Another day, another session with frustration Fortunately, tonight was one of the bi-monthly camp get-togethers, a chance for everyone to sit around and look at each other, to be together and have fun.
I made my way slowly over to the circle, illuminated by a huge bonfire that must have been visible for klicks. I took my time and tried to conserve my strength. I must be tired, I thought to myself. I couldn't believe just how unruly my muscles were, they didn't want to behave at all. Some days are like that.
Aaden and P'nyssa had arrived at the circle already, and I found them in one small corner of the circle. We were listening to a band made up of three males and two females, people from the expedition who had joined up together and decided that they could work together and provide live music. They were pretty good, and the lead singer was actually very cute in an intellectual sort of way. He wore glass PADDs that reminded me of Trianna's.
I hugged P'nyssa first since she was closest. "Hi!"
"Hiya, sweetheart," she said softly, wrapping a ten around my arm and hugging me back just as tightly. "Day go well?"
"Kinda sorta. Lots of ideas, lots of strangeness with no explanation."
"Like the rest of this planet," Aaden said grumpily.
"Something like that," I said, releasing P'nyssa to stand up and give my favorite Mephit a strong hug. His return hug damn near broke my spine, and we laughed at each other and kissed intently. "Take a seat," he said. I decided to lie down instead, using, with permission of course, P'nyssa's thigh as a pillow. Her mitt played with my hair gently and casually. "Love you," I said, looking up at her.
"Love you too."
"Is there anything left to eat?"
"Hasn't been served yet," she said. "Rosh was having trouble getting the cook fire lit."
My eyes roved. I saw M'Vahn sitting cross-legged on the grass, making notes on a PADD. Next to her sat Amanda Ohadi, looking far healthier than she had when I had found her four years ago. Further around the circle I spotted Kathy, and on a leash she had Trianna, who was dressed very strangely, in lots of very colorful loose cloth over her entire body accompanied by bits of gold jewelry and beadwork on her arms and legs. It even looked like she had a bell on her tail.
I didn't see Rainy or Perry since they were still in space, but I found Tasha, the only member of The Rat's Inquiry to decide to stay planetside while David was out gallivanting about the local star systems. I was more than a little surprised by the lap in which she sat, which belonged to one Kurt Winters, an old Tindal friend of both mine and Dick Reedhon's. Since when did he have an interest in Katckin? I smiled; it figured. Kurt was one of the most egalitarian people I knew.
I found Noah, that was easy enough. He was standing next to two males, a Felinzi, standing, and a Ssphynx, lying on the ground propped up on one arm. It had been a long time since I had felt the kind of reaction I was having at just that second. I shifted in my shorts uncomfortably. "Aaden," I hissed.
"Who are those two? Standing there just next to Noah?" I pointed.
"Oh, that's Tonni and Dao. Beautiful, huh? I don't anything about them other than their names, but they make quite a couple."
"Goddammit, Aaden, they're making my hormones percolate." Tonni, the one standing up, wore almost nothing except a pair of shorts and a silver armband around his grey-furred left arm. He was broad of chest and just seemed to radiate an open-faced and honest sexuality. Dao, the Ssphynx looked even more boyish than my sixteen-year old son standing next to him. He also seemed to be half-asleep. He was wearing a cream-colored robe that was not closed at all. "They're gorgeous. Are they..."
"A couple?" He nodded. "I understand they are.
I sighed. "Oh, well."
"I didn't mean you couldn't have one or the other."
"Which do you want?"
"Are you two going trolling again?" P'nyssa asked, giggling.
"I'm thinking about it," I laughed. "Look at them, P'nyssa."
She looked in the direction. "Yeah, I've seen them before. You're right, I would have trouble saying 'no' to them. But they're both entalie'."
"Completely?" I asked.
"Yes, afraid so. We girls will have to suit ourselves with lesser men." She looked up at me with a gleam in her eye. "Like you."
I pouted, and she laughed. "I'm just giving you a hard time, love. If you want to, go on over and talk to them."
I gulped. "I never know what to say."
"Try starting with 'Hello,'" Aaden suggested.
"You make it sound easy," I said.
"It is easy," Aaden replied. "You're just not a very brave man, Ken."
I sighed. "Yeah, I'm a coward. At least I admit it."
"Oh, I admit it, too," he said, smiling. "I'm just not as attracted to them as you are."
I nodded and slowly rose to a standing position, just as an iron triangle began ringing in the distance. Over the large speakers mounted left and right on the bandstand I heard, "Okay, Rosh has just told me that the dinner is ready. Please form two lines and we'll try and get you... and me... all fed before the night is out." The music began again.
I stood in line for about twenty minutes, with Aaden and P'nyssa joining me. Most of the conversation while we waited centered on the circles we were investigating and what they might mean. He was intrigued with Olivia's ideas around a possible insect connection with the plants. "That's one thing we've noticed while we've been here, is the insects. A lot of the entomologists are telling us that we can't look at the insects and plants as separate species, but almost as individual organisms in their own right. Their is a lot more symbiosis going on between them than found on LTP. Much more than I would have believe necessary with the complete absence of animals from the ground."
"Hmm," I said. "That doesn't make any sense."
"No, it doesn't," Aaden said. "We're working on it."
We got our hot sandwiches made of the (synthesized, but I really couldn't tell) meat of some large prairie-roaming animal once found on llerkindi and headed back to our previous seats. When we got there, Nance found us and asked if he could sit with us. "Sure," P'nyssa said. "What's the problem?"
"I HATE when you do that," Nance said, smiling.
"You've been my powerpath for nearly eight hundred years and you expect to be able to hide from me when you're bothered?" P'nyssa asked, laughing. "Okay, sweetheart, out with it."
Nance took a deep breath and said "It's really nothing."
"Is this something you want to talk about alone?"
"No, it's okay if Ken and Aaden hear. They're family. You know how, every once in a while we sleep together and sometimes we have dreams?" P'nyssa nodded. Aaden and I did too. Very rarely, P'nyssa gave us her dreams as well. "You know how those dreams have a flavor, like, you know they're coming from someone else, that you're sharing your dream because it feels different? I had one of those dreams last night."
"Were you sleeping with someone?"
Nance nodded. "Her name is Varanya. But they didn't come from her."
"You're sure of that?"
He nodded. "I'm not sure who this dream came from, but it wasn't Varry. She's not a sensitive, for one thing."
"Neither are you, really," P'nyssa pointed out.
"I know. But this was one of those dreams. It's like, some... thing was projecting, and I picked it up."
"Do you want to describe the dream for me?"
"It's hard to describe. It was like... It started with me just kinda being, you know? I was just... there. And then my feet were cold."
He nodded again. "Frozen, you know? And it wasn't like I could do anything about it, because they were so far away from my hands. But the cold was moving, slowly, up my legs, and someday I knew it was going to reach my brain. And I had to get out."
"I don't know," he said. "All I knew was that, if parts of me could get away from the cold, maybe someday they would get somewhere and grow into me's again. Does that make any sense?"
"Since it was a dream, yes," P'nyssa said softly.
"That's all it was. But it was so... intense. So vivid, and it had that feeling to it, like it came from someone else. I wanted to talk to you about it."
P'nyssa hugged Nance softly. "I think you'll be okay. Do you feel better having just told me?"
He nodded. "A little. It's just so weird."
"Nance, is it okay if we talk about this with other people? Not using your name, you know..." I said.
"I don't care if you put it on the camp bulletin board," he said. "I just had to get it off my chest."
"That's good," I said. "Because something very weird is going on here." I mused for a moment. "That's the third time today I've said that."
"Why do you want to talk to other people about it?"
"'Cause I think there's something here. Something..." I was interrupted by a blare from the speakers.
"Okay, we've made this big circle for you all to dance in tonight, to work out those muscles that you camp-bounds are letting atrophy." There was some good-natured booing and hissing from around the camp. "And to remind you lazy chair-herders how to dance, and put you to shame at the same time, Rianna Tazal is going to open up tonight with a few moves."
Huh? I looked across the open circle, about thirty meters across, just in time to watch Kathy undo the leash about Trianna's throat and give her a comforting pat on the rump.
Trianna took to the center of the circle. With her stood a Mephit carrying a twelve-string guitar. The Mephit wasn't familiar at all to me. Dressed in a brown tunic and flowing grey pants clasped about the waist with a belt or sash made of some gold and glittery cloth, she had a boyish quality to her face that had nothing to do with androgyny and everything to do with raw beauty. She was gorgeous, and for the third time tonight a complete stranger was making me feel lust.
The Mephit began playing, a steady four/four beat, and Trianna took to dancing the way I would to breathing. The cloth, in primary red and primary blue, swirled around her head and arms while her four feet propelled her about the circle in smooth, calm steps. That beautiful combination of Felinzi torso and big-cat body, the Ssphynx fel'taur, Trianna made herself even more beautiful with a grace and ease of movement that any being could be proud of.
As she moved, the music built around her, the sound technicians as masterful at directing where the music should go as the Mephit who made it. And she was good, going with the flow of Trianna's dancing easily. The flavor of the music, a combination of American western and fiddle, was completely wrong for belly dancing, which is what Trianna's costumery reminded me of, but it worked well tonight. Trianna stepped to one side, her four feet striking the ground in easy simpatico, two-by-two. He body shook freely from side to side, always in time with the medium, easy beat.
Then the music stopped, and she stood stock still in the center of the circle. There was a pause, a momentary analog squeal from the guitar, and then the music began again.
The beat began much faster, much deeper and much louder than before. Trianna's feet kicked the dirt as she tossed her head, much of the heavy cloth she'd been trailing the previous song flying away from her. With movement that seemed almost calisthenic, she danced for her own pleasure as much as she did ours, her eyes wild with glee and her muzzle smiling. Even her tail moved in time with the music. Under the cloth that slowly laid multi-colored patches along the grass she wore a straightforward black spandex halter that only accentuated her new, more athletic body.
I nudged Aaden playfully. "Good job on her."
"Eh?" he said, glancing across the circle. "Thanks. She wasn't hard at all. It's amazing the devotion she shows to anything Kathy asks of her."
"Is she becoming more independent?"
"A little," he replied. "It's hard to say. She was very obedient when Kathy told her she was under my direction for one hour every other day. But inside that hour she had a lot of initiative, but not so much that she took dangerous risks with the weight. A perfect student."
I nodded, watching her with open amazement. She was gorgeous, standing in a full rear with her forepaws two meters in the air and her arms a fully erect a meter up from that. P'nyssa shifted slowly against me, a surprisingly lusty growl coming from her throat as we watched.
"You like?" I asked.
"Mrrrr..." she sighed. "Yes. The Mephit too. Why do you always get all the pretty ones?"
"Probably because you have no predator instinct, lover."
She laughed softly. "That's probably it."
"Besides, she's not mine. She's Kathy's. Period. And I don't even know who the Mephit is."
P'nyssa nodded. Actually, I was surprised at how true my statement was; Trianna was still Kathy's lover, despite everything else that had occurred over the past three years, and I had had a few opportunities to play with Trianna. But those few times that I had would remain in my memory for a long time as some of the most pleasant experiences I'd had in a long time.
The music ended on an abrupt note, and so did Trianna's movement; as if hit with a strobe light she stopped, her four paws mounted firm to the ground and her arms over her head, one hand grasping the other wrist. Her chests were both heaving, and I could well imagine the quad of lungs in her body working hard to recirculate the air she needed. Around her feet the dust she had kicked up slowly drifted away in the night's gentle breeze.
The crowd erupted with applause, and she took slow, careful steps to where the Mephit stood, shaking her hand. "Rianna Tazal and Loki Mespotam," the speakers announced. The applause doubled.
The two fems split up, Trianna padding off in a light trot towards Kathy. Reaching the rim of the circle, she immediately collapsed against Kathy, and the crowd immediately near her reacted with alarm, but I watched Kathy shoo them away and put a plastic gallon jug to Trianna's muzzle. By the time I shifted vision, the guitarist had vanished.
The rest of the camp decided to try and at least make a show of putting out as much energy as Trianna had. I used the commotion of two or three hundred people to make my way over to where Kathy and Trianna sat, Kathy lounging against Trianna's side. "Hi, Uncle Ken!" Trianna said as I approached.
I smiled and reached out to scratch her between the ears. She tilted her head to within my reach and I indulged us both in a minute or more of vigorous scratching of her head and down the back of her neck; for support she leaned against me, her head against my waist. Despite her apparent proximity to my crotch, I didn't get an erection. I found that amusing.
"Congratulations," I said to Kathy as I sat down.
"What for?" she asked, smiling as she said it.
"You've done an incredible job with Trianna here. She's becoming a fine, grown-up fem. You were beautiful out there, Trianna."
"I hope so," Trianna doubted. "I tried my best, but there were some moves I could have done that I didn't use, some things I knew how to do but I didn't feel sure of using them. And with a live musician, it was much harder."
"That's probably best, then," Kathy said. "There'll be other picnics," I said, "and you'll have more chances to show them off then."
Trianna nodded, looking at me. "I'm glad you both liked it!" she said.
"I'm glad I liked it too," I smiled. Kathy smiled and nodded.
"Excuse me," a soft male voice with a slow-going, slightly glottal accent said. "The fem over by the band said these were yours, and I volunteered to bring them over. I wanted to compliment you on your dancing tonight." He held out some diaphanous strips of cloth that had fallen from Trianna's costume during her whirling dervish imitation.
I turned to look over my shoulder... right into the eyes of the sexy melSsphynx I had been staring at earlier. "Thank you, Sir..."
"Dao," he said. Gods, he has a sexy voice. "Dao Togianni. You're welcome. That was wonderful."
"Thank you," Trianna said. Her blush was so strong I could feel it from here.
"If you'll excuse me, I'm going to return to my coimelin." Trianna nodded, and I abruptly stood up.
"Dao," I said. "My coimelin is over that way as well. May I walk with you?"
He turned and looked at me. Inwardly I sighed as I watched the expression of surprise cross his face. "Vatare'?" he asked.
"Yes, it's me," I said resignedly. "May I?"
"Surely," he said. "Please, I'd be honored--" I held up my hand. He smiled. "I understand. Ken, I'd be pleased if you accompanied me."
I grinned and said, "Invoke often. Let's go." We started walking around the edge of the circle, making our way behind the band.
"What does that mean?"
"What? 'Invoke often?'" He nodded. "It's a comment a shaman who lived on Terra around the first century once said. Most shamans, despite their obvious flaws, are often good psychologists. Crowley was one of the finest. He observed that if you want to change something, quite often all you had to do was change the name. Shakespeare was wrong, in other words. A rose by any other name would not smell quite like a rose. By insisting you call me Ken, and only Ken, you reinforce your image of me as just another being, and not some mythical creature."
He smiled, and I felt my knees go weak. "An interesting observation, and one that has nothing to do with facts."
"It has a lot do with facts. The fact is, I am Vatare' Shardik. The fact is also that I'm Ken, just another guy on this expedition along for the ride."
"Do you realizing you're carbonating my blood?"
"You were diving today?" he asked, looking concerned.
"No, dammit, and that's not what I'm trying to say." I faltered for a moment, then found my voice. "I just wanted to say that I've been staring at you and your coimelin for the past hour, and strictly on visual terms you two are very beautiful."
He blushed. "Thank you sir."
"You're welcome," I said, giving him a smile. I reached out and touched his shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "By the way, what's my son doing with you two?"
"Noah? We were doing some geological work. He's part of the team, apprenticing to Tonni occasionally."
"What do you do?"
"I'm a cartographer. Technically that means I shouldn't even be out and about, but I like to actually look at the land I'm mapping rather than just let the satellites and computers bring it to me."
I grinned. "That's admirable. Bet it's fun, too."
"Yes it is. Besides, it lets me be with Tonni.""
"You're coimelin's name is Tonni, yes?"
He nodded. "We met on board the Nyano Handele, but we announced our commitment amidst our friends just a few weeks ago. It was on the News."
"You met in the past two years or so? Isn't that a little fast to announce to your coimelinship? Wouldn't you feel safer calling it a hermelinship at this point?"
"Safer, maybe," he smiled. "But not as honest. No, he is the love of my life, I'm quite sure of that." We were silent as we approached where his coimelin stood, watching the dance. Noah was nowhere to be found. "Tonni?"
"Hello, Dao," Tonni said, turning slowly. A tall Felinzi of almost perfect solid grey but for some darkening about the nose into a sealpoint, Tonni had a full chest and narrow waist. He looked me over, then smiled. "You find the most interesting friends, Dao. I'm very pleased to meet you at last, Ken. I had heard you were on board the mission and I was surprised that I hadn't actually run into you yet."
I was equally surprised. This mel was gorgeous. The kind of handsome maleness that makes you wonder why his coimelin even let him out of the house! I reached out and he took my hand; we shook. "My pleasure," I said. "It's not as if I've been hiding or anything; my email address is a matter of public knowledge, after all. You could always come by my tent. The flag flying is blue with a white wave facing away from the pole."
He nodded. "I know which one that is. Did you just wish to accompany my coimelin on a walk or was there a specific reason for your coming over here?"
"Just social," I said. "I was hoping to meet up with my son, but he seems to have flown again."
"Actually, he's out in the circle."
I nodded, giving the mass of moving bodies a cursory examination to look for him. "I should probably get back to my coimelin myself. They're right over there." I pointed P'nyssa out, but Aaden seemed to have vanished as surely as Noah. "Hmm, I seem to be misplacing much of my family tonight." I shrugged. "Oh, well. It was a pleasure to meet you, Tonni. And you as well, Dao."
Dao grinned. Again I was struck by just how beautiful he looked. And that pure white fur. Walking away from them was something of an effort. My chest felt tight.
"So," P'nyssa said as I leaned over to kiss her, "Did you manage to make a date with either one of them?"
"Nope," I said. "But at least we've made contact." She chuckled.
The next day brought stormclouds to our immediate campsite, and by noon the threat of rain had materialized into the real thing. I pulled a cloak over my shoulders and ran to Mission Control to check the local terminals and see if there was an available hi- resolution cartography station open. I could have conducted my search using my own local PADD but I wanted the resolution that the in-place stations had to offer.
I found the room where they had been installed, and found a free one. Right next to Dao Togianni, just as I had hoped. "Hello, again," I said, pleasantly surprised.
"Oh, hello... Ken." I smiled.
"You'll get used to it."
"I don't know. Maybe I will." He grinned quietly. "What brings you into my domain?" A sudden thundercrack outside prompted him to add, "Other than the rain?"
I chuckled and sat down in the chair next to his bench. "I'm looking for distinctive circular growths of a certain kind of plant."
"What do you know about the plant?" he asked, his hands flying over his keyboard. I wished idly for Lance so I could do this with a real expert system watching over my shoulder, not this stupid networked simulated intelligence we were using. But The Rat's Inquiry was fifty light years away checking out something that Rainy had described as "a wasteland."
"Not a whole lot," I said. "It may be more than one kind. I figure we'll only find it on the very low-flux infra-red satellite maps. What we're looking for is a disk or series of concentric rings made up of a single kind of vegetation. The largest example we've seen of what I'm looking for is probably around eleven kilometers, maybe more."
He typed commands faster then I could probably wire them in. I was astounded at the rate screen changes came across. "Do we know anything about the locale? A given environment, a given latitude?"
"Equator plus or minus 200 klicks, probably inland, a water source seems to be imperative."
"Water source," he said. "Big or small?"
"Not sure. Probably small. Stream, small spring, things like that."
I watched as the maps scanned beneath his eyes. He was a beautiful melSsphynx; slim and boyish of chest in his humanoid half, with an orange color to his eyes that seemed almost surreal. His fur was pure white and very long, a little like Trianna's that way. His lower half seemed more like a blown-up housecat then any real big cat variant. I was tempted to call it a lynx-model, but even that didn't come close to expressing him. It was hard to keep my eyes off of him, but fortunately he seemed unlikely to notice. The task at hand seemed to have him completely absorbed.
"Ken?" his voice interrupted my thoughts, loudly. Apparently he'd caught me. "Is that what you're looking for?"
He pointed to the screen with a finger; simultaneously, a small hand appeared on the screen with the word "HEY!" attached to it. I laughed, recognizing the "HEY!" pointer from something I had written years ago. Both pointed to a circular object that stood out in the upper right corner of the screen. "It's at plus 4127, minus 31."
"The other side of the continent. And almost right on the equator." I looked closely. "And it's almost on the ocean. Damn."
"What's wrong with it being near the ocean?"
"Well, part of our theory is that insects build these rings. But the organic glue we found holding them together dissolves in salt water."
He nodded. I asked, "Can you blow that up to fill the screen, and put the visible spectra photo on standby?"
"Done, and done. On the mural," he added, grinning. The screen blinked and suddenly the entire mural display that covered one cloth wall of the tented room we were in wall came to life, the image filling it. "What's the spot in the middle?"
"Dunno. It's warmer than the surrounding environment, but not by much." He bit his lip thoughtfully. "Do you want the visible pic?"
"Yeah," I said. The image changed appreciably. The nicest thing about exploring pristine planets is the lack of air pollution; the picture was beautifully clear. And dead center of the circle was what looked like an insect mound. "Have we got a satellite that can take pictures of this at an angle?"
More dancing fingers. "Yes. Twenty-four minutes."
"I'm waiting around."
"Me, too," he said. We watched the display come over in realtime, watching as the image processors gave us better and better resolution. "There we go. Coming over the horizon. The picture's not as clear as what we'd like, but there's a little weather at that angle."
"Looks like a giant egg. Can we get a scale?"
"Like that?" he smiled.
"You live to show off, don't you?"
"Yes," he grinned. I had to force myself away from that smile and back to the screen. I whistled low. The tower was nearly seventy meters across, tapering to a tip at the top.
"How about the plants?"
The close-up of the plants was fascinating. They apparently lived in fresh water. Unlike most of the plants visible on this world, the leaves of this species were completely black. "Could they be dead?"
"Possible," he said. "But the sensors say those are alive."
"What are those white spots?" I said, gesturing. "Give them more contrast and pull back to a full view of the circle."
The result startled both of us. "Wow." I took me a moment to catch my breath. The white spots were arranged in perfect concentric circles around the insect mound. It was like staring at a dart board or pistol target. "What do you think those are?"
"I don't know," I said. "How close is the circumference to the ocean?"
He blew up the overhead view again and said "The edge of the circle is seventy meters from the apparent high-tide mark."
"That's what the data says."
"And you can't find any others like this further inland?"
"Not yet. I'll keep looking."
"Do that. Meantime, give me command control of that sequence to my station."
"Okay, done." I spent about twenty minutes composing a post for the Weird Findings newsgroup. I included the conclusion and theories Olivia and Niaro had come up with, including pointers back to their articles in the database, and added the satellite photos as part of the presentation.
We had spent nearly three hours looking over the charts and relevant data. I leaned back in my chair and rubbed my eyes. "Tired?" he asked.
"No, just eyestrain. Can we find any others?"
"I've got two others. They're like the first. On the ocean. They're both much smaller, though. One's about three kilometers across, the other is less than a kilometer in diameter."
I sighed. "Let's take a look at them, too." Another hour slid by. Outside, the storm surged and screamed. "You hungry?" I asked. He nodded. "We can grab food out in the other tent. Let's go."
He nodded and we headed out for the food dispensary, where a pretty femVulpin was working behind the counter. "Jessica," Dao asked her, "What are you doing back there?"
"I can't do spectra analysis of photosynthetic variants every day or I'll just go crazy. This is a nice, quiet little task that requires no brain power whatsoever. A few days from now I'll go back to my other job, but in the meantime, I want to stop being a mad scientist locked and my lab and meet people!"
I chuckled and thanked her for the sandwich. A llerkindi had informed me recently that the meat we were using this week as our heavy red meat was properly referred to as Pundat, but it still tasted like pure Roast Beast to me, especially when slathered with authentic Terran cream cheese and put on a bagel. Dao followed my lead and got the same thing.
We took our meals and some canned drinks and found a seat on one of the wooden picnic tables arranged in the big, open center of Mission Control. The rain was still coming down hard. "Vatare', can I ask you a favor?"
"Depends," I said. "What is it?"
"Tonni is my coimelin, and I'm completely sure of that. Recently, though, he's been wanting to try S and M, and I don't know how to give that to him."
"I don't understand. He wants to try S/M games, but you're not comfortable with that?"
"No, that's not it. I'd love to, but I don't know what to do."
Something dawned on me. "He wants to be bottom?" said.
"Well, yeah. Isn't that where everyone starts?"
I laughed. "No, that's not where everyone starts. Where were you when I was holding Rhysh Alanailen parties on board the Rat's Inquiry?"
"It wasn't something I was really thinking about at the time," he said, placing his hand on my arm. I caught my breath, my heart beating solidly within my chest. "Tonni wants to be submissive, but I don't know how to do that for him." He also looked away. "I also don't think I have the right attitude for it."
I smiled, reached out and touched his chin, turning his face to look at me. "You're silly, Dao."
"Am I?" he asked. "I'm so... I dunno. Everyone think I'm a boy. I'm three hundred years old and people still talk at me with kid talk."
"Well, you are very youthful looking. And very beautiful."
"You think so?" he asked.
"Hell, yes. I wanted to fuck you the first time I saw you."
"Thanks," he said, blushing. "I guess. I'll remember that."
"Please do," I said, smiling. "Anyway, are you making this request for Tonni that I... ?"
He shook his head. "I don't think Tonni would believe you if you told him. And, he has this thing about fems..."
"Misogynist?" I said, sourly.
He nodded. "It's nothing you can really do anything about."
"I don't know about that. Aaden was something of a misogynist before I met him. Although I've met women who knew him when he was very young, and they say he was very polite to them."
"Well, Tonni would just be suspicious of you just because you like girls. He wants Aaden to do it."
"Really? Did you point out to him that Aaden sleeps with girls?"
"He sleeps with P'nyssa. He doesn't have sex with her," Dao pointed out carefully. "To Tonni, that would make a big deal."
"My Gods, how old is he?"
"Around a hundred and ninety. We don't keep track that much, either of us."
I nodded. "Do you want me to talk to Aaden about it?"
"Would you?" he asked, surprised.
I grinned mischievously. "You heard, though, about what I did to Aaden at the first major Alanailen party on the ship, huh?"
He nodded. "Don't do that to Tonni. I could take it, it wouldn't bother me at all, I don't think. But please, don't do that to him."
I nodded. "Okay, Dao, you have yourself a deal."
"Swak?" he said.
"Huh?" I asked. "What does that mean?"
"It's a Terran expression, isn't it?"
"Swak?" I said aloud, rolling through my mind the four or five Terran languages I knew. There were meanings for the phoneme "swack" in two of them. Then I came across the acronym, in Anglic, that he was referring to. I grinned wide, leaned over, and gave him a hug. "No, that won't be necessary."
Hugging Dao was something of a stunning realization in just how fascinating someone earnestly new can be. Even Trianna, by the time Kathy had gotten around to using me in a scene, had been so familiar to me that the essential edge of novelty had somewhat worn off. His body against mine made my chest feel tight, constricted; I felt myself wishing, willing for the right to touch him, to run my hand over his hard, white-long-furred chest. I controlled myself, resigning myself to kissing him, feeling his lips against mine, his tongue briefly touching my own.
We leaned away from each other briefly. I just stared at him. He smiled sheepishly, although I think I could almost see a hint of disappointment in his eyes. "No matter what, Ken, having your attention is still an honor."
I smiled tiredly. "I guess that's okay, as long as you keep the right perspective on it."
"I will," he said, smiling. "At least, I'll try."
"I'll talk to Aaden."
I rolled over in bed slowly, feeling my back complain from a day of doing nothing but sitting in a chair. P'nyssa straddled my butt and began rubbing my back slowly, easing the kinks and pains out of it. "So, is Dao as hot as he looks?" she asked, picking up the conversation.
"He's wonderful," I said. "You're not jealous, are you?"
"Nine hundred years and you haven't stopped asking that question. No, I'm not jealous, you know that." There was silence for a moment.
"I hear a 'but.'"
"Sort of," she said. "Tell me why making love to Dao would be so different from making love to Aaden."
"Well, mostly it's in the newness of it. I like things that are familiar. I like when things stay mostly the same, when there aren't a lot of changes in my life. Making love to you, or to Aaden, doesn't really... well, it doesn't really excite me so much as it reassures me. I hope that doesn't sound bad."
"Just go on," she said, working her way down my lower back.
"I mean, when I hold you, or see you naked, or Aaden for that matter, I feel comfortable, reassured. This is my home, my safe place. It doesn't really matter where this happens, so long as I have you. One or both of you. I get excited, I get erect, and yeah, I want to make love, but it's more a sense that all is right with my world. You make me feel that life is worth living.
"But Dao is just new; he gives an edge, a sense of adventure and explorations that I don't have and don't need with you. And I don't really want."
P'nyssa leaned over and kissed me behind the ear. "Thank you," she said softly.
"That doesn't sound wrong, does it? That... what I said about you not exciting me?"
"Uh-uh," she said, lying down and kissing my cheek. "It doesn't sound wrong at all. It sound just like how I feel. Do you know what's funny, Ken? Just hugging Aaden makes me feel that way, too."
"We really work, don't we?" I asked her.
"We really do. All three of us. It's amazing," she said, her fingers finding my soft penis and stroking it insistently. "Now, if you don't mind, I'd like a little of that familiarity inside me."
"It's all yours," I said, smiling at her. She slowly pushed me over onto my back, my erection standing straight up into the air under her guiding hand. My back felt much better from her wonderful ministrations, and as she straddled my hips I smiled up at her and ran my hands over her soft breasts, feeling the rich blue fur slide under my fingers.
She slid herself down over me, taking all the weight she could off her legs and sitting down fully on my cock. P'nyssa's vaginal barrel is shorter than average, and my cock is just a little longer than average. The combination presses the head of penis up against her cervix very snugly when she takes the full length like that. She gasped hard and slowly slid herself up a fraction. "Hurt?" I asked.
She nodded. "It's a good hurt," she smiled. I laughed and tweaked her nipples playfully. She squealed. "Don't do that!" she said, smiling.
I pushed up with my cock, making her gasp with surprise. "Familiar," I said, "down to those 'thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.'"
She leaned over and kissed me. "You and your Shakespeare."
We began to move in synch, her hips meeting mine on every thrust. As we made love, I found myself feeling more aroused than usual. I think I surprised P'nyssa with my Felinzi-taught growls as I reached up and grabbed her by the buttocks, in one smooth move turning us over so she was lying on her back on the mattress.
I felt aggressive, almost attacking, as we made love. Her eyes were wide, her mouth open and gasping for breath. A spasm ran through her, making her cunt grip me tighter, then she loosened, then tightened again. I gasped as my cock broke free of her grip; I was pounding her, fucking this gorgeous blue-furred and yellow- eyed female I'd been living with for nearly a thousand years, and as her eyes became the sum total of all I could see, all I could pay attention to, I dropped down and screamed her name into her shoulder, muffling my shout so as not to wake up Sheja sleeping just across the hallway. With a few more, less powerful thrusts, I shot the remainder of my come into her, whimpering softly with release.
Then I slowly pushed myself back up to look down at her. "Oh, P'nyssa, I love you."
She laughed. "Oh, Ken, I love you so much. I've never doubted it."
"I lied, by the way," I said, rolling over to my side. "You still excite me. A lot."
She nodded. "But it's different."
"Are you two done? Some people have to get up tomorrow!" a new, female voice from across the tent shouted.
P'nyssa whispered in my ear. "And they say 2 is a terrible age. They never mention how difficult the twelves can be."
I laughed. "Remind me to talk to Aaden tomorrow."
"I will. If he's around."
"Either way," I said. We snuggled down to sleep.