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Ari was sixteen years old when she asked Justin to take her to bed, and Justin glitched, and Grant led Justin out and propositioned her in Justin's place. At sixteen, she didn't understand why, didn't understand why any of it--why Justin refused her, why Grant made her that offer. In time, she learned some of the why, found out what her predecessor had done to Justin that made her image so repellent to him, thought it was monstrously unfair that she should be blamed for what Ari Senior had done, but understood--

But she didn't understand Grant for the longest time, and that was Ari Senior's fault, too, because Ari Senior, in her notes and lessons, left Ari with a prejudice it took her a long time to see.

Grant loved Justin. And Justin loved Grant.

Ari knew that they were sexually involved, of course, there was no avoiding knowing that, but Ari Senior had managed to teach her that that was an aberration. She wrote of Jordan (who had the same sort of relationship with his azi) that he was afraid of women. She wrote about her uncle's abuse of her Florian, and neglected to mention that it would have been as aberrant for a grown man to take advantage of a child azi if that azi had been Catlin instead of Florian. She wrote of the needs of budding colonies, how batches of azi would have to breed, and breed again, generation after generation, to fill the stars.

Cyteen was a budding colony when Ari Senior was young, but no more. No one at Reseune was designed to breed like animals, not Justin, certainly not Grant (an experimental; he couldn't breed all), definitely not Ari herself. She might have a baby from the birth-labs, some child she designed or a clone to be raised in her own image, again, but to be born from a womb-tank, not her own womb. That was too great a risk for someone as important as herself.

So all of Ari Senior's prejudices became moot, and what she had done to scramble Justin's brains with sex was the greater aberration than what Grant did to fix him, out of love, even if it was azi-love, azi-devotion, a programmed response to Justin's need. (Who had programmed it? Justin wouldn't; Ari Senior would have been too arrogant, she thought; but Grant himself--maybe. It was hard to know.)

But the shift in bias was one Ari forced herself to follow to all its logical conclusions. She took it into her own psychsets, made herself examine how she acted with men, how she acted with women. She found that for the most part it didn't matter, not for how she interacted with CITs, because most CITs had the same biases as Ari Senior. (Could she bind her female friends to her more tightly with sex? Maddy, and 'Stasi, and the rest? Maybe, and maybe it would only drive them away, because they would be afraid. So it didn't matter.) But with azi--

With azi--

That was the thing about azi; your azi loved you unconditionally. Catlin loved her as equally as Florian, but Ari had only ever slept with Florian, and she'd known, from the first morning after, how close she came to messing things up, with their partnership, with their service to her.

And there was a very simple fix that she'd been blind to.

Ari had sex with Catlin alone first, to try to even out that early disparity, the upset when she'd had sex with Florian and left Catlin out, when they were all very young.

(Twelve. They'd been twelve. Pushing thirteen hard, she'd thought at the time, in the way of children counting every half-birthday and extra month to prove how mature they were. She had moved out of Uncle Denys's and into Ari Senior's old suite, and lived there with her two azi and no one older to look after her: legally speaking, she hadn't had anything left to prove about her maturity. But she'd known in her own heart how immature she still was, so twelve-pushing-thirteen-hard it was.)

At least Ari didn't make the same mistake she did then, making it mysterious, making them confused. She told them upfront that she wanted Catlin to have a special time with her, just the two of them, the same as Florian had, and that afterwards Catlin could tell Florian all about it, the same as Florian had, and then they would do it all three of them together, no one left out.

"Yes, sera," said Florian.

And, more quietly, "Yes, sera," said Catlin.

Ari put her hand out for Catlin's hand and said, "It's all right, isn't it? If you don't want--"

"I want to," Catlin said quickly. "Sera."

Ari knew a little of what to do with another girl's body, but Catlin was ill-equipped to deal with it at all. Her azi training in sexuality had consisted largely of the basic rut. Ari wasn't sure her tape had assumed she'd ever have real sex at all, only reward tape, but Florian had transmitted that knowledge to her, in the wake of Ari initiating him. Catlin had said, of sex with Florian, that it was like a good work-out. Ari wasn't quite sure what to make of that, how much joy Catlin had gotten from it.

So the first thing Ari wanted to do was make sure Catlin knew what an orgasm was.

It ended up being rather unlike most sex with azi. Both in Ari's experience and that of her friends, the primary selling point of sex with azi was their willingness to do anything to please one's CIT. And here Ari told Catlin to lie back and spread her legs and say what felt good and what she wanted more of, while Ari licked and fingered her until she gasped, "Sera--sera--" with no more words.

Ari felt very pleased with herself, and very powerful. Sex was power, she knew this, but it was more basic than that, because she didn't want anything from Catlin except to make her happy, make them all happy.

And then Ari called Florian in, and he kissed Catlin, and kissed her, and Ari kissed Catlin.

The next day, Ari said, "Thank you," to Grant when she passed him in the hall.

"For what?" Grant asked her, looking alarmed.

"You made me realize something," Ari said. She smiled mysteriously, and left Grant wondering.