There was something Zayin didn't understand. This was not altogether unusual, in itself; she had been unaware of any kind of current events for the last several decades until just recently, and was still catching up with changes. But that couldn't explain at all why Kiera was insisting on this latest absolute nonsense.
"I don't understand the significance, Kiera. I have held hands many, many times."
"Respectfully, Zayin, you absolutely haven't." Kiera sighed with exasperation, as if she was the put-upon voice of reason here. Then she canted her head. "Or... Wait, did you have robot bodies back when you were some giant scary military base?"
Trying to once again distinguish that she had not been the base itself, merely a coordinating intelligence distributed throughout it, seemed unwise in the present circumstance. Kiera was dangerously aware of her buttons. Figuratively.
"I had mobile platforms, but they were not designed for handheld operation. This is the platform in which I have held hands."
"Zayin. You are in a gun."
"A gun which you are holding in your hands right now. Sorry, I am not certain how to indulge this current feigned ignorance."
"Oh. I... Zayin, that isn't the same." Kiera looked taken aback. "Holding hands isn't the same thing as being held in hands. It's holding back with your own hands, or graspers, or whatever. It's not carrying the other, just touching, in a little way. It's intimate."
"Oh." Well. Now the preceding several minutes made sense. "You want to hold my hand in yours. I suppose my form is rather stymying in that respect." Zayin paused, but that felt a hollow note to end on. "If it's any consolation, I find being carried by you intimate."
"Really? So you felt you were... Intimate with your commanding officer when you were used as this glorified artillery spotter? That's..." Kiera made an uneasy face. She never hid her distaste for the former subject of Zayin's allegiance, but that looked more like pity.
"No. That was different. You are different, and... I am so small, now. Only one platform. Not even mobile. Bound up fully in a single shell that you have in hand. It's so foreign." But that didn't fully characterize her feelings, did it? "I have never been so vulnerable. I would be frightened, disturbed, except that I trust you."
"Oh. That... I never thought about how that..." More pity, tinged with... Zayin still needed to get better at reading human faces. "Do you want to be bigger again, Zayin?"
She probably should have expected that question. Just the thought spurred several contradictory feelings in her, rushing in at a pace she wasn't so used to. But still slower than how fast she used to think...
"I would have answered that without hesitation, once. But now... I would be losing something special. Still, it would be worth it. I would like to be distributed over multiple platforms again, should the opportunity arise."
Being vulnerable but under her lover's protection was special, but special wasn't everything.
"Well... I can't promise I can really help with that. But I'll keep my eyes open." Kiera grinned, and it was silly, but it didn't look empty.
Zayin's primary view swiveled from her lover's face to an awkward view of her front and the sickly red sky as Kiera lowered the gun from her face.
Being slung across Kiera's chest had been the best compromise on how to carry her with the limits of the human form and the undesired implications of constantly holding a weapon in hand.
Zayin was in Kiera's bag. It made her think of the early days of their companionship. Back when she was merely a thing to Kiera, a jackpot waiting for a buyer. Had she not lied about her killswitch being a permanent deactivation, that's probably all she would have been.
Not that she had held much regard for the stateless rabble picking around in the ruins of empire for scrap, either. Scrap. Not much regard for herself, either, had she?
Things were very different now. But the bag remained unpleasant.
"Hey, me again." Kiera spoke nonchalantly to someone as she walked into the Mystery Building. The need to hide Zayin to enter was one thing—but Kiera had insisted on leaving their destination as a 'surprise'. Zayin did not like surprises.
"Oh, 's been a while." Zayin did not recognize the voice. "Thought maybe you got—"
"Yeah, yeah. I'm not gonna get myself killed." Zayin was suddenly on edge. Just what scenario was Kiera getting involved in? Was she in the bag to keep her from balking at unacceptable risk?
"I was going to say 'laid', but yeah, that too."
"Oh. Right. Ah..." Kiera chuckled with a hint of nervousness—no, embarassment. Zayin didn't get it. But, at least, it let her relax a little.
"Shit, you did, didn't ya? Well, good for you. But... Guess it didn't last, eh?" The other voice laughed. Nastily, in Zayin's opinion.
"Just shut up and give me the key."
That seemed to be the end of that, and the rest of the exchange was wordless. Finally, Kiera started walking again, and then... up stairs, that's what the jostling was. Then a door shut behind them and Kiera stopped. Zayin let herself hope that was the end of the affair, and not just a first leg.
"Okay." Kiera sighed, and then her tone brightened. "He can't hear us now. Sorry for making you go mute and blind there."
"And not even held. Such cruelty I must helplessly suffer at your whims." Zayin all but put a whine in her synthesized voice. She had been thinking of how to get her revenge.
"Are you making a joke?"
Zayin was prepared for that response.
"I don't have a humerus bone in my body."
"Yeah, but..." Kiera stopped. Thought for a second. And then groaned. "Oh you piece of shit."
"None of that either."
That actually made Kiera laugh. "You are so lucky my sense of humor is garbage."
"Excuse me, this is not luck. This was the product of careful study and planning how to exploit this weakness of yours and utterly destroy you."
"Pfft. Zayin, I love you."
"I love you too, Kiera." She felt a little silly saying that from within the bag, of all places.
"Anyways, uh. I don't know if this is going to work, but I've rented this for a time."
Zayin was finally greeted once again by light, and the smiling face of her lover, slightly more flushed than usual. She was in a fairly nondescript room, with a bed, and... In the corner of her camera. "Who is—"
"What." Kiera cut in surprisingly forcefully, and then laughed nervously. "Not who. It's not like you, just a toy."
Kiera turned her to get a better view of the supposed 'toy'. Admittedly, it didn't take much scrutiny to see the figure wasn't actually a human, just designed to look like one. A pale blonde woman in a negligee, specifically. It was turned on, although it seemed to be idling. Zayin was starting to put together an idea of what it was supposed to be for, but... Then what was she there for? It couldn't be—
She had been silent for too long, and Kiera swung her around to look into the camera. "Oh, fuck. I'm being gross and terrible, aren't I? I didn't think about—"
"Kiera. Calm down. I'm not offended." Zayin tried to make herself sound as soothing as she could. "And I wouldn't be offended. That's a toy in your shape, not mine. I'm sorry I didn't react earlier, it's just..." Zayin didn't want to get her hopes up, but that was happening regardless. "Are you... offering it to me?"
"Um. Yes. If you can? It's on a network for some reason, and probably insecure, and old tech just like you—I mean, maker and era, not—"
"Kiera, I understand. But..." She hesitated for a moment. This was delicate. "You seem quite nervous. Are you merely worried that this won't work? Or that you will upset me? Because it's fine. But if you don't want to do this anymore, that is also fine. Just say."
Kiera took a deep breath. "Yeah. I want it if you do. Silly idea, I know. But I thought you might like being a little bigger, just for a bit. And..."
"Okay." Zayin would do her lover the mercy of not having to finish that statement aloud just then.
"Excellent." Kiera turned her head quite fast at the sound of the new voice, and saw Zayin looking at her still. Zayin grinned with this face she now had. "Because you got me a body. A body!"
It was such an exciting feeling to be in a mobile platform again. Being in two places was nice enough; multiple vantage points, fewer blind spots. Although the new body was merely something she was hijacking, not a new locus of her self. She had started with the sensory input, and then how to use the voice, and move the face, and finally Zayin turned her attention to managing the rest of the motion and... touch. She could touch things. Not just feel herself be moved, not just viscerally gauge pressure, but actually experience the texture of things. They gave this thing an actually-detailed sense of touch? Maybe not as rich as a human's, she wouldn't know, but...
She picked up her hand and clumsily pressed one finger to the faux-flesh of her other arm. It was rather soft. Fun. "It's a ridiculous body, but it's still a body. You really weren't kidding about the insecurity, by the way. I barely had to try! I knew my creators as a society were fond of their backdoors but really? Why put government access into something like this?"
Kiera looked like she knew the answer to that question, and was a little uneasy with it. Zayin wasn't going to press. Then Kiera cracked up into a big smile. "Hahah, um. Zayin." She properly turned to put all her attention on Zayin's temporary body. "This is you. My girlfriend, right in front of me. Not just... pretend."
"That's right! It's really me, right here." Zayin grinned. Then, a second later, spoke up from the gun. "Am I making this face right?"
Kiera laughed and suddenly took one of Zayin's hands between hers. Kiera's hands were rough, and warm, and enclosed her own quite snugly. After a moment, hesitantly, she put her other hand on top of Kiera's, to leave them in a silly little alternating stack. Kiera's smile widened at that, so it was evidently the right move. Zayin had to admit, it was nice, although it seemed... minor, for the circumstances.
"I can't get over this. This barely feels real. That I'm..." Kiera broke into a fit of nervous giggles. "I love you so much. I hope this can maybe help show that."
"It was clear enough already." Zayin made the body hum, but it sounded a bit off. "But this sentiment is still very much appreciated. And, for my part..." Zayin paused for an effect, squeezed Kiera's hands a bit more, and then spoke up in stereo. "I really love you, Kiera."
Then they just stayed still, holding each other's hands for a while.
Finally, Zayin broke the comfortable silence. "So, Kiera. Is this close to the kind of human girl you like?"
"Oh. Well—Not really?" Kiera pulled a face, and looked away for a second.
"Oh. I see." That was surprising, but not especially disappointing. Zayin had no real investment in the particulars of this body, since she was only borrowing it. Kiera really shouldn't feel embarrassed to disparage it. "I had thought you had played with it on multiple occasions before. I suppose I misunderstood."
"Right, yes, that. So uh..." Kiera sighed and shrugged. "It's a good toy, basically. It talks, and... Okay yeah no shutting up about this now."
Zayin picked up her hand from the top of the pile and set it on Kiera's shoulder. She was pretty sure that was a reassuring thing to do. "Sorry. I hadn't meant to needle you about something embarrassing. Although. On that note. May I needle you about something embarrassing?"
Kiera feigned an exasperated sigh, and then pulled her hands away from Zayin's. She moved to take a seat on the bed beside Zayin, and spread her arms wide. "Okay, needle away."
"I simply thought it might be worth discussing this kind of thing, given that I am your girlfriend and currently uniquely able to indulge whatever prurient feelings you are refusing to express." Zayin gave that a moment to simmer. "I would in the spirit of full reciprocity confess my own in turn, except I do not especially have any. Though I suppose I could offer my half-formed preferences on a human form of my own." After a moment she hastily added "As in, for myself. For my aesthetic preferences in others, well, you genuinely rank very highly. Though I must profess as well some inclination towards one neatly groomed and in a uniform..."
"At least I'm not the only one embarrassed." Kiera shrugged. "I like the toy you're wearing. It's hot, in an exagerrated way. But very soft, and not just literally. For an actual person... More of a hard edge? I am awful at explaining this kind of thing. For my 'prurient desires'... I'm not going jump to doing what I'd normally do with the toy. But I think we could get a step up from just holding hands."
"That sounds pleasant. Oh! Actually, that gives me an idea. If you'll let me indulge?"
Zayin stood up from the bed, awkwardly steadying herself on the legs. She did a little experimenting, until she was entirely confident she had a stable base. And then she scooped Kiera up off the bed, and held her to her chest. Kiera looked up in surprise, and then smiled as she settled in. Zayin held her close, feeling overjoyed to be able to do that. Then she smiled smugly, even though her lover couldn't see.
"You see? I told you being held was intimate."