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General Studies of Division

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As they traveled back to D.E.B.S. headquarters after retrieving a robotic duplicate of former President Ronald Reagan from where it had been stashed in a toy store in San Francisco, Max came down off the adrenaline rush and started to remember why she hated sharing a hotel suite with Dominique. Sharing any kind of living quarters, really; the academy had been bad enough, and there she'd had power to enforce curfew.

"Okay," she said, after sending Dom's latest conquest scampering down the hallway toward the elevators in his underpants, "Now maybe we can get some sleep?"

Dominique had wrapped herself in a thin bathrobe and found an armrest on which to perch. Their suite wasn't very large; a desk and chair, loveseat in front of the television, and two double beds in the back. It certainly wasn't large enough for Max, Dominique, and Dominique's newest pretty boy. Max valued her sleep.

Dominique lifted her chin slightly and Max crossed her arms. "What?"

"I liked that w'ahn," she said, slightly exaggerating her accent on the last word. "Why did you have to be so 'ard on him?"

Max rolled her eyes. "I don't care if his dick was wrapped in gold foil and tasted like Toblerone," she said. "We're sharing a hotel room. Doesn't that entitle me to some privacy?"

"It is not fair," Dominique said. "And I don't care about his dick, but 'is tongue, he could use it as well as a lesbian."

Max opened her mouth. Max closed her mouth.

It wasn't that she didn't have anything to say to that. She did. She just needed a second to put the words in order. "Well... whatever," she finally said, which was close enough. "We need to get some sleep so we can catch our plane tomorrow."

Dominique rolled her head back and sighed theatrically. "I will be much less able to sleep, now," she complained.

"Well, sorry about tongue boy," Max snapped. "Take a cold shower or something."

Then she marched back to their room and started digging through her luggage for her sleeping clothes. After she'd shucked her official suit, she heard Dominique padding down the hallway after her.

"Does it bother you?" Dominique said.

Max tugged her tank top roughly down her torso. "Does what bother me?"

"The lesbian thing?" Dom clarified. "Remind you too much of Amy, perhaps?"

Max rolled her eyes and turned around. "Dominique, there is nothing you could do to remind me of Amy."

Dominique was leaning against the wall, affecting a study of her nails. "But there is something that bothers you, oui?"

"I just..." Max said, then sighed as she realized she hadn't figured out the second half of that sentence. "The way you use guys? Fine. You pick them up and throw them away when you're done. But you do that with women, too?"

Dom shrugged. "Women, men, some who decided to be neither... what is the difference?"

Max wasn't sure she wanted to get into that. "It's just not right to treat us the same way you treat men."

"Us?" That got her one of Dominique's raised eyebrows. "What is this 'us'?"

"You know," Max said. "Girls versus boys? Our sisterhood? Our team?"

"There is no versus," Dominique said wearily. "It is not winning, it is passion. Sex. The will of the heart." She shook her head. "It is not a battle of the sexes, vraiment!"

"Okay, fine," Max said. "Whatever. I don't care who you put in your bed, as long as you don't do it when I'm trying to get some sleep."

She curled up on her side under the blankets and listened to Dom shuffle around the bedroom. When the light finally went out she was still awake.

Max and Dominique hadn't exactly impressed Miss Pertrie enough to make the International Bureau straight out of DEBS Academy. But they'd still been top squad, and they'd been assigned together in the top-flight strategic action squad, to fly in and take care of sensitive situations before things got out of control.

So they parachuted into the hidden base near Yellowstone confident that their intel had led them to the mastermind behind the Men's Resistance Apocalypse before he was in place to send his army of fem-bots over the United States (and from there, the world.)

Of course something went slightly wrong. Max figured their information was off by the time the squad of activated fem-bots dropped the two of them at General Rod "Renegade" Samson's feet.

"Ow," Max complained. Dominique blew some of her hair out of her face.

"Good. Dismissed, fem-bots," Samson said in what turned out to be a thin and reedy voice. He was a tall man, skinny in that out-of-shape way that took health for granted, with a wispy brown beard at the very tip of his ratlike chin. His skin was the color of watery oatmeal and his eyes were concealed behind mirrored shades. He was dressed in a knockoff military uniform and his hair was in a ponytail under his beret, like a hipster fascist.

Max craned her neck to watch as the fem-bots all bent in a bizarre, spine-twisting move that flashed their breasts toward their master as well as showing off their behinds in their skintight uniforms. They then straightened and marched off to one side. After a moment she figured out it was some kind of salute. "Okay, Samson," she said, pushing herself up into a sitting position. "Just what do you think you're trying to do?"

"Uh, you don't get to talk," Samson said, leaning back in his chair and spreading his arms wide. Behind him was a series of viewscreens and a huge map of the world, and a desk with a huge keyboard and a tempting, candy-like red button marked "SELF DESTRUCT." "You don't get to order me around any more, woman. You and your kind will have no place in the future I have created, a future where men will finally get our due again."

Max blinked, slowly, then scoffed. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about women!" Samson snarled, pointing at Max. "Evil, untrustworthy hags, the lot of you, from Eve on down! You don't know your place, you take our jobs, our livelihoods, our essence--"

"Woah, seriously?" Max said. "Seriously. That's what your problem is? Women?"

Samson leaped up from his chair and stalked forward, pulling off his shades. His eyes were a watery grey-brown and squinty. "Yes. Women. Oh, not all women. But most women. There are a few, a precious few..." his eyes skipped over to Dominique, who had managed to get to her own knees, and he licked his lips nervously. "Proper women. Docile. Submissive. They'll be allowed to live, and we'll breed a new generation from them. The rest we'll replace with the fem-bots."

Max and Dominique barely traded a glance before they formulated a plan. Dom settled back on her heels and tossed her hair over her shoulder, batting her eyelashes coquettishly. "Oh, I don't know," she said, leaning on her accent. "What if a woman couldn't be submissive enough for your new world?"

Max rolled her eyes and braced herself. The fem-bots were all lined up against the wall, and they'd tied her and Dom's arms behind their backs but left their legs free.

"Oh," Samson said, licking his lips again. "We have training... things. Programs. I'm sure we'd find something for such a perfect geisha dollURK!"

The URK and THUD of Dominique's knee sinking into the man's groin was the signal Max needed to spring for the control panel. She brought her leg up and smashed her heel down into the self-destruct.

"Self-destruct primed," the computer said in a breathy feminine voice. "Please activate second self-destruct sequence."

"Seriously?" Max yelled. She turned around to watch Dominique headbutt Samson into unconsciousness and then shake her hair back. "Seriously."

"There is a key on the other side," Dominique said. "Here, can you reach your knife?"

Max knelt awkwardly and drew her spare knife out of her ankle sheath, hidden under her sock. With her hands free she cut Dom's bonds open and then turned to the control panel. "Where'd you see that?"

"Here," Dom said, rushing to turn a key, which opened a flip-cover on another red button, which she pushed.

"Self-destruct activated," the computer confirmed. "You have three minutes to evacuate."

Max sheathed her knife and started for the exit. Dominique coughed. "What about the robots femmes?"

Max cast her eyes over the identical, glassy-eyed, inert mechanoids. "You think they're... intelligent?"

"Non," Dominique said. "But they could be useful, they could 'ave plans, or... something?"

Max thought for a second. "No, they creep me the hell out," she said.

"Très bien," Dominique agreed. "Let's go."

They were in the bottom of a mine shaft the next time it came up. Max screamed at the top of her lungs and hammered on the side of the mine elevator they'd been dropped in, but nobody answered, and she eventually slumped down on the floor.

"You are still upset over the lesbian thing," Dominique said.

"I am not!" Max shouted. Then she scowled. "What? I don't--do you have a cigarette?"

Dominique handed one over. Max took a long draw, then slammed her gun against the elevator one more time.

"The men versus women thing?" Dom asked.

"I'm not, and it's none of my business," Max said. "And I'm not angry with Amy for being a lesbian, I'm angry with her for dating a supervillain and leaving the DEBS!"

Dominique was silent for a few moments. Max could hear her striking her lighter and taking a deep draw of her own cigarette.

"Okay," Max said after a second. "Wow, this is really not the issue."

"I am 'ardly going to leave you for a supervillain," Dominique said.

"Obviously," Max said, exasperated.

"Gas," Dominique said after another few seconds.

Max couldn't figure out what she was saying for a second. She turned around and frowned. "What?"

Dominique flicked ashes off the end of her cigarette and idly kicked the gas canister that had rolled out into the corridor.

"Oh," Max said. She dug her heels in, and in synch they started running deeper into the mine.

"You are 'appy with killing things?" Dominique asked.

"Not all things," Max said after a second of thought. She shifted her grip on her pistol and wiped sweat off her forehead. "Lift that flashlight up?"

Dominique complied, and Max squinted and put a bullet through the head of the hissing mutant mine cockroach-gopher. "Giant rodent things?"

"I'm happy with killing those, yeah." She dug her toes into the side of the air shaft and pushed her back against the other side, chimneying up a few more inches. "Okay, you hear any more?"

"Non," Dom said. "Punching people, though? All right with you?"

"Nothing wrong with punching," Max said. She shimmied up another inch and froze as a hiss echoed in the tunnel. "Okay, I think that was to my left."

Dominique swung the flashlight around and Max nailed another beetle-headed furball.

"'ow is punching any more respectful than baiser?"

Max paused in her ascent to frown in Dom's direction.

Dominique rolled her eyes. "Fucking?"

"It's not about respect," Max said. She jammed her shoulder up another inch and stepped her foot up. "It gets the job done, and it makes me happy."

"You see? It is how I feel about sexuality." Dominique shimmied her way up until she was pointing the flashlight next to Max's head. "Maybe you should try it sometime?"

Max thought about that for a second, then shrugged. "Punching's good for now," she said.

Another one of the gopher-creatures hissed. Dominique swung the flashlight around as Max took aim.

"So," Max said as they hiked to their pickup point from the under-lake base they'd just destroyed, toes squishing in damp shoes, "you really don't see anything different between sex with women and men?"

Dominique shrugged. "Should there be?"

"I dunno," Max said. "I just... it's weird that you don't see any difference between me, them, anyone." Her toes squished again and she sighed. "I don't suppose you have a waterproof cigarette case."

"Oui," Dominique said, "But the lighter... non."

"Dammit," Max said. "I don't want you to stop having sex--with anyone. Except in a room which we have to share."

"There is a difference, in any case," Dom said.

Max stopped walking. Dom's own squishing steps stopped a moment later. "What?"

Dominique shrugged and pulled a cigarette case out of her jacket pocket. "I don't share my cigarettes with them."

Max took the offered cigarette and smiled. "... All right."

Their helicopter swooped in from overhead. Max grabbed the rope ladder with her free hand and yelled over the noise, "Lemme get a light, and I think I have an idea of how to find that guy with the robot snakes."

"With the cute assistant?" Dominique shouted back. "Très bon!"

Max grinned, stuck her cigarette in her mouth, and let herself be lifted into the air.