"It's incredible," Mikhail Navarone was saying. "I can't believe the complexity of the arrangement. Six insect species, fifteen plant species, God only knows how many bacteriological agents we have to track down. You're saying there are no signs of intelligent life anywhere on this planet?"
Aaden nodded. Mikhail looked up at the chart on the wall again. "If this is a transplanted species, could it have come from another world? Could the externalized complexity be based on evolutionary forms after a landing of one of those worldseeds?"
"It's possible," Garenna said. "We haven't looked into it."
"Doctor Garenna, I understand you had a death in your camp two months ago. But that's no reason to be so depressed now."
"Doctor Navarone," I said softly, "You are our guest here on Battia Two. We understand the importance of scientific inquiry and the need for free exchange, but we are still in mourning and I will not have you or your staff questioning the mental state of my people. Is that understood?"
He looked over at me, paled slightly, and said "Yes, Shardik. It is understood."
"I don't mean to be rude," I said. "But as a culture we are very comfortable with our long lives. When one is taken away, it takes a long time for us to recover."
"I'll leave you to your investigations. Good day."
I wandered out into the main courtyard of the camp, where Humans and Katckin and Rats were mingling freely with Uncia, Felinzi, Tindals, Satryls, Markals, Mephits, Mustela, Vulpins, Humans, Centaurs, Ssphynxes, Pamthreats, and llerkindi. It was a zoo of sorts, a sentient soup of all the known friendly races in the lTP corridor with the exception of Dragons, the Rat's Inquiry not having a hold big enough for one to be comfortable.
People were giving directions, tents were being set up, warnings were being issued regarding the severity of storms on hot summer nights. I smiled to watch two Rats pick up a young Markal boy who had lost his parents and trundled over to a camp information center to ask for directions. "Lance," I said softly, "See to it that the Terrans are issued PADDs."
"Will do," he said. "By the way, David has decided he's not going back outsystem anytime soon. So I'm going to be around for a while."
"No, he wants to watch the Terrans closely."
Wandering back to my tent, I ran into Sheja. "Hiya, sweetheart."
"Hiya, Dad!" she shouted, giving me a quick hug. "I'm going rockclimbing with Noah and some friends around one of the volcanoes. Dao and Tonni are leading, and Tonni said it was okay. So I can't stay long."
"Okay, sweets. Bye."
She loped off, dragging her tail along behind her. "Bye," her voice trailed off into the distance as she vanished between two tents, deftly skipping over the ropes as she ran.
"Children," I sighed, smiling. Returning to my tent, I found it empty even of Malthus, who had been summarily adopted by a band of children sometime earlier this month as another daytime friend, and I settled myself onto the bed for a long nap.
I first noticed the moisture around my cock through the clarity of a lucid dream, and then the warmth came as I realized Aaden had found me lying naked with the sheets off in the middle of summer. I moaned softly at his suction, his muzzle holding my cock tight. Running my fingers through the fur of his head I let him know I was awake. He responded by redoubling his efforts, massaging my needful shaft with his tongue.
The urgency I felt was incredible; how long had I last had an orgasm, never mind sex... ? He shoved his hands between my buttocks and the bed, holding me tight to him as his head bobbed up and down on my cock, taking the head deep into the back of his throat. I could feel his teeth scraping delicately along the length of the shaft, turning me on with the slight pain he was inducing. The rhythm of his sucking seemed to go on forever, animal in it's beat and power.
I couldn't hold back, as much as I wished to I couldn't. He was insistent, demanding. I grabbed his ears tight and held him, groaning loudly as I came into his mouth; I could feel his throat working to swallow every drop that shot from my body, from my cock.
He slowly raised his head from my lap to look up at me. I smiled at him, then noticed that it was dark in our tent. "What time is it?" I asked.
"All that and you ask me what time it is," he said. "Not even a 'thank you?'"
I reached out for his shoulders, hauling up to my side and rolling him over, so I could straddle his body with my own. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he replied softly, stroking my hair with his hand. "Today in the lab was a bit of the last straw, for me as well as you and Gary. Mikhail, insensitive bastard that he is, is right... we have been moping. It's time to go on and see what we can do for this planet."
I snuggled closely to him and said, "Yeah, I know." A memory like an ancient scroll sealed in clay floated to the surface of my mind, sparked in part by my encounter with Sheja. "Tonni!" I said, lifting my head to look down at Aaden.
"What about him?"
"He wants you to top him."
"He what?" Aaden asked.
"He wants you to top him. I was talking to Dao a while back, and that was the message he wanted me to give you. Tonni is just too reserved to ask for it himself."
"There is nothing reserved about Tonni," Aaden chuckled.
"Shy, then," I said. "As 'mel' as he looks, he's still got things to be frightened of, Aaden."
"Why me? Why not you, if he's going through you to ask me."
"Because I like having sex with women."
"What?" Aaden said. "What does that have to do with it?"
"It makes me less masculine, according to Dao."
"Does Dao feel that way?"
"No," I replied. "Just Tonni."
Aaden was thoughtful, then he scowled. "Forget it. I can't handle someone like that. It's not worth my time."
"Aaden!" I said. "I'm surprised."
"Heterosexuality and homosexuality I can handle; misogyny I..." He smiled. "Let me rephrase that. I have the perfect idea." He rolled over in bed, unceremoniously dumping me onto the bed. "I wonder if I can arrange it... " He grabbed my PADD. "I know yours is configured for general news... let's see... Yes. I think I could manage."
"What are you planning?" I asked.
He ignored me. "Lance, is Tonni awake and available? I'd like to talk to him."
"Yes, Aaden. He's currently in a tent in the Terran sector, discussing the use of ion control in the formation of the reactive elements for the launch of the worldseeds."
Aaden chuckled. "Can you tell him I'd like to see him whenever it's convenient for him?"
"Now is convenient for him," Lance replied.
"I'm on my way."
"What are you planning?" I said, shouting after him.
"Ascahanu," he shouted back, vanishing through the flap in the tent door and out into the hot summer night. I grinned as the word filtered through my memory. The Uncia ritual of maturity.
"This has to be the most elaborate thing I've ever seen you arrange," I said softly. "It's incredible."
"Thanks," Aaden grinned. "Are you ready with the shuttle?"
"It'll fly when you want it to. Pranitt tells me he's ready, too, at his end."
"R'Fahn, M'Lsit... go get our victim, please. He should be expecting me. Tell him you're from me, and we'll be ready to go."
They nodded, and loped off among the tents and ropes. We sat waiting, and within ten minutes they appeared, between them escorting Tonni. He looked positively edible, with that calm smile, those cool, fluid eyes. He held his tail just barely above the ground. Aaden smiled at him as they approached.
"I didn't expect..." Tonni began.
Aaden backhanded him, HARD, in the chest. "You expected something?"
"No, sir," Tonni whispered, still fighting to regain the wind Aaden had knocked out of his chest.
"Good," Aaden replied. "You can expect only one thing, Tonni. You will be alive at dawn. And even that's not a completely sure thing. Don't count on having all your limbs, either."
Tonni's proud expression broke, his whiskers drooping slightly. Then he hauled himself back up to his full stance. Aaden smiled. "You should have pride... in the beginning. It makes breaking you all that much more fun." Aaden reached into the pocket of his vest and pulled out a blindfold, strapping it around Tonni's head and under his muzzle, fixing it in place. "There." He looked at the two Uncia. "Into the chopper with him."
They nodded, picking Tonni up and depositing him in the back of the six-man flyer. Aaden tapped me on the shoulder and said "Go."
We were off, flying across the air at full speed to another plain, this one about seventy kilometers to the south and right next to the ocean. There, we landed according to the preflight instructions.
"Take him out," Aaden said. "Leave him on the sand." The Uncia followed his instructions, picking Tonni up by the shoulders and hauling him out of the shuttle. I lifted off again and dropped the shuttle off about a hundred meters away, then ran back. Two other Uncia made way for me as I got to watch Aaden deliver a rather sharp blow with a heavy bamboo-like rod to the back of Tonni's thighs. "On your knees. Who said you could stand, child?"
"Take off your blind, child."
Tonni slowly reached up and pulled the blindfold off, finally getting a look at the fifteen-meter-wide ring, made of staked logs driven into the sand of the beach, except for a small opening landward and a larger one seawards. About twenty male Uncia stood around the edges of the ring, including U. Faran Mahn, whose family had for all ten centuries held the most valuable piece of land on all Pendor, the sector of the Uncia climate zone that ended to the west in the Vinyare' ocean and to the north with Rocchodain. Faran was a huge sample of an Uncia, nearing 240 cms in height and as broad as a shuttlebay door. He had to be; his family kept that piece of land by successfully beating off challenges in a form of ritualized combat.
"You came here at my whim," Aaden said softly. "But you claim to be male!" he shouted, loud so everyone could here. "Prove it; win your right to call yourself a melFelin," Aaden sneered. "You're a big mel out here, Tahn-ni, baby," he said, emphasizing the words in such a way that they come out like the Pendorian words for 'sparkle' and 'girl.'
"Sir?" Tonni said, looking up. He was frightened; I could see it from where I stood.
"Is this what you planned?"
Aaden turned around to Faran and said "Put him down. If he doesn't fight, so much the better. I want him unable to move when you're done."
"Yeah..." Faran said, stepping up to where Tonni knelt on the sand. "Get up."
"No," Tonni said.
"Get up!" Faran growled.
"No," Tonni said again, this time louder. I smiled. I bet Aaden did too.
"You'll get up or I'll make you stand," Faran said, gripping Tonni by the shoulders and hauling him to a standing position.
The moment was perfect for Tonni; his arms and legs were fully free, Faran's were busy. He planted his feet and in one deft move threw Faran over his shoulder. Faran landed on the sand in a heap.
"You prag," Faran said, rolling as he hits and coming to a stand. "I'm going to put you in your place."
"Are you now," Tonni smiled. I realized that he wasn't going to lose to Faran willingly. This wasn't going to be one of those wrestling games where the bottom loses, valiantly but willingly. Tonni was going to fight.
Faran grinned in reply. "Yeah, I am." He lunged for Tonni, but at the right second shifted position; it wasn't a punch or a kick, but a full-scale tackle. Tonni went down onto the sand, unready for it. Faran rolled over his body and stood quickly; Tonni took longer.
"Come on, Tonni," Faran said. "Show me what you got."
"You've got it, Faran," Tonni said. Faran had the advantage then, since Tonni was now spending most of the energy, not Faran. Tonni lunged awkwardly, and Faran lost all illusion of grace, slamming Tonni in the muzzle with his elbow as Tonni dropped down again.
"Come on, kid," Faran sneered. "Come on!"
The Uncia around me cheered as Tonni stood up. His legs held him, but his eyes betrayed the fear and exhaustion setting into his body. He approached Faran slowly, almost as if to dare the Uncia to make the first move. Faran did, and Tonni took full advantage of it, delivering two sharp blows to Faran's gut as they go by. Faran lost control, snarling and attacking Tonni without any thought of 'art.' The attack of raw Uncia, released from any social bounds, blurs across the sandscape as the two stumbled towards the ocean. Tonni rose for a second, slamming a fist down into Faran's face, a haze of spray (or was it blood?) from the sea covering them momentarily. Tonni dropped to his knees and Faran rolled, knocking Tonni full into the seawater. A scream erupted from one or both of them, and a moment later Faran rose from the ocean, dragging Tonni by one arm.
He dropped Tonni in the center of the circle. The Uncia slowly filtered out of the circle, leaving Aaden, Tonni, Dao, and I alone. They all took the SDisk outside back to camp; we'd asked them not to stay after the fight. I helped Faran, insisting that he seek medical attention when he got back. He said he would.
"How do you feel, child?" Aaden said, looking down at Tonni.
"This... " Tonni gasped, choking. "This isn't what... what it's about... what the Alanailen do... "
Aaden reached down and grabbed Tonni by the scruff at the back of his neck, again hauling him into a kneeling position. "What do you know of what we do?" he hissed. He looked down and held Tonni's head against his thigh; the Felinzi sagged there and began crying. "You have a chance, Tonni, to redeem yourself."
"S... sir?" Tonni said, looking up into Aaden's face.
Aaden grinned darkly. "You and I... are men. If women must believe in their goddess of the feminine, then we should have the right to believe in our god of the masculine."
Aaden reached down and tilted Tonni's head back. "Everywhere you kneel is your altar, and everything you do in your worship should be in the name and to the strength, the celebration, the rewards of men. Take my cock, Tonni, and worship our manhood together."
Tears streaming from his eyes, looked at Aaden's crotch and slowly leaned towards it. Dao, standing next to me, hissed softly. At first slowly, then with more strength, I watched Aaden force his cock down Tonni's throat, grabbing the back of the kneeling Felinzi's head, shoving so hard I thought Tonni would choke and gag at any moment.
I found my own breathing getting ragged, my own heart beating loud. It was impossible to not be aware of Dao standing next to me, of the two males locked in a different sort of mortal combat on the sands just meters away. Aaden's arms held Tonni's head against his body as he used the mel at his feet for his own pleasures, fucking poor Tonni's mouth for his own pleasure. "Take me," Aaden growled. "Take me like you know you deserve!"
I've heard that growl before... Aaden came down Tonni's throat. Tonni did choke then, his eyes bulging and the tears streaming again. Aaden released Tonni and watched him crumple slowly to the sands barely conscious. Aaden turned towards us, approached. "Dao," he said quietly. "Take him home; I'll check on him tomorrow. You," he said. "Come with me."
"Come on, Ken," he said pleadingly, reaching out his hand. I took it and he led me through the small gap inland, towards a large and grassy field. He sat down abruptly, pulling me down with him. "I need you to hold me," he said softly. "I never thought I could be that cruel to a newbie. I can't believe I was."
I sat down next to him and wrapped my arms around him, holding him. Not because he asked me to, but because he needed me to. It wasn't easy to resist him right then, to just sit there and hold him close. He didn't cry at all; he just sat there and we waited together until the time was right.
"I've always believed," Aaden said softly after a while, "that males are the more animal of the two sexes. That it's in our nature to be predatory, just by virtue of the acts we have to perform versus those we can't. We're the ones who have to put a part of ourselves into the other to reproduce, we're the ones who have to trust her not to destroy this part. We never get saddled with pregnancy, and we're ready all the time.
"Which is why, compared to females, I've always seen us as crawling, sneaking, sly, cheating, feral creatures. I'll always prefer mels to fems; there's a power moving back and forth between males that fems just do not and will never have. When I kneel at your feet, Ken, I do worship you. I love you because I love you, Kennet. But if I wasn't afraid of you, lover... I couldn't really... I dunno. Sometimes, even, you symbolize my right to be male, to be free from the burdens females suffer."
"Then why are there erolie' women?" I asked. "If we're so dangerous."
Aaden chuckled. "Don't you like flames, lover?" he asked, running a paw down my naked back. "Don't you want to play with dangerous toys sometimes, flirt with that raw power that could always get away from you?"
I smiled and nodded. Once, when I had believed in Magick as something other than a valiant attempt at human psychology run amok, I had identified myself mainly as a fire person. A useful tool, and a dangerous one simultaneously. It was still a useful analogy.
"Is that how you see it?" I asked. "Fems enjoy the presence of males because of the potential threat they imply?"
He shook his head. "Not always. Not the way you and Nyss live, and not the way many people we know live. But it's a fun energy to pass around, don't you think? What do you feel in Michael's, or when you stand to the right in Rhysh? Don't you feel that adrenaline rush, that surge of fear... and desire? How much more so must that rush be for women, who don't have the weapon, the cock, to pierce back with? Why do you think lesbians refer to their own spaces as 'varnaire', 'the safe sea?'"
I laughed. "It sounds too simple, Aaden."
"You don't think what I just said is sexist, do you?" he asked suddenly. "I mean..."
I hugged him tightly, holding him close and rubbing my cheek against his fur. "You're not going anywhere, yet," I said. "Do I think it's sexist?" I chuckled. "Well, you've basically equated the penis with the knife again, and implied that females are more masochistic then males because they associate with males without having a weapon to stab back with." I thought for a second. "You know, though, there's always the implication that men are more masochistic than women because they have to put a treasured part of themselves into a dark and mysterious place."
"But," he said, his hand on my arm tightening slightly, "Do you think I'm wrong?"
I laughed softly and kissed the back of his ear, reaching out with my tongue to slide it along the pink, hairless edge. "You know my answer to that. Nobody knows, lover. But we can say, I guess, that people make their own choices. If women choose to enjoy the company of men because of the danger, playing with fire, it's because the choose to. Just as I choose to put my life into your hands, or into Lynn's hands."
"The war of the sexes," he sighed.
"No, the wrestling match of the sexes, I hope. Hopefully both sides are now dedicated to 'play hard, play fair, nobody hurt.'"
He laughed at that, and not just lightly. I'm still not sure what struck him as so funny about that line, but he positively cracked up, rolling out of my arms onto his back on the grass. I straddled his body and looked down at him while he giggled uncontrollably. He caught his breath long enough to look up at my face, then broke up laughing again.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"Yeah," he gasped, his face wide and smiling. "Only you could trivialize something so serious!"
"No," I said, shaking my head. "I just don't think it's so serious." He giggled more as I leaned over onto his chest and he wrapped his arms around me. "Love you," I said softly.
"And I love you, too," he said. "Come on, we need to get some sleep before the sun rises."
"Rise and shine, Tonni," Aaden said, standing over Tonni's bed and shaking him gently. "It's time for you to wake up."
Tonni opened an eye, looked up. The fright on his face was obvious as he began to back away, then eased slightly. "It's over, isn't it?"
"It was over the moment Dao took you home last night."
"What the rings was that for? That... last night had nothing to do with s/m."
"How do you know?" Aaden said softly. He reached out a hand and put it on Tonni's thigh. "S/M isn't 'nice,' Tonni. It's meant to be offensive. As much as we've got people here who like to 'play' at it, let's you and I be honest. Last night I tore open your soul and showed it to you. Only four men knew they were there... me, you, Ken and Dao, and only you and I saw it. That's what it's about, Tonni. As much as we like to think of it as adventure, kiddo," Aaden shook his head, "It's still about fucking you up."
"But nothing. You're so butch you won't even fuck yolie' males, Tonni. So I took every male-oriented brainfuck I could find and packed them into one long night. Look at you; you're in good shape today, a few bruises under that beautiful fur of yours. You're fine today, and last night... well, your body won't let you forget it for a few days, but didn't you learn something last night? About yourself?" Tonni looked away, embarrassed. "Admit it, Tonni... won't you come back for more?"
"No!" he shouted at Aaden, then he looked away again. "Yes."
"Yes, sir!" he snarled.
"That's not what I meant, Tonni. We're not in a scene right now. I meant, 'yes' to what?"
Tonni gulped, then nodded. I smiled at Aaden's talent; even if they weren't 'in scene,' he was still running the show. "To all of it. Yes, I learned something last night. And... yes, I want to learn more."
Aaden reached down. Tonni flinched, then eased himself towards Aaden, and Aaden gathered him up in an enormous, furry hug. "Good," he said softly. "That's what you needed to learn, Tonni."
Tonni held onto Aaden tightly, his hand gripping his wrist behind Aaden's back. "Thank you, Aaden."
Aaden smiled as Tonni dropped back onto the bed. "Don't thank me, Tonni. Thank yourself. You were very brave last night. Braver even than Ken ever was." I smiled; I knew what Aaden meant by that, and it didn't bother me at all. And if Aaden wanted to point to Tonni, he might have chosen to point to Tonni's chest, but he didn't; he pointed to his crotch. "Are you going to be okay?"
Tonni grinned. "Yes."
"Good. Because I'm on duty in a few minutes." Aaden leaned over and gave Tonni a playful kiss on the nose. "Stay brave, Tonni; you were very good last night."
Tonni nodded as Aaden and I filed out. I wrapped an arm around my lover's waist, and he put one around my shoulders. I shook my head. "In Daedelos Gaer," I said. "There is a dark and fearful sea."
"Mm-hmm," Aaden said. "And like the real sea, like space, you must treat it right, treat it with respect, and it will bring you rewards."