I felt a little sad, watching Tonni and Noah getting along so well, knowing that even as I watched Noah was moving away from Tonni, distancing himself from his mentor, finding his own way into the adult world. His maturity had come a little slower than most, I suppose, still attached to Tonni even at seventeen, but Tonni had told me that Noah was spending less time with his planetology team and more with a young femSsphynx named Remy. I smiled when I heard that.
"I can't wait until I'm warm again," Dao breathed.
"Whine, whine, whine," I replied. "I don't even have fur and you don't hear me complaining."
"But you are cold," Dao said.
"Yeah, I'm cold," I replied, panning around the sensor pad I carried, "but that doesn't mean complaining about it is going to do me any good."
"Well, let those of us who haven't a millennia of maturity behind them do a little healthy griping," he said cheerfully.
"Find anything?" I asked.
"Nope." He walked away, reading on his data scanner where the next circular pad he carried should be placed down. He took one out of the saddlebags he carried across his back, aligned it until he was satisfied, then returned.
"Ken? Can I ask you for a favor?" he said as he consulted his PADD.
"What kind of favor?"
He paused. "When I was about Noah's age," he said, pointing across the glacier with a gloved finger to indicate the two moving shapes several hundred meters away, "I tried dating a few females. Those were disasters. So I tried mels, and mels were, well, mels. They were easier, faster, and, at least for me, better. I sort of developed a discomfort around fems that were interested in me sexually. They frightened me."
"Well, don't think I haven't been paying attention to what Aaden and Tonni are doing together. Aaden is thrilled to have someone he can mentor as a top, and Tonni is just as thrilled to be learning. One of the things I've learned about sadomasochism as you guys practice it is that you find what frightens you and you enjoy that experience safely at someone else's hands."
I smiled, then I started laughing. "Dao, are you suggesting what I think you're suggesting?"
He nodded. "I asked you for a favor on Tonni's behalf. Now I want to ask you for one for me. I want you to set me up with a fem."
"Easier said than done," I said, kissing his neck.
"You'll manage. You always do."
Sometimes life throws me curves. And sometimes it tosses me handgrenades.
Take, for instance, Beth. 168 cms tall, broad-shouldered, magnificent curves, full breasts and blond hair, in an earlier age women of her beauty were legendary. It was part of her personal frustration that such women were now commonplace. For her, such beauty was inborn, not the result of surgery. Or so she claimed.
She was also a rabid fan of morning exercise, a fact I discovered as she returned to the tent with the first light of dawn, heaving and drenched with sweat under her light cotton gi. She stripped off the top and sat at the end of the bed, catching her breath. This, by the way, is what woke me up. "Good morning?" I asked cautiously.
"Hi!" She leaned over and kissed my cheek. "You're still here!"
"Some of us wake up more slowly than others," I pointed out. "Exercise is fine, but not before dawn has even broken."
"What about the love of your life?" she chided. "At least Aaden's a health nut, if I recall correctly."
"Don't tell me. You read The Journal Entries."
"Who doesn't?" she laughed. "I think everyone has read at least one of them, whether to determine if they hate you or agree with you."
"But nobody loves me?" I asked.
"I'm sure some do." She fell over slowly into bed, landing with a whumph! and stretching out with a satisfied sigh. I found the fresh- sweat scent of her body invigorating, surely the thing I needed to wake up first thing in the morning. I reach over and ran my hand down her back; she arched with a satisfied sigh, lowering her head to the pillow fetchingly. "Can I... can I make a small confession?" she asked.
"Does your soul need confessing?"
She turned to me; her hair fell about her face, and her eyes peered through those golden tresses at me. "I'm never going to forget this night; I'm going to write down in my diary about the night I slept with Kennet Shardik."
I grinned. "I can sleep with that," I replied, kissing her cheek and getting a kissful of hair in the process. "Is that it?"
"No," she said, and she seemed even more embarrassed. "I hope you won't think I'm too weird or something, but I think your son is one of the sexiest men I've ever met."
"Noah?" I asked. She nodded. "It's mel, by the way. 'Men' is a construction that Terrans apply to human males, and we try to avoid it on Pendor. Sometimes I slip up myself."
"Just Noah, or all Ssphynx?" I asked, my fingertips trailing lightly over her still-clothed butt.
"Rrrrah..." she sighed. "I can't think when you do that. Mostly just Ssphynx; I think they're so gorgeous. I've always been something of a cat person, but Katckin are so... lanky. Ssphynx have everything. I really fantasize about loving one."
I grinned at her sweetly. "Beth, if I ask you for a really strange favor, do you think you could do it?"
She rolled over onto her back, stretching. I smiled and kissed her shoulder. "I could try," she said.
"Trust me; it'll be something to write about in your diary. It's a bit of an s/m scene, though..."
"No pain," she stuttered suddenly. "No tying me up or anything like that."
I laughed. "No, no. I need you for something else. I have this friend," I paused. She looked at me curiously. "He's around two hundred years old, but he's never slept with a female. He's gay."
"Ohhh...kay," she said.
"He has a fascination he's never satisfied; he's never slept with a female. And I was the first and thus-far only human he's slept with." I snuggled closer to her, now that she had cooled off a little, feeling my skin slide slickly over hers, throwing a leg over her hips and an arm over her shoulders. "So, what do you say to my finding a quiet place in the southern forest, away from where we're likely to disturb Battia's thought processes or her insect colonies, and we tie him to a tree and let you have your way with him?"
Her eyes were as wide as sensor plates by the time I was done. "You would do that for me?"
"I'll make my confession, Beth. You're available, and if you're so interested in having a Ssphynx, I know a Ssphynx who's interested in being had."
She rolled, pushing me over onto my back. "I'll tell you something, Mister Kennet Shardik. If you do it, I'll probably implode with good luck!" She straddled my body, looking down at me; her hair cascaded down around her face, framing it in shadow. "One thing, though... if he's gay, why is he so fascinated by women?"
I explained the conundrum of fear to her, and she seemed fascinated by my explanation. "So, because he's afraid of me, you think he's learned how to be sexually excited by me?"
"That's about it," I replied.
"That's so weird," she said. "Sometimes, you people are so strange."
"Hey, it takes a little oddness to be Ken Shardik and Company."
She laughed. "One thing, though..."
"About... being afraid? Isn't that bad?"
I "Hmm'd" again thoughtfully before replying. "It can get bad. I'm sure you've heard about guys who get off on feelings they only get through being afraid. But I give smart people the benefit of the doubt. I know I can separate the things that scare me naturally, and the things that scare me but I can enjoy because I know it's time to enjoy being scared."
She shook her head. "More weirdness."
I stroked her thigh gently with my hand, my fingers sliding up between her thighs to stroke between them gently. She murmured my name softly. I murmured hers back. "It's not that hard to understand."
She smiled down at me. "If I'm going to be getting any work done today, I'm going to need a shower first."
"Want someone to wash your back?"
"I'd love someone to wash my back."
"Come here," I said. "Stand right here, on this blanket." Dao walked forward slowly. "Nervous?" I asked.
"A little... sir," he replied.
I stroked his muzzle slowly, drawing my hand across his whiskers. "Don't be. You're going to enjoy this."
"That doesn't mean I can't be nervous," he said, echoing words I'd heard from at least a thousand other people. I smiled as I slowly fitted the cuff and glove to his left hand, easing the leather over his wrist and then methodically lacing up to his elbow. "How's that feel?" I asked.
"Pretty good," he said. I did the other one in the same fashion, being careful about getting his fur caught in the leather. Both gloves tinkled with dangling solid-steel D-rings. I wandered over to one of the two trees I had selected and threw a rope over a branch hanging about three meters off the ground, and then did the same with the other tree just a few steps away. I pulled one end of the rope to Dao's wrist and began tying a secure release-knot to it. I looked up at his face and smiled at him; he swallowed hard and tried to return the smile, not entirely succeeding.
I smiled wide, running my hand down the side of his face and stroking his sensuous neck and shoulders. "I'm not going to hurt you, Dao."
"I know," he said. "I'm just nervous. I've never done anything like this before. I feel strange, especially since it's not Tonni tying me up."
"Hey, my coimelin was the first person to tie yours up. Besides, think of it this way... you've slept beside me, naked and vulnerable and very lovely. If I was secretly some blood-sucking monster, you'd know by now."
He nodded. I moved to the other wrist and soon had two secure knots. I walked back to my backpack and pulled out a small battery-driven winch. I tied one rope to an eyehole at one end, then threaded the other through the spool. With the remote control, I let it begin winding. "Tell me when it's starting to get too tight," I said.
"Okay." Slowly, the spool wound up the two ropes, pulling the slack over the branches until Dao stood, his arms spread wide at his sides. I turned the winch off, deciding for myself that he was exposed enough for my tastes. I walked around behind him and petted his Ssphynx lower half, reaching under his tail and teasing his asshole gently. He murred, his two rear feet stamping the ground slightly.
Reaching into a pocket, I pulled out a black handkerchief and tied it about his eyes. He whimpered softly as I pulled the knot tight, but he didn't object too much. "Relax," I whispered, running my hand down his chest playfully. "I'm going to give you something you asked for."
"What's that, sir?" he asked.
I walked away from him, just enough distance so that I could see him clearly but he couldn't hear me. I watched him toss his head and paw at the ground with his four feet. "Okay, Beth," I whispered, "We're ready for you."
She smiled softly as she stepped out from behind the trees where she had hidden herself just as I had begun restraining Dao. "Thanks," she said.
"Ready for this?"
"Mm-hmm," she agreed, letting the hum break off and descend into a soft and lusty sound. I led her by the hand back to Dao, who had become still in the few minutes I'd been away.
"Dao?" I said, walking up behind him and straddling his back with my legs.
"Sir?" he breathed.
"We have a visitor. I'm going to leave you two and just go sit over there and watch. Do you understand?"
"Y... Yessir," he said suddenly.
"Good." I walked away and sat down by a tree that gave me a reasonable side-view of the proceedings.
Beth, who had been a complete and utter gymnast in bed two days ago, now seemed at a loss as to where to begin. But finally she reached out with one hand and touched Dao's chest gently. He started, tossing about against the ropes. Still completely silent, she pressed her hand fully to his chest, stroking the fur with her fingers. Dao's muzzle hung open, his chests heaving rapidly, trying to get more air into his system. She stood in before him, her smile slowly twisting into something more scampish than before as she began to tickle him slowly, her fingers jostling his fur. Dao whimpered aloud, straining against the ropes, and finally he shouted "Stop it!"
I grinned and Beth did too, slowly walking around him, ducking under one of his outstretched arms to stand beside his felinoid body. Her hand ran long his neck and down his back, coming to the wither and then progressing downwards, along his lower spine to his tail, which whipped back and forth agitatedly. She grabbed it with one hand, sliding down until she had the tip in hand and then shook it violently. "You could try skipping rope with it!" I shouted to her.
"No!" Dao shouted.
"Oh, calm down, Dao," I said. "I was only kidding."
Beth crouched down behind the Ssphynx's rump, still holding onto the tail with her left hand. Her right hand rubbed her chin thoughtfully for a moment, and then she reached forward, between his legs, and slowly closed her fingers about his testicles. He whimpered as she slowly played with them, weighing them and tugging on them gently. "Please," he whispered, "Please don't hurt me."
"Does that hurt?" I asked.
"No..." he said. "But it frightens me."
"Shhh," I said, standing up and stroking his face. "Do you mind?" I asked Beth. She shook her head. "We're not going to hurt you, Dao."
He nodded slowly as I stroked his cheek, feeling his whiskers tickle the back of my wrist. I caressed his chest and leaned forward to kiss him. The kiss was completely overpowering; I nearly lost control of myself when my lips met his muzzle and his strong tongue pressed against mine.
Beth, still crouching, set herself onto the ground and slid under him, looking up along the powerfully feline length of his lower body. She played with his sheath, caressing it with her hand, stroking and encouraging him. He whimpered into our potent kissing as she closed her mouth about his cock. I released him to crouch down on my knees and watch myself as she took his cock against her tongue and sucked him, bobbing her head back and forth. He could barely hold still, but I could look up and see his tongue hanging out and how badly he wanted to hold still for whoever was sucking his cock.
Beth gave me a glance as she worked, and I gestured with a jerk of my head. "Come 'ere." She slowly and reluctantly released his shaft; the glint in her eyes told me just how much she had enjoyed sucking on his cock. "Dao, I want you to meet your playmate. Say hello, Beth."
"Hello, Dao," she exhaled, still breathing hard with her own desire.
"He... Hello, Beth," Dao replied, gasping.
"Guess what?" she said, stroking his chest with her hand. "You're going to fuck me, Dao. Do you think you can manage that?"
"Yes... yes, I guess so!" he replied, a huge smile on his face.
"And you're going to fuck me hard," she said. "As hard as you can. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Ma'am!" he replied. I was grinning like a madman myself, and Beth, seeing my grin, smiled one of her own just as wide.
"Good," she said. She leaned forward and, taking his head in her hands just like I had, kissed him hard, crushing her breasts against his chest.
"Can I... Can I make one request?" he asked.
"Depends," I said.
"Free me. Let me touch you."
"Ken?" she asked.
"Go ahead. Just pull on the ends of the ropes. And don't you take off the blindfold." She reached up and tugged on the end of the rope, fixed with red plastic tape to keep them from fraying, and the knot came free, sliding easily out of the D-ring. I freed his other hand just as easily. The winch thumped to the ground. Without removing the blindfold, Beth and I tugged at the glove laces, pulling off the suspension gear and setting his fingers free to touch.
He reached forward, running his hands over her face, stroking her throat as she stood in front of him. His fingertips seemed to be taking in every cent of her skin in frantic appreciation, sliding over and around the swell of her breasts, caressing each one lightly, playing with them, grasping them full with his palms and slowly flexing his palms as if to get a permanent memory of what they were like. Still blindfolded, he let his hands explore her body, grazing down her belly and touching her light spattering of pubic hair before pulling her close and caressing her ass. She wrapped her arms around him, her eyes closed and her face in deep concentration as she allowed and enjoyed his contact. "Dao," she whispered. "I want you to fuck me."
"Get ready, then," he replied. She slowly crouched down onto her knees over the blanket and crawled under him; there wasn't much room, and she had to spread her legs wider than she was probably used to. The task was slow and somewhat amusing to watch. Dao growled. "Aim for me," he said.
She reached between her legs as he slowly, still blindfolded, found his way comfortably over her body. She found his cock, still hard, and he eased himself into her. He hissed softly, "Wow."
"Don't hold back," she murmured up to him, her head resting on her arms crossed on the blanket, her buttock thrust up against his hips; there wasn't much room between them at all, and Dao began rocking back and forth. He planted his forelegs forward and slightly apart, giving himself better leverage as he began a building rhythm, fucking Beth slowly but forcefully.
A growl came from deep within his throat as his thrusts built in intensity. Beth reached her hands forward to brace herself against something, probably a tree root under the blanket, as he fucked her with a force majeure, potent and authoritative. A snarl curled on his lip, and still Beth cried "Harder!"
It was almost more than I could watch. I mean, I've taken 'taurs before, but what Beth was asking for was scary. I'm glad we did this outdoors; even a sturdy bed would have broken under his vehemence. "Yes!" Beth cried out as his haunches and thighs thrust and withdrew faster and faster. The snarl in his breathing grew louder, and suddenly he exploded, a deep, screaming roar of release and ecstasy as he came, his body a blur of raw impact.
My hand was covering my mouth as Dao shook his head wildly to send droplets of sweat flying off the tips of his whiskers and ears. "Yes!" he cheered loudly as Beth collapsed out from underneath him onto her side. Concerned, I rushed to her side, and Dao tore off the blindfold to turn and fall to his knees. "Beth?" I asked.
"Oh, wow," she whispered, still quivering where she lay. "That was... awe inspiring."
Momentarily too stunned to speak, I recovered quickly and laughed. "You're gonna have bruises on your butt."
"Oh, but they're gonna be worth it!" she insisted. She stood up slowly, wincing as her leg muscles, too long in one awkward position, protested. "Oh, Dao, thank you."
"You're most welcome, Beth," he replied, stepping forward awkwardly and hugging her.
Laughing, I suggested we dress and head back for the small atmospheric flyer that had brought us here. "So, tell me, Dao, what do you think of women now?"
Dao stepped into a 'taur flight bench and began strapping himself in. He shook his head thoughtfully, saying "I understand Tonni a little less now."
"Is that a bad thing?"
"Not really. I mean, I still love him a lot. But this complete dislike of fems I just don't understand. It doesn't make much sense to me." He reached over and stroked Beth's arm gently. She startled, then eased, smiling and returning the touch.
"You aren't afraid of me still, are you?"
He shook his head. "No. I don't understand fems yet, but I'm not afraid of them anymore. Still prefer mels, though. And I'll probably stay with them."
"Good for you," I said.
Beth reached forward and played with my hair for a moment. "You're just like your books," she said.
"Always teaching," she said. "That was one of the few things that impressed me about your books, that propensity of yours to constantly be in, what did you call it?"
I looked out the window and said "Campsite in about an hour. You can take off your belts, but I would recommend you leave them on. Just in case."
Beth handed forward a bottle of carmel soda. "And it's even got caffeine in it," I said, laughing. She smiled and replied "I know what you like."
"You've read more than just one Journal Entry," I said.
"A few," she replied. "It's easier to read about your life than to live it."
"It's also easier to write about after the fact," I said. Time passed as the terrain flew by below us. "You know, watching you two really had me worried for a while there. I mean, I know fems like to prove how much tougher they are than mels, especially in the sexual arena, but Rings, you too, it looked like Dao was trying to kill you."
"I was concerned myself," Dao admitted. "With you, Ken, I was always careful to be so gentle."
Beth leaned back in her chair, her eyes rolling in an exasperated look. "You didn't give me anything I didn't ask for, Dao, or wouldn't willingly beg for again."
He smiled. "I have to admit, part of it was the idea of getting back at the person who had set me up to be teased this way."
"You mean Ken?" she asked.
"No, you. You were my tormentor. I asked Ken for something like this. I just didn't think he'd manage both female and human in the same day."
I laughed. "She fell out of the sky, Dao. I mean it. One day you're telling me how much you'd like to try a fem, and a week later here's Beth telling me just how much she'd die to make love with a male Ssphynx." I paused, checked my displays. "You know, Dao, kissing you made me very hot."
"It did?" he asked, grinning.
"I told you I think you're sexy," I said. "I didn't ask you to my cabin on the Inquiry for nothing, you know." I thought of something my daughter had said. "Get over it, Dao."
"Right now I... I just realized, Ken. I left my pack in your tent. I have to pick it up; the PADD's local memory has some notes in it, and I didn't leave the transfer gate open."
"No problem." I thought for a moment. "Strap in if you've loosened up at all. There's camp." I located my landing beacon and parking slot, slowly setting the aerodyne down into the burgeoning landing pad. With the Terran vessels crowding close to the Pendorian, what had once been a quiet meadow had been transformed into a landing field.
The walk from the field to my tent was nearly two kilometers, but I don't object to hiking and neither did my companions. We passed many people, many of them friends, a few of them contentious rivals for the scientific marvels Battia II had to offer. But for the most part we passed just folks, people we knew. Beth at one point tripped over a tentline running to hug someone she introduced only as Vladimir. There were only 37 Han, but they were making themselves very visible; on the other hand, it's hard to miss 3.5- meter tall people walking around.
Finally, though, we reached my tent. "Home again, home again," I sang cheerfully, throwing open the tent flaps to let some air into the stuffy and hot tent. I wondered where Sheja was. "Here's your bag, Dao..." I left the thought hanging.
"Shh, I heard something. Do you hear that?"
At first I thought I had heard a soft thumping sound, like a thrown pillow. Now, though, I clearly heard an electronic whining sound slowly going up in pitch. I followed it, tossing my head to zero in on my target. Whatever it was, it was buried in my laundry.
I pulled aside the towels; underneath was a small steel box, about the size of a carry case. "LANCE!" I screamed, jumping and twisting away from it, grabbing Beth and Dao and throwing them to the ground. In my head my biocybernetics flared to full power, sending Lance the visuals of Box--SDisk--As-far-away-as-possible. The box vanished silently, the whine with it.
A loud BOOM sound came from outside, probably near the administration tent. "What was that?" Dao asked, picking himself up off the ground.
"I hope it was just the capac-"
The entire sky outside the open tent flap lit up with a new, second silent sun. I gasped loudly; Beth screamed. "Lance, what did you manage?"
"Seventeen kilometers," he replied calmly. "The rumble will arrive in about 20 seconds."
"Rumble?" Beth asked, her voice nervous. Dao looked like he had gone completely into shock.
"You've never seen a fission-fusion explosion before, have you?"
"WHAT?" Beth screamed, her face terrified, her hands gripping my arms tightly.
"That little suitcase was a nuclear bomb, Beth." I reached over and laid a hand on Dao's back. "Dao? Dao!"
"Wha!" he asked, looking up, his eyes darting back and forth with shock. "That-- That really was a nuke?"
"That really was a nuke."
"An appreciable one, too," Lance observed thoughtfully. "About twenty kilotons, I would guess. I'm surprised; I would have thought a Morrow Five-Mod would have been more suitable."
"Harder to build," I pointed out, standing up and dusting myself off. "Also, you can't fire them off of batteries; it takes a Morrow Five-Stan to crank one up."
"You're still in shock."
"You're right," I agreed logically. "Are there wounded from the SDisk self-destructing?"
"No," Lance said. "But thank you for offering." Just then the rumble rolled over us, a low, ugly growl of power. I felt it as if it pushed itself through me, making me realize that someone had just tried to kill me... with a nuclear weapon.
My hands started to shake as I stepped out of the tent and looked around; people were still wandering as if in a daze. Even the insects had gone silent, and I wondered idly what Battia would make of this indignity to her atmosphere. "Ken," Lance interrupted my thoughts quietly. "I think Gary wants to talk to you."
"I'm, uh, not surprised." I made my way slowly towards Ops, entering through the front door along with a growing crush of Terrans and Pendorians.
"Ken!" Garenna shouted as I entered the central room. "What the fuck just happened?"
"An assassination attempt," I said dully. My mind was going numb with the implications of what had just occurred.
"Someone tried to kill me. I'm sure they were after me; the nuke was in my laundry basket. About so big," I said, measuring out with my hands the approximate size of the suitcase I had seen. "I know they were after me because I heard the capacitors fire the moment I said something; it was voice-recognition activated, Gary."
Gary looked at me, still as stunned as I was. "Ken, we have an assassin running loose."
"Why now, Gary?" I asked. "There's no logical reason for someone to try and kill me. I mean, sure, people have tried in the past, but never with this kind of violence. Whoever did this was willing to kill nearly four thousand people. Nobody would use a nuke just to take out one mel. And the Terrans have been here for months. This doesn't make sense."
"Yes it does," Garenna interrupted us softly. "Remember that mail spools before news, Ken, and AI to AI transactions are always sent last unless they're prioritized at the source. I suggest you look at the Headline News textpage on that PADD on the table to your right."
I picked it up and read it, slowly, my breathing becoming faster and shorter as I read:
Whereas: The only two resources required by an advanced technological society are sufficient energy and sufficient living space,
And Whereas: By any measure, the planet known as Earth (Sol-3) has been inadequate to meet the needs of the human race for at least ten centuries,
And Whereas: The human species as a whole is now capable of managing its own collective and biological destiny,
The United Nations of Earth do accept the offer of The Sovereign World of Pendor for the construction of an inhabitable ringworld.
We do also accept as payment for construction that ownership and administration of the world known as Sol-III shall be turned over to Pendor upon acceptance of the inhabitable ringworld.
I glanced up at Garenna, stunned and completely unable to speak. He smiled at me tolerantly. "That's right, Ken. We finally did it. We've purchased the Earth." He looked around at the milling crowd. "And someone here is out to kill you because of that."
I paled. "Gary, do you think you can handle the people outside?"
"I can. Any second now, David's gonna be SDisking down here to talk to you, you know. You're supposed to go with him to the archeological site at Weekday."
"I know," I said. "We'll have to delay that flight, I think."
He nodded. "Let's get the camp in order. I don't think seventeen kilometers is very far, and we might have some radiation cases to take care of."
I nodded, still shaking slightly. "Ken, will you be okay?"
I nodded. "I will be. Eventually."
He grinned. "Okay. Take care. I'll be back in a little bit."