Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Part 18 (of 81)


Illustration by Idiots’Books

Warning: This installment of Makers includes a sex scene, and is NSFW.

It only took a week on the Boston ride before they had their third and fourth nodes. The third was outside of San Francisco, in a gigantic ghost-mall that was already being used as a flea-market. They had two former anchor-stores, one of which was being squatted by artists who needed studio space. The other one made a perfect location for a new ride, and the geeks who planned on building it had cut their teeth building elaborate Burning Man confectioneries together, so Perry gave them his blessing.

The fourth was to open in Raleigh, in the Research Triangle, where the strip malls ran one into the next. The soft-spoken, bitingly ironic southerners who proposed it were the daughters of old IBM blue-tie stalwarts who’d been running a women’s tech collective since they realized they couldn’t afford college and dropped out together. They wanted to see how much admission they could charge if they let it be known that they would plow their profits into scholarship funds for local women.

Perry couldn’t believe that these people wanted to open their own rides, nor that they thought they needed his permission to do so. He was reminded of the glory days of New Work, when every day there were fifty New Work sites with a hundred new gizmos, popping up on the mailing lists, looking for distributors, recruiting, competing, swarming, arguing, forming and reforming. Watching Tjan cut the deals whereby these people were granted permission to open their own editions of the ride felt like that, and weirder still.

“Why do they need our permission? The API’s wide open. They can just implement. Are they sheep or something?”

Tjan gave him an old-fashioned look. “They’re being polite, Perry—they’re giving you face for being the progenitor of the ride.”

“I don’t like it,” Perry said. “I didn’t get anyone’s permission to include their junk in the ride. When we get a printer to clone something that someone brings here, we don’t get their permission. Why the hell is seeking permission considered so polite? Shit, why not send me a letter asking me if I mind receiving an email? Where does it end?”

“They’re trying to be nice to you Perry, that’s all.”

“Well I don’t like it,” Perry said. “How about this: from now on when someone asks for permission we tell them no, we don’t give out or withhold permission for joining the network, but we hope that they’ll join it anyway. Maybe put up a FAQ on the site.”

“You’ll just confuse people.”

“I won’t be confusing them, man! I’ll be educating them!”

“How about if you add a Creative Commons license to it? Some of them are very liberal.”

“I don’t want to license this. You have to own something to license it. A license is a way of saying, ‘Without this license, you’re forbidden to do this.’ You don’t need a license to click a link and load a webpage—no one has to give you permission to do this and no one could take it away from you. Licensing just gives people even worse ideas about ownership and permission and property!”

“It’s your show,” Tjan said.

“No it isn’t! That’s the point!”

“OK, OK, it’s not your show. But we’ll do it your way. You are a lovable, cranky weirdo, you know it?”

They did it Perry’s way. He was scheduled to go back to Florida a few days later, but he changed his ticket to go out to San Francisco and meet with the crew who were implementing the ride there. One of them taught interaction design at SFSU and brought him in to talk to the students. He wasn’t sure what he was going to talk to them about, but when he got there, he found himself telling the story of how he and Lester and Tjan and Suzanne and Kettlebelly had built and lost the New Work movement, without even trying. It was a fun story to tell from start to finish, and they talked through the lunch break and then a group of students took him to a bar in the Mission with a big outdoor patio where he went on telling war stories until the sun had set and he’d drunk so much beer he couldn’t tell stories any longer.

They were all ten or fifteen years younger than him, and the girls were pretty and androgynous and the boys were also pretty and androgynous, not that he really swung that way. Still, it was fine being surrounded by the catcalling, joking, bullshitting crowd of young, pretty, flirty people. They hugged him a lot, and two of the prettier girls (who, he later realized, were a lot more interested in each other than him) took him back to a capsule hotel built across three parking-spots and poured him into bed and tucked him in.

He had a burrito the size of a football for breakfast, stuffed with shredded pig-parts and two kinds of sloppy beans. He washed it down with a quart of a cinnamon/rice drink called horchata that was served ice-cold and did wonders for his hangover.

A couple hours’ noodling on his laptop and a couple bags of Tecate later and he was feeling almost human. Early mariachis strolled the street with electric guitars that controlled little tribes of dancing, singing knee-high animatronics, belting out old Jose Alfredo Jimenez tunes.

It was shaping up to be a good day. His laptop rang and he screwed in his headset and started talking to Tjan.

“Man, this place is excellent,” he said. “I had the best night I’ve had in years last night.”

“Well then you’ll love this: there’s a crew in Madison that want to do the same thing and could use a little guidance. They spoke to me this morning and said they’d be happy to spring for the airfare. Can you make a six o’clock flight at SFO?”

They gave him cheese in Madison and introduced him to the biohackers who were the spiritual progeny of the quirky moment when Madison was one of six places where stem cells could be legally researched. The biohackers gave him the willies. One had gills. One glowed in the dark. One was orange and claimed to photosynthesize.

He got his hosts to bring him to the ratskeller where they sat down to comedy-sized beers and huge, suspicious steaming wursts.

“Where’s your site?”

“We were thinking of building one—there’s a lot of farmland around here.” Either the speaker was sixteen years old or Perry was getting to be such a drunken old fart that everyone seemed sixteen. He wasn’t old enough to shave, anyway. Perry tried to remember his name and couldn’t. Jet-lag or sleepdep or whatever.

“That’s pretty weird. Everywhere else, they’re just moving into spaces that have been left vacant.”

“We haven’t got many of those. All the offices and stuff are being occupied by heavily funded startups.”

“Heavily funded startups? In this day and age?”

“Superbabies,” the kid said with a shrug. “It’s all anyone here thinks about anymore. That and cancer cures. I think superbabies are crazy—imagine being a twenty-year-old superbaby, with two-decade-old technology in your genes. In your germline! Breeding other obsolete superbabies. Crazy. But the Chinese are investing heavily.”

“So no dead malls? Christ, that’s like running out of sand or hydrogen or something. Are we still in America?”

The kid laughed. “The campus is building more student housing because none of us can afford the rents around here anymore. But there’s lots of farmland, like I said. Won’t be a problem to throw up a prefab and put the ride inside it. It’ll be like putting up a haunted cornfield at Halloween. Used to do that every year to raise money for the ACLU, back in Nebraska.”

“Wow.” He wanted to say, They have the ACLU in Nebraska? but he knew that wasn’t fair. The midwesterners he’d met had generally been kick-ass geeks and hackers, so he had no call to turn his nose up at this kid. “So why do you want to do this?”

The kid grinned. “Because there’s got to be a way to do something cool without moving to New York. I like it around here. Don’t want to live in some run-down defaulted shit-built condo where the mice are hunchbacked. Like the wide-open spaces. But I don’t want to be a farmer or an academic or run a student bar. All that stuff is a dead-end, I can see it from here. I mean, who drinks beer anymore? There’s much sweeter highs out there in the real world.”

Perry looked at his beer. It was in a themed stein with Germano-Gothic gingerbread worked into the finish. It felt like it had been printed from some kind of ceramic/epoxy hybrid. You could get them at traveling carny midways, too.

“I like beer,” he said.

“But you’re —” The kid broke off.

“Old,” Perry said. “’Sok. You’re what, 16?”

“21,” the kid said. “I’m a late bloomer. Devoting resources to more important things than puberty.”

Two more kids slid into their booth, a boy and a girl who actually did look 21. “Hey Luke,” the girl said, kissing him on the cheek.

Luke, that was his name. Perry came up with a mnemonic so he wouldn’t forget it again—Nebraska baby-faced farm boy, that was like Luke Skywalker. He pictured the kid swinging a lightsaber and knew he’d keep the name for good now.

“This is Perry Gibbons,” Luke said. “Perry, this is Hilda and Ernie. Guys, Perry’s the guy who built the ride I was telling you about.”

Ernie shook his hand. “Man, that’s the coolest shit I’ve ever seen, wow. What the hell are you doing here? I love that stuff. Wow.”

Hilda flicked his ear. “Stop drooling, fanboy,” she said.

Ernie rubbed his ear. Perry nodded uncertainly.

“Sorry. It’s just—well, I’m a big fan is all.”

“That’s really nice of you,” Perry said. He’d met a couple people in Boston and San Francisco who called themselves his fans, and he hadn’t known what to say to them, either. Back in the New Work days he’d meet reporters who called themselves fans, but that was just blowing smoke. Now he was meeting people who seemed to really mean it. Not many, thank God.

“He’s just like a puppy,” Hilda said, pinching Ernie’s cheek. “All enthusiasm.”

Ernie rubbed his cheek. Luke reached out abruptly and tousled both of their hair. “These two are going to help me build the ride,” he said. “Hilda’s an amazing fundraiser. Last year she ran the fundraising for a whole walk-in clinic.”

“Women’s health clinic or something?” Perry asked. He was starting to sober up a little. Hilda was one of those incredible, pneumatic midwestern girls that he’d seen at five minute intervals since getting off his flight in Madison. He didn’t think he’d ever met one like her.

“No,” Hilda said. “Metabolic health. Lots of people get the fatkins treatment at puberty, either because their fatkins parents talk them into it or because they hate their baby fat.”

Perry shook his head. “Come again?”

“You think eating ten thousand calories a day is easy? It’s hell on your digestive system. Not to mention you spend a fortune on food. A lot of people get to college and just switch to high-calorie powdered supplements because they can’t afford enough real food to stay healthy, so you’ve got all these kids sucking down vanilla slurry all day just to keep from starving. We provide counseling and mitigation therapies to kids who want it.”

“And when they get out of college—do they get the treatment again?”

“You can’t. The mitigation’s permanent. People who take it have to go through the rest of their lives taking supplements and eating sensibly and exercising.”

“Do they get fat?”

She looked away, then down, then back up at him. “Yes, most of them do. How could they not? Everything around them is geared at people who need to eat five times as much as they do. Even the salads all have protein powder mixed in with them. But it is possible to eat right. You’ve never had the treatment, have you?”

Perry shook his head. “Trick metabolism though. I can eat like a hog and not put on an ounce.”

Hilda reached out and squeezed his bicep. “Really—and I suppose that all that lean muscle there is part of your trick metabolism, too?”

She left her hand where it was.

“OK, I do a fair bit of physical labor too. But I’m just saying—if they get fat again after they reverse the treatment —”

“There are worse things than being fat.”

Her hand still hadn’t moved. He looked at Ernie, whom he’d assumed was her boyfriend, to see how he was taking it. Ernie was looking somewhere else, though, across the ratshkeller, at the huge TV that was showing competitive multiplayer gaming, apparently some kind of championships. It was as confusing as a hundred air-hockey games being played on the same board, with thousands of zipping, jumping, firing entities and jump-cuts so fast that Perry couldn’t imagine how you’d make sense of it.

The girl’s hand was still on his arm, and it was warm. His mouth was dry but more beer would be a bad idea. “How about some water?” he said, in a bit of a croak.

Luke jumped up to get some, and a silence fell over the table. “So this clinic, how’d you fundraise for it?”

“Papercraft,” she said. “I have a lot of friends who are into paper-folding and we modded a bunch of patterns. We did really big pieces, too—bed-frames, sofas, kitchen-tables, chairs —”

“Like actual furniture?”

“Like actual furniture,” she said with a solemn nod. “We used huge sheets of paper and treated them with stiffening, waterproofing and fireproofing agents. We did a frat house’s outdoor bar and sauna, with a wind-dynamo—I even made a steam engine.”

“You made a steam engine out of paper?” He was agog.

“You mean to say that you’re surprised by building stuff out of unusual materials?”

Perry laughed. “Point taken.”

“We just got a couple hundred students to do some folding in their spare time and then sold it on. Everyone on campus needs bookshelves, so we started with those—using accordion-folded arched supports under each shelf. We could paint or print designs on them, too, but a lot of people liked them all-white. Then we did chairs, desks, kitchenette sets, placemats—you name it. I called the designs ‘Multiple Origami.’”

Perry sprayed beer out his nose. “That’s awesome!” he said, wiping up the mess with a kleenex that she extracted from a folded paper purse. Looking closely, he realized that the white baseball cap she was wearing was also folded out of paper.

She laughed and rummaged some more in her handbag, coming up with a piece of stiff card. Working quickly and nimbly, she gave it a few deft folds along pre-scored lines, and a moment later she was holding a baseball hat that was the twin of the one she was wearing. She leaned over the table and popped it on his head.

Luke came back with the water and set it down between them, pouring out glasses for everyone.

“Smooth lid,” he said, touching the bill of Perry’s cap.

“Thanks,” Perry said, draining his water and pouring another glass. “Well, you people certainly have some pretty cool stuff going on here.”

“This is a great town,” Luke said expansively, as though he had travelled extensively and settled on Madison, Wisconsin as a truly international hotspot. “We’re going to build a kick-ass ride.”

“You going to make it all out of paper?”

“Some of it, anyway,” Luke said. “Hilda wouldn’t have it any other way, right?”

“This one’s your show, Luke,” she said. “I’m just a fundraiser.”

“Anyone hungry?” Hilda said. “I want to go eat something that doesn’t have unidentified organ-meat mixed in.”

“Go on without me,” Ernie said. “I got money on this game.”

“Homework,” Luke said.

Perry had just eaten, and had planned on spending this night in his room catching up on email. “Yeah, I’m starving,” he said. He felt like a high-school kid, but in a good way.

They went out for Ukrainian food, which Perry had never had before, but the crepes and the blood sausage were tasty enough. Mostly, though, he was paying attention to Hilda, who was running down her war stories from the Multiple Origami fundraiser. There were funny ones, sad ones, scary ones, triumphant ones.

Every one of her stories reminded him of one of his own. She was an organizer and so was he and they’d been through practically the same shit. They drank gallons of coffee afterward, getting chucked out when the restaurant closed and migrating to a cafe on the main drag where they had low tables and sofas, and they never stopped talking.

“You know,” Hilda said, stretching and yawning, “it’s coming up on four AM.”

“No way,” he said, but his watch confirmed it. “Christ.” He tried to think of a casual way of asking her to sleep with him. For all their talking, they’d hardly touched on romance—or maybe there’d been romance in every word.

“I’ll walk you to your hotel,” she said.

“Hey, that’s really nice of you,” he said. His voice sounded fakey and forced in his ears. All of a sudden, he wasn’t tired at all, instead his heart was hammering in his chest and his blood sang in his ears.

There was hardly any talk on the way back to the hotel, just the awareness of her steps and his in time with one another over the cold late-winter streets. No traffic at that hour, and hardly a sound from any of the windows they passed. The town was theirs.

At the door to his hotel—another stack of the ubiquitous capsules, these geared to visiting parents—they stopped. They were looking at one another like a couple of googly-eyed kids at the end of a date in a sitcom.

“Um, what’s your major?” he said.

“Pure math,” she said.

“I think I know what that is,” he said. It was freezing out on the street. “Theory, right?”

“Pure math as opposed to applied math,” she said. “Do you really care about this?”

“Um,” he said. “Well, yes. But not very much.”

“I’ll come into your hotel room, but we’re not having sex, OK?”

“OK,” he said.

There was room enough for the two of them in the capsule, but only just. These were prefabbed in bulk and they came in different sizes—in the Midwest they were large, the ones stacked up in San Francisco parking spots were small. Still, he and Hilda were almost in each other’s laps, and he could smell her, feel wisps of her hair tickling his ear.

“You’re really nice,” he said. Late at night, his ability to be flippant evaporated. He was left with simple truths, simply declared. “I like you a lot.”

“Well then you’ll have to come back to Madison and check in on the ride, won’t you?”

“Um,” he said. He had a planning meeting with Luke and the rest of his gang the next day, then he was supposed to be headed for Omaha, where Tjan had set up another crew for him to speak to. At this rate, he would get back to Florida some time in June.

“Perry, you’re not a career activist, are you?”

“Nope,” he said. “I hadn’t really imagined that there was such a thing.”

“My parents. Both of them. Here’s what being a career activist means: you are on the road most of the time. When you get on the road, you meet people, have intense experiences with them—like going to war or touring with a band. You fall in love a thousand times. And then you leave all those people behind. You get off a plane, turn some strangers into best friends, get on a plane and forget them until you come back into town, and then you take it all back up again.

“If you want to survive this, you’ve got to love that. You’ve got to get off a plane, meet people, fall in love with them, treasure every moment, and know that moments are all you have. Then you get on a plane again and you love them forever. Otherwise, every new meeting is sour because you know how soon it will end. It’s like starting to say your summer-camp goodbyes before you’ve even unpacked your duffel-bag. You’ve got to embrace—or at least forget—that every gig will end in a day or two.”

Perry took a moment to understand this, swallowed a couple times, then nodded. Lots of people had come in and out of his factory and his ride over the years. Lester came and went. Suzanne was gone. Tjan was gone but was back again. Kettlebelly was no longer in his life at all, a ghost of a memory with a great smile and good cologne. Already he was forgetting the faces in Boston, the faces in San Francisco. Hilda would be a memory in a month.

Hilda patted his hand. “I have friends in practically every city in America. My folks campaigned for stem cells up and down every red state in the country. I even met superman before he died. He knew my name. I spent ten years on the road with them, back and forth. The Bush years, a couple years afterward. You can live this way and you can be happy, but you’ve got to have right mind.

“What it means is you’ve got to be able to say things to people you meet, like, ‘You’re really nice,’ and mean it, really mean it. But you’ve also got to be cool with the fact that really nice people will fall out of your life every week, twice a week, and fall back into it or not. I think you’re very nice, too, but we’re not gonna be a couple, ever. Even if we slept together tonight, you’d be gone tomorrow night. What you need to ask yourself is whether you want to have friends in every city who are glad to see you when you get off the plane, or ex-girlfriends in every city who might show up with their new boyfriends, or not at all.”

“Are you telling me this to explain why we’re not going to sleep together? I just figured you were dating that guy, Ernie.”

“Ernie’s my brother,” she said. “And yeah, that’s kind of why I’m telling you this. I’ve never gone on what you might call a date. With my friends, it tends to be more like, you work together, you hang out together, you catch yourself looking into one another’s eyes a couple times, then you do a little circling around and then you end up in your bed or their bed having hard, energetic sex and then you sort out some details and then it lasts as long as it lasts. We’ve done a compressed version of that tonight, and we’re up to the sex, and so I thought we should lay some things on the table, you should forgive the expression.”

Perry thought back to his double-date with Lester. The girl had been pretty and intelligent and would have taken him home if he’d made the least effort. He hadn’t, though. This girl was inappropriate in so many ways: young, rooted to a city thousands of miles from home—why had he brought her back to the hotel?

A thought struck him. “Why do you think I’m going to be getting on and off planes for the rest of my life? I’ve got a home to get to.”

“You haven’t been reading the message boards, have you?”

“Which message boards?”

“For ride-builders. There are projects starting up everywhere. People like what they’ve heard and what they’ve seen, and they remember you from the old days and want to get in on the magic you’re going to bring. A lot of us know each other anyway, from other joint projects. Everyone’s passing the hat to raise your airfare and arguing about who’s sofa you’re going to stay on.”

He’d known that they were there. There were always message-boards. But they were just talk—he never bothered to read them. That was Lester’s job. He wanted to make stuff, not chatter. “Jesus, when the hell was someone going to tell me?”

“Your guy in Boston, we’ve been talking to him. He said not to bug you, that you were busy enough as it is.”

He did, did he? In the old days, Tjan had been in charge of planning and he’d been in charge of the ideas: in charge of what to plan. Had they come full circle without him noticing? If they had, was that so bad?

“Man, I was really looking forward to spending a couple nights in my own bed.”

“Is it much more comfortable than this one?” She thumped the narrow coffin-bed, which was surprisingly comfortable, adjustable, heated, and massaging.

He snorted. “OK, I sleep on a futon on the floor back home, but it’s the principle of the thing. I just miss home, I guess.”

“So go home for a couple days after this stop, or the next one. Charge up your batteries and do your laundry. But I have a feeling that home is going to be your suitcase pretty soon, Perry my dear.” Her voice was thick with sleep, her eyes heavy-lidded and bleary.

“You’re probably right.” He yawned as he spoke. “Hell, I know you’re right. You’re a real smarty.”

“And I’m too tired to go home,” she said, “so I’m a smarty who’s staying with you.”

He was suddenly wide awake, his heart thumping. “Um, OK,” he said, trying to sound casual.

He turned back the sheets, then, standing facing into the cramped corner, took off his jeans and shoes and socks, climbing in between the sheets in his underwear and tee. There were undressing noises—exquisite ones—and then she slithered in behind him, snuggled up against him. With a jolt, he realized that her bare breasts were pressed to his back. Her arm came around him and rested on his stomach, which jumped like a spring uncoiling. He felt certain his erection was emitting a faint cherry-red glow. Her breath was on his neck.

He thought about casually rolling onto his back so that he could kiss her, but remembered her admonition that they would not be having sex. Her fingertips traced small circles on his stomach. Each time they grazed his navel, his stomach did a flip.

He was totally awake now, and when her lips very softly—so softly he barely felt it—brushed against the base of his skull, he let out a soft moan. Her lips returned, and then her teeth, worrying at the tendons at the back of his neck with increasing roughness, an exquisite pain-pleasure that was electric. He was panting, her hand was flat on his stomach now, gripping him. His erection strained toward it.

Her hips ground against him and she moved her mouth toward his ear, nipping at it, the tip of her tongue touching the whorls there. Her hand was on the move now, sliding over his ribs, her fingertips at his nipple, softly and then harder, giving it an abrupt hard pinch that had some fingernail in it, like a bite from little teeth. He yelped and she giggled in his ear, sending shivers up his spine.

He reached back behind him awkwardly and put his hand on her ass, discovering that she was bare there, too. It was wide and hard, foam rubber over steel, and he kneaded it, digging his fingers in. She groaned in his ear and tugged him onto his back.

As soon as his shoulders hit the narrow bed, she was on him, her elbows on his biceps, pinning him down, her breasts in his face, fragrant and soft. Her hot, bare crotch ground against his underwear. He bit at her tits, hard little bites that made her gasp. He found a stiff nipple and sucked it into his mouth, beating at it with his tongue. She pressed her crotch harder against his, hissed something that might have been yesssss.

She straightened up so that she was straddling him and looking imperiously down on him. Her braids swung before her. Her eyes were exultant. Her face was set in an expression of fierce concentration as she rocked on him.

He dug his fingers into her ass again, all the way around, so that they brushed against her labia, her asshole. He pulled at her, dragging her up her body, tugging her vagina toward his mouth. Once she saw what he was after, she knee-walked up the bed in three or four quick steps and then she was on his face. Her smell and her taste and her texture and temperature filled his senses, blotting out the room, blotting out introspection, blotting out everything except for the sweet urgency.

He sucked at her labia before slipping his tongue up her length, letting it tickle her ass, her opening, her clit. In response, she ground against him, planting her opening over his mouth and he tongue-fucked her in hard, fast strokes. She reached back and took hold of his cock, slipping her small, strong hand under the waistband of his boxers and curling it around his rigid shaft, pumping vigorously.

He moaned into her pussy and that set her shuddering. Now he had her clit sucked into his mouth and he was lapping at its engorged length with short strokes. Her thighs were clamped over his ears, but he could still make out her cries, timed with the shuddering of her thighs, the spasmodic grip on his cock.

Abruptly she rolled off of him and the world came back. They hadn’t kissed yet. They hadn’t said a word. She lay beside him, half on top of him, shuddering and making kittenish sounds. He kissed her softly, then more forcefully. She bit at his lips and his tongue, sucking it into her mouth and chewing at it while her fingernails raked his back.

Her breathing became more regular and she tugged at the waistband of his boxers. He got the message and yanked them off, his cock springing free and rocking slightly, twitching in time with his pulse. She smiled a cat-ate-the-canary grin and went to work kissing his neck, his chest—hard bites on his nipples that made him yelp and arch his back—his stomach, his hips, his pubes, his thighs. The teasing was excruciating and exquisite. Her juices dried on his face, the smell caught in his nose, refreshing his eros with every breath.

Her tongue lapped eagerly at his balls like a cat with a saucer of milk. Long, slow strokes, over his sack, over the skin between his balls and his thighs, over his perineum, tickling his ass as he’d tickled hers. She pulled back and spat out a pube and laughed and dove back in, sucking softly at his sack, then, in one swift motion, taking his cock to the hilt.

He shouted and then moaned and her head bobbed furiously along the length of his shaft, her hand squeezing his balls. It took only moments before he dug his hands hard into the mattress and groaned through clenched teeth and fired spasm after spasm down her throat, her nose in his pubes, his cock down her throat to the base. She refused to let him go, swirling his tongue over the head while he was still super-sensitive, making him grunt and twitch and buck involuntarily, all the while her hand caressing his balls, rubbing at his prostate over the spot between his balls and his ass.

Finally she worked her way back up his body licking her lips and kissing as she went.

“Hello,” she said as she buried her face in his throat.

“Wow,” he said.

“So if you’re going to be able to live in the moment and have no regrets, this is a pretty good place to start. It’d be a hell of a shock if we saw each other twice in the next year—are we going to be able to be friends when we do? Will the fact that I fucked your brains out make things awkward?”

“That’s why you jumped me?”

“No, not really. I was horny and you’re hot. But that’s a good post-facto reason.”

“I see. You know, you haven’t actually fucked my brains out,” he said.

“Yet,” she said. She retrieved her backpack from beside the bed, dug around it in, and produced a strip of condoms. “Yet.”

He licked his lips in anticipation, and a moment later she was unrolling the condom down his shaft with her talented mouth. He laughed and then took her by the waist and flipped her onto her back. She grabbed her ankles and pulled her legs wide and he dove between her, dragging the still-sensitive tip of his cock up and down the length of her vulva a couple times before sawing it in and out of her opening, sinking to the hilt.

He wanted to fuck her gently but she groaned urgent demands in his ear to pound her harder, making satisfied sounds each time his balls clapped against her ass.

She pushed him off her and turned over, raising her ass in the air, pulling her labia apart and looking over her shoulder at him. They fucked doggy-style then, until his legs trembled and his knees ached, and then she climbed on him and rocked back and forth, grinding her clit against his pubis, pushing him so deep inside her. He mauled her tits and felt the pressure build in his balls. He pulled her to him, thrust wildly, and she hissed dirty encouragement in his ear, begging him to fill her, ordering him to pound her harder. The stimulation in his brain and between his legs was too much to bear and he came, lifting them both off the bed with his spasms.

“Wow,” he said.

“Yum,” she said.

“Jesus, it’s 8AM,” he said. “I’ve got to meet with Luke in three hours.”

“So let’s take a shower now, and set an alarm for half an hour before he’s due,” she said. “Got anything to eat.”

“That’s what I like about you Hilda,” he said. “Businesslike. Vigorous. Living life to the hilt.”

Her dimples were pretty and luminous in the hints of light emerging from under the blinds. “Feed me,” she said, and nipped at his earlobe.

In the shoebox-sized fridge, he had a cow-shaped brick of Wisconsin cheddar that he’d been given when he stepped off the plane. They broke chunks off it and ate it in bed, then started in on the bag of soy crispies his hosts in San Francisco had given him. They showered slowly together, scrubbing one-another’s backs, set an alarm, and sacked out for just a few hours before the alarm roused them.

They dressed like strangers, not embarrassed, just too groggy to take much notice of one another. Perry’s muscles ached pleasantly, and there was another ache, dull and faint, even more pleasant, in his balls.

Once they were fully clothed, she grabbed him and gave him a long hug, and a warm kiss that started on his throat and moved to his mouth, with just a hint of tongue at the end.

“You’re a good man, Perry Gibbons,” she said. “Thanks for a lovely night. Remember what I told you, though: no regrets, no looking back. Be happy about this—don’t mope, don’t miss me. Go on to your next city and make new friends and have new conversations, and when we see each other again, be my friend without any awkwardness. All right?”

“I get it,” he said. He felt slightly irritated. “Only one thing. We weren’t going to sleep together.”

“You regret it?”

“Of course not,” he said. “But it’s going to make this injunction of yours hard to understand. I’m not good at anonymous one night stands.”

She raised one eyebrow at him. “Earth to Perry: this wasn’t anonymous, and it wasn’t a one-night stand. It was an intimate, loving relationship that happened to be compressed into a single day.”


“Sure. If I’d been with you for a month or two, I would have fallen in love. You’re just my type. So I think of you as someone I love. That’s why I want to make sure you understand what this all means.”

“You’re a very interesting person,” he said.

“I’m smart,” she said, and cuddled him again. “You’re smart. So be smart about this and it’ll be forever sweet.”

She left him off at the spot where he was supposed to meet Luke and the rest of his planning team to go over schematics and theory and practice. All of these discussions could happen online—they did, in fact—but there was something about the face-to-face connection. The meeting ran six hours before he was finally saved by his impending flight to Nebraska.

Sleepdep came down on him like a hammer as he checked in for his flight and began the ritual security-clearing buck-and-wing. He missed a cue or two and ended up getting a “detailed hand search” but even that didn’t wake him up. He fell asleep in the waiting room and in the plane, in the taxi to his hotel.

But when he dropped down onto his hotel bed, he couldn’t sleep. The hotel was the spitting image of the one he’d left in Wisconsin, minus Hilda and the musky smell the two of them had left behind after their roll in the hay.

It had been years since he’d had a regular girlfriend and he’d never missed it. There had been women, high-libido fatkins girls and random strangers, some who came back for a date or two. But no one who’d meant anything or whom he’d wanted to mean anything. The closest he’d come had been—he sat up with a start and realized that the last woman he’d had any strong feelings for had been Suzanne Church.

<<< Back to Part 17

Continue to Part 19>>>

* * *

As part of the ongoing project of crafting’s electronic edition of Makers, the author would like for readers to chime in with their favorite booksellers and stories about them in the comments sections for each piece of Makers, for consideration as a possible addition to a future edition of the novel.

Doctorow’s Makers will be released in print by Tor Books in October. You can read all previous installments of Makers on on our index page.


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