Two years of training. Hundreds of hours in class. Thousands of practice encounters. She knew the language, understood the methods of exchange, modeled her clothing on the local mores. She thought she had come fully prepared.
But Terra was even more than Fynith had anticipated. She felt overwhelmed by the press of bodies, the density of voices, the volume of the city. And the smell was almost more than she could bear. Especially in this assignment. There were, it seemed, Terrans who cared little for their personal appearance or their odor. She wrinkled her nose constantly even as the people surged in on her, asked to talk to her, demanded her attention.
She looked over at Giola, the Tindal male who was fielding the latest round of questioning that they were to endure during their travels here among the Terrans known as "fandom." Their mission was to try and make zealots out of these people, to talk to the segment of the Terran population most prepared to understand the Pendorian point of view. If the last few weeks were any indication, the military and political branches were not.
Giola was grinning from ear to impressive ear as he told a story about the Day of the Stars. It was his story to tell and he told it well.
"Nobody had told us when it was going to happen. We had never seen a starry night in all the years that we'd been on Pendor. We knew what stars were, of course. We knew that Pin-- that's our sun-- was a star, and that somewhere, beyond some veil that covered our corner of the universe, the sky was full of distant stars, because there were books in the library that told us so. Some of us had tried to imagine it, so there were paintings and drawings of a starry sky, but none of us were really ready for it.
"And then, one day, they were just there. You would think that chaos would break out, like in that Asimov novel, 'The Fall of Night,' but really, nothing of the sort happened. People were surprised and ran to their AIs to ask, but the AIs just said, 'Those are stars. We have emerged from the darkness and are now in the real universe.' Well, we didn't know what that meant but we learned quickly."
"And nobody was afraid?"
"What is there to be afraid of?" Giola said, taking a drink of water before continuing. "I know there were people who were concerned. We had been immune to attack, to outside influence, to change, while we were in that... wherever we were. But if we don't survive the kind of change that you people go through, then we don't deserve to survive at all. We have to be just as resilient as Terrans are, now that we're free to make the same mistakes you people are."
A man in the front row stood up and said, "Thank you for coming to this afternoon's panel. I know you have a million questions more, but our guests must have a chance to rest and to enjoy the convention just as much as you do. Let's have a round of applause for Giola and Fynith."
The sound washed over Fynith, making her heart race. She tried to smile and not make it frightening to the audience, but she felt that somewhere down inside she was failing miserably. Giola stood and bowed, and she followed his example, as the audience shuffled out.
He was soon at her elbow. "Fynith? Are you okay?"
"I'm tired," she sighed. "I'm sorry if I fell down on you there, Giola, but I can't help it. I'm not dealing with the crowds very well."
"You also didn't get enough sleep last night. K'Faor told me to keep a close eye on you and it seems that he was right. You're trying too hard and dealing with too much. You're going to bed when we get back to the room."
She didn't argue as he led her back to the elevators and to her own room. Once inside, he dumped her into her own bed, drew the covers over her form. "Rest. I've got to find Faor. I'm sure he's thriving on this stuff, but you're not."
"'Kay," she mumbled. "Thanks, Giola."
She awoke four hours later, her stomach growling painfully. The sun had set some time ago. "Athena?" she whispered into the dark and empty room.
"Here, Fynith. Are you feeling better? I'm monitoring lower levels of physical stress in your body."
"You'd tell me that if you thought it would lower the stress, wouldn't you?"
"If necessary. I don't think it's necessary in this case because it is simply true. Do you feel better?"
Fynith stretched. She did. Four hours hardly qualified as the proverbial catnap, but it had done wonders for her. "I do. I would like to eat. And I need a shower."
"Shower first," the AI responded, "and I will lead you to some food. I have advised the other members of the team that you are awake and feeling recovered. I should advise you that the costume ball is beginning in just under half an hour; it will be acceptable if you are late in order to eat. Sandra would like to know if you would like her company at dinner."
"Tell her yes, or let me tell her."
A whisper sailed through her mind, a signal that she was being connected to another. "Sandra? I would like company."
She felt more than saw the other fem's smile. "Meet me in the lobby, then, and we'll use the hotel's restaurant again. I like being visible in here. The idea of going to an outside restaurant frankly scares me, however."
"Me too. See you in fifteen minutes, Terran."
"Good. See you then, Fynith."
The warmth of the shower threatened to seduce her into being late, and she loathed finally turning the water off. She also missed the pleasure of an airmat drying room; she survived with a lot of towels, an oversized blow dryer that threatened to blow a circuit breaker somewhere in the hotel, and clothes that would cover the greater part of her hygienic errors.
She found the restaurant without Athena's help, and found Sandy sitting alone in a booth. The human fem waved her over. Fynith found herself admiring Sandy's ability both to attract attention and to be completely discreet.
Sandy's humanity allowed her to walk anywhere without anyone knowing she was a Pendorian. On the other hand, her Asian features made her exotic here in the American deep south. A knee-length skirt of blue checks and a shapeless white sweater hid whatever form might be underneath, but her size alone made it clear that she was a healthy example of her species, never mind the utter clarity of her features. Thin eyebrows and dimples when she smiled completed the image, and simple light-beige moccasins over ankle-high socks revealed more than they hid. Her hair, long and black, descended down her back from a loosely tied topknot.
Fynith earnestly wondered if Sandy was something other than entalie'.
"Hi!" Sandy said as she slid into the uncomfortable bench-like seats that lined the wall. "You're looking much better. You're looking at me!"
"Is it that obvious?"
"Always," Sandy said. "And I would, too, if I weren't involved and my friend weren't quite so jealous," she said, answering Fynith's unspoken question. She sighed. "Maybe it's time to call it off. Arroch... is fun, but sometimes I wish..."
"We can't all be Shardik," Fynith said with a grin. The maxim had already grown old, but still it carried with it a certain amount of truth. "You're not in it with him for a family, are you?"
Sandy shook her head. "No way. Not him. I wouldn't trust him with a pet hamster, never mind a baby. Besides, we aren't the same species."
"That hasn't stopped some people."
"'We can't all be Shardik,'" Sandy quoted back at her. "Let's eat."
After they ordered their meals, Fynith leaned back in her chair. "I can't believe nobody has come up and started to talk to us. I even made it down here with only a few stares."
"There appears to be some sort of rule involving privacy at meals. It wasn't covered in any of the material I was given. I've seen someone freely walk up to people they know and interrupt, but not people they do not." Sandy pointed to an example.
Fynith said, "I think I'll survive one more day, but I'm not sure I want to put up with more of this."
Sandy grinned. "I think you'll manage to find something to keep your attention."
Their meals arrived and they hurriedly wolfed down their portions. Fynith had heard someone on the European team mention that they frequently had to order double because the meals were small over there. For a human, that seemed sensible. Fynith admitted that if it weren't for the nanochine in their bloodstreams, the meals they were being served here in America would have been overwhelming. It was clear to her that this was one of the main reasons for the sheer number of excessively heavy Terrans.
The masquerade was, as predicted, crowded and hot. Fynith was pleased to note that it didn't smell quite so bad-- maybe the people who attended the masquerade were different from those in the gaming room. She had passed by there this morning and nearly gagged on the scent of so many unwashed bodies.
"I'm glad to see you're awake," K'Faor said as she stood next to him.
"Sorry about that."
"I don't want one of my people to get the million mile stare on my watch, yes? Please be more careful. If you start to fade the way Giola described to me you must back off and rest."
"After Giola forced you into bed," he said.
She nodded, then turned her attention to the masquerade. The purpose of this gathering appeared to be a contest for costumers, and Fynith had to admit that there were a number of great talents in the people who brought their costumes up. One person amazed her by being her spitting image right down to the fur markings on the face, astounding because the costumer first had to have been working from photos less than a day old, and second because the costumer was identified as an amateur, someone who did costuming in addition to his daily tasks.
He admitted to the master of ceremonies to having the costume completely made up but for the coloring, and the facial shape was achieved by the delicate rearrangement of foam inserts and the shaping of the underwire that held the head together. Still, Fynith found the head to be one of the most artfully done portions of the costume-- it really did look exactly like her own. He must have worked from photographs taken at last night's event.
"Is Representative Fynith in the audience?"
The announcer's words caught her off guard. She looked up just as he spotted her. Apparently a lot of people were looking in her direction, marking a clear line towards her. "I'd just like to see how accurate this costume is. Could you come up here and stand next to, um, your clone?"
Fynith trembled at the idea of being in front of so large an audience, but the invitation was something she could hardly afford to turn down. She rose from her chair and, trying to put her best smile on, climbed the steps to the stage and took a stand right next to the costumer. A massive round of applause broke out from the crowd, and she wondered if it was really like looking in a mirror to stand face-to-face with the costumer. She turned and looked.
The eyes were disturbing since they didn't move. They were also the wrong color. And the face was so still. She could never have found this fur suit attractive. Still, it was a decent likeness. "I hope you win."
"Lindo!" the costumer replied, surprising her with even a word of Quen. She grinned and decided it would not be inappropriate to hug him. She felt him stiffen through the material of his fitted suit, but he was gracious about it all the same. The crowd appreciated the gesture, rewarding them both with another round of applause.
Fynith returned to her seat. "There," K'Faor said, "See? You can do it. You just have to find the right venue, yes."
"I guess," Fynith replied. She looked to her left and found an older human mel looking at her. He was clearly in his latter years; slightly portly and with a well-trimmed white beard that suggested the myth of the gift-bringer that Americans had. He smiled and waved, and she waved back tentatively.
Her twin only came in second in the amateur contest, although given the quality of the competition that was no small detail. The work that had gone into some of the costumes she had seen that evening was incredible; she again marveled at the human capacity for imagination and wonder.
She left the masquerade and wandered out into the main lobby area of the hotel. This appeared to be the gathering spot late at night for people who had no other particular purpose. They were clothed in all manner of garb and most of them were willing to leave her be. She had no purpose of her own, and so it made sense to her in some perverse way that she should be out here tonight.
She turned to find the white-bearded gentlemen who had waved to her in the masquerade. "Hi," she said softly.
"I'm sorry. Am I interrupting? You seemed to be just sitting here, and my wife and I were wondering if we could talk. To you, that is."
Fynith tried to find a smile and didn't quite succeed. She looked past the mel to see a short femhuman standing there, with a long beige skirt and a full blouse. She had the same appearance of age that the man did. "I'm afraid that I'm not much for conversation tonight."
"Oh! I'm sorry. If you're not up to it, we'll just leave you be."
"No, wait." Fynith stood up, stretching. People were watching her; it seems that these two were the first of the evening to get up the courage to come over and talk to her. Was she putting out "don't talk to me" signals? Part of her earnestly hoped so. And part of her was ashamed to admit so. "I'd actually like to have someone to talk to. I just don't know if you're interested in listening."
"My dear, I am always interested in listening," the white-haired man said. He had a mysterious, even sensual, air that Fynith would not have suspected in someone so marked with the eventual weaknesses inherent in a species without immortality. "It's my job," he continued. "My... vocation."
"If it is your job," Fynith said, "does that mean you cost money?"
The man laughed! "Yes, usually. But I am on vacation. And you would be a most ear-opening voice." He extended a hand. "Robert Deteur."
"And this is my wife, Manette."
Manette extended her hand. "Hi. It's so nice to meet you."
Fynith nodded. Both of these people had an infectious sense of pleasure to them. It wasn't just their earnest smiles, which in many cases might have put Fynith on the defensive. No, it was more their earnest and obvious pleasure at having her attention. She had the feeling, though, that they took pleasure at having anyone's attention at all.
"Shall we retire to the bar?" Robert suggested. "Sometimes it's the best place to talk, and listen."
Fynith nodded, allowing them to lead her down the broad hallway to an open area where many people were gathered. Music played somewhere in the background, not loudly. The waitress who came by their booth even as they settled gave Fynith a glance that could not have been construed as friendly, but took orders from the three of them. Having no idea what to order, she allowed Robert to order something for her.
The drink, whatever it was, came in a tall glass. It smelled strongly of alcohol, but the flavor was surprisingly sweet, like that of some soda pop she had been offered a few days before. As she drank it, she more felt than tasted the alcohol as it wended its way around her brain. Athena, she thought, make sure I don't overdo this.
I'm watching, Athena responded. And I'm letting you do this. It may be what you need. And Poppy agrees with me.
She grinned, grateful that Athena had called the Embassy counselor. "Thanks."
"To whom?" Robert asked.
"Oh," Fynith said. "Sorry. Nobody. Just thinking to myself."
"I see," Robert replied. "So, tell me why you are not in a speaking mood."
Fynith took a deep breath, and suddenly her tension all came flowing out. Her fear of failure, her claustrophobia, her fear of not being so close to the medical resources of her homeworld. The press of bodies, the smell, the sheer relentless pace of life on Terra that threatened to overwhelm her.
"It is a lot to bear," Robert admitted. "Not many people do it well. Those who do it especially poorly tend to end up in my office." He grinned, reached out a hand and touched her own. "But you are actually holding up quite well. And it is just for a little while. In a few days you will be back in the compound with your own kind."
"I know that," Fynith said. "It isn't the long-term that I'm worried about. It's the daily things. How can I go on working with people like you when I'm so afraid?"
"That is not something your computers took into account when they assigned you to this mission. I think you will have to learn to accept it as much as we do. Is there something that could make you feel unafraid?"
Fynith looked at her glass. Another drink? she asked Athena.
Robert signaled the waitress, who soon brought another drink. "I would not want you to get too drunk, my dear."
"I'll be fine. If need be, I can become instantly hungover. We have a drug for that."
"That doesn't sound like a pleasant experience," Manette said.
"It's not supposed to be," Fynith said, sipping at her glass.
"You have not answered my question," Robert said. "What would make you feel unafraid?"
Fynith thought about the question, acutely aware that Robert had been examining her face the entire time that they had been talking. She wondered if her facial expressions really meant anything to him, if he were really getting anything out of watching her. "I don't know," she sighed. "I mean, this is supposed to be the world where Pendorians all came from, in one way or another, right? Why don't I feel like one of you?"
"You aren't one of us," Robert said. "You can't be. Your shape by itself prevents us from seeing you completely as we see ourselves, not that we succeed at seeing ourselves that well. And you yourself said this morning that your people are far beyond Earth in its technology. But I suspect that is not what you mean. It's more fundamental than that. Maybe you don't feel like one of us because you don't know what one of us feels like."
Fynith reached out with one hand and touched his, much as he had touched hers earlier. "Maybe not." She looked past the bar. "I was whining at dinner to a friend about how much I need to find a lover."
"Long or short term?" Robert asked.
"Both. Either. I don't know. I don't care at this point. I'm stuck with the same fifty people."
"You have six billion people to choose from," Robert said, staring at her.
"You don't seriously believe that I might find someone of interest among humans?"
"You don't seriously believe that you'll find a miracle among fifty people you've obviously already looked through far too often to be healthy?" Robert replied. "I mean, what is wrong with Manette and I, for example?"
Fynith muttered the answer under her breath. Robert prodded her. "I did not hear that."
"You're younger than I am, but neither of us can tell that."
"You're saying that we look old," Robert replied. "Yes. We do not have the advantage of your genetics; we cannot keep ourselves young indefinitely. I'm not so sure that it's a good thing that you live as long as you like. The awareness that one has so long in front of you must fill you with both a caution and dread-- caution because you're afraid to lose it, dread because you are afraid to live it."
"Do you read minds as well?" Fynith said. Robert had just laid her life out bare in front of the three of them. If it weren't for the artificial courage instilled in her by the alcohol, she may have already run and hid.
"Not as easily as I read bodies. Yours is not so different after all. Do me a favor. Remember your favorite place." He watched her closely. "Now, imagine what that place would look like with all the colors backwards." He chuckled. "You see, you aren't so different from us. Your eyes track in different directions when your are imagining and when you are remembering. The same is true of humans. I watch that as much as I watch anything else, and it gives me clues about you."
"I guess it would help if I were naked."
He laughed harder. "No, if anything that would make it harder. I would spend too much time leering to actually do any thinking."
"You are, um, making passes at me, aren't you?"
"Such a perceptive dear," Manette said. "Of course. We would love to invite you back to our room. But you've drunk too much alcohol now for us to do that. We would be taking advantage of you in your inebriated state."
"I am not drunk. Not so much that I can't decide for myself if I want to go fuck the two of you." She couldn't believe what she was saying. Had she really used that four-letter word in front of these people, after all the warnings she had had about the use of language?
"Do you?" Manette said.
Fynith paused. She weighed the pros and cons with all the care possible in her intoxicated state. "Sure." Athena gave her consent, but told Fynith that she would be alerting the rest of the team as to her state and location, just in case.
Robert took Fynith's hand and led her out of the bar. Manette followed them, taking Fynith's other hand briefly down the wider corridor, but the actual room halls were too narrow to make that comfortable. While Robert fumbled with the keys, Fynith stared at the number long enough for Athena to know where they were.
Inside, Robert turned around and took Fynith in his arms. She gasped at the sudden show of strength as he lifted her by the hips. "How shall we do this?" he asked her.
"The usual way," she said, kissing him. He didn't act at all surprised as her muzzle met his mouth. Lips and teeth parted, and her tongue met his halfway. She moaned even as lust overtook any sense she may have had. His body was warm against hers; human and threatening against hers; aged and yet strong against hers. The contrasts made her feel wild. They made her want these two people.
Manette came up behind her and pressed herself against Fynith's back, her hands reaching down to caress Fynith's waist and buttocks. Fynith felt a bulge against her belly, a familiar one in any male. She had heard that some males had erectile problems as age crept up on them, but apparently Robert was not troubled. She wanted to see it, know about it, know about him.
And he was so willing! This was not what she had come to expect from humans; even the males, legendary for their promiscuity, were reticent when asked directly. Robert's kisses told her that he was not a typical human. He seemed to actually enjoy her fur. Even his smell, lightly masked by some musky perfume, thrilled her.
Maybe it was just the alcohol. She didn't care. She was just happy to find a place where she could lose herself, where she could stop pretending to be something else, and just let these two people take care of her.
Her hand found Robert's bulge through his pants. She wanted to see the rest of him. She fumbled with the clasp and zipper, not at all familiar with how those worked. "Let me," Robert said.
He sat down on the bed. "Manette, get the lights, would you?" The woman standing behind released her and went to the wall, lowering the lights to make the room barely visible. She didn't know what to do as she watched Robert take off his boots and then his black denim pants, tossing them aside. He wore black undershorts beneath.
Manette, meanwhile, pulled the lacy black and purple outfit over her head, exposing a heavyset body underneath. She had tattoos on her belly and above her right breast, and her skin was pale and flawless. Robert smiled up at Fynith. "So, are we geriatric cases so bad after all?"
"No," Fynith gasped softly. "Not at all." She fell onto the bed, kissing Robert again. She liked his kisses. They weren't shy. She liked the feel of his hands as they roamed over the floor-length dress she had worn, pausing to admire her ass on the way down.
Manette's hands pushed her dress up over her waist, and soon delicate fingers were teasing at the material of her panties. She lifted her butt into the air, allowing the woman to pull them down. The cool air touched her butt, making her smile.
Her hands had found Robert's cock through his undershorts. She reached past the waist band and found the welcoming pipe of flesh, fully erect and waiting for her. "So," she whispered to him, "would you be willing to trust this thing to these teeth?" She grinned at him, showing her full row of sharp felines.
"Do I have a choice?" he asked.
Instead of answering him, she rose up onto her knees and pulled her dress up over her head. Crawling back along the length of his body, she leaned down and took his cock in her furred hands, lifting it into the air. It was a thick beast of a penis, although not very long, and it had a healthy supply of foreskin. That surprised Fynith because she had viewed, along with all the team, some nude materials, and had been led to believe that the majority of American men were circumcised, a strange traditional procedure in which the protective covering of the sheath was cut away.
Her surprise lasted barely an instant, after which she descended on his erection, taking the length of it into her muzzle. She buried her nose in his pubic hair, resisting the urge to sneeze as a few found their way inside.
The bed behind her creaked slightly as Manette joined them. The warmth of her mouth startled Fynith for just a second as it touched her ass, then eased between her parted legs. Manette's hand found her tail and lifted it up, giving her a good view of Fynith's most private region. A tongue licked at her cunt. Fynith moaned, trying to keep a balance between the attention she was paying Robert and the desire she had to just lie back and let Manette pleasure her.
Robert made the decision easy for her by sliding out from underneath. He held one finger to his lips, a gesture she thought meant only to be quiet. Robert clearly meant for it to mean something else. He maneuvered around the bed, joining his wife.
Fynith was now lying face-down on the bed, her ass in the air, more than just slightly drunk, and two humans she had just met only two hours earlier about to work over her backside. She closed her eyes and let it happen. Manette's tongue had been teasing her cunt with delicate strokes for as long as she had been mouthing Robert's cock. It was gone now, and instead Fynith felt Robert take his place behind her, the broad mass of his body warm through the fur of her thighs. His cock pressed up against her wet opening and slid easily into her. Robert let out a satisfied sigh.
His cock stretched her more than she had thought it would; it had felt large in her mouth, but in her cunt it was a thick shaft that teased her as it pleasured her. "How's that?" he asked.
It took Fynith a second to register that he was addressing her. "Wonderful," she sighed, enjoying every stroke of his cock inside her body. She lay on the bed and let it happen, let this wonderfully strange human take her and give her pleasure.
And he lasted a long time. Fynith felt no need to come but instead loved the long, constant power of Robert's steady, strong fuck. Manette leaned against the wall in front of her, watching the two of them go at it, her own hands between her legs.
Robert's moans grew in volume and passion, and Fynith knew from experience that his moment was coming soon. Robert came with a groan that might have been "Yes," if it had had any words at all in it. She didn't know. She didn't care.
Robert slid out of her and lay down on the bed beside her, gathering her in his arms. "Thank you!" he said, cheerfully, almost as if she'd just given him a piece of candy or a small gift.
"You're welcome," she said, kissing him again.
A moan caught their attention. She looked up to see Manette still furiously playing with herself. Robert sat up with a mischievous smile, reached out and took his wife's arms by the wrists, and pulled them away from her cunt. "Fynith, if you would?"
Fynith grinned, game for just about anything right now. But she was also in no hurry. She kissed Manette's mouth, then her breasts. They were quite large, larger than her own by a great deal. She enjoyed kissing and licking them, getting a heartwarming reaction out of Manette as she did so. She admired the five-pointed star tattoo on Manette's skin.
Then she lowered her head to the other woman's cunt and began licking her in earnest from the start. Manette had clearly already been close to climax; just a little more might have pushed her over the edge. But the delay and the change from fingers to tongue would make it take longer, frustrating her.
And Manette's cunt was surprisingly sweet-- sweeter, even, than most of the Pendorians she knew. She wondered what it was about Manette that allowed for that to happen. She would ask later-- right now, her task was to lick, suck, and tease that tiny clitoris until Manette came.
Come she did, with a long and loud moan that must have been heard in the room next to theirs. Her whole body shook with the effort, and when she was done she pulled Fynith up to her mouth and kissed her.
Fynith's body was already warm with Robert's fuck and the lust of Manette. As the two humans took possession of her body once more, turning her onto her back, and both of them dived between her legs, Fynith thought for a brief moment that she had found a paradise. The two would switch off, each tasting her for a while, then giving the other a turn. Robert's rough beard gave a hot contrast to Manette's delicate features. It was Manette's tongue that made the strongest effort, stroking over Fynith's point of pleasure with intense, precise strikes.
She would turn Fynith over to Robert at just the wrong times, just when Fynith felt she was closing in on a climax that was too elusive tonight. She suspected the alcohol might have something to do with it. But Manette would then take over again, pushing Fynith, teasing her. A loud, Felinizi growl filled the room, Fynith's growl, as Manette gave her what she wanted. A star of lust burst in Fynith's belly. Pleasure overtook her. She whimpered.
"Oh, Fah!" she moaned softly as Manette rose away from her cunt. "That was wonderful!"
"I'm glad you liked it!" Manette said with that same eerie smile that Robert had. "You're very beautiful when you come."
Fynith laughed. "Nobody ever told me that before!"
"It's true," Manette assured her. "Don't ever let anyone tell you differently."
Fynith grinned even as she tried to catch her breath. "What time is it?"
"Nearly one," Robert said, glancing at the clock on the bedstand.
Fynith thought for a few moments. "I must be getting back to my room. I have to get some sleep! My people will want me to be awake for the closing ceremonies tomorrow."
"Of course, dear," Manette cooed softly. "Do you want one of us to help you back there?"
Fynith paused for a moment even as she found her panties and began pulling them on. She shook her head. "No, thanks, really. You've both been very kind. But I really have to get back." She wasn't sure why she felt such an urgent need to get back. It wasn't quite a desire to get away from these two, although that may have been it.
They were looking at her with concern. "We didn't do anything to upset you, did we?"
"No, no," Fynith said. "I just really have to get back. Duty. You understand."
"I suppose I will have to," Robert said. He helped her with her slippers, and then gave her a hug. "Goodbye, Fynith. You were wonderful. I will not forget you."
"Nor I," said Manette, closing the hug. For one brief moment, Fynith felt torn. They were such warm people. She wanted to stay. She had to go.
"Thank you both," Fynith said, giving each a brief kiss. "I'll see you tomorrow if you are still at the event."
"We will be," Manette assured her.
Fynith began walking back to her room, but by the time she reached the hallway she was almost running. She tore into the room and threw herself into the bed, pulling the covers up to her ears, listening to K'Faor in the next bed, breathing softly. Her mind was racing like light in a fiberoptic delay loop. Thoughts flew so fast she couldn't grab any of them. She moaned softly, wondering if she would ever get to sleep.
Still wondering, she did anyway.
"Enjoy yourself last night?" K'Faor's voice cut through her slow crawl to consciousness. She opened her eyes and accepted the glass of water he held in his hand. When she drained it, he produced another one just as readily. After going through four glasses, she needed to retreat to the toilet.
Through the door, he asked, "Fynith?"
She opened the door to look at him through her bleary eyes. "I'm fine, Faor. Just... hung over."
"Did you enjoy your tryst last night?"
She thought about it. "I don't know yet. I think I did. I can't explain why I don't know yet. Maybe because it was just sex. I liked the people I did it with, but I'm not sure if I'd do it with them again. Maybe one-on-one would be better. Everything was so terribly rushed last night." She sounded disjointed even to her own ears.
"Sounds like it's still rushed this morning. Get cleaned up, yes? And join the team for breakfast. You've been acting strange the past day or so. We'd like to make sure you're well."
Fynith smiled, although K'Faor couldn't see it. "Me too."
She showered and, wearing more traditional Felinzi garb, did finally reach the team for breakfast. Giola, Sandy, and Faor were all glad to see her, and she was, she admitted, glad to see them. They were the eye of her storm. She sighed as she sat down next to Sandy, who looked up at her with a smile. "I told Arroch off last night."
"You what?" Fynith asked.
"He called. He was going all kitten-eyes at me, and I just couldn't take it anymore. This job is important to me, but he wants me to go back on the next ship. It isn't that easy and he knows it." She shook her head. "I'm available if you are."
"I don't know if I will be for long though," Fynith commented. Faor looked at her with curiosity. "I dislike to say this, Faor, because I know you enjoy it here... but I don't. The only thing that keeps me from going crazy is you three. This and the knowledge that it will end, that I will go home."
"It wasn't about those Terrans you were with last night?" Giola asked. "They didn't hurt you or anything, did they?"
"If they had, don't you think Athena would have alerted you?" Fynith said. "Not, it was not like that. They just weren't Pendorians. They were nice and friendly and all, but they weren't my people." She turned to K'Faor. "I want to go home."
He nodded. "What about the job?"
"I'll last. It's a good job, worth a lot of aire'. I'll even work with you for the next six months. But when the next starship arrives, I'm on it."
"That's all I can ask for," he said.
Sandy surprised her with a kiss on the cheek. "Six months is a good time to be edamele'. If you want."
Fynith cornered her into the booth and kissed her hard. "I want."
"Good!" Sandy whispered. "Me too."