Wise and Foolish Virgins
Disclaimer: Not mine, the good doctor's. No disrespect intended.
Baley shifted from one foot to the other, resisting the temptation to run a finger round the inside of his tight-fitting collar; the pre-conference reception had been a bad idea in his opinion. The small Earth delegation (sanitized inside and out), far from home here in the space station orbiting Aurora's star, had taken on a beleaguered aspect. Among the Spacers, a mixture of Aurorans and other hardy souls here for the conference, his own allies, Dr Fastolfe and his Humanist delegation, were conspicuous by their absence. (Naturally, Master Roboticist Amadiro, Dr Vasilia, and their Globalists had been on time to the dot). Well, Aurora would not risk several Earthers on its surface; his own solitary presence two years ago had been enough to near-traumatize large sections of the population, and of course the Humanists could not compromise themselves so far as to negotiate on Earth itself.
He turned back to Lavinia Demachek, standing tall and imposing at his side. "If Dr Fastolfe doesn't get here soon we may need to bow out gracefully until tomorrow."
"Last I heard, they'd repaired the ship's navigation system and expected to be here in a few hours," the Vice-Secretary replied, but at that point the door at the far end of the room opened and Dr Fastolfe himself, with his party, entered. Baley's eyes flicked in that direction, instantly found one particular face among all the others, and he relaxed, smiling just slightly, straight into Daneel's – Daneel's? eyes.
"We came over in the lifeboat. It was really quite exciting," chattered Gladia. "Dr Fastolfe decided that we couldn't afford to wait until the reception was over, or Amadiro would have wrecked the entire conference. So the official party crammed into one lifeboat and we left the other for the crew and the rest of the passengers." She was still buzzing from the adventure, eyes bright, smiling up at him.
Baley was feeling distinctly uncomfortable. He could feel Amadiro's knowing gaze upon him, and had no idea what emotions he might be broadcasting. He had no idea what he himself was feeling. So he said, "I'm very glad you made it safely, Gladia, and it's really good to see you again. But there'll be plenty of time for us to talk later, and we should circulate. I must go and speak to Dr Fastolfe, and I'd like to introduce you to our delegation leader," and he steered her towards Lavinia Demachek, moving away himself as soon as he could without making it too obvious.
Back in his room after the Earth delegation's debrief, Baley had just come out of the shower when there was a knock at his door.
"Who is it?"
He slung on a robe – "Come in" and met the robot with open arms as the door hissed closed. "Daneel." He hadn't been able to talk to him during the reception; Daneel had moved instantly to an alcove and Baley had been fully occupied with his diplomatic duties. Now he simply hugged his friend, that odd instant when he'd first seen him forgotten in the joy of the moment. "Oh Daneel, I've missed you - "
And then he stopped, appalled at himself.
Pulled back from the warm body and welcoming arms.
Turned away, his hands covering his face.
"Jehoshaphat," he ground out. "Daneel, I'm sorry. No," he held up one hand as the robot approached him in concern, "don't come near me."
Daneel halted, utterly still.
"Am I so repugnant to you?"
"Ah, no." Baley, trembling, risked a glance at him. "Never that, Daneel. But you can't say no. And that means I can't touch you."
"Because you have no choice!" Baley's temper flared. "Second Law, Daneel! I can't impose my desires on you!"
"But I do have a choice." Baley gaped at him. "I was designed as an aid to study human thought processes. Within the fundamentals of robotic design, I have the ability to make choices. Choice is a part of being human."
Silence. Then Baley, sitting now on the edge of the bed, groaned and scrubbed his hands over his face. Looked up. Thought his way carefully through the mazes of First and Second Laws.
"Tell me, Daneel. If you had true freedom, would you choose me?"
"Surely I would, Partner Elijah. There is none other for whom I would make that choice."
"Then, R. Daneel Olivaw, I offer myself to you." Standing up, wrapping his arms around him, kissing, hands in each others' hair, the robe slipping open and off as Baley pushed Daneel down, following him down, following the kiss, body moving to cover his…
And again he stopped. Pulled back.
"Daneel. Can you feel physical pleasure?"
"I believe so. It is, after all, a part of…"
"Being human," finished Baley, smiling against his lips.
He shifted back slightly so that his weight was on shoulder and hip rather than on Daneel. Then he pulled the robot gently back into his arms till they lay face to face, equals, and took up the kiss once more, and with a more deliberate intent.
But early the next day in the Globalist party office, Amadiro switched off the vid-player and glared at Vasilia. "There's nothing here that we can use!"
Vasilia, stung, snapped, "I'm certain he and the Solarian woman were lovers at some point! If we'd been able to catch them together, an Earthman and a Spacer woman, the whole Settler initiative would have been howled down. No-one would ever have let them off their dirty little planet!"
"And what have we got instead? Anodyne stuff. Not even a whiff of human-robot coercion for our pains. Soft-hearted people might even sympathize with them. Ach, it's been a complete waste of time."
"If we can't publicize it, how about blackmail? Take Baley out of the reckoning and the whole Settler movement would founder."
"Who would we blackmail? We've got no access to him or his family, or to Earth media, and they hate us anyway. Fastolfe? He'd just laugh. No, we'll have to think of something else." Amadiro pocketed the tiny robot that had housed the camera, threw the vid-film down on Vasilia's desk, and stalked from the room.
Vasilia sat quite still for a while, tapping her fingers. The vid-film lay where it had fallen.
Images began to replay in her mind. She had seen nothing but respect and concern between the Earthman and the robot. She had glimpsed the love which Baley had once told her of, when she had shocked the admission out of him at their very first meeting.
Had she been misguided to refuse, ever since her rejection by Fastolfe, any sexual contact?
Tears sprang suddenly to her eyes. Then she smiled, blinking them away. She picked up the vid-film, dropped it into her purse, and made her way back to her own quarters.