The planet of Pera sat waiting for Helena, Morrail, and their students to unlock secrets a thousand years old. Torrential rain beat a steady roar upon the roof of a mission tent large enough to house eight graduate students, two professors, one AI, and all their attendant equipment. It gave Helena a feeling of home that she never felt quite on Pendor.
A thousand years. Such a short time. Helena had met people who had been alive and who had walked and loved and lived a thousand years ago. Her second daughter considered one so old to be a good friend. Nix himself, although not so old, carried memories of his forbearing precedents within him.
She walked out into the main grouping room, attached to one of the two large exits from the tent, in which most of the crew tended to congregate during the rainy part of the day and early evening. Most of the good studying was accomplished just after dawn before the rain came again. She found Chatenni and Shera poring over a large display of a painting discovered in what they had assumed to be a room of religious significance. Of course, with the Peran, everything probably had religious experience. To many pre-tech peoples, everything was a sign from the gods.
"Excuse me," she said. She though of her voice as 'soft.' Yet since she could remember, when she spoke people ceased talking to listen to her. Chatenni and Shera stopped and turned. "Have either of you seen Morrail or Nix?"
"Nix walked back into his room about four hours ago," Chatenni answered. "And Professor Morrail left to look at the Doomsday Mural again about two hours ago."
"Have you two been up all night again?"
Chatenni avoided the question. "The weather pattern changed to morning rain, Professor Helena. It will hold at steady rain for at least the next two days. Beyond that Nix couldn't say."
"He rarely can," Helena pointed out.
"Here it isn't a butterfly flapping its wings that can make the weather change," said the familiar voice of the mission AI, "All it takes here is a butterfly burp."
Helena turned at the voice and prepared to say something, but when she looked at Nix her words failed her, to be replaced with, "Nix, what is that?"
For the past month Nix had walked around in the body shapes of various members of the local population who the forensics team had managed to identify and catalogue, complete with accessory clothing and ritual items. The people of Pera had been somewhat shorter than humans, but still humanoid, with a wide-set pair of visual receptors that looked nothing like human eyes, and with specialized articulated eating and breathing organs such as it looked like they had two mouths. Their skin had been colored in a bright red and black repeating pattern that disturbed the eyes of those not used to seeing it. It was so utterly jarring with the local green terrain that some paleobiologists assumed the Peran must have poisonous. This didn't match much in the way of evolutionary theory; a poisonous species has its competitive advantage. An unsatisfactory arms-race explanation was being debated.
Today, instead, Nix had dressed as a 'taur, but of no species Helena knew. His fur was a bright green and wavy in places. His feet were much larger than that of a Ssphynx, ending in pads that seemed to cover a great deal of ground. His thora was tall and wide, but his abdomen proportionally shorter than that of a Ssphynx or Centaur. The rear muscles seemed excessively heavy, as if for a high-gravity world. The head looked more like that of a Vulpin than anything else, and most curiously two delicate tendrils hovered over his shoulders, bobbing and weaving as he walked. His walk was very animated.
He looked down at his thora. "This, Professor Helena, is a Ritachan. No, excuse me, the proper word is Ritan."
"A Ritan. If you will consult your notes, you will discover that some news has come in, as well as some specialized documents for you and Morrail. An all-call has been sent out to everyone in the field who can possibly be spared with an additional offer that you and Morrail lead the expedition, if you can, to the planet of Ritacha, some three and a half months away by Ohadi drive."
She dialed up the mail on her padd, consulting the details. "Oh, my."
"Yes, that was my initial reaction as well," Nix replied. "Ken Shardik is leading this one. It's a technologically advanced race-- they apparently had orbital spaceflight if nothing else. The people at Alpha have decided to rebuild the species as a Pendorian race."
"Unlike the Pera," Helena grumbled.
"Yes, unlike the Pera," Nix acknowledged. "There are two reasons for it. One, the Ritans are aesthetically compatible with the rest of the Pendorian population--"
"As Ken sees it," Shera pointed out.
"Yes, as Ken sees it. That is his decision to make. The other is that there are survivors."
"What?" Chatenni stood up.
"Yes. Three males."
Helena slapped her padd with her hand. "It says here the war was over a millennia ago. How can there be survivors?"
"Cryogenics systems. Out of 256 Ritans frozen, it would seem that three may be revivable."
"'Would seem'? May be'?"
"Yes. The starship Ille Pendoro is now on its way to Alpha with the survivors still in cryogenics. The Pendoro is a small vessel unprepared to pull people out of many centuries of cryogenics. They are headed back at best possible speed, possibly burning core as they go."
"If they whitehole there's not much point to rescuing the survivors," Helena muttered. "What about our students?"
"They will be given credit for their current work. If any feels they have a paper worth turning in, they may do so. They will likewise be credited with any work they do on Ritacha."
"I need to ask Morrail. And we need a vote."
"I want to go," Chatenni interjected.
"Me, too!" Shera replied. Nix paused for a second. "You have positive votes from everyone except Acole and Vaens. They can be reassigned to the Kneb site, since their specialty is primitive cultures. The Ritans are not in their specialty field at all."
"No," Helena agreed, not bothering to ask Nix how he got those results. "If Morrail wants to go, we're going. If he doesn't--"
"We'll stay," Chatenni said. "I will. Either way I remain with the Shigokais."
"We'll see what Morrail has to say first," Helena said as she pulled on one of the bright yellow suits that rarely, if ever, actually managed to keep out any rain. "Call me if there are any updates."
"Would you like me to accompany you?" Nix asked.
Helena shook her hand and waved him off. She didn't even look back to make sure he wasn't following her. Despite the outward form he liked to wear, she knew he always followed her.
Outside, waves of dark rain washed over the lush green overgrowth that threatened to choke anything that stood still for too long. "Nix," she shouted, "Lights, please!"
A row of yellow lights came on to her right and she began following them. They led down a beaten path and across a bridge her students had constructed from two fallen logs and some canvas. Although she had crossed it a dozen time, it intimidated her but it didn't stop her. Some hundred meters beyond that, the lights broke into a clearing, the great Square of Days.
She did not honestly know what the Pera who had lived here called it. Her students had named it the Square of Days because it seemed to mark the ritual of day-to-day living in its murals and reliefs, but nobody could say much beyond that. They knew a great deal about this place, but not enough to speak with any real authority. Although the square held an archeologist's ransom in information about the people who had lived here, all of the students came to view one image-- the Doomsday Mural.
The Mural lay in a great hallway built at ground-level around which the Pera had crafted a great shell of a ziggurat, at the top of which a solstice-marker had been built. They had measured it and found that it marked the passing of the winter solstice and through it once a year the sun would shine to mark that day.
But inside was another matter. A great bas-relief mural covered the western wall, and on it they could read the end of the world. The mural touched everyone who saw it and nobody could really say why. Images of it had been passed to art historians and critics who had analyzed it in every possible manner. Those who saw it proclaimed both its artistry and its truth. And the very notion that those who saw it refused to believe that it represented anything other than a true depiction of the end of the world sent Helena's scientific mind into revolt.
"Here, Helena." His voice sounded soft, tired. "I can feel it, Helena. I... It is so close to telling me what it means." On the left the figures of warriors fought off demons with spears and swords. On the right a curtain seemed to be pulling itself across the countryside and under its influence the citizenry died in waves. In the center the great city stood under a sun image, a god image, and a priest stood with his hands buried within his own abdomen as if reaching in to tear himself apart. Despite the imagery none of their students had found the merest hint that this culture had ever practiced sacrifice of their own. Helena could not look at the images without shuddering. It frightened her to think that something as simple as a colored mural could reach into her and make her believe. Yet, like everyone else she had no choice. Whether it had been drawn before in a fevered imagination or after the battle in frantic desperation nobody had figured out. Everyone remained convinced that this mural depicted the end of these people. Given the dates gleaned at this and other dig sites around the planet, this was as much as they had to depict the end of all the people of Pera.
"I know, Morrail. I know." She touched his shoulder; he covered her hand with his own. His whiskers twitched uncomfortably. "Have you been here all night?"
"Again," he sighed. He pressed the palms of his hands to his forehead.
"Small one. It's like... It's like it wants to talk to me but the language it has is so different from mine that it can only jabber at me. It hurts my brain." He gave it a glance, then turned to look up at his coimelin's glittering eyes. "Worried about me, are you?"
"Yes," she admitted, "But that's not why I'm here. We're being asked to pull off this assignment."
"What?" he protested softly. "I'm so close. I feel it."
"And so has everyone else who's stared at this place until their eyes fell out, Morrail." She stroked the top of his head, tickling the space between his very active ears. "Come, coimelin, listen." She sat down next to him on the blanket he had spread out before the Mural. Around him lay a large bottle of water, a sketchpad and charcoal with which he had been rendering different interpretations of the scene, his PADD, and his boots. She took a drink from the bottle, then took his hands in hers. She began to speak, laying out for him the details of the mission as Nix had described it to her. He listened attentively, then excitedly.
"A technological race with possible survivors? Yes, I want to go!" He picked up the PADD and began reviewing the data she had mentioned, picking up details as he went along. She watched him patiently for a few minutes, taking in his excitement as she had for centuries. To her, he represented the whole of the world, and she loved him for it. "But... what about the students?"
"Acole and Vaens don't want to go so they're going to Kneb. The rest do. The rest also said that if we stayed so would they. You want to go, Morrail, so I guess we are going."
He nodded. "Finally. After so long. Back to a technological, possibly even technocratic world!"
She smiled at his excitement, leaned over and kissed him. "You're so cute when you're excited, love."
The tips of his ears reddened and his nose twitched. "You think I'm cute no matter what I do."
"True," she murmured softly. "So, since this is our last morning on this forsaken outpost, you want to commemorate our going?"
He knew exactly what she meant. "I'm not sure I have the strength," he said with a quiet smile. "I've been here for nearly seventeen hours."
"Come on," she said, stroking his whiskers that caused him to shudder with pleasure, "I'm sure I can get the blood flowing, Morrail."
"I think you can at that, my love." He leaned over and touched her muzzle with his own. She opened her mouth to receive him, and he opened his to reach out and touch. As his soft and agile tongue pressed against her teeth and finally touched her own tongue, Helena felt her love for him wash over her. Although she was not so adventurous as her now-grown children, she still felt the pleasures of the flesh keenly, especially with Morrail. Recently, only with Morrail. There didn't seem to be a need to have anyone else.
He tugged on the zipper of the yellow raincoat. Together, they tossed it aside to reveal the common safari clothing the entire crew wore-- except for their one 'taur, Chatenni who tended to wear kilts, although of the same, grey cloth as the rest of their outfits. It matched the grey of hers and Morrail's fur, but not much else. Morrail's fingers reached in, between a pair of the buttons that held her shirt closed, and tugged. It popped open easily. His hand ripped upwards, popping buttons as he went, until her entire shirt lay open.
He murred appreciatively as she tossed her shirt with the rain coat, then chuckled. "You know, I never have understood what it is about pronounced mammae."
"That's because we don't have any," she said, touching his face with her hand, tracing his muzzle with her fingertips. "What would I do with them, anyway?"
"Seduce the young men of those species who appreciate them?" he suggested with mischief.
"And then what? I seem to do just fine seducing those young men anyway. In the meantime I'd have a weird center of gravity, I'd be unable to lie on my stomach comfortably, and I'd have to bind them with support to keep them from flopping around while I worked." She stroked her chest with her other hand, feeling the small prominences of her nipples as her hand moved over her fur. "No, I'm happier that Markal's don't have breasts. Just teats."
"When you carried Jofuran you had them."
"Only a little. And that was for a good cause." She undid the buttons on his shirt more carefully, undoing each clasp with a twist of her fingers. That article joined the growing pile of clothes. He moaned with satisfaction as she stroked the soft fur of his chest and belly. "You work too hard."
"So do you," he pointed out. "It's the nature of the beast when you love your work."
Her hand reached down to undo the clasp on his trousers. "Let me do that," he said, removing the rest of his clothes. She did the same, and less than a minute later both were naked. Helena took the lead, pushing him down to the blanket and covering his muzzle and neck in kisses.
"I'm glad you've got the strength to be assertive," he said.
She looked down at the mel she loved. "When we're done here you're going straight to bed."
"On the Tor Minorr."
"No, in the Mission tent. We need at least that much time to pack everything..." She ended her sentence with her open muzzle around the sheath of his hardening cock. She heard his loud moan and knew she was on the right track. She rarely sucked his cock, definitely not as often as he liked. She nibbled around the furred sheath carefully as the shaft emerged, then licked with delicate swipes at the exposed underside of his penis. He lay on the blanket with his hips pumping slowly back and forth. She knew Morrail well and she knew she had his attention now.
She opened her muzzle and took the head into her mouth completely. Morrail's breath quickened as she allowed her flickering tongue to stray about the tasty shaft, seeking out the small strip of flesh that ran down the underside where his cock and his sheath were joined. She wanted him hard and excited, but not yet to the stage of climax.
She turned around until she was almost on top of him, her hips next to his head. He placed his hands on her buttocks to let her know she had his attention, and slowly she lifted her leg. With a little maneuvering she managed to get her legs straddling aside his head. Morrail indulged himself immediately, licking her cunt, which was already opened with wetness. His long tongue probed about her lips only briefly before striking inwards for her clitoris, giving it as much attention as he could steal from Helena's kissing and suckling.
Helena stopped just briefly, long enough to let Morrail play her all he could. Then she descended again onto his cock, grasping the root of his shaft with her hand and taking the length of his cock into her mouth. The two of them lay there, locked in bliss, while the rain continued to beat down outside.
Helena felt her body twinge. "More, Morrail," she begged slightly.
"Stop, then," he gasped. "I can't think when you're..."
She did stop. Laying her head on his thigh, she just grasped his hard shaft in her hand, not moving, while his tongue rolled around her clitoris, striking it only occasionally, giving her what she liked, what she had liked for decades. Her belly tensed and released, tensed and relaxed. She wanted to come. She couldn't control herself as the whimpers came from a voice that might have been hers. She wanted to say something, almost hated to feel so needful of him, when the pressure became too much and she came with a blissful moan that she did nothing to quiet. "Oh, Morrail..."
She rose from his muzzle and peered down at him. His eyes rolled, which he only did when he was either very drunk or very tired. "You're so sweet, Helena," he gasped.
"So are you." She straddled his hips, taking his still-hard cock and easily slipping it into her. He closed his eyes and smiled. "Your turn."
"Thank you," he gasped. She felt his wondrous cock inside her, touching her in ways nobody else's ever had. There was something about him that was like the Mural. She couldn't understand it-- she just believed it. When she pressed down on the shaft so much that she must have been stretching the sheath uncomfortably he grimaced only a little but she felt his cock touch her so deeply it was as if he had tickled her heart.
She placed her hands on the pillow, bent over slightly, looking down at him. His eyes were closed and his mouth open-- if it weren't for his hands slowly stroking her thighs, she might have almost believed he as asleep. But as she pumped his cock in and out of her, she knew he was already close to coming from the oral attention she had given him.
But with his body already so tired, there wasn't to be much of an orgasm. She knew him that well. His breathing tensed, as did his hands, and with a soft groan his cock throbbed within her, and she could feel the wetness increase only a little.
And even as she dismounted his cock, he was already falling asleep. She smiled and shook her head. "Morrail," she said. "You can't sleep." She began packing up the supplies they had both brought. "Morrail, wake up."
"Tired," he moaned.
"Come on," she said, taking his hand. "Just a short walk back to the tent."
He looked up, dazed. "Okay." They grabbed the blanket and walked out into the rain. Morrail would need a towel to dry off when they got back. But he had a smile on his face, and that made Helena happier.
"You know," he mumbled as the rain coursed down his furred head. He kept blinking to get it out of his eyes.
"What?" she asked.
"I wish I'd brought a raincoat. Aside from that, though-- I felt something while you were on top. As if making love in front of the Mural had brought me a step closer to understanding it."
"Or maybe your brain's just so frayed you can't think straight."
He grinned. "That's possible too." He took her hand as she led him over the canvas-and-logs bridge. "Back into space."
"And into a Nuclear Winter," she reminded him.
"Yeah," he said, his eyes lighting up. "But you're right. First--" He yawned wide. "First, I need a nap."
"You need ten hours," she chuckled, patting his hand. "We'll see that you get it, undisturbed."