I gritted my teeth and walked in the one-fifth gravity to the stepping disk and ordered it to take me home. The sudden increase in weight slugged me, and it simply fed my anger. GODDAMN HER!
I stormed past some people in the hallway as I walked towards my home. I heard a voice behind me: "Ken..." Paul. Go The Fuck Away.
The door slid open and I walked through, settling into the couch, still seething. Damn damn damn damn. I do not need this!
There was a knock at the door. "What?" I snarled.
"Ken?" It was Paul again.
I took a deep breath, sighed, and said "Come in Paul."
The door opened again, and the Centaur walked in and looked around. He stepped carefully over to the other side of the coffee table and settled onto the floor, folding his legs under him. "Are you okay?"
"No, I am not okay, but thank you for asking." I looked down at my hands, which felt cold, and rubbed them together.
"What's up? Last I heard, you were up at Alpha with Miss Traken."
"Yeah, last you heard. And last you're gonna hear about that," I said, angrily.
"Getting on your nerves?" he said.
"Look, Paul, I know you don't like her. I know M'Ress doesn't like her, but I need her. She's the most qualified Centaur obstetrician on the Ring. She's a stress and a pain, but I need her."
"She's not a Shardik."
"No, she's not. We've never really settled on what that means, though, but she definitely does not qualify. Look, right now I'm more than a little steamed."
"We were in Alpha again, and she started complaining again."
"Paperwork. Look, you know how much of the original Centaur design is simply notes scattered around in a couple of notebooks I have. They're carefully put away, but that's not good enough for her. Paul, when I made you, I got it right, but Carroll is... sterile. I can fix it, I know I can, but I need the help of someone who isn't a microbiologist, someone who understands the big picture. She's it. P'nyssa Traken is the best, recommended by Rhys himself, but Rings, kiddo, I did perfectly well without hypertext. She wants everything hypertexted, and I just don't have that. I work up here," I pointed to my temple, "and she doesn't understand that. She's so used to theoretical work. She could do research all day just by sitting down and thinking. I can't. I'm a hands-on person. If it isn't bubbling away in Alpha somewhere, if it isn't made up of paper and ink, it isn't mine. I can't handle that kind of abstraction. I like using keyboards and mice and joysticks." I paused, took another deep breath, and said "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to rant and rave like that."
He smiled. "I haven't got my wife's common sense, Ken, but I can see two choices here. I mean, it is your project, after all. You can either get her to accept your methods, or dismiss her."
"Then who have I got?"
"There's always Brieanna."
"Rhys recommended her second, but he also said it was quote a distant second unquote."
"Your only option, then, is to talk to her."
"Not an option."
He nodded. "Where is she now?"
"Dave?" I said, addressing the ceiling.
"Miss Traken is still on Alpha. According to Halloran, she is having a comprehensive cross-index of your notes made up."
"Well, maybe that'll keep her happy," I said. But eventually, I made up my mind.
A few hours later, I walked back to Alpha. When I stepped into the lab, she was standing a few meters away over a desk, a b/r headband around her temples. She was humanoid, about 170cm tall, dark blue fur and large elfin ears. I like Tindals, because for once they're not based on anything classical. Miss Traken was a little different, because she had distinctive patches of fur without any tint to them around her eyes. They gave her a slight 'racoon' look I found it attractive. The eyes themselves were of a solid greenish-yellow, sometimes more green, sometimes more yellow. Her arms were blue-furred tentacles, like all Tindals, and she deftly handled the custom keyboard with her mittens. One pad and opposable thumb. Soft and dexterous. "Dr. Traken."
"Dr. Shardik," she said, acknowledging my presence.
"Dr. Traken. I invited you to help me on a rather difficult project that I sensed I could not manage on my own." This was a rather over-rehearsed speech, and I think it sounded that way. "Unfortunately, I now find our personal differences too large to make us an effective research team. While you are welcome to take notes and consult with Hal as you see fit, I'd like you to not return to Alpha labs in the future." Without waiting for a reaction, I turned on my heels and walked out.
I spent the next five hours at home, fretting and fuming over my decision. Damn it, I had reasons other than just the professional for not wanting Brieanna as a research partner. I had a lot of personal reasons. I reviewed records. There was Hl. T. C. Rhys himself. There was Dr. F. Vaughnnel. There was a Dr. T. D. Mittleson, another Tindal. All competent, but none of them really had Dr. Traken's skill, and this was brought home to me over and over as AI Dave, AI Jean, and I reviewed the records. I sighed and leaned back in the couch, lying down and closing my eyes.
I awoke to hear a pounding at the door. "Ken!" The pounding grew more insistent, and I said "Dave, let them in."
The door opened to reveal Chelsea, an older Uncia female who I'd been friends with for years and years. She stood over me, her furred ears flared to their full width and her upper lip drawn back into an unpleasant snarl. "I heard what you did to Dr. Traken today."
"No, Shardik. You listen to me, and you listen carefully. Right now that young lady is throwing her life away over at Michael's, and if you have any interest at all in saving one of your Tleil Centuries, you'd better get over there right now!"
I sat up and said, rather dumbly, "What?"
"Ken, as far as anyone can tell, Dr. Traken is trying to drink herself into a drug-induced coma. Mike's being careful and keeping her on the edge of consciousness, but she could go over any second and she's a doctor! She's got access to plenty of things she could use, some of them a lot more unpleasant than just plain alcohol. Get up and get over there."
I blinked. "Chelsea. If she wants to kill herself, that's her prerogative. But I can't have her as a lab partner, and I don't think there's much chance of my going back on my word."
"Listen to you. Do I have to get Miss Flanders in here?"
The mention of Brieanna got my attention. "No, Chelsea. Okay, I'll go get her." I sighed and rose. Chelsea followed me as I walked quickly to the internal SDisk and teleported over the Michael's.
I walked in to find the place nearly empty. Empty that is, except for Mike, tending bar, Rhys, who stood at the far edge of the bar with his arms folded and his equine bulk leaning up against the railing, and Dr. Traken, who was sitting at a booth with eight or nine empty beer glasses sitting around her, all of them with a slight white residue. Milk laden with some sort of heavy sedative or depressant, I'd wager. Apparently, nobody wanted to watch someone else's self-destruction.
The bar looked the same, lots of heavy stone and glass windows with leaded alloy frames, notoriously easy to break. There was a burning firepit in the center, arranged with a cone grated center to allow lots of air in, and reflect heat out into the room. The cone-shaped chimney above was still painted a kind of light vile-green color, but the place was exquisitely clean, as always. I walked over to the bar and said, "What's she been drinking?"
Mike, a tawny Felinzi, looked at me, said "Secobarbital." I nodded, looked up at Rhys, who turned his head away.
I walked over to the booth and slid in opposite her. It was one of those round booths that slid all the way, with a "D" shaped table in the middle. Her head was down on the table, and she didn't raise it when I sat. So I got her attention; I picked up one of the glasses and threw towards the firepit that burned in the center of the bar. The glass flew across the radius of the firepit, mysteriously shattered in mid-air and all of the glass fell into the pit with a loud crash. A good display of forcefield for effect. She looked up. "Wh'dd'ya wan?" she said.
"Come home with me, Dr. Traken."
"Nizza," she said, lowering her head back to the table.
"Excuse me?" I said, not quite catching it.
"Nyssa. Tha'z m'name. Silen' 'P' en-wi-es-es-ey. P'nyssa. Other'n th' 'P,' yu ga' me tha' name, Shardik. Yu shud know tha.'" Her voice was very slurred.
"Come on, P'nyssa." I rose and grabbed hold of her shoulder. She tried to push me away, but I held on tight.
"Leave me alone!" she shouted.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because you don' wan' me. I can tell."
I bent down and balanced on my toes. "P'nyssa..."
She looked up and cast about for a second, I guess trying to see me clearly, then focusing finally at where I knelt on the floor. "No, you lissen to me, Shardik. Working wit' you is suppozzed to be the high poin' of my carr... carr... work. Bein' thrown ou' by you, I'll never be able to do m'job without somebody pointin' a' me an' sayin' 'She's the one Shardik threw out.'"
"P'nyssa, you're the best. That's why you I asked you to Alpha in the first place."
She looked up again and said "Tha' doesn' help. Ni'er does Mikey, there, keepin' me stinkin' drunk and na' given' me 'nuff to finish it."
"Dr. Tr... P'nyssa, I don't want you to kill yourself. I'm not worth killing yourself over."
"Wha' else? Wha c'n I do?"
"You can come home with me. Sober up."
"I don' wan' soberrup. Ah'm fine."
I figured there was no helping this argument, so I left her and went back to the bar, shrugging my shoulders. Mike poured another drink and left it at her table. She drank it down in a few short gulps and keeled over. I walked back and picked her up, carrying her towards the door. "Thank Mike," I said.
He nodded. I was just about out the door when I heard "Hey, Ken!" It was the first thing the previously impassive Rhys had said to me all day. I turned and looked at him. "You take care of her. She's my best kid. A little on the high side, but still my best. You hear me?"
I nodded and backed out of the bar. Despite the load in my arms, I got back to the Castle with little or no trouble.
It took about six hours for the Mickey Mickey had slipped her to wear off, and when she came to on my couch she groaned and put her mitts to her temples. "Tell the ogre to knock it off," she said.
I smiled and handed her a glass of orange juice. She accepted it impassively and drank it all. "What's in this? It tastes odd."
"B-Complexes. Quite a few of them, in fact. You need it."
She looked at me, nodded. "I should leave now," she said.
"I don't think so."
"What do you mean, 'You don't think so?' You told me to leave, isn't that enough? Why do you keep coming back to it, Shardik? Just let me be."
"P'nyssa. Brieanna Flanders would not let me kill myself, or have you all forgotten that little incident in Pendor's recent past? I'm not about to sit around and let you try the same stunt, for equally stupid reasons."
She stared out the window to her right, looking out over the ocean. "When your father kicks you out of the house, what do your brothers and sisters think of you?"
"Depends on the individuals. Look, Nyss, to be honest, I don't understand why we argue over something as stupid as paper."
"Because you're disorganized. I can't work with that kind of disorganization. Your notes are a perfect example. I mean, how am I supposed to know that the genecode for enzyme 5054 starts in the green notebook, but you scribbled the RNA code for it on the flap of the red notebook?"
"You're not. I get ideas at random, and they go onto the nearest notebook or surface, not necessarily the best place for them." I paused, and said, "Did you really want to kill yourself?"
She looked away and said, in a small voice, "Yes."
"Still want to?"
"What's the difference?"
"I changed my mind. That's all. Look, if this is over, I'd like to go."
"If you want." She took that as a 'yes,' rose and headed for the door. I walked behind her and as the door opened I said, "Nyss..."
She turned. I don't know why, don't ask me, but as she did I was filled with this crazy idea. We weren't far enough apart to be social, weren't close enough to be intimate: dangerous space. I had two choices: back off or advance. The first was unacceptable, so I took two steps towards her, backed her up against the hallway wall and pressed my lips to hers. She struggled for a few seconds, then I released her, backed away into that dangerous space again. She looked at me, her expression impossible to read, then turned and ran for the SDisk. There was a flash and she vanished.
The next day I spent cleaning up Alpha and, much to my surprise, having Halloran and Dave hypertext everything I'd ever written. After a few hours of that I returned back the Castle, stepping out on the outdoor SDisk and taking the long way home, swimming up through the underwater exchange SDisk and coming up in the dolphin pool, getting out and grabbing a towel. Ress was standing there. "Hi," I said, cheerfully.
M'Ress looked at me with some faint amusement in her whiskers, and said "I think you should check out your home, Ken."
"Whyfor?" I asked.
"Oh, I think you'll find it amusing."
I shook my head and dried off as I did so. I dropped down two stories and headed for my domicile. I opened the door.
Inside, the lights were off, but the sun was still out and it's diffused light filled the room. In profile, I saw someone sitting outside on the porch, a tall glass of something faintly yellow on the table. A Tindal, and I knew who it was. "Dr. Traken?" I asked.
She turned her head towards me and said, "You didn't call me that yesterday, why start now?"
I crossed the distance, walked out onto the porch and sat opposite her. "Okay," I said, "P'nyssa it is."
"Why not just, 'Nyss?'"
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Why did you kiss me yesterday?"
"Because... I don't know. Because you're so pretty? Because I care about you? How about, because it was simply the right thing to do, and I did it?"
"Do you care about me?"
"Hell, yes, I care about you. Despite the fact that you've been one of the biggest pains in my ass in recent weeks, I do care about you. You're still one of my daughters. You're still a whole person."
There was something distinctly different about her demeanor. "Ken..." She stopped. Then, "I'm sorry."
"For being such a bitch. I don't like losing control, not for a second, not even to Shardik. I'm sorry for losing control in the worst way. I'm even sorry for messing up your notes the way I did."
"Don't be, about the last part. I spent today organizing my notes the way you had been trying. I even got a good laugh when I saw you trying to hyperlink two texts together that had to be seven references apart."
"I did?" she said, eyes wide. "Which ones?"
"There was one on Drexler and one on genecode visualization that just do not go together, and you had tried to make two links between them."
"They looked like they belonged together."
"Trust me, they don't."
"See? I can't work like that."
"Maybe... Maybe they do go together, and I just never meant for them to originally. Maybe we can get something to work by combining the two. But that's why my work is so disorganized, really. Because by scanning the notes, I sometimes get these crazy ideas that work."
She looked at me again, and said, "I need to ask you one more..." She stopped and stared out to sea for awhile, then said, "Two more questions."
"Can I come back and work for you?" There was a hopeful, childlike gleam in her eye.
She nodded. "I understand."
She was quiet for a while, so I asked, "And the second question?"
"There are a few reasons why I shouldn't ask this. I mean, you are my father, and Vatare', and, well..."
"P'nyssa, ask me your question."
"Would you kiss me again?"
I rose from my seat and walked around the table and leaned over her. She tilted her head upwards and I kissed her again. Her thin black lips opened and her soft tongue stroked against my teeth. I responded in kind, my tongue meeting hers. It was nice to be kissing her like this, but I felt odd. This wasn't the lust-filled attraction I usually feel with someone new, the intense infatuation with learning a new response, getting a new smile.
As we kissed I reached down and ran my hands over the material of her blouse, and she reached up and wrapped her tens around my head and neck. What was different was that she was after me, not the other way around. Or maybe it just wasn't reciprocated. I don't know. But as my hands strayed over her hardened nipples poking through her clothing I knew this wasn't a bribe or ploy to get into my good graces; whatever her motive, she was turned on.
It felt... familiar. I liked it, and I liked her. Her ten came loose from around my neck and strayed down, over my chest and between my thighs, caressing my hardening cock through my clothes as I caressed her nipples. Trying to drop a hint or two, I undid a couple of buttons on her blouse and reached in, ruffling her fur as I caressed her breasts.
She pulled away from the kiss and said "Stand up." I did. She reached down with both hands and undid the buttons of my fly, my erection springing free into the open air. "P'nyssa..." I said.
"What?" she asked, looking up with an evil grin.
"Someone could see us. We should go inside."
"Mm-mm," she hummed negative as she slowly lowered her head to my groin and licked the head of my cock with her tongue. She took the head into her mouth, and I felt the wetness surround me. She had my undivided attention, and I responded with a groan. She took as much of my penis into her mouth as she could, sucking gently. She seemed a little awkward, but I gratefully took every little bit of friction she was willing to give.
Her sucking was wonderful. The sunlight streamed down just outside the porch, and in the bright daylight her dark blue fur developed hints of gold streaks, highlights that were just too much. I reached down and ran my fingers through her hair, feeling the soft sensuality of it. I traced my fingers lightly over her large elfin ears, tickling the little hairs that sprouted out along the trailing edges, and the short fur on both sides as I explored the nook between her ear and her scalp. She held very still, idly sucking my cock without any back-and-forth, and I could feel her throat and her tongue stroking me.
After a while, she stopped, and leaned back in the chair. "What's wrong?" I asked, my erection sporting from my pants.
She smiled apologetically and said, "My mouth is tired."
"Then why don't I do something nice for you?" I said, getting down on my knees and undoing the buttons of her blouse. She helped me rid her of the shirt and she tossed it over the side. I bet anyone playing down in the lagoon must have found that amusing. She had small, slightly droopy breasts with tiny nipples poking out from her rich fur. I leaned up against her and took one in my mouth. She hummed with pleasure as I licked her nipple, caressing it with my tongue and teeth. With my left hand I idly stroked under her skirt, not really concentrating on what I was looking for. I spent a lot of time on one nipple, and she wrapped her tens around my head as I licked and sucked. Her breathing became harder, more pronounced as I licked her, and she whispered, "Father..."
I looked up, smiling. That word didn't bother me anymore. "Fuck me," she said. I stood up and held down my hand. She took it and stood. She started to walk inside, but I took her mitten firmly and shook my head 'No.' She canted her head to the side quizzically, and I put my hands about her waist and turned her around so she was facing away from me. I walked her to the edge of the porch and placed one of her mitts about the railing. She placed the other firmly on the other side, and I pulled her hips away from the railing somewhat. I reached around her and untied her skirt, letting it fall to the floor. She wore calf-high white leather boots of the western type, and I found them immensely attractive. I approached her from the rear, sliding my cock between her legs but not into her. I put one hand on the outside of her mittens and stroked back and forth, my hard erection sliding wetly against her sex.
"Put it in," she breathed. I pulled back a little further, and with an awkward jab I found her vagina and slid my cock home. She gave a small peal of pain, and she said, breathing hard, "I forgot... forgot to tell you... I've never... never been with a man... before."
That stopped me in my erotic tracks. "What?" I said loudly.
"No," she said, "Don't stop. Please. Don't stop." I fought between my desire to stop and find out what this was all about and my desire to make love to her out here in the open. I decided on the second and slowly slid my hips back. With an easy thrust I slid my cock into her again. She groaned and pushed back to accept my cock all the way into her.
I was still befuddled. A virgin? She must be, no, she is thirty years old. I thought she had children! I shook my head in confusion.
Fortunately, neither she nor my cock was quite so confused. I found that comforting as I thrust in and out of her, slowly and gently feeling her flesh clamp down around my cock with every stroke, exploring her unique and wonderful pussy. I made love to her there, and she leaned against the pipe railing, her hair out in the direct sunlight glinting wonderfully. I took my hands from the railings and as I stroked her I caressed her nipples.
"Ken..." She said, quietly, "I'm going to come, I can feel it, oh please don't stop, please fuck me more, please," and I did as asked, feeling the fur of her buttocks strike my naked hips with every thrust, sliding my hands down to her hips to give me more leverage, making love to this fem who just yesterday was my nemisis. It really was love, and I pushed on, and she dropped her head down, completely out of control as she shuddered and bucked with her orgasm. That was all the clue I needed, finally giving release to my own needs and coming deep inside her, releasing my come down into her body, coming in this shuddering, screaming orgasm that clamped my eyes shut and made me hold on for dear life.
And then it was over. I shook my head a few times and looked down at her. I reached down to help her up from the railing and turned her around. She willingly let me lead her back to her chair, and I vaguely remember asking Dave for two more lemonades. The AI gracefully put them on the table. We sat, breathing hard for a while, eyes closed (at least, mine were). Finally I said, "Why didn't you tell me?"
She lolled her head up to look at me and said, "Didn't seem important."
"Did you want me, in particular, to take your virginity like that?"
She shook her head. "No, not in particular. It just... seemed right, at the moment." She smiled. "I'm not a virgin, not really. I've got three daughters, all by artsem. And I have had fem lovers; my youngest daughter, P'maya, is being raised by Nilinda Kixi." I nodded, curious as to her reasons for choosing such an unusual arrangement, but I relaxed a little further nonetheless. A repeat of Ember's little obsession I did not need. Still, Ember had been so sweet and charming about it.
"You're still on probation," I said, picking up my lemonade and taking a big swallow.
"I know," she said, picking up her glass as well. "But I think I'll get over it."