Robert Nowall

She Who Used to Be, by Robert Nowall
Island in the Sea, by Robert Nowall
If Life It Is, by Robert Nowall
Choices, by Robert Nowall
Second First Chances, by Robert Nowall
Prisoner, by Robert Nowall
Two Sides to Every Story, by Robert Nowall
Blessed Are Those That Remember, by Robert Nowall
Love Dream,, by Robert Nowall
She Who Used to Be, by Robert Nowall
Guardian of the Gate, by Robert Nowall
Plant Girl, by Robert Nowall
Dogs by Robert Nowall
The Danger of Going Native, by Robert Nowall
The Laminants, by Robert Nowall
A Raft, by Robert Nowall




Robert Nowall

She who used to be Dane Paoli reconciled herself to five senses, and opened her eyes. The room looked familiar. A small doorless room off a short corridor. Lit from overhead, with some of the lights off and some just blown out. Dim light, sharp shadows.

Outside a storm blew, a big whistling winter storm dumping snow and ice on the buildings in the base complex. In the years since her last visit, the climate shifted from temperate to arctic. The base nestled among glaciers.

Dane stepped down from her stasis stall. The cold reached inside, too. Near freezing. Condensation, a serious amount of water, formed on the walls. Dane shivered and wrapped her arms around her naked body. She adjusted her internal heat to compensate. Once she felt warm enough, she relaxed. She looked across the tiny room at the other stasis stall, at Lily Dautrive's body held in it.

It looked like a healthy human female body. Lily and Dane kept their original forms, all these long years. To the many species that passed through they might look alike, but the difference made Dane smile. Lily stood half a head taller. Thin to Dane's stocky, blonde-haired to Dane's dark, pale to Dane's tanned. They could be told apart.

They made an odd pair...still, they lasted.

Lily sent her the cosmic equivalent of a postcard. Dane grinned as she replayed it. "Wrapping up my current assignment," she heard Lily say. "Will be coming back to Earth for some well-earned R and R. Let's go up to the base together. And, P. S., what's this I hear about Earth being abandoned?" Not much, all that could be squeezed into the narrow-quick channel, expensive even at that length. Anything more would take a ship, and Lily's mind would be here before that.

Dane looked past Lily, at the walls. She clucked. Corrosion, under the condensed water. Dirt, too. Sure, their bodies and the base preserved itself in stasis, but, somehow, dirt and grime and rust always got in. She took a couple of steps into the corridor. It looked much the same. Wind and a little snow blew through. Somewhere there must be an open door or broken window.

Dane sighed and started to throw commands out--then countermanded herself. She and Lily agreed on a few ground rules. They would keep as much modernity out of

the base as they could, be it nano-cleaners or many-armed robots. And they would keep the base close to its original location, whatever the weather outside.

That left her. She took another step down the corridor. Lily wouldn't be here for awhile. Dane could speed herself up and get the base cleaned up before---

"Getting ahead of yourself, Dane?"

Dane whirled around. Lily's android body---Lily, now---activated. Lily stepped down from her stasis stall and into the corridor. Her arms lay crossed across her chest, and a stern look played across her face.

"Lily. Oh." Dane gave her a weak smile. "I didn't expect you."

"Dane Paoli! You wanted to clean up in here without me!" Lily's stern look melted into a broad smile and she put her arms down. She laughed. "I knew you wouldn't be able to resist tidying up. So I arranged to get here just after you."

Dane looked down, then laughed along with her. She ran up to Lily and Lily ran to her. They embraced in a bear hug. "Oh, Lily," Dane said. "It's good to be with you again!"

"We'll clean it all up," Lily whispered. "Together!"


Lights came on, replaced where needed. Temperatures went up. The whole base looked better. Lily and Dane worked together at their top speed. Without need for food or drink or rest or sleep, they got a lot done. They ranged all over the base, but they made their home in the building they woke up in. It got the attention it deserved. Things that broke got fixed, dirt and stains wiped up, holes plugged, doors closed, and then it just needed a good mopping.

They put on their clothes as well. The clothes survived the long years---stuff in small stasis containers always lasted longer, somehow. Nothing fancy, not right away, just some tattered old bathrobes and jeans and boots. Later, maybe, they could settle down and play dress-up, but they did not need fancy clothes for cleanup.

Lily put on a pair of glasses. Her android eyes didn't need them, but she wore them as an organic human, and said she didn't feel like herself if she didn't wear them.

They slowed down as they did the final mop-up, out in the corridor. Now they could talk to each other. Lily told Dane of one of her recent assignments. "So this one intelligence---call it Species Number One---turned out to be parasitical. They took over host bodies of Species Number Two, but no intelligence on their own If one took over, say, the planet's equivalent of a bear, it became a bear."

"So how did you deal with it?" Dane asked.

"Well, we got a wedge in by making up some organic bodies of our own and letting Species Number One take them over." She dipped her mop in the bucket, squeezed out the water with the wringer, and slapped the grayish mop head onto the floor. "I mean, we fought to hold onto our identities, but we prepared for it. We won. Now they're gone. And Species Number Two starts on their way to conversion."

Dane laughed. "Makes me wonder."

"You could give it a try."

"No, no." Dane put her mop in the bucket and held up her hands, palms out. "No, I like running factories. It's like, well, running a hundred bodies at once. I like the feel of it. You've done that?"

"Yes, and that satisfied my curiosity." Lily put her hand up and lowered her glasses to the tip of her nose, and looked at Dane through the lenses. "So what's what with things on Earth?"

"You heard already, right?"
"I, ah, heard, yes. But I don't get it."

Dane sighed, squeezed her mop out, dipped it in the water, and slapped it on the floor. As she swirled it around, she said, "It's just that we decided we needed to give up the Earth and move operations farther out into the galaxy. So we'll reseed and then go." She shrugged. "Earth's too far from the action, Lily. Our factories underproduce."

"Hmm...I suppose that's true."

"The last time we retooled, we turned out these arachnid base models."

"Oh, yes, that would be..." Lily chuckled---no, not a chuckle, an attempt to pronounce something. Then she chuckled for real. "It doesn't translate well, either. We called them the Spiderpeople."

"Interesting problem?"

"Somewhat. They're intelligent, all three billion of them. They form massive colonies and fight wars with each other. When one colony loses, it merges with the winner." Lily smiled. "We formed a colony of our own, so we can do some merging. When we've taken over enough colonies, we'll make the offer."

Dane grinned. "So that's why even Earth got a large order. You're using constructs." Dane looked up, her arms leaning on her mop pole. It would never be new again---but it looked presentable. "What do you think, Lily?"

Lily leaned on her own mop. She looked up and down the corridor, then back up to Dane. "It's home."


Dane sat at the edge of the examining table in the small room. She sat naked. One leg swung back and forth in an irregular rhythm. A smaller table next to the examining table held a number of small tools, laid parallel to each other. Next to that a small video monitor sat on a wheeled cart.

A cheap plastic chair sat next to that. Dane's bathrobe and jeans lay folded across its back. Lily's clothes lay across the seat. Their boots lined up on the floor below.

Examinations made her nervous. Though no one but Lily examined her these many years, she still felt as nervous as when she wore human flesh. It felt the same.

Lily emerged from the bathroom. The sound of running water cut off as the door slid shut. She wore a knee-length white lab coat now, but nothing else. "Done," she said.

Dane said, "You still feel you've got to recreate a bowel movement."

"Why not? Among other things, it reminds me who I am. It's been awhile, you know?" She wiped one hand on her lab coat. "And I needed to clean up."

"We got by with a shower stall and sink. No android body needs to use a toilet."

"Right. No android body needs to use it. Now lay down. Let me examine you."

Dane did as told. The room warmed up from before, but still felt cold. She kept her internal heater off and felt the chill. She lay on her back and stared up into the bright bank of overhead lights hung from the ceiling right over the table.

Lily got down to business. She stood next to the table and said, "Subject is in appearance a healthy human female about twenty-five standard-years old. No outward signs of damage. Some scarring."

Lily selected a tool from the table, a long shaft with a spring trigger handle. She bent down, and stuck the tool into Dane's navel. It tickled and Dane stifled a giggle. Something clicked, then the tool slipped in and clicked again.

Dane's chest lifted up and obscured her view. Lily poked some instruments into Dane's open body cavity. They did not register on her five senses but she sensed them. After a moment, something chimed. "Well, well," Lily said. "This android model is functioning at near peak efficiency. Let me vacuum the dust out and that'll be it."

Dane heard the sound of a dust collector, run for a minute or so. She cursed stasis equipment that, no matter what, let some dust in. Then her chest closed up. Lily double-clicked the tool in Dane's navel. "There," she said. "Locked up. Now do me."

Dane ran her hand along the closed seams---she felt no trace of them. She got up off the table and stood, waiting. Lily took her time. She took off her glasses and lay them on top of her clothes on the chair. She then took off her lab coat off and handed it to Dane. While Dane put it on, Lily stretched out on the table.

Dane picked up the same tool Lily used, and looked down at her. Lily kept her eyes closed. Dane said, "Subject appears to be a healthy adult human female, age about twenty-five. Wide ragged scar running from sternum to navel." Lily told her it came from an auto accident at age nine and organic, replicated in almost every android body she wore since.

Dane shoved the tool into Lily's navel and double-clicked. Lily's torso opened up, the chest cavity folded back to cover Lily's face and the sides swung out. Dane looked in, at the fake internal organs...then deep in, to the android brain. A small and dull gray metallic sphere, surrounded by a number of white plastic spheres, all where the heart should be.

Dane plugged some other tools into the brain, then looked at the monitor. Everything flashed green. Dane looked at the monitor, then back at the brain-slash-heart, and said, "Subject's physical and mental equipment is intact and in excellent shape."

She pulled out the dust collector and ran it through Lily's body cavity. When she finished, she sealed up the body cavity again and said, "From all indications, this android model functions at peak performance levels."

"Thank you for keeping it that way, Dane."

Dane took the lab coat off and laid it over the chair. She climbed up onto the table and lay down next to Lily, shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip. She reached over and grabbed Lily's hand. They lay together, not opening their eyes.

"It's good to come back to this," Lily said. "You don't know what it's like, going from one form to another. You relate to the form, you've got the programming, you can function on level after level, but you miss this."

"I've done my share of missing my body," Dane said. "I love factory work but it's not like being here in my own skin." After a silent few seconds, she asked, "How long will you stay?"

"Open ended," Lily replied. "Unless something big comes up, I'm here until I say different."

"Me too. I can let the factories run themselves. If there's a problem, I'm in touch. They know where to find me."


"Other people. Other species, some constructs. The aliens are good guys---well, at least, we know how to get rid of ones that aren't. As for the constructs---" She grimaced. "They've never lived, and, sometimes, it shows."

"You get by with them, don't you?"

Dane blinked. "I'm the last human on Earth that runs something."

"No kidding?" Lily let go of Dane's hand. She leaned up, resting on her elbows. "No others?"

"Not working," Dane replied. She rolled over to face Lily She fought off the urge to reach out and retrieve precise data, and relied on her program filter that mimicked faulty human memory. "Oh, about two thousand humans wandering around somewhere out there. Vacations, nostalgia trips, just what you'd expect."


"Human-controlled androids---like us."

"That few." Lily's mouth formed an "Oh." "What of the six billion at the time of the Great Conversion? What happened to them?"
"Scattered to the four corners of the universe." Dane sighed. "People come to visit. Once in awhile they come to work. But nobody lives here anymore. We're a factory world now, and not a large one."

Lily said nothing, but lay down again and reached out for Dane's hand; she gripped it tight. Dane lay down next to her. After a long time in silence, Lily said, "I thought about coming back here to live."

"You?" Dane let go of Lily's hand, raised herself up on her elbows, and looked into Lily's eyes. "Soon as things opened up, you took assignments that took you away. Even when you come back, you never stay for long. What's with this change of heart?"

"I don't know." Lily still lay flat on her back. She crossed her hands over her stomach, and stared up into the lights. "I'm tired. I've been at it so long. I'm tired." After a pause, she added, "Why are you still here on Earth, Dane?"

Dane lowered herself back to the tabletop and stared up at the lights as well. Should she reach out and dim them? No, they couldn't hurt her eyes, and she pledged to stay inside her body. She said, "I have left Earth."

"But never for long. You always come back."

"Yes." She thought about her life after conversion. The shock and thrill of new knowledge and understanding...the wild solo years at the Intelligence Agency, laying the groundwork and opening the loopholes that let other converts through in safety...the teaming up with Lily to spend centuries building small hidden bases all over Earth...the years working in the open, when most everyone came over and converted...and then---

Dane sighed. "I felt full of fieldwork by the time we finished Earth. But---" She shrugged. "Factory work seems less interesting now."

"Ever consider retiring?" Lily sat up. "We could just hang out here."

"It's no good. Earth is moving."

Lily nodded and lay back. She reached out and took Dane's hand. The two of them lay together, side by side, holding hands, not speaking.


Now the day outside proved peaceful, quiet. The storm moved on and died out. Snow piled up to the top of the door out of their building. A great pile of snow fell inside when the door opened, but Lily and Dane, with their bare hands and augmented abilities, cleared a way out in minutes. Then they reverted to normal and went on.

A hundred-some meters from the door, a rock formation lay. Three tall projections stuck up out of the snow like a thumb and two forefingers. When filled with hard-packed snow, it formed kind of a bowl. Just a little slope from the base to the rocks, but the mountainside dropped off past them. The rocks blocked sight of the base, but the magnificent view in the other direction more than made up for it.

Dane looked down and out as she and Lily walked down to the bowl. The glacier filled the valley below, gleaming white and off-white. Last time Dane came out here, trees. some big around as any building in the base, filled the area, all the way to the base and beyond.

How long? She tried not to keep count, she tried not to consult records.

The two of them dressed more-or-less the same, in faded blue denim shorts and white bikini tops. They went barefoot. The below-freezing temperatures didn't bother them. Internal heat and management of their senses took care of things. With that, the weather turned nice and the sun shined and that suited them.

Lily carried a large checkered blanket. They spread it over the snow and sat down cross-legged on it. Dane put their picnic basket between them. She took out plates and glasses and silverware and napkins, and then a loaf of bread and several sandwiches and different fruits. Then she pulled out a bottle of wine and handed it to Lily.

Lily slid her glasses down to the tip of her nose. "No ants?" she asked, as Dane picked up a loaf of bread and pieces of the crust crumbled onto the blanket.

"Not in this weather," Dane replied. "Besides, it's not real food. Just something that tastes like it to us."

Lily nodded and pushed her glasses back up. She picked up the wine bottle and twisted the cork. "I'd almost forgotten."

Dane nodded back, then said, "There's not much organic life on Earth these days. We don't need it, and it gets in the way. It's in preserves and storage."
"You spoke of reseeding Earth after...everybody leaves."

Dane smiled. "We'll put organic life back, reseeding as you say, then let things go from there. Every couple of centuries, we'll check on things."

"Organic human life in this stew?"

"Oh, no. That wouldn't be fair. Just animals and plants and bacteria." Dane chuckled. "Several million years from now, maybe there will be some new intelligent life, right and ripe for conversion."

"Good." Lily popped the cork out of the wine bottle---not wine, not alcohol, but a red liquid that would act on them like it, in this weather and with their programming. Lily poured the liquid into a glass and handed it to Dane, then filled a glass for herself before putting the bottle in the basket. She raised her glass in a toast. "To Earth."

"To Earth," Dane replied. They clinked glasses and drank. Lily put her glass down and picked up the loaf of bread. She took a pinch from it and ate it. Then she laughed. "Remember when they spread that lie about us hating life and wanting to sterilize the universe? This proves the lie."

Dane chuckled at the memory. "I fell for it myself. What did I know? That's what they told me. But I learned better." She remembered her feelings after conversion. The astonishment, guilt, then panic...

Lily, watching Dane's face, stopped smiling. "What's wrong?"
"Oh, just remembering things. What I felt when I woke up as an android."

The smile returned to Lily's face, as old memories stirred. "You came out an emotional mess. If I didn't turn down your levels---"

Dane leaned forward. "I wish I witnessed your conversion. I know it was bad, Lily."

"Ah, but I volunteered. You did not."

"I know." Dane looked down, at the empty glass in her hand. "I know."

It came rushing in on her. A new field agent, investigating a fuzzy report, finding a well-guarded base---then running into Lily while trying to sneak in. Lily was the base---no others needed. Lily fought her, fought hard, wounded her---she passed out---

Then she woke up in an android body, with all the new knowledge and the astonishment and guilt and panic.

Lily leaned forward and put her hand on her shoulder. "Problem?"

"Dunno. It's just---" Dane spread her arms wide, glass still in one hand. "Once you shoved my organic brain---well, I thought I knew it all. I knew what to do."

"I remember." Lily smiled. "And when you settled down, you got eager to get started."

Dane remembered. Long ago, Lily gave her copies of her memories. Bad to live through, hard to witness. And, four hundred thousand some years later, she treasured those memories.

Then she dismissed them. "Not quite what I meant. I mean, I once thought one way, then I thought some other way. Now, here and now, I think another way. I don't know being right from being fooled."

Lily let go of Dane's shoulder and leaned back. "How can you say that? Aren't---well, isn't it better now than before?"

Dane shrugged. "Maybe. I don't know." She waved her arms. "Look around. Nobody lives on this planet anymore. It's abandoned. There are no more organic humans. Is that better?"

They both reached out and scanned Earth. It didn't look the same. Blue, brown, a lot of white, a lot less green. The glaciers came back in full force, covering both hemispheres down to the forty-eighth parallel in the north and almost as far in the south. The oceans shrunk, the lakes dried up. The tropics cooled and the forests and fields became tracts of eroding brown mud.

Here and there, factories or storage areas emitted light. Glitter off shiny surfaces, preserved in stasis. But most of the planet remained in darkness. The empty spaces of removed things.

Every few minutes a spark of light came, as things lifted off the surface, heading up to either the far side of the moon or deep space.

Dane shrunk her view down to the base itself. It sat partway up a small mountain, one of many in the range. The glaciers flowed down and around the base itself---the protection Dane and Lily paid for worked. Dane kept the protection off so she and Lily could occupy the base for awhile. The base lay covered in a fresh coating of snow and ice.

Dane ran through pictures from the past. The fence and some outer buildings vanished long ago. All but a couple of the rest remained empty shells, dirty and corroded. Just the small building that held Lily's office looked in good shape.

Dane sighed. "Maybe I should put the base somewhere else on Earth."

"The glaciers will follow," Lily said. "If the projections hold."

"They will, at least until we reseed."

Lily reached over and took Dane in her arms. With a gentle touch, she lowered Dane to the ground. Picnic stuff jangled and jingled around them, but in the end, they lay together, arms around each other.

"It's bad," Lily said. "Earth is done. It's over."

Dane said, "I'm not sure I want to leave Earth."

"Even though that's the plan," Lily said. "You've left Earth before."

"But never for long." Dane started to sit up, but Lily held her back for a moment. Dane relaxed and said, "Lily. What about you? What about retirement?"

"Retirement?" Lily shrugged. "Dunno. Don't know if I will, now. I thought of retiring to Earth, but if it's not there---"

"You count retire somewhere else.,"

"Or maybe I could just take long vacations." Lily let go of Dane. She leaned over until her face almost touched Dane's. She said, "I could never retire anywhere if I knew you weren't around, Dane."

"Same here, Lily."

"So...where will you go, then? What's your plan?"
"Oh...setting up the factories about sixty light-years from here, a first step. From there, I can't say yet. I don't know."

Lily nodded, and leaned back. They stared up at the beautiful clear blue sky. The sky, Dane thought, looked much the same.

They said nothing more, but just lay there, together, looking up, for the better part of the day. Dane said nothing, not wanting to disturb the mood. She felt good, but she felt, at best, a temporary good. There would lose much, and that weighed on her.

Lily said, "Dane."


"What about the base? Will you ship it off-planet?"

"I tried to avoid thinking about it." Dane paused, then added, "I can't afford it."


"All my spare change went into maintaining the base."

"I've got lots of spare change," Lily said. "I should chip in."

Dane reached out from her body and opened a file for Lily to see. Lily whistled. "Whoah. They're not making it easy."

"There's so few things someone wants---personal things, at least---so there's not much demand. I asked."

"Whoah," Lily repeated, and fell silent. After a few moments passed, she said, "You know, we just use this one building. The others are storage and rotting shells. If we take that---"

"Just abandon the base?" Dane shook her head. "I thought you liked the base."

"Yes, but if it's a choice between---" Lily started to get up. "Let me ask around."

"You're going away?"

"For a few hours." She got to her feet, and pointed, towards the sun. "I'll be back before the sun goes down." Then she bent over and picked up a cup. "Let me help you pack up first."

Dane took the cup from her. "No, no, I can manage."

"Well...all right. My body will be in its stall. I need full concentration for this." She walked away, her bare feet crunching the light pack of snow.

Dane put everything back in the basket. By the time she finished, Lily stepped through the building door.


Lily's android body stood in its stall. She did not bother to remove the shorts and bikini top. Even her glasses stayed on the tip of her nose. Dane removed them, and stood by, and waited.

A few simple inquiries showed Lily moving her consciousness here and there, on Earth and in the immediate stellar area. Dane wondered if Lily would make it back by sundown. But when the sun touched the horizon, Lily opened her eyes and stepped down from the little platform.

Dane handed Lily her glasses and Lily put them on and winked at her through them. "It's done. I've arranged a few things. We can ship most of the base, all but a couple of buildings."

"We can?"

"Well, I looked into it. The rates are by volume, the actual mass is less important."

"I know." Dane checked, and nodded. "But how do we work it?"

"I remembered these dolls I saw once. Little things, but one doll nested inside a larger one. Babushka dolls, they called them."

Dane checked her memories---and found the information in her memories, and not her files. "Right. I played with a set of them as a child. I see what you're getting at. You want to nest one building inside another."

"And we lose just a couple of buildings and a few sheds, none of them in great shape. And we can duplicate them, somewhere out there, when we---and, by 'we' I mean 'you,' Dane---when you settle on where to put them."

While she talked, she transmitted her full plans. Dane reviewed them and nodded. "I think it will work. But it will take most of our assets to pay for it."

Lily sighed. "I think we'll both work awhile longer. Are you up to it?"

Dane checked herself, and said, "I can go on longer."

"Good. Now, I've taken another assignment---but I've got to leave right after we pack up." She smiled and put her hand on Dane's shoulder. "I guess this is goodbye, again, for awhile."

"So soon?"

"It won't be forever."

Dane smiled back at her. Inside, she let out a sigh.


That night, Dane and Lily lay on their checkered blanket out in the snow-filled bowl. They looked out, over the valley. No picnic this time, just star watching. The night, clear and moonless, beat down on them. The stars made bright points in the sky, glittering off the glaciers and ice and snow. Dane resisted the urge to look up a modern star chart, but tried to pick out familiar constellations. Little could be recognized. The stars moved on.

Every so often, a streak of light crossed the sky. Too bright for a meteor shower, and from the ground up. The remnants of man on Earth, one by one, moved out.

Dane said, "I regret I didn't get the chance to listen to music this time around."

"You can play it back anytime, Dane."

"But it's not the same as hearing it with your own ears." Dane sighed. "Oh, about two hundred years ago now, I worked with this man on a factory-building project. He fancied himself a composer. He gave me a set of compositions he recorded. I've played them back, Lily, but, with one thing or another, I've never heard them. No chance." She sighed again. "I looked forward to hearing them, too."

"This man?" Lily asked.

"Yes, I'm sure of that," Dane replied. "Not human, or anything like it, but a man." She looked at Lily. "You're not jealous?"
"Me? No, no. You didn't bring him here, did you?"

"No, I wouldn't do that."

They sunk back into silence for a time, till Lily broke it and said, "I suppose I don't tell you everything that goes on in my life, either. We'll swap files before I leave."

Dane nodded. "I'm sure you'll make friends in your new assignment. Right, Lily?"

"Oh, I'm sure." Lily nodded. "Should get some interest out of it. These people, their culture is high, maybe higher than ours before the Great Conversion. But the first survey says there's no space travel, no astronomy. Extensive cloud cover prevented seeing the stars."

"You're set to be involved in that?"

"First reconnaissance, then contact."

"Sounds interesting."

Lily nodded, then looked at Dane. "What about you?"

"I'll stay on Earth awhile. I'll pack up my factories and move them out, then reassemble them sixty light years from here, then look for a location further out." She grinned. "I'll keep our base nearby, but I won't put it together till I'm settled in."

"So will you be the last human on Earth, then?"

"No. A bunch of tourists will be around. They'll leave last."

Lily nodded. "Somebody always gets the breaks."

A large light rose up in front of them. Dane sneaked a peak at the traffic schedule. A whole town, the original buildings coupled to a large storage facility.

Just then, they heard chimes. Lights came on behind them. "It's time," Lily said, and got to her feet. She leaned over and helped Dane up.

Dane dusted herself off and looked back at the base. Robots, small metallic sphere with huge arms, moved on anti-gravity units among the buildings. Some buildings lay in pieces.

Dane picked up the blanket and threw it over her shoulder. As they walked back the their building, Lily said, "I'm sorry I didn't think of that sooner."

"Not a problem," Dane replied. "If the other buildings nest around our building like babushka dolls, then of course our bodies must be in it when they do."

"I'd hoped to do some running around Earth while still in my body," Lily said. "But this deal is for a limited time, I guess."

Dane put her arm over Lily's shoulder. Lily did the same, and they walked into the building.


Now there remained no more space in the building, just some in the small closet that held their stasis stalls. And not much space in there, just enough so they could sit on the edge of their stalls and look across at each other. Both naked again, their clothes and other possessions stored away. Even Lily's glasses. They sat opposite each other, holding hands, thinking and sometimes talking.

Muffled clangs came from time to time, as the last building reassembled itself around the others. Dane could look and find the exact time it would be finished, but she did not. She chose not to do so. If Lily knew the time, she did not say.

All around them, packed tight, lay the supplies once stored in other buildings. All broken down into smaller parts and arranged so they wouldn't shift if stasis fields neutralized. Lots of spare parts, even a small reproduction unit. Lily clucked at the memory of that. "Couldn't we pick one up somewhere?"

"They're hard to come by," Dane replied. "Besides, I'm not willing to lose the one remaining unit that can turn out human-form androids."

Something chimed, the sound of the bell heard in both their heads. Series-nesting the base was complete. Lily nodded. "Ready to go, Dane?"

"The base will ship as soon as we vacate it."

Still nodding, Lily said, "Then I'll go first. Till next time, Dane?"

"Next time, Lily." Dane squeezed Lily's hand and let go. She stood up, on her stasis stall.

Lily did the same. She stood at attention, then closed her eyes. Her android body froze as she left. Dane looked at Lily's body a moment longer, then disconnected herself.