I was barely clear of the bend around the corner to her house when she came running down the porch and through the gate, her hands in the air. "Ken!" she shouted as she ran towards me.
She slammed into me, the sensation not unlike being slammed into a brick wall. After letting out the perquisite "OOF!" I wrapped my arms around her and hugged her tightly. "How ya doin', Etta?"
"Doin' fine, doin' fine!" She pushed me back and gave me her steady and critical eye. "Is this just a social visit?"
"I can't hide anything from my captain, O captain?"
She chuckled. "Not today you can't. Besides, I've retired."
"That's what I want to talk to you about."
She sighed. "C'mon into the house," she said. "We'll talk about. Though you're gonna have one hell of a time changing my mind." She shook her head and wandered up the path again.
I followed her into the front yard, carefully laid out in intricate rows of tulips and other flowers. The bright blooms of yellow, green, red and blue seemed to swirl in front of my eyes. I looked up at her again and followed her into the house.
The kitchen was laid out with a very peasant-like atmosphere; bright yellow printed curtains over a small window, lots of cut and lined wood everywhere. "Niaro!" she shouted into another room. "We have a visitor, if you'd like to meet him."
"In a second," a voice from the other room shot back in Felinzi. I raised an eyebrow, curious as to who would be speaking Felinzi in this day and age, except a Pamthreat.
My suspicion was confirmed when a large, panther-like creature with four hindlegs and sentience in his eyes padded through the door briskly. He walked over to me and said, "Vatare' Shardik!"
I smiled and reached out a hand. He rubbed his cheek against it softly and I scratched him. "It's my pleasure, Niaro."
"Mine as well," he said, his eyes alight. "Etta has told me much about you when she traveled with you."
"Well," Etta said, "Yes. Although I didn't do him much good when his shuttlecraft was attacked."
"That wasn't your fault, Etta."
"I should have accomplished something."
"You couldn't possibly have known. It's over with," I said, cutting the guilt-trip short. "I came to visit you because I'm sure you know what happened last week."
"I heard you were putting together a new starship and crew for a single-purpose expedition. Ten years, something like that?"
"About that," I said. "The Terrans will be at the destination in about three and half years. Under Ohadi, we can make it in two. It'll feel like three, but we'll make it there in two real-time. We're going because the Xenobotanists are going crazy; a new form of life, they're shouting."
"And your coimelin wants to be at the vanguard," she observed.
I nodded. "It sounds awful, maybe-- Ken Shardik abusing his power, as Aaden put it. I see nothing wrong with it. He's qualified, he's certainly experienced, and he's got the backing of Pendor to do it. He's not going it alone, he's putting a team together. That's why I'm here."
"I want this to be an interplanetary effort, if at least symbolically. I'm getting authorization from the llerkindi to take along some xenobotanical students for the voyage... other disciplines as well. The executive crew is going to be Terran."
"Remember my granddaughter, Dennielle Satpulov? Her coimelin, David? I've asked him to be captain. He hasn't given his reply yet."
She thought about it. "Why me?"
"I want a Pendorian to be Civilian Executive Officer. I want you to give David advice on how to live with a whole bunch of Pendorians, not just Denni."
She thought about it. "I don't know."
"Come on, Etta. I'm asking you to go with me. You can stop blaming yourself for what happened all those years back."
She sighed, her head in her hands. "I don't know," she repeated.
"I do. I can't imagine anyone more qualified than you are."
"Not even Stewart?"
"Stewart is good. He's a military mel, though. Sometimes he thinks with his guns. And I don't want a military captain for CXO. You've got a good head on your shoulders, and twenty-three weeks to familiarize yourself with Eleventh-Century procedures. Please, say yes."
The human female across the table from me looked down at Niaro and said, "Well?"
"Well, what?" the Pamthreat answered briskly. "Do I think you should do it?"
"That's what I'm asking you," she replied.
The Pamthreat looked over at me steadily, not unlike his friend. "I don't read the news much. What's the purpose of this expedition?"
I outlined for him the discovery as we knew it, and of Aaden's analysis that the vegetation on the planet might be upliftable. Although I could never read Pamthreat's faces very well, his was obviously very interested. "You're putting together a xenobotany team. Why wasn't I informed?"
"What's your specialty?"
"I teach DNA-based genetic botany at the University of Sinaloa."
"I've been told that this life-form is CHON based, but the DNA model may not hold up."
"Hmmm." He glanced over at Etta. "I'm interested in going. If you get a berth, so can I."
"Even if you go, you might just qualify as a family member, and not as a member of the scientific crew," I interrupted.
The Pamthreat smiled. "I can ingratiate myself if I have to."
I chuckled. "I'm sure you can."
Etta put her hands down on the table. "Look, let me think about this, okay? Ken, you must have walked miles to get here from the SDisk, no matter how close you live to one on the other side. Why don't you take your boots off, put your feet up and relax? I'll be outside." She stood up and walked out suddenly.
I blinked. "That was quick."
Niaro nodded. "She doesn't talk much about her life as a starship captain. Sometimes she cries at night, though."
"Niaro... this may sound like a personal question, but..."
"How do Etta and I know each other? Would you be shocked if I called her my mate?"
I laughed. "No, I won't be shocked. A little surprised maybe. I don't judge anyone quite that way anymore."
"She's right, though. Take off those boots-- outside!-- and relax."
I gratefully followed his instructions and deposited my boots on the porch. As I did so I saw Etta working in her garden, cutting the tulips with precision and care, taking out the insects by hand. I shook my head and walked back in.
"You feel for her, don't you?" Niaro asked me.
"Yeah, I do," I replied. "I just care, Niaro. Three centuries is far, far too long for someone to blame themselves for what happened back then. She has to go back to space. I want to atone for the damage my accident did to her life. She takes it all far too hard."
He nodded. I sat down on the couch. "You look tired," he observed.
"I am, sorta. I think I'll just lie down and close my eyes. I'm not going to fall asleep."
I lied about the last part, of course.
Something cool and moist was pressing itself against my shoulder. "If you don't wake up, I'll lick your cheek," a voice growled.
I opened one eye and look Niaro in the face. "Don't you dare."
"Oh, I'd dare," he smiled. "I think it would be educational to see your reaction."
I laughed quietly and righted myself on the couch. I looked up to find Etta, still wearing a simple blue peasant's hem, staring at me from across the kitchen table. "You're very handsome when you sleep, Ken."
I pursed my lips. "P'nyssa says that."
"She's right," Etta replied. "You have a very quiet look to you." She stared out the window. "It's hard to believe I had Ken Shardik asleep on my sofa."
She shrugged. "I don't know. It just is. There are legends around you, you know. You're not supposed to fall asleep on people's sofas, I guess."
I laughed. "Would you be surprised if I told you I fell asleep on sofas on a regular basis?"
"On your own, probably?"
"Mostly," I replied.
My stomach growled and all three people in the room heard it. Niaro looked up and said, "We have dinner, if you'd like. It's roast lamb, with some basic vegetables."
"Really? I'd love some."
"Etta? Could you get it? My hands are downstairs in the lab."
Etta nodded to her not-even-vaguely human partner and stood up, putting together a plateful for me. I roused myself enough to walk over to the kitchen table and eat like a citizen of civilization, even if I don't act like one all the time.
Niaro excused himself while I ate, leaving me alone with Etta. "So," I said between bites. "What have you thought about?"
She sighed. "I don't know, Ken."
"What's not to know about?" I sighed and reached across the table to grab her hand. She didn't resist. "Look, I know how you feel. You're still convinced that you failed me in some way, and nothing I say will make you feel differently. You've seen the tapes, examined the evidence. You couldn't have done a thing. We were one lonely Mark 454 starcruiser in the middle of nowhere. Not even getting the Eldarfaroth there at full speed the second battle started would have changed in any way the way things happened."
"You don't know that!"
"Etta..." I looked across the table into her eyes. Back when she was captain of the Eldarfaroth, I hadn't even been part of the executive crew... just a general engineer and sometimes teacher. Now that I had a chance to be close to her, to look at her, I felt attracted, and responsible, for her. "You're scared, aren't you?"
"What's not to be scared of?" she asked quietly. "You're asking me to go out into space again."
"You won't have responsibility like before. I just want someone good with people, someone good at communication. You're one of the finest diplomatic captains I know. I need you."
Niaro returned, padding around her chair and put his head in her lap. "Etta... I want you to go. Ken wants you to go. I want to go, but only if you go with me. Please?"
She sighed and looked down, tears starting to slide down her cheeks. She nodded, smiling. "Okay, I'll do it. On one condition."
"What condition?" I asked. Niaro looked up suddenly.
"Ken spends the night here. With me." She was looking down as she said it, staring at Niaro.
Niaro was silent for a second, then he laughed. "Is that all?"
"No, that's not all," Etta said, wiping a tear away and managing to laugh at the same time. "But for now, that's what I want. The rest... well, the rest we won't resolve until we're out in space."
"Wait a second," I said, interrupting. "I'm perfectly willing to... but what about Niaro?"
"What about me?"
"I mean, are you expected to sleep out here on the couch? Aren't I displacing your place in bed? What are you going to do?"
Niaro turned his head to look at me. "I could sleep on the couch. The bed's big enough for three or four, to be honest. We could sleep together."
"Is that all you want, Etta? To sleep with me?"
Etta smiled. "What happens once we're in the bedroom is up to everybody involved, right?"
"That's the way it goes," I said gently. "But are you both willing to let me into your bedroom, as a threesome?"
"Oh, that's right," Niaro said. "You don't like having more than one person in bed, right?"
"Not exactly," I said. "I just have a lot more trouble dealing with it. If you're willing to be voyeur, or if you're willing to accept that I'm probably not going to be paying much attention to you, then I won't have that much of a problem."
Niaro nodded. "Etta?"
"I don't have a problem with that."
I leaned back in the chair, full and still tired, and yawned. "I don't either."
"Tired already? After such a nap?" Etta chided me softly.
"What do you want? I walked nearly fifteen klicks to get here. I'm exhausted. And then you fill me up with this food."
Etta laughed softly and stood up, walking around the table to by my side. "Come on," she said, winking. "I'll wake you up."
I smiled and stood up, taking her hand. She led me into the bedroom and turned around to face me. "Undress me," she said.
"Oh-ho," I laughed. "Since when do you give orders like you were born in Rhysh?"
"Since I was your starship captain," she replied. I reached up and began unbuttoning the loose-fitting blouse she wore, watching her skin closely as more and more of it was revealed. I looked up into her eyes for the last moment, when I unbuttoned the final fast and her shirt fell away from her to the floor.
When I had known Etta, back on the Eldarfaroth, she had maintained her body through deliberate, intense exercise, much like Aaden did. A proverbial 'human brick wall,' Etta had also been a fine martial artist, capable of tossing Uncia around like stuffed dolls. The few times I had talked to her I'd found her very pleasant, with a soft voice and calm, commanding manner.
The centuries hadn't changed her much. Rural life had changed the way her musculature was distributed and shaped, but the essential strength that defined Etta Argent was still there. Her bodyfat had returned, giving her small breasts some visibility and definition. Her hair had always been blond.
As I knelt down to remove her pants, she parted her legs ever- so- slightly, making taking them off easier. As they slid down (she wore no underwear), her soft patch of pubic hair became visible, matted down by her clothing. She stepped out of her clothing and I tossed it aside, but rather than stand up immediately I leaned close and gave her pubic mound a soft kiss, lingering a lot longer than I really should have. She giggled. "Come here, Ken."
I stood up. "You really want this?" I asked.
"I really do," she replied. "I want you to tell me I'm forgiven."
"I want you to show me."
I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her gently, on the cheek. "Like this?" I asked softly, running my fingers down the side of her body.
"Like that." She kissed my cheek back, and I slowly pushed her down onto the bed, kissing her neck, following her down.
"How's your back?" I asked gently. "I saw you bending over in the garden."
"It's okay," she smiled. "I'm used to it. But if you'd like to give me a rub, I'll accept."
I laughed softly. The door to my right opened and I looked up to see Niaro come in. He laughed softly. "That's one thing I can't really do well," he said as Etta turned over on the bed.
"Do you resent the fact that I can give Etta something you can't?" I asked softly.
"Of course not," Niaro replied. He sounded a touch confused, but leapt up on the bed to join us.
Etta reached a hand out and touched Niaro's paw softly. "He knows I love him."
Niaro bent close and parted his muzzle, kissing Etta's lips softly. Her tongue and his met as I watched, rubbing her back and along her shoulders. Open-mouthed and breathing against each other, this woman kissing this Pamthreat made my cock stir. The sight and sound... I shook my head and wondered what in Hell I was going to do here as I watched the two of them feed and psyche each other with a kiss they must have shared often.
Niaro pulled away slowly and looked up at me. The flush I felt on my face must have been obvious, because he tilted his head curiously and said, "Why are you still wearing clothes?"
"You've still got clothes on. Undress, already!"
I blinked for a moment, then assented, tossing my shirt and pants over the side. "Better?"
"Much," he agreed. "You're not bad looking," he assessed. "It's almost too bad I don't like mels all that much."
I smiled and shook my head. "Who says you have to?"
"Nobody. Just thinking I could give you something you like."
I reached out and touched his head, stroking down the back of his neck and the length of his body. "I'll enjoy whatever happens tonight, with both of you."
He smiled. "I appreciate that." Slowly I resumed my massaging activities, working my way down her buttocks and her thighs, gently rolling the flesh under my fingers, feeling her body shiver softly when my touch was soft and ticklish. Etta's hand slowly stroked her coimelin's body, and I couldn't help but smile when I saw her hand disappear between his body and the bed, reaching for his cock.
My own shaft was vacillating between hard excitement and soft restfulness. It would rise in need and then fade away when it realized it wasn't going to get what it wanted now. I parted her legs gently to kneel between them as she lay on her belly, rubbing the backs of her calves before I got to her feet.
She sighed gently as I rubbed her feet. Every muscle was tight and strained. "It's been so long," she whispered to me as I rubbed her.
"Can't Niaro use his hands?"
"They're not good enough. I don't feel enough," he replied. "It has been a long time since a real pair of hands gave her a massage."
I smiled. "You should come by the castle more often."
"Maybe we will," Niaro replied.
"I'm sure Sandy would love to meet you both of you."
"Pamthreat we have living there now."
"Ah," Niaro said, chuckling. "Playing matchmaker, Ken?"
I mock-shrugged with a huge smile. "Maybe."
He shook his head. "Nothing could take me away from Etta." But he laughed as he said it. "Still, what would you say to kittens, Etta?"
"I don't know, Niaro. What would you say to babies?"
There was laughter between both of them. I smiled as I worked my way back up and kissed her thighs, gently. She cooed softly. I kissed her other thigh, and slowly kissed my way back and forth, across each thigh, working my way up to her tight, taut buttocks. She was perfectly still but for her left hand, which slowly stroked Niaro's fur.
I smiled and pried apart her cheeks, kissing her first at her tailbone, then slowly sliding down to her anus, giving her one soft kiss there. "Ohhh..." she moaned.
Niaro looked up at me and managed a wink. "She likes that."
"Does she?" I asked. "Have to do it again, then," I replied, slowly kissing her anus again, running my tongue around it in small, careful circles. I dropped down between her legs, supine, kissing her perineum before sliding my tongue easily into her already wet cunt. The taste was familiar, and yet not really. I suddenly realized how long it had been since I'd slept with a human, as opposed to any other species.
She bent her legs, pushing her hips into the air, trying to tilt her clit to my lips, but I avoided it still, kissing her larger lips, then taking her smaller lips in my teeth and tugging carefully. She shuddered, groaning.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized just how monogamous I'd been recently. Forget humans... It had been nearly six years since I'd slept with anyone except Aaden and P'nyssa. I pressed my face between her thighs, kissing and suckling her cunt before descending to her clit, kissing around her hood and over the top of her labia. She moaned loudly, pressing back. "You're good," she said gently.
I tried not to laugh, but I couldn't help some of it. A small laugh escaped as my tongue pressed against her clitoris, now. She moaned and held still, but I could feel her moving slightly, shifting. She moaned again as I licked her harder, and then she let loose one long, throaty "Yes!" as she came, pressing her mound back against my face.
Personally, I was surprised. I had had no idea she was that close to orgasm. "Don't stop!" she cried hoarsely, which clued me in. I slid my tongue up against her clit again, licking carefully around the hood and at the cusp of her lips, sometimes licking up to her cunt. This position, with her on her belly, hurt my neck, but I ignored my pain because I wanted to give her what she wanted.
She came again, moaning loudly. And again, even louder. "Stop," she said softly. "Let me turn over."
I got out of the way as she did so, looking her over as she lay on her back, eyes closed. "Get inside," she said.
I smiled and aimed my hard cock for her cunt, sliding in. Her head tilted back with pleasure, exposing her throat, as my hips came down to press against her thighs, spreading her legs wider. She groaned as I started to fuck her slowly, and as I could look down I could see my cock, coated in her juices, sliding into her cunt. Gods, she felt good... a unique sensation. And as I slid my full length into her, she tightened her muscles there.
I was stuck! She opened her eyes and smiled at me. "I've got you," she sang softly.
"Yes, you do," I said, looking down at her. "Nice control."
She laughed. "That's all you can say?" She turned to Niaro. "I've got his precious melhood hostage and all he can say is 'nice control?'"
All three of us laughed softly. "Well," I started in again, "What are you going to do with it?"
"Turn over," she said softly, as if explaining and asking simultaneously. We began to tilt to my right, falling over onto the bed. My cock never moved from it's depth within her cunt. "On your back," she said. We turned over further, and then she was on top of me. The arrangement had been much smoother than I would have thought possible.
Her cunny loosened and she began stroking me again, letting my cock slide within her body. "Is this what you wanted, Etta?"
"Almost," she replied. "Niaro?"
"You've got me ready," the Pamthreat replied. The look of lust in his eyes made him all the more frightening, all the more exciting to be near. Sandy's almost made me used to forgetting that there are nonsentient, animal Pamthreats, and that they are the most dangerous land mammals in the world. He padded around behind Etta and she bent over, her chest pressed against mine, her eyes staring into me. "Are you ready, Ken?"
"If what's about to happen is what I think's about to happen, I think I'm ready," I whispered.
I felt the bed rock a little as Niaro pushed himself up onto Etta's back. He's so huge his paws came down and actually reached the bed on either side of her body. "Ready?" he growled softly.
From where I was, my cock buried deep inside her cunt, I could feel Niaro pushing against me. And then I realized that she wasn't going for one in each hole... she was trying to fit both Niaro and I into her cunt at the same time!
I felt his cock against mine, pressing hard, and then with one rough shove he was inside her, the underside of his cock pressing against the underside of mine. As we both began a slow back-and- forth motion, Etta went into convulsions, groaning loudly. I wrapped my arms around her back and held her down; I could feel Niaro's forepaws pressing against my biceps and her torso. She was gasping, and Niaro hissed "Don't stop, Ken, what ever you do."
"It's not like I'm doing anything," I replied in the guttural growls of Felinzi. His quaternary hindlegs pushed hard against her; I kept one arm around Etta and with the other touched Niaro's forepaw, watching her face, her eyes closed and her mouth open. "Uoh!" she gasped again as I held her and together we fucked her, my passion fueled and fed by animal lust. I could feel his cock against mine, stroking hard; all I was doing was filling Etta's cunt-- he provided all the strength.
His growls become louder, as did her moans every time he slammed into her. I was nowhere near orgasm, and he clearly was. His stamina was impressive... he never gave a single hint he was tiring all the way until he let out an incredible, final roar and released his come inside Etta's doubly-full cunt.
"Wow," I said softly.
"Yeah," Niaro said, growling and laughing simultaneously. "We've never tried that before."
"Etta?" I asked softly, caressing her hair as she lay on top of me, catching her breath.
"She won't be able to talk for about ten minutes. She really goes out there when we make love normally."
"Gods," I said. I've met women like that before, but not often, and I had no idea Etta was in that category. "Niaro, come lie with us."
He lay down against Etta and myself, pressing his body to ours, his head by my shoulder. "Enjoy yourself, Shardik?" he asked.
I took a deep breath, exhaled, and said "Yes. I didn't come, but..." I shrugged. "I don't feel I have to. It was just so good watching you two."
Etta apparently came back to sentience then. "Thanks," she said, her voice slurred and distant.
I laughed and caressed her hair again. "You're welcome." We waited another minute, and then I asked, "Are you two ready for bed?"
"Ready as we'll ever be," Niaro said gently. On my mental notebook I wrote down that Niaro seemed to be willing to speak for the both of them more often than Etta did.
I laughed gently, recalling my own words of about an hour ago. "Okay, let's get under these covers."
Etta nodded, not speaking much. I cuddled up close to her and held her through the night.
When I awoke, I was still holding her close. Extracting myself slowly, I still managed to wake her up. "'Morning," she said softly.
"Good morning yourself, Etta. How're you feeling?"
I smiled, placing my hand on her shoulder to slowly push her onto her back. I straddled her body and smiled down at her. "You were great last night."
"You weren't so bad yourself," she replied. "But you didn't come."
"I didn't really think I had to."
"'Having to' has nothing to do with it, Ken. I want you to." She batted at my penis, with it's traditional morning erection. "And apparently, you do to."
I looked over at Niaro, who was still snoring peacefully. "Won't we wake the kitty?"
"If we wake him, we wake him. He's a lazybones sometimes anyway." She looked up at me with big, expectant eyes. "Please? One more time?"
I laughed and with my right leg pushed her left aside. She took the cue and spread her thighs wide, my cock sliding into her cunny easily. She moaned again, and I began stroking in and out her, in control this time.
I looked down and watched my cock pump between the matted blond curls of her pubic hair, noticing even as we made love the way her outer labia filled and seemed to pull away, opening for me.
Her hands reached up to touch my shoulders, to pull me down on top of her as we made first-light love, my cock deep within her grasping cunt. We panted in sync.
The familiar rise of orgasm came upon me, and I looked down into Etta's face as she seemed to be rising towards her own. "At the same time?" I breathed softly over her.
"If we can... " she replied, gasping. Her hips rose in time with mine, our bodies in gentle collision as my orgasm swept over me and I came, groaning softly inside her, her own body quivering underneath me as a soft squeal of pleasure escaped her, signaling her own climax of pleasure.
I lay atop her for a few minutes, and then the soft feline chuckle of Niaro's amusement reached my ears. "Etta, Etta, Etta..." he said. "Don't you ever stop." It wasn't a question.
She reached out and stroked his head. "I won't, Niaro. We'll go."
He closed his eyes slowly, then reopened them. "I knew you'd want to."
"I love you, Niaro."
"I love you too, Etta."
An hour later, I was showered, breakfasted, laced into my boots, and on my way down the road back into town and the SDisk back home. The morning was light, airy, dry and warm, and I felt good. I had a commitment from someone I cared about that they would enact their own healing, and that meant a lot to me. I was humming to myself, although I couldn't place the tune.
"Ken!" a voice growled from behind me. I turned to see Niaro cantering up the roadway at what is for a Pamthreat a leisurely pace. I stopped and waited for him.
"Hey, mon," I said smilingly. "What can I do for you?"
"Let's talk while we walk," he suggested. I resumed my pace back towards town, waiting for him to begin the conversation, since clearly that's what he was after, conversation.
Finally, he did start. "This may sound racist, but I don't think I'm the right mel for Etta, in the end. I love her with all my heart, and the past forty years have been wonderful, but I think she loves me because I'm not hominid, and I don't think that's right. She needs someone who can give her a backrub, who can... hug her once in a while. Does that sound... wrong?"
"You think she's avoiding hominid males?"
"I think she's avoiding hominids, period! I think this trip will be good for her, let her interact with real people again."
"Niaro," I growled in his chosen tongue, Felinzi, "You are real people."
"I know that," he replied testily. "But I'm sorry if I feel inadequate for Etta, but that's just how I feel."
"So, why are you talking to me?"
"I just needed to get it off my back. You're organizing this thing, and I just wanted someone to know. You seemed to be the best person."
I laughed. "Okay, Niaro. I appreciate your telling me." Inside, though, my ambivalence about building species without manipulative appendages struck me again. I silently and ruthlessly put the thought aside... I'd done it, it was time to live with it, if it was a mistake.
"I didn't expect you to have words of wisdom for me. I guess I was hoping you would tell me I'm wrong."
I sighed. "Niaro, I think you and Etta made a great couple last night, and this morning, an listening to you two say 'I love you' to each other just made a lot of sense to me. I want you two to be happy. I think your relationship works. Don't you back out on her."
He laughed. "I won't back out. I just feel uncomfortable."
"You're going out in public with her?"
"Cross-species aren't all that uncommon. It's the cross- morphology relationships that sometimes weird people out."
"Well, tough. Live up to your love."
He nodded. "I will. Take care, Ken. I'll see you in a few months?"
"Probably sooner than that."
"Okay." He turned and loped back down the road towards his home. I turned my way and headed again for town.