Unable to sleep after the alarms, Kekashkah found herself in the ship's open library, browsing through the books looking for something to read. She had settled on a title, The Carthaginian Wars, and found a comfortable chair that would hold someone of her frame. She had gotten deep into a section on politics when a voice across the room said softly, "You people are mad."
She looked up, startled to find the Ritan survivor Sandahl sitting across from her on a 'taur bench. She recovered long enough to ask, "We are?"
"Or were," he said, holding up the book he had been reading.
"Oh, the Ocare' book. Yes, well, we were a bit crazy back then. Starship design isn't my specialty, but I've heard about those designs. You must be Sandahl."
He nodded. She thought his eyes looked sad. "I guess I'm the only one left."
"I know. I'm sorry. You won't be the only one after a while. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring it up. I'm Kekashkah, but you can call me 'Kosh.'"
"Or Kashkah, if that's more to your liking." She pronounced it 'Koshkah.'
"It sounds more Ritan," Sandahl agreed. She watched his eyes rove over her uniform and her face. "I think you're an Uncia. But are you male or female?"
"It's a bit early to start putting me into categories, don't you think?" she asked with a laugh. "Yes, I'm an Uncia, and I'm female. Actually, thank you for asking. Sometimes, Pendorians can't tell the difference between the two."
Sandahl nodded. "Can I ask you something else?"
"You can ask me anything," Kashkah replied. Despite the confidence she felt, she was trembling inside. She was not qualified to be talking to Sandahl, especially not right now.
"Do Pendorians have funerals?"
"You mean, ceremonies for the dead?" Sandahl nodded. "Yes. They're usually very personal affairs with some common elements included so that everyone will recognize the ceremony for what it is." She picked up the book she had been reading, closed it, stroked the spine, and reopened it. Lance had perfectly anticipated her desires; on the front page was a schedule for the ceremony tomorrow. "We're dropping out of hyperspace tomorrow near an uninhabited solar system. We'll be there for about six hours; the ceremony is at five lome'." She found herself stifling a yawn. "Sorry, I'm not used to being up this late."
"Neither am I," Sandahl admitted. "What are you doing up?"
"Trying to go back to sleep. I'm Lieutenant Commander, Ship's Security."
"Oh, so you responded to the alarm..."
She nodded. "I'm sorry. We can't seem to stay off the subject, can we?"
"I don't think I'll be able to avoid it for the next couple of days." He stood up. "Lance, can I take the book with me?"
"Of course. Just remember to bring it back eventually."
"I, um, don't know what to do when leaving yet."
"Depends. If we're not friends, we just wave," Kashkah said. "If we are, we can do everything from a light touch to a lascivious hug."
He reached out awkwardly with his hand. "Goodnight, Kashkah."
Again startled, she reached with her own hand and rested the pads of her fingertips on his. "Goodnight, Sandahl." She watched him leave, then decided it was time she did the same. She felt troubled by the exchange she had had with the Ritan but she couldn't quite puzzle why. She left the book on the table. It had done its job.
Kashkah attended Erroll's funeral the next day. She had been the first security officer on the scene of his suicide the day before and had felt compelled to show up. She had to admit that she didn't understand a word of the Ritan spoken during the ceremony even though Lance offered to translate for her, and she didn't really feel anything for the sad, green-furred alien who had disappeared in the night, jumping out an airlock into the inexpressible vastness of hyperspace. She had seen Sandahl there, standing on the sideline. For some reason he reminded her of an atom; she understood that matter was mostly empty space and Sandahl now seemed to embody that-- a single particle in surroundings that from a distance seemed rich, varied, and solid, but when examined up close she could see that he was desperately alone and far away from anyone who might be around him.
Afterward, she returned to her cabin to prepare for bed. She had not seen a busy day, just as she had not seen any busy days for the past several weeks and for that she felt extremely grateful. A Terran friend of hers had called security officer on a Pendorian vessel "a maytag job." She had had to look up that particular unit of slang and she still did not understand the origin-- why would anyone take a job where one really did nothing at all?-- but sometimes she appreciated the quiet of Pendorian starships. She had just poured herself a cup of warm milk-- sometimes the cat in her was more pronounced that even she cared to admit-- and was sitting down to finish reading a romance novel she had had on the shelves for too long when Lance interrupted her. "Kashkah?"
"Yes, Lance?" she asked, a little exasperated.
"Sandahl is asking if you are up to receiving visitors."
"Me?" she asked, surprised.
"I would not be calling you otherwise. Yes, you."
She looked around the room, hoping it was clean enough before agreeing. "Yah, I guess. I can see him if he wants."
"He apparently does."
A few minutes later a chime on the door told her that Sandahl had arrived. She opened the door and allowed him in. "Hi," he said. "I hope it's okay if I visit."
"Yes, sure. I was just a little surprised by your asking." She stood out of the way and allowed him in. "Have a seat. There's a bench over there that'll fit you." She pointed and he nodded, taking it. She watched him move, admiring the fluid motion of his fur and the way those two tendrils-- his guss, she recalled-- maintained a perfectly even keel even as he bounced slightly with his walk.
She watched him for a moment and he watched her, and apparently he knew as little as she about starting the conversation. "Sandahl?"
"Oh, sorry. Didn't mean to stare. I was reminded of a dror looking at you. It is a predator species found in snowbound regions. Was a species."
"Well, I'm based on a predator gene, but I'm not going to eat you."
"That's good." He gave a sound that she took for a nervous laugh.
"I just made myself something to drink, but I'd be happy to get you something if you like. Can I get you anything?"
"Well, I am a little hungry but I could go back to my cabin--"
"No, you wait there. I'll fix you something."
Kashkah retreated into the tiny kitchen, grateful for the opportunity to cover her nervousness. She had no idea what she was doing here-- she wasn't qualified to be talking to Sandahl at all, especially not the day after the only other member of his species in the entire universe had killed himself! She pulled out of statis a few ingredients for a quick snack. "Calm down," she whispered to herself as her fingers took to the familiar task of chopping and rolling nori around rice, salmon and celery. A few minutes later she placed ten rolls on a wooden plate and walked back out into the main room. "Here," she said with a smile.
"Thanks. What are they?"
"Grain, vegetables, and fish. You should be able to eat them without problem."
He nodded, took one and popped it into his mouth. His eyebrows registered delight, and she smiled as he ate two more. She took two for herself. "Traditionally, you're supposed to eat them with a very strong spice called wasabi and a salted liquid called shoyu, but they're fine just as they are."
"After I met you," he said after swallowing, "I went back to my cabin to do a little reading about Uncia. I was reading about the Uncia Climatic Zone on Pendor, a region of rather hot weather that seems to be almost provincial for you. And there's some kind of ritual combat for who gets to live closest to the ocean?"
She nodded with a grin. Explaining this to other Pendorians was difficult enough-- explaining it to an alien would be a feat. "You have to understand Uncia. The UCZ is just that... the area where Uncia are usually most comfortable without clothing. We're really a very standard Pendorian species but underneath it all is this complicated desire for us to be different. We were the fourth Pendorian species, after Centaurs, Humans and Felinzi, and we really wanted to be distinct from the Felinzi, and from everybody else. So we moved away from everybody and founded our own little homes. Arguments broke out over who could live where, and the ancient Uncia G'rath in his wisdom created the Contests. They happen every ten years even if these days they're a little more like athletic competitions than real violence. It's not like the first century." She took a deep breath. "We're civilized these days."
"You sound sad."
"Well, it's like we failed. A little. We're not the all- powerful warrior predators we imagined we were going to be. We're still the most populous species in the Pendorian military. And there are the Uncia Dragronriders of Pendor. Things like that make us look ferocious." She smiled, showing her teeth.
He leaned back a little. "Wow."
He kept watching her, and she admitted to herself that she enjoyed the attention. "So what about you?"
"Me?" he asked.
"Yeah, you. What was your house like?"
Sandahl leaned back and started. "I lived in the town of Kimmonowal, one of the towns built after the war. I was born there. My parents were both older members of the Forcassa Project." He shrugged. "I can't really think of what to say about that time. I mean, it was tough; the continent was still pretty wild even after twenty years of the Project. My mother was killed by a, uhm, flaming liquid bomb while out on a mission. I was only four, I don't remember very much about that time. My father was never a very happy mel after that. He drank too much, although never so much that he couldn't fly a scheduled mission the next day. He was good to me. Maybe because I was the only family he had anymore. He taught me how to fly and he made me go through the academy. There wasn't much of a social life there and I didn't have many friends. Most of them died fighting Tream anyway.
"I made it through the ranks to take my father's position as primary mission lead on the Forcassa II-t project, one of the four senior pilots. A lot of that came from my medical training, which I also took because of my mother. She was a doctor, and her brother was too, so Uncle Rathe taught me a lot. I flew every day, even if it was just to go to class."
Kashkah looked at him curiously. "Two-t? Was there a two-c, or two-g?"
"There was supposed to be a backup project, the two-c. Heeram was doing the details on putting a second cryo team out into space."
She sputtered, surprised. "Does anybody know about this?"
"Why?" he asked, bewildered. "I don't think it got anywhere."
"Sandahl, my understanding is that you were put into cryo early. A year before the war began. Who knows what they got done in a year? We should have search teams out there looking right now!"
He blinked, his guss drooping. "I never thought of that. Who do I tell?"
"Lance?" she said, looking up at the ceiling.
"With your permission, Sandahl?" the AI responded. Sandahl nodded. "Advising the team. We have not yet made contact with Pendor, but the message will do the circuit as soon as possible."
"Well, that's interesting news," she said, over the couch at the Ritan. "I wish we'd known about that earlier."
"It didn't occur to me to tell anyone," he admitted abashedly. She wondered how likely that was, or if he was just protecting the other crew. He might still have doubts about the Pendorian motives. Sometimes, if Kashkah were asked privately, she had doubts herself.
"Kashkah, how do Pendorians do it? I mean, on Ritacha there were wars and fights and all kinds of crap just because people had different fur colors, or different shapes, or different languages. Pendorians have all kinds of different languages and even more different shapes, but you all seem to get along. How?"
"In school, they taught us two things. One, that we don't have to fight other Pendorians to get what we need, like food, water, a roof over our heads. That stuff is available to anyone who needs it. Someday it might be different, when the Ring is full. But until then we won't have a reason to fight. War is theft. You have what I think I need." She grinned. "You're asking a soldier those questions, but you are a soldier. You should know the answers already."
"Never thought about it that way," Sandahl admitted.
"Anyway, we were exposed to all other kinds of species when we were younger. There was never a reason to question why they were different. I mean, sure I asked, 'What kind of species is he?'" She paused. "Besides, we all knew we were made by Shardik. That made us equal in a way. Nobody arguing over whose god is better."
They were silent for a time. Kashkah sipped at her milk. Sandahl finally broke the silence. "It's a little like home, but it's not. There's so much emphasis here on pride, shame, respect-- these were things that sort-of existed, but sometimes not really. The end justified the means sometimes, especially if nobody saw the means until it was too late to argue."
"I don't know what to say to that." She leaned over and placed a hand on his shoulder. He looked up into her face as his guss hovered over her hand as if exploring it, and he looked down at it to see with his eyes as well.
"Everyone has been so afraid to break seeds around me." He placed his hand on hers. "I guess I'm a little jealous. You're all touching each other, but I'm not part of that."
"That's because we don't know how you feel about being touched," Kashkah admitted, looking down at her hand. "I don't know how you feel about it."
He patted her hand again. "I don't know how I feel about it either."
She pulled her chair closer to the 'taur bench on which he had stretched himself out. He sat up straight off the lean-to to watch her closely. "You use those things to feel, right?" she asked, pointing to his guss.
"Almost," he agreed. "I use them to create a sense of what's around me. It's hard to describe. It's like hearing, feeling... It's like trying to describe a smell by describing things you eat, you understand?"
"They're close, but they're not really close."
"Right," he agreed.
"Use them on me. Try to get a sense of what I feel like in three dimensions."
Hesitatingly, he reached out with his guss until they arced over his shoulders and hovered over hers. Slowly, they moved over her face only centimeters away, crossed over her ears and made their way down her body. She wondered if he could feel her trembling. Part of her was terrified by what she was thinking. And part of her was exhilarated. "Can they feel through clothing?"
"Not very effectively," he admitted. "They are mostly effective at scaling out the same surfaces you can see. But they're useful for a 'taur that doesn't have eyes in the back of his head and needs to maneuver, especially when running from predators, but needs his eyes more forward and binocular to handle tools."
"Ah," she said, holding still as he directed his guss over her thighs. "Would you like me to take this off? I can let you get a better sense of me that way."
She thought maybe she had gone too far. It occurred to her only after she suggested it that the Ritans had a nudity taboo that might be strong, even in such an 'agnostic' group as the Forcassans. But he surprised her saying, "If you wish."
She reached up and unbuckled the collar at her throat. Running her fingers down the length of the jacket, it opened across her chest and down to her waist, where it turned a sharp corner and ran back along her waist to the other side again. She stood up and slipped out of the jumpsuit uniform, folded it carefully and placed it on an empty chair. "Ah, much better. It's so nice to get out of that thing." She grinned, hoping that her obvious pleasure at getting out of uniform masked somewhat the trepidation she felt inside.
"Kashkah? May I touch you? With my hands?"
"Yes." She didn't stop to consider the question. She noticed that his hands trembled as he lowered them carefully to her legs, touching her just on the knees.
"Sandahl?" she asked.
He pulled his hands back to him but he left his guss hanging between them. "Maybe I never really believed you all were real."
"Sometimes we don't know either," she admitted. "Our virtual reality systems are indistinguishable from real life; some of the robots you meet in the hallway might have organic brains running them, and some of the people you meet in the hallways might have robot brains upstairs."
He nodded. "Kashkah, what do you want from me?"
She thought before answering. "I want you to be comfortable, Sandahl. I think asking you to be happy at this point is asking too much from anyone. And I want to get to know you better for my own reasons. You seem so lost. I was scared out of my fur when Lance told me you were coming over. I'm not qualified to talk to you. I'm just a cop."
"That's why I came over. You're not part of his team." He wrung his hands. "I needed someone to talk to. You were the only person I'd met who wasn't a part of Ken's team and might not report back to him if I asked you not to."
"His team is just looking after you."
"I'm not Erroll."
"They don't know that. But I won't tell him anything if you don't want me to. Unless--" She saw him look up sharply, as she had expected. "Unless I start thinking you're going to do what he did."
He nodded. "That will do."
She smiled. "Good," she said. "Then we agree on something."
He laughed. "I do like you," he finally announced.
"Good," she said. "I decided I liked you yesterday. What took you so long?" She yawned wide. "Damn, it's far past my usual bedtime."
"Mine too," Sandahl admitted. "I won't keep you up." He rose from his chair and stretched. "Thanks for the... whatever they're called. Can I see you tomorrow?"
"Sushi rolls. And I'd like that," she agreed.
Late the next evening, Kashkah met Sandahl at his cabin and the two of them made their way to one of the larger performance halls available on the ship. All Kashkah had told him was that the show was "Traditional Terran percussion."
A young melUncia stood up on stage to introduce the opening. "Good evening and welcome to the Nyano Handele ad-hoc Daiko Dojo performance." Some members of the audience chuckled at a joke Kashkah didn't get. She decided it must have been something of a personal story behind it. "Tonight we are going to feature the works of two of the, um, louder composers of the late Terran 20th Century-- Seiichi Tanaka and Leonard Eto. We are not a professional Daiko Dojo, but we shall endeavor our best to bring to you their work as we have rehearsed it over the past couple of months."
For the next hour, Kashkah reveled in the raw power six performers working with traditional drums and percussives managed to roll into the audience. Without amplification of any kind profound waves of sound rolled through their bodies and the audience seemed to roll with the beats of sound like long sheaves of grass in a meadow. The last piece they played was a crowning moment of force that left her and it seemed everyone around her stunned into motionlessness when it ended abruptly. It took four or five seconds for everyone to recover, and then people were on their feet, clapping and cheering wildly for the performers.
Afterward, Sandahl surprised her by taking her by the arm as she led him down the hallways. "That was amazing," he said.
"It was," she agreed, smiling. "I mean, It wasn't as good as professional Daiko drummers who practice every day, but I do admire people who try. They were good as could be expected. And that was not bad at all."
"When we get to Pendor you could show me a professional show."
"They're much louder," she warned, giving him a smile. "And they usually go on for hours. Someone once told me that origin of Daiko is very old and was done to frighten away evil spirits. I think it was done to impress the peasants."
Sandahl smiled. "So, does everyone on the ship do this? Some kind of constantly running talent show?"
She laughed. "No, nothing like that. Some people just get bored and learn a new skill or pick up an old one. Sometimes that's a performance skill so they like to show off. They can check with the social op to see if a hall is clear and reserve it."
They found themselves back at his quarters. "So this is where you've been hiding?" she asked.
He nodded. "I didn't mean to hide. I just wasn't ready to come out." He led her inside. The room was spartan and undecorated with few hints that someone actually lived there. "Lance picks up my clothes. I shouldn't let him do that, but he insists."
"He'll stop after a while. Once you're used to a clean place. Won't you, Lance?"
"Of course," the AI replied. "It is my duty to civilize anyone who comes on board. You, for example, are quite good at picking up your clothes, but have a terrible habit of leaving dirty dishes about. A little mold and a bout of food illness might make you change your mind."
"Don't you dare."
"I don't have to do anything. I'm not an Asimov design after all."
"What does that mean?" Sandahl asked.
"It means he can kill people if he has to. Which means he's just like everyone else on this ship, free to act of their own will." Sandahl's eyes widened in fear and his guss, which had hidden for much of the concert, flew up in a pattern Kashkah interpreted as alarm. "It's okay, Sandahl. It's part of his duty to defend the ship, or those on it. He's not Heeram or Tream. You should know that by now."
He nodded, taking a deep breath. "There are so many things to get used to."
"You will. Eventually."
He nodded. "Tell me about Pendor. What is it like for you?"
She took a seat and thought for a moment. "Fah, it's hard to know where to start. Well, I grew up in the Herrych province of the northern Uncia Climactic Zone. My parents were relatively young then and so weren't really high on the ritual list by maturity, although my father had found honor a few times in the Contest. None of that really mattered to my education or my status, it was more a thing to have rituals for. I still love the old Uncia rituals a lot and I want to do a few of them when I get back to my family on Pendor." She clasped her hands together. "Pendor is... huge. You look up into the sky and there's more of your world than you know you can ever possibly see in all your lifetime. There's more world in one little solar orbit than there is in all of the rest of the known universe combined. We have so many different evolutionary paths, segmented by deserts and oceans, that depending on where you go on Pendor you could meet creatures nobody else has ever seen before." She laughed. "It's funny, though. We only have a few cities. Most of them are supports for large endeavors, like schools, or the military. We have specialized areas called Castles, which are central administration sites, but only one of those is also a city, and that's the military's.
"Dad was strange. He didn't like swimming, for one thing. Mom loved it. Dad also introduced me to Daiko, and there's a group in the Herrych province that's just amazing. They can play 'Tsunami' on odaiko so powerfully the provinces next door have told us to warn them before it's played. If the wind is coming in from the sea the sound carries for nearly twenty kilometers, and we have six two-meter drums. It's the kind of sound armies used to frighten their opponents into the night." She grinned. "But it was Mom who taught me how to hunt and fish and stuff. I had a lot friends, including R'Cebba, who was unusual 'cause she was born a blackfur-- patterns of black and white reversed. We got along great." She looked up at him. "I had a very normal and quiet life. I've learned to do a lot of things over the years, and being a guard was one of them. I decided to put my name on this mission roster because I wanted to get off-world again. And this was an adventure offering. Some adventure. The only thing that happens to me as a security guard is I get to be the first on the scene to report what the AI already knows." She sighed. "Sorry. Didn't mean to bring that up again."
"That's okay. I can't imagine getting away from it any time soon." A soft chime went off overhead. "What was that?"
"My alarm, reminding me that it's time for me to get some sleep." She yawned to emphasize the point. "I guess... this is goodnight, Sandahl."
"I should head back as well," he replied. "Good night, Kashkah." He stood.
She followed him to the door, then surprised both of them by pressing her nose against his cheekruff. "See you tomorrow?" she asked.
Sandahl's guss touched his cheek gently as if to confirm what had happened there a moment before. "Sure. I suppose."
"Good," she said with a lopsided smile as the door closed between them.
Kashkah took a deep breath, held it, released it. She looked at the closed door and said, "What in the ring am I doing?"
"Seducing our guest, it would seem," Lance said. "I hate to make your life more difficult, Kashkah, but I need your judgment on something. Which one of us tells Ken? Or does neither one of us tell him?"
Kashkah shook her head. "I'm not going to. It's like Sandahl said. I'm not part of Ken's team-- that's why he talks to me. I'm not going to become part of Ken's team. What about you?"
"I think your judgment is right. I won't tell him either. It's not his business."
Nevertheless, word got back to someone on the Alpha team. Eight days later, Kashkah found a note in her mail instructing her to make an appointment with Brieanna Flanders at the earliest possible time. Kashkah checked with Lance and found that the earliest possible time was "immediately," so she cleared a little extra time with the person she was due to relieve and headed up into the medical section of the ship. "It's open," a feminine voice said as she stood in front of Brieanna Flander's door. "Come in, please."
Nervously, Kashkah took her seat opposite Doctor Flander's. "I'm going to be gentle, officer. Don't worry."
"It's about Sandahl, isn't it?" The human nodded. Kashkah sighed. "I'm afraid I can't tell you much about him."
"I have seen you with him on three separate occasions," Brieanna said. "And after talking to some of the crew, it's apparent that you and he are spending some time together. I don't want to have to ask this of you, Kashkah, but it is my job to make sure that Sandahl doesn't follow Erroll into the great beyond."
"I thought it would be convenient for you if he did."
"Convenient for whom?" Brieanna asked. "Ken would lose a valuable source of information and inspiration; I would lose reputation. My specialty is severe depression. Losing Erroll was quite a blow."
Kashkah thought about it. "I understand, Doctor. But I promised him that I would not inform on him to anyone in Alpha's team."
"You gave him your word on that?"
Kashkah nodded. "Yes. My word."
"I don't suppose that there were any exceptions to it?"
"I did say that if I thought he was headed in the same direction Erroll was, that I would inform you immediately."
Brieanna leaned back in her chair and looked deep in thought for a moment. "I see. You're putting me in a hard position, Kashkah. How do you feel about your judgments on the manner?"
"Pretty good. I'm a cop, Doctor. My task is to make judgments like that on a regular basis. My central training was in domestic disputes."
"Not immediately relevant," Brieanna pointed out, "but I suppose it will have to keep me happy. I'm glad Sandahl is finally out and walking around the ship. This isn't a warning, Kashkah, not really, but... take good care of him."
"I intend to, Doctor. I intend to."
"What did they want to know?" Sandahl asked that evening when he met her in the forward dining hall.
"Actually, she first wanted to know what I could say. When I told her I couldn't say anything, she respected that. I was kinda surprised at that at first but it made sense to me afterward. Anyway, they know you and I are talking."
Sandahl sat back and digested that thought. "Do they think we're doing anything else?"
Kashkah shrugged. "They might. I don't care if they do. We're not."
Sandahl took a moment. "Kashkah, do you ever think about it?"
"Doing more than just talking?"
"Well, sure," she chuckled. "I have friends I get into bed with and friends I don't. I get the feeling from you that you're one of the friends I should be getting into bed with and that's a little confusing for me, but I'll live with it."
"Why am I one of those people you should be getting into bed with?"
Kashkah gave thought before answering. "Because there's nothing professional going on between us. No, that's not right. Because while we have lots of things in common, none of those are antagonistic. We're not friendly rivals. Most of the friends I have that I don't sleep with I also have a rivalry of sorts with." She sighed. "But that's not right either. Oh, I don't know. You just feel like it."
He grinned, his guss curling slightly along with his muzzle. "I guess I should feel flattered."
"Doesn't that ever get tiring?" she asked, pointing at his guss.
"Holding them up in the air like that. It reminds of a Tindal trying to hold his arms out at his sides all day. Guss are a lot lighter but there's not a lot of room for muscle in all that."
"Not really," he said, turning to his left to look at one. "They're just there. The muscle structure underneath is lots and lots of interlinking layers that have a constant tension. Very old Ritans would sometimes lose the ability to hold them up all day, but even they managed to keep them up for short periods of time." He grinned. "Much like other portions of the anatomy."
Kashkah hmphed. "Your anatomy, maybe."
"Well, yeah," he agreed. "Male anatomy."
They were quiet until Kashkah noticed he was looking at her very curiously. "Sandahl?"
"I was just trying to remember when I stopped thinking of you as an alien and started treating you as a friend of mine."
The comment surprised her. "I thought I was always trying to be a friend."
"Trying, yes," he said. "Somewhere in there, though, I figured out that I really liked you."
Kashkah considered her next words carefully. "A few minutes ago we were talking about going to bed together. Do you still want to... um..."
"Can we? I mean, is it even physically possible?"
Kashkah decided it was time to confess. "I've been reading a few of the books that have been translated from your language to ours. I wanted to know that question myself. I think so. At least, I got the impression that it was possible for us."
Sandahl put his hands across the table, reaching for hers. She let her hands be captured. "Then I would love to... what was that word? Rhysh?"
She chuckled. "Rhyshing means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It's not a well-defined word, but the best meaning I've heard for it is something you've never done before."
"Then it applies here," Sandahl pointed out.
"I guess it does." She stood, taking his hands with her. He rose and joined her as they walked-- almost ran-- back to her cabin.
As the door closed behind them she turned to him and pulled him into a hug. He relaxed against her almost immediately, wrapping his arms around her torso with a deep and satisfied sigh. "Oh... I'd almost forgotten what it felt like to be held."
"That's a bad thing to forget," she sighed. Her hands roamed over his head and back, carefully avoiding the two stalks at the back of his head where his guss began. She realized that it had been too long since she had last had a lover of her own. Holding Sandahl, she felt both frightened and elated-- she knew that if she made a serious mistake here and hurt him, it wouldn't just be the end of their relationship but she could very well doom the plans of Ken Shardik and the entire Alpha team.
Somehow, though, she didn't care. She had had her fair share of first times and she had always been as careful as possible. Almost all of them had worked out even if the relationships they were a part of did not.
"Are you nervous?"
She looked down at his face and shook her head. "I was just thinking that. No, I'm not."
"I am," he said with a gulp.
"Don't worry too much," she said with a smile. "I've had lovers before, Sandahl, even a Ssphynx."
They separated long enough for her to lead him into the bedroom. Unlike the front part of her cabin, this smallish space was entirely hers and it reflected her feline nature to a great extent. On the walls were the pelts of two large animals, stretched and preserved. Between them hung a pair of long knives, one straight, the other possessing a curiously wicked-looking hook at the end. The bed, a square platform barely raised above the floor, was covered in a deep, shaggy material of a dark green color. Sandahl touched it carefully, his guss lowering so he could examine it with all his senses.
"It's artificial," Kashkah said, watching him. "I'm not even sure what it's supposed to be. It's hard to keep clean and it picks up scent easily, but I like the way it feels. I guess it's trying to be grass. I've lain on grass--it feels nothing like that." She sat down on the bed and motioned for him to join her.
He stepped onto the bed cautiously, gauging it, before crouching down and then rolling over onto his side. She watched him roll over and admired what she saw as he did so. She found him quite handsome, despite her perception that the short, wide hindbody made him sometimes look like Ssphynx that had gotten caught in a trash compactor.
His roll brought him face-to-face with her, and she again felt her duty to be reassuring come up. "What are you thinking about?" Sandahl asked her.
She blinked. She hadn't realized that the building frustration within her had become visible. "I feel like a cop."
"You are a cop," Sandahl pointed out. "But I guess you mean here, with me?"
She nodded. "I'm trying not to be the person I am when I'm... working. Usually, the worst thing I have to deal with as a ship's security officer is people going stir crazy and being dangerous to their partners, roommates, or other crewfen. I have to be reassuring then. Tell them it's okay. And if they don't accept that it's okay, I have to get tough."
"I thought you said you weren't nervous?"
"I changed my mind," she said.
He closed the distance between them and nuzzled against her cheekfur. "So have I." His tongue touched her lips and sent shivers through her body. She responded with a sigh and a kiss of her own, opening her mouth and allowing his tongue to touch hers. Her hands roamed over the sides of his torso, touching, probing. She let her fingertips run down the lengths of his forelegs, finding the broad pads of his feet and stroking them softly, making his body tense up. "Ticklish?" she asked.
"Don't do that," he said. "Not now, anyway."
"I'll remember," she said, letting his feet go. His hands were also on her, touching her chest and roaming down the length of her body until they almost reached between her thighs. Her length allowed her sex to be just out of his reach. She thought that must be a far cry from what it must be like when two Ritans start lovemaking, their genitals separated by the lengths of their hindbodies.
He was suddenly so eager! She appreciated the attention especially from him. She let her hands run free along his body, partly trying to please him but also trying to learn his anatomy. She wanted to know what pleased him, where she could touch him to give him the most sensation.
But it was his hands all over her that really set the pace. He touched her chest. "Weird," he said. "I'm not used to sleeping with someone so... flat, I guess." He grinned. His hands coasted down her belly to touch her thighs and then, tentatively, between them. "Good, you are female."
"You had doubts?" she asked with a laugh. "You haven't gotten far enough to tell yet, anyway. Males can retract their entire, um, is there a word for both parts put together? What am I asking you for? Lance?"
"None that is not immediately medical," the AI responded quietly before again closing the connection with a click.
She turned back to him. He was looking at her puzzled. "Both parts? Your males have two..."
She blinked, then looked at him. "No, they have... don't you have... " She suddenly rolled over and started her way down the length of his body. "Can I see?"
Startled, Sandahl raised one rearleg. "You don't have a scrotum."
"A..." She looked up, twisted a whisker momentarily. "We'd better start at the beginning. You're male, right?" He nodded. "So you're the one who produces the emission part, right, the sperm?" He nodded again. "I can't believe I didn't notice this when I was looking at the biology books earlier. It never occurred to me. Where are the organs that produce sperm in a Ritan male?"
"Right about here," he said, bending inwards and pointing to two spots below where the kidneys would have been on a Sphynx. "What do your males have?"
"Well, their testes are in a small sac that hangs below the penis. I can show you later, but..."
"They're outside the body?"
"Well, uh, I mean, it's part of the body, like the penis, but... Yeah."
"I don't know. I think it has something to do with a design flaw that requires that they be at a lower temperature than the rest of the body to operate properly." She looked at his penis, mostly retracted into its sheath, and with a curious hand reached out to touch it. "It's pretty."
"It's pretty?" he asked, then gasped as she wrapped her hand around it.
"Yeah," she said. As it emerged from its sheath, she found herself admiring it even more. It wasn't terribly large, certainly nothing as huge as a full-size 'taur's, and she liked the way he smelled at this distance. It also had an interesting bent right at the head, as if the tip were tilted upward on purpose. She wanted to taste him, find out what he was like. She wriggled downwards in the bed until she could get her muzzle close to it. The smell was even stronger her, like fresh flowers. She extended the tip of her tongue to touch the tip of his cock, tasting the salt and sweat of his body. "Don't watch," she said with a joke as she opened her muzzle and slowly slid her tongue along the length of it.
He apparently took her word seriously, closing his eyes and relaxing as her mouth surrounded his erection. She pursed what thin lips she had around the circumference, feeling its meaty surface against her lips and tongue as she slid down the length of it. His sheath peeled back as she made her way down toward it. She enjoyed going down on mels; the sensation of being able to have someone completely in her power and give them pleasure at the same time thrilled her in ways she had trouble putting words to. Her heart beat louder in her chest as she took a deep breath, swallowed, and pressed the last length of him against the back of her throat.
He moaned loudly as she sucked him down, then withdrew. "Kash..." he gasped, clearly as thrilled as she was at her skills. "Oh, Goddess..." She continued sucking on him until she began to notice a steady stream of what she guessed to be precome, the went to a bobbing, rhythmic motion of her head and her hand, tugging at his sheath with her fingertips and trying to turn him on even more.
It apparently worked. His body tensed and released as she stroked at him. "Close, Kash, careful..." he gasped. She ignored his warning; she wanted him to climax in her mouth. She had asked Lance enough to know that swallowing his come would be safe for her. She stroked her mouth along the length of his musky cock, enjoying the scent of his fur on every downstroke and the moans from his mouth on the up. "Kash!" he warned her one last time before his body went rigid, his legs thrusting straight out underneath him as her mouth was filled with his seed. She licked at it with her earnest tongue, rolling it around in her mouth. He trembled at her finishing touches before she smiled at up him.
"You taste good," she said.
"Really?" he asked. "Nobody ever told me that before." He smiled. "Thank you."
She reached up and hugged him tightly. "Thank you," she said with a giggle. "I love doing that to guys I like."
"Yes," she emphasized. "So," she sighed, rolling over onto her back. "Can we put that pretty thing inside me, or do I have to wait until morning?"
"You'll probably have to wait until morning," he agreed. "I don't recharge very fast."
"That's okay," she sighed. She snuggled close to him. "Stay with me tonight?"
He grinned at her. She was suddenly feeling vulnerable, and she was pleased that he could tell. "I'll do that."
"Good," she mumbled.
She awoke to the sound of water running. Alert ears told her that the bathroom door had been opened, then closed, and then padded feet made their way across the floor to the midroom door. "Hey," she said softly. "Aren't you coming back to bed?"
Sandahl turned, his guss drooping significantly. "I, um, didn't want to keep you from your morning routine."
She snorted. "Screw my routine," she said earnestly. "I don't have to be on duty for two hours. More than enough time to do all sorts of things." She turned over in bed, crawling to the lip of the bowl and regarding him carefully. "You were trying to run out on me, weren't you?"
He swallowed. "Yeah, I... Kash, I don't know what to say to you in the morning."
She looked at him and saw, not for the first time, how alone and vulnerable he looked. "Don't run away from me, Sandahl. I like you."
"You do?" he asked, surprised.
"Yeah," she said. "You've been good company. And you have gorgeous eyes."
"They're the usual color for people on Ritacha. You have beautiful eyes, Kash."
"See, you're calling me 'Kash' already. And blue is common in my species; forest green eyes are damned rare in any species on Pendor except maybe dragons."
He chuckled and walked back to the bed. "Are dragons the exception to everything?" She nodded. "Well, your color usually only happens in cinema stars."
"I am not a cinema star," she said. "I'm a cop."
He grinned as he crawled into bed. She eagerly touched his chest, his forelegs. Her muzzle sought his out and they licked each others' cheek, kissed, tongues touching. She moaned softly as her passion began to rise. "I can't believe you were going to leave me like this. You promised to fuck me this morning."
"I did, I guess. I'm not sure how to go about it, though. Never had sex with a biped before."
"It's easy," she purred. "First, though, we both have to get a little warmer." She touched his face with her hands, then his neck, then down his front torso. His hands were in her dense fur, stroking and touching. The quality of their furs was very different, she noticed; hers was very dense and fine, his was a little less dense and the individual hairs were very thick and surprisingly long. She enjoyed touching him and loved the feeling of his hands upon her. She thought about what his penis with its curious bend might feel like inside her and felt her own nether lips grow slightly moist at the idea.
She reached down the length of his body, finding his erection solidly exposed. "You want to use this?" she asked.
"How?" he asked.
"Like this," she said, turning over onto all fours, her legs spread wide, her tail out of the way. "Like this."
She turned her head to watch him. She felt a finger touch her wet pussy and gave a soft hum of pleasure. He hadn't touched her directly like that last night and she admitted to herself that she wanted it now. His finger slid into her and the hum grew louder. "Sandahl... "
He silently slid his finger out of her, then eased his body over hers. She reached behind herself with both hands, her head resting on the mattress of the cupped bed, and found his erection seeking its mark. She guided it to her opening and allowed him to slid easily into her.
"Ohhhh!" she moaned as it made its way deep into her. She had to admit that she couldn't tell a difference in the shape of the head of his penis to that of any other species'. Not that it mattered. He was inside her. That was all that mattered
He groaned as well, and she saw him pitch forward to catch his hands on the edge of the bed. His cock was buried deep inside her and she could feel him thrusting, softly. "You are so soft inside," he said gently.
She looked up into his eyes as he bent down to see hers. "You feel so good," she replied, her voice deep and throaty. "Fah, Sandahl, fuck me."
"Yes, officer," he said as his increased the pitch and force of his thrusts. She moaned, grabbing a pillow to muffle the noises she would make as he became more insistent.
But he didn't. He kept up a steady pace, making love to her solidly, slowly. After so long, she wondered where he found the patience and the strength! His cock was a ram inside her, thrusting back and forth, taking care not to go too deep or to fall out. He was so skilled. "I am never letting you go, Sandahl. Oh, Fah, oh Fah!" Her orgasm washed over her without warning.
Sandahl just kept going. She could hear his breathing becoming ragged; he must be wearing out, and yet he was slowing down! "Sandahl?" she asked.
"Just... making... it... last..." His words were cut off by a soft, high-pitched wail as he came, his orgasm lasting a lot longer than she would have thought possible than she would have thought possible for a male.
And then he collapsed. "Oh, Goddess, Kash, thank you. Thank you."
"You're so welcome," she said, lunging forward to let his cock drop out of her as she craned to kiss his cheeks and chin. "You're so welcome."
"Wow," he said.
"Good?" she asked.
"Promise not to run away again? See me again? You are so good!"
He blushed. "I promise to come back," he said.
"Tonight?" she asked, her eyes brightening.
He thought for a few seconds. "Yeah," he agreed. "Tonight."
"Good!" she said, wrestling him down to the bed with her, cuddling him. "Then it's a date."