Zanthia couldn’t stop staring at Kerzon, her boss, as she stood before his desk in the diplomatic service branch of Government Prime, the main building governing the Interplanetary Alliance.
“I’m going where?” she asked. The briefing had made perfect sense but surely it was a joke.
“You will meet with the cyborg ambassador of the Artificial Intelligences and you will be overjoyed to show him around the galaxy, Zanthia. Do I make myself clear?” Kerzon glared at her. In the four years she’d worked as a junior diplomat, Zanthia had never once questioned an order. Now, however, she struggled to make sense out of her assignment.
“But sir, shouldn’t you send someone more experienced? How can glorified computers have diplomatic relations? I can’t even begin to know how to address them. They’re not listed in the protocol handbook!” Zanthia stopped talking when she realized her voice was drawing the attention of the other diplomats in their huge open-plan office, which was almost the size of a high school gymnasium. The high-ceilinged room was filled with expensive leather-topped desks and lacquered Cerulean hardwood furniture. The wood-paneled walls were covered with clocks, showing the dates and times on a hundred different planets.
All her life, Zanthia had dreamed of working here, in the administrative heart of the Interplanetary Alliance, but the reality wasn’t quite matching up with the dream. No matter how hard she worked, she always ended up getting the toughest assignments, and she was overlooked for every promotion.
A few months ago, an astro-archaeologist and his wife had found a metal device on the surface of an uninhabited moon. When they had examined the device, it had played a message that had changed what everyone thought they knew about the universe. Prime government had quickly become involved. Since then, contact had been made with a new lifeform: Artificial Intelligence. The cyborgs seemed to have their own planet, and Zanthia didn’t understand anything about them except that the whole galaxy of Andromeda would expect a lot from this first meeting between humanoids and cyborgs.
“Just think, Zanthia, you can learn all about the correct way to address various situations, and you might add an entire section to the handbook. Your father will be so proud,” Kerzon said. Zanthia gulped and tried not to show the rush of butterflies that flooded her stomach at the mention of her father. She constantly strove to make her father proud of her, and her boss knew it. She bowed her head and tried to keep her voice neutral as she replied.
“As you command, sir.” She really didn’t like the idea of spending time with a cyborg, and she didn’t fully understand how this assignment made any sense, either, but being the face of the Interplanetary Alliance in diplomatic relations with a new type of life was still a huge opportunity and she would do her very best to make it work.
Kerzon nodded with an air of finality. “Good. Your transport leaves within the hour. You are to meet the AI representative on his vessel and show him anything he wishes to see. No request will be refused. We need them on our side and they must have the very best impression of biological life.”
“Of course, sir.” This was a PR mission, and she might not be the best negotiator in the diplomatic service, but she was an expert on good PR. She’d studied it at an exclusive private college and used it daily to fight the small fires that broke out across the Interplanetary Alliance. With so many cultures and personalities constantly coming into conflict, Zanthia worked hard to smooth things over to serve the bigger picture: maintaining the twelve Prime planets’ control over the hundred outer planets. The only person she’d never been able to get to think well of her was her father. Would this mission change that? She hoped so.
“And I want daily reports,” Kerzon added.
“I would expect nothing less, sir.”
She was about to return to her desk when he added, “Oh, and one other thing; trivial really. Fail, and I’ll post you to a backwater dump. Pombos is looking for a new long-term resident diplomat. Hop to it, then, girl.” Kerzon waved a hand and Zanthia scurried back to her workspace, trying to breathe slowly.
The idea of being posted to Pombos was unthinkable. Zanthia calmed her thoughts while she tidied her desk and made a quick 3-D video call home, requesting her maid to bring her a few essentials. Never in all her time in the diplomatic service had she been instructed to just get on a ship like this. Even major diplomatic incidents usually gave her enough time to fetch a change of clothes. She shook her head. This was going to be a very unusual mission.
The transport flew into the cargo bay of the larger ship and was swallowed by it. Zanthia tried to quell her rising anxiety. She remembered her training and switched her emotions to warm and happy. Diplomats weren’t allowed to be afraid. Managing it was a little like method acting. Some races detected emotions, so the ability to substitute a negative feeling with a positive one was essential, but a complete ability to disguise every emotion was rare, even amongst diplomats with forty or fifty years of experience.
When Zanthia got out, she wore an atmo-suit, which provided her with compressed air to breathe. She walked around the huge cargo bay drinking in the details. It was bare steel walls and dim lighting in every direction. Zanthia wondered if anyone had even come to meet her when a deep tenor voice startled her from behind.
“You must be Zanthia? I am Unit 7090 Mark III. I am here to see your galaxy.”
Zanthia spun around then tried to collect her nerves. The man—no, the robot, he just looked like a man—who spoke stood at over seven feet tall, taller than even any elf, and yet his body seemed humanoid. His shape was that of a muscular man, with short black hair on his head, all the correct facial features, and hands—hands!—with fingers. He looked like the facsimile of the perfect man, the sort of man who was in action movies, or whose muscular body provided the background to premium-priced digital calendars. Zanthia tried to remember that this was a serious diplomatic mission, but she couldn’t help but wonder whether he had a long, thick cock under the strange white garments he wore.
“On behalf of the Emperor-Paramount, he who is the great Emperor of Nidia and the Paramount of the Interplanetary Alliance, I greet you. I have been instructed to show you anything in this galaxy that you wish to see, sir.” Zanthia knelt on one knee, in the traditional Nidian formal greeting, counted to three in her head, then stood up again.
“I thought the emperor stated that he ruled the Milky Way as well as Andromeda?” The huge android’s finely chiseled face held no expression as he spoke, but his voice was deep and warm. It spoke to something long buried in the depths of Zanthia’s soul and awakened her heart. She tried to concentrate on answering his question.
“Yes, indeed he does, but there was an unfortunate incident, sir.” She thought carefully about how to explain without making Nidia look bad.
Everyone across Andromeda knew about the un-terraforming wars that had laid waste to the Milky Way, but it was ancient history. Explaining the whole terrible debacle to this cyborg who might use it as evidence to wipe out her planet didn’t seem wise, and yet, she couldn’t leave it unanswered now that he’d asked.
She tried to sound like it wasn’t worth thinking about. “A madman went on a rampage with a special device that destroyed the surfaces of planets. Most of them were reduced to flaming balls of magma, but some crumbled into fields of asteroids. Some resistance fighters from the Milky Way acquired the plans to the un-terraforming device, and they targeted a few planets in Andromeda, to get their own back, before the wars were finally stopped and the technology was banned by unanimous agreement.”
She didn’t add that the madman who did the most damage had been the previous Emperor-Paramount, or that he’d done it in a show of force against the planets and outposts that had refused to join the Interplanetary Alliance. It was a good thing he’d been overthrown by his son, but it was Nidia’s greatest embarrassment that the un-terraforming wars had happened.
“That is a pity. I have only ever traveled within my own galaxy. I would have been interested in experiencing as much new input as possible. We are all intrigued at the prospect of learning about biological life.” The tone of his voice vibrated within her core and she felt a hot rush of warmth flooding her panties. This was such a bad time to become attracted to him.
She tried to focus, and turned her attention to the more positive aspects of the galaxy, like she was trained to do. With any luck, she would also avoid him finding out about the disastrous twenty-second century, too, when humanoids had regressed in a lot of ways.
“I can’t wait to show you my beautiful galaxy. Anywhere you wish to travel within Andromeda, sir, or anything you wish to do, please just say the word and I will be delighted to be of service,” she said with a smile.
For some reason, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up when she spoke. Surely he would know it was a formality? Zanthia allowed herself a little daydream, of servicing the enormous, ripped android in the most undiplomatic ways possible. She sighed with longing, then her eyes widened as she realized he was still watching her. Normally, people looked through her or their gaze finished at her beautiful appearance. She wasn’t used to anyone paying real attention to her.
“Also, sir, I have a selection of ten thousand books, famous and influential, and an additional e-library of research theses, as a gift for the Artificial Intelligences.” She fished in her bag, hoping this would distract him from dwelling too much on that embarrassing sigh, and handed over the tablet, which was preloaded with literature.
“I am most grateful. My people have always believed biological life to be a myth. It will be enlightening to find out where our cultures are similar, and where they differ. Allow me to show you to your quarters aboard the ship. The temperature and pressure should be adequate, and the air supply can be reconfigured. Which gases would you like to breathe?”
It was the first time anyone had ever asked such a strange question, but Zanthia supposed the correct amount of oxygen was pretty fundamental to understanding other cultures. Maybe humanoids didn’t ask about it often enough. She tried to remember the usual concentrations on Nidia. She had forgotten most of what she’d learned in high school, but she still remembered the silly song she’d made up to learn the right percentages for her high school’s final science paper.
“Thirty percent oxygen, sixty-five percent nitrogen, four percent carbon dioxide, one percent trace gases, sir,” she said, forcing herself not to sing the words to him. Her science teacher at the prestigious Nidia Academy would have been proud of her for being able to recite it.
Mark looked thoughtful. “Interesting. On my way to meet your ship, I scanned two planets, whose atmospheres had quite different compositions. Both had biological life. Is it common for biological life to require such varied environments?”
Zanthia nodded. “Yes, sir. Biological life is difficult to generalize. One of the books that are loaded onto that tablet should explain the different classifications. Most sentient life is humanoid. Humanoids have two arms, two legs, one head. And sentient life is mostly either mammals or reptiles, although that differs on some planets. Tentacle monsters are the biggest exception, sir. Everyone thinks they’re reptiles, but they’re actually amphibians.”
“I should like to meet one. For now, I shall converse with you further once I have internalized these reading bytes,” he said.
Mark took Zanthia through more boring metal corridors to her quarters, then left her there. Like the rest of the ship, her room had steel walls and a plain gray floor.
She turned her head and watched a display on the wall change. Scrutinizing the numbers and symbols, she realized it showed that the gases in the ship were now the same as the atmosphere on Nidia. Zanthia tentatively removed the atmo-suit and soon she sat, in a dark red wraparound dress, red pumps, and her black curly hair flowing down to her waist, feeling like she was the last great space explorer.
This wasn’t so bad, she decided, and the idea of being able to add a new section to the protocol handbook was more exciting than sitting at her desk in Government Prime or arguing with Tefanese moguls about the oil agreement. So far, the cyborg had been polite, and he was certainly handsome. Perhaps this mission was going to be a cinch after all.
It was barely an hour later. Now that she wasn’t wearing a breathing apparatus, Zanthia had fixed her makeup, and her lips matched her dress. Her cleavage was shamelessly displayed. The official dress of Nidian diplomats was designed to distract anyone she met, to give her the upper hand in negotiations. While she didn’t know if cyborgs—robots, Artificial Intelligences, whatever—were distractible by such things, she was sure going to find out so she could add it to the protocol handbook. When a light came on above the door, she stared at it. The door slid open a few seconds later, and Mark stood before her. She smiled with as much warmth as she could muster.
“I have read the information you gave me,” he said. Now that he stood before her again, she was reminded of his true size. Despite being a cyborg, his presence filled the room. His body was breathtaking and she was shocked that her mouth was watering. Literally watering. Who did that when they were attracted to someone? A heat spread across her face and neck as she tried to rein herself in and avoid showing her indiscretion to him.
The shapeless white linen pants and top were a distraction, and Zanthia hoped he would let her take him shopping and dress him in a suave pantsuit and dress shirt. He would look devastatingly handsome. Or if he didn’t like the sound of that, she definitely saw him wearing nothing but a pair of denim jeans, showing off his amazing body, which his current attire only alluded to.
She tried to remind herself that his amazing body was probably designed on a production line and intended to impress humanoids, just as much as her appearance was calculated to impress him, but where she used the gym to tone her ass and bought special push-up bras to fabricate better cleavage, his physique was effortless. She wanted to see all of it. Were there thousands of him on his home world? His eyes were silver and they belied the fact that he wasn’t quite human, although he seemed indistinguishable in any other way. Of course, there might be something under his clothing that proved he was cybernetic rather than flesh and blood, but she couldn’t see any obvious outlines, aside from the clear bulge of something in his pants.
She swallowed and dragged her thoughts back to the present. He’d read the information. He knew all about their galaxy, and she still knew nothing about his. She hoped he wouldn’t ask to see any of the planets on the list of places she wasn’t allowed to show him.
“What would you like to see first, sir?” she asked.
“Minos Kerala. It sounds highly intriguing.”
Zanthia forced herself not to raise an eyebrow. Minos Kerala was by no means prohibited, but with the whole galaxy at their disposal, why would he want to go to some crappy backwater planet whose main export was sunburn?
“But sir, if I might be so bold as to make a suggestion for your itinerary, the beautiful landscape of Nidia or the rolling fields of Telia II are considered far more delightful than Minos Kerala. I personally was born and raised on Nidia, and I can vouch for its delicate scenery and highly intellectually advanced people. Minos Kerala, I’m sorry to inform you, is a planet of vice with little cultural significance to the rest of the galaxy, sir.”
The cyborg did not speak for a moment, as if he were considering how to respond.
“I do not understand. You said you would show me anywhere I wished to see.” His tone sounded reproachful, but Zanthia knew robots had no feelings, and a cyborg was basically a complicated type of robot, so she must have been mistaken.
“But of course, sir,” she conceded. She didn’t want to be obstructive.
“Then I will set a course for Minos Kerala. Additionally, I have learned from reading the fiction that you gave me, that Unit 7090 Mark III is a long name for someone. I would like you to call me Mark. Or Daddy,” he said casually.
Zanthia’s eyes widened for a moment before she caught her expression and fixed it. What books had been on that tablet? Kerzon had selected them. She would have something to say when she next saw him. The reason Mark had wanted to go to Minos Kerala rather than Nidia was becoming abundantly clear. She knew that Minos Keralan culture shamelessly paraded BDSM and ageplay around as if such things were normal. On Nidia, however, people only had sex to reproduce, and they didn’t play such unseemly sex games, no matter how much they might want to. Why would a cyborg prefer to engage in that sort of thing rather than see all the architecture and orderly societies that were symbols of Nidia’s important colonial rule? It didn’t make any sense. Zanthia tried to calm her thoughts.
“Is there a problem?” Mark must have noticed that she was getting flustered. She silently cursed her lack of control around him. “You said you would be of service in any way I required. I wish to travel to Minos Kerala and experience BDSM and ageplay. The books you gave me indicated that these are part of Minos Keralan culture. Another book you gave me contained the saying, ‘try everything.’ I wish to travel to Minos Kerala and try everything, and I would like you to call me Daddy, so I can treat you as my little girl and experience this ageplay that was referred to in the books you gave me. The device that we sent into space, the one that played a message telling humanoids how to find us, recorded everything that happened around it and transmitted it to Spheron. I already gained an understanding of ageplay and daddies from listening to the transmitted conversations between Ralnar and Sarah Rowardennan, who found our device, and in the time that passed since I first was made, and taught about humanoid society through those recordings, I have become attached to the idea. First, however, I must set up some equipment in another room. I wish to examine you.”
Mark left her standing there, gobsmacked, as she struggled to come to terms with this bizarre change in circumstances. He wanted her to call him what while he did what? The threat of being posted to Pombos loomed in her future, and Zanthia wondered which would be the worse fate. Her rational side intervened before she caused a major diplomatic crisis.
Pombos, for years to come, would certainly be worse than putting up with this cyborg’s demands for however long this diplomatic mission lasted. Being a female diplomat on a planet where women weren’t allowed to do anything would mean years of being more ineffective and frustrated than she already felt. She resolved to do what he asked of her, for now. At least he was easy on the eye.
Understatement of the twenty-fourth century.
When he returned a few moments later, Zanthia had just about forced her brain to understand that this wasn’t about her; this was about making sure he had whatever he wanted, so that this meeting did not end in the AIs starting a war. As long as she was facilitating his needs, she was ensuring his species didn’t wipe hers out.
“Please follow me, Zanthia; you will not need your clothing on my ship.” His tone betrayed no emotion, and Zanthia followed him.
Regardless of how important this mission was, she decided it was too far to expect her to walk naked around someone else’s spaceship. Her brain, used to the idea of separate beds for married couples, decided that he must have been trying to make a joke when he said it. When they reached a particular door, he turned. Was that the hint of a glare in his eyes?
Zanthia was trying to work out how, exactly, a cyborg could glare, when she found her dress being undone, falling open to reveal her black bra and panties.
“No, you mustn’t. This is considered offensive to biological life!” she protested, but he didn’t listen. Suddenly she was afraid, less for her own safety and more that she was close to losing her shit. Diplomats had been retired from active duty for refusing to do far worse things than being bared by a cyborg. Did Mark even have a sex drive?
He slid the dress down her arms until it tumbled to the floor, then he walked behind her and examined the underwear. Something about the cold, unemotional way he went about his work seemed to fill her tummy with butterflies. What did he plan to do with her? The full reality of her situation became apparent when he slid fingers into each bra cup. His touch was surprisingly warm, and for some reason, Zanthia found that reassuring.
A second later, she heard a clipping sound, then her bra fell away. All three straps had been cut. He slid his fingers into her panties and the clipping sound happened again, then all her underwear was in shreds on the floor. She blushed furiously with the humiliation of being naked and exposed, but he wasn’t done.
He stood to the side of her and wrapped one of his big arms across her chest, stilling her. Before she made sense of the position she was in, he swatted her bottom sharply, forcing her into his other arm, which was pressed against her breasts. She gasped in shock as it hurt more than she cared to admit.
The sting quickly turned into a warm glow that made her clit come alive, and she fought hard to suppress a moan. His hand landed again several more times, filling her with the sharp surprising sensation that transformed into a tingling heat that penetrated her soul. Her nipples pebbled against his bracing arm. Extremely embarrassed, she tried to hide how she felt as he spoke to her.
“When I give you an instruction, you are to follow it. You are to remain naked at all times on the ship. Do you understand? Answer, ‘yes, Daddy,’ or ‘No, Daddy.’” His voice was still impassive, but Zanthia knew this was a warning. Would he caution her again? What would he do that was worse than baring her and spanking her bottom?
“Yes, Daddy.” She stared at the floor, feeling exposed and vulnerable.
He opened the door and stood aside, saying, “I believe the custom is, ‘ladies first.’”
Zanthia held her breath as she stepped into the room. She frowned. It looked like a very advanced medical lab. There was a raised examination table in the middle of the room and some large devices rested against the metal walls. Around the sides of the examination table, restraining straps dangled ominously. The residual tingle in her bottom faded away as she considered this new information. Her stomach was suddenly full of butterflies, and it was all she could do not to show how afraid she was. Her body wanted to make her eyes pop out of her head then run far, far away in the opposite direction.