Nickolai found himself watching the two velociraptor securor drones with fascination. The two gleaming robots stood three meters high straight, although they walked now as had the dinosaurs on which they had been modeled, bent over, scanning. Grilled headlights mounted in their chests and spotlights in their eyes directed brilliant beams into every dark and shadowed corner. Their large, splayed feet made no noise as they walked ahead down the long, silent corridor; pickups near the feet worked with gravitic projectors in the head and tail to create cancellation waves. They were careful not to direct their lights onto one another to avoid reflecting the powerful beams off their polished chrome bodies and into the eyes of the humans they had been assigned to protect. He had no doubts about the efficacy or loyalty of the two drones, but something about them made him nervous.
Elizabeth, on the other hand, seemed to be completely enthralled with their surroundings. "It's amazing, Nickolai. All of this has been just lying here, dormant for ten centuries. There must be an amazing amount of data hidden under all this." She keyed the microphone on her headset. "Nix, are you listening?"
"Always, Miss Zofrani. I have the data you are looking for. You need to head in another two hundred meters, then make a left. You will come to a heavily shielded door and will probably need to have you securor drones cut it open for you. According to the data found in Rico Kith, that is the original command center for Tream."
"Thanks, Nix." She glanced over at him. "Are you okay?"
Nickolai gave her a glance. "Yeah, just thinking."
She put her hand on his shoulder. "You don't have to do it."
"Yes, I do." They walked on for a moment and he decided to continue his explanation. "I made you a promise many years ago, and... you're right. It shouldn't be a big deal for me."
"It is a big deal to you," she said. It was not a question.
"Yeah, in a way. I'm suddenly realizing how badly I want this, but how badly I want to give it to Furry."
"Then do that," she offered simply. They turned the corner and found the door Nix had indicated. Before Nickolai could reply she was in the midst of things, ordering the two robots to get to work on the door, covering her ears as the pitch of powerful lasers and the crackling, hissing sounds of melting steel filled the corridor. They stepped back as the robots worked their way around a hole big enough for all four of them to step through. One robot went in first, then stood aside to make room for their two charges. Nickolai thought the room looked even more primitive than the rows and banks of machinery that had dominated the cavernous hallway through which they had come on their way here.
Locating Tream's mountain fortress had been a trivial operation; everyone had known where it lay toward the end of the war. Getting into it had been another matter. Even powered down and defenseless, the doors, grills, grates, airways and accesses had all proved either too small to get a body through or so completely collapsed that it would have taken weeks to dig through. But a few small flying drones had made it through cooling and ventilation shafts into the system proper and in a matter of hours Elizabeth had plotted a course into the central database. The work had taken over two days to widen one of the bigger cooling interface shafts large enough to get equipment through but even now over a hundred members of the team swarmed around Tream's inside. The military crews were busily isolating power supplies and weapons emplacements in case anyone woke Tream up again.
Now in the central operating room where once the superpower known as Theba had created their answer to Tsugura's Heeram, Elizabeth took personal control of the greatest planetary-based war machine ever seen in archeology. "This is wonderful!" she said as she sat down on the bench before what appeared to be the main command console. "This is not a programmer's bench," she commented. "This was way past that stage. Nickolai, work on this for me, would you?" She pointed to the console.
Nickolai took out his PADD and began making educated guesses. In ten minutes little yellow sheets of paper were stuck over the many switches, buttons, and dials, each one labeled with the translated name.
Hours passed as they worked together, deciphering console terms and diagnostic manuals. Nickolai felt useful again as he assisted in the translation efforts. AIs were traditionally poor language crackers although there were notable exceptions. Nix was not one of them and readily admitted to it, although once the language was understood he handled translation well. Nix's specialty was academic administration, a task he did remarkably.
By the end of the workday Liz had pulled open one of the secondary panels and had begun hooking up diagnostic machinery directly to several of the input ports. "Is that wise?" Nickolai asked.
"There's not enough power in this little box to run all of Tream, although there might be in one of the 'raptors," she said, gesturing to the menacingly large robot.
He smiled. "Everyone calls them 'raptors, even me. Technically, their frame is closer to nanotyrannus."
"Whatever. I don't do dinosaurs. Anyway, I'm reasonably convinced that Tream is as dead as the rest of this planet and that there's no risk in running a little juice through subsystems."
"Okay," he sighed. "Your call."
She nodded. She was the archaic technologies expert for the entire world. An hour later, she closed the yellow toolbox from which wires and antenna protruded like some invading bacteria into the innards of Tream's command console. "Captain Omon?" she said, tapping her microphone again.
"Here," a voice said in hers and Nickolai's ears.
"According to my watch it's well past dinnertime. I'd like to spend the night inside, if that's okay with you, and proceed in the morning."
"I believe we have isolated most of the potentially viable power sources. Nix is reporting no discernible activity in the system at current, so I would say that such a decision is safe, if not entirely wise. We found areas that are unstable, apparently knocked about by the nuclear assault on the facility in the last days. Does your area seem secure?"
"This section is deep, Captain. I think we're safe here."
"Then I shall insist that you keep your robots on active sentry, but otherwise you may proceed with your plan."
After a small dinner cooked on a portable stove, they unstrapped their sleeping kits from the backs of the robots and laid them out on the floor. "It's cold down here," Nickolai said.
"Then we'll have to rely on each other for warmth," Liz said cheerfully.
Nickolai gave her a smile he didn't feel as he stripped off his clothing and slid into the sleeping bag beside her. He waited for her to make the first move. He waited a while.
He started slightly when fingers touched his back, stroking his spine. "Kolya? Do you really want to do this?"
"Today is the best day, right?"
"Then I want to do it." He turned over to face her. In the dark, he could just make out the shape of her face, the twinkle in her eyes, the mass of curly, unruly hair. "You gave me a lot of wonderful memories to live with a century ago, Liz, and I still adore you for all of them." He pressed his legs forward against hers, feeling skin for the first time in a century. His hands found her breasts and were fascinated by them. He bent his head down and kissed their roundness. He wanted to press his teeth into her flesh and test how tender, how firm she really felt.
She giggled. "You act like you've never seen breasts before."
"Not in a century," he said, breathless.
"You're kidding," she said, shifting back enough to make eye contact again. "You haven't slept with anyone except Furry in all these years?"
"Nope," he admitted. "Never felt the urge to. She was pretty much everything I ever wanted." He pulled her back into his grasp again. "Now you've come along and shown me that there are other things I want to make my life even fuller." He paused. "Or is that more full?"
"I don't know," she said with a laugh. "I'm just a geek." She held him tightly. "Oh, Nickolai, I am probably causing so much disruption in your life, haven't I?"
He nodded. "Yeah, well, it's not that bad. It's not as if I didn't ask for it." The warmth between them had his attention, distracting him from conversation. He stroked her butt with his hands. "The last time I touched a butt that wasn't covered in fur, it was yours, the night we said goodbye. I remember that night so well."
"I do too," she murred. "You took my virginity that night. One of them. You made me realize just how good that could feel."
"I remember," he said. "We're not going to do that tonight, though.
"It would be a waste of the day my fertility is highest," she acknowledge. Her fingers found his scrotum and played with his testicles, sharp fingernails caressing the wrinkled skin. Nickolai shivered. "Like that?"
"Yes, I like that," he agreed. "I like that a lot!"
"Good," she said, wrapping her hand around the base of his testicles and tugging down lightly. He whimpered slightly. "I have always had respect for you, Nickolai. You have always made the right decisions. Tell me you're making the right one now."
"I am," he said. "And that's not just my lust talking."
Her hand slid up the length of his shaft, caressing it as it rested against his belly. His hands returned to her breasts; they bobbled slightly as he teased and touched, and she sighed warm "Oooh!" sounds as he kissed and licked her nipples.
Nickolai proceeded down the length of her body, but she placed a hand under his chin. "Like this," she said. She struggled inside the oversize bag for two (in truth, a pair of centaur blankets with a cold-weather seal) and managed to get turned around, her head even with his crotch, her crotch before his eyes. Nickolai took the bait she intended, but added his own touch by pulling them both over until she was straddling his mouth, his cock right before her. "Mmm," she said. "Good idea."
She lowered her cunt until he could just tilt his chin up and lick it solidly, then bent her own attentions to his cock. Nickolai realized as he looked that she was completely hairless, even to her vulva. He kissed the sides of it, his lips utterly entranced by the slick surface. He licked around her vulva, teasing her, nuzzling her thighs and inhaling deeply the very human scent of her cunt. He could not remember anything so intoxicating in all his years, nothing so different from the past he had always known. He wanted more of her, much more, and he knew she would give it to him, if only for a while.
He finally pressed his tongue into her cunt, caressing her clitoris which floated upside down in his field of vision. She let loose a muffled moan, reminding him that she had his cock in her mouth-- he almost had forgotten that detail in all the close attention he had been giving her. But with the reminder came a powerful rush of lust as he felt her mouth going up and down on his shaft and could feel the little trickles of cooling wetness as saliva and precum dripped across his scrotum. Gods, she was good at this; he had no idea how talented she had become over the century. Still, it made sense. He hoped he was as good to her as she was to him.
"Kolya, are you close?" she asked.
"Not yet," he whispered back to her.
"Do you want me to keep going? Or do you want to fuck me?"
"Uh... uh... If you keep going because I'm not close yet, you might put me over. Let's turn around."
"Good idea," she whispered. Again she wriggled around inside the bag until they were face to face. He watched her face, trying to see if somehow what they were about to do had already changed her. "I want this, Nickolai."
"I know," he said, rolling her over onto her back. With just a little jostling he slid himself into her. That felt no different between her and Furry, he felt relief, but the rest of her was so different. The sensation of skin, the slick, slippery feeling of furlessness kept distracting him as he pumped his hips in and out. Her hands held onto his shoulders and she was whispering, "Yes, Kolya, oh yes, Kolya, more Kolya, more..." He found it so different to be making love to a human again.
She pulled her legs up into the air, and the angle became straight inward for him. Her urging whispers in his ear pushed his intensity up a notch. Even in the cold air of this underground cavern, under the blankets they were generating a lot of heat. He could feel the sweat building between them as belly slapped belly. Her breasts bobbed back and forth in time with the force of their lovemaking.
He could feel that tingling sensation in the base of his spine, the sense of immanent climax. He drove on, whispering, "I'm going to come, Liz, I'm going to... going to... come!" He shouted the last word as surge after surge shot through his cock and filled her with his semen. He coaxed himself to the very last, giving her everything he had stored up for the past two days, giving her what she wanted.
He collapsed on top of her, reacting when he heard her say, "Oof. Kolya, could you get up?"
"Sorry," he said. He felt his cock slide out of her as he pushed himself back up, then dropped himself over to one side. "Yes."
She lay on her back with her knees drawn to her chest. "Holding it in?" he asked her.
"More to avoid a wet spot than to make sure it takes, but yeah." She smiled at him. "Kiss me?"
He paused for a moment. He realized that, of all the things they had just done together, the one thing left out was a kiss. He had only ever kissed Jofuran since he and Liz had called it quits a century before. But she was asking, and he... he had kissed her before.
She noticed the hesitation. "You want one thing to save for her. I understand."
He crawled over to her. "Yes, but a kiss isn't it." He leaned down and kissed Elizabeth. Her mouth opened just slightly, and she kissed with far greater gentleness than he remembered from their love affair. Back then she had been aggressive, covetous in her kisses. Now, she seemed delicate, even thankful for his kiss.
When he drew back she had tears in her eyes. The words "Thank you, Nickolya," came out surrounding a sob. "I... didn't know if you'd keep your promise."
Nickolai didn't know what had brought on the tears. He grabbed the towel they had left outside the bag for after lovemaking and gave it to her. She accepted it and placed it between her legs to soak up the wetness, then let her legs down. "Hold me," she asked.
He held her close and they lay together like that, man and woman, alone in a deep cave under kilometers of solid rock. He held her and listened to her breathing become deeper, quieter. He hoped she got what she wanted.
For his part, the misgivings he had originally felt had gone. As he held Elizabeth in his arms, he could already feel himself wishing for Jofuran again. But still, the one feeling, that he should be giving this gift to Jofuran, followed him down into sleep.
As they slept, small things happened.
Inside Elizabeth, one sperm did finally find an ovum and the commonplace and yet miraculous pattern of life began to take shape once more.
On the console beside them, the sensor bench Elizabeth had brought with her to test out facilities remained switched on. Power continued to flow in tiny amounts across the wires in the console and into Tream's oldest and most primitive systems. Systems built by an all-or-nothing military mentality designed to take advantage of even the slightest possibility of restart awoke, sluggishly marshaling this minimal resource. Circuits waited until the last possible instant, then clicked over. A backup power source was found, an ancient array of thermocouple generators. And somewhere in Tream, a pattern of thought began to take shape once more.