Chapter 46

"I hope your friends aren't claustrophobic, Dear," Bunni said. The equipment had not been moved much since Xen had left. The artificial womb still hulked in its corner, dark and empty, and the benches were smooth and clean.

"Not me," Bell said. "Are you, Charon?"

"No," said Charon.

"Would you like something to drink?" Bunni asked.

"If you have bottled water, one for me and one for Charon," Xen said. "We came through some dust."

"So I see," Bunni said. She trundled off into the back storage. "I'm sure you'll be pleased to learn that the shower is still working."

"Very," said Xen. "I haven't had a real shower in ages. And I've been out of shampoo for a long time now." She fingered her stringy hair ruefully.

"This is a nice place," Bell said. She was peering into a scope, careful not to touch it. "Where'd all the equipment come from?"

"I think the Doctors stole it from the Enclave when they left," Xen said. "That's sort of hinted at in their research notes, anyway. Originally, it took a whole Vertibird to carry everything. Dr. Montalban fiddled with the autopilot and sent it off to crash in the desert."

"Here you are," said Bunni. She handed a bottle to Xen and offered the other to Charon. He took it silently.

"Thanks," said Xen. She was halfway through a sip when Tori came bobbling back in and said,

"So are you sleeping with one of them?"

Xen choked. The robots waited patiently for her to resume normal respiration.

"I win fifty caps if you went lesbian," said Tori.

"No," Xen said, with as much dignity as she could muster. "I'm not sleeping with anyone. Nor am I a lesbian. As far as I know," she added honestly.

Bell laughed. "Glad to hear it. I'd hate to think you'd been suffering from a crush on me all this time."

"You're not my type," Xen said.

"Probably too short," Bell agreed.

"I'm not even going to ask where you got that from," Xen said. "Tori, can you test Charon's Hayflick limit? I want to know if he's one of the regenerators."

"You want to know?" Tori said. "Doesn't he?"

"It will not affect my contract," Charon said.

"Maybe not now," Xen said. "But he's supposed to be forty or so chronologically. if I die, his contract defaults to the nearest person. And I want to know if he'll be around to keep an eye on my clone if we do decide to produce one later. Charon's very good at what he does and he's absolutely trustworthy."

"Doesn't get excited easily, anyhow," said Tori. "That's good. I'll need Bunni to help me grab a couple of things from storage."

"Coming," said Bunni. "Is there anything else you require for the moment, Xen?"

"No, thank you," Xen said. "I'm just glad to be back."

"I'm glad, too," said Bunni, and wheeled off after Tori.

Xen took a deep breath as she looked at the other two.

"Well, we made it," she said. She leaned back against a countertop.

"Are we staying? I kind of like it here," Bell said. "Your friends are nice." She peered curiously into the artificial womb's main window.

"It's not exactly what I remember," Xen said slowly. "I guess I'm too different myself for that. But I would like to stay. At least for a little while. Is that all right with you, Charon?"

"I am yours t'command," said the Ghoul.

Xen looked up at him and smiled.

"I thought you might say that," she said.

THE END

A/N: Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed this now novel-length story! You've been a great bunch of readers and I hope to grab some of you for my next story as well. You may next hear from me over in Oblivion again.

Cheers.

SickleYield