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At Liberty

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Nothing about Forever’s body is a mystery.

She knows it inside and out. She’s seen the scans, been privy to the intimate digital dissection of every system. And to rather more painful physical dissection, when circumstances dictated; multiple gunshot wounds have a way of bringing your insides violently into the outside world for everyone to see. So does a sword through the abdomen.

Eve knows what her body can do. She’s healed from injuries that provably would have killed anyone other than another Lazarus. She understands that she was designed for survival at all costs: her genome had been carefully sculpted and enhanced by Dr. Mann and her sister Bethany. Modification and improvement is a constant, ongoing process, the shots and pills and careful training regimens ensuring that she not only remains in top condition, but constantly surpasses her previous limits.

Her body has a price. She can’t eat grapefruit; something in the fruit’s enzymes interferes with her modified intestinal flora. Too much caffeine triggers a fight-or-flight adrenal response. (In her case, the answer is always “fight.”) She sleeps too lightly and has to occasionally take measures to ensure sufficient REM sleep. The Family has no use for a Lazarus with an uncontrolled behavioral disorder.

Tonight, unbelievably, the Family—by direct order of her father—has temporarily freed her from service. “You should go out, enjoy the evening,” he said, kissing her forehead. It’s an unheralded reprieve and Forever intends to make the most of it.

She hurries toward Sir Thomas’ room and the poker game, not even bothering to change out of her uncomfortable dress. Hurrying toward— toward Joacquim.

Her stomach flutters every time Joacquim greets her with a friendly smile. She understands why, at least on a theoretical level. Bethany provided her with a meticulously thorough and detailed rundown on human sexuality and bodily response, as clinical as any of her other examinations. (Eve realizes that Beth and James could have suppressed her sexual responses, classifying them as irrelevant to her duties as Lazarus. She’s never been so grateful that they didn’t.)

Over the years Forever had a number of considerably more colloquial discussions with Marisol, her combat trainer talking frankly enough to make Eve blush. But Marisol’s information—and advice—was a lot more useful, too. Eve might never yet have kissed a man, but she knows what an orgasm feels like. She knows what parts of her body are sensitive to simulation and which aren’t.

She would like to find out how her body might feel under Joacquim's hands.

There are precautions to be taken. Pregnancy and disease aren’t an issue; Eve isn’t fertile and Joacquim has been inoculated against every known illness, same as her. But her body is proprietary technology, right down to every shed skin cell and...secretion.

She’s never used it before for this purpose, but she has an implant that releases enzymes to render her shed DNA inert. Not that Eve has any suspicions that Joacquim might betray her, it’s standard operating procedure. Or would be SOP if she’d ever been in this situation before. She has activated the implant before, in combat. There’s no use healing from every wound if the blood she leaves behind can be used against her Family.

Joacquim probably has similar precautions of his own. His Lazarus defenses are cybernetic in nature, metal under his skin. But Forever knows enough about her all fellow—potentially enemy—Lazari to understand that his modifications, like hers, aren’t without cost. The guava he couldn’t eat, for one. And most likely, a carefully guarded regimen of drugs and biological enhancements to keep his cybernetics in balance with his still-organic parts.

Only another Lazarus can fully understand all the sacrifices they make.

It’s worth it, all of it. Because no matter how opposed their respective houses, all Lazari live by the same imperative: Family above all.

Tonight isn’t about Family, though. Her father told her to have fun, and Eve intends to take advantage of the rare opportunity. Time spent among the other Lazari is oddly relaxing, despite the inescapable fact that at any moment, any one of them might be set against any other. They understand each other’s strengths on levels few others see...and weaknesses, too.

Earlier today, Forever had automatically analyzed her opponents’ fighting styles and psychology while sparring against Sonja and Xolani. Sonja is a fearsome combatant, but all her emotions live on the surface for everyone to see; she was too easily rattled by Xolani’s casual flirting, and openly wore her frankly shocking naïveté about the reality of the Lazari’s separation from the rest of the Families. Xolani uses flash and bluster as weapons as much as his training, though he is not to be underestimated. None of them are.

She knows the others were measuring her too, and she wonders where they found her wanting.

When she enters the poker room Joacquim sees her and smiles, and Eve knows he’s been waiting for her too. This dalliance, whatever it ends up being, will only be a momentary diversion. But for this moment, Forever is grateful for the chance to discover what she might be beyond a Lazarus.