"LILLY," OSCAR PAUSED AS he saw the little scowl on the face of the head mistress. "Mrs. Bonner," he corrected himself, remembering the name on the office door, then added "My Lady" just for safety.
"No need to be formal," she smiled, "Lilly is fine." She certainly hadn't received him formally. She was dressed for the climate in skimpy jogging shorts and an open weave sports bra. It was quite obvious there was nothing but skin beneath the bra. Her nipples were clearly visible through the lacy fabric. It was less obvious about the shorts, but he caught himself tracking every movement of those long tanned thighs. "I've heard so much about you. I already feel like we're old friends." She shifted a bit, opening her legs even wider to catch the cool downdraft from the ceiling fan. "May I call you Oscar?"
There was still no sign of other fabric beneath the shorts. Was that crease in her skin only where her hip met her groin, or the final target of his quest? She caught his gaze, and crossed her legs. He forced himself to look up at her face, just in time to be overwhelmed with a display of gleaming white teeth. Perfect, every tooth was perfect, every fingernail, every pore of her skin. There was no mistaking that she was a Seedling. Genitum, non factum. Born, not made. That phrase from the Credo ran through his mind. With the Seedlings it was just the reverse. They were made, not born. The first fruits of the dead. Each Seedling was the clone, the physical resurrection, of some great man or woman. But this Seed had tinkered with its heritage. These Seedlings had been purged of any human flaws. Maybe the original Leah had been a little chunky, nose too big, chin too small, breasts a little droopy. All that had been fixed. There were rumors that it had taken quite a few tries, that the Seed had purged its Seedlings over and over in a crazed attempt at perfection. Only the arrival of the Ti Station had saved this final batch from the same fate.
"I would be very flattered." Oscar found himself blushing at the intensity of that smile.
"I'm sorry to keep you waiting so long," she sighed. "We were taking some of the younger students out for a fun run up to the next beach pavilion."
"I'm sorry to interrupt ."
"Oh, it's okay. It's so hot today, and they were so poky. We weren't even half way there yet. I thought I was going to die before we made it to the water.
It didn't look as if she had taken any time to cool off before receiving him. She didn't seem to be a bit concerned about the little puddle of sweat that was accumulating around her on the magnificent leather couch. He found himself wondering how many other bodily fluids had been spilled on that supple, glistening surface.
"Well, then, Oscar, what can we do for you today?" Lilly's voice, almost a purr, interrupted his reverie. "For you," she added, "everything is on the house." "Everything and anything?" Did that include the headmistress?
"Anything," she smiled sweetly, and tugged a bit at her wedding band, "within reason. Sarah told me that if you ever showed up on Eden, you deserved the best."
"Well, she dragged me along this time." He smiled as he said it, and the headmistress gave a tiny, imperceptible frown as she caught the telltale of a lie. He winced at that frown, and she smiled a bit at his wince. A headmistress, she would have been trained along the way as a counselor. A Seedling, she could have trained as a child as an assassin. He might as well have been sitting across the room from a lioness.
"You are well schooled," he ventured. "Actually she asked me to meet her at the Ti station. She was returning from a visit to her dear friend Mary."
"Our Order is an ancient one." She allowed herself a little smile to indicate that she understood that he had caught her reaction to his deception. Beyond that, there was the implication that she had overacted, deliberately, on this very minor, innocent white lie, as a courtesy, as a warning. Don't fuck with me. She had yawned to bare her teeth, stretched to display her claws. Enough had been said, now she was purring again. "We live by our beauty and our wits. And you?
"Obviously not by beauty."
"Not your own. Sarah's beauty and your wits. A rather potent combination."
"Sarah is a very clever lady. Don't underestimate her."
"Sarah is an old friend. We grew up together."
Something about her tone made him smile. "I guess she was a late bloomer."
"I suppose you could say that. Well, she has done very well for herself. On a rather small stage, though." Lilly gave a little sniff that said it all. As far as she was concerned, Earth was just another backwater planet. How many thousands of planets were there, millions, perhaps? Someone over on the Ti Station probably knew the answer to that one. Not that she really cared. She added a little yawn, just for emphasis.
Oscar's lips were twitching. He was struggling to suppress his merriment. Stuck up little bitch. She didn't have to be a mind reader to catch what he was thinking. She flushed, sighed, and took a breath to compose herself.
"I'm sorry, we seem to be getting off to a bad start. Would you like to take a tour of the school?"
"Jake and Easy showed me around, a couple of days ago." "Really?" She gave him an appraising look. "A swim then? Shall we go down to the beach and cool off?" She tugged at her bra. "I need to get out these clothes." You will get to see the full glory of my magnificent body, and I will get to see the rest of the pathetic hairy paunch that is sticking out under that stupid floral print shirt. And under that, those shriveled little balls and a prick that hasn't functioned in years.