herself thoroughly and almost neglected Alexia’s advice not to sweat too much.

She led Joe back to the booth they were all sharing and took a needed swallow of water. They sat, holding hands above the table. Underneath, he lifted her right thigh over his legs and began caressing it gently. His hand slowly worked higher and made Kendra slightly nervous.

“So, can I persuade you to join me at the Bon Place?” he asked.

Kendra froze. She hadn’t expected this or hadn’t wanted to, and had no idea how to decline. Or accept. “Well . . . I don’t know,” she replied, fixing her smile, hoping desperately that Marta would be off the dance floor soon.

“I can manage your fee, I’m sure,” he insisted. “If you’re interested.”

“We’ll see,” she said neutrally. “I need to ask Alexia what our schedule is.”

“Okay,” he agreed, tabling the issue. He returned to his drink, occasionally asking more about flowers.

When Alexia returned, Kendra stood, took her arm and guided her to a quiet corner.

“He wants me,” she explained.

“Right. That’s up to you,” Alexia replied. “If you go, ask three hundred. That gets him a massage and another half-div of conversation.”

“What if he wants sex?”

“Ask at least another six hundred per half-div. That’s my rate. You’re not as skilled, but you’re better looking.”

Sure I am—”

“Don’t argue, just take the millionaire’s money. If he wants exotic sex, double it. Or tell him you’ll let him tip you what he thinks you’re worth. His reputation isn’t cheap and the name of this business game is to impress people, including us.”

“It’s working,” Kendra admitted.

“Ah, these are big fish in a small pond. Now the board of Lola Aerospace, those are some powerful men and women.”

They were heading back now, smiling still. As they resumed their seats, Kendra told him, “I have some time, I think.”

“Now?” he asked.

“If you like,” she replied in what she hoped was an agreeable voice. She rose with him and let him take her arm again. They said goodbye to the others and headed for the door.

Outside in the corridor he asked, “So what do I owe you?”

“Three hundred. We’ll see where we go from there.” She tried to sound assured.

“Fine,” he agreed, drawing cash unobtrusively from a pocket and slipping it into her hand. They walked through several of the Commerce Court buildings, skyscrapers to rival anything on Earth, but descending ninety levels down also.

Bon Place was the poshest hotel Kendra had ever seen. The fittings in the lobby were black marble, malachite and real silver. An attendant called an elevator for them and smiled politely.

The corridor upstairs had similar appointments to the lobby and his suite was fantastic. He took her cloak and asked, “Something to drink?”

“Plain ginger ale, thank you,” she replied, gawking while he busied himself at the bar controls. The ceiling was five meters or more, a plunge the size of her bach was on one side and a bed that seemed almost as large on the other.

She accepted the drink and slipped off her heels.

“You’re still incredibly tall, even without those,” he noted.

“I’m more comfortable like this,” she said.

“The shoes? Possibly one of my stores has something more comfortable.”

“Actually, these came from one of your stores,” she said. Thanks to great planning on Marta’s part. “They fit fine and I wear them professionally.” All two divs of it. “It’s my height in them that makes a lot of people nervous and therefore me.”

“I like tall women,” he replied, undressing and hanging his expensive suit. “Even if they do intimidate me.”

“Why would we do that?” she asked. Nudity in general was bothering her less, but his nudity made her very uncomfortable. She kept her eyes on his.

“An executive in my position isn’t used to looking up at people in any fashion,” he laughed. She joined him.

“Perhaps I could get a massage?” he suggested, lying down.

“Certainly,” she agreed. She retrieved the bottle of oil from her pouch and knelt over his back.

His muscles certainly were tense. She kneaded and caressed and worked knots out for half of the time he’d paid for, working down from his neck and shoulders to his calves, finally his feet. He turned over then and she dealt with his well-developed chest and arms, working down to his thighs. She avoided his erection.

“That’s tense for different reasons,” he said, catching her staring. “But I wouldn’t complain about a massage there, either.”

Nodding, Kendra oiled her hands generously and began to caress him. After a few moments he said, “Oh, stop, please, that’s almost too much.” She lightened her touch considerably, and touched his chest with one hand.

“Our time’s almost up,” she reminded him, feeling odd. An intimate encounter on a timetable with a near stranger was just bizarre.

“I know,” he said. “But I’d like you to stay. What do you charge for sex?”

Here we go. There was a tight knot in her stomach as she tried to sound experienced and confident. “Six hundred.”

He slipped more chits to her and she took them to her pouch, then turned, letting the gown slide sinuously off her shoulders. Breathing hard, she stepped out and approached him.

Thirty segs later, they were both dressed, she in her gown, he in a robe, and sat talking for several minutes. Kendra nodded and appeared attentive and made what seemed like appropriate replies. She was feeling very weird, and noted that she was thinking in both Earth and Freehold time. What an odd time to notice that. Mattias rose finally, saying, “Well, I hate to see you go, and I don’t want to appear rude but I have adminwork to prepare for tomorrow and I’m sure you’d like to get home.”

Kendra nodded, gathered her things and left. She was polite, but totally nonlucid as he said goodbye and slipped her more chits.

She was oblivious to everything as she passed through the lobby and merely nodded when the attendant asked, “Can I get a cab for you, lady?” She carried her cloak and failed to notice the distinct autumn chill as she waited.

Reaching home, she tipped the driver generously, found her way upstairs, opened her door and kicked off her shoes. She hung the gown neatly and walked into the bathroom.

And was violently sick.

Rob knocked at the outside door. She mumbled, “Go away,” but it was so quiet he didn’t hear. He came in anyway and stroked her hair while she sobbed over the toilet. He spoke for a long time and finally she understood his words. He handed her a glass, which she downed in two gulps, feeling the burn of liquor. She began talking, at last. She poured out the story and he listened silently. When she finished, he helped her into bed, crawled in next to her and held her gently. She was a long time getting to sleep.

She woke to voices and realized it was light outside. Marta and Rob were arguing quietly.

“She could have stopped at any time,” Marta insisted.

“Sure. Everyone rubbing her financial position in her face, not to mention her ignorance of business principles.”

“She doesn’t need money that badly,” Marta interjected.

“No,” Rob agreed, “she doesn’t. But she isn’t used to wads of cash like that and is not familiar enough with our mores to be able to gracefully decline. She said it just followed a progression and she didn’t even realize she’d gone past her limits.”

I said that? I don’t remember, she thought to herself.

“But money is not that big a deal,” Marta protested, “She has all her bills covered and took in a nice piece last week on that consultancy.”

“She comes from a planet that pays only lip service to free enterprise. Her family is relatively well-to-do, owning one of the few types of business that has minimal financial regs and a good return. She will never see them again, is wanted for serious crimes she didn’t commit, is effectively a refugee and damned near a pauper by the standards she grew up with. She is now in the first truly free society in human history and has no one to tell her when to stop for her own good. Most of what she couldn’t morally or legally consider yesterday is de rigueur today. Socially, you need to think of her as an immigrant child, not a seventeen-year-old who has grown up here.”

Rob was still talking. “I think it was very unfair to do what you did to her and selfish as well. You didn’t want to pass on one millionaire of many, so you urged her into it and let the client do the same, a bit at a time.”

“I . . . don’t understand her thought processes! You’ve been on Earth, I haven’t. When something isn’t right, you speak up. All she had to do was say she wasn’t interested!”

“No, we speak up. She’s from a society where you keep quiet and mind your own business. She can’t handle the raw business world at this point. And she can’t know whether or not she’s interested if it’s a new experience.”

“I still don’t see the problem,” Marta said, shaking her head. “She said he wasn’t unattractive and she’s done much racier things with us.”

“It wasn’t just the sex that bothered her. It was the act of pretending to be someone she isn’t. She said she felt like an appliance.”

“Well, sure, it’s an act. The clients know it and we know it. We create a fantasy and they pay for that creativity.”

“Yeah,” Rob nodded. “But that’s your world, not hers. I don’t know how she’s going to feel when she wakes up, but—”

“Mar,” Kendra said, interrupting. She turned over and sat up. She had a serious hangover, but not from booze.

“Yes, Kendra? I’m sorry for what happened.”

“I’ll be okay. It wasn’t all bad, but some parts were disgusting. I made a lot of money, and it was very hard work, and I respect your talent even more, now, but please,” she shook her head, “don’t ever ask me to do that again.”

“I’m sorry, love. I won’t.” Marta was teary-eyed.

“Look,” Kendra said, shaking her head, “we should talk later, but right now I need a shower and some solitude. Thanks for your help, Rob.” She meant it as a hint.

“Sure. I’ll check on you in a couple of divs. If you need anything, just yell. I’ll be at my comm.” He departed, but wearing a frown instead of his usual grin.

Kendra stared at the closed door, conflicting emotions in her. She’d made 3400 credits gross in about three hours of preparation, five hours of feigned socializing and three hours of massage and explicit sex. Minus the cost of her dress and makeup, about 2500 total, for the equivalent of a tiring day’s work. More than she’d made in three days of consulting for rich spies.

She’d stick to consulting, she decided. Marta probably wouldn’t understand, but creating sexual fantasies was not something she could do on a first date with a random stranger who had no emotional interest in her whatsoever.

Rob’s “child” comment had bothered her, but she understood what he was telling Marta. By local standards, she was a child and needed to grow up quickly. “The first truly free society in human history,” he’d said. She was learning at breakneck speed that the price of freedom was responsibility. It was impossible to blame anyone else for one’s actions.

She went into the shower and spent a long time scrubbing her face, breasts and groin. She felt filthy and knew it was psychological. She washed anyway.

She felt better afterward, and dug into her comm for more info on sex and sociality in this system. She found several fictional and pseudohistorical pieces and a couple of instructional texts that were clinical but graphic. After noon, or five local, she wandered over to Rob’s and wrapped him in a hug. “Thanks for looking out for me,” she said.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t have done something sooner,” he replied, patting her arm.

“That’s fine. I guess I needed my nose rubbed in something to make me remember that I’m still a stranger here.”

“You going okay?” he asked.

“I will be,” she said.

Calan was in his office early the next morning. It was time to find out what was going on. He didn’t like Hernandez. He’d thought Pacelli was a sniveling little good girl and here she was demanding better money than he’d offered and screwing him out of a commission. Good act. He wondered what she charged and just how far she’d go. And as for Hernandez’ spoiled bitch of a daughter, he’d see about her, too.

Pacelli came here in an awful hurry, he thought. She had to be running from something . . . and there it was! Hmmm. There might be a lot of money stashed somewhere, waiting for her. Or maybe her boss had cut her out of it. He’d “retired.” An odd way to be punished for embezzling. Obviously he’d paid somebody off. The UN was like that. Always sneaking business around under the table. Either way, she was still wanted.

He couldn’t just turn her in, though. She was a registered resident and could demand a trial here. Hernandez would certainly take her side. Actually, most Citizens would. A charge elsewhere was worth nothing in the Freehold. And if he tried to push the issue, he’d wind up with a suit for damages. Still, the information could prove useful at some point. He’d hang on to it.

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