Chatenni panned the flashlight around the room, his heart racing at the sight before him. They were there, and at what a scale. The Forcassans had built for 256 possibles; the Tiyamin Military had tried to put two thousand into cryogenics. "Nix? Are any running."
"There are thirty tubes still operational." On Chatenni's faceplate little lights lit up to illustrate the thirty tubes that were still showing signs of life. "I have no status on the occupants of any of the tubes."
Chatenni nodded, excited, and walked through the room. He was followed by both medical and security people from the main base. "I'm surprised I haven't been relieved yet," he whispered to Nix privately as they walked through the room. "I'm not qualified to handle a job this big." Even as he walked down the hallway that led from the door and seemed to split the room in half, he found himself scanning for names, trying to guess genders, knowing full well that he did not know enough of the Tiyamin language to actually make such a guess.
It quickly turned out that it didn't matter. "Sir?" someone said, waving a hand.
"Yes, what is it?" Chatenni replied.
"There are no males in this room."
"None at all?" he asked, intrigued.
"Yes sir, no males at all."
Chatenni looked around curiously, then down to Tytka, his dig partner for the day. "Where do you suppose they put them?"
"I can imagine a few scenarios," Tytka replied. "There were fewer males in the Forcassa project by several orders of magnitude; maybe the Tiyamin put them in another room." She consulted her padd. "But I don't see any room on the deep array that would be appropriate. This is the only room showing the kinds of rise and fall pattern we see in the tubes."
"There is open area 5/55," Nix said, interrupting. "It has a regular layout on its floor with eight objects, although the dimensions of these eight objects appears to be more cylindrical, rather than those of a Ritan cryogenics tube."
"Those are probably the SIs," Chatenni muttered.
"I concur. But open area 5/55 is immediately adjacent to this one. In fact, you are walking right toward it."
Chatenni realized that he and Tytka had almost covered the entire distance across the warehouse-like floor and were rapidly coming to another door. He turned back. "Engineering, I'd like this door opened as safely as possible. We have a possible secure room again."
Ten minutes later, two engineers slowly put the finishing support jacks into place and began pushing the doorway open. Through the opening and on the other side of a wall of starship-grade transparent reiceramic plating that they had brought in to close of the area, Chatenni saw the cylinders coming into view. Tiyamin was a language that had been made available late to Nix, and it wasn't something he knew automatically. However, certain words were familiar to him as a matter of course, some military, some medical, some electronic. Nouns, after all, are the easy part of a language to understand, even as their volume makes them the hardest part to master. Even as the cylinders became visible their contents became known. There, written on the side in clear, block letters, it read: [>unknown< storage: (sperm)]. The parens indicated "local equivalent."
Chatenni grinned. "That's how they were going to do it! Forget the males entirely. Males don't matter. Every tank in that room is reserved for a breeding machine!"
"Eww," Tytka agreed. "That's one way to put it."
"Sorry," Chatenni replied. "But that must be how they were thinking."
"Probably," someone else agreed. Chatenni realized he barely knew anyone's name here.
"Get the medical and rescue crews in here. They've got jobs!"
No, Chatenni thought sadly a week later, they did not have jobs. For some reason, that moment stuck in his brain, the words still alive on his lips. It must have been the weight of the failure heavy on his heart.
He had just flipped through a thousand photographs, looking at each femRitan in turn, wondering what she must have been like in life, saddened to know that she never had a chance. One thousand and twenty- four lives, the last of which must have finally died only a few dozen years ago, at most, and they had missed her. The knowledge that they had been so close weighed heavily on his mind.
"Well," he sighed, "at least we've got more samples."
The computers had been too stupid to give up, and poorly programmed to know when to shift resources. Sensors that the Forcassans had used to know when to reallocate filtration systems had been missing on the Tiyamin tubes. A cybernetic forensics expert had determined that the software keeping the system going had been similar to the Forcassans; similar enough, she had reasoned, that it was probably a test candidate version stolen by a Tiyamin spy from the Forcassans. Unless the Forcassans had gotten it from someone else, which would have made life even more complicated. It didn't seem likely. The neutrino source scanner had not picked any more sources, nor for that matter were the satellites, now closely attuned to underground facilities, picking up anything that looked like a another cryogenic emplacement.
It had shocked Chatenni to learn that the Tiyamin forces were ready to go to war with the Forcassans, or anyone on the Theban continent, for that matter. It was as if they had decided that, in the event that the war wasn't bad enough, they were going to make sure that they finished the job and wipe anyone except the Tiyamin off the face of the Earth. The same had been true for the Thebans. The Tsugurans were willing to let the others live in peace so long as they had the upper hand, but that was about it.
"Bloody fucking tribalism," he swore. It was all too much to bear, the horrible results of horrible warfare and horrible anger that these people had for one another just because they were sharing the same air. It was impossible for him to imagine needing something, even land, that much. But then, he was a member of a spacefaring species that simply made the land that it needed, rather than wait for someone to find it.
"Yes," Nix responded from a wall-mounted monitor. "I find it rather depressing. But, as you said, we have the samples, and we have an opportunity to turn this into a planetary home again. We have, as Dr. White once said, a chance to surgically excise these unsane values and turn this into a living, breathing world. Personally, I'm excited."
"Do you get excited, Nix?"
"I do," Nix said. "I don't reflect it much in my voice, but I do. Especially about the opportunity to see real Ritans in the flesh. It is the reason that I am an archaeologist. I believe that every species deserves a second chance. And I am pleased with the fact that Shardik has chosen to give his resources to this species."
Chatenni walked down the now-warmed hallways of the Tiyamin Cryogenics Facility, padd in hand, looking through the medical records of The Thousand Dead. They were more than a thousand, though; 1024, to be exact, fitting with the Ritan four-fingered hand.
He brushed right past Rima, not even noticing her as he headed up to the barracks deck. He had moved most of the team into there, where they could be adjacent to the huge library and where life support was easier to maintain. "Hey!" she said.
"Hi." She wore a friendly smile and a flight jacket; draped over a chair by the elevator was her daycloak for going up into the sub-zero temperatures. She must have just come from the helicopter flight deck.
"Hi," he said, his voice ending down.
"Been busy, huh?" she asked.
"Yeah," he responded.
"Chatenni? Are you okay?"
Chatenni looked into her eyes and said, "Yeah, I'm okay. Depressed, maybe. I was so hoping..."
"To have someone else to talk to?" she asked.
"Yeah." He grinned. "Not that you're not someone else to talk to, but they made it so far only to get killed on the last klick, and I can't help but think that that's so... shitty, you understand?"
"I do," she said. "Probably not the way you do, but I understand it. I know that you've been knocked around by it." She put a hand on his shoulder. "Would you like to have dinner with me tonight?"
"Not more MREs, please," he groaned.
She shook her head. "No, we've got SDisks running and they've moved a Rancher into orbit. We've got fresh food again, if you'd like."
"Do you cook?"
"Well enough," she said. "Would you like to try something?"
He nodded. "I would like that. Thanks."
"Come on, then," she said. She led him back to the Forcassan kitchen, which was well-appointed in military-style gray-green, and well-stocked with the tools of the trade. He watched in admiration as she pulled cubes of beef, potatoes, onions, and spices out of the air and tossed them into a wok; in another, she had more onions, different colors of diced peppers, diced zucchini, curry powder, cream, and other spices. It all smelled delicious and it took her less than an hour. She talked about the food as she cooked, shamelessly describing the various things she was throwing together. "It'll all be good," she promised as steam vented violently from the meat-filled wok. "Trust me."
And it was. They sat in the canteen, eating her creations. It had taken her an hour to make it appear; in half an hour it disappeared again. When it was over, Chatenni sat back and sighed with contentment. "That was astounding. That cream curry stuff on the rice, what was that?"
"Just a recipe I found one day. Same with the beef stew."
"I can't cook," Chatenni sighed.
"Trust me, cooking is easy. I've never understood why people are so worried about getting into the kitchen and just doing it. You know what tastes good, right?" He nodded. "Why can't you figure out what tastes good in combination? It doesn't take that much sense to know that you don't put ice-cream on sashimi. The logic just flows from there."
"I think I'd rather have sex with someone than cook for them. At least in the bedroom I know what I'm doing."
"Yes, you do. I won't argue that. But it's the same thing. You know what makes other people feel good or you wouldn't say such things. Why don't you apply that same thinking to cooking?"
"Because cooking means... " He sighed. "You know, there are people who are really bad at lovemaking."
"I've known a few," Rima agreed. "But they can be taught, so long as it's not a pathological thing, like selfishness or complete insensitivity. And I think even that could be fixed with enough patience. Same with cooking. And, y'know, given that you're going to live forever, you might want to invest a little time in learning more than one sensual art."
"But, now that we've mentioned it, my roommate, are you up for a little practice with that sensual art? I mean, since you're so good at it and all."
He blushed, the tips of his ears and the thin fur around his eyes radiating heat. But he managed to grin. "I would much appreciate the opportunity, as repayment for your excellent meal."
She rose and held out her hand. He took it eagerly. "Nix," she said, "Tell anyone who comes in that they're welcome to the leftovers. I made enough for six humanoids, according to the recipe. There should be enough there for at least three more meals."
"I will be sure to do that, Miss Godoroff."
Rima led Nix back to their room, and once inside she immediately had her arms around him. Their muzzles merged into a gentle kiss that Chatenni felt all the way to his toes. The fur on his back stood up in anticipation as she her hands caressed the sides of his body through his clothes. "Let's get these clothes off."
She tossed off the flight jacket and the gray, featureless tank-top that she wore underneath. On anyone else it might have been boring, but she wore it with a sexiness that made Chatenni's heart skip a couple of beats even as stripped off his own form-fitting jacket. As Ssphynxes neither one of them wore much on their lower torsos but Chatenni took a few moments to kick off the four pairs of shoes that had protected his footpads from the cold ground.
They tumbled onto the bed, hands caressing in anxious rhythms, fresh interest warming their blood as he tried to elicit a moan from Rima's soft and solid body. She responded with nips to his throat and chest that made him whimper with early pleasure. "Chatenni," she whispered, "eat me."
Chatenni stopped. "I hope you won't be too disappointed. It's not something I've done very often."
She grinned. "I don't care. I want to feel your kisses on me."
Chatenni turned around in bed, his head between her legs, his legs near her head. He wasn't expecting anything in return, it was just that as Ssphynxes they were large enough that stretching out lengthwise would have required that he open the door to the room to have a place to put his feet.
Her vulva lay open before his eyes, a simple, flowering affair that was only vaguely a cross between the standard humanoid design and feline. He pressed his muzzle to her vulva, finding the tiny clitoris hiding down near the bottom of the well, licking her gently. Her lips were wet already, and as he licked they grew even moreso. She shuddered. "Oh, fah, I think I'm in love," she sighed.
His licks became serious. The thin, milky fluid that leaked from her sex coated his muzzle, filling the room with the scent of a Ssphynx in high heat. His own heart was beating hard as she trembled and jerked with every lick, her moans a convincing inducement to press on with an assault on her senses. A moment later, her body went rigid and she came with a loud, "Oh fah! Oh fuck!"
He picked up his head to look back at her. "Hmm?" he asked.
"You may be inexperienced, but you know what to do!" she giggled. He turned himself around again and lay beside her, their bodies stretched out a full three meters along the bed. She felt warm against his belly. "You were good."
"I'm glad," he said.
"Would you like to fuck me?" she said in a voice full of wonder.
"I would love to fuck you," he said softly, easing his body over hers. "Don't get up."
She looked surprised as he lay down beside her, his belly to her back, their hips molded together. He had to get up and bend his torso nearly in half, but the Ssphynx body was meant to do things like that, and he guided his erection into her. Again, stretching out beside her, wrapping his arms around her back and touching her breasts with his hands, he pressed inward until his cock was fully enveloped by her body. "Chatenni..." she sighed.
"You're wonderful," he sighed as his body took on a life of its own, his erection sliding past her vaginal lips in a simple, timeless motion, one that conscious creatures had been enjoying since they first fell out of the trees or walked the savannah. He loved the gentleness of her body against his, the warmth of her back to his chest, the bobbing of her breasts against his hand. She was purring as he made love to her, giving to her, pleasing them both.
It lasted just long enough, he thought, as his climax swept through his body with one final whimper of delight. "Mmmm," she sighed. "Perfect."
"Yeah?" he asked.
"Yeah," she said.
He handed her a clean towel in his gentlemanly fashion. "Thank you, sir," she said as she quickly dried off herself, and then handed it back to him.
Chatenni flopped onto his back and sighed. "At least..."
"At least you kept my mind off of it for a little while."
She leaned close and kissed him. "Chatenni, it's the past, and you can't do anything about it. At least you can reconcile yourself to the fact that none of them suffered as a result of their cryo chambers failing. I know, it's hard; all those marvelous lives, what they might have been like as a part of ours. We'll never know. But at least let it go."
He nodded. "I'm trying. You ready?"
"Nix? Lights out."