I can stare at weather charts all day and examine the underlying, artificial principles surrounding the seasonal cycles Pendor goes through on a 292-day period. I can review charts of the amount of insulation being effected by the ebb and flow of weather vanes and the compressed fluids that carry the heat from the surface to the outer limits of space. I can look at a thermometer.
But none of that really carries the weight of capitulation to the elements that making my first cup of hot cocoa for the winter does. It means I'm giving in, recognizing that I need to find an alternative way of pumping more heat into my body. It means that the logic that "I can survive this" doesn't help because it doesn't comfort.
I thought about the weather, and about giving in, as I sat in my newly built home, just outside Rocchodain. It's a nice house, even if the bedroom door has the annoying habit of not locking properly, so that if the windows are open the wind will continuously open it and then slam it shut. I haven't got any furniture, but then I rarely use furniture; a floor does just as good for me.
Right now the floor is strewn about with notes on the construction of Shardik Castle, now in its seventh week. The gravitics structures are coming along well, and we'll probably have it floating loose a few weeks later. M'Ress told me just today that the AI will be ready for installation on schedule. I asked her to program the name 'David' into it.
I was fumbling with a pencil, looking to make a few changes in the placement of the public address speakers on the roof, when someone knocked on my door. "Come in," I said, a little annoyed with the interruption but trying to be my usual, accessible self.
A young Uncia male walked in, one I did not recognize. "Hello?" I said.
He bowed and said, "Good evening, Father. May I sit?"
"Provided you call me 'Ken,' or 'Kennet,' at the very least. And what is your name?"
"Jhan," he answered. "I... I've come to ask you a question."
"What kind of question?"
"Well... It's hard to say." He swallowed, his ears lying flat against his head. "Father-- Ken, is it possible that you can make a mistake?"
"Well," I said, "I tried not to. I did everything in my power to go over everybody's genecode as often as possible, to make sure that there were no programming errors. I had Halloran check everything every day. Why? Do you think there's something wrong with you?"
"What?" I asked.
"Father... I'm sorry. Ken, I don't know how to say this, but I do not want to... mate... with females of my kind."
"Do you want to mate with any other species' females?" I asked.
"No." He shook his head.
"Would you, if you could, mate with males of your own species?"
"Would you?" I asked, a little more confidently than before.
He nodded. There was a streak of shame across his face; his ears lay back, and his nose darkened. I reached out to touch his face. "Would you, if you could, mate with males of other species?"
He nodded again. "Jhan, there's a word for what you are. 'Erolie.'"
He smiled a wan and unsuccessful smile. "Wants for the same sex?" he asked. I nodded. "I guess that does describe me. Can it be fixed?"
"I'm not sure anything's broken."
"Father... I am. I'm miserable. Everyone around me is asking when I'm going to start siring children, and I don't want to."
"Do you want children?"
"Not right now. But that's not the point. I should be able to mate with femUncia, I just can't. I don't feel interest at all."
"But the males, they excite you."
He nodded again, that blush washing across his face again. "Halloran," I said, addressing the local AI, "give me a breakdown of Uncia by sex and estimated orientation."
"Without violating the privacy code, there are 8,323 Uncia, of which 497 are too young to do any estimates about. Of the remaining, I estimate that of 3960 females, 281 show completely erolie behavior, and of the 3866 males, 390 show erolie behavior."
"There are 389 Uncia like you, Jhan."
"Where?" he asked. "Father, there can't be anybody like me."
"Ah, but there can. The problem is that they're hiding. Because they, like you, think that they're the only ones."
"Father," he said, then stopped. That "Father" was getting on my nerves. Oh, well, I'll live. "I need to know..."
"I..." I stopped, getting lost in my confusion. "Jhan, I wish I knew how to help you, but I can't find these people without their consent, and if they're hiding, they aren't consenting to be found. At least, thank space, you came to me. All I can tell you is that there are more like you. Hell, I tend to think people who stick exclusively to one sex or the other are kind of silly anyway."
"I mean," I said, "Isn't it kind of silly to exclude half the people you know from loveplay just because they're this or that?"
"Then you would..."
I shrugged and said, "Not really. The problem lies in that I am only attracted to females." Like M'Ress.
"Then you can't help me."
I shook my head. "Not really."
"Then I wasted our time," he said. "Excuse me." Without much pause he walked out into the cold, clear night.
Halloran spoke next. "He's going to commit suicide. I predict within the next 60 hours."
"Not tonight?" I asked, worried. If he did, he would be the first.
"Doubtful. It is in his nature to consider a problem completely before choosing a course of action."
I looked down at the papers scattered about the living room. With a sigh I palmed the light switch and dimmed the room, walking back to the bedroom. "I'm going to sleep, Hal."
"Do you have a course of action for Jhan?"
I had a lousy night. Restless, sleepless, nightmares. I was going to lose one of my children unless I took the appropriate course of action.
I got up and jumped into the shower, looking at my reflection in the mirror opposite the showerhead. I stared at it as the steam began to fill the bathroom. "Well, Shardik," I said quietly to my reflection, "This is a big one. Do I have the courage of my convictions, or do I let despair take Jhan?"
"Do you have an answer?" Halloran asked.
"Yes. Please ask Jhan to come to my home tonight, an hour after shadowfall. Will he show up?"
"I predict it is unlikely that Jhan will not show up."
"In other words, you think he will."
"In other words, yes."
The knock came at the door. I opened the door slowly. Jhan stood there, looking a little befuddled. "Come in."
"Thank you." He walked in slowly and looked around. I had turned off all the lights; the large living room was entirely lit with several dozen candles, all long-burning. I had arranged cushions everywhere, and a small, low table for eating while kneeling was in one corner.
"I wanted to try a little experiment," I said. "I hope you don't mind."
He smiled wanly and said, "What kind of experiment?"
"We'll see," I said. "Come, sit down, over there," I said, pointing to one end of the table. "Take what you like from the table, and eat as much as you want. That kettle holds tea, and that glass there hold sake', a traditional drink back on Terra. It is slightly intoxicating."
He smiled and said, "How?"
"Well, take these," I said, holding up my pair of chopsticks. "If you want, you can just stab most of these things, or you could pick them up." I demonstrated. "Like this."
He tried a few times. "Here," I said, "hold your hand like this, with this stick here..." Eventually he got it good enough that he could get most of the dim sum to his mouth.
I watched him as he ate. One never normally thinks of Uncia as "pretty." They are, as a species, quite large, averaging 2.4 metres in height and massing about 160 Kilograms. They're entirely furry, from their ears to the tips of their tails, with a mottling of black rings and spots over their mostly grey bodies.
Jhan was pretty. He wasn't as tall as the usual example of his species, and his fur was white. Not grey, but white, with his spots being entirely short stripes of black against the background. He was also well groomed, and his teeth were clean and straight.
"You're hungry," I observed as he downed yet another plateful of food.
"Of course," he said. "I'm always hungry."
"Well, I'm stuffed," I said, taking a sip of sake' and watching him eat. The alcohol suffused rapidly through my body, making me feel warmer and, if I needed, more ready for what I was about to put myself through. Did I really want to do this?
I rose and walked around the table, kneeling down behind him. "Father..."
"Shh..." I whispered. "This is as much for me as it is for you." I put my hands on his shoulders and slowly pressed down with my thumbs, rubbing gently. He sighed. "I know where every single muscle in your body is, Jhan. Just relax."
He tried, but his muscles tensed up against my touch. "Ken," he said, finally getting my attention by addressing me the way I had asked him to. "Please."
"Please what?" I asked.
"Please don't do this. You're going to make it harder."
Awful puns crossed my mind. I ignored all of them. "Jhan, look at me." He turned slowly and stared. "I'm not going to lose you just because I can't do something as simple as kiss you. I'm not going to let one-eighth of my children live in despair because I can't lead them. And I'm damned if I'm going to let Terra's programming stand between me and what's right." I reached out touched his chest, scratched slowly, feeling his nipples under my fingers through the fur.
"But, what can we do?"
"Jhan, do you really think entalie'-- I guess that's the word, the opposite of erolie'-- only do one thing? There are a lot of things we can do together." I put my hand to his chest and slowly pushed him down to the cushions. "I mean, how do you think we should start?"
"I don't know," he admitted honestly.
"Well," I said, "Let's start with this." I felt through his fur for one of his six nipples, finding one on his right side and lowering my head to it, taking it in my teeth and playing with it. His whole body went rigid, a deep growl emanating from his throat. "Did that work?"
"It... felt good," he admitted.
"Then do the same for me."
"Ken," I said, chastising him gently.
"Ken..." he said. "May I?"
"I've got nipples, Jhan, just like you do, and I just said you could."
He pushed me to my side and rolled me onto my back, his rough tongue playing over my nipples. "Careful," I said.
"Something wrong?" he asked hurriedly.
"You're heavy... A lot heavier than I am." And his center of mass is lower, his wide hips built up from a species designed for rear-leg power. "I just don't want you to crush the breath out of me."
"I won't," he promised.
I scratched against his fur lightly, pleasurably. He purred and growled, and oddly enough I found myself enjoying it. Maybe it was because I had gotten used to sleeping with Chelsea, who has a deep growl; it's almost impossible to tell the sexes of Uncia apart by the sound of their voice.
Then I felt something hard pressing against my leg; his cock. I thought about it for a few seconds, then pressed my hand against his shoulder, pushing him down onto the cushions. "Don't move," I said.
He nodded. Gods, but his body was huge; I worried for a moment that his penis might follow, but it was actually a little smaller than mine. "Let's see how far my oral fixation goes." I leaned over and kissed the pink tip of it slowly; it had no definitive head, as a human's does, but was a single shaft of wet pink running down to a long, fur-covered sheath. I kissed it again, opening my mouth and tasting it. It tasted like... well, it's hard to say what it tasted like. There was a complicated, almost plastic, smell to him, but the taste was more wrapped up in texture and motion than in any actual sense of taste.
I tried to concentrate on not biting him. There was a wonderfully deep and satisfied purr coming from him, and I tried a few experimental strokes. The purring was interrupted by a groan, and I felt a stab of my own pride as I worked on his cock.
What really amazed me was that I was enjoying myself; I had gone all the way from doing this for him to doing this for me. I loved the feeling of his cock in my mouth, pressing against the back of my throat, threatening to choke me. Even as the underside of my jaw began to ache and hurt from the exertion, I knew I had him. He was going to come in my mouth if it was the last thing we ever did. And I knew it was going to happen.
"Ken..." He whispered.
"I'm not stopping," I said, pausing for a moment before diving head-first onto his cock again. He began to thrust his hips gently, and I worried he might try and force it down my throat; I didn't want to gag on it. I knew that, with practice, I would lose my reflex, but I didn't want to take the time tonight. I wanted him to come.
With a roar he did! A stream of thin, salty semen erupted into my mouth, choking me. I swallowed some of it, stroking the last of his orgasm out of him before unceremoniously grabbing a towel and wiping the rest of it out of my mouth. Actually, it didn't taste that bad.
I looked up at him, and he lay back and smiled at me, one massive paw coming to rest against my back. "Thank you," he said.
"You're not tired already, are you?" I said.
"Well, I just did all that work for you, kiddo. Better return the favor."
"You want me to..."
"You've got about as much experience at it as I do, Jhan. Go ahead."
I lay down and he nuzzled my balls with his nose, slowly licking them. The sensation made me squirm slightly. And then he opened his muzzle and took my cock into his mouth.
"Careful," I whispered, images of his huge teeth against my cock running through my brain. But his mouth was hot and surprisingly soft; I lay back and just let the sensations roll through my body. It was wonderful, even if he was not nearly as experienced as M'Ress (and I was any better for him?). I closed my eyes and let my orgasm build, but as I got close he stopped!
"Sorry," he said. "My jaw is tired." He rubbed at his throat gently.
"Then finish me, please," I said. "With a hand if you must."
"You mean, like this?" he asked, wrapping one paw around it and stroking me gently.
"Yes," I said, laying back down.
He smiled and continued, his other paw reaching down to caress my testicles. I groaned, my body tensing. It was my turn to moan, to get close, to feel the pressure, to finally come in his hands, shooting over my belly, moaning. He laughed.
"Like that?" he asked.
"I'm a mess," I replied. "Of course I liked it!"
He smiled and leaned over, licking up the semen he had helped spill. He rose, and the expression on his face in candlelight made me bite back a laugh; it was almost as if he were judging a fine wine. "I could get used to it," he finally announced. He grabbed the towel I had used and wiped me clean. I pulled him down to me, kissing the underside of his muzzle joyfully, enjoying the feeling of his fur against mine. "Do you feel better?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Jhan?" He looked over at me. "Lick my cheeks."
"Sir?" he asked.
"Kiss me, dammit." He nodded and closed the distance, his tongue licking my cheeks softly before he pressed his muzzle against my mouth, our tongues wrestling gently. It felt wonderful; there was a difference, a mental difference, from kissing him to kissing Chelsea, or M'Ress for that matter.
"Better," I said. "Do you think you could do that tomorrow?"
"I don't see why not."
"Wait a minute--" he said.
"No, you wait, Jhan. I'm willing to bet that there are a lot more than Hal's estimates walking around who would benefit from the knowledge that the 'opposite' sex is not the only valid sex partner. And the complete entalia need a role model. If you're going to do it to me, I'm going to do it to you. Face up to the courage of your convictions. Come with me to Rocchodain. We'll go sit in Mickey's and make out. We'll go swimming together in the spring just to the north, where everyone goes when it gets this cold, and cuddle. We have to show them; I have to be an example, and so do you."
He smiled sheepishly and said, "Yesterday you didn't want to; now you want to in public."
"It's my job. And I liked it!" A thought ran through my mind. He looked at me curiously, so I looked back at him and said, "The only thing that bothers me is how much I liked it."
"Have I been lying to myself? Maybe I really am erolie, and just didn't know it."
He shook his head and said, "Is there a word for someone who's both?"
"Not that I know of. Hal?"
"The correct word, using Fawn Eldar's guidelines, is Yolie'," the AI responded with perfunctory efficiency.
"There you have it. But that's not the point. Do I really like women?"
"Do you?" he asked. "You have associated with them for many years, Ken. There's no reason for you to suddenly change that association."
"I guess I'll have to wait for morning."
"That would be the correct decision," he said. "I should be going."
"What? Oh, no you don't. I want you to spend the night in my bed.
"I may?" he asked, surprised.
"You may not do otherwise," I responded with mock formality.
He lunged for me, hugging me close. "That's what I wanted," he breathed. "Just to be with you, to wake up next to a mel and feel him there."
"With a mel, or with Vatare'."
"With a mel," he repeated. "There is something special in your acceptance, Father, but it is only because you are male that I feel this joy."
"Then let's get some sleep."
The next morning I was awoken by M'Ress kissing my cheek gently. I responded to her kiss with a familiarity borne of the decade we had spent together, and when I reached up to fondle her breasts my erection was as on schedule as ever. Yolie'. I like that word. If there was a way to describe her reaction to Jhan, it was simple amusement. And Jhan isn't so uninterested in women that he refused to help me tickle her mercilessly.