That evening, Anise dragged Isla out to the city for a wander, dressed in something casual; a short skirt each, loose tops befitting the hot June temperatures, and boots for Anise, trainers for Isla. Even when dressed up, Isla tended towards comfy sports gear.
Lisa had been held up with some last minute work, so she and Mira had arranged to come along a little later, leaving their new friends to enjoy the busy evening streets by themselves. As they sauntered about taking in the sights and sounds, Anise picked up a variety of interesting scents – fast food, perfumes, alcohol – and decided that homing in on these would be a good plan.
Several street vendors plied their trade at volume, selling a variety of foods still popular on Earth; ramen, curry, fish and chips, pizza, burgers. Anise had to exercise considerable willpower to refrain from sampling absolutely every single dish they came across. They had already eaten not long ago, and in any case they had the next four years to sample the delights of this new and exciting world, so she restrained her impulses for now.
“Hell of an atmosphere at night,” Isla said. They rounded a corner and sauntered along a new street, again filled with the bustling busyness of business.
“Funny how it’s pretty similar to Mars, but also feels completely different,” Anise said.
“I guess because,” Isla spread her arms wide, staring up at the star-filled heavens, “all that sky.”
Anise giggled. “It makes a huge difference, yeah. The streets here aren’t much more crowded than back home, but it feels less claustrophobic.”
“Surprised we can’t see the tower actually, that thing was massive.”
“We still need to go visit!” Anise said enthusiastically as they turned into yet another new street, following instructions given by Lisa earlier that afternoon.
“We still going to try and make time on the weekend? It’s only a couple of days off now.”
“Sounds good. Ah… I think this is it.” Anise stopped outside a doorway, open to reveal a set of stairs going down to the left. Above the door, a sign spelled out ‘Stardew’ in glowing orange letters.
“It’s underground?” Isla said, peering down into the depths.
“Apparently. Let’s go.”
They descended, turning right through another doorway at the bottom. Entering the bar, they stopped to take a brief look around. Dim but not dingy, there was an air of refinement with cool blue and warm orange lights providing a pleasant contrast of colours. In the far corner resided the bar, granite-topped and well-worn.
Behind this, shelves with row after row of polished and neatly arranged glasses. And between them, a twenty-something bartender polishing a glass with a smile on her face and wearing a snazzy black and white outfit.
Immediately, Isla noticed something interesting. “Check that girl’s hair out!”
She pointed towards the bar, where a tall girl with vivid blue-white hair – almost ice-like – and amber eyes sat a stool. Bathed in warm white light from the spots directly above, she had a shapely leg crossed over the other and a tall glass of what appeared to be simple water held in an elegant hand. Isla’s gaze returned to the hair. It glowed, sparkling like a lake under the afternoon sun. Hints of deep purple and dark blue appeared as she moved, reminiscent of a volcanic ice cave.
Anise inhaled sharply. “Oh my god, that’s Yana Anisimova! She’s the academy’s number one model!”
“She goes to the same place as us?”
“Yeah, she’s really well-known! Super popular! She’s odds-on to be the next top model, I can’t believe I’m this close to her…!”
“Her hair is amazing, it’s like liquid ice!”
“Wouldn’t that be water?”
Anise laughed. “I know what you mean, though, it really does look like ice if it could flow freely.” She continued gazing, her breathing a little erratic and laboured.
Since Anise had apparently entered one of her idolgasm sessions, Isla left her drooling over Yana and headed to the bar to acquire drinks, doing her best not to stare openly at the icy cool girl herself. Moments later, they were seated comfortably on a red leather bench seat directly opposite the bar, where Isla handed a bottle of Immersion – a fruity alcopop drink available in a variety of flavours – to her friend.
“It’s going to take a bit of getting used to, seeing all these fantastic hair colours,” Isla commented in an idle sort of fashion, still staring at Yana.
“I’ve been pretty immersed in the culture of Aida for a few years now, so it’s pretty normal to me. But I agree, seeing it in person is different to viewing it on the stellarnet.”
“Was that intentional?” Isla asked.
It took a moment for Anise to realise what the hell her friend was talking about, but when she did she let out an audible groan. “Please don’t start with the puns.”
Isla merely grinned and went back to her own bottle of Immersion. “I can’t help myself.”
“Yes… indeed.” Anise had attempted to ban Isla from punning on precisely one occasion, but her best friend’s downcast face and depressed air had resulted in her relenting. These days, she tolerated the awful word plays as best she could.
An hour soon slipped past, during which time Isla gazed idly around the room between conversations with her friend, her eyes settling at random on various interesting things; a young woman swiping a finger over the holographic display emitted from her phone; the way Yana Anisimova could make something as simple as taking a drink seem way sexier than it should be; and a pair of girls in the opposite corner…
Isla shifted, feeling uncomfortable for reasons that had nothing to do with the seat. “Anise…”
“Mm?” Anise tilted her head in Isla’s direction, taking a swig of drink. Her third bottle in the last hour. Better slow down a bit, it wouldn’t do to go turning up the next morning with a hangover.
Isla gave a discrete cough. “Is this a bar for, um… girls who like girls?” Her cheeks burned as she said this.
“Girls who… oh, you mean a lesbian bar? No, not that I’m aware of. Lisa didn’t mention anything, at least. Why?”
Isla pointed as stealthily as she could manage towards the opposite corner of the room, where the two girls she had spied were sitting together and… getting to know each other. Isla had some difficulty thinking in anything other than vague euphemism couched in an alcoholic haze.
Anise’s face lit up as she glanced across. “Oh! Yeah, you’ll see that a lot here, don’t worry. Remember, this isn’t stuffy old Earth, people here are generally more open and relaxed about, well, everything.”
“Really?” Isla glanced over at the two girls once more, noting how they moved, how they touched, stroked, kissed. Delicately, intimately, sexily. “So it’s, uh… it’s considered normal to be interested in the same sex here?”
“Normality is subjective,” Anise said in a mildly admonishing tone. “But I get what you meant, so I’ll let you off.” She smirked as her best friend’s cheeks glowed red. “I’ve been looking forward to coming here for the last few years precisely because it’s so relaxed.” A glance out the corner of her eye revealed that Isla still stared at the tongue-tied girls. “You seem interested…”
“You’re staring at them.”
Isla shook her head, as though clearing her mind of thoughts she shouldn’t be having. “Sorry.” She fidgeted with her bottle for a time, turning it round and around in her fingers, going to take a sip and deciding against it, leaving it on a nearby table, picking it up again.
Leaning sideways to brush shoulders, Anise grinned. “Wanna try?”
Anise giggled at her friend’s outburst. “I’m up for it if you are.” She leaned closer and brought her face as close as possible without actually touching.
“An… ise?” Isla whispered, her eyes opening wide in terror and unexpected excitement. Anise’s breath caressed her lips, the intoxicating scent of sweet alcohol filling her nostrils. The excitement in her best friend’s eyes was clearly visible, physical indications being transferred via a touching knee; Anise shook with excitement, vibrating to the point where her leg could potentially function as a device of feminine stimulation.
“I…” Isla began, but stopped and thought frantically. Her best friend had just offered to share a kiss. Back home this would have been utterly insane, regardless of how generally liberal the Mars colonies were compared to Earth. But here… apparently it was okay? She edged closer, the tip of her nose touching Anise’s.
Closing her eyes and pushing that tiny bit further to brush lips with her best friend, Isla shared a moment of pure, unadulterated wonder with Anise, bathed in warm orange light matching her friend’s hair.
It felt to them like the world had stopped, time slowing to a crawl, nothing outside of this singularly intimate moment existing. And when they finished, Isla actually let out a low moan that effectively caused Anise’s libido to explode. The stopped time came rushing back in a flood, and the world started moving for them again.
“Wow…” Isla whispered.
“Yeah…” Anise muttered, eyes still closed. Leaning back in, she attached herself for a second go, before finally managing to pull away.
As the reality of what they had just shared sunk in, a voice brought them both back with a start.
“Evening, girls!” Lisa said, entering arm in arm with Mira and making for the bar, dressed in a slinky silver skirt and black blouse contrasting with her hair, causing Anise’s already tortured libido to go into meltdown.
First a kiss with her best friend, now Lisa in a hot outfit. Anise shivered almost imperceptibly at her good fortune, then waved, attempting to seem nonchalant. Sitting upright, she smiled brightly, as though she hadn’t just shared an intimate first kiss with her best friend. “Hey, how’s it going?” She went back to sipping at her drink, noting that Isla was unusually silent.
Returning a few minutes later with a drink each, the new arrivals pulled up two chairs and sat opposite. Lisa guzzled half of her bottle in one go and let out a happy sigh. Mira, the rather more ladylike of the two, sipped at her cocktail with an elegant leg crossed over the other, eyes closed as she basked in the atmosphere.
Lisa noticed Isla seemed transfixed. “I think someone fancies my best friend, hmm?”
Snapping back to reality a second time, Isla’s ears burned with embarrassment. “I… was just wondering what she’s drinking, that’s all. It looks delicious.” If she was entirely honest, Mira’s outfit also looked delicious; a satin black skirt split up the side twinned with a burnt umber blouse and black knee-length boots.
Mira held the glass out. “Have a sip, I don’t mind. It’s a Quantum Knocker cocktail. Probably a good idea to take it easy, it’s got a kick.”
Anise laughed. “That’s some name.”
“Some things never change, no matter how much time passes. Quite the contrary, cocktail naming seems to get progressively worse with every new generation,” Mira said, watching with amusement as Isla’s face screwed up. “Sorry, perhaps I should have mentioned it’s quite a sour cocktail?”
Being the good friend she was, Anise gently patted Isla’s back as she choked. “Isla can’t stand sour stuff.”
“Oh… I do apologise,” Mira said, clearly unrepentant going by the huge smile on her lips. The lips with a deep crimson gloss immaculately applied to them that Isla would have been paying rapt attention to, had she not been choking at this precise moment.
“Ugh… what is in that, Mira?” Isla managed to say upon clearing her throat of the awful devil juice. The combination of strong alcohol and something sour had resulted in half of it going down the wrong hole.
“You know Quantum Sunset?” Mira said.
“Sure, we were addicted to that and Quantum Sunrise for a few years when we were at school,” Anise said. Yes, the two of them had drunk enough of this cola-like fizzy drink with a tangy flavour to potentially keep the company afloat for a full year or more by themselves.
“Well, if you mix that with equal parts whiskey, rum, tequila, and lime juice you get a Quantum Knocker.”
“So named for its ability to knock your socks off,” Lisa added, tilting her bottle in Anise’s direction.
Anise took a sip and made a face. “I actually don’t mind sour stuff, but I have to side with Isla on this one, that’s not very nice.”
“An acquired taste, certainly,” Mira said.
Lisa stole a small mouthful of the cocktail, not wishing to be left out. “Mm, delicious. I love sour stuff. Or spicy. Anything with a strong flavour, really.”
“Such as?” Anise asked.
Crossing her arms and closing her eyes in a thoughtful sort of way, Lisa hummed for a moment. “I guess curry’s probably my favourite dish. Proper curry, I mean, not the various offshoots people have come up with over the years. Mira’s folks own a restaurant here in the city that serves authentic curry, among other things. You can probably guess where I eat out a lot of the time.”
“The discount for being my best friend certainly never crosses your mind, does it, Lisa?” Mira said, poking her friend playfully with an elbow and receiving a brief kiss in response.
“Where are you from originally, Mira?” Anise asked.
“Aida. But if you mean where my family originated on Earth? India. New Delhi, to be precise. My family lived there for decades, until the city was destroyed during the Resource Wars. After the rebuild… well, you could say things weren’t the same any more.”
“So they moved away?” Isla said.
Taking a sip of her cocktail, Mira nodded. “Indeed, they were fortunate to have survived the war, but having their home destroyed took a toll. Have you heard of Andaman?” She noted the shaken heads and smiled. “I suppose that’s not surprising. It’s a small island chain off the coast of mainland India. My family moved there not long after the Delhi Reconstruction Project completed.”
“How did your family end up on Aida?” Anise said.
“They were part of the initial settlement rush. I think… hmm, around a hundred years, we’ve been here? My parents’ restaurant that Lisa just mentioned? That’s been around for nearly as long. Since Aida, the city itself I mean, was originally founded.”
Lisa beamed. “And that, my dear girls, is why I eat there. Best curry you’ll ever taste, trust me.”
Anise caught her eye. “Maybe we can all go there together one evening soon? I’ve never had curry!”
“Works for me,” Lisa said, confirming with Mira that this was fine.
“I’ll pass, thanks, spicy meals aren’t really my thing,” Isla said.
Sitting upright and crossing her other leg this time, Mira smiled at Isla. “You don’t need to worry about that, they serve all sorts of dishes. I’d recommend the fish and chips.”
“Fish and chips? I enjoyed that in Britain a fair few times! Okay, that sounds great, thanks!” Isla said, looking a little happier that her immediate future probably wouldn’t include a scalding mouth; she had enough heat in her life after that steamy kiss.
“Mira’s not actually all that into spicy stuff either, you’re not alone, Isla,” Lisa said.
Finishing her drink, Mira stood. “Indeed. I enjoy curry occasionally, but I tend more towards pretty basic cooking.” She pointed around the table. “Anyone want another?” Affirmatives were given, so she headed to the bar to get the next round.
“Damn… Mira is amazing,” Anise breathed. “She’s really cool and collected, but that just makes her way sexier!” She jumped as Lisa gave her a gentle kick under the table. “L-Lisa!?”
“Just reminding you of prior engagements, my dear,” Lisa said in a sultry tone.
“Ah, don’t worry, I’m not intending to try anything! Though I think Isla might be…”
Sitting silently, hands clasped and staring intently at Mira, Isla’s face illuminated the area in red. “I just happened to be looking in that direction, that’s all!”
“Sure you were,” Anise said, giggling as her friend’s face threatened to ignite the atmosphere. Over at the bar, Mira chatted animatedly to Yana, piquing Anise’s interest. “Do those two know each other?” She pointed.
Lisa craned her head around. “Mm? Oh, Yana? Yeah, they’ve done a bunch of modelling projects together.” She narrowed her eyes theatrically in Anise’s direction. “Another girl you want to be introduced to?”
This made Anise blush, but she managed a smile as well. “I’d love to meet her!”
Mira returned with their drinks, placing them on the table and resuming her position, again crossing a leg over the other. “Looks like Yana’s heading home for a while.”
“Visiting family?” Lisa asked, looking around to where Yana had stood and now made her way out of the bar.
Taking a sip of her drink, Mira gave a vaguely affirmative ‘mmhmm’. “I was going to introduce these two, but it looks like that’ll have to wait a couple of weeks.”
Anise followed Yana with her eyes, then focused over to Mira. “Her family is from Lyapunov, right?”
Isla cleared her throat and sat forward. “Um, Lyapunov…?”
“Some people call it the Winter Colony,” Mira said.
The light of understanding dawned on Isla’s face. “Oh, the Russian Consortium’s place?”
Mira placed her glass on the table after downing half of it in as ladylike a fashion as she could manage. “That’s the one, yes. It’s an odd nickname, given the planet itself is actually quite temperate, at least for half the year. But I suppose traditions tend to carry on in some odd ways.”
Guzzling her remaining drink, Isla placed the empty bottle on the table beside Mira’s glass, then stood. “Well, reckon we should probably make a move? If we stay here too much longer I’ll end up with a hangover I really don’t need.”
Anise jumped up after draining her own bottle. “As much as I could fancy a few more… yeah, we should probably head back.”
The other two agreed once they finished their own drinks, so they headed back to the surface, strolling casually through the slightly less busy streets. They reached the station without problems, except for Isla being uncharacteristically silent and thoughtful, and jumped aboard.
The monorail sped across to the island – at night it actually felt better for both Isla and Anise, probably because they couldn’t see the vast ocean below them – where they disembarked and speedily made their way to the dormitory.
Loitering outside Anise’s room, Lisa dared a peck of her cheek. “Had a fun night, thanks. Let’s do it again soon!”
“Likewise, I enjoyed your company,” Mira said, smiling at Isla in particular. “Goodnight.” Taking Lisa’s hand, she strolled down the hall, heading upstairs to their rooms. Or, probably more accurately, room, singular; the chances of them sleeping alone were vanishingly small at the best of times, but especially so after an enjoyable evening out.
Wishing their new friends a pleasant evening, Anise tugged Isla into her room and closed the door. There, she pounced, pushing her best friend against the wall and smothering her in lust, pecking her cheeks, lips, even her nose, she was so excited.
Isla attempted to fend her friend off for long enough to speak. “Anise, wait, wait! Do we want to do this?”
“Yes!” Anise whispered.
This made Isla laugh; her best friend had always been a very forward girl, and tonight was no different. Pecking Anise’s lips, she simply gave in and let her best friend’s momentum carry her forward into something new and exciting...