Her fingers were covered in four different kinds of viscous goo. She hadn't seen a bed in nearly sixty hours. She hadn't eaten anything except a couple of cold sandwiches. She'd taken two aspirin with a monstrous mug of coffee about two hours ago. And her brain felt stuffed full of more archaic medical technology than she thought she should ever need.
Fezzik felt great.
Markov Heely didn't look quite so healthy; the human engineer had literally been pushed to his limits and looked like he was about to collapse from exhaustion. "Mark, get some sleep."
Heely yawned, his jaw pulled wide open behind the transparent mask of his Starksuit. "I can't. We're getting ready to move the first of the test boxes."
"You're not going to learn anything in your shape. Get some sleep."
"Is that an order?"
"Yes, that's an order. In fact... Rhonda, give me an attention."
Everyone in the room stopped to look at her. "I want everybody's attention. It is now 21:00 hours and everyone in here looks like they're about to fall over. Rhonda assures me that she now has command of life support on the operating cryogenics boxes and will alert us of any changes. I want everybody in this room to get some sleep, starting now." There was grumbling. "I know, I know. But none of you are any good if your brains are so full of serotonins you won't remember a thing when do the move for real. You are all ordered back to the ship for a mandatory eight hours of sleep. That means real sleep. Go home. Shower, eat real food, see Doc Baker if you need help, and get real sleep. Is that clear?"
Finally, everyone nodded their heads, if one at a time and reluctantly. "Good. Rhonda, find four people with either engineering or medical skill and tell them they're first on-sites if it comes to that."
"Done, and doing."
"Thanks." She sagged a little in her Stark hardsuit, then turned and walked back to the vehicle bay. She stepped on the temporary SDisk set up there and teleported back to the Pendoro, where she made her way down the hallway to the Captain's quarters with slow, shuffling steps. She made it about halfway there when she realized she was still in her suit, turned back to the nearest SDisk and ported down to suit maintenance.
She slipped out of the suit and left it in the robot maintenance crew care, then restarted her walk to Cafran's room. The door allowed her in without question. "Rhonda, I'd like to eat in here tonight. Something with a lot of protein."
"It'll be ready for you when you get out of the shower," the AI replied. Fezzik smiled tiredly, amused by the AI's gentle reminder that she didn't smell so good. She had walked naked from the storage locker, but that hardly bothered anyone on a Pendorian ship, especially not seven hours after 'nightfall,' and made her way into the shower.
The needlepricks of hot water soaked through her dark fur and into her skin. She yawned again, surprising herself with just how long it lasted, before applying soap to her body and washing carefully. The feeling of hot water, soap, and her hands made her relax in ways she hadn't known in days, and she didn't want to climb out.
But her exhaustion was so complete she realized she was having trouble standing. She turned off the water and turned out the air, letting it swirl around her and dry her fur out completely. She sighed as she ruffled and shook the water out, then yawned again and headed for out into the cabin. Rhonda had made for her a very meat-heavy stew with vegetables but few beans, and she appreciated it. She was surprised to find that the mug by the large bowl contained beer, but Rhonda explained that the alcohol would help her sleep in case she was "too tired."
She dug into dinner. About halfway through the meal, the door to the bedroom opened and her lover for the past four years stood there, yawning. That made her yawn again and then giggle afterwards. "Good morning," she said.
Captain Tori Cafran tied a robe about his waist and shuffled to the table, joining her. "I heard about your command decision." He placed his hand on hers. "Good call."
"Thanks. It'll put us behind schedule, but damn with what Alpha wants. They want them alive then they'll have to be patient." She smiled. "Sorry."
"Nothing to apologize about," he said. "You're absolutely right. By the way, Shardik himself countermanded the priority orders on time. And we're being shadowed a little past the halfway mark by Whites vessels, but we're not to stop until we're pulling into orbit around Pandora. And he sends his regards... to you. I didn't know you knew him."
"I don't. I met him once, a long time ago at a micromagnetism engineering conference, but I didn't know I'd made an impression on him." She shrugged. "He has an impressive memory, they say."
Cafran smiled. "Eat. Get some sleep. Take your own advice."
She nodded and finished eating, spooning up the last dregs of liquid with bread. "You look tired," Cafran said.
"Dead," she agreed. He took her hand and led her into the bedroom, holding up the comforter for her to crawl under before crawling in beside her. "Goodnight," she sighed.
"Goodnight," Cafran agreed.
But sleep wasn't so forthcoming. Fezzik's mind filled with her duties of the next day, organizing activities and contemplating the technology she would need. Inspirations hit her one after another; images of equivalent pieces of equipment on board the ship that could substitute for failing tubes, pumps, filters, wires, valves on the ancient cryogenics tubes below.
But more than anything, she craved sleep. Wished for it. Needed it for tomorrow. She tossed in bed, trying to find a position that would allow her to thoughts to pour out of her brain and give her the silence she needed to sleep. She turned over again, and then again. She bunched up her pillow. Then she spread it out. "Please," she finally whimpered in half-consciousness, "Let me sleep!"
"I'm sorry, Caff," she moaned pitifully. "I just can't get to sleep. My brain just won't stop thinking of tomorrow!"
He rolled over and cuddled up next to her. "Is there anything I can do?"
"I don't know," she said. "Maybe you could find a big mallet to hit me over the head with!"
"I've got a better suggestion," he said, grabbing the knee closest to him and parting her legs as he rolled between them.
"I don't know if that's going to work, Caff," she laughed.
"At least it'll make us both feel better. And maybe it'll wear me out enough to sleep through your rolling around!" He dropped his head down between her thighs and kissed the mound of her cunt softly. She moaned and her hands slid between her legs to part her labia for him. Cafran maneuvered his head up against her warm cunny and gave her cunt a tentative lick.
Fezzik moaned louder as he began licking in earnest, his tongue sliding between her inner and outer labia, licking the juices that oozed slowly from her hole. Warmth spread throughout her belly as he licked harder, working her into a quiet frenzy of pleasure until she came against his mouth.
As was their usual pattern, Cafran slid up between her legs and pressed his erect cock against her cunt. She parted her legs wider and allowed him in. His cock slid into her as she moaned, and he began a slow, rhythmic lovemaking. She looked up at him and gave him a deep sigh. "You're gorgeous," he sighed.
"And you just know what I needed," she replied, shivering. Her hands gripped his biceps as his hips filled and emptied her cunt over and over. She found her body responded to his lunges, and a similar sort of warmth filled her as she came again under his thrusts, arching her back. He kept on going, though, and she held him in the hazy afterglow of total exhaustion until he came with a soft whimper of pleasure.
He rolled off her and lay down on the bed again. "You didn't have to hold back," she whispered.
"A loud shout would have only woken you back up," he laughed. "Get some sleep, Fez. You need it."
"And... I think... I'm going to get it." She yawned wide one last time. And then she lost all track of time, or thought.
"Hold it, hold it!" Fezzik shouted. "Okay, lift another four centimeters, and... hold!" She examined the borders of the cryogenics chamber critically, then nodded. "Heely?"
"Clear over here, Fez," he replied, giving thumbs up.
"Okay, team. Lift." The four ensigns, one at each corner, lifted the cryogenics chambers until there was enough room for her to slip underneath. She found the critical connects, led by the blinking highlights on the schematic that hovered before her eyes, and one by one unhooked hoses and backed up power supplies. "This one's down to just power. Cutting... now!"
She heard a soft beep in her ears as the hastily rigged life support mechanism signaled that it had taken complete control of the future of the individual contained inside this cryogenics chamber. "Lift!" Heely said. The four ensigns lifted the chamber higher, easing it towards the cleared corner of the room where a cargo SDisk had been just as quickly assembled. "Ease it down, slowly, slowly..."
Fezzik climbed out of the maintenance pit that had been underneath that particular chamber just in time to see the four climb on top of the chamber and be teleported out. She jumped and followed them, joining Heely on the SDisk. As soon as the SDisk on the Pendoro was clear, they teleported as well into the cargo room-cum-medical bay-cum-technological-nightmare. "Clear out," she told the ensigns, and they backed away from the cryogenics chamber. Heely and she went to work, wiring up the sixteen different fluid lines and tertiary power supplies. "Okay, Rhonda... you have it... now."
"Affirm," Rhonda replied. "I have green lights across the board. Good work, Fezzik."
"Thanks," Fez replied. She leaned over the tube's torn case and examined the sensor rig within. "So much for the test. There are seven real ones down there to complete this octet." She took a deep, nervous breath. "Let's do it."
In the end, moving the other seven proved to be nerve-wracking repeats of the same procedure. They started with the two bodies they assumed were beyond recovery, then progressed through the three that were marginal, and then recovered the last two, the ones that Doc Baker has said were alive as far as he could tell. Sixteen hours later, her body shaking from the demands she had put on it, she looked over the cargo bay with its eight tubes and sighed. "It's over."
"Yes," Doctor Baker. "We're breaking orbit in twenty minutes, Caff tells me." He hopped over to the command monitors. "An amazing job you have done with this."
"You did the hard work," Fezzik insisted. "We would never have known what to do, what we could break, or whatever, if you hadn't analyzed the stuff in the tubes and come up with a clean version of it."
"It was filthy," the short Mustela replied. "I can't believe those are still alive with that crap running through their veins. The backup systems on their tubes is just amazing, but the filters were this close to failing." He held his fingers close together to emphasize his words. "They're actually going to get healthier as we fly towards Pendor. Or, at least, the corrosion in their bloodstreams has been eliminated for now. I'd like to attempt repairs, and I think I'll do some minor experimentation on the two dead ones."
"Are they really dead?"
"Look," Baker said. "See that? It's the extent that ice crystals have formed in their brains. I'd call thirty percent formation guaranteed fatal. I know it is." He gestured. "See, that cryofluid they have is supposed to prevent this. But the impurities, some of which are actually corrosion from parts of the hoses and filters, give the water in the fluid something to crystallize around. The fluid doesn't crystallize easily in the presence of CHON, but the metals in the corrosion are what cause that."
"CHON?" Fezzik asked.
"Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen. The stuff we're made of."
Six hours later, Fezzik finally shut the lights off in cargo bay sixteen. "Another thirty hour day," she sighed.
"We did a lot of good today," Cafran replied, giving her shoulder a friendly squeeze. "It's not often we get to say that."
"Yeah," she smiled. "The Terrans are going to raise a gigantic row at the next lTP conference, you know. We've violated the Cultural Non-Intervention demands again."
"We never signed that particularly nasty piece of legislation," Cafran replied, guiding her down the hallway. "This belief that a culture should be allowed to die in nuclear war, whether we save people after the war or simply stop the missiles from landing, has never made any sense to me." He grinned. "Besides, they've never had to deal with that kind of moral dilemma. Only Pendor has had that honor, and only twice. Hard to believe both of those occasions happened in the same decade."
She nodded, leaning against him for support. The thought that had been nagging her in the back of the head just wouldn't let her go. "Caff? What if Alpha kills them?"
"Why would they do that?" The door opened, allowing them into his quarters. She took a seat on the couch while Cafran walked into the kitchen. "Want a beer?"
"Love one," she replied. He returned and handed her a bottle of the cream ale he knew she liked. She drank from it, then said, "Think about it, Caff. There are survivors. There's also an entire culture stored back there in the cargo holds, or at least what we could salvage. But there's also a rather attractive 'taur species back there, one with some very peculiar characteristics." She took another deep draught and leaned back. "Survivors make a difficulty. They'll want to retain some of their identity; they won't ever be the Pendorians Shardik will want them to be."
"So what if he decides to start over from the top? Kill off even the most likely survivors, 'Darch' and 'Sandahl," I think their names were, and just say 'Oops.' He could then just Tleil a century of the Ritan, explain to them the situation, and give them a whole mass of Pendorian culture even before they decided to explore their ruined planet."
Cafran put down his beer and stared at his Chief Engineer. "I'm half-ready to accuse you of paranoia. And I'm half-ready to agree with you. You're right. And if he got them into Alpha, nobody would be the wiser. Halloran Elder would lie for him."
"So what do we do about it?" Fezzik asked, leaning back against the cushions of the couch.
Cafran felt a coldness seep down his back. "Rhonda, are you listening?"
"Yes," the AI replied calmly. "I am at all times. You know that."
"We are conspiring against Vatare', you realize that."
"There's nothing that says you can't," Rhonda replied. "And I agree with you; I do not know Vatare' and cannot predict the actions of him or his people, but the scenario Fezzik fears is certainly a possibility. Shardik is quite proud of his Machiavellian streak on occasion. This is certainly not beyond his capacity."
"So what do you propose?"
"When pulling into orbit, we transmit the status of all the Ritacha currently in cryogenics to all AIs who will listen. We demand that members of the crew be included in the triage. And Fezzik should be included in the transportation of the cryogenics tubes all the time."
"I can't be awake every hour of every day," Fezzik replied.
"No, but you can insist that nothing be done without your knowledge. With that kind of attention, you could certainly minimize any chance that the frozen future of Ritacha not get killed when they're only months away from living again."
She nodded. Cafran smiled and reached over, tugging on the zipper of her jumpsuit and pulling it down. She grinned at him as his hand brushed the chestflap aside, exposing her soft, small breasts covered in lush, thick fur. His hand greedily caressed one, closing about it. She arched her back a little more, deliberately, shrugging out of her jumpsuit and letting it fall off her shoulders. He growled deeply in appreciation, lunging for her on the couch, and she laughed as he fell upon her, kissing her neck and shoulders. He had landed squarely between her legs and she wrapped them around his hips to pull him in close.
He kissed her hard as her hands reached up to strip off his Captain's uniform, tossing aside the shirt and unzipping the pants, reaching into them and finding his firm erection and holding it in her hands. Just holding it in her hands while his palms caressed over her body filled her imagination with images of him fucking her. She wanted him inside her now, and tried to tell him as much.
He got the message. "You're in that mood, are you?" he growled as he reached down and grabbed her hips. Uncia are a large, strong species as species go on Pendor, and Vulpin are lighter, smaller than average. He easily picked her up as she guided his cock into her.
She felt the lips of her cunt part as he slid into her, pushed deeper into her. They locked together, his cock deep within her. Her shoulders leaned up against the armrest of the couch as he held her hips in the air, her legs wrapped around his hips, as he began to fuck her, fast. She liked him to be hard sometimes, to be the Uncia. Her hands caressed her breasts, provided a feast for his eyes, as his cock lunged in and out of her with all the confidence of an industrial piston. She looked up into his face as his eyes looked down where his cock entered her, then flicked up to watch her hands stroking and caressing her nipples, then into her eyes. When their gaze locked, she smiled, then snarled loudly.
He replied back with an equally loud growl. She was reward with a series of hard, jarring thrusts and the sensation of his claws flexing out of their sheaths and into the flesh of her butt. Her mind spun with the deluge of pleasures as his growling sounds grew louder and his thrusts took on a maniac tone just before he came, jetting his semen into her cunt and roaring her name into her ears.
He looked down with something of a smile, then slowly lowered her back to the couch, sliding his hands out from under her butt. "Very nice," he commented.
"Not bad yourself," Fezzik replied. "Just what I needed before heading to bed."
"I bet you're exhausted. I'm due on the bridge in a little over an hour, so I hope you don't mind if I don't join you."
She shook her head. "Have I ever complained before?"
"No, you haven't." He rose from his kneeling position on the couch, then reached down and picked her up, holding her in his arms. "Come on, Chief Engineer Fezzik. To bed with you."
"Yes, sir," she replied, laying her head against his shoulder.
He carried her into the bedroom and eased her down onto the bed, pulling the covers over her body. He kissed her cheek. "G'night, Fez."
"G'night, Caff," she said. "Thanks."
"My pleasure." He turned the lights off as he left.