“Oh God, no.”
“You should probably rinse it off first—”
“Stop!” I said. “Why would anyone want something like this?”
“Because it saves money in the long run, and it’s less prone to failure than a normal condom.”
I gave him my most dubious glare.
“Do the math,” he said. “Normal condoms cost way too much. No one manufactures them locally—there’s no raw materials to make latex. But my product will last through two hundred uses, minimum. That’s ten thousand slugs of savings.”
“Huh…” Now he was speaking my language. “Okay, maybe it’s not so crazy after all. But I don’t have money to invest right now….”
“Oh, I’m not looking for investors. I need someone to test it.”
“And you think I’ve got the dick for the job?”
He rolled his eyes. “I need to know how it feels for the woman.”
“I’m not having sex with you.”
“No, no!” He winced. “I just want you to use it the next time you have sex. Then tell me how it affected your experience.”
“Why don’t you bang a girl and ask her yourself?”
He looked at his shoes. “I don’t have a girlfriend and I’m terrible with women.”
“There are brothels all over Aldrin! High-end, low-end, whatever you want.”
“That’s no good.” He crossed his arms. “I need data from a woman who is having sex for fun. The woman has to be sexually experienced, which you definitely are—”
“And likely to have sex in the near future. Which, again—”
“Choose your next words wisely.”
He paused. “Anyway. You see what I’m after.”
I groaned. “Can’t I just pay you two thousand slugs?”
“I don’t need money. I need testing.”
I glared at the condom. It looked normal enough. “So it’s effective? You’re sure it won’t break or anything?”
“Oh, definitely. I’ve run it through a battery of tests. Stretching, pressure, friction, you name it.”
A disturbing thought popped into my head. “Wait. Have you used this one?”
“No, but it wouldn’t matter if I had. The cleaning process renders it sterile.”
“Are you kidd—” I stopped myself and took a breath. Then, as calmly as I could, I said, “It would matter, Svoboda. Maybe not biologically, but psychologically.”
I deliberated for a moment, then finally said, “Okay, it’s a deal. But I’m not promising to run out and get laid.”
“Sure, sure,” he said. “Just…whenever the next time it comes up naturally, you know?”
“Yeah, all right.”
“Excellent!” He picked up the condom box and cleaning device and handed them to me. “Call me if you have any questions.”
I took the items gingerly. Not my proudest moment, but logically speaking there was nothing wrong with it. I was just doing some product testing, right? That’s not weird, right?
I started to leave. Then I stopped and turned back toward him. “Hey…have you ever heard of something called ZAFO?”
“No, should I have?”
“Nah, don’t worry about it. I’ll drop by tomorrow afternoon to pick up the device.”
“It’s my day off. Want to meet at the park instead? Say, three p.m.?”
“That works,” I said.
“Can I ask what this thing is for?”
“Okay. See you tomorrow.”
Conrad Down 6.
I drove Trigger down the familiar hallways and tried to ignore the sinking feeling in my gut. I knew every crooked hallway, every shop, and every scratch on every wall. I could close my eyes and tell where I was just from echoes and background noise.
I rounded the corner to Crafters Row. The best tradesmen in town worked here, but there were no flashing signs or advertisements. They didn’t need to draw in customers. They got their business through reputation.
I parked in front of CD6-3028, got out, and hesitated at the door. I turned away in a moment of cowardice, steeled myself, then turned back and rang the buzzer.
A man with a weathered face answered the door. He had a well-trimmed beard and wore a white taqiyah (head covering). He stared at me quietly for a moment, then said, “Huh.”
“Good evening, Father,” I said in Arabic.
“Are you in trouble?”
“Do you need money?”
“No, Father. I am independent now.”
He furrowed his brow. “Then why are you here?”
“Can a daughter not visit her father simply to honor him?”
“Cut the crap,” he said in English. “What do you want?”
“I need to borrow some welding equipment.”
“Interesting.” He left the door open and walked into the shop. That was as much invitation as I was going to get.
Not much had changed over the years. The fireproofed workshop was hot and cramped, as they all were. Dad’s meticulously organized equipment hung on the walls. A worktable dominated one corner of the room next to a collection of welding masks.