"And this will be your room."
I glanced around the corner to examine my new stomping grounds for the next two years. They looked unspectacular. I hadn't expected more than a comfortable place to drop my bags and my bones. "We, ah, didn't know what you needed in bathroom facilities. We've hosted Ssphynx twice in the past six years and the guy at the embassy said that those would work for you."
"They'll be fine, Mister Jainus." I padded into the room. The walls were decorated in an off-white stucco that exactly matched the bleached cotton of the dense mattress on the bed, little more than a wooden platform just a couple centimeters off the ground. A closer examination revealed that the frame had hinges to take a variety of positions, most of them probably more comfortable for a human than for someone of my shape. The basic bed configuration would do.
I checked out the bathroom. The bidet toilet looked familiar, but the shower had just one head, high up. I wondered how the Ssphynx students survived with that. "Mister Jainus?"
"Call me Tom," he insisted. His Midwestern accent sounded fake. But who am I to judge, considering this guy's probably two centuries older than I am?
"I'll try. I, um, I'm going to need a shower on a hose if I'm going to be able to wash completely."
"I can get one of those. The last student we had used one, but it got old and leaked. Dusty, make a note."
"Done," the AI's voice said calmly. "By the way, we haven't met and Tom hasn't introduced us."
"Damn," the human said. "I forgot. Rabi, Dusty, Dusty, Rabi."
"Pleased to meet you," I said.
"And to meet you," the AI responded. "I'll see to it that he doesn't forget the shower unit. Other than that, will you be needing anything else?"
"A map to campus."
"It'll be in your room in a few minutes. Later?"
"Yeah, later," I agreed. The AI clicked off audibly.
"Look, Rabi, if there's anything you need, just ask."
I laughed, I'm sure a sound that came across as completely intimidating to the man who was going to be my exchange host for the next two years, assuming all went well. "Mister Jainus, stop worrying. I'm fine. I'm really tired from my trip and you're being so good to me it's making me nervous. Let me settle down."
"Okay, sorry. Just want to make sure you're comfortable."
"That's probably going to take a while," I said. "Until you're comfortable, at any rate."
"I'll let you get some sleep. You'll have to adjust to the 24 hour schedule anyway."
"Thank you," I said, earnestly grateful that he was going away now. The door closed behind him.
Would it always be like this? I thought to myself as he disappeared through the doorway. Mr. Jainus seemed like a nice enough Terran, but he seemed as nervous as everyone else watching me walk down the street. I can't help that I look like something out of their worst Neanderthal nightmares. I didn't ask to be born into the body of a six-legged, black-furred puma; it's just one of those things that happens on Pendor. I kept wondering if I should apologize to people I frighten, or if they should just live with me as I am.
Jainus had two children, both loosely genetically associated with him, that he was raising as part of his social contract. For Jainus to qualify for his own Right of Replacement he was supposed to fulfill some social duty and apparently he was well-equipped to be a parent as well as an exchange host.
Most exchange hosts were parents. It made sense. The students they hosted would be enriched by the presence of someone else their age in the house, and their own kids would learn from the experience. I sure hoped we got along. Otherwise, this was going to be a long two years.
With a thought, one of my hands scooted across the room and pulled down the efficient window shades. The room was immediately as pitch-black as my fur. I lay down on the bed, pulled the generous blanket over my body, placed my hands on the nightstand and deactivated them. I kept thinking I should probably unpack my bags next, but sleep took over too soon.
A bang and a thump woke me a few hours later. I turned my hands back on and tested the window shade. It was dark out; a look at the clock told me it was "9:30pm," whatever that meant. I tried to remember what I could about the Terran time of day system and I remembered that "pm" meant after midday, and that they measured their time from the middle of the day and the middle of the night. Twelve-hour half-days meant that nightfall was at six (give or take a seasonal planetary tilt that didn't exist back home). They measured their hours in sixty-unit increments, so to my thinking it would be about 3:20 lome'. Early yet.
I wandered out into the main room of the house. A young melhuman stood there, drinking out of a large bottle. When he saw me, his eyes first turned wide and he looked like he was about to drop the bottle. He did choke, spilling milk over his shirt. "Damn!" he swore, looking at the damage before looking up at me. "You're F'Rabi?"
"Yep. You must be Amery." He nodded. According to the family dossier I had received, Amery was fourteen years old. He dressed the part, in a smart-looking collared shirt and shorts, socks that weren't quite all the way up, and sneakers. A cap on his head proclaimed what I took to be some kind of sports team.
"Dad, uh, didn't tell us you were a Pamthreat."
"Didn't your father receive a dossier?"
"Well, yeah, but he just told us your name and that you were coming to stay with us for a year or two. We thought you were just gonna be another Ssphynx, like K'Gerri. I can't wait until you meet all my friends." I can't wait until I get to show you to all my friends. Typical. My friend Nippe had warned me that Terrans sometimes did that, treating Pamthreats as well-trained animals in one moment, as AIs in the next, never quite sure what to do with us. Still, I hoped some of them would get over it, and I definitely hoped that Amery would come around sometime soon.
Anyway, I curled up on the couch. "So, what is there to do in Pottstown, PA?" I asked him.
"Depends on what you're interested in. Not a whole lot goes on during the weekdays." He picked up a flat control panel of some kind and pointed it at the vid screen. In a short time, he had managed to find a documentary on Pamthreats and had saved it. I watched him.
"Going to study me?" I asked him.
"Isn't that what I'm supposed to do?"
"Did you study K'Gerri?"
"Yeah," he said, giving me a sidelong glance. I closed my eyes so I could see through the cameras hidden under the white mesh that covered my hands. The two units darted into the kitchen, found a shallow plastic cup and filled it with milk. "Cool!"
"What?" I asked.
"The way you order those things around. Like, are they really a part of you?"
"As much as it gets," I said. "I'm not sure I could live without them."
The front door squeaked slightly as it opened. A young femhuman who I knew to be my age walked through the door, looked at me, started to panic, then recovered. "Rabi?"
"That's who he is," her brother told her.
"You must be Zarah," I said, rising from the couch and walking toward her. One of my hands reached out to shake hers.
She accepted it. "It's warm."
"They're meant to be friendly," I said.
"And they're probably useful," she said.
"I can't do much without them."
"Where have you been, sis?" Amery asked. "It's nearly ten."
"I was out with Keith," she sighed. "For the last time."
"I told ya he was bad for ya," her brother told her.
"You don't know anything, Amery."
"I can tell asshole from a mile away. I don't have to be seventeen to figure that part out." Flippant, I thought, but probably accurate.
"Look, um, I don't know what time you two usually go to sleep, but--"
"But they usually go to sleep now, don't they." Mr. Jainus came out from the hallway. "Okay, you've both met Rabi now, you can both go to sleep."
"Don't get started, Amery. Head off." The boy did as he was told. "And what's this I hear about you and Keith?"
"It's nothing, Dad. It's just over. He's a little too pushy for me."
"Your brother is right, despite his language. He can tell a jerk at first breath, and Keith even made my jerk radar go ping. And you know how bad I am at judging people."
Zarah sighed. For a human girl, she was obviously very pretty. Blonde, straight hair fell in caresses down her back; her taste in clothing was pretty and simple, a pink vest over a white shirt complemented a light-green skirt that descended below her knees. Under that she wore white boots. Her face was very symmetrical (I know, but it's the best I can do; I don't understand Terran standards of beauty very well). She had large breasts and I reflected, not for the first time on the nature of those things, that she must have a terrible time sleeping or standing up. She seemed to be doing well right now, however. "I know, Dad. But now I don't have anyone to go to the dance with next week."
"I recall you telling me you don't like to dance, young lady."
"That's not the point, Dad," she said. Sometimes, looking like the family pet can have its advantages. People forget I'm just as sentient as they are. I don't think this discussion would have been happening in front of me if I had been human. "It's a social event. I'm supposed to go with some kind of partner."
"You could take Rabi," Mr. Jainus suggested, catching us both off guard. He was paying attention!
"No, really," I said, jumping in. "I'd love to. I mean, if you would like to."
"I don't even know you."
"You'll have a week," Mr. Jainus pointed out. "Besides, it's just the orientation dance. It'll be full of people who don't know anybody."
"But, he's a... you're a..."
"He is a full citizen of Pendor, young lady."
"It's not like going out with Gerri!"
"It is exactly like going out with Gerri," Mr. Jainus pointed out, retaining remarkable cool. "And if you don't understand that, perhaps you'd better start doing some serious thinking. He is a guest in our house right now, and very soon he's going to become part of the family. Get used to him."
She regarded me carefully. "I'll think about it."
"Do that. Now, off to bed with you." She tromped back down the hallway to the bedrooms. "I'm sorry about that, Rabi. I don't know what's gotten into her. Or what made me suggest that."
I shrugged. "It's an interesting suggestion, Mr. Jainus. I'll get used to her, eventually. I hope. I've apparently slept the afternoon today, I think I'll go sleep the rest of the night off, too."
"You do that. Unless you rise very early, I probably won't be here when you get up. There's a case I'm working on right now that's going to be eating up a lot of my time." He looked at my glass of milk. "I see you can forage for yourself. You'll probably be fine."
"Probably," I agreed. "Thanks for everything. And, thanks for introducing me to your daughter."
He laughed. "She's the genetic descendant of my great aunt Sphoe who died twenty years ago on Copperland. She has the same temperament, too." He yawned, then apologized and let himself back to bed. "Goodnight, Rabi."
"Goodnight, Mr. Jainus."
I didn't see much of any of the family for the next week. I spent my days on campus, familiarizing myself with the grounds and finding the classes. Carter University with its specialized degree in interplanetary law had seemed the perfect place to study. And since Mr. Felix Jainus, Esquire, was an interplanetary law specialist he seemed to be the perfect host. Of course, the fact that he was never around made him even more perfect. I found out that he wasn't teaching any of the classes I had planned to take and that suited me just fine. I went to my first day of classes and prepared myself for what looked like a grueling first year.
Over the course of the week I met often with his children, however. Amery brought his friends over first chance he got, and first chance I got I made it clear that I was a student with a lot of homework, not someone they could just come over and pet like some housecat. Maybe I have attitude but that's tough. I do have a lot of homework. And I'm not sanguine about being stroked by anonymous male hands. Alone, though, Amery and I got along.
Zarah, on the other hand, spoke very little to me over the course of the week. She was polite and contrite and generally amicable but didn't seem to have much to say to me. I don't know if she was just naturally untalkative or if it was me, but I hoped that in either case we'd get along.
Friday classes ended around three, Terra, and I headed back to the house to get some rest. I found Zarah sitting in front of the vid screen, looking at a list of scheduled event showings and flipping through the resource lists. "Hi," I said as I walked through the door.
"Hi," she replied back, not at all sounding friendly after all.
"No," she said. The conversation we had been having the week before clicked into my head and I looked up at her. "That dance you were talking about. It's tonight, isn't it?"
"Yeah," she grumbled.
"Lemme guess. You still don't have a date."
"No," she sighed.
"Still not interested in taking me?" I asked.
"Why do you want to go?" She gave me a careful looking-over, as if she hadn't already done exactly that every time we'd passed by one another this week.
"Because it's the school freshmen social. I'm a freshman. Like you. Besides, people keep staring at me in class like I'm about to jump up and eat them. If I went with you, you could introduce me and maybe encourage people to treat me like a real person. Besides, maybe you'll like me."
"I do like you."
"You haven't said one word to me all week."
"I have too!" she protested.
"'Pass the salt please,' has been about the extent of it," I said, smiling.
"What would we say to each other?"
"Oh, I dunno. What do you listen to? I'm very fond of college audio these days, with some of the classical stuff mixed in, like REM, or Gramma's Hatchet. I don't watch much video, I like playing Go but I'm lousy at it, and I have too much homework."
"Sounds like me."
"The Go, or the homework?"
"Both," she laughed. "But I could never listen to your music. Gimme American Orchestra."
"Ewww. Sousa and stuff like that?"
She nodded enthusiastically, making me laugh. "Okay, okay. Give me a minute to get dressed and I'll take you to the social."
A minute turned into ten, but eventually she came out, wearing a lovely dress of black with lavender trim that ended just below the tops of her breasts, exposing her substantial bosom for all the world. The ruffled skirt seemed to shimmer slightly as she walked, and it didn't quite get to the floor, exposing low-heeled casual shoes. She had brushed her hair back very casually, and she looked quite delicious.
And I don't mean than just because I'm a Pamthreat.
"I'm ready," she said.
"I am too," I agreed. We took the bus into town, the same one that I took every day into school. At night however rode a different clientele', one not quite used to seeing me and I once again suffered the uncomfortable and even frightened stares of people who I might otherwise enjoy the company of. Still, Zarah seemed to be content with my curling up in one of the benches that lined the sides of the bus's front area. She sat down in the chair beside me.
We arrived at the social, held in one of the larger halls on campus, soon after it had begun. "Not many people here yet," I said.
"No, these things don't usually start up until late." The music had a pounding, rhythmic beat, and I recognized the genre as some sort of the late industrial mix. It had its moments, and I figured I could do some dancing to it, if anyone wanted to dance with someone who barely came up to their waist. I watched as Zarah made her way through the thin crowd and found a couple of other girls who were also standing around as if waiting for something to begin.
"Zarah, what have you brought with you? That's not the Pamthreat everyone's been talking about, is it?"
"What else would I be?" I said, introducing myself. I bowed down on one foreknee and greeted them graciously. "My name is Rabi."
They introduced themselves as Geena and Madoka. Talk settled down as Zarah caught up on the local gossip and once again I was allowed to listen on the simple grounds that they didn't believe I could understand them. It was the strangest thing with Terrans. They knew that I spoke Anglic; they had heard me. The moment they turned their attention to one another, though, it was like I ceased to exist. Zarah seemed to know; she kept giving me sidelong glances and I kept giving her smiles. She didn't seem to mind that I was paying attention. I learned quite a bit. The two friends were quite happy to know that she was no longer ''warming'' with this Keith fellow, and already they sounded as if they were plotting Zarah's next romantic move. Geena had a boyfriend who hadn't yet shown up, and Madoka was also romantically involved, although from the gist of the conversation I learned that he didn't live in the area and his class schedule conflicted with tonight's event.
They took a seat around a table. I pulled a bench up to the table with my hands, and that seemed to impress upon them that I was more than just a big, dumb animal. I know, I keep saying that over and over, but it's true. This was just the beginning; over the next two years I would have to prove, repeatedly, to people that I was sentient. It took so long to get that through their thick skulls.
But Zarah kept me in the conversation, adding my name here and there to mention of her family and her brother. When the conversation came around to the curricula, Zarah was kind enough to ask me first, "What classes are you taking this year?"
"History of Interstellar Law, Sea Law and Space Law, llerkin Space Law One, and English Literature."
"Eng Lit?" Geena asked. "Why take that?"
"Because if all I did all day was study law, I think I'd go insane. At least by reading a little Shakespeare I can keep my mind off of all these stupid people screaming at each other over the pettiest details."
"I would think that Shakespeare would be all about the petty details," Geena said.
"The sweaty details, maybe," I said. "There's a lot of sex going on in those stories. It is a bit weird, I guess. I mean, they had so much invested in protecting their women and sacrificing their men, and there's so much of that in the stories. We don't have those worries anymore. We know there are enough of us. And sex isn't that big a deal anymore."
"Which one are you studying now?"
"'Much Ado about Nothing,'" I said. "The 2030 re-editing of the Brannagh version is what we're using for our presentation, although the teacher likes to make us read it out loud before we watch an act to see what we're missing and what an actor does with it."
"Would you like to act, Rabi?" Zarah asked.
"Nah," Zarah said. "I don't know if I could stand to be a ractor. And stage acting is more about waiting for impending doom than about putting on a good play."
"You really think so?" I asked. "I don't know. We went to a live performance the other week and I really enjoyed it on its own merits. It's nice to see people doing something imprecise. Better that than a perfect performance, without a nuance out of place. It's the differences that keep the play from being boring, the different meanings. I mean, look at Hamlet. You can concentrate on the father-son relationship, or the son-mother relationship. You can make the play be about indecision in the extreme, or only indecision about when to act. Nobody can perfectly capture a story." I stopped. "Maybe that's why I'm taking it along with law. It has the same relationship to reality."
"Acting ability would be really good in the courtroom," Zarah suggested.
"You watch too much video drama," I said. She grinned. "So, what classes are you taking?"
She listed them off. They didn't sound all that exciting; she was going for a sociology degree, for what reason I had no idea. I got the impression that she was one of those people who hadn't figured out what she was going to do with her life and wasn't one of those people determined to party herself into oblivion. A hard position for anyone to be in. At least the party-hardy types had a goal of some sort.
"Do you wanna dance?" she asked me as the music picked up the pace.
I looked up at her. "Are you serious?"
"It's not a slow dance. Do Pamthreat dance?"
"I've been told that when I dance it looks more like I have to pee than anything else."
Zarah laughed. "C'mon, Rabi, let's go dance." She walked out onto the floor and began shaking her body with the rhythm of the music. I followed her out, watching with more amusement than anything else as a wide space opened up around me.
I think I looked ridiculous, dancing to a moderate beat with Zarah there, but she urged be on and I felt all right about being there with her. Finally, after three fast songs, a slow dance began and I took refuge off the floor, pouring myself a huge glass of water and downing it as as quickly as I could. My tongue hung out as I tried to get rid of the heat I'd built up. I was grateful for air conditioning.
She sidled up next to me. "You dance okay."
"I don't look right dancing. I'm not equipped with an upper body to show off."
She laughed. "I suppose I am."
"In an atavistic way, yes. At least for a human. Or so I'm led to understand."
I didn't dance again for the rest of the night, but several people other than Zarah did offer. I suppose I should count those as compliments, but to be honest I suspect it was more for the novelty value of hanging with a Pamthreat than anything else. Am I being cynical or paranoid? As midnight rolled around Zarah found me again and said, "I suppose it's time to head home."
"I suppose," I said.
"Did you have fun?" she asked.
"In a way, I guess I did." We started walking toward the door, following an unspoken agreement that the bus stop would be our next destination. We reached the stop to discover that we were the only people there. A single light illuminated our stop, and otherwise the road was dark and empty. The thumping of the dance hall sound system could be heard in the distance, a giant electronic heart, all other sounds muffled by the buildings and the distance.
I put one hand over my eye and called up the HUD system in the palm. "The next bus will be here in four Terran minutes," I said.
"Oh, good." She knelt down beside be and, to my surprise, kissed me on the nose. "Thanks for taking me, Rabi."
"You could have gone alone."
"Without a date?" she said, mockingly aghast.
"Was this a date?" I asked.
"It was," she said. "And you were a pretty good date."
"I didn't do anything. I just sat with you and listened to your friends gossip."
"That was good enough," she said. "Besides, I'd love to hear you read Shakespeare. I didn't know you liked it."
"You've only known me a week. I'm sure we'll find other things in common." The bus mysteriously trundled out of nowhere, the massive doors yawning to let us in. We found a spot in the middle of the bus. We were the only people on the bus, which at this hour didn't even merit a passenger assistant. I wondered why the daytime buses even had them because, after all, the Terrans were as healthy as Pendorians. A disability would always be temporary, and there were personal assistants in the meantime, not to mention waivers for personal vehicles.
"Maybe," she murmured. She let her hand fall on my back and began stroking. At first, I thought she might be doing the same thing as her brother, unconsciously treating me as a pet, but her wink and grin when I looked up at her told me that she knew I was capable of understanding her gestures for the intimacy they represented. The moment of thought passed and I decided that I could put up with her attention.
More than put up with it, though. I was becoming aroused by it. She smelled good, and the touch of her hand on my back was about the most relaxing thing I'd felt all week. Then I realized that she was probably smelling a little too good. "Zarah?"
"Did you put on a Pamthreat perfume?"
"Mmm-hmm. Just something mild. Not like a mating scent or anything like that. Just something I thought you might like."
I took a deep whiff of it. I didn't recognize it, but I felt oddly relaxed and calmed at the scent of it. "What is it?"
"It's called Pamthreat Melody. Which I thought was a really silly name. It's the kind of name that I would find on bubblegum- scented stuff. But I looked it up on the 'net and it seems to be really popular."
"I bet it is," I said.
"Do you want me to not wear it?"
"No, I like it. Maybe you should just keep it for special occasions, though."
Her hand continued stroking me gently. "I'll remember that." We sat together on the bus like that for the entire ride home, which was more than a half hour. When we got home (was it home already?) we separated with just a quiet "Goodnight" to one another.
My relationship with the Jainus guys was pretty good. I spent the next three months doing more homework than I had ever seen in my entire life. I used more brain-enhancing nanochine than I would have thought sensible, but my physician assured me that I was on the safe side as long as I didn't fret about the "other" Rabis that might have been had I not been a law student. Other than wondering if any of them might have felt less exhausted than I did, I didn't worry about them.
Zarah and I went out together several times, mostly on Sunday afternoon, mostly for shopping or communal media. I took her to see a showing of "King Lear" at the Globe and managed to get tickets to an all-Pendorian revival of "Cats" showing at the old Moscow Opera. The present audience was pretty thick but a few members of the cast came out anyway. I have to confess, it was so nice to talk to someone in Caiss knowing that there was no translator between us. I can speak Anglic obviously but it always feels weird. The Felinzi I was talking to wondered if I wanted to join the cast since I was studying Drama but I politely declined. I already had a career planned. For the next century, at any rate.
After finals, Zarah invited me to a day of American Orchestra, thankfully more Copland than Sousa, at an outdoor showing in Greensboro, South Carolina. The band occupied a huge, white-painted gazebo, and the performers all looked comfortable with their striped and spangled white suits. As we sat listening to the music I was startled by the feel of Zarah's hand on my back again, stroking me. "I'll stop if you want me to," she said.
"I don't want you to," I said, relaxing. I shifted my weight up against her and pressed my back against her bare thigh.
It's hard not to live deep among a people without learning what they think of as beauty. I was bombarded day by day with images of beauty from advertising and media, and also listened to both Zarah and Amery deride some of the images as unreal and artificial.
By all accounts, Zarah was a beauty. She had worn a dark-blue cotton print dress covered with floral prints that offset her pristine white skin, a rarity these days. Almost all families had once carried some genetic flaws; gene hybridization two centuries ago to overwrite those flaws with more desirable traits had created a species with far fewer "whites" or "blacks." Amery's skin was a more standard tint, like Mr. Jainus's.
Her body was firm without being the obvious source of obsession, comfortable without being skinny, and her bosom was something to attract the primitive eye of every male from any species where the females came with those accouterments. And, like I said, her face was very symmetrical.
She continued to stroke me for the entire concert, pausing only when biological needs sent one of us into a tiny closet not intended for Pamthreats. We shared a greasy lunch and an equally greasy sweet with the absurd name of elephant ears.
Afterward, we wandered around the town, coveting much, buying nothing. I could have bought anything I wanted. Money was something of a joke anyway between Pendorians and Terrans, since the only commodities they had worth wanting were living space and reproductive rights. The first was for sale but the mechanisms by which that was arranged were arcane; the second was tightly controlled by the Terran government. A state lottery provided for the rare slot opened by fatal accident.
We wandered home just as night was falling. Both Pottstown and Greensboro were in the same timezone so home was just a tiny bit brighter. We left from the Pottstown SDisk transit station, walked the pedway back into town, and made our way up the hill to her house.
Zarah called out, "Dad?"
"Your father will not be home tonight," the AI, Dusty, said calmly. "He was called away on emergency business and will be spending the evening on the moon. It would seem there was a fatal accident."
"Oh, no!" Zarah said. "Anything I should be concerned about?"
"Not that I can think of," Dusty said. "Unless your interest is prurient. It appears that a space suit failed in a most unlikely fashion. There is speculation that this was a particularly messy suicide. But your father has been called in by the managers at Alpha to prepare for an investigation and the inevitable trading of suits."
"Painful, too," I muttered, then realized that pain was only valuable if it was remembered. The victim remembered nothing. For him, it was all over. I shuddered. The thought was too gruesome.
"Amery is spending another night in Kampuchea, following the games down there." I snorted. Amery was probably going wild with a gang of other kids his own age in this crib that people called Earth. It was hard to kill yourself on a planet where your body dealt with damn near anything and the AIs took care of the rest. It took something awful, like hard vacuum, to kill you.
I sighed. This was a terrible way to end a good day. The death of another, even a stranger, was hard to take on a world where it was so avoidable. I let my hands float into the kitchen to the refrigerator, where I got myself a glass of milk (really a yeast-produced but orally indistinguishable product that was nutritionally superior and lacked the animal fats that clogged arteries, not that that mattered). I curled up on the sofa.
"You're taking this hard," Zarah said.
I looked up at her and thought about trying to explain, then decided against it. "Don't you?"
She sat down next to me. "Yeah, I suppose I should. It'll be later, I guess. I can't-- Dad says I'm too young."
"You're no younger than I am," I said.
"You're more mature."
"Oh, great," I said. "Next thing I know you'll be recommending that I dye grey streaks into my fur and start to look like a silverside Pamthreat."
"Do those really exist?" she asked.
"The non-sentient silverside? Yes, but they are rare. I think there have been five spotted in all of history. To get that old a Pamthreat has to stumble on a hunting ground that's incredibly rich, free of any competition, and they still have to get lucky. Even prey fights back now and then." She grinned at me. "Anyway, I'm not old enough to begin spinning bad homilies."
"Well, we have the house to ourself, there's no school tomorrow, and I don't want to watch TV," she announced. "What would you like for dinner?"
I thought about it for a moment. I had a world of choices. "Phad Thai."
"What?" she asked.
"Phad Thai. It's thin, wide rice noodles, softened in warm water and then tossed with stir-fried harvest leftovers. I'll cook."
"Okay," she said. "I'd love to see a Pamthreat cook."
"Not much to see. I cook like everyone else." I wandered into the kitchen. "Okay. Dusty, can you get me a couple of Phad Thai recipes?"
"Done." The kitchen display came on. I looked them through. Each was slightly different, and together I picked up a general idea of what the eventual outcome should taste like. "Okay." I reared up on my four hind legs, tilting up so that I could almost pass for a 'taur with a very short hindbody, and looked over the counter. "Not much room in here," I grumbled.
"Kitchen space wasn't a premium with Dad, I guess," she said.
I ordered the ingredients and started the water on the heater. When it reached 70 I dropped the noodles in and turned off the coil. Then I turned my attention to the mix of vegetables, egg, and seasonings. I chopped the ginger by myself.
Zarah watched all this from the living room, her eyes wide as my hands whizzed around the kitchen, solid and confident as they went from task to task. I would occasionally leap up onto the counter and taste this or that, pleased with the outcome even as I move on to the next phase.
A few minutes later I produced two huge plates of Phad Thai and served one up to her. She took a taste and smiled. "It's good!"
"Then you'll eat what I cook?"
"I will," she agreed with a smile. She sat at the table; I pushed my raised dining bench over and joined her. It was a little awkward-- being a Pamthreat always is, it seems-- but she ate with gusto. I criticized. "I could have let the noodles soak a little longer, made the water a little hotter."
"It's fine," she said. "Stop worrying about it."
I laughed, which made her startle momentarily. "Sorry," I said.
"I don't hear you laugh often," she said.
"That's because it seems to scare you. I try to keep it in, even when I think something's very funny."
"It makes you... gloomy."
"I can be scary or gloomy," I said. "Great."
"I don't mean it that way. I mean, I think I could get to recognize your laugh as a laugh if you did it more often."
"Maybe," I agreed. We finished our meals and took refuge back on the couch, allowing Dusty to put away the dishes and the leftovers. Neither of us had been able to finish our plates, but I wasn't surprised. I had made so much that even the increased appetite caused by nanochine hadn't inspired us to that much hunger.
Out of habit, Zarah turned the video feed on and began scanning the channels. She conscientiously avoided the news feeds which would probably be about the accident/suicide and nothing else. But turning on the regular videos didn't do much for her either. We soared through a dozen dramas, sixteen documentaries about history, medicine, war, biography, sociology, crime, and the inevitable aliens-built-the- pyramids, children's shows, and so on. It was all there, the entire world laid out for us to see. If I'd wanted, I could have asked for a copy of the police stream from Red Square or Piccadilly Circus, another pair of eyes to document the coming and goings of two billion human beings.
"Bored?" I asked.
"There's nothing on," she sighed, settling down to some tri-d cartoon show from the mid-22nd century. It was a rehash of some Campbellian cyclical thing from the late 20th, I saw in the credits; all in all, unexciting.
"Then turn it off and let's do something else," I said. "We could go out..."
"I just wish I could turn my brain off sometimes," she sighed. "I mean, I know you can do that if you really want to, but I don't have the hardware or the software. I'm not old enough to get the surgery anyway."
I grinned. "Shuffleware sounds like a waste of time to me."
"Better than going crazy by being stuck in time."
"I suppose," I replied.
We both fell silent. I guess we were both trying to come up with something to say, something to fill the hours that we had before either one of us would be tired enough to go to sleep. Zarah giggled.
"What?" I asked.
"We could have sex."
I looked up at her sharply. That particular scenario had occurred to me, but I had dismissed it. I was happy to have someone I liked enough to let touch me and regretted the fact that I couldn't give anything back but the deep, dangerous rumble that some Pamthreats refer to as a 'purr'. But the idea did have my interest. "We... could. Could we?"
"I don't see why not," she said. "We're supposed to be compatible, right?"
"I'm made that way. That part of me looks nothing like the one found in your standard non-sentient Pamthreat."
I peered at her face closely, looking for signs that she was joking, that there was a way out of this dilemma, that in fact I could get away with not accepting. "If I turn you down, will you be upset?"
"No. It's just something to do."
"Just something? Not something special."
She uncurled and leaned down close to me. "Of course it will be special," she said. "I don't have sex with just anyone. I haven't done it since I dumped Keith, and that was three months ago."
"Does this mean we'll be 'warmin' together'?"
She kissed me between the eyes. "It could. I've never done it with a fur."
"Rabi, either way, I'll try not to think of you differently tomorrow."
"We live in the same house. Under your father's roof. What will he think?"
"He'll be out of the house often enough, and as for what he thinks, we're college students. We're supposed to do things like this."
Maybe it was my hormones warring with my paranoia, but I kept having to shift in place as my erection rose and fell, painfully, with every change in the mood. I was in a damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I-don't situation, and I don't like that feeling. But there was no hope for it. This seemed the inevitable conclusion of my being in the same house with Zarah.
I reached up and nuzzled her neck, gently kissing and licking her throat. She shuddered. I've been told that humans are of two minds when it comes to being with Pamthreats, that the old aversion to large predators is still deeply embedded in their psyches. Zarah moaned softly and said, "I like the way your fur feels, Rabi."
She pulled off her dress and lay back on the couch, offering her soft, pale belly up to me. I let myself nuzzle her breasts, playing with them. They didn't do much for me compared to her smell but she obviously enjoyed letting me play with them and it was kinda interesting the way they bobbled back and forth as I licked at them. Like all modern Pamthreats I can make the burrs on my tongue stand up and control how rough they are at will. She seemed to like them slightly rougher than kissing strength, especially on her nipples.
She sat up for a moment and turned under me, running her hands along my chest and belly. She repeatedly dug her hands into my fur, touching me. I had never been touched like that before and I discovered that liked it. A lot. Maybe this wasn't going to be such a bad thing after all. Her hands were getting closer to my cock and I was starting to get anxious. What would it feel like when she touched me there?
I got my answer. She touched the full sheath of my cock and I damn near came on the spot. "Urr," I said, "That feels good. But I'm going to come already if you do that any more."
"Zarah..." I sighed. "I've never done this with a humanoid. Just Pamthreats. And we're not so sophisticated. We don't have the kind of hands you do; ours don't feel so much as work."
"Oh," she said. "That's okay, then. I'll just see if you can come twice." She stroked along the entire length of my cock with her hands, from the sensitive tip to my testicles, closing momentarily on my scrotum before she ran her hands back up my cock again.
"Oh, fah," I groaned. She did that over and over and I was so close to climaxing that I could barely keep my feet still. When I did come I was afraid of swiping her with a claw. White semen arced out onto my belly and all over her arm.
"Wow," Zarah said. "You had a lot saved up." She looked at her forearm all covered in reproductive goo and then lifted it to her lips, licking just a bit of it. She made a face that told me it wasn't all that wonderful to her, but then she licked herself clean just the same.
"Don't expect me to do that," I said, laughing, as I sent my hands into the kitchen to fetch me some towels. They came back and I wiped my fur clean.
"That was nice," she said.
"Yeah?" I asked.
"Yeah. Better than another game of Go that we both know we're so bad at."
"True," I agreed. "Would you like to take this into the bedroom so we could finish?"
"I think that's a good idea," she said. We stopped just long enough to drop the mess we'd made into the laundry; by the time we were done in the bedroom everything here would be cleaned and pressed. Most of it is impregnable to dirt anyway.
Her bed creaked under my weight. It was large enough for two, but only just. As she wriggled out of her panties and socks I got another long, full look at her. I liked the way she looked but the human standards of "beauty" still eluded me.
She joined me on the bed, making it creak even more. "Lie down," I whispered, surprised that I could manage that much control over my voice. Was there really something so common in the Pendorian instinct that I was actually finding her arousing? She couldn't possibly have had the same programming with respect to me; she wasn't a Pendorian.
I nuzzled her soft belly, making her giggle, and then with my nose coaxed her legs open, exposing her beautiful core to all the world. The scent rising from her was musky and deep and sweaty, much like the weather all day long, and as I pressed my tongue to her cunt I got my first taste of human flesh. I have to admit that I liked it but I wouldn't want to eat it in any other form. She moaned as I tongued her open flower, finding her clitoris among the folds and shapes, kissing her as much as I was able.
I realized that I was trying to emulate human porn. There had to be a better way. I raised my head slightly, letting my eyes look up over the length of her body to stare into hers and began lapping at her just as I would lap at water.
That did it. It took no extra time to wind her up and make her happy. She was coming in less than three minutes, moaning loudly, her hands clenched at her sides. It made my heart thump to know that I had turned her on so much, especially when I couldn't make any assumptions at all about how much she was turned on just by my being me.
"Oh, fuck!" she said with one final shudder. "Oh, Rabi, you were WONDERFUL!"
"Oh, good. Just don't say it so loud the neighbors know, too, okay?" I laughed, then found myself shifting uncomfortably again.
"You got me all hot and bothered again," I said.
"Well..." She turned over onto her hands and knees. "You could always, you know..."
"I do," I said. I tried to get onto her back without using my claws.
"Oof! Hey... Uh, wait," Zarah said. "This isn't going to work."
"You're right. You're too tall. Even your thighs lift you up too high for us to get comfortable."
"Well, if that's a compliment about my legs, I'll take it." She grinned. "Let's try this." She lay down supine on the bed, a pillow thrust under her pelvis, lifting her buttocks up slightly, exposing her sex to wink between her cheeks and thighs. She glistened before my eyes.
"Oh, now there's a sight," I said. "And it's more like the way Pamthreats do it." I easily padded up the length of her body, letting my nose nuzzle the back of her neck. She shivered. "Ready?" I said.
"Yes." I let my erection slide between her legs, finding its home among the confusion of pubic hair. I was surprised that I had no trouble entering her, but there was no mistaking the warmth that surrounded my cock and welcomed me into her.
"Oh, yes," Zarah groaned as I let my weight drop more onto her. I wondered if I shouldn't be more careful, wondered if her pelvis could take my weight as readily as a femPamthreat's could. She certainly didn't have the back and shoulders for it.
But that worry went out of band with the wonderful feelings her warm body was giving me. We fucked with slow, easy motions as I took care to keep much of my weight up. "Lie on me," she breathed.
"Stop holding yourself up. Lie on me. I'll be okay." I wondered for a second, and then let my four rear legs drop down, using them only for motion. I lay my head next to hers as we began fucking slowly. Her breath came in labored gasps under my weight, her moans got louder as we fucked. She was pushing back against my cock with every stroke. The smell of her hair, her breath, her sweat was rich in the air. I licked her shoulder and the taste of salt and lust and fear were all there.
I was careful about being too forceful; I didn't want to hurt her and I was at least twice as strong as she was with those rear legs. I must have been doing something right because she came loudly long before I did, and she had one more before the tightness in my belly became my own climax.
"Oh, fah," she groaned.
I laughed. "Only Pendorians say that!"
She turned her head toward me and kissed my nose. "You were great," she said. "A little heavier than I thought you would be. Next time, ignore me when I tell you to lie on me."
"Did you notice it during or just afterward?" I asked.
She rolled over before she answered. "It didn't distract me from coming, I guess. Maybe you should... Oh, you do what you think is right. You made me come twice. You know what you're doing." She was laughing with every word, obviously enjoying the little tremors of afterglow. "Oh, Rabi, thanks for being my housemate."
"Thanks for being mine," I said. "Even if it was entirely by accident."
"There is nothing wrong with accidents that work this well," she sighed, running her hands up along her sides. She turned over and kissed me on the nose. "So," she said, "still friends?"
"Still friends," I agreed.
"Good," she said. "What time is it?"
I looked at a clock. "It appears to be almost ten at night." I had finally adjusted to the local clocks if not the length of the day.
"That early?" she sighed. "I'm still not tired. Let's go see if there's anything on the television."
"There's always something on the television," I pointed out. "The question is, do you want to watch it?"
"I'll make popcorn," she teased.
"Then it's a deal. Find some cornball S/F and it's a better deal."
"I'll see what I can find."