There's a little temple near my home, belonging to a heretical little sect of what is ostensibly the Catholic church, but not like any of the Catholic churches I remember from when I was a younger man. I always thought that churches were supposed to be near the people they served, but this one was far in the hills of the Rocchodain Spinward ridge. A modest, cylindrical structure that actually seemed to emerge from the hillside, it had a flat roof except over the door, where a downward slope housed one of the most beautiful pieces of stained glass I have ever seen. The glow from it shone down by the unvarying sun into the space between the priest and the parish without blinding either.
That's a better metaphor for science than religion, I think.
Someone deliberately burned it down yesterday. We still don't know who. Although the temple invited people onto the scene who are investigating, we're not accustomed to hate-spawned violence like this, especially not out of sight of the almost omnipresent AIs. "Almost" being the operative word. The temple was without AI; without power, actually. As close to their god as they could get; even to get to the temple, you had to walk nearly a kilometer from the nearest Sdisk to reach it.
I rode Laboratory out to the scene of the crime- it was a short ride, although after the first hour my butt was telling me in no uncertain terms that I hadn't ridden in a long time- Ouch! But I managed to persevere long enough to reach the temple before lunch.
Almost two dozen people milled about the scorched building. Dress clearly identified two as members of the investigative team, but the rest of those there wielded hammers, saws, measuring tapes- all the tools necessary to rebuild the temple as they remembered it. I looked and saw that the stained glass window I had once enjoyed so much now lay scattered on the floor beneath its former frame. The frame, made from carefully crafted leadwork, hung down from the walls, melted and tattered under the apparently intense heat.
Someone noticed me and pointed me out to another. I saw a young boy tug on the sleeve of the priest in charge here. Like almost all Catholic priests he was both male and human. "Kennet Shardik," he called out. "What brings you out here?"
"I heard about the fire, Father. I came to see for myself the damage done." I dismounted from Laboratory's back and tied him a convenient tree at the edge of the clearing before heading up towards the activity.
"Came to gloat?" he called back as I walked towards him.
"No, sir," I replied. "I came to help. I understand that you'll only take honest sweat to rebuild your sanctuary. Well, if you can call my shoulders honest, I'm willing to put them to work for you and yours."
He looked at me suspiciously, then finally nodded. "Well, if you want to help, we can surely use it. First, we need the boards for the roof cut down to size." He pointed to a Felinzi and a human who were measuring several five-by-tens. "I think Shar and Anna can use your help the most."
"Then that's where I'll begin."
Shar and Anna turned out to be an amusing pair, really. They were very clearly upset by the destruction of the temple but managed to keep a good humor about. "It's not so bad," Shar said. "Place needed a good airing."
Anna laughed. "You just wanted an open-air church the first time we built it!"
"You were here for the original construction?" I asked Shar, surprised. He had measured out the piece he wanted for a suspension beam and set me to sawing at it.
"Yep. Long time ago."
"Are you a member of the church?" I asked.
"Not in my wildest dreams," he said. "I'm like you and probably around a quarter of the people here. Just hate to see someone else's home burn down and want to do what I can to put it back together."
I nodded. I put the saw through the beam of wood. "There you go, Anna. Five point two meters to the mil."
"Thank," she said, taking the piece and handing it up to someone up around the stone rim of the temple, who began fitting it into the circular scheme of the construction.
Her thanks sounded a little gruff to my ears. "What's with her?" I asked Shar.
"Pedon is her bioparent. She's not a member of the church, so she's here mostly 'cause she feels obligated."
"To who? Father Pedon, or to the church?"
"To her father, I guess. Why would someone who wasn't a member of the church feel obligated to it?"
I shrugged my head and went on to the next piece Shar had measured for me. "Dunno. Religion does strange things to people."
"Yes, it does, Kennet," the voice of Father Pedon interrupted my musings. That explained Anna's sudden miff; she must have seen him coming. "It succors the weak when they have nothing else, it strengthens the downtrodden when there is no strength, it gives one freedom from death."
I tried to give Pedon a smile and didn't quite succeed. "We don't have much in the way of weak and downtrodden on Pendor, Father Pedon. As for death, well, Absolom's postulate hasn't held water for over a millennia."
"Then why are you here?" he challenged. "You have often positioned yourself as an enemy of Christianity."
"An enemy of religion, perhaps. No one in particular has my enmity." I turned my attention to the next beam to be cut, scoring a corner with a small hacksaw before picking up the big manual saw to cut it to size. "I'm here, Father Pedon, because this is a place of support for those who feel they need it. I don't question the needs of others so long as those needs don't unfairly impinge upon my own." I put down the saw, placed my hands on the beam and looked at him. "I'm here because I'm angry. This is a house. God's house, even if I feel god is an illusion by those who need one bigger than themselves. It's a place where most of the people working around us come together to share something. It makes no difference to me what that sharing is. Someone burned down a home. Someone put a big hole in a Pendorian community that clearly worked." I resumed my sawing. "If nothing else, I'm here to send a message. I don't put up with crap like that."
Pedon seemed a little taken aback by my long-winded explanation, but he recovered. "Forgive me, then."
"For?" I didn't stop my back-and-forth sawing. Small flecks of wood sprayed into the air around the bite of the saw.
"For my comment when you first arrived, the one about gloating. I had no idea you felt this way. I was under the impression-"
I stopped. "That I would approve?" I snorted derisively. "I do not have much ken to faith, Father; I find my wonder in the beauty of atoms, stars, and the wonderfully complex creatures that live and swirl around me. I apply raw skepticism to anything placed in front of me with the word 'believe!' written across it." I went back to work. "Over the past eight hundred years I have seen religion falter and fade, and that's as I would expect. I'll not hide my earnest hope that we all outgrow a need for a Father bigger than us all and learn to stand up to the universe without fear or shame. But burning down the dreams of the faithful is not the way to do it."
"The dreams have not been burned. It's just a shell."
"Yes, but it's your shell, Father Pedon. You'll recover, and I'll help in that recovery. But let's be honest men, Pedon. This hurts. This is complete eeyaich." (Editor's note: "Eeyaich" was a common slang in this century. It is a slurring of the letters "E.H.," meaning "event horizon," the distance from a black hole past which nothing, not even light, may escape.)
He nodded. "It is such a shame you don't have faith, Kennet. We aren't the enemies of science. Indeed, we believe in the importance of science- God has commanded us to know everything."
"Father Pedon!" a voice called from somewhere further down the hill. "Tarim is coming!"
"Be right there!" he called back. "Excuse me, Shardik. Our glass expert is here."
"Tarim Wain?" I asked, recognizing the name. He had been the artist who had first crafted the stained glass. "I hope he can restore the damage. That was truly a lovely piece in the roof."
"I hope so too." He departed, leaving me back to continue cutting.
The morning progressed along as expected. We did a good job of getting all of the support pieces for the roof cut before nine, so by ten I found myself walking along the stone rim of the temple, fitting the pieces into place carefully. They all radiated from a centerpoint supported by a thick column of wood. Despite the fire, the original column hasn't burned very much itself, although the fire had destroyed most of the pews, the altar, and the roof.
"Go down there and check on this piece, would you?" Shar asked. "It doesn't look aligned right."
I nodded and climbed down the ladder, walking in through the front of the temple (and over the now solidified droplets of lead that once held the windows together) to the center. "It doesn't look right from here, either," I agreed. "It's a little too far to your left," I said, pointing up in Anna's direction. "Push it to the right and try to lock it down."
She gave it a small push. "More," I said. Another push. "Again." She gave it a shove and it came loose from the support it was lying on- and headed right down towards me! I reacted slowly- my muscles were still sore from the all the work I had done already, and I didn't get out from under it. I raised an arm to fend it off as I tried to run and it clipped me on the bicep. Something went crack. I felt immense pain.
"Ken?" I heard a shout from above.
"Anna?" I cried back, holding my arm. "Call a doctor! I think I broke it!"
"You arm?" I nodded. "Hold still!"
In less than ten seconds several people had surrounded me as I slowly dragged myself into a sitting position. "Oh, prag," I swore. "That hurts."
"Yep, that's broken," someone said. "Arms shouldn't hang like that." A neural neutralizer found its way around my arm just below the shoulder and the pain diluted from something blinding to just a dull roar that made me know how bad it was.
"Kennet?" It was Pedon.
"Here," I croaked. "Hurt myself."
"It was my fault, Daddy," Anna was saying. "I shouldn't have pushed it so hard."
"I shouldn't have been so stupid, standing underneath it like that."
"No one is to blame here," Pedon was saying. "Stop standing around," he said to the gawkers. "We have much to do, and a doctor will arrive soon." He looked down at the arm. "That must hurt."
"You have no idea."
"You're right. I do not. The neutralizer says that you are in more pain than it can manage wholly."
"That's good," I said. "Stop me from getting cocky and doing more damage to it."
It was less than five minute before P'nyssa arrived with an assistant. I managed a smile. "Hi, sweetheart."
"I can't believe you're still conscious," she admitted, looking over my arm. "You must be in terrible pain."
I chuckled. "You know, people reading the Journal Entries are going to think I'm accident-prone."
"You are accident-prone. This is going to hurt. Brant, pull."
She didn't lie. It did hurt. Worse than the uniform. I must have blacked out for a moment, because the next time I looked down at my arm it had a shiny new shell of white, rigid plastic around it. I also had a brace around over the shoulder of my healthy arm, and a belt around my waist. "I had to isolate the shoulder. Try not to move it too much, Ken, and it'll heal just right in a day or two."
I nodded. "Thanks, love."
Her eyes reflected her concern for me. "You're so good with machines, Ken, but when it comes to simple stuff you are clumsy and accident-prone."
"Really," she said, nodding her head. Those solid yellow eyes had tears in them. I kissed her and tried to make them go away, and she held me close. "That could have hit your head, Ken."
"I'm glad it didn't. Brains tend to work best in the original container."
She laughed. "Gross! That's disgusting! Your sense of humor didn't break, at least."
"Nor yours." I hugged her back as well as I could. "Thanks for the fix."
"Should I stay? Is there anyone else who needs help?"
"You are welcome to stay," Father Pedon told her. "We can use more hands."
P'nyssa sighed. "Now that I know he's going to live, I have my own work to attend to. Some other time, perhaps."
By the time evening fell the beams we'd been working had set into place and the entire roof had been covered with a large plastic sheet to keep out the rain. People inside had managed to sweep out the remains, and although the floor still bore the burns and scars of the night before it was still a church. All of those who had helped that day remained to watch the service, even if many of us remained in the back and just watched.
Anna stood next to me. A lovely-looking human girl, with dark hair on dark skin, bright eyes and an incessant smile except when her father was around, I still couldn't figure out what she got out of all this. So I asked her, quietly, while we sat and watched.
"I turned my back on my father's faith a long time ago," she said. "But not on him. I do love my Dad, even if I think he's a bit of a fruitcake."
"He's a member of the Genesis 2:19 Group. It's so far out of Catholic Mainstream I don't even know if he's on the Pope's roster."
"Which pope?" I asked.
She smiled, giving me a dazzle as she did so. "Good question. Anyway, Genesis 2:19 is where Jehovah gives Adam the commandment to name all the animals. It's the only commandment God gives man that has nothing to do with avoiding or redeeming sin, and so my father's church believes it to be the most holy of commandments. To know the name of everything, to really know everything, is a holy cause."
"Sounds like a harmless enough heresy. I could even subscribe."
"I suppose," she shrugged.
"So what do you do?" I asked. "And why are you on Pendor? I thought Pedon was a visitor."
"He is. So am I. But we've been here so long I guess I've gone a little bit native. Might end up walking the Hall- something he desperately doesn't want me to do. Considers Hallwalking to be a major sin, turning my back on God's design for me and all that."
"You wouldn't do it just to dis him off, would you?"
"Not my style. I'll do it if it's right for me."
I nodded. We watched as the platen with the wafer was passed around; I let it pass me without comment, as did Anna. Pedon looked visibly upset at her refusal, but he passed on. "Hic non est tua mensa," I said softly.
"Excuse me?" she asked.
"Latin," I said. "'This is not your table.' A play on the phrase 'This is not my table.' Back before there were churches, Christians used to meet wherever they could. Priests would say, 'This is not my table' when they believed someone at the table could not receive communion, for whatever reason. It was left to the people at the table to decide who was the interloper, and what to do about him. Now, it is we who refuse the priest despite his desires. We no longer welcome his food at our table."
"You sound sad."
"Whenever something passes from this world, even faith, there should be some sadness." I watched as he moved from fen to fen. The looks on their faces, the anticipation before hand, the relief-- or pleasure-- or whatever, just made me wonder what it was that they got out of this rigamarole. It didn't make sense to me. And I knew, without rational explanation, that it never would. I had my own faith- in myself, my loved ones- that made all this seem insignificant to me.
She nodded. The room was crowded, and her body was pressed up against mine in a way that, under other circumstances, I might not have found disquieting. But here, it felt odd. Inappropriate. It also seemed that she was doing it deliberately as a way of gaining my attention.
"Go with God," Father Pedon said, closing the ceremony. We slowly shuffled out, passing the four people who now stood around the Temple. After the last of the participants had shuffled out, Father Pedon closed the doors with his hands, crossed himself before the closed doors. As he walked past me, I nodded to him. "We will find who did this, Father."
"I pray you do," he said. "And I ask you to be merciful when you do."
I watched him lead his crowd down the hill on foot. I waited a respectful time before heading over to where I had tethered Laboratory. He had stood calmly all day tied to the tree, but then since under his hide he possessed a stainless steel frame and a fusion heart, he was hardly in any position to complain. As I hoisted myself onto his back, Anna's now familiar voice said, "Going anywhere interesting?"
"Home," I said to her. I pulled on the reins and headed in that direction.
"P'nyssa?" I asked as walked into the house. "Aaden?" No answer. "Dave?"
"I am here, of course," the AI reported calmly. "What happened to you?"
"Church fell on me," I said jokingly. I reported the story to him, leaving out nothing. In the end, I even told him about Anna.
"Sounds like an eventful day. You will be happy to note that we have determined that whoever burned down the building is a Satryl, male, and young. I'll have a DNA match on fur he left at the scene in the next couple of hours. Even if he isn't registered, somewhere down the line his parents are."
"Thanks, Dave." I settled back into the chairbag lying on the floor. Essentially a loose sphere filled with gelatin, it conformed to my body shape and let me sag. I felt as loose-limbed as the thing underneath me, exhausted.
"P'nyssa has arrived. Aaden, I suspect, will be home much later. He is conducting a flight-training exercise tonight."
"Ah," I said, remembering hearing my love mention that this morning. The door opened up and I waved. "Hi, love."
"Hi!" she said. "Glad to see you made it home in one piece. Take an SDisk, or did you ride?"
"I rode," I sighed. "And yes, it hurt." I turned to my left to rise from a kneeling position. It's really the only way to get out of one of those chairs. Gave her a hug with my good arm.
"I'm surprised you made it home. Didn't you get any offers from some of those charming churchgoers?" she asked with that mischievous tone she has.
"Actually, yes. But I turned her down." I shrugged, then winced. "I can't write worth a damn with my left hand, you know. Looks like I'm effectively out of commission for a couple of weeks."
"You better not be out of commission," she murred to me, her voice developing that odd purr that I've long known to recognize as the sound of heat.
"You surely don't expect me to... "
She nodded. "I've been at work all day, Ken. You've just spent the last couple of hours doing nothing at all, I imagine, with your arm like that. I expect you to perform, sport."
With a grin and a wink, I played the wounded party. "Do I have to?"
"No, you don't have to. I'll just go into the bedroom, by myself, and take out one of those smaller dildos you own, and I'll put it someplace I know you want to be." She caressed my cheek with her mitt, letting it slide down my healthy arm to take my hand. We dropped down into the bedroom. I started taking off my clothes. "Let me help with that," she offered.
She took my shirt off, stroking my bare chest with her mitt. "Oooh, so smooth," she said, making me a little self-conscious about the fact that not only was I in the minority as a human, but that I didn't even have any chest-hair. I had trouble growing a decent beard. In a world where the term hair care was virtually synonymous with decent hygiene, the fact that I didn't have a lot sometimes bothered me.
I helped her out of her one-piece jumper, taking as many opportunities as presented themselves to me to play with her breasts. My opinion of her breasts changes with the wind-- they're comfortable breasts, soft and with a slight hang, neither small nor large. She says they're larger than average for a Tindal her size, and sometimes my eyes tell me the same thing, but not often enough to matter.
My fingers closed on her nipple and she moaned softly. "You like that?"
"Hmm," I said in investigation. "Normally, you're not much into your breasts."
"I don't know what it is. Recently I've been getting very turned on when they're played with." She brushed my hand away so she could touch them herself. "What do you think it is?"
"I think it's gorgeous," I sighed, kissing her cheek.
"So," she said, "Would you like to fuck me where I have something in common with Aaden?" She giggled when she said it. P'nyssa's appreciation of anal sex was something else that had started only recently. I was not normally one to complain about such privileges, but to be honest I had enough butt from Aaden. Still, it wasn't something I got all that often, and she has a gorgeous ass. I agreed.
We fell into bed. Actually, she fell into bed. I eased myself in to take care of my wounded arm. She took advantage of my weakness to take advantage of the situation, cuddling up to me and closing her mitt about my cock. "Aww, you're not hard yet."
"Keep that up and I will be soon enough." Even as I said it, I felt warmth flooding my cock as it grew heavy. Under her skilled fingertips, I soon had a rampant erection.
"You have a pretty cock, Ken."
"'Pretty?' Is that a word you normally use to describe penises?"
"Yours," she agreed as she leaned down to take it into her mouth in one gulp. I gasped, my fingers twisting at the bedsheets. Rings, she's good at that. With her, it's like her mouth is shaped around my cock. Every millimeter of skin feels touched by her mouth, her tongue, the back of her throat. I stroked the black tangle of hair on the top of her head, minding the ears (I didn't have enough brains left to tickle them the way she likes). She stroked my cock with my mouth, making it even harder, if that were possible. My hand slid down the side of her body, reaching underneath her to fondle her breasts.
She moaned as I gently pinched her nipples again. She wiggled against the bedsheets as I played with her, waiting for her to tire, as she always did. P'nyssa rarely had the strength to finish me completely to orgasm. That usually fell to me.
She did, but not until after she'd pushed me pretty damned close. I twitched against the bed with desire, wanting to come and yet not even close enough to think about it. "Wow," I sighed, "I wish you did that more."
"I wish I had the jaw to do it more. I don't understand how you and Aaden can go at it for an hour like I've seen you do." She slid up against me. "Doesn't your jaw start to hurt?"
I slid down the other way, between her thighs. "You learn to ignore it. It's not as important as the cock in your mouth." I kissed her mound and she cooed, a go-ahead to continue. "Or the pussy."
She giggled, parting her legs wider, allowing me in. I was oddly bent over as I nuzzled her cunt. I finally pulled my legs underneath me, sitting cross-legged and bending over to lick from her mons down, over her hood and her clitoris. "Yeah," she sighed. "Oh, yeah." Her mitts came down between her thighs to hold her lips apart, granting me even better access.
Her cunt has a sweet flavor that I've never found anywhere else. I can't describe it-- we have a woeful language for describing taste-- but it tastes like I imagine the wines in the afterlife might smell. The thick, interlocking tangle of indigo fur that covered her cunt parted under our combined influences and her thighs tensed and relaxed as I licked directly over her clitoris in the demanding pattern she enjoys so much. "A little harder," she gasped. "Like that, yeah," she said as I focused my tonguing down to just over her clitoris, a rapidfire direct assault that P'nyssa really liked.
"Yeah, morrrre..." she groaned as I licked her very hard, locking my lips around her mons veneris, pressing so hard that my tongue was almost numb. No other fem I've ever slept with likes oral sex as hard as P'nyssa does. The back of my tongue started to ache. She tensed, and I could see the muscles in her belly pulling up into tight rings as she started to come. I pressed hard as she thrashed into her orgasm, waves of pleasure shaking through her as I finished her off. "Oh, wow," she gasped.
I looked up at her through the now unkempt tangle of fur that covered her mons in layers. "Good?"
"Yeah, very." She reached down with one mitten under my arm to pull me towards her.
"Ouch." My shoulder ached; I had been in an unnatural position for quite a while and it had been hanging painfully while I'd been there. "I'm glad you liked it."
"You still have to fuck me in the ass," she murmured.
"Then I need a hard-on."
Her mittens did the work this time, and very soon she had me as hard as stone. Turning over onto her knees, she reached for her vibrator and pressed it up between her thighs. I crawled around behind her, looking down. "You've got a beautiful ass, Nyss," I sighed. She does, too. It's round, and from this angle looks a lot like an upside-down valentine heart done in indigo fur. Her cunt, still damp from her climax, winked at me. I stroked it gently with my fingertips, penetrating her. She moaned softly, the sound coming clearly over the soft hum of her vibrator.
I pressed my lips softly to her asshole. "Mmm..." she groaned. She likes that, if not as much as Aaden. I licked around her delicate hole in circles, caressing her, seducing her to open up to me. I could feel the muscles underneath her flesh twitching, relaxing. My tongue pressed deeper, actually penetrating her for a few millimeters before got back up to a kneeling position. With my one hand, I dripped some lubricant from the ever-full bottle onto my cock and her hole. "Ready?"
"Go slow," she gasped. The vibrator was clearly doing its task well. I bent my cock down to her hole (even though she's only about ten centimeters shorter than I am, it really shows during sex. Her legs seem much shorter than mine) and pressed downward. I didn't have to go that slow. Between my tongue, her relaxation from her previous orgasm, and the distraction of the next one coming, she almost didn't react to my cock as it slid into her asshole.
By Osiris, sometimes I forget how good this feels! Her hole wrapped around me, a warm yet somehow dangerous sensation, as I plunged down deeper into her. I slid in cent after cent until I was into the hilt, her asshole gripping the base of my cock. We moaned simultaneously with the feelings we were both getting. I had her filled, and she had me held.
I made very slow strokes with my hips, watching my cock go in and out of her butt, feeling the soft caress of her fur against my thighs with every press. The sound of the vibrator hum dropped a few tones as she pressed it harder against her clitoris. "Harder," she gasped.
That's not something I normally hear from her during anal sex! I gave her what she asked for, though, filling her asshole over and over with the length of my cock, leaning over slightly and resting my good hand on the headrest to hold me up, allowing the curve of my hips to exactly fit the curve of her buttocks, moving just my hips to fuck her hard. She was so tight, and there's something about her ass that just feels hotter than anyone else I've ever made love to.
I started to lose a little control. I wanted, and she had what I wanted. A loud moan, a long groaning "Ohhh!" of pleasure came from as she climaxed once more. I could feel her entire hole tightening up around my cock, giving me even more pleasure than before. I was so close, I couldn't hold back. She had me wound up, so ready to explode, when I came I literally saw stars before my eyes.
I slid out of her a moment later. She gave a more traditional groan as she turned over. "Whew."
"Thank you," I said gleefully as I leaned over and kissed her. "That was great!"
Her yellow eyes glittered. "You're very welcome. We should go clean up."
I nodded. As we walked into the bathroom the shower started up as of its own will. "Thanks, Dave," I said, appreciating the close attention he gives us always.
As we got into the shower and I spread liquid soap all over her buttocks, she asked me "So, what happened between you and that fem at the church?"
"It was Pedon's daughter. While I normally don't object to having sex with beautiful, large-breasted fems, there was just something about her I didn't like." She started soaping me up as I spoke. "She seems to have wanted me just to make her father angry. I decided to stay out of that."
"Good reason," she said. "Turn around." I obeyed and she began soaping up my backside. "I showered before leaving Cutters, but it looks like you've still got the whole day on you."
"Pretty much," I agreed. "Yeah, so I came home. Snubbed her hard. Glad I did, though-- making love to you is much more preferable."
"Especially when I give you what you like so much."
I laughed. "Well, I get enough butt from Aaden. I actually like vaginal sex, too, y'know."
"I know. But sometimes when we make love that way your balls get in the way of the vibrator. And I like the full feeling I get. It's so different."
I kissed her cheek as I rinsed off. "I know that well." The water turned off and the fans came on, drying us off. I shook my hair out, then helped her brush her fur as the winds raged around us. She yawned wide as I rubbed her down. "I'm ready for bed."
"Me too," she agreed. A few minutes later, slightly missing Aaden, I was passing into sleep next to her warm and lovely body.