The Inspector’s distaste must have shown in his face, because she backtracked hurriedly. “Or are you a traditionalist? If that’s the case, in spite of what you’ve told me, maybe you would find one of our sister establishments more to your taste.” Straightening and glancing down, she drew forth a floating list that was outlined in glowing pink and red sparkles. A nice decorative touch, Cardenas decided.
On a whim, he inquired candidly, “How about you?”
List forgotten, she looked up uncertainly. “I’m afraid I am strictly front-office, sir.” Clearly, she hoped he would not press the issue, lest her supervisor order her to comply with a client’s wishes. “I’m flattered, but I should warn you that I’m more than half bionic.”
Cardenas parroted the expression he had seen all too many times on the faces of sex offenders who had been brought into the station for booking. “Which half?”
While not personally reassuring, his response convinced her that the sturdy visitor with the profound mustache had come to the right place after all. “If you find my physical type appealing, sir, perhaps you might allow me to suggest—?”
Having established his pervert’s credentials, he saw no reason to prolong the discussion. “I know what I want. I also know who I want. I just wanted to watch you yakk for a while. I want two hours with Coy Joy.”
He had a bad moment when she failed to reply. Had Mashupo Mingas fed him faulty information from the beginning? If so, Cardenas was in for some wearisome backtracking.
He was worrying needlessly. The delay was only due to the need for the girl to check on the current status of his query.
“You’re in luck, sir. Ms. Joy is even as we speak returning from break. She will be available to you in”—she checked a concealed readout—”five minutes. Two hours, you say?”
Cardenas mimed what he hoped was a wicked smile. “I like to take my time.”
The woman shrugged. “We are each of us different.”
They negotiated a price, which Cardenas paid with the special card the Department issued to Inspectors to pay for extraneous investigative expenses. He wished he could be present to see the face of the Department auditor who would eventually process the expenditure. Several minutes later, he was escorted by a very tall, very beautiful, and very well-armed woman down a corridor and into an empty apartmento. Since he had not specified a setting, he was supplied with what was clean and available.
The spacious chamber had a double cotton hammock, soft undulating sand for a floor, live dwarf palms and other succulents, a tri-walled holovista of a Pacific beach and sky, and automatonic fauna: crabs, gulls, a phlegmatic pelican, a couple of small lizards. The artificial “sun” overhead was less hot than its projected intensity suggested, and the imported salt water that lapped the sand pleasantly tepid. Killing time, he checked the contents of a nearby cooler. It was well-stocked with icy refreshments, toys, and an assortment of both pull-on and spray-on prophylactics, all no doubt hideously overpriced. As he absently took inventory, like any good customer, the pelican favored him with a lascivious, conspiratorial wink.
Apparently no one worried about the incongruity of a bathroom opening directly onto a beach, because that was where Coy Joy emerged from, in the midst of primping her pale, straw-yellow hair.
She wore nothing beneath a clinging blue-and-gold ersatz chiffon dress. She was slimmer than he expected, slightly taller than he, and not as tired-looking as many sylphs he had encountered. Though utterly devoid of any suggestion of naivete, her face was surprisingly unspoiled. The air of innocence, whether sincere or sham, was doubtless appreciated by many customers. He wondered how many she had facilitated prior to his arrival.
“I’m Coy,” she began without preamble. “Do you want me to start? Since you asked for me, you know what I do.”
Though his investigation did not demand that he know what she did, he was more than a little curious. Besides, it might acquaint him with something useful, however seemingly insignificant, about Wayne Brummel-Anderson.
“Sure.” Taking a seat on the sand, which was pleasantly warm and electrostatically treated so it would cling neither to flesh nor fabric, he helped himself to a cold cerveza from the cooler and, to sustain the charade, loosened his shirt. “Let’s get started.”
Smiling sexily, she raised both hands high over her head. As well as pulling taut her upper torso, the gesture activated a small embedded gram that caused her clothes to disintegrate. The aerogel textile tinkled musically as it transformated into pixie dust and drifted to the sand. Music, low, languorous, and unashamedly erotic, began to emanate from hidden speakers. His eyes widened slightly, not as a consequence of viewing the dancing or hearing the music, but due to what was happening to Coy Joy’s body. He now knew what her “specialty” was.
She was a color shifter.
Noting the change in his expression, she pursed her lips with satisfaction. “Like it?” she inquired softly. “Like me? You must, or you wouldn’t have asked for me.” Glissading to the slow, unsubtle throbbing from the unseen speakers, she ran one hand up her other arm, then alternated the self-caress. “Cost me a bundle, it did, but good gengineering is expensive. And every girl needs a specialty. This one was a lot of work, but in the end it’s safer than some. And there’s an added benefit. I like myself this way.”
Entranced in spite of himself, Cardenas followed the performance with something more than just professional detachment. Color shiftering was only one of a thousand come-ons available in the sextels of the Strip. Though milder than many, as she had pointed out, it required a permanent commitment on the part of the catalyzer. He found himself wondering what had prodded her to undergo the extensive and complicated, though not particularly dangerous, course of treatment.
Coy Joy was the recipient of gengineered chromatophores. Derived from the epidermis of members of the order Cephalopodia, they had been implanted in her skin to give her the ability not only to change color, but to create a plethora of exotic patterns simply by visualizing them. As she pranced and pirouetted before him in time to the slowly swelling, throbbing music, her slender naked form changed from pale beige to dark brown, then to black, and back to beige again. All familiar human skin tones. But royal blue was not, nor burnt umber, nor teal or chartreuse or a flickering maroon. It was a performance any of her genetic antecedents, be they octopus or squid, cuttlefish or chambered nautilus, would have admired.
Fascinated, he watched as she began to move faster. Responding to a corollaried gram, the lights in the room dimmed. As she slipped deeper and deeper into the performance, her emotions were reflected in her appearance. Rapid color changes were enhanced by the patterns that flowed like light across her skin, except that they came from within her own body. Scale patterns replaced smooth flesh, to be banished in turn first by images of flower petals and then black leather. Red stripes appeared, giving the appearance of light whip strokes, to be replaced by three circles of light that burst outward from her main erogenous zones like spreading ripples in a pond. Her nipples flared pink, then burgundy, and finally a deep, pulsing scarlet. Faster and faster the emerging circles blinked, not lights but actual color changes, enticing him and drawing him toward her as she extended her hands in his direction. Her parted lips pulsed with a soft inner, unnatural pink no lipstick could realize.
She was changing color so fast and so frequently now that her flesh had become one continuous erotic blur—teasing, tempting, a veritable living maelstrom of panchromatic curves and searing light. And all of it was very close now, inclining toward him, half blinding his dazed vision. As he felt the heat of her body, so close to his own, he found himself concentrating on her eyes—virtually the only visible part of her that did not change color. Arching forward, she leaned her face toward his. The waves of crimson that swept outward from the center of her deepened to purple as they neared her extremities. All her extremities. Mesmerized by the sight, he swallowed hard as she reached for…
Taking a deliberate, deep breath, he drew himself reluctantly back from the abyss into which, on another day, on another occasion, he might gratefully have allowed himself to be drawn. Raising his left arm, he activated and flashed his ident bracelet. Her expression fell alarmingly. As if an internal switch had been thrown, the erotic panoply of pattern and color vanished from her exposed flesh. Once again she stood before him slim, naked, and brutally unadorned.
“This is a legal sextel, and I’m fully licensed,” she snarled angrily. “What do you want? My health certificate was revalidated only last month, and I’m up on all my taxes. Has someone complained? If someone’s complained, you’ve got the wrong—”