The Devotion Egg
David E. Hughes
Location: Golden Door Motel, City Prime, Colonial 586
Date: Cycle 170.15, 1035
Everything about Colonial 586 is as miserable as I remember. The rain
never stops, and everything not covered in plastite is awash in mud. I
sit on a motel bed I suppose passes for clean, my eyes bleary from the
fruitless data search on my portlink. No recent record of Carmina
Azum-Aska, and no sign of her Devotion Egg.
I fumble for my bottle of painkillers. As I dry-swallow two, Carmina's
words come to me, as clear as if she were standing in the room: We must
hope and pray we find our mate in this life. If not, each of us will be
born again, to find each other in the next.
I take ten more.
Location: The Travois Mansion, City Prime, Colonial 586
Date: Cycle 110.3, 1028
"Be a dear and zip me up," said Wendy Travois, smearing on bright yellow
"With pleasure." I strolled across the plush carpet in Wendy's bedroom
to her antique vanity. Standing behind her, I studied her liver-spotted
back. Why didn't she get those ugly brown spots removed? Probably too
cheap to have it done, despite her millions.
I brushed my hand against her shoulder blades, then looped a finger
under her bra strap. The party was going to be yawn. Maybe I could make
her forget about it.
She stopped applying her lipstick and looked at my reflection in the
mirror. "We don't have time for that now, Ramon. The Greyson's party
started twenty minutes ago."
I smiled. I'd paid nearly a thousand t-credits for my lip enhancements,
caps, and alignment. The smile killed her every time. "You're too
tempting to resist." I rolled my r's, knowing she liked to pretend I was
of hispano ancestry. In reality, I was a cocktail of off-world blood
more mixed than a spliced-up fighting cock.
"Edna would never forgive me if we missed the party." Wendy's voice was
cold. Was I losing my touch with this old bag? I zipped up her dress.
"Damn!" said Wendy as she fumbled around in her jewelry box. "Will you
be a dear and run down to the nursery to ask the children if they have
been playing with my mud pearl necklace again?"
Wendy's little runts sat at a table with a woman in a white habit and a
shapeless brown dress. Her eyes were so blue and proportionately shaped I
wondered if she'd had them done by the same flesh enhancement
specialist that did mine.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"Carmina Azum-Aska. I tutor the children in music and literature. Who
"I'm Ramon, Wendy's companion," I said. "What's with the outfit? Are you
"No. I'm of the Beasset-Sect. We don't believe in ornamenting the body
in a way that might suggest we value physical attraction."
I laughed then leaned over and whispered so the children wouldn't hear.
"I imagine that makes it pretty hard to groove it up with someone."
Her lips turned up in an enigmatic half-smile, kind of like that old
Earth picture that still gets copied by everyone: Mona
what's-her-identity. "We don't engage in intercourse.'"
I was stunned. I couldn't imagine a life without sex. While the pleasure
of it had faded for me over the years, there were still times I
actually craved it. More importantly, it was my ply in trade. Without
sex grinding the gears of Colonial 586's economic system, the planet
would probably fall apart. "How could you not?"
"Physical pleasures of the body are a crude throwback to our animal
ancestors. I place value only in a spiritual relationship-and,
ultimately, I expect to derive far greater pleasure from it."
I found the pearls and headed for the stairs. "Sounds like some pretty
messed up priorities to me."
She did that half-smile again. "You have other priorities?"
"Getting off this ball of mud that some people call a planet."
She laughed, delightful, unaffected laughter. "My priorities are messed
Location: Ebinra's Pawn, City Prime, Colonial 586
Date: Cycle 110.5,1028
"Pick anything you want," said Wendy, winking at me. "I'm going next
door to the dress boutique. Tell Ebinras if you find something you
I winked and flexed my pecs. She'd probably want sex later. I sighed.
The things a man does for jewelry.
The pawnshop was crammed full of glass display cases exhibiting a
disorderly mishmash of jewelry and gadgets. I examined a blue ring of
solid vitsi that had probably taken a Rethel-IV slave a lifetime to
carve. Nice, but blue wasn't my color. The diamond cufflinks in one of
the cases would go with some of my suits, but they didn't really grab
"Can I help you find something?" An old man who smelled like
medic-preserve stood beside me. Ebinras.
"You don't happen to have a Universal Port Pass laying around
somewhere?" I joked.
Ebinras' pale lips curved up a little. He reached into his coat pocket.
"You mean one of these?"
I nearly hit the floor. How had the old man gotten his hand on one of
those? Short of military service or ascension to G class, a UPP was the
only way off Colonial 586. I'd dreamed of having one some day, even
saved most of my money in case I had the opportunity to buy one. "How . .
. how much?"
"One hundred thousand t-credits."
Whew. I knew it would be pricy, but this was stunning.
"I'll give you fifty thousand." It was all I had.
"Sorry." Ebinras slipped the shimmering gold card back in his pocket.
"Perhaps I can find something else that would interest you."
Damn my luck! I finally find someone with a UPP and I'm only halfway
toward buying it. It had taken me ten years of increasingly rich
mistresses just to get where I was. After another ten years, it would be
a losing battle. A substantial portion of my t-credits would go to skin
enhancement specialists just to keep the wrinkles from my eyes and the
flab from my belly.
"I doubt you can show me anything as interesting as that UPP," I said.
Ebinras smirked, as if I'd issued him a challenge. "Let me show you our
specialty section." He winked and led me to a door behind the counter
and swiped his palm on the lock pad.
The door opened with a hiss, and I was nearly overwhelmed with the
antiseptic stench of medic-preserve. The small room was filled with
glass boxes mounted on the walls, each with a perfectly preserved human
organ floating in medic-preserve.
"Holy crap!" I said.
Ebinras smiled. "Impressive collection, if I do say so myself. Anything
you could want."
I studied the boxes. Lots of hearts, livers, kidneys, and a few brownish
organs I didn't recognize. The next box made me stop dead. "Is that . .
." I couldn't bring myself to say it.
"Yup." Ebinras chucked. "Some people can get pretty desperate when they
need money. They'll sell anything."
I reached down between my legs to reassure myself my main moneymaker was
still there, then I quickly moved on, hoping to put the horrible image
out of my mind. A jeweled golden box no larger than the tip of my pinkie
finger lay in the final case.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Beasset-Sect egg. A collector's item. I'm the only one in City Prime
with one for sale."
I shrugged. "Just looks like jewelry to me." The box was engraved with
religious symbols of some kind, diamonds, and a couple of other stones I
"Oh, it's much more than that to Beasset-Sect members. To them it's the
most important thing in the world." Ebinras led me from the room and
closed the door behind him.
I frowned. I'd met a Beasset-Sect member recently. What was her name?
"How much is it worth."
"One hundred twenty thousand t-credits."
I froze. Someone would pay more for some damned golden egg than for a
UPP? Hard to believe. People were just nuts.
"Find anything you like?" asked Wendy, returning with a bulging shopping
"Yes, but I need fifty thousand credits." Not that Mrs. Tighpurse would
ever part within even a tenth of that.
Wendy laughed. "I think you need to work on your bargaining skills.
Nothing could be worth that much-at least nothing here."
"I suppose I'll take the cufflinks," I said.
Location: Outside the Tisdale Mansion, City Prime, Colonial 586
Date: Cycle 110.10, 1028
Carmina emerged from the mansion's entrance portal. I hailed her from
mud-splattered window of a cab.
"Mr. . . . Ramon?" She cocked her head, puzzled.
"Just Ramon. Do you need a lift someplace?"
"Uh, no, thank you. A public transportation stop is just down the
street. Didn't you break up with Wendy?"
"Yeah." No point in explaining that Wendy's purse strings had gotten a
bit too tight for my tastes-and I already had an idea where my next
score was coming from.
"So why are you here?"
"Honestly . . . I was looking for you." And if she had a spare Devotion
Egg she wanted to give me, I'd be happy to take it off her hands.
She laughed. "I don't know who you think I am, but those cufflinks
you're wearing are worth more than I make in a year. I don't think we'd
be a . . . compatible couple."
She was still hiding her deep desire for me, but I decided to play
along. I knew Carmina would be a challenge unlike any woman I'd met
before. "Look, it's not like that. Let me take you to dinner, and I'll
I wasn't in the habit of paying for anyone else's dinner, but if my plan
worked out, it would be worth much more than the price of dinner. I
coaxed her into the cab and took her to Vern's. We made small talk at
first, but it seemed she wanted to get to the point.
"Ramon . . . why did you come to see me? I meant what I said the other
day, about me not-what did you call it-grooving it up."
Nobody could go without sex forever, especially when an opportunity like
me comes along. "I've been thinking about the conversation we had a
couple weeks ago about your beliefs. I admit I was a bit crass at the
time but now I want to learn more about the Beasset-Sect. And I want you
to teach me."
"You should be taught by a Priest-Master. They are the only ones truly
"But I'd only feel comfortable with you." It was a weak line, I knew,
but it was the best I could come up with. Hopefully, she was naive
enough to buy it.
She stared at me. "Very well, Mr. Ramon. It would be against my tenets
to deny someone the opportunity for sacred knowledge. But let me be very
clear with you. I do not consider this an invitation to courtship, and
you should not consider it an invitation by me."
"Don't you find me attractive?" I asked. My plan would be an utter
disaster if she was really the cold fish she pretended to be.
"You have a commanding physical appeal, which means nothing."
Ha! That was good enough for me. She didn't have a chance. I'd paid for
every physical enhancement t-credits could buy, and I'd read everything
on seduction I could lay my hands on. I was well groomed, well-tailored,
and well-cultured. I could dance, cook, sing, even listen to boring
stories as if I cared. I was every woman's definition of the perfect
man, whatever her professed religion.
I'd have her in bed within two weeks, and she'd be only too happy to
give me a Devotion Egg as a token of her love for me.
Location: Carmina's Apartment, City Prime, Colonial 586
Date: Cycle 110.17, 1028
Carmina met me at the door in the same brown bag dress, but without her
habit. Seeing her without her headgear made me feel like I was looking
at her naked-and I liked it. Her hair was so golden blonde it shined,
and I was temped to reach out and stroke it.
"What, no habit?" I asked.
"Traditionally, we do not need to wear habits in our home, where we are
allowed to be at ease."
"Makes sense to me." I grinned. "You should go ahead and take that dress
She closed the door behind me and nodded. "You catch on quickly. I'm
wearing the dress for your benefit. Those not of the Sect are oftentimes
distracted by another's nakedness."
"No need to be uncomfortable on my account. Slip it off, if you want.
I'll hardly notice."
She met my eyes. "I don't believe you are being honest with me, Ramon. I
believe you desire to see my naked flesh so you can better assess my
Okay, she had me there. I'd see her naked eventually, so it was no use
belaboring the point. "Suit yourself. Let's get going on the lesson."
She gestured to a couch toward the center of her small studio apartment.
Her bed, which I spotted in the corner, was narrow and made with a
simple grey wool blanket, almost like something you'd see in a military
barracks. Not very sexy, but I could make do.
I sat on the couch, and Carmina sat across from me in a straight-backed
wooden chair. "What would you like to know?"
"The other day, I heard something about members of the Beasset-Sect and
eggs. Do you know what that's about?"
"When a Beasset-Sect woman finds a spirit mate she presents a devotion
egg. The protective casing contains an egg from her ovary. Until such
time as the spirit mate chooses to participate in the fertilization
rite, the devotion egg is the couple's most treasured possession, for it
represents their only chance for a child."
"What do you mean by only chance?" I asked. "Can't they present another
egg if the spirit mate turns out to be a dud?"
"No. At the extraction rite, the Beasset-Sect surgeons extract one egg
for the devotion and dispose of the rest."
"No, pure. It is a single act of devotion that must be performed. If it
is tainted by the possibility of a second chance, it loses its true
meaning." She leaned forward in her seat, pinning me with her startling
eyes. "Each of us only have one spirit mate, Ramon. We must hope and
pray we find our mate in this life. If not, each of us will be born
again, to find each other in the next."
Something in her words made my heart beat faster. It was all nonsense,
of course. Still, I left my first lesson without any attempt to seduce
Location: Carmina's Apartment, City Prime, Colonial 586
Date: Cycle 111.5, 1029
I pressed the entrance portal call for Carmina's apartment. Five months
ago, I had put my tailor-made suits in storage and donned the baggy
white pantaloons and caps favored by men of the sect.
Carmina answered the door naked.
I couldn't help but look at her, just for a second. Wow! What an amazing
body she'd been hiding under that baggy dress. Smooth, unblemished
white skin. Round, firm breasts any club dancer would be proud of.
Curves on her hips and thighs that just cried out for caresses by
I almost blew it right then. I wanted to reach out, take her in my arms,
and urge her into the little military-looking bed in the corner. She
wouldn't have let me, of course. By then I'd figured out she was serious
about the no-sex pledge.
I forced myself to yawn.
"Tired?" she asked.
I walked past her into the apartment, resisting all urges to give her a
second glance. "A little. I was up late reading the book you loaned me, A
Life of Spirit." I took my usual spot on the couch.
"Did you like it?"
"Very interesting." I'd skimmed a little of it to make it sound like I'd
read it in case she asked. Man, I still didn't know how Carmina could
stand reading this stuff all the time.
She didn't pull up the wooden chair. Instead, she sat next to me on the
couch. For the first time, I noticed her scent. I detected something of
the moist, purified air of the Tepatera-W botanic preserve. It was the
only place on the planet where you could get a sense of what it was like
to breathe before all the vegetation had been plundered and the oxygen
generation plants had been constructed.
"What am I learning about today?" I asked.
"Ramon, you've been coming to me for six months. I feel like I've taught
you all I can. I've told you that before, but you don't seem to want to
What was she trying to tell me? That we were through? But I thought I'd
been making so much progress. I was sure she had some feelings for me,
if only she'd consider me one of her own. The Devotion Egg seemed so
close, yet so out of reach. "I want to be in the Beasset-Sect."
"You're in it."
"What do you mean? Isn't there a ritual? Some sort of initiation."
She laughed. "Ah, Ramon. Always making things more complicated than they
have to be. You've taken the tenets of the Sect to heart: the primacy
of the spirit, the illusory nature of the material, and taking pleasure
from the simple things. If you live by those principals, you are
How strange to think I had already joined this odd religion without even
knowing it. Or, at least, it appeared to Carmina I had joined. I had to
admit that learning about the Sect wasn't nearly as excruciating as I
thought it would be. Some of their ideas made sense, and it was pretty
clear they worked for people like Carmina, who had no real aspirations.
Every time we met, Carmina seemed very happy, despite her frugal means,
her monotonous wardrobe, and her celibacy.
But I wanted off the planet. I wanted a Devotion Egg.
At least it wouldn't be as hard to pretend I was in love with her as I
thought it would be. It was funny. I did feel close to her, perhaps
closer to her than anyone I knew before. Too bad she was so ingrained in
her religion. It would have been fun to take her with me when I went
"Okay," I said. "I understand that maybe you've taught me everything.
It's just that . . . I'm afraid to stop our lessons."
"I don't want to stop seeing you. Carmina . . . I'm in love with you."
She studied my face with her piercing blue eyes. I was afraid she saw
the lie. Then she stood in front of me, her arms spread wide. She was so
close I could easily have reached out and touched her.
"Look at me," she said. "Look at my body. Do you see the woman who you
are in love with?"
I'd learned enough over the past few months to know how to answer this
one. Carmina was a good teacher. "No," I said.
"I cannot see through your skin into your soul."
She took my hand, ever so gently, and put in on her breast. "Do you feel
the woman who you've fallen in love with?"
It was excruciating. Her breast was soft and warm, so perfect beneath my
cupped palm. I wanted to caress her, touch every part of her, take her
in my arms, kiss her. Instead, I held my hand still. "No, I cannot feel
through your skin to touch your soul."
"You are not the man I knew six months ago," she said. "Let's spend more
time together. Not as teacher and student, but as companions. I would
Location: Carmina's Apartment, City Prime, Colonial 586
Date: Cycle 115.13, 1030
I stood on Carmina's doorstep like some stupid G-class gentleman waiting
with a vitsi engagement ring bulging in my pocket. Today was the day-I
was sure of it. Carmina had told me to come over, that she had something
important to give me. The only thing she had of any value was her egg.
God! I'd waited so long for this. I should be excited enough to bust
down the door, but I hesitated. The last few months had
been-well-amazing. I'd courted Carmina without going to a single club,
party, or pawn shop. We'd gone to her favorite places. The Medge Museum,
the virtual fountain, the Tepatera-W botanic preserve. We stopped
talking about religion and began to talk about our past, our dreams, our
embarrassments. It sounds boring as hell, I know, but it went by
quickly. Carmina had a way of making everything interesting. I had to
admit I liked her. Lots.
But I'd never forgotten about the Devotion Egg and the one dream-my real
dream-I had stopped sharing with her. Escaping the planet.
I finally knocked, and Carmina answered-naked, as usual, with the
exception of a tiny gold box that hung from a necklace.
She smiled, and my heart skipped a beat. It must have been because of
"I have a confession," she said.
I blinked. What could she possibility confess to?
"I have been a fool. I have been a teacher who has failed to follow her
own lesson. I-I have known for some time that I loved you, yet I denied
it to myself. At first I thought the love was an illusion. That I was
unable to control my baser instincts because of a physical attraction to
you. Then I thought perhaps I could not trust you. You were not raised
in the Besset-Sect."
Damn. She'd seen through me. Maybe it was possible to save this.
"Let me finish. All of that time, I was not listening to my heart. Only
the heart can find a spirit mate. And my heart has found you." She took
the necklace from her neck and placed it in my hand. "You, Ramon, are my
spirit mate. Now and forever."
I gripped Carmina's egg in my hand, stared at it. My heart was beating
like crazy. Part of me wanted to hold her, stay with her. But that, I
was sure, was the stupid, sentimental part. I'd had my goal in my hand. I
couldn't let go now.
I cleared my throat. "I'm not really your spirit mate. I only wanted
this." I held out box.
Tears glistened in her eyes. "You are my spirit mate, and I am yours.
That will never change."
"I'm leaving the planet."
Another one of her Mona-what's-her-identity smiles. "Ah, yes. I
remember. Your messed-up priorities."
"There's nothing messed-up about it," I said. "Colonial 586 is devoid of
anything truly natural. The vegetation is gone, and we are forced to
breathe this dirty, recirculated air. The winters are numbingly cold and
the summers unbearably hot. The only people who remain on this planet
are those who can't afford to leave."
"You hope to find happiness elsewhere?"
"Damn right. You'd do the same, if you knew what was good for you."
"But I have found happiness." She took my hand and put in on her naked
breast. So calm, so sincere. "You. My spirit mate."
God, even now, after I'd played her like a vizo-harp, she was so naive. I
pulled my hand away. "Don't you get it? This was a set-up from the
beginning. I used you just like a whole series of women I used in the
past. Pretty soon, I'll be long gone."
"But your heart will remain here with me."
"I have no heart."
"Not anymore. I have it."
Even after all this, she seemed so sure. I felt a little knot in my
stomach. I must have felt sorry for her, even though she looked at me
like I was the one who had been duped.
Location: Mimi's Cabana, Leon del Sol, Ariquite-G
Date: Cycle 50.7, 1032
Barefoot and drunk on dark rum, Mimi and I ambled toward her beachside
cabana. Ariquite-G's silver-red moons hung low in the night sky, and a
tropical breeze rustled the leaves of the quillaons lining the beach.
Like most of the Ariquite-G homeworlders, Mimi was a stunning-looking
woman. Her blue skin matched the crystalline waters of Sol bay, and the
way her compact body was naturally fit, without the tell-tale signs of
fat reduction modules or muscle stimulators. She could have posed for
one of those Ariquite-G tourist vids. In fact, she probably had. I was
right in the middle of some rift-sailor's wet dream, but I was miserable
as hell. Go figure.
Just inside the door, she pulled me to her lips. Her touch was soft, but
"I've had my eye on you for some time, but you never seemed interested
until tonight," Mimi whispered in my ear.
I tried to think of a witty comeback, but instead the truth came out.
"I've . . . been trying to get over someone." In fact, were I not
perilously close to bankruptcy, I probably wouldn't have noticed her
"I bet I can help you with that." Her hands explored my body, then
deftly removed my shorts and shirt. Her clothes followed revealing a
flawless body. But when I saw her, I thought of Carmina answering the
door naked, my hand on her breast . . .
We'd been in her bed for an hour before Mimi reached down between my
legs. "Humph, no go, huh? Let me get you a pill."
Location: Sunshine Pawn, Leon del Sol, Ariquite-G
Date: Cycle 140.8, 1034
Raru-te, a native islander and proprietor of Sunshine Pawn, held the
little vial of my blood in his thick blue fingers. "Sorry, mon," he
said. "You inside organs no good. I can no sell dem."
My heart beat faster. I had nothing left to sell, and I needed the
spacefare back to Colonial 586. "I'm perfectly healthy," I said. "There
must be some mistake."
"No, mon. They process like the organs of a seventy-year-old." He leaned
over the plasi-bamboo counter conspiratorially. "They say too many
erectile dysfunction drugs can do that to a mon, huh?"
Hell, it seemed my reputation preceded me even here. Every woman with
some extra t-credits to her name knew I was a pill popper. It hadn't
taken them long to get bored with me. "There must be something I can
Raru-te glanced down at my crotch. "They say you a pill popper, but they
also say you got a decent package."
I felt faint. Cold. Could I really do this? Could I give up sex just as
Carmina had? Could I give up the only profession I'd ever known? But I
had known the answers before I went into the shop. I would do anything
to be with my spirit mate again. I felt like I was living life as half
of a person, torn apart from the inside. I'd tried everything I could
think of on Ariquite-G to make me happy-or at least let me forget
Carmina. Nothing worked. I had to find her.
"Tell me what I have to do," I said.
Location: Golden Door Motel, City Prime, Colonial 586
Date: Cycle 170.15, 1035
There's a knock on the door, but I can't get up. I can't even lift my
hand or speak-I'd ingested way too many painkillers. The door opens.
Carmina stands in the doorway, naked as she was the day I left her-or at
least, thought I left her. God, she's beautiful. More beautiful than
anything I've seen or will ever see again.
The Mona Lisa smile creeps across her face. "Now do you understand, my
I can't nod. Can't speak. Yes! Yes! I think. You have my heart!
She seems to understand. "That's right. You are Beasset-Sect. Come. We
shall find our love again in the next life."