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52.

On Trantor, the possible varieties of human sexual interaction had long ago been exhausted; and with each new generation, the exhaustion had been forgotten, and the cycle had started allover again. It was necessary for youths to be ignorant of what had gone before, for the passions of procreation to be refreshed. Even those who had seen too much of life. too much of the more brutal kinds of sexual variety, could rekindle a passionate innocence in the face of something like love. And that was what Klia Asgar felt she was experiencing-something like love. She was not yet willing to call it love, but with each day, each hour available to be with Brann, the weakness increased and her resistance decreased.

As a girl, she had been a vigorous tease at times. She knew she was at least attractive enough that most men would not mind having sex with her, and she played with that attraction. Behind this had lurked a sense of confusion, a sense that she was not yet ready, not yet prepared for the emotional consequences. For Klia Asgar, when (and if) she ever fell in love, knew she would fall hard indeed, and that she would want it to be permanent.

So in those youthful moments when she thought she might actually feel something for a potential lover, she had put on the brakes with especial swiftness and even some unconscious cruelty. There had been few successful suitors to her physical affections-two, in fact, and they had been, of course, not very satisfactory.

For a time she had thought there was something wrong with her, that she might never let herself go completely.

Brann was proving otherwise. Her attraction to him was too strong to resist. At times he seemed carelessly unaware of her regard, and at other times, resistive in his own way, and for his own, perhaps similar reasons.

Now he stole down the hallway of the old warehouse. She lay in her room, feeling him coming. tensing and then making herself relax. She knew he was not forcing himself upon her, not increasing her affections artificially-at least, she thought she knew. The damnable thing about all this was the uncertainty around every corner!

She heard him tapping lightly on the doorframe.

Come in, she whispered.

He made no sound as he entered. He seemed to fill the room with chest and shoulders and arms, a massive presence. The room was dark, but he found her cot easily enough, and knelt beside it.

How are you? he asked, voice soft as a sigh from a ventilation duct.

Fine, she said. Did they see you?

Im sure they know, he said. Theyre not very good chaperones. But you wanted me to come.

I didnt say a thing, Klia responded, and her voice strained a little to find the correct mix of admonishment and encouragement.

Then we dont need to whisper, do we? Theyre robots. Maybe they dont even know-about

About what?

What people do.

You mean, sex.

Yeah.

They must know, Klia said. They seem to know everything.

I dont want to be quiet, Brann said. I want to shout and pound and jump allover-

The room? Klia suggested, and drew herself up on the cot, playacting at being demure.

Yeah. To show you what I feel.

I can hear you. Feel you. Feeling somethingBut it doesnt seem to be the same flavor as what I feel.

Nothing is the same flavor for people. Everybody tastes different inside, the way we taste them-hear them.

Why dont the words exist for what we can do? Klia asked.

Because we havent been around for very long, Brann said. And someone like you, maybe never before.

Klia reached out to touch him, still his lips. I feel like a kitten next to you, she said.

You jerk me around like you had me on a chain, Brann said. Ive never known anyone like you. I thought for a while you hated me, but I still felt you calling me-inside. With a taste like honey and fruit.

Do I really taste like that, in my head?

When you think of me, you do, Brann said. I cant read you clearly-

Nor I you, my love, Klia said, unconsciously falling into the formal courting cadence of Dahls dialect.

This seemed to stun Brann. He let out a low moan and leaned forward, nuzzling her neck. No woman has ever talked like that to me, he murmured, and she held his head and wrapped one arm around his shoulders, feeling his chest against her drawn-up legs. She let her legs relax, and he pushed onto the cot to lie beside her. There was not room for both of them, so he lifted her gently up onto him. They were still fully clothed, but in the posture of making love, and she felt a lightness in her head, as if all her blood were draining elsewhere. Perhaps it was. Her thighs and breasts felt full to bursting.

Woman must be stupid, then, Klia said.

Im so big and awkward. If they dont hear meIf I dont make them feel affection for me-

She tensed and drew back. Youve done that?

Not all the way, he said. Just as an experiment. But I could never follow through. She knew he was telling the truth-or rather, thought she knew. Another uncertainty around another corner! Still, she relaxed again.

Youve never tried to make me feel affection for you.

Sky, no, Brann said. You scare me too much. I think Id never be able to-And here she felt him tensing, in the same way she had. Youre very strong, he finished, and simply held her, lightly enough that she could lift up and break from his arms if she wanted to. So intuitive, this man as tall and broad-shouldered as the domes!

I will never hurt you, Klia said. I need you. Together, I think we might be unstoppable. We might even be able to team up and persuade the robots.

Ive thought about that, Brann said.

And our children

Again he sucked in his breath, and she hit him on the shoulder. Dont be a sentimental idiot, she said lightly. If we fall in love

I am, he said.

If we fall in love, its going to be for life, isnt it?

I hope so. But nothing is ever certain in my life.

Or in mine. All the more reason. So our children-

Children, Brann said, trying out the word.

Let me finish, damn it! Klia said, again without any sting of true anger. Our children may be stronger than both of us put together.

How would we raise them? Brann asked.

First, we have to practice at making them, Klia said. I think we can take off our clothes and try that, a little.

Yes, Brann said. She climbed down from him and stood beside the cot, doffing her shift and underslacks.

Are you fertile? he asked as he removed his own clothes.

Not yet, she said. But I can be if I want to be. Didnt your mommy tell you about women?

No, he said. But I learned anyway.

He slid back onto the cot. The cot creaked, and something cracked alarmingly.

Klia hesitated.

What? Brann said.

Itll break for sure. Then, resolutely, Get on the floor. Its not too dusty.


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