It was very dark and very late when I finally decided to get out of bed. So far I hadn't been able to sleep, and I was getting annoyed. I finally sighed and decided to go upstairs and get myself something to drink.
I stepped carefully out of bed so as not to disturb P'nyssa, who was one of the reasons I couldn't sleep. She'd been running a fever all day, and was still hovering about 372 degrees, well over her normal 358. Since humans tend to run at about 370, her body was warmer than mine for once, and I was actually uncomfortable. I was still more worried about her, though, running 24 degrees high like that. That's dangerously high for her, it's like us running close to 400, no fun.
I walked under the access portal in the ceiling and leapt up just a touch; the antigrav tractors grabbed me and silently pushed up to the floor above. I grabbed the railing and easily hauled myself into the living room with the familiarity of movement that comes with living in the same home for years and years. I glanced outside the porch glass doors; the snowstorm was still raging as it had been when I'd gone to bed three hours earlier. It was probably the darkest night I'd ever seen on Pendor; usually we get a lot of light reflected indirectly from the other, daylit sectors. But today the blizzard had virtually grounded the castle into the protection of the mountain crater it usually floated above, and the snow blocked the passage of what light there would be.
Despite the complete darkness, I maneuvered about my home at complete ease; everything was in it's place, nothing was strewn miscellaneously about the floor; Dave had seen to that. Every night he tended to fix the place up. I guess being an Artificial Intelligence, he has a need for order. I walked over to the refrigerator and was blinded by the light inside as I searched for the orange juice. I found it and, leaving the door open for light, I found a glass and poured myself some.
When the door closed, darkness returned, but I was still comfortable. The castle was still warm and quiet, the way it usually is at ten o'clock at night. Everybody was in bed (except for the night owls, of which there were always a few, my beloved Ember among them, but that's mostly because she works in sectors where it is daytime right about now). I sat down on the couch and tried to figure out what I was going to do with my sleeplessness.
You see, one of the strictly physical reasons that P'nyssa and I get along so well in bed is that our body temperatures are comfortable to each other. P'nyssa is one of those perpetually cold people, unless it uncomfortably warm for everybody else- then she's "just perfect." Me, I tend to like something to keep me cooler than the temperatures I run at. When we sleep together, she gets a good heat source and I get a heat sink. Sounds funny, I know, but it's one of the reasons we like each other. True, she could get the effect with any human (or some of the other races), but I'm glad she picked me.
In any event, I sipped my cold drink and felt the slight temperature gradient pass through me as the heat of the room sank into the outside walls and out to the snowbound world beyond. Don't get me wrong, the house is very well insulated, but I could still feel it. Familiarity with my surroundings again.
So I sat and paused when I heard a familiar .click. from a relay installed in the ceiling coming to life. "Ken?"
I was surprised at the voice. The speaker was not Dave, but a relative of his. Still and all, Dave must be listening to this conversation, or this person would not have gotten into my bedroom. AI Jean Majors. "Hello, Jean."
"I'm sorry, but when Dave told me you were up and restless, I decided that it was time I had a little talk with you." Her words echoed strangely about the living room, and I realized that a privacy field had come on over the bedroom access. Jean did not want P'nyssa to hear this conversation. Politeness? or...
"So what's up?" I said.
"Before I say anything else, I need to tell you that I'm probably going to be violating someone's trust in this."
"Jean, are you sure that this conversation is necessary?" I asked. For an AI to tell anything told in private is like a confessor breaking silence; something serious is going on.
There was a pause. "Yes, yes I am." Another pause. "Ken, how long have you an P'nyssa been living together?"
What? "Uhm, about a hundred and sixty eight years."
"And how many kids does P'nyssa have?"
"Three, all girls. Jean, what are you talking about?"
"Hold on. When did P'nyssa have these kids?"
"Well, P'maya was born in '56, P'rose was born in '63 and P'lissane was born in '70."
"And when you met P'nyssa was in '81, wasn't it? P'lissane was 11 then if I recall, and lived with her father."
"Jean, what's the point of all this?"
"Which means that P'nyssa hasn't had a child in 183 years, right?"
"Uh, right." I said. I was starting to get the picture. But I decided to let Jean tell it to me.
"Ken, P'nyssa told me recently that she'd like another child."
I thought for a while and then said, slowly, "Okay. So what's stopping her?"
"I am?" I said, surprised.
"Yes. She's afraid that you won't approve."
"But I love children."
Dave's voice came on-line for the first time. "Yes, so long as they aren't in your home."
That stopped me. Somehow the statement struck me as true; children are great, so long as they're someone else's. But me? A father? No way, I'm not cut out for it. I can't do a 1-hour-before-dawn feeding. I can change a diaper, but only in an emergency. I've done my fair share of baby-sitting in the castle, but rarely late night or overnight.
"A fair statement," I admitted. "Jean, thank you for bringing this to my attention, but I'd like to speak with Dave alone for a moment."
"Of course," she answered.
There was a short pause and then I pointed up in the general direction of the ceiling with an accusative finger. "You knew, didn't you?"
"Yes." Was all Dave said.
"Then why didn't you tell me?"
"Because it's not my duty to, Ken, you know that. You have been an insensitive boor sometimes, you know that? And at the moment is a perfect example. Your lover for over a century and a half is pining away because something is missing from her life, something she doesn't think she can have, something I'm not sure she can have."
"And why not?"
"Because she loves you. Because she wants to stay in your bed all the days of her life, but you have your positions and your opinions and she doesn't think you'll let her have both. You have a rule that you yourself will never have children, because one viviparous child of your own would incur the jealously of all the vitroparous children you already have. Never mind that I think we're all a little more mature than that. But I think you can be a stepfather; I think the years have mellowed you to at least that point, Ken, and I want you to admit it to yourself. Promise me that you will speak with P'nyssa tomorrow."
I thought about it. It was a big change. I knew for fact that P'nyssa had TNP in her blood and couldn't get pregnant without a counter-programmed TNP-CF injection. But I could get my hands on that stuff with little or no problem.
I wandered back to the portal down to the bedroom. I was actually feeling tired. "Okay, Dave, I promise. Goodnight, please?"
"Goodnight, Ken." The field dropped. I leapt into the portal and fell slowly down the hole into my bedroom. P'nyssa stirred a little as I pulled the covers over myself and went to sleep.
The next day I arose well before P'nyssa, who was still a touch warm, and walked out of my domicile into the castle hallway. Maneuvering around the corner and past Dave's installation, I greeted everybody with a mute "G'morning" as I walked past the open meeting hall where four children played some game that only children understand and their parents watched quietly and patiently. I watched the scene for a few minutes when Ember, who turned out to be one of the parents, hailed me over. I waved and said "Too busy, gotta be on my way." She nodded and I retreated over to the indoor stepping disk. Don't use them much, mostly because I like the ritual of walking upstairs and then falling to the ring floor to use the one down by the lagoon; but not in this cold when even the river was frozen. It was record cold out, the kind of cold that occurs only once ever thirty years or so, and I decided it was time to go to someplace else, where it might be warmer.
I laughed when I thought of that. I wasn't going anyplace warmer; I was going to Cutter's, which is situated right on top of a heat vane on the outer edge of the delineated Ring; it's the equivalent of an arctic environment, complete with polar bears descended more from a rodent group than the original weasel group. Oh, there are weasel based polar large types, but they're in a different ecocenter. I stepped onto the disk.
And found myself in the large pentagonal room on the far edge, under "visitors" The other disks were reserved for "staff," and "emergency-1 and 2," and "residential." I noticed that there was nobody else in the area, so I wandered down the hallway towards what I knew was the pharmacy. Nobody stopped me; nobody questioned my right to be there. After all, if I was their gengineer, I had damn well better know what I was doing, right? I walked into the pharmacy and asked the Tindal who asked me if I need help where I could find the compound in question. He looked at me rather quizzically, but did indeed hand over my request, plus an applicator. I thanked him and wandered back towards the stepping disk. When I reached a hallway that was deserted Jean's voice interrupted my musings again. "So you're going to do it, huh?"
"Well, I'm going to take the first two steps, yes."
"You break everything down into steps, don't you?"
"Basically," I said with a smile.
"Good luck, Ken."
"Thanks, Jean." I reached the SDisk room and returned home. I walked back to the commons and found Ember sitting with her four-year- old, M'Jahrl, who was fidgeting impatiently. "Hi."
"Hello, Father," she said quietly. The child growled a similar greeting in Felinz. I smiled and growled back at him. He seemed pleased with that.
"Can I ask you a question, Ember?"
"Sure," she said with conviction.
"What's it like to have a kid in the house?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, starting from the beginning, is it really worth the effort it seems to be to actually have a child in the house? To deal with the feedings and the changings, and then the curiosity and the rivalries and the fights and the growing up?"
"You should know better than I do about that," she said.
"But I don't. Every one of you came out if the tank with a basic set of programming and a mature body. Not a child. Not like your little monster there." The kid had managed to weasel his way out her arms and was now careening around the commons with a small model airplane. "I know every one of you from the inside out, but I know nothing about pre-adolescents."
"What about Donna?"
"Don't mention that, please? Besides, I've helped, I've done my fair share of sitting."
"I don't know what to tell you. I think it's worthwhile enough, I've done it five times, which means I've wrapped up about fifty years of my life in it. Besides, who are you planning on having children with? I thought you'd decided not to do that sort of thing."
"Not my decision this time, sweetheart. P'nyssa's."
Ember's eyes widened. "She has three, doesn't she?"
"You've met them all, I thought."
She nodded. "They're nice people. Come to think of it, I've even slept with Lisa."
I smiled. "Why does that not surprise me?" I sighed and said "Okay, thanks anyway." I rose again.
Jahrl had managed to disappear. She shook her head and said "Well, I don't really know what to say. Except that you know I love you both, and I hope everything good comes of this."
"Make it a rumor, sweetheart."
"You know I will," she said. I leaned over and kissed her on the muzzle. She pulled me down and kissed me, her tongue meeting mine. "Remember, I live just down the hallway."
"I can't forget. I see you everyday. And sometimes I still have to babysit Jahrl while you stay up all night with a sick AI."
She smiled and said "See ya."
P'nyssa was awake when I arrived home. "Hi!" she said when I walked in.
I waved and smiled widely as I grabbed a cup of tea and sat down with her at the table. I pulled her close and nuzzled her. She replied warmly, but only half-heartedly, and I could tell she was still feeling under the weather, not that the weather outside was all that pleasant.
"I have something for you," I said.
"What?" she asked.
"Give me your ten." She extended a tentacle across the table and I ruffled some of the fur on the upper quarter to find the skin underneath. I reached into the jacket I wore and removed the injector. I reached again for her when she pulled her ten back and said "What is it?"
"I'll let you know after I've put it in."
"No. I want to know now. You know I don't want anything for my cold; when I get a fever it burns itself out quicker if I don't take anything."
"Then this is fine for you."
"What is it?" she demanded.
"Nyss, you trust me, right? This has nothing for your cold. It has nothing do with your fever. Trust me?"
She looked at me through questioning eyes, then extended her ten again. I quickly inserted the injector and squeezed. There was a momentary .paf. as the pressure pushed the fluid suspension into her arm. "Fine. Now what was it?"
"Tindal Nano-Proph Counter Factor."
"TNP-CF" I repeated.
"Because last night I had a long conversation with an old friend who made me realize that you haven't had a child in over a hundred and fifty years, and apparently you've been talking at the hospital about children. Don't blame you, after all, you do work in pediatrics. So?"
"Ken, I don't want kids."
"I..." She paused. "I do. But, what about you?"
"What about me? I can handle it. Come on, I can do twenty years standing on my head."
"Sure I can. That's not the problem."
"Then what is a problem?" she asked.
"Have you thought about an appropriate father?"
"Waitaminute. What about you? Do you think you can handle having children in this house?"
"Sure. We could open up the doors to your old apartment. It's basically unchanged in the past hundred years. Wouldn't be surprised to find cobwebs."
Dave's voice came over the speaker. "There are no cobwebs in the room next door." He sounded slightly miffed.
"Oh well, blows that theory. But seriously, we could open up the doors and turn the room into a nursery. It's not that bad."
"You're really enthusiastic about this, aren't you?"
"Yes! Yes, let's do it."
"It could take you out of all the things you like to do, you know. Going to concerts, bars. Having nights with other people, at least for a while. It could take up every last minute of your free time. I hope you don't have a project going at Alpha."
"I don't. P'nyssa, you and I both know that life is what happens to you while you're making other plans. Let's be serious about this."
"I am being serious. Very serious. Are You Sure?"
I stopped, and in a very quiet and sober voice I said "Yes."
"Then I know who I want the father to be."
"Who is?" The name was only vaguely familiar.
"He was a fellow student back when I was studying my psionics."
"Not a father of your other three, was he?"
"No, no. Why?"
"Don't you think you might want to call your children and tell them their going to be sisters, again?"
P'nyssa paused for a second and said, "After the test proves positive."
It was three days before P'nyssa's fever broke, but we spent those days in bed while P'nyssa called in to Cutter's and told Jean that she might not be available for a few days, possibly much longer. Jean was very polite about the request, saying she understood and she hoped that P'nyssa would return as soon as possible but that it was also likely that the staff could handle everything even if their chief of pediatrics was out for a while, ect., ect. We decided to not push our luck, and even though we had a few visitors in those days, few people mentioned the rumor that had to be spreading like wildfire.
In any event, five days after this whole thing started P'nyssa and I awoke, ate and got into the shower. I was washing her back, scrubbing under the fur to get the sweet-smelling soap up against her pelt when she reached around and slowly began to stroke my cock. I hissed in pleasure and heard her chuckle. "Like that, huh?" she said.
"Wonderful," I replied, reaching forward to stroke her between her legs and up the crease of her ass. She giggled, and when I ran my fingers over her clit she crooned thankfully. I pressed up against her, my cock protruding between her thighs, pressed down against her ass. Having tens instead of arms is both a disadvantage and an advantage for Tindals; while she can't lift nearly as much weight as I can, there is no such thing as an awkward position. She easily found my cock and seized it with her mittens, stroking it intently. I leaned against her shoulder and groaned. I reached around her and slowly stroked her sex in response. Using my fingers is a half-measure for me; I wanted to get down there and use my tongue, but she kept right on stroking me, coaxing me further and further towards orgasm. Her other tentacle reached around behind us both and slowly began to caress my ass. She knows how that drives me crazy, and slowly the combination drove me over the brink, and I came in a wonderful orgasm, shooting out onto the shower floor and her fur.
I collapsed to my knees, both in momentary exhaustion and in a desire to get at her cunt. She still faced away from me and with both hands I parted the cheeks of her ass, probing with my tongue to get at the tiny brown hole hidden there. Her fur tickled gently against my cheeks as I traced my way from her asshole towards her cunt, licking between her labia to part them. I upended my self to get a better angle and slowly I began to lick her cunt, avoiding her overly sensitive clit and licking around it, over the hood and between the lips. She crooned softly, and I began to lick a little harder when she said "wait."
"What?" I said, backing away slightly.
"Use that," she said breathlessly, pointing to the showerhead.
I stood from where I was as she settled to the shower floor, leaning against the far wall which I had long ago padded with polyurethane for just such an occasion. I grabbed the shower massage and handed it to her. The massage was a blatant misuse of transporter technology; there was no hose, just a direct transporter feed somewhere in the wall. I've seen the same thing done with glassware at bars and parties; it's hard to judge how much you've drunk when this annoying little thing at the bottom fills your glass while you're not looking.
She took the showerhead and turned the dial to massage, one stream. A softly pulsing stream of water came out of it, and she directed it towards her cunt. "Hold me open," she said in a hoarse whisper. I lay down on my stomach between her legs and reached forward, parting her cunt open with my fingers. The stream of water aimed at her clit, circling it slowly. Her cunt became red, and her clit stuck out visibly as the water circled it. She groaned. I watched intently as she masturbated herself, her mouth open and her breath coming in ragged, hoarse gasps. At times she would increase the pressure on the spray, and by the time she was on her fifth orgasm, the stream had become a strong, steady flow.
She snapped it off and lay there, gasping for air and totally splayed out against the shower floor. I wiped the spray off my face. "How do you feel?" I asked. I love watching her masturbate.
"Tired. Whew. Help me up?" I did, gracefully. Somehow, I don't mind being replaced by a machine; I know that, more often than not, she prefers my tongue to the shower or vibrator. Still, I did get her these toys. We actually cleaned off this time, getting ready to go, dressed in out best traveling clothes, and headed out for the stepping disk.