Nickolai's sleep later that night was not quiet. He tossed and turned as the drama unfurled in his mind.
He was standing in the dance hall of the starship, only now it was empty. The floor was littered with confetti and shimmering streams of plastic; empty glasses stood on the tables. The lights overhead shown down on the floor, but they didn't really focus on anything the way dance lights were supposed to.
"Still here?" he heard from behind him. The voice was masculine. He turned to find Matseh, the annoying kid he and Furry had defeated at MechForce yesterday, standing behind him. "What's wrong?" the kid jeered. "Lose your leash?"
"No," Nickolai found himself answering inexplicably, "She's right there." He pointed in the direction of the stage.
He was mildly surprised to find Jofuran standing on the stage, staring dreamingly into the distance. She was unmoving; she wasn't even blinking. "Well," the kid said, "She's waitin' for ya. Have ya nailed her yet?"
"Have I what?" Nickolai asked.
"Have ya fucked her? Or are you really her pet, jumpin' through her hoops?"
Nickolai's anger rose. "It's none of your business."
"So ya haven't nailed her, have ya? Why not? Did she make you her pet, like I said she would?"
"Shut up," Nickolai said, angrily.
"Come on, pet, look at her. Pet. Her pet. Pet pet pet petpetpet. I bet you'd do anything for her. Pendorian's pet."
"No, you hear, pet. Look at her. Look at what she is. She's a sex toy, pet, but she's made you her toy. Look at them all. Sex, all of it. Go on, take it. It's what she's there for."
Nickolai found his anger becoming misplaced; he knew it was wrong, but he felt angry at Furry. He couldn't say why. "That's it," the kid said under the hot dance lights. "Go on, take it, be a man, not the pet of a thing made by a man. It's yours, you got it."
"I..." Nickolai started to say. Anger washed over his dream self, anger at Furry but he still had no reason for it.
"Go on, pet. Make yourself a man. Prove it. Take the toy. That's what she is, a toy. Make her your toy. She's just gonna make you her pet then throw you away. Do it to her, do it first. Go on!" The kid was sneering at him.
Nickolai turned to face the kid, then back to Jofuran. She hadn't moved; she was still just standing there, staring off into the distance, frozen. He moved a step in her direction.
"That's it. Learn to take what's yours. You're human. Everything humans make belongs to them. You deserve her, doncha? Take her... Take her!"
Nickolai took another step, and another. He was going to do it, to prove to this kid that he was a man, that he was human
The hatred and anger washed through him again, focused, directed, and he reached out to grab Jofuran's arm-
Nickolai awoke with a start, panting in... Anger? Fear? Shame? All these feelings, and others, washed through him as he sat up slowly, fearful that his mother in the next room might enter. Had he screamed in his sleep? He was silent for a moment, but there was no sound or motion from his mother's suite.
He lay down again, noting as he did so that the sheets were wet and sticky. Had he...? No, it was just sweat.
What had he been thinking? It was just a dream, he told himself again and again, just a dream. Just a crazy dream, nothing to it. He had been ready to rape her!
He gritted his teeth until he was sure the sound could be heard in the next room. He turned fitfully on his side, adjusting the room temperature down a degree with the control by the side of the bed. He thought about the dream. It had all been so real. He had wanted to hurt her, to throw her down and take her... the way she deserved? No, that wasn't right.
He pounded the pillow in frustration. He didn't understand it at all. He tried to return to sleep, and that wouldn't come either; as he drifted off, the memory of the dream would return to him.
The sleep period passed very slowly, and he rose early in the hope of avoiding his mother.
In the rearward lounge, where Furry and he had talked last night, he sat and thought, and eventually fell asleep.
"Kolya?" he heard. "Nickolai?"
"Hu---wha?" he said, his eyes opening.
"Are you okay? Have you been sleeping here all night?" The voice and the face were Jofuran's.
"Are you okay, Kolya? You don't look so good."
"I didn't get much sleep," he replied.
"I can see. How come?"
Nickolai turned his face away and said, "I can't tell you."
He felt her warm fingers on his cheek, and she turned his head to face her. "Yeah you can. Please?"
"Furry... I-" he stopped. "I had this dream last night, and in this dream I was going to hurt you. I was going to hurt you because I'm Terran and you're a Pendorian and that's the way it is; I'm not supposed to like you. I don't understand how I fell in love with you.
"I'm afraid-- afraid that if you stay around me you're going to get hurt, or that you're going to have to hurt me. And I don't want that to happen. So do me a favor, please... and leave me alone."
"You mean now?" Jofuran asked, pain and confusion in her voice.
"I mean forever. Please... just go away."
"No, Furry. Please. Just leave me alone, and don't come back. If you see me, don't talk to me. Just... just stay away."
"I don't want to do that," Jofuran said sadly.
"You have to!" Nickolai hissed. "You have to, because we can't ever be friends. Don't you understand? That's the way it works. We. Can't. Be. Friends. Now leave me alone."
Jofuran looked at him, tears forming in her eyes and falling onto the fur of her cheeks. Her nose twitched gently for a second, and then she got up and began to walk away. Three steps later she broke into a run, crying.
Nickolai turned and looked out the window, looking at the stars. Sometime early this morning they were supposed to be docking at Parma. It was going to be a long flight, he thought, as cold tears came to his eyes as well.
"Good afternoon, Gentlesentients, my name is Luarna, and I will be your guide for your trip to Pendor. My race is Mephit, characterized by my pronounced black and white fur, a large and heavily furred tail, features found more commonly in the non-sentient skunk species, Mephitis Mephitis. I am of the racial variant Spilogale, and if anyone would like to come close enough to actually check, you will find I don't smell at all. I get questions about that.
"You are now in the receiving lobby of Parma for vacationing guests; I'm going to dim the lights in a moment and if you look below your feet, you will see all of Pendor below you. Parma is actually on the orbital radius of Pendor, but we are above the plane Pendor, Pandora, and Pin inhabit. Parma is not actually in orbit; large gravitic drives and occasional boosts from fusion reactors keep us in place. It isn't actually necessary that Parma be where it is, but it does make for a good visual effect, both to remind natives that yes, they are home, and to show off-worlders just what it is they have come to visit.
"Now, one of you somewhere will find a small red circle lighting up under your feet. If you look directly down at the small red circle you will find a small, moving spot. That is Pandora, a one-gravity planet that is actually inside the orbit of Pendor and provides additional forces to act upon the atmosphere and oceans of the ring, creating a tide, necessary for the continued health of our oceans. Pandora has it's own moon, Pindam, to provide it with a tide of its own as well."
Nickolai smiled as he heard people shuffling about. "There it is," a voice said somewhere.
"Now if you will all come with me, I'll show you to your hotel rooms in the space station. All the facilities you would expect from a grand hotel are available here, and some that aren't available anywhere else. Tomorrow morning at 3 Arie' the tour moves out. I understand that there will be some native Pendorians going with us this trip, and that should make things lots of fun. all right, everybody come along." She led them out. Nickolai followed them, suddenly a little depressed with the mention of 'natives.' He was wrapped up in his thoughts when a hand touched his shoulder. "Can I have a word with you, lad?"
He turned his head to find himself looking at Morrail Shigokai, Jofuran's father. He looked to his mother, who simply looked away and kept walking to the hotel. "Sure," he shrugged. "I guess."
"I understand you told Joey you didn't want to see her."
"Uhm... Yes sir, I did."
"Would you like to discuss it with me?"
Nickolai stopped for a second, completely unprepared for this. Never having had a father nor knowing anyone else who did until Jofuran, he had no idea what to expect. Finally he nodded. "If you wish, sir."
"Come over here," Morrail said, leading them through a door clearly marked "Off Limits."
"We can't go through there," Nickolai said.
"Lad, I am a Pendorian; as long as I do not interfere with the normal operations of the station I can pretty much go anywhere I please. And do you think the AI would have opened the door at all if your presence weren't permitted?"
Nickolai shook his head. "Good lad," Morrail said, "Now come on." He lead them into a general throughway that seemed to be teeming with more Pendorians that Nickolai had ever seen in his life. "This is what's on the other side of the door; the local economic district, for the residents. The last things we want traders and merchants to see is the flagrant disregard we have for the capitalist system as it is implemented on Terra."
Nickolai nodded. "Over here," Morrail said, indicating a sign that read "Asteroids." Inside, Nickolai found himself looking at a restaurant or lounge, with various Pendorians sitting in small round booths. "Have a seat."
"Morrail!" a voice rang out from behind the counter. Nickolai saw an apparently overweight, blue-furred humanoid stepping out from around a corner. What was most surprising about the figure was that it didn't have arms, really, but tentacles. That and the big ears told Nickolai that this was a Tindal.
"Zha!" Morrail shouted back. "Good to see you again!"
"That it is, that it is. So, are you back to stay this time or are you just visiting before you go back and dig in the sand of some dirty rotten little mudball again?"
"It's long-term this time, Zha. Zha, I'd like you to meet Nickolai Dittrich of Earth."
"Ahh, you're from Earth, are you? Sorry about the 'mudball' comment."
Nickolai shrugged and shook hands with the Tindal; The grip from the fingerless mitten felt pliable but strong; comfortable. Nickolai also noted that this Tindal's eyes were solid blue, but a blue that was actually darker than the pale blue of his fur.
"So," the barkeep continued, "How's Helena? And Jofuran-- She'd be thirteen now, right?"
"Jorfuran's sixteen, Zha."
"No! Has it been so long?"
Morrail nodded. "And Helena's fine. Still with me."
Zha nodded. "So, can I getcha anything? I'm in the mood to cook pastrami today."
"Then two of those, whatever they are," Morrail said. He turned to Nickolai and said, "He makes the best sandwiches in all of space."
"I'm also the only sandwich shop in all of space," Zha said dryly. "Never mind him. It's good for you. Drinks?"
They ordered and Morrail finally managed to shoo the barkeep away. "So, do you want to tell me why you've made my daughter so miserable?"
Nickolai was silent for a moment, then it began to pour out of him. For no explicable reason, he found himself telling the whole story, the dream, the fear, everything. Morrail sat back and absorbed the narration with interest, sometimes seeming to cock his head to pay better attention.
"Well, lad, I'm going to tell you something in return. First of all, your dream seems pretty normal."
"Yes, normal. I trust my daughter's feelings on this, and I agree with her and my wife; you hardly seem like the type to put up an aggressive front with someone you count as a friend. As for your being with my daughter for a short time, this is a vacation, and you're both supposed to be having fun, not making each other miserable. And you haven't been having fun alone, have you?" Nickolai shook his head. "Look, lad, the only thing you stand to lose from being Joey's friend is the respect of your peers; peers I sense you don't respect yourself and don't want the respect of. You're letting other make your decisions for you; My impression was of a young man made of sterner stuff."
Nickolai smiled and said, "Thank you, sir."
"That's not a compliment, Nickolai. You're destined for greatness or bitterness, depending on your strength. I hope you live up to the greatness."
Nickolai was silent as Zha returned with the sandwiches, piled high with a dubious-looking pink meat and a healthy topping of vegetables. Despite his misgivings, the food was quite excellent, and spicy. He commented on that to Morrail.
Morrail's reaction was to turn to the barkeep. "Zha! You have a centaur on your staff nowadays?"
"Yeah; girl named Debbie. Why, is there a problem?"
"No, no, just curious." Morrail turned back to Nickolai and said, "Damned Centaurs'll put horseradish in anything."
They complete their meals and stepped out onto the shopping concourse. Nickolai felt more than a little uncomfortable leaving the restaurant without paying or otherwise acknowledging receipt of lunch. "You'll learn two things if you spend time with Joey," Morrail said as he led Nickolai back to the hotel. "One is that signs don't mean a damn thing on Pendor; it's whether or not the AI or some individual will stop you from doing something that determines its 'rightness.' The other is that you pay a restaurateur by returning to his establishment; it acknowledges his expertise. This is actually hard, since immortals tend to spend a lot of time avoiding becoming bored with eating the same thing over and over again. Most of us know how to cook for ourselves."
The path he led returned to the starship just in time to run into Matseh and his cronies walking out through the main lobby door. "Hey, pet," he crooned as they walked by. "I'll deal with you and your mistress later, pet."
As they walked down the hall, Morrail let out a loud guffaw.
"What's so funny?" Nickolai asked.
"If that's the quality of the opposition," Morrail said, "You and Joey have nothing to worry about lad."
"Thank you, sir."
"Nonsense. You have no sense of esteem, Nickolai. You are a man, member of a race that pulled itself up from nothing with nothing but their own minds. Even we can't claim that. You'd be surprised how many Pendorians, especially the Tleils and centuries, are hurt by the hatred of Terra. As an individual, you have retained that individuality enough to decide for yourself who and especially what you shall love. Be proud of yourself, because few others will."
They were silent as Morrail turned a corner and knocked on a door. "It's me, Helena."
The door opened and Jofuran's mother stood there. "And you brought Nickolai. Good," she smiled. "Joey, come here."
"What, Mom?" Nickolai heard as she turned the corner. The expression on her face changed when she saw Nickolai. "Oh."
"Uhhh..." Nickolai said, at a loss for words for a moment. "Hi, Furry."
Furry walked up close to him and said, "I can talk to you?"
"Do you trust me?"
Morrail and Helena disappeared back into the suite, away from the anteroom. Furry smiled and said, "I trust you. I always did. I just didn't understand." She paused for a second and said, "It sucks being a Terran, doesn't it?"
Nickolai nodded, then smiled. "It's not so bad. It just sucks being a Terran right now." He took a step forward and hugged her close. "I'm sorry."
She slowly raised her arms and hugged him back. "It's okay."
"Furry..." There was pause. "Can you still say 'I love you?'"
Her grip tightened and she said, "Kolya... I love you."
"Even though I hurt you so badly?"
"Oh, Kolya... You were just being... I don't know. Terran?"
He nodded. "I'm sorry."
She chuckled gently and said, "You already said that. Stop apologizing."
"Pendorians are so pushy," he said, laughing with her.
"And that's my problem," she replied. "I do love you, Kolya."
He could feel her against his body, her warmth seeping into him again. "I love you too, Furry."
They separated quietly and Furry looked up into his eyes. "Let's go take a look around."
"Wait a minute," Nickolai said. "It's going to be late soon."
Jofuran glanced around for a moment and said, "Late... soon? That's an odd expression. But I understand."
"So how far can we go?"
"Well, we're in Parma. I imagine we can go anywhere we want to."
"I know. You're dad told me about the rules as the AI's see them."
Jofuran laughed aloud. "It's still light out, Kolya. Are you sure you got enough sleep last night to keep going?"
He nodded, although he thought that his eyes felt better closed.
"No you didn't," she said, smiling. "Come on, where's your room?"
"313B, The Grand Dragon Hotel."
"Come on," she said, taking him in hand by hand and shoulder and shoving him out the door. "You need to get some sleep."
"Okay," he said reluctantly. He had wanted to wander around the station, but she was right; he did need sleep. She led him along the corridors to a white disk with three yellow stripes on it forming a triangle. She pushed him onto it and said "Grand Dragon, Third floor." There was a momentary blink and the walls seemed to change color.
He was momentarily disoriented. "OhMiFa, I forgot... You've never been on a teleporter before, have you?" Jofuran said.
He shook his head. "It's okay; you'll get used to it." She lead him down to his room and pushed the door open.
"Hey," he said, "You need the key, don't you?"
"Kolya... The AI let us in."
"Oh," he said. It was going to be a while getting used to this, he thought, and he was tired. She led him in and said, "Okay, do you sleep with any bedclothes, or what?"
He shook his head. "Then get your clothes off," she directed.
"Come on, Kolya. You don't have anything I haven't seen before."
"Okay," he said reluctantly, slowly stripping off shirt and pants. "Well?" he asked.
She giggled and said, "You look good. Into bed, into bed." She pulled up the bedsheets and pushed him onto the bed. He sat down hard, slid his legs under the sheets and turned over onto his side. He heard her say something in Pendorii but didn't concentrate on it hard enough to translate; he figured it was something about the lights again because they dimmed. He was almost asleep when something rocked the bed gently and he felt a warmth press against his back. Then he was unconscious.