[YC 124 NEWCWC The Business of Love]

This is an edited posting of my submission to the writing contest. My original submission is to be the considered one as this one is a bit longer. Please comment and let me know what you think.

-The Business of Love-

The broad shoulders were very nice, but a beard? Sadie Pinster hadn’t really considered a man with a beard. Mr. Mhu, that course Protection Services Officer who lived in her hive left his facial hair truly feral complete with errant crumbs. Still, this Mr. Walther Haut, his beard was precisely groomed and raven dark. The suit he wore was a Kamie Sutsu, an appropriate quality brand. The shoes, they were Mäki’nen’, the kind her own Executive Director wore. Mr. Haut was either lucky or he knew his corporate culture.
“I see your eyes brightening.” the professional connections interviewer, Ms. Kline said. “Quite a catch isn’t he?”
Sadie narrowed her gaze and pinched her fingers to zoom in on Mr. Haut’s face. “Above his eye, there is a scar.” She said.
“It could be removed. But we suggested he keep it. I find it rather maturing. He is a veteran of services after all.”
“Another admirable quality. Strange though that he won’t remember it?”
“A strict stipulation of his former contract. As a member of a covert ops force, his only option for retirement was a mind wipe. But he has settled into the civilian life program without flaw and we are guiding him in his life wishes: A high energy spouse with a future he could help build.”
“But he will not remember his old life?” Sadie asked.
“He retains all his talents. His scheduled medical reviews will guarantee that he remains the Mr. Haut ‘he’ chose to be. We cannot play around with such things.” Kline said.
"He seems too good to be true.” Sadie said.
“Ms. Pinster, I told you I found you a rarity. He is a Director’s package for the Manager’s rate. Our clientèle are of the highest caliber. Do not forget the intense interview process we set you through.”
“I remember. You had me climb a wall.” Sadie said.
“And you tried to do it in heels! But that is not important. You are in respectable health. It is your superior social elegance and aggressive corporate drive set that make you his desirable match.” Ms. Kline said. Sadie did not miss the gaiety in her voice.
“I thought my match would be more like myself.” Sadie said
“So many think so. But if you were both CEO material then you might end up in his shadow. And don’t get me wrong, you both have a lot in common but we find that a mate who strengthens their partner’s weaknesses to be more advantageous and bonding.”
“My weaknesses?” Sadie snorted, raising her chin.
“As a Senior Manager in Lai Di Distributions, your health; physical, mental, and spiritual are very important. Mr. Haut will sharpen them.”
“Mind and body health are important.” Sadie said.
“Don’t forget the heart?” Kline said.
Sadie snorted. She spun the three dimensional portrait around again. Beards could be silky. It was a very masculine trait. She brought up the image of herself and scooted it next to him. He would add a dominance to her presence at corporate events. “What does he think of me?”
Ms. Kline smiled. “As if you should doubt. He immediately demanded a meeting.”
“Demanded? With the five year contract? That is a bit clingy.”
“Ms. Pinster, we are a Marriage service. Not a dating site. Mr. Haut is only interested in a long term. And you said yourself that your Director recommended it. Did she not say it would open up advancement opportunities?”
“He will of course have his own employment?”
“There are no less than three job guarantees upon his transfer to your hive; private trainer, physical therapist, and security officer. All are admirable positions. He said he was leaning toward the physical therapist with a freelance into the training venue, for flexibility. You have several high-caliber client options in the upper echelon of your home-hive.”
Mrs. Tesku will be first in line I am sure, Sadie thought. “All of those options could pay his half of the expenses.”
“And provide external connections to some very important people indeed.” Kline added.
Sadie viewed the contract again. Her lawyers had reviewed it and assured her it was a solid document protecting her assets. From her climb out of the broken slums to this gilded hive, in her thirty-two years Sadie had no less than five aggressive marriage proposals. Including the still insistent Mr. Mhu. All the proposals, every one was from a wasteful scrub clawing for her advantage.
“I don’t know. A marriage, my career, I just don’t have time…“
“Ms. Pinster, I thought this was why you were doing this. For your career. Trust me. Trust the reviews. Trust your Director. This is our business. We know what we are doing. Mr. Haut will truly strengthen your position in the corporation. His skills can support you all the way up. Just think about it! We all know that behind all great people there is a great pillar of support. This man wants to be that for you.”
Sadie flipped back to the screen where Mr. Haut’s dark eyes stared into hers. A shiver sparked down her spine and into her belly. It had been long since she had watched a romance holo-vid. Such irrationality had been pounded into submission with ever glance back at her poor mother, saddled with a trifling imbecile and five screaming brats.
Still, those eyes. Beards could be soft.
“Don’t forget the guarantee.” Ms. Kline said.
“Fine, fine I will sign up for the trial!” Sadie Said.

“We are recording now. Three month check-in. How are we getting on with the Marrage?” Kline asked.
“Mr. Haut is more than adequate.” Sadie said.
“Surely that is not all you have to say?”
Sadie felt herself blush. There were things one didn’t say in contract fulfillment interviews. How every morning she would wake up to a pressed suit and energizing breakfast. Every sixteen hour day she would come home to a perfect meal, bath, and full massage- with sex. Being alone for so long, such holo-vid fantasies had been only that, a base yenning of a mortal body. Something the weak succumb to chaining them to a life of poverty and regret. But Sadie, she had built status and control. Walther was her earnings.
Sadie took a breath and brushed the sleeve of her plum casual smoothing out an errant crease.
“At our first office party we were invited by the Associate VP and his wife to the club for jorufu. And we are to go skyriding with my Director and her husband next week.”
“Oh how adventurous.” Kline said.
“At the club, Walther was perfect. The VP won the game by just a single point. I am certain a rematch will be forthcoming.”
“My Associate VP mentioned the expansion and a need for a new Junior Director.” Sadie said.
“More than adequate indeed.” Kline said.
“Did Walther say anything about me?”
“You know these interview are confidential. But you have no need to worry. Now I understand it is your birthday?”
“Any plans for the day?”
Sadie smiled. It seemed infectious because Ms. Kline too smiled. The interview concluded and Sadie sighed as the rest of the service fee was deducted from her account. Still, she was more than satisfied. Her corporate advancement would come soon now.

Walther followed her through the shop door, his arms laden with packages.
“Sadie, you never told me why you said yes.” he said.
“Why did you?” Sadie asked. She heard Wather’s foot steps halt. She turned and he moved closer. His eyes met to hers, intense, boring into her. She held them.
“There was a powerful elegance about your story. And when I met you I felt its truth, its energy in you. You will succeed in what ever you do. I knew that I could thrive if I basked in that radiance.”
Sadie breathed out. She had not realized she had been holding her breath. Why had she picked him? It had been because he looked the part, because her boss recommended the service, because of the guarantee, because he could help her advance, because of the shoe brand he chose. Maybe there had been a loneliness? But she had not known then that she was lonely.
He shifted her birthday purchases to one arm and gently brushed her chin. She reached up caressing his beard.
“Now you?” he said, offering his coy eyebrow raise.
“I said yes because I liked your beard.” She said with a laugh. His smile echoed into her.
She stepped out into the walk and he took two deep steps that set him at her side.
They were nearing the Planetary Vehicle garage to check out their rental. They could have taken the public but there was an excitement having Walther drive.
Walther put an arm around her waste twisting her around to a service closet. She almost tripped. He tried the handle.
“What are you doing? Our rental is that way.” She said
“Sadie, there is someone following us. Someones’”
“What? This is a safe mall.”
“Apparently not.” He said. The service closet was locked. He directed her forward. Two men were there, baring their way. Each dressed neat enough. They wouldn’t have let them in the establishment if they weren’t. But they had put on masks.
“Good evening.”
“Credits, kind people? A token?”
Sadie gasped. She glanced at the security cameras.
“Oh but the security personal are busy elsewhere.” The man said.
“You had best move along anyway.” Walther said. His voice forceful.
“Walther, I’ll just give them the credits.” Sadie said as she inched back the way they came. The space behind them was clear. She would slide out of her heels and run. Walther had teased her and prepared her for just this event. She would never mock his teachings again. Give them what they wanted and run.
“Sadie, stop! There are three more behind us.” Walther said. “These people aren’t after your credits.”
An icy chuckle and hawing of laughter poked around the corner. Three more loosely dressed thugs came around the corner behind them. Two of them drew knives, if they could be called so. Each blade was as long as the thigh they were drawn from. The white sheen of the knives told of a fiber-polymer ceramic material. No metal detector would have noticed them. The man in the middle, the voice, reached into his coats and drew a gun.
“I thought maybe the lady would like to go for a ride?” he said.
“No.” Sadie whispered.
Walther let the packages drop to his feet, scattered. He snatched the purse from Sadie’s hands, pushing her behind him into a space where a street cycle was parked between a car and the wall. He was her shield, but there was no escape.
“Can’t we come to some sort of compromise gentlemen?” Walther said as he opened the purse.
The men laughed.
In one smooth movement Walther launched a package with his foot. Sadie’s new crystal vase shattered square across the gunman’s jaw. Staggering, Walther was on him, his hand neatly twisting the gun mans arm. The gun tapped to the concrete, sliding away. Walter shifted his weight rolling the gun man into the sword thug to his left while simultaneously gut kicking the swordsman to the right. The right man quickly recovered, advancing with raised sword even as Walther moved in on him.
“No” Sadie screamed as the blade came down over Walther, but somehow he twisted, rising, the second swordsman’s blade arm was bound in the straps of her purse. With the next pull of bodies, Sadie heard a pop and a crack. The man squealed as Walther drove him to the ground, bouncing his head on the concrete.
“Stay back Love.” Walther said. The left swordsman and the gunman were already moving back at him.
“Who’s he protecting now?” One of the first two men said.
“Poor choice for him.” The other one added. Knives in hand, the first two thugs advanced, on her.
Sadie screamed. Moving she put the street bike between her and them.
“Where do you think your going?” One reached over the bike grabbing her wrist. Sadie took a breath. Walther had been teaching her when they worked on her physical fitness. Turning her wrist to the side and making a fist, Sadie grabbed onto that fist with her other hand. Twisting her body, Sadie wrenched it free at the point where her assailants thumb and finger wrapped.
“It actuality worked!” she said.
“Yeah this’ll work too.” The man swished his knife at her. One was coming at her from each side, circling around the bike. Sadie stepped back against the planetary vehicle, keeping her hands in tight. She saw Walther slide behind the man on the outside. The villain’s knees buckled even as his face was slammed into the bike bar. Vaulting over the bike, Walter came in with his elbow to the knife swisher, careening them both into the side of the vehicle.
The left sword thug was back, on the other side of the bike now. Blood trickled from a gash on Walthers arm. Walther’s eyes were wide, feral. A more fierce countenance than any holo-vid could ever show. Sadie saw the swordsman glance at his fallen comrades. Walther leaned down, wrapped one hand around the bike handle, the other the seat frame. Powered street bikes were not light but he lifted it as if it were a manual, thrusting it at the swordsman. The bike crashed into him. The ceramic blade made a tinkling sound as it tapped on the ground.
“Stop there!” a voice barked. The gun man alone remained. He now stood, ten feet away. The weapon leveled.
“Don’t hurt him.” Sadie cried.
“I’ll get on the ground.” Walter said. He put one knee down. Sadie saw Walther’s hand drop to her abandoned stiletto heel. In a swoop the stiletto went flying. A perfect spin landed it square in the gunman’s eye. Walther was close behind it, flawless in a motion of choreographic carnage. The gun popped out a shot. The gunman’s arms were pinned as he was forced to the back wall. Sadie saw spittle and breath fly as Walther, clearly the bigger man, squeezed the breath out of him. A shift of the grip and a sharp bob of the head left the man limp. Walther released him to the floor.
Walter stepped back, tugging at the bottom of his shirt and smoothing it into place.
“Sadie, my darling, are you alright?” Walther said. Sadie breathed. Her lower lip trembled as Walther embraced her. His hands smoothing the wrinkles on her suit and rubbing her hands.
“You saved me. How did you do this?”
“I am not sure, but the doctors said I would retain my training, my instincts. I always knew this was in there. I must have been some operative. This is almost inhuman. Like a holo-vid.”
“Yes, inhuman.” Sadie said.
Three men lay, their blood splashed on walls and leaking a slow trickle down the slope. The forth was surely dead with the poly-knife slice to the throat. The fifth man still wriggled underneath the upturned cycle. He squeaked in pain but silenced as Walther looked in his direction.
“Your hurt.” Sadie said, touching the slice in his sleeve, red painting her fingers. There was also a growing dark spot on his thigh. Walther probed his leg wound. Sadie noticed that he did not wince.
“Here’s the bullet. Just a small hole.” Then he flicked the sliced flap of his jacket and slid out of it. The worried brow made Sadie’s heart sink.
“Come, I will get you to the hospital.”
“No, I’m fine.”
“What’s wrong?”
“I am not sure if I can save my jacket.”

The police took a full account. Sadie had pushed Walther toward the hospital but he refused. “Small scratches.” He said. The on-sight medic did a scan and said there was no major artery damage. Walther insisted that could sew it up himself with the medical kit at home and her assistance. It was a relief. Emergency hospitals were expensive. Even with his injuries, Walther all but carried Sadie up to their apartment.
Sadie went to get the medical kit. Next to the tub she saw the evening enjoyment displayed. Walther must have set it into place even as they walked out the door for shopping. A tray set for tea with a glass bowl domed over a trio of sweet-spiced crisps. The kind she really liked.
“What is this?” she said as she touched the overturned tea cup. It was not her usual white teacup. This one was cobalt blue traced with a pair of rising white birds, their plumes fanned out behind them. The white bird pair was a gift of unity.
Wather smiled.
“Oh this is my birthday present, from you?” she lifted the cup to hold. It was beautiful. She had wanted such a set for guests, and herself. Underneath the cup there was a single chocolate. A decadence beyond means. Real chocolate cost a small fortune. It had to be a synthetic like Protein Delicacies, a fabrication. But the smell was perfect.
“It is real.” He said over her shoulder. She gasped.
“This is too much?”
“The tea set is your gift, from me. The chocolate was a bonus surprise. One of my clients gave it to me as a tip.”
“Mrs. Tesku, I‘ll bet”
“She is jealous of you.”
“Should I be jealous of her?” Sadie said. Walther set his arm to her waist. She laughed, turning to his coy smile. He nuzzled her neck. She kissed him deeply, as she learned that he liked, as she now liked.
She leaned in whispering into his ear, “These kinds of chocolates come in a box of ten.”
He shifted, whispering into her ear, “I am auctioning off the other nine individuality, on Kitt-Vy. Each one already has at least three bids.”
She kissed him again, even more passionately.

Only three days and the cut was was almost invisible. Sadie had never sewn human flesh before but Wather assured her that with the numbing agent it did not hurt and that her skill with the needle was impressive.
“I wish I could come in late today.” She said.
“Did you not sleep better my love? With the special tea I procured?“
“Much better. I just need more of this all day.” Sadie said as she snuggled in to Walther. His hand moved around her belly, pulling her in tight.
“If I save your life too often, you’ll want to be keeping me in your office closet.”
“Would that be so bad? We would have ‘lunch’ together everyday.” she nuzzled him. He cupped her cheek. His eyes went from wide, excited to that depth that meant he was disappointed. Then he looked away.
“Darling, I need to get your things ready. You already have that lunch meeting today.”
“Phoo.” Sadie puffed into her pillow as she rolled over, brushing open her com schedule. The alert had popped up last night. Not a meeting she had scheduled. The Director’s mark was next to the confirmation.
“Just a client schmooze. Another VIP exporter. Blue suit?” Sadie said.
“Blue suit” Walther echoed.
“Oh tomorrow, can you make me those pancakes?”
“Of course. Unless you want them for dinner?” Walther said.
Sadie started to put up her hair. Walther hummed a snappy revelry.
“Sadie, do you remember when I first made you pancakes?”
“Yes. You made one with the spatula and then started flipping the rest with crazy juggling. I was sure you were going to make a mess but you caught ever single one.”
“I didn’t know I could do that too. The fight, it felt like that.” Walther said.
“You are feeling OK aren’t you?” Sadie asked.
“Yes, I did talk to my doctor. I am fine. I will go in to work today.” Walther said.
“And I will not stay at work too late.” Sadie said.

There were three restaurants that her office took clientèle, Kin Tsume, Uskomaton, and the Miel-ikuvituksellinen, more commonly known as the Miel. Sadie was to meet the client at the Miel, the more exclusive of the options.
The waiter guided her to the private corporate room. A uniformed man sat propped at the table.
“Officer Mhu?” she greeted him. Sadie glanced around. There was no one else. She looked at the client list again.
“Ah Sadie Pinster, this is correct. The clients you were suppose to meet are not real. We had your boss arrange this. I need to speak to you.”
“To me? This is highly unconventional. I will need my lawyer.”
“Sadie, we are trying to protect you. That Mall incident must have been very frighting.” Mhu said.
“I assure you that with Walther I am very protected and feer nothing.” Sadie said.
“Yes. Congrats on your marriage by the way.” Mhu winked. “I had always considered that you were just a lesbian, but I guess you have other interest.”
Sadie took her com and messaged her boss. The Director responded immediately with a confirmation. Sadie took a seat at the tables far end.
I’ve taken the luxury of ordering a starter. I have never had real Ickarian clams before, or wagu. Do you know what they do for those pampered live stock? If only I could have their beer ration.”
She directed the waitress to bring her tea and three sushi, her usual. It was presented almost instantly.
“Now, Officer Mhu, how can we help you.” Sadie said.
“Right. You know, we might never have caught on. This will be a great opportunity for you.”
“Your beu, he is not what he seems.”
Sadie stiffened. She knew this. The matching business had made sure she was sufficiently informed about Walthers covert past. Maybe Officer Mhu would be getting a visit from the Caldari State to clear this up. She smiled her best smile. “Oh do you know something?” She said.
“Because a man doesn’t just pick up a cycle and toss it. No matter how much adrenalin is in him. Not a normal man anyway.”
“Walther saved my life.“
“That he did. Those punks were the real deal, complete with Guristas pirate links. We traced their leader to at least three other kidnappings.”
“So you want to offer Walther a reward?”
“Not really.”
“What are you after?”
“Walther has been making acquisitions: food, supplies, small arms.” Officer Mhu said.
“You are spying on us? You will of course have a warrant?”
Mhu flicked out the data sheet from his com pad to her com pad. The Lai Dai Protection Service logo pipped at the top. The document was official.
“He does our shopping. Preparing for dangerous times is very patriotic. What if the Gallente invade?” Sadie said.
“He’s a clone.”
Sadie froze, mid sip.
“I didn’t know, but being a clone, that is not a problem.”
“It is if your this kind of clone.”
“And what kind of clone is that?” she asked.
“He might not even know. We think your matching service is a racket, a little mind programing on a used specimen, get money from you and an income from his savings. In five years he dies. They make him disappear, or find him a new body. Has he been acting funny since that day? We suspect he found out when we found out.”
“What is he then?”
“Your Walther is a warclone.”
“He is not. Those savage things are built for violence only.”
“Indeed. A perfect combatant. Very dangerous. Very illegal- if not registered. Walther is not registered.”
“But my Walther, he makes pancakes.”
“Ask him. What he is doing with his extra money, the chocolate money?”
Sadie looked down at the Lai Dai warrant again. It couldn’t be real.
“These warclones, they do things a certain way. They never drop things. They move very fast, deliberate. You said he makes pancakes? What about fried eggs? I’ll bet he doesn’t use a spatula to flip them.” Mhu said as he speared his wagu fillet, nibbling on it like a lollipop. “He’s dangerous, capable of eliminating your corporate echelon. He might even be a plant for industrial sabotage.”
“Not Walther.”
“To fully investigate this matching company we need the…oh, my pudding has arrived.“ Mhu looked disappointed at the tiny parfait cup, barely a spoon full. He grabbed instead the last lump of rice dotted in long limbed roe. Mhu started to speak again before he finished chewing. “We need proof. We need the clone. But capturing him intact will be dangerous too. These things, they are always alert. He could savage your hive if cornered.”
Sadie sipped her tea. It was cold.
“We think he is leaving tonight. He will lie, try to take you with him. He might even kidnap you if you refuse so tell him you will go. I will call you using your boss’s com. If we know where he will be we can set a trap, neutralize him, safely.”
“I don’t think-“
“Correct, you don’t need to think. The Lai Di Protection Services will handle the details. Your reputation and loyalty to Lai Dai are in question Sadie.”
Sadie clutched her tea cup.
“Did you know his entire mind is only a tiny neuro-interface socket grown into the clone head?” the Mhu said, brandishing the tiny parfait cup. “He’s a computer. A warclone’s biological brain is enhanced for instincts, senses, and body control only.” He said. Mhu slurped the contents of the parfait. “Don’t you worry. We’ll get back most of your contract money. Maybe next time you’ll spend it on a real man.”

Sadie thumbed the knob. It read her DNA and beeped to open. Walther stood, looking at one of the vidscreen windows. It was showing pictures of the sea coast of Enkio.
“My love?” she said. The words felt clay even as she said them.
“You are home early. That is good.”
“I told you I was coming home early.” Sadie said. “Is something wrong?” she said, her words overlapping his same question. It brought a tease of a smile to the corner of his mouth. He moved forward to hug her. He moved to close the door. Sadie watched it click behind her.
“Sadie, sit. Let me get your tea. How was your day?”
“It was fine.” Sadie felt herself chirp out. She had spent the rest of the day barely handling things. The Director visited her. They did not talk about much.
She couldn’t sit. A scattering of boxes, rapid service deliveries were folded in the corner. She moved to the table to look at the ledgers: rations, knives, cording, flashlights, General Soluki’s survival tool. A pair of neatly folded towels, one dark blue, and one light blue draped over a chair.
“You remember the fight?” Walther asked.
“How could I forget?” Sadie said.
“Sadie, I did not go to my doctor.” He said.
“My memories, some of them, I remember things.” He said.
Sadie stiffened. What would he say? He was suppose to lie.
“I threw a bike. I took a bullet. The slash on my arm is gone, healed. I looked. There is this funny test; I cut myself, just a tiny bit. It healed even as I watched. There are nanites in my blood. Sadie, I am not normal.”
“I do not know. You are my husband.” She said.
“Sadie, my memories from before, I am a clone.”
“That is an uncommon thing, but not unusual. If you died, and you had a backup memory.”
“Sadie, I am a warclone. The highly illegal ones.”
“That is preposterous.” She said.
“You hesitated. Did you know?”
“How did you know? Have you always known?” Walther’s face stiffened into a flat mask.
He moved fast. She tried to turn away but he was there. His hands a vice on her shoulders.
“Am I some kind of experiment?” he said.
“I didn’t know. Walther, you saved my life.” Sadie said.
“I am sorry.” Walther released her. “I just don’t know. Did I hurt you? These hands.“ he backed away. “There are security tapes of the fight. I watched them. My moves, they were holo-vid perfect. Someone who knows warclones will know what I am. They will come for me. Sadie, I need to leave. If they find out you know too… We need to leave.”
“This is preposterous. Surely a good lawyer can help.” she said calmly. Too calmly.
“Sadie, this body can surpass a dozen mortal guards to throttle my target. Even in death I will rise again to continue my work. The State sees only the dangers. My ‘kind’, are very much restricted.”
“Where can we go?”
“There are enclaves for people like me. I made a contact. They can get us to a holding colony in the Amarr Empire.”
“Hay, I was offered asylum by a Gurrista operative right away.”
“The Pirates?!”
“I just thought the Amarr colony would be more comfortable for you.”
Walther passed the light blue towel to her. Why was it scented in lavendula? Sadie took in the smell.
“You can stay. But I thought…I hoped.” Walther said. “I will worry about you always. This won’t be good for your career. I can make good money with them. I can take care of you.”
Sadie looked down. He came and cupped her chin.
“I…“ she stuttered. She couldn’t meet his eye. Her body stiffened in his embrace. He let go of her but she looked up, and those eyes held her still. Why?
“Please sit. Let me make you one last dinner. Pancakes? Then I need to go. The train leaves for Enkio in two hours. I need to be on it.” Walther said.
Sadie sat. She listened to the sound of the cutting board, the boil of the water, the smell of the spices as they toasted. There were two travel pacs. The smaller one was the Yuna-tec hiker brand. Not the red one she had wanted, but a conservative black. There was everything in it for a woman’s needs. For her needs. Walther’s com pad lay accessible. She opened it and saw the Enkio ticket purchase on his account. All the spendings were on his account.
Her com toned. The Director logo flashed across the front. It would be Officer Mhu, of this she was sure. Sadie picked up her com. Walther started to hum.

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