The car eased quietly up to the ornate front door of Dragon's house. Brandon himself appeared at the entrance as we arrived, and ducked his head inside the vehicle as soon as its door had hissed open.

"How is she?" he asked.

I was not entirely sure myself. Selene seemed to be resting comfortably, sprawled flat on her back on the - admittedly, extremely comfortable - floor of the car, and breathing deeply and evenly. I shook her shoulder gently and spoke into her ear, but she neither woke up nor reacted appreciably.

"I expected this," Dragon said softly, reaching past me to gently ease my sister from the car.

"What's wrong with her," I asked, panicked by the sudden thought that Selene might be hurt or unwell for some reason.

"Nothing's wrong with her - at least, nothing that a little time won't fix," Dragon replied in a carefully soothing tone of voice, "But just help me get her inside."

I eased Selene's legs through the car door, then Dragon picked her up bodily in her arms. She lay limp, head lolling back, either deeply asleep or completely unconscious. The front door opened silently as we approached, while the car closed its door and slipped away, I imagined, to park itself somewhere out of sight, wherever it normally hid itself away.

Dragon carried Selene inside, into the open-plan living space at the top of the house. A low and comfortable-looking bed had been set up - all pristine white linen bedclothes - with the covers pulled back and pillows plumped up. It was set close to the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the flood-lit lawns and the pool, flanked by banks of trees and hedges in the distance.

He laid her down on the mattress and gently removed her clothes with almost no assistance from the PA. Dragon then slipped her under the covers, tucking her in with a wonderful display of tenderness. He stood back, hands on his hips and looked at his other daughter for a long moment. Then he turned, took me gently by the arm and let me to one side.

"She's lived nearly forty years without the medical attention of the automation," he explained, "There has been nothing to repair the everyday degradations of her body's cellular structure. That's why she had those lines on her face, and the grey in her hair - why she looks old, even though she hundreds of years younger than me and you."

He looked again at the sleeping beauty across the room.

"The PA is working her over at a cellular level," he continued, "Reversing the effects of that decay. So, she'll sleep a lot for the next day or two, and she'll be very hungry too."

I nodded in understanding.

"There's nothing we can do now except wait," he added, "so why don't you get yourself cleaned up and change into something more comfortable?"

Indeed, I did feel both physically grimy and emotionally dirty after my abusive experiences in the compound and the woods. I was still wearing most of the hot and heavy old-fashioned clothing I had donned for the trip to the Eden commune. With a sudden fierce energy, I tore off the white blouse, now torn and stained, and tossed it aside, immediately following it with the modest long skirt and the hateful undergarments. Suddenly I felt better, more myself - much more the independent and fun-loving individual that I really am.

"I'm going to take a shower," I said, more forcefully than I intended.

"Of course," Dragon agreed, smiling in an avuncular fashion and indicating the direction to the bathroom. Twenty minutes later, I was showered, dried and had carefully massaged oil into the skin on my arms and legs. I was just finishing up when Dragon appeared in the doorway.

"Let me help you with that," he suggested.

I nodded. I was more than happy to let him rub more oil on my leathery epidermis under my breasts and on my back. It felt so good to be clean and pampered again, but I wasn't yet feeling at all horny. Dragon must have sensed this, as he held a large toweling robe open for me to slip into. I felt warmed and comforted, enveloped by the soft folds of the material.

Together we sat at a table just inside the glass wall and allowed the automation to bring us food and drink. I was hungry too, and demolished most of my sandwich in seconds. My appetite assuaged, I told Dragon in a low voice what had happened to me inside the Commune. He interrupted only twice, once to clarify that it was the Reverend himself who had "purged me of sin" in his office, and once to confirm my route around the lakeside to the picnic area.

Dragon got up and crossed to a cupboard, and came back with a bottle of what I would shortly discover was an extremely good bottle of whiskey. While I had been watching him, the PA had placed two old-fashioned heavy glass tumblers on the table. He poured a generous measure into each one.

"I can never express my thanks to you enough," he said formally, raising his glass in a toast.

I accepted the toast wordlessly, raising my own glass in response. I sipped the whiskey, which was warming in my throat, and washed it down with a morsel of the rich dark chocolate that had appeared with the glasses. I yawned and stretched.

"You should stay here, too," Dragon said, "You look worn out."

I suddenly realized I felt desperately tired, my exertions having completely exhausted me. It would be dawn in a few hours.

"You should sleep there," Dragon suggested, indicating a second made-up bed that had appeared as if by magic a few meters from my sister, "I'll keep an eye on Selene."

I could barely keep my own eyes open. I tottered over to the bed and collapsed into it, barely finding the energy to remove the toweling robe. I was asleep in seconds.

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