"Room service." He spoke softly into the intercom mike, carefully articulating each syllable, then paused, listening for the response which did not come. "Room service delivery, Ms. Montefino." The food-laden robocart hovering next to him stirred, impatient. Jared checked the order on the cart screen, comparing the listed room number with the elegant script numerals above the door. 12690. He had not made a mistake.

"Ms. Montefino, may I come in?" Still no answer. He tried his thumb on the access pad, not really expecting any reaction. TeePees were normally paranoid about security.

The polished wood door swung open. The cart bustled inside ahead of him. He hesitated before following, reluctant to disturb a guest's privacy. The door closed soundlessly behind him.

The spectacular view held him for a moment. Outside the window that was the opposite wall, the spires of the City sparkled, soaring hundreds of stories above the earth. The ribbons of the Skytrain wound sinuously among the towers, capsules gleaming in the night like mobile jewels. Digizeps drifted in the distance, advertising the latest luxuries. It was a wondrous, beautiful world, a world to ache for, even to die for.

"Your supper, Ms. Montefino...," he began, then choked on his words.

Her bedroom door was half ajar. A mirror faced the door, and in that mirror, he could see her as clearly as if she stood before him. He had a blazing, confused impression of bare skin and swelling curves, before he shut his eyes in panic. It wasn't seemly, for someone like him...

His heart slammed against his ribs. He waited for her to notice his intrusion, to scream. Instead, he heard her humming to herself, sweet and low.

Jared had to look. He couldn't stop himself, even though he knew the risk he was taking. There she was, undressing before her mirror, admiring her own loveliness. She wore black satin gloves that rose to her elbows. The contrast of her black fingers against her pale flesh kindled a hungry fire in his belly. He watched, fascinated, as those long fingers untied the shoulder ribbons that held up her translucent chemise. The light garment drifted to the floor, exposing the perfect breasts that had been only half-visible before. She cupped them in satin-clad palms and strummed the rosy tips with her jet-colored thumbs.

Each of her self-touches sent shivers through Jared's body. His cock swelled painfully inside his tight uniform trousers. He allowed his own white-gloved hand to stray to his crotch, trying to adjust the pressure. It remained there, grasping the aching mass of his erection, while his eyes continued to follow her wandering digits. She trailed her fingers down over her milky torso, teasing herself with brief brushes of satin against skin. Her two forefingers slipped under the waistband of her lower garment, which like her chemise hid little. Jared could see her fingers as streaks of black against the gauzy fabric; he held his breath as he watched them disappear into her cleft.

Her humming had stopped. Now he could hear her panting, punctuated every now and then by a little moan. Her eyes were screwed shut. Her mouth hung half-open as she concentrated on the sensations she was stirring between her thighs. He imagined he could smell her musk, though logic told him she was too far away. A shudder ran through her body. His cock surged, straining for relief.

All at once she removed her hand from her sex. Dampness stained her fingertips an even deeper black. She brought them to her nose, savoring her own scent. Then, after a moment, she began to remove the gloves.

Jared couldn't breathe. His heart threatened to burst out of his chest. His leaking cock made a shameful spot on his spotless uniform. Could he really be seeing this? She peeled the black fabric down her forearm to her wrist. Jared knew he should look away, but no force in the universe could have made him do that. Finally she gripped the glove by the fingers and pulled completely off.

Her naked hand was alabaster white, gleaming in the mirror like some pearly apparition from another world. Her fingers seemed unnaturally long. Her fingernails, he was shocked to see, were enameled red, like the whores he'd read about. Her flawless skin looked impossibly smooth, obscenely soft, unforgivably vulnerable. She slipped one bare finger into her mouth and sucked on it. The lewdness of it all finally undid him.

With a muffled groan, he exploded, his come soaking his crisp trousers. Then he fled in terror, still shaking, taking with him a last lascivious image of the woman plunging her naked fingers deep into her cunt.

Jared took refuge in a supplies closet, wondering what to do next. He had left the cart without getting her thumbprint acknowledging delivery. His uniform was a mess. But these were minor worries, beside the fear that she had heard or seen him and would report him to the G.M.

His mother had sacrificed everything to get him this job among the TeePees. All her savings had been spent on the fake identification papers, gene map, and medical history, certifying that he was of good Tower birth and free of the Plague. Of course, the Plague had been overcome generations ago, but the TeePees believed that it still raged among the Sub-urbs, just as they believed that the hordes who lived in the dark concrete warrens at the base of the City were inhuman wretches who raped and murdered each other, drank blood and piss, and walked the streets obscenely ungloved, spreading immorality and contagion.

Life was rough in the no-man's land below the towers; there was no denying that. Most Sub-urbs were poor, hungry and illiterate. They subsisted on the crumbs that dropped from the gleaming towers. They did the jobs no Tower People would touch: tending the hydroponic farms and the factories, recycling the garbage, driving the monstrous trucks that still used the cracked roads and crumbling freeways at ground level. They breathed chemical fumes and drank sewer water. People lived in shanties piled helter-skelter among the huge ferrocement stanchions that supported the towers, or along the stinking canals that carried away the waste.

Sunlight rarely reached the Sub-urbs. They grew up pale and unhealthy and died young, from overwork, or pollution, or diseases that could be cured overnight, if you belonged to the towers. His mother had died that way, with nothing left for bribes or contraband medicine after she bought him his freedom.

Even in that desperate nightmare land, though, there were remnants of civilization. There were communities. There were rituals and traditions. No one went bare-handed, though their gloves might be rough muslin or canvas. Jared's thoughts returned to the woman he had watched: Liliana Montefino, the daughter of an ambassador visiting the City for the Conclave, or so he had been told. His cheeks burned and his cock swelled again when he recalled the way her naked fingers had played in her sex. Lust and revulsion warred in him. He could hardly believe that a high-born lady would act in such a way, so obscene, so uncivilized. Even in the Sub-urb brothels, the whores wore gloves, though they deliberately chose flesh tones to excite their clients.

Of course, she thought she was alone, having a moment of private pleasure. Didn't she? Sudden doubt seized Jared. How could she have failed to hear him, calling her name, gasping at the sight of her excesses, groaning in his climax? How could she have avoided seeing him, in fact? If he could see her face in the mirror, flushed and distorted with desire, then surely she could see his.

His suspicions grew, and with them, his confusion. She had known that he was watching. The fact that he watched had aroused her further, hadn't it? She knew the effect she was having on him. Never mind her position and her birth. She was an unredeemed slut, publicly exposing her most secret parts to a stranger, without the slightest hint of shame. His cock reared angrily. The images replayed themselves in his mind's eye: black satin, white skin, scarlet fingernails.

Still, if she had known that he was spying on her, and had not raised the alarm, she could hardly report him now. Jared knew this wasn't quite true; she could fabricate some accusation against him and his word would never stand against hers. But why should she? She was his silent co-star in this lewd drama, his partner in degradation.

It was difficult to believe. She appeared so elegant, so refined. The first time he saw her, she was wearing iridescent silver gloves that matched her gown. They were simple and without ornament, unlike the jewel-encrusted and gold-embroidered handgear of the others attending the formal reception. She floated from one group to another, dress flowing liquid around her slender limbs, golden curls sparkling in the chandelier light.

She was kind, too. Jared had been circulating among the guests, offering champagne. When he passed her the crystal goblet, their gloves had touched, briefly. She caught his eyes and smiled warmly, melting his carefully cultivated waiter's detachment. He stumbled and would have dropped the whole tray, had she not caught his arm. Burning with embarrassment, shaking with fear of self-betrayal, he backed away. No words were exchanged, but her smile did not fade.

She knew. She recognized him. Perhaps she had even asked that he, specifically, attend her, when she had called for room service. Normally, the robocarts would deliver food and drink by themselves, unless a guest made a special request. Exclusive hotels like the Odeon took pride in their personal service.

He couldn't get her out of his mind. He paged his supervisor and pretended that he was feeling sick. The supervisor warned him not to come back to work without a health clearance from his section clinic. Jared promised. The Skytrain whisked him away to his one room conapt on the seventy sixth floor of a neighboring tower.

Jared stripped off his fitted jacket and his pants, which were now stiff with dried semen. He stood in the shower, trying to wash away the memories. He was not successful. He kept imagining her fingers and her face. He played with the memories. He pretended that it would have been easy for him to stride into the bedroom and take her. He pictured her lying underneath him while he buried his cock in her wetness. He imagined his gloved hands, holding her bare ones above her head. His cock got harder and harder. He wrapped his bare, soapy hands around his swollen organ and pumped until milky come spattered all over the plastic enclosure door. The pictures still would not stop.

He dried himself, put on a fresh pair of gloves, and lay down naked on his bed. His penis bobbed, still half-erect. He thought again of their first meeting: her inviting smile and the brief, unnerving touch of her hand. Something nagged at the back of his mind.

He closed his eyes. His head ached. So did his cock.

Suddenly he remembered. He jumped up, dug the key out of its hiding place at the back of his sock compartment, pulled the old tin trunk out from under the bed. Inside were the few precious relics he kept from his mother and his old life. He pulled out an ancient book with disintegrating binding, and leafed carefully through the fragile pages until he found the passage:

"If I profane with my unworthiest hand, This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this, My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand, To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, Which mannerly devotion shows in this; For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss."

When his mother had first read him the scene where Romeo and Juliet meet, he had felt an acute thrill, even through his embarrassment. He didn't understand all the old words, but he knew that what was being discussed had to be dirty and forbidden. Yet he sensed the romance of the moment, too, the call of one soul to another disguised as word play and flirtation. Sex morphs to love. Later, when he read the rest of the play, he understood the rest of the lesson. Love gives birth to tragedy.

Shakespeare was been banned as obscene generations ago, his mother told him. At the height of the Plague, when people were dying by the thousands and no one went out without masks and gloves, all this talk of hands and kisses seemed patently offensive. Never mind, though. One cannot be an educated man without knowing the glorious bard. She made him read all the plays, despite his discomfort and occasional arousal.

This scene -- this was the memory stirred by his first meeting with Liliana. There had been no wordplay, true, but their eyes had spoken. And wasn't he, like Romeo, an intruder in the midst of his enemies?

The final banquet of the Conclave was held the next evening, in the glass-encased ballroom at the top of the Odeon Tower. The distinguished guests had a panoramic view of the City in all its splendor. Supersonic transports streaked across the sky overhead like artificial meteors. Fireworks made spangled halos around the tops of nearby towers as the City bid farewell to powers and potentates from the nine other megapolises on the planet.

Jared was assigned to wait table at the banquet. He both hoped and feared that Liliana would be present. He scanned the faces around the circular tables; she didn't seem to be among the guests. Still, she might arrive late.

Throughout the long and lavish meal, he struggled to contain his nervousness, and seemed to succeed. His supervisor, after asking pointedly about his health, complimented him on his performance.

The banquet did not end until one in the morning. By then, Jared was exhausted, as much from the tension of waiting for the elusive lady as from the work. He was in the employee locker room, getting ready to leave, when his pager buzzed.

"Jared, there's a special room service request for you. Would you take care of it before you head home?"

Jared knew the room number before he asked.

Once more he stood beside a robocart outside room 12690. Once again he tried the intercom, though he knew now that there would be no answer. The door opened immediately at the touch of his thumb. He strode in, the cart scuttling after him.

"Your dinner, Ms. Montefino?" Now that he was here, he felt like running away. His penis was lump of pain stuffed in his pants. His hands in their immaculate waiter's gloves were trembling.

The bedroom door was mostly closed. Gathering his courage, he pushed it wide.

The room was huge and luxurious, and like the living room, had one wall of glass. The curtains were open, as if to invite the world to witness the scene inside.

Jared stared into the mirror, not daring to look directly at the woman tempting him. She sprawled on her back on the bed, her knees drawn up, her thighs splayed open, naked. Completely naked.

The pale, perfect fingers of her right hand were sunk in the folds of her cunt. She stroked them rhythmically, deep then shallow. Her wet flesh made slurping sounds each time she pulled her hand out. Jared could see a slick sheen of moisture on her bare palm, which was braced against her pubis. She rocked herself against her hand, moaning softly.

Her left hand was busy with her rear hole. Jared watched, horrified and overwhelmed with lust, as she scooped some kind of lubricant from a jar next to her and smeared it across her anus. The flesh of her buttocks was pale, but it seemed almost ruddy compared to the pure white of her fingertips. She wiggled her middle finger into the tight knot of muscle and began to pump in time with her cunt-thrusts. The other fingers clenched and unclenched in spasms each time she penetrated herself. Her movements become jerkier, more frantic. She jabbed a second finger into her anus, and then a third, writhing as though they were electrified.

All at once her body arched toward the ceiling. She wailed, a low animal sound that sent chills up Jared's spine. Her climax went on and on. Her body shook with convulsions of pleasure that made the bed vibrate. In fact, the whole room seemed to vibrate with her.

Jared couldn't stand it. He unvelcroed his trousers and released his cock into his waiting hand. His nylon gloves slipped smoothly over the swollen flesh. He was few strokes from coming, no more. As Liliana's spasms gradually slowed, his own movements quickened. He felt the pressure of his come building in his shaft. He urged it onward, unwilling or unable to fight any longer against his lust.

"Wait," she said. She spoke softly, but with the habit of command. She sat up and laid a sticky hand on his. Jared shuddered at the profane touch, and nearly lost control, but her eyes held him. "I want to watch you. I want to see you, naked."

With her blond locks tangled around her heart-shaped faced she suddenly seemed young and vulnerable. "Please..."

Feeling her eyes like hands upon him, he undressed quickly. He stood before her wearing nothing but his gloves, awaiting her instructions.

"Naked," she said. "Bare, open. Take off your gloves. Don't be afraid."

Jared knew that it was all conditioning. It was all fabricated, the senseless ephemera of a civilization that had shaped him even though he was its outcast. Still, it was the hardest thing he had ever done.

It was only the longing and desire he saw in her face that gave him the courage to strip off the protection he had worn all his life.

"Now touch me," she said, reaching out for his hand, laying her palm against his. She grasped his other hand and placed it against her breast. "Touch me. Love me."

He kissed her, open-mouthed, holding nothing back. Thus from my lips by thine my sin is purged. He entered her and felt her flesh close around his, cherishing and protecting him. She hooked her legs around his waist, pulling him deeper. He grasped her hands in his, and held them above her head as he had dreamed, but skin to skin. He held her eyes, speaking volumes without words. She took him somewhere new, somewhere clean and bright and free.

He had thought that he was on the brink of coming, but inside her, his cock achieved some kind of permanence, rock instead of flesh, an organ of eternal pleasure. They rose together, again and again, to the brink of release, then let the crisis subside, knowing that the next time it would be even more powerful.

Wandering in the heaven of their joined flesh, he didn't hear the robocart alarm dinging. He didn't hear the door buzzing or the gruff voice on the intercom.

The rough hands tearing him off her were a total shock.

"Bastard! Disgusting low-life subby!" Jared's naked body slammed against the window. The glass shuddered. "How dare you touch her with your filthy, obscene hands?" A fist pounded his face. A pointed boot rammed into his gut. "You think your disease-ridden carcass is good enough for her? This is what you get for raping my daughter!" There was a glitter of metal, then sharp, bright pain tearing his side.

Jared tried to open his eyes, but blood sealed them shut. He heard her voice, Liliana's voice, pleading, then whimpering, and finally shouting.

"Give me that knife, give it to me! I don't want to live in this miserable world of yours!"

No, Liliana, he tried to cry out. Don't, I'm just a poor Sub-urb, I'm not worth it. Please. He couldn't seem to make any sound, though. He could only listen to the screams and the oaths that swirled around him. Even that was dim; it was as though his ears were filled with cotton.

Finally, it was quiet. He still couldn't see, but he felt Liliana kneel beside him and stroke his forehead, comforting him. Her skin felt cool and smooth and alive. She smelled of flowers.

Then the glass dissolved and they were flying together, high above the glittering spires of the City. He felt the anguish of the underlings. He heard the tears of the tower folk. He and Liliana, at least, were free.

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