"What are you doing up there?" Lindsay asked, looking up at me.
"Remember a few months ago when I asked you if you had ever had a swing as a child and you said no? Well, it seems criminal that a woman as beautiful as yourself should go through life without a swing, so I resolved to make you one."
She smiled up at me. "You're lovely, Ken, even when you're the silliest man on the planet."
I finished tying off the second length of rope and swung down off the branch of the tree I had chosen for my experiment, taking the rope in my gloved hands and sliding down towards the ground. I had chosen a tree right on the edge, almost separate from the forest as a whole; plenty of room for what I had made. Halfway there, my legs gathered up underneath me, I came face to face with Lindsay, so I held one hand out and crooked on finger in a 'come hither' gesture. She smiled and leaned closer to me. I grabbed the collar of her windbreaker and pulled her closer, giving her a kiss on the tip of her dark-pink nose. "Ack!"
"Gotcha," I said. She backed away, rubbing her nose as I slid the rest of the way down to the ground. "Okay, time to try out the swing."
"You expect me to trust you after you lick my nose?"
"I didn't lick it. I just kissed it."
"Same thing. You got saliva all over it."
"So it was a sloppy kiss," I laughed. "Come on, try it out."
She gave me a dubious glance and then sat down on the plank I had sanded clean for the swing seat. "Now, how does this work?"
"Okay, you see how your legs are suspended above the ground?" She nodded. "You're going to swing your legs in a pendulum motion to make yourself move. It's actually pretty easy."
"Children do this for fun?"
"All the time." I walked up behind her. "Okay, we're going to start this the easy way. Grab the ropes like this, keep your tail off the ground... right." I grabbed the swing and pulled back. "Okay, now eventually you'll figure it out." I let her go.
She gave a soft gasp of surprise, and on the rebound I gave her another push, my hands on the small of her back. She tried swinging her legs as I suggested, but without much luck at first.
Eventually, though, she did begin to understand the physics of it and started making easy swings back and forth, slowly at first.
"This is fun!" she said. "Whee!"
I laughed. She seemed to be enjoying herself, and I didn't want to interrupt her, but I had to remind her "Be careful!"
"I will, I will!" Her hair flew out behind her as did her tail, which dragged on the grass every time she came down from a swing. The smile on her face was a meter wide, stretching from ear to ear. The way her long, sinuous neck undulated with each swing was a little disconcerting; no species I had ever made had a neck that long. It suddenly occurred to me that her throat was going to be a real problem to armor the way many Pendorians were. The throat was one of the few truly 'weak' spots on the general Pendorian anatomy. The head was so completely latticed with ceramics after maturity that it would take a very big bullet to do anything more than a serious concussion; the chest and abdomen were equally empowered with nanotech that could mediate systemic shock and initiate repair so efficiently that major explosives were required to truly kill a Pendorian.
My stream of thought reminded me of Battia, and of how close he had been to the launch explosion of a seed and how the shock had killed him. It also reminded of Donna, who had died because of a bullet through her throat and we had learned how to come up with a subdermal netting that would prevent most kinetic kill rounds from going through in the hopes that the impact damage would be survivable. So far it hadn't failed.
"Ken?" Lindsay asked, breaking my concentration. She had ceased her swinging and was just sitting there, looking at me. "Are you okay? You look... sad."
"Just thinking. One of those things where one thing reminded me of another, and that reminded me of another... and when I got to the end it was a very sad thing to think about."
"Oh," she said, reaching out with her hand to stroke my face. "You're crying."
I smiled, looking up at her. "It happens. I find that as I get older the sadness comes out easier. It gets pent up and then it breaks in long streams." I wiped a tear away. "I think it's because as we get older we have more to be sad about. They're the strongest memories we have."
"Do you really think so? I think the happy memories are the strongest ones we ever have. Waking up to you, my pregnancy, those are all high on my list."
I looked up into her face. She was still young. "I'm glad you think so." I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around her, holding her close. It was one of our first really quiet moments together, and I wanted it to last for a while. I placed my head against her belly, for that was all I came up to, and sighed. Then I laughed softly.
"What's so funny?" she asked.
"I have this... tradition, or so they say. There's always someone, usually female, although sometimes it's male, in a new Pendorian species, who becomes my best friend for a while. The most special person, I guess, to me. You're sorta getting there, Lindsay."
She smiled. "I guess I'm joining a small and very special club."
"Sometimes it doesn't work. The Mephit and Ssphynxes didn't have theirs, for instance. It was centuries before I had any real, strong friends in those species, for instance. And the Dolphins, there's another case where it was a male and for a long, long time it wasn't sexual."
"Is it always sexual?" she asked, cocking her head slightly.
"No, not always." I looked up. "I'd like it to be with you, though. If that's what you want."
"This will sound very strange to you," she said, "but I really don't know if I'd feel comfortable with that."
"Why not? When we talked on the ship, you said..."
"It's not you," she sighed. "It's... I've never had to deal with a uniquely gendered person before. I'm so used to being capable of both giving and receiving, and here... I can only receive."
"Oh, come on!" I said, taking a step back. "That's silly. You know I like being on the receiving end just as much as you do!"
"But you and Aaden have... you know."
"Anal sex," I said, chuckling.
"Yeah. I mean, isn't that dangerous? The body isn't designed for that. From either end, Ken. I'm worried I could tear something... or catch something."
"If you tear something, it'll heal. I have never taken any serious damage just from a penis going in there, Lindsay. As for catching something, well... that's what nanotech is really for. See, I trust the technology that keeps me alive that implicitly. If there were no mechanisms for keeping me safely alive, I'd certainly question my actions. But we have our supersciences just for that reason."
I walked around behind her and started scratching the back of her neck slowly. "Do you want to hear something weird?"
"You're not going to give me your recipe for chili again are you?"
I laughed. "No, nothing like that. Aaden believes, odd as it sounds, that homosexuality and, among males, anal sex are representative of a positive evolutionary pressure."
"What? That's silly!"
"No, no, bear this out. Listen to me. Humans stopped evolving a million years ago, give or take. We took the reins of our own environment and the evolutionary process ground to a halt. But we're not the end product, and I think we recognize that. I think more importantly we recognize that we don't have to lose our essential humanity or individuality in order to further the process."
"So what does that have to do with anal sex?"
"Well, you and I are sort of past the process of vivogenesis. We continue to have sex and give birth the way we do out of a sense of tradition. You certainly wouldn't have to carry your child to term if you wanted, Lindsay. A tank could do just as well a job. You retain your ability to do so out of a sense that the technology that makes us what we are could come down around our ears someday, and if we can't reproduce there won't be anyone around eventually to rebuild it.
"So we're stuck with this ability we don't really need. But it still feels really good to exercise it, with anyone we want. And in my anatomy, at any rate, receptive anal sex actually feels really good; my prostate is right there, my creator only knows why, with more than half the nerve endings in my genital region. So, when homosexuality becomes a normative activity between loving members of a species that has responsibly outgrown the urgency of its reproductive imperative, anal sex becomes a successful and viable way of celebrating that love while including all those back- brain pleasures that got us here. And it's the technology of that responsibly grown-up species that lets me enjoy those pleasures without fear."
Lindsay leaned back against me. "That's the looniest theory I've ever heard," she laughed. "It almost makes sense. Tell me, Ken, what happens when we out-grow those 'back-brain pleasures?'"
"Oh, I hope that never happens," I chuckled. "Call me chauvinistic, but I like the way my brain is wired."
She smiled. "You're special is what you are." I leaned over and kissed her muzzle softly. She opened her mouth and kissed back, her soft tongue stroking over mine. My chest felt tight and my heart sounded loud in my ears. I reached down to stroke her chest, not really aiming for her breasts, but coincidentally stroking them anyway.
Her feet shuffled on the grass, twisting the swing around so she could face me. "You were right," she said. "This is fun."
"What?" I asked, leaning in and nuzzling her neck. "Kissing, or swinging?"
"Both," she replied, touching my face with her fingers, then kissing my neck and my chin. I love when someone does that, and I sighed to tell her so. I reached down and grabbed her by the shoulders, pulling her out of her swing and onto the ground, where we rolled playfully on the grass. "Gods, you're beautiful," I said.
"So are you, Kennet. That's not because of who you are or what you've done. With your hair so long you look a little like an angel of old... a little dark for an angel, but an angel still." I smiled, drawing up my left leg to rest it between her thighs, pressing up against her crotch. She gasped softly as my fingers ran through her fur. Her thick, expressioned tail wrapped itself around one leg but it did nothing to pull me away from her, so I pressed a little harder. "So who goes first?" she asked.
"I'd like to make love to you, first," I said.
"That's what I wanted," she sighed.
"Nervous?" I asked.
"Yeah," she said, her voice cracking slightly.
"Don't be," I said. "I'm just like anyone else equipped with an erection." I kissed her breasts, taking a nipple between my lips and sucking on it softly until it came to full hardness itself. Even though she was only a month pregnant, I knew her nipples might be overly sensitive because of the changes going on inside her, and I was careful not to be too rough, or at least I hoped I was. She moaned.
"You're so responsive," I said. "I like that."
"I'm glad. Can I ask you who the donor is?"
I thought carefully about the Han I knew. "I don't know a Victoria Hayes."
"I know. She's one of the dead now. We took semen samples from all the dead and preserved them. Didn't P'nyssa tell you?"
I pushed myself up on my palms and looked down at her. "Semen samples? I didn't know." I sighed. "It's a smart move, and it makes a lot of sense. It also makes my job a little harder."
"Because I had intended on upgrading the changes in you to a genetic level."
"But the maintenance systems are exocellular, aren't they?"
"Some are. Some are infracellular. And a good portion of them are genetic."
"Do I need the others?"
I shook my head. "You don't need the genetic changes. The other two levels are adequate for most species."
"But they're backup."
"Reliable backup, yes."
Lindsay brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. I always thought that hair was silly. She was a lovely Han of tabby-yellow fur and steel-yellow eyes that caught the light and reflected it back at certain angles, like a Felinzi or other feline species. She pulled me back down and kissed me hard, her tongue invading my mouth and exploring within. After a second's recovery I pressed back, just as hard. Under my thigh I could feel her cock getting harder, and thought it a bit of a shame that I wasn't going to be feeling that inside me today, especially considering its astounding size. Or maybe I would.
I slid down her body, pulling down the rest of the zipper of her useless windbreaker and opening it completely. I also tugged at her skirt, the velcro giving way easily. Like unwrapping a present, I laid the two flaps of the skirt aside, spotting the soft flare of pubic fur that covered cunny and also represented the base of her penile sheath. Her erection stood up and laid against her belly, fully erect. I leaned over and kissed her there, glancing over her sweet opening and noting how small it looked, smaller than anything I'd ever seen on a sentient, except maybe a llerkindi.
Then I realized I was being chauvinistic again and separating her penis from her vagina; combined her genitals were probably more intricate than that of either male or female. Her cunny lacked a clitoris or urethral sheath, so it was nothing more than an opening for coitus and for birth.
Damn my biologist's brain. I should be making love to her, not analyzing her. A self-depreciating chuckle lodged itself in the back of my throat, which I pushed back down by taking her cock in my lips and sucking down hard. She whimpered softly as I took the whole thing into my mouth, my chin pressing hard against the base, spreading open the small lips of her inner labia. Sleeping with Centaurs was good training for this! My feet squirmed against one another, slowly tearing open the velcro clasps which held my shoes closed and kicking them off. With one hand, I reached down to my own pants and opened the clasp, sliding them down and off as well. I was a little too busy to take off my shirt.
Stroking with my tongue pressed against the underside, I guided the head along the roof of my mouth, stroking insistently. "Oh, Ken," she gasped, and I smiled. It sounded good, coming from her that way. "You do that so well."
I wanted to thank her but I was busy. Her hands wrapped themselves in my hair and I felt comfortable with them there. She could have held me, forcing her cock down my throat, but she didn't and I didn't think she would. She raised her hips slightly as I suckled her cock with my mouth, lips, throat. "Ken," she sighed. "Don't."
I looked up. "Don't what?"
"Make me come," she replied. "I just want you to get inside me. I just want you to make love to me..." She paused. "Like we agreed."
I laughed and covered her body with mine, my cock pressing hard between her thighs. She parted her legs like permissive gates and my cock pressed up between her legs, pressing for entrance to her body. She reached down between us and guided, or more accurately, pointed my way and I slid in, feeling her tight cunny grip me as I pressed my hips against hers. She wrapped her legs around my thighs, her arms around my shoulders, holding me to her. Her erection pressed between us, and I could actually hear her tail thumping against the ground as I slowly slid back and started to stroke slowly.
"Oh, God, that's good," she sighed. "It's been so long... too long."
I smiled down at her, looking down between our bodies. "One thing about hermaphrodites," I said. "There's this big thing blocking my view."
"Only in this position, silly," she replied.
We made love slowly, my cock deliberately withdrawing almost all the way before plunging back into her. "From behind and your tail will be in the way."
"There are ways," she said. She closed her eyes and sighed. "I love feeling you inside me like this." Her tail curled up underneath both of us and whipped across my back.
"Besides," she said as I began to speed up, "I'm sure a kinky mel like yourself knows a dozen positions and contraptions to make this a... different experience."
I laughed and started pressing my hips against hers. She spread her thighs just a little further. "I'm sure I do."
"Yes," she sighed. "Like that. I like to feel you inside me like that. God, it feels strange... you're so furless, and built so differently."
"And you're just so beautiful, Lindsay." I began fucking her, noticing her eyes dilate and her body shudder underneath me as we made love under our swinging tree. Her legs would pull me in with every thrust as I began to feel my orgasm rising. I pushed myself on my hands, and her hands reached between us so she could play with her cock. Whether my mouth or my cock was making it any better for her, she moaned softly as she played with her shaft. Her cunny gripped me tighter, a whole new range of sensations washing over my penetrating cock with every thrust and reluctant surrender on every withdrawal. I was getting close, and I could see Lindsay was too, her muzzle open and panting, her tongue actually hanging out of the side in her urgency. Suddenly she let out a soft crooning moan and semen splashed up against the fur of her belly. "Don't stop!" she ordered. I didn't, continuing my pistoning motion as my climax rose and I finally exploded inside her, feeling her body shudder around me as we lay together under the sunshading canopy of leaves.
"Oh, Ken... Wow."
"Enjoy yourself?" I asked.
"Oh, yes! Yes, yes I did." I laughed, and she did too. I slid off her onto the grass, realizing immediately thereafter that if the pollen of this grass were anything like the pollen found on Pendor the second it hit my skin I was going to start itching. I ignored it; I could shower when I got home.
I found my pants where I had tossed them and pulled them on. I shook my head, smiling, as I watched her close her skirt and pull up the zipper on her windbreaker. "You wear very... accessible... clothing, Lindsay."
She leaned over to kiss me. "You're not too defensiv--" A sudden look of confusion crossed her face, then of pain, and her hands reached up to grab her throat as blood erupted from a small puncture wound in her throat. A second one appeared at the back.
"NO!" I screamed as the sound of a gunshot flew by me. Training took the place of horror as the functional part of my brain calculated the path of the bullet from the siting of the original wound and tossed me behind the tree, hoping that I'd be safe from my would-be assassin. I glanced over at Lindsay. She was lying on the ground, her body going into spasms, and I closed my eyes, desperate to keep my lunch down. There was nothing I could do for her; she was already dead, she just didn't know it yet. I finished closing my pants and ignored my shoes; the assassin would wait for me to try and grab them, or make a run for the shuttle that lay a few hundred metres away; Lindsay and I had walked a long distance looking for just the right tree.
That assassin was dead, he just didn't know it yet, either.
I looked over at Lindsay again; she had stopped moving. The bullet wound looked odd, and I realized what I was staring at. Telescoping flechette round, armor-piercing. A round specifically built to kill "unarmored" Pendorians. The throat-ripper.
I looked at my watch. Eventually the assassin would have to move, hoping to find an open shot at me. Apparently I was well- shielded; I had picked a tree with a broad and gnarled trunk to make climbing easier.
"I hate this," I said to myself. We hadn't even brought a PADD. Was I close enough to reach the shuttle? Hello, hello I ran through my biocybe. Can anybody hear me?
Nothing. "Fuck!" I sighed and tried to think of what I could do. Eventually he was going to get me unless I went on the offensive. But what could I do?
Shah. The though hit me like a brick. I still had the Shahs in my system from all those years ago. They were dangerous as hell, but I couldn't think of any reason why I shouldn't use them. I concentrated for a second, visualizing the switches in my imagination that would activate the Shathah line of nanochine.
My heart began to speed up, and I felt cold. But more than that, I felt ready to take on my assassin. I was going to get him. And I was going to kill him.
I made a quick assumption-- that he was going to situate himself somewhere in the forest where he could watch the tree, probably not too far, but far enough that we wouldn't have heard him approach, and most importantly somewhere between us and the shuttle. Gathering my strength in my legs, I leapt out from behind the tree and ran for the thicker forest.
The speed I achieved was phenomenal. I felt like the wind; the trees came upon me suddenly and I realized that stopping was a serious concern. I grabbed a branch as I passed it by, and stripped it clean of twigs as I suddenly decelerated, wrapping around the tree as the branch bent, snapped, gave way and I went tumbling deeper into the forest.
"Fuck," I whispered as I leapt to a stand from where I had fallen, sprawled on the ground. I looked at my hand; completely painless, I was bleeding freely. And for the first time in my life I felt I could actually see those little nanochines going to work repairing the damage I had just done to myself.
The time spent examining my hand was less than a tenth of a second. The world had slowed down. And it would stay that way until I got some Shah counterfactor. As Nance had pointed out to me when he had first experimented with the stuff, "Shah will make you a superhero. Once. And if you can't turn it off, it'll kill you."
I used my next nine-tenths of a second looking and listening for my assassin. I heard him. Footsteps, less than sixty meters away according to my information-sorting brain. I took a look out around the trees and actually saw him. He was wearing camouflage, but somehow I saw him. It took me half a second to realize that my vision had shifted down the spectrum a notch or so and I was picking up his body heat. Sometime in that half second the sound of a gunshot rang out, and I did a quick survey of my extremities to make sure I hadn't been hit. Not yet at any rate.
I found another tree, considered an adequate braking mechanism, and dashed for it. Another gunshot. A hit this time, the bullet grazed my back. I screamed as the burst of pain hit my brain, milliseconds before the nanochine killed that particular data stream. I had more urgent problems right now.
I heard sounds now, running. He was taking flight! I looked out; he was heading for my shuttle, I guessed. Or maybe his own. There was no way he was getting out of this. I pursued him, taking only a small fraction of the increased speed the nanotech and nanchem-created drugs had run through my system. I needed the extra calculation time to dodge trees and roots.
He turned as he heard me catching up to him; I was making no effort to be stealthy. A pistol in his hand, he raised, aimed and fired. The bullet struck me square in the left shoulder, too high for any serious concern. Another round missed; he had let his gun rise in his panic. As I closed he re-aimed and hit me square in the pelvis; I was already inside his guard when he pulled the trigger a fourth time. With my one undamaged arm I broke his gun arm, then kicked him with my left leg. The sounds of bones crunching was damned unpleasant, and I wasn't sure if they were mine or his. He doubled over. I grabbed him by the throat and threw him up against the rough bark of the nearest tree. "WHY?" I demanded.
His eyes were bulging as he struggled in my grasp. "The Earth... will never belong to you!" he spat in my face.
"Not that you'll ever see," I replied, squeezing down with my hand until I heard, once more, the sound of bone on bone; I was grinding down the vertebrae of his neck. He gurgled sadly as I dropped him on the ground. And then his face slowly shifted to a rounder, more relaxed-looking individual. "Shapeshifter," I spat. "I hate shapeshifters." I started transmitting Mayday as I made my way at my best possible speed towards the shuttle. I was starting to feel hot and nauseous as I almost got there.
Lance, help... I'm wounded and I'm Shah'd out. Lindsay is dead. Shot. Got the assass...
"Welcome back to the living," P'nyssa said, chastising me. "You had me very scared for a moment there."
"Then I guess I made it." I glanced around; I was aboard the Inquiry, in the infirmary.
She smiled and leaned down, giving me a very passionate kiss. "I'm getting tired of patching you up, you know."
"I know," I said. "I don't mean to keep getting shot, stabbed, or blown up."
"Well, at least you got the assassin," she said.
"Great," I said bitterly as memories washed over me. "Lindsay is still dead."
"Actually," P'nyssa said, reaching up and pulling on the curtain that separated my hospital station from the next, "She's fine."
I looked over at the next bed, where Lindsay sat with a book in her lap. She waved at me cheerfully, then pointed to her throat.
"What... Well, you can't answer me, but... how did she survive?"
Sarah, who had been standing in one corner of the sickbay, answered the question. "When Rheinhardt and Greaves were building us, they realized that your problem of how to armor the neck against bloodloss was going to be a serious one. So they built in safety valves and redundancy. Where you have two pairs of major carriers, we have six." She grinned. "And designing us to be hermaphrodites was apparently good practice. Similar valve mechanisms to those that sustain erection provide reverse-flow cutoffs."
My eyes must have been boggling by that point. "Wow. I am impressed."
"The shock got to Lindsay," P'nyssa continued. "So she collapsed. But she had amazingly little blood loss... mostly tissue seepage, really. No brain damage at all. Her lungs kept working, even though her voicebox was hit."
"Fine," P'nyssa replied. "A little roughed up, I imagine, but none the worse for it."
I sighed and leaned back against the typically too-solid sickbay bed. "That's good."
"You had to have Shah in you, didn't you?"
"Hey, it saved my life."
P'nyssa sighed. "Nance never told me you had any in you."
"Why should he? He swore off the stuff ages ago. Can I stand up now?"
"Yes, you can get up. Everything on you that was damaged was pretty gross in anatomical terms. You'll be stiff for a few weeks, but otherwise you're okay. It's just her voicebox that's delicate and in need of careful work." P'nyssa looked exasperated.
I slowly tried to get up. Damn, I was really stiff, too. I managed to swing my legs off the side of the bed and slowly eased myself off, into a standing position. Sarah stepped up to help me in case I should fall over. "I'll be okay," I insisted.
"It's your skull if you fall over," Sarah pointed out.
"He's always like this," P'nyssa said, smiling.
"You should see me at Alanailen parties," I said as I made my way, using first my bed and then Lindsay's, to her side. "Hi, gorgeous. I'm sorry our afternoon had to end that way."
She pulled out a PADD and a stylus and wrote "It wasn't your fault, Ken."
"I hope you're not... upset at me."
"Not at you," she wrote. "I still," and she stopped writing, as if considering what words to use next. She put stylus to sheet and finished, "love you." I looked up into her eyes, surprised. "That's not the wrong thing to say, is it?" she scribbled quickly.
"No," I said. "It just caught me off guard." I pulled her close and gave her a tight hug. "I love you too, Lindsay. And I'm glad you're alive. So glad you're alive."
She returned the hug just as tightly; we held onto each other, desperate survivors of a horrible attack on our lives, one which we were both glad to have come through alive.