“You’ve already seen some of its benefits,” he said, reaching beside her to turn on the terminal. The screen came alive again, the image of the beating heart in the upper corner.
“Seya?” that lilting automated voice said.
“Ja’nee,” he replied, rotating a cylinder. “Ji la noné quen sa a’rune.”
“Pah. I l’sona.”
Lyssa edged closer. “What are you saying?”
“The terminal just asked me to identify myself, and I did.”
“All of that was your name?”
“My name is Ji.” He glanced at her with a half smile and then turned back and touched the image of the heart. “The rest was just my identity code.” With a flick of his finger, he moved the image to the center of the window and enlarged it.
Fascinated, Lyssa moved so close her hips touched the desk and studied what looked to be an amazingly detailed computer simulation, the steady beat and rhythmic rush of blood rendered in exquisite detail.
“That’s me,” he said quietly.
She looked at him, incredulous.
“The mesh monitors all biological activity. At the moment, my heart rate.”
“So this is your heart? Right now?”
“And the stuff in your hand does this.”
“It’s beneath every inch of my skin,” he said with a low laugh, “but essentially—yes.”
She turned to him then and gestured to his hand. “May I?”
Ji found himself hesitating before offering it to her palm up. She took it in one of hers, her touch gentle, and traced the palm with the fingertips of the other. “You’re warm,” she said, her voice soft.
She didn’t seem to hear, lost as she was in the feel of his skin, tracing the contours of each of his fingers as she bent closer, studying each line and whorl, wondering if the faint trace of blue beneath his skin at the heel of his palm was a vein or a glimmer of the mesh. “You don’t feel any different.”
The steady background beat faltered, and she glanced at the screen again as if having forgotten it, watching his heart as she reached out and pressed her hand against his chest to feel its rhythm for herself. She still cupped his hand in her right, the palm of her left hot against his chest, even through the soft cotton of his shirt, her fingers pressing lightly.
“It’s beating faster,” she said, her eyes still on the screen.
She was right. Surprised, he turned to the monitor and watched his own heart claim a few extra beats. She touched him as others had, with a practicality tinged in fascination. And she was attractive, he acknowledged as he studied her profile now, as other women had been attractive, but none of them had affected his heart. Why had it been her. Why now, in this place?
Unsettled, he covered her hand with one of his. “So it is.”
Her gaze snapped to his, and something hung between them in that moment, both heavy and ethereal. Ji felt a shiver roll down his spine, and he gently removed her hand from his chest and let it go, feeling strangely raw and so very tired. Lyssa looked a little shaken, a furrow etched between her brows.
“I believe that is enough for now,” he said, turning from the hazel eyes that now seemed to look too deep. With a flick of his fingertips, he sent his heart away and brought up Cale’s stats instead, not because he needed to check on his fellow villein, but because he need a moment to gather himself.
I have been alone too long.
You have not had conjugal relations in 6,712 days¸ Mesa said.
That is not helpful.
Your stress levels are elevated. The female is aware of the program. She is now able to consent to a sexual—
”This is a fascinating system you have,” Lyssa said beside him. He chanced a glance at her, but she was studying the terminal again, watching Cale’s blood hum through his liver. He wondered if he’d imagined that moment between them, as unlikely as that’d be. He never imagined. More likely she’d chosen to ignore it.
“It’s efficient,” he said, switching off the terminal. “That is the primary focus.”