As a species, Pendorians tend to be very easy-going, very slow to change. Unlikely to jump to conclusions. And more given to recreation than your standard work-ethic species that pulled itself up by its bootstraps. Our supremacy is assured merely by our existence; it has long been known that a sentient being can compose it's own superiors. We call that evolution.
The expedition had gone on five months thus far. We had landed in winter and now winter had gone without much in the way of a change for us, courtesy of our placing our camp at the equator, although this change of the seasons had given us plenty of data about a phenomenon we had guessed early on. This planet was about to have one major ice-age.
The organic network slowly unraveled on our computer screens. What had once seemed an improbably complicated task had transformed itself into an impossibly complicated task. No matter how we looked, the reasons behind the network's existence just became harder and harder to fathom. The plants supporting it didn't seem to benefit from it.
The zoologists had all become either entomologists or ichthyologists; there were no mammals, reptiles, or birds. No animal life of any kind above the eight-legged exoskeletal insect variety that leaped, hopped, walked, flew, buzzed, and swam everywhere we went. Walking out among the camp on a hot day with the sun overhead was a murderous proposition at times. The field, though, was big enough to encourage good wind, and a stiff breeze kept most of the bugs under covers. And the schedule literally had made some people physically ill.
The dolphins, of all people, had discovered six or seven weird dish-shaped locales, all along the beach but immediately connected to the sea, that had at their centers a huge lump of some clay-like substance. I had decided to join several people on an investigation of one of them; we started early in the morning.
Not a cloud had crossed the sky since dawn where we stood, spreading out around this eleven-kilometer-wide hole in the beach, the edge of which was just barely tangential with the high-tide mark of the ocean that washed up against it. The sun bore down, encasing me in an atmosphere of oppressive heat like a laser beam a man's-width wide. I couldn't begin to imagine how the furries were taking it, although it was obvious in Niaro's case that quarts of water handled part of the problem. "It's hot," I said, finding a fallen log and sitting down.
"It is," he agreed. "And we aren't getting anywhere with this dig. Did you get the information from the divers?"
"I was one of the divers this morning, with Prio and Ahned," I pointed out, looking up into the sky and wishing for a single cloud to give me a moment of coolness. "This basin is eleven kilometers wide, with the same clump of clay at the center. The sands covering the rest of the basin appear to have been washed in off the ocean or the beach over the past couple of decades."
It's stranger than that," Niaro said. "The clay at the center isn't clay matter at all."
"Not entirely. It's ground sand and such, yes, but it appears to be mixed in with an organic residue that the labs back at MC say were probably once part of an adhesive."
"A glue? Are we talking an insect product, or signs of intelligent life?"
"Looks like the first. But here's the weird part. The adhesive wouldn't hold together very long against sea water. A few months, maybe; the chemical action is very slow. But loose chlorine ions, as we get in this kind of environment, would tear apart any insect construction in well under a year."
"Weird," I agreed.
"Weirder than that," Olivia, the short Mustela Frenata who was part of Aaden's core team, and someone who had become a fast friend, agreed as she walked over to grab a drink from the water supply. "Are you familiar at all with the Yampret species back on Pendor, Niaro? Ken?"
I shook my head, as did Niaro.
"It's a plant that builds islands. There are three varieties. It's found mostly in the Uncia Climate Zones and surrounding climate bands, and what it does is... The first variety gets dropped by a bird, or by a wave, onto a sand bar that has temporarily grown high enough that the seeds will get activated by sunlight. When these grow, they grow almost like a grass, keeping the sandbar in place, and when waves with sand in them wash against them, they buffer the returning wave, encouraging the sand to stay among the branches, thus building the island.
"The other two varieties grow on more solid ground, and are more dependent upon ground-based nutrients. But each grows more dense than the previous kind, so the island builds further and further outwards with this core of D3-type Yampret, this ring of D2 Yampret that extends to where the islands drops back into the sea, and this outer ring of D1 that grows in the water and encourages the island to grow. It has an upper limit dependent on the kind of nutrients each kind needs, so the islands don't grow completely out of control."
"So what does that have to do with this?" Niaro asked.
"I think if we looked further inland, we'd find more of these."
"How so?" I asked.
"Well, most dense around the clay center, but spreading out to the lip of the bowl," she gestured wide, indicating the wide and beautiful tropical jungle beach we sat on, "we found this." She held up what looked like a seed. "They're everywhere. We seem to have a digging species of plant here."
"I'm not sure about this; have you noticed, though, that the water in the basin is lower in salinity then the ocean?"
"No, I hadn't," I said.
"Yes, and we found out why; there's a very tiny stream rolling down out of the jungle into the basin."
"Could be," Niaro said, smiling. "Or we could just have a species of plant with a bad sense of locale."
"I would disagree, Niaro. I'd want Zunni to look it over, but I think we've got a species of insect encouraging the growth of our plant here."
"The clay core?"
She nodded. "I bet they're the ones with the bad sense of locale."
I put it all together. "Even though the spring would encourage lateral growth, once the structure had more still water, it would start to look circular, eventually reaching the ocean and..."
"Destroying the insect colony. Yes," she finished.
"Wow," Niaro said.
"This is all just theory," I said. "We haven't seen a single insect of the kind you're describing, a single living version of this... thing. We don't even have a living plant. This hole goes eleven klicks deep into that tangle of trees and grasses, and nothing that lives along the edge or is encroaching into the hole even resembles anything like what we're discussing. What kind of plant digs? What kind of insect needs an eleven-kilometer spread?"
"Well, there are species that dig. For this kind of process, though, I would say we're looking for a plant that has moderately thick roots and digs deep for nutrients. As it digs deeper, the older hair-like roots that it uses for absorption would probably wither, leaving the soil loose and ready to be washed away," Niaro said. "As for the insects, Ken, bees need a spread that large sometimes."
"More for the theory books," Olivia sighed, tossing her head in frustration. I was sitting down, she standing, and we were almost eye to eye; she was just a little taller. She stood barely 110 cms tall. Pretty, though, with glittery black eyes and trimmed red fur. Cuddly. And an absolute four-magi fire in bed besides. Memories made me smile.
I made a decision. "Olivia, are you ready for a dive?"
"Surely, Ken. What are we looking for?"
She smiled and we donned breathing filters and masks. I decided not to muck with the nanotech respirator; getting out of one was an uncomfortable business that far too often put its users into shock. After pulling the typical big, rubber fins over our feet, we dove into the basin and began swimming. Our destination was clearly marked by a buoy, two klicks away. After the hot sun overhead, the water gave cool and welcome relief.
As we swam, I glanced over at Olivia. A shapely Mustela, weasel- variant, with a graceful glide to her body as she swam through the water. She looked over at me and smiled around her respirator. Then she pulled out her PADD and began writing something on it. WHY ARE YOU WEARING CLOTHES?
I looked down and realized I was still wearing my trunks. MODESTY, I wrote back. AND I DON'T WANT SOME FISH THINKING OF MY DANGLY PARTS AS BAIT. LECHER.
She giggled, the bubbles rising from around her face. I swam over to her and, pulling my mask up, kissed her chin softly. Then I pulled the mask back on and purged the water. She giggled. YOURE SILLY.
I signaled with my finger for us to swim on, and she nodded. Fish, or what passed for fish on this planet, swam around us languidly. We reached the buoy rope and followed it down to the clump over which two other members of our crew were looking, carefully. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a clicker, a small device that made a regular, noisy clicking sound to signal other divers that I wanted their attention. They both looked up and waved.
WHAT? Ahned wrote to me on his board.
BUGS. WE THINK THIS WAS AN INSECT MOUND.
He nodded, the fur waving slowly in the water. There wasn't even a single look of surprise. DO YOU WANT CROSS SECTIONALS, OR EYEBALL?
BOTH. He nodded, shrugging.
I tapped him on the shoulder, not at all surprised to find most of the people in the water with me to be either Humans or Mustela. Most of the feline races, despite their sentience, are typically disdainful of water. And some of the Mustela, like the Lutra and Onyx, are really made for water. He was an Onyx. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOWN HERE?
Three hours? I blinked and wrote, ARENT YOU COLD?
I shrugged and helped them dig into the mound. We were almost sixteen meters downwards, and I suddenly realized that the two who had been down here the longest would probably want to decompress at least a little. Maybe even a twenty-minute delay at five meters.
The digging took a long time. Ahned and I spent our time sifting silt, bagging samples of ground muck and in general not doing a whole lot. I settled down onto the sand and looked around, realizing just why Ahned and Prio weren't cold. It had nothing to do with being water-based species; it was just hard work to be down here. I was more hungry than anything else.
Olivia swam over to me at one point, while Ahned and Prio swam back towards the surface. WHAT? I wrote.
THEY WERE TIRED, she wrote back. WE SHOULD HEAD UP SOON.
I nodded to her, smiling through the faceplate. She was such a lovely creature. She sat down opposite me on the sand and looked up at me. WHENEVER YOURE READY.
I gestured for her to come closer, and she did easily. Her grace through the water shamed me; compared to her, I really was an awkward monster under the sea. She came within arms' length, and I grabbed her and pulled her into my lap, her back to my chest, my arms around her chest. I picked up my PADD and wrote I WANTED TO THANK YOU AGAIN FOR LAST TIME.
She shook her head, her hands seizing the PADD and writing, NO I ADMIRE WHAT YOUVE DONE I WANTED TO GIVE YOU SOMETHING BACK.
I hugged her tightly, my hands straying along her soft, furry chest and belly. She squirmed gently under my grasp. She tapped my leg with her claw to get my attention. YOU WANT?
I began stroking her fur more insistently, and her body squirmed more. She dropped the PADD onto the sand and it settled, sending a soft dust plume everywhere. The only sounds that reached my ears were the sounds of our respirators, and I could tell that just my light stroking along her fur was making her breathe a little faster. She reached back behind her and began stroking my erection through my shorts. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was erect; usually, my cock only responds to direct stimulus, but the idea of being inside Olivia again seemed to inspire me.
She kicked off the sand and away from me. Her body seemed to hover just above me in the crystalline clear water as she twisted around, then settled back down into my lap, facing me this time. I helped her back into place by holding her hips.
She tugged at my shorts. I realized she wanted them off, as well as my shirt. I pulled the shirt up over my head, being careful not to dislodge the facegear in the process, and then kicked up, with her still in my lap, and helped remove the shorts as well. My erection popped up in slow motion against my belly.
Olivia took it in her small paws again, stroking it. The water was cool, but not uncomfortably so, and she was expertly stroking my erection towards climax. I grinned and returned the favor; she's very responsive to having her cunt stroked with the fingers, and I reached down to see if that was true even when underwater. Sure enough, the second my palm cupped her mons veneris her legs kicked slightly, and she grinned. I blew her a kiss she could see, and she returned the gesture.
Her cunny was flowing slightly with her juices; I thanked whatever fates there were that she had a tendency to lubricate a lot, because water tends to wash lubricant away most of the time. I slipped a finger inside her, and then two. It wasn't easy going, really, because of all the water, but I wanted to make sure she was ready for me.
She was already pulling me towards her, gesturing like she wanted me inside her. I smiled and complied, grabbing her buttocks and bringing us closer together. Slowly my very passionate little "weasel" settled down over my erection and she began squirming, trying to get me inside her. I held my hand in front of her face, and then put both on her shoulders. She nodded, grabbed my sides about the ribs and began sliding up and down. At first her cunny wouldn't give way; the thing trying to get inside her, my dick, wasn't lubricated at all, but after a while we managed to get the head in. After that it was just a matter of patience and pressure.
We worked together to make love, to fuck, underwater. It's not entirely unlike making love in zero-g. The buoyancy is there, but there's also the inertia of the water that doesn't want to flow around bodies in motion. It slowed us down, and the tightness of her beautifully small cunt around my cock made the sensations all the more maddening.
We tried to speed up, but didn't have the energy to go any faster. Which was a bit of a shame, considering how utterly lovely she is when she's worked up. We were stuck at the same, slow speed as we made love, and the ache in my balls seemed to be no closer to relief as my strength ebbed away into the cool water. My cock seemed impossibly hard. But soon I began to feel that ache building, and I nodded to her. She smiled, her mouth and eyes wide opened. I wasn't breathing too easily myself.
A tone sounded in my ear as my orgasm rushed upon me. It was some warning tone, but I ignored it. I stroked her cunt patiently, feeling the caresses along the head of my cock as it slid along the soft insides of her body. And then I came, silently, gripping her shoulders tightly as I trembled and felt my cock pulse semen into her sweetness.
And then I recognized the warning tone. Oxygen Depleted In Locale. I grabbed her and swam, fast, for a spot a dozen yards away. She gasped and looked up at me, her face clearing. I held up my fingers. OK?
OK, she signed back. The respirators work wonderfully well, but when someone exerts themselves too much in one place, not enough replacement oxygen exists in the local area to keep going for long, and the user has to move or run out of air. That explained why I felt more dizzy than usual. WAIT, I signed.
I swam back to where I had left my clothing and the PADD, and then back to her quickly. DID YOU PASS OUT?
NO, she wrote back. WE SHOULD HEAD UP.
The sky had darkened since we had left for the clay mound, and on our return I found Niaro had stretched out a blanket and taken a nap. "Hey, sleepyhead. I thought you were here to do some work."
"I was. It's hard to do work when the rest of your team is five klicks away and underwater. Prio and Ahned are napping in the shuttle." He yawned wide, showing me an impressive collection of teeth. "I was just taking a nap myself."
"And how long have you been 'just napping?'"
"I probably went to sleep about an hour after you left."
"We were gone for... " I looked at my watch. "Two hours?"
"And your two friends were down all day," he said. "Not that days are very long around here."
A small chill ran my spine. "Prio! Ahned! Come here!"
Gods, I love having Lance around. He made sure they heard me, and minutes later the other two males on our team, one Satryl and the other the Mustela Onyx I had talked to earlier, wandered over. "You guys were at 15 meters for almost four hours. Are you sure you don't want to head back and check into decompression?"
"I'm a little stiff," Ahned said in that rich, rounded accent of his. "But otherwise I'm feeling fine."
"Absolutely. Couldn't feel better."
I shook my head. "Okay, but one moment of discomfort and I want you to report to infirmary, immediately. Got that?" They nodded. "Olivia! Are we ready to go?"
"I've got most of my gear packed away. All that's left is the blanket Niaro's laying on."
The Pamthreat roused himself, stretching out forelegs and rearlegs and yawning again. "Roar, fuckin' roar," he said cheerily in Felinzi. "I'm ready to go."
I picked up the towel once he had padded off it and shook it out. "Want to fly it, Prio? Or should I?"
The Satryl shrugged tiredly, stretching and yawning as well. Must be catching; we all had had a long day. Prio and Ahned hadn't had lunch, for that matter. "'Liv, lovely weasel, stuff some sandwiches into their faces while I do preflight, would you? The basket's in the back there."
She nodded and got out of her seat while I checked the helicopter's six control thrusters. Each checked out to 104% so I announced that we were ready to fly. There was no disagreement, and after making sure that we were all strapped in comfortably we took off, heading for the camp.