One of the small, tucked-away niceties of the Nayano Handele is the kitchen. Most rooms have small kitchen facilities, but in every major residential area there's a kitchen for making large meals or throwing major parties and the like. What's really nice about them, when they're not in use, is the convention ovens. The raddiv microwaves and little hotpots we have in our cabins just don't do for baking bread.
I had finally managed to beat, mix, and raise a dense sourdough loaf and carry it into the kitchen for baking when I was put off by someone already using the oven. I sighed. He turned. "Oh, sorry, Vatare'. I just put mine in."
"That'll do," I agreed. "Room for two in there?"
I showed him. "Roundloaf."
"Oh, I think I can find room for that." He took it from my hands unceremoniously and found room in the oven for it. "How long?" he asked, his hand over one of several timers on the countertop.
"Twenty-five minutes." He nodded. "That's about right for me, too. See you then."
A little more than an hour later I had already cut myself a slice, tossed it back into the oven with the broiler on until the top of the bread was dried out, and had coated it in olive oil. My so far unintroduced companion in baking, a big, bald human with the blackest skin I had seen in years, watched me with some concern on his expression. "You shouldn't eat that stuff. It will hurt you, you know. I mean, it'll kill you if you do too much of it. That stuff just ain't good for you." Then he looked slightly abashed. "Sorry. V3L."
I looked at him puzzled. "V3L?" Then I remembered where I'd heard that term before. "You're a robot?"
"Uh, yeah. It's not a big deal. Is it?"
"No, I was just... kinda curious. What kind?"
"Medical Emergency Environments Mark V."
"Really? I know a Mark III named Kami."
"Kami?" he said, stroking his chin with his hand in a slightly exaggerated manner. Thinking about it, I realized that most of his mannerisms were just slightly exaggerated. His face, though, was quite charming, with an animated brow, especially with the way his eyes would open up when he was talking to some point. "Don't think I know her."
"She works at Cutter's."
"Ah! Been to Cutters, but never met her."
"So, what are you doing on this mission?"
"Part of the White's Contingent! You need a White's Contingent on every mission, and we're it."
"Not all human, I assume?"
"Nah, nah. There's two Uncia and a Mephit."
I nodded. "So, I guess that leaves me with two more questions. What are you doing in the kitchen, and why did are you under Voluntary Three Laws? In all the years we've had robots there's never been a case of assault by a non-V3L."
He shrugged, "Ah, I don't know. It just seemed like the right thing for me, you know? It's like, with the V3L installed I'll be extra cautious in the operating room. I'll, like, see things and react to them even if my mind isn't paying attention to them. That scan?"
I nodded. "Makes sense. I guess."
"It really makes sense if you're a robot," he said. "As for what I'm doing in the kitchen, well, I've got lots of friends who like my bread, and we don't have convection ovens in the rooms, so in here I can cook."
I nodded. "So how do you know if it's any good?"
"I've got tastebuds. I don't know if they match yours, but they work well enough for my friends. I'm something of a good cook." He smiled. "Come on, I'll introduce ya." He gestured. I motioned for him to lead on.
We returned to another lounge where four other people were gathered. "Look who I found," my still unnamed friend said as he led me in. I suddenly realized that, since we had brought the bread with us, that I was going to have to dip back into my starter mix pretty soon if I was going to have any for my onboard "family." "I guess I should start with the introduction. Hey, I should start with myself, right? Oz."
"Oz?" I asked.
"Oz the Mighty!" he said with a deep, amplified roar and a laugh. "Sorry, being a robot sometimes I can do that. Anyway, this is Makkir," he said, indicating a Mephit. "She's one of the other robots on board." He introduced me to Saleem, a Vulpin, Jobe, a Ssphynx, and to a Centaur named Bari. She seemed oddly out-of-place with this crew but she and Jobe were definitely making "an item" out of each other. They all were surprisingly casual about my presence at what seemed a small circle of friends.
I still somehow can't believe that we ended up playing Monopoly all night long. Lance interrupted us to inform me that P'nyssa wanted to make sure I was well, and I assured her that I was. When she found out I was being sociable, if with a somewhat odd crowd, she seemed genuinely pleased but reminded me that I had promised to make dinner tomorrow for her and the Lears. Lance also reminded me that there was a fourth hour conference with the Alpha team onboard. I assured him I hadn't forgotten and that he was to call me before the eleventh hour to make sure I was headed to bed on time.
Two hours later I found myself painfully giving away Park Place to pay off some debts I had accumulated landing on Indiana Ave, on which Bari had built a hotel. I cursed softly that I should have seen this coming; Oz had been holding Boardwalk for the entire evening anyway and there seemed to be no way to pry it out of those meaty hands of his. I considered my options with a sigh. "Okay, I think I'm out."
"Looks that way," Oz agreed. I sat back in my chair and tossed what remained of my petty cash into the center pile. "Go on; I'll watch."
I have to admit to being fascinated with Oz. He was strikingly handsome, with brilliant white teeth in that black face of his. He had thick, curly eyebrows but they were barely visible against that dark skin. Whoever had designed him had clearly not intended for him to be just another face in the crowd. Once or twice he caught me admiring him; the second time I think he flashed me a smile. Bari held her own against his now impressive barrier of cash and eventually she got Saleem's money. Oz had long ago knocked out Jobe and Makkir, but with Bari having my totals she clearly ruled the board. Oz finally relented. "You take it, Bari. I think you've got it now."
She smiled graciously as she scooped up the cash. Apparently, one of their agreements was that the winner cleaned up the money and put it away. Both Makkir and Oz had kept their money clean and in separate piles, but Bari had not been so fastidious. Unfortunately for her, most of the mess was of her making and most of the cleanup her responsibility. She took it easily and in a few minutes the game was easily put away. Bari and Jobe then made their goodnights, as did Saleem. This left me with Oz, Makkir and a big yawn on my part. I was surprised at how tired I felt.
"I'm going to go take care of something in the bay, Oz," Makkir said suddenly.
"See you in the morning then," Oz replied with that dazzling grin. "Goodnight, Makkir." Makkir nodded and left the room quietly. The night had long ago slipped into third shift, leaving me and Oz all alone in this small gathering room. "So, Ken, you heading off to bed, too?"
I tilted my head to one side as a Felinzi would. "Are you actually flirting with me, Oz?"
"No, Ken, of course not," he replied with a grin. "Well, maybe a little."
I was puzzled; why would a robot flirt? For that matter, why would this one be flirting with me? The last time I'd gotten involved with a robot it had been for professional reasons; she had been trying to cure me. Then again, I reflected, Brieanna and I had slept together recently, not for a cure but because she liked it when we did. I liked it too. And, I admitted to myself, I had felt myself slipping into an almost celibate state recently, a state I did not enjoy too much. Getting out of that state would require some work on my part, however, and a willing robot was as good a place to start as any. "So, Oz, wha'cha looking for?"
"Oh, I don't know," he said in that rapid-fire speech of his. "Maybe just lookin' to give you a good time. What do you say?"
"I could be willing for that."
"Good," I said, lunging out of my chair to fall into his arms. He had a deep, satisfying laugh that I quickly quelled with a kiss. His tongue felt hot upon my lips and we slathered each other; my hands probed and touched his body, feeling the power hidden underneath his casual clothing.
"I have a room," he suggested.
"Then let's go there," I agreed.
He led the way, taking us into the corridor and down a short hallway. He had a cabin immediately adjacent to sickbay. Inside, it looked like any other room for any other crewmember, and then I realized that's probably exactly what it was; a room for any other crewmember. While there are special considerations taken for 'taurs, fins, and the overly large Han (and some Uncia) most crewfen fit into the average of 1 to 2 meters in height and most of us have standardized cabins. It doesn't matter that every cabin is high enough for a 'taur or Han to stand in comfortably; it's considerations like bathroom design that force us to make such decisions. As it was, however, any bathroom and kitchen and even bedroom could be refit to another species in a matter of an hour or less.
Still, it was something of a surprise to find that this robot had a bathroom and a kitchen. He hadn't been kidding when he'd mentioned that he was a cook; I didn't know what his skill was (that bread had been very good, however) but his kitchen was decked out in all kinds of hardware I had rarely had the need for. I think I saw three different sizes of wok hanging on the wall. Only the lack of a real oven had sent him to the common kitchen.
It was also widely decorated. From all the walls hung reed tapestries with primitive geometrical designs. What looked like an African war mask hung from one wall; others had spears, knives, costumes. "Can I ask you a personal question?"
"You can, but I already know what it is," he said with a smile. "Yes, I was designed with this frame. But since I had it, I started to look into the kind of people who were like this, Black." He gestured with his arms wide. "Since then I've found I have a kind of kinship with them. I can't explain it. I mean, I don't have the kind of hard time the Africans went through either in America or with the Europeans but there are things in the culture that reassure me. Don't ask me to explain it."
I smiled. "I won't."
"Good," he said. "But if you want I can tell you about it someday."
"Someday," I said as I walked into his widespread arms. He closed them around me. For the first time I appreciated that he was slightly shorter than I was; I'm 185cm and I'd say he was around 180. I kissed his mouth again and I felt his body stiffen against me. He felt warm and surprisingly active, and I could feel him quivering slightly as his hands roved up and down the sides of my torso. "Where's your bed?" I murmured.
"Over here," he said, leading me into his small bedroom. It, too, had the decorations, including netting over the bed to keep out non-existent mosquitoes. I took care to remove my boots before crawling in; he joined me in the bed and we took a moment to tear each other out of our clothing. "You're dressed so complicated, Ken," he complained as he fiddled with my belt and the button-fly slacks I wore.
"Velcro's not my style," I said as I ripped his shirt up the length of the closure. The velcro gave way easily and soon I had that wide, muscular chest revealed to my hungry eyes. He smiled as we finished undressing; for the pants I took them off myself; it was easier than having him pull while I tried to pretend that I wasn't helping him along.
Soon we were naked and rolling on the bed together. My hand groped for his cock and found it; it was a short, fat arrangement that promised me a good ride if I wanted it. His hand found my own already solid erection and he started stroking it gently. "Got a handsome one there, Ken."
"I'm glad you think so," I responded. "Yours is feeling fine, too, Oz."
"Good thing. I think my designers got that one right, too."
I squeezed it and watched his face contort with a grimace. "I think they did, too. Is it wired for reward?"
"That's standard nowadays."
"Good!" I said as I pushed back to give myself room and buried my face between his thighs. He gasped, "Oh Fah!" as I surrounded his erection with my mouth. It was short; barely long enough to notify my gag reflex but thick enough to alarm my jaw. I enjoyed demonstrating my skill as I touched along the silky underside of it, pressed my mouth along the smooth head, and plunged downward until his dense, curly pubic hairs were tickling and itching my nose and lips. His body would tense with every deep stroke and I enjoyed the sense of control I had over him.
"Maybe," he gasped after a minute of this, "Maybe my reward system is wired up too well."
"Mmm?" I said, glancing up the length of that magnificent body of his. I backed off his cock, dropping down to his tight scrotum, tonguing and nibbling at it, taking the entire sac into my mouth and rolling his balls around with my tongue. I knew they weren't real in one sense, but they were very real in another and it had stopped mattering to me if he happened to be a robot. He was responding like a man in lust and that was good enough for me.
"Oh, Fah, Ken! Better stop it if you want more from me!" he gasped as I backed off. His cock was a beautiful thing, a magnificent shaft of the darkest brown, crowned with a head of purple. An artist had built this man.
I looked up the length of him and said, "What more could I want from you?"
"Oh, I dunno," he said, his eyes brightening. "You could fuck me. I could fuck you."
"I could fuck you," I agreed with a grin, stroking my hand long his thighs. His balls hung heavy between his thighs but now that he'd mentioned it the idea of fucking him really appealed to me. "On your knees? Please?"
He chuckled and kissed my lips before turning over onto his knees and presenting his butt to me. His buttocks were solid masses of black marble as I ran my hand over them, admiring the quality. His back spread out before me, a broad plain of musculature that awaited my hands just as his ass awaited my cock. I stroked myself a few times to full hardness. "Lube?" I asked.
"Bedstand," he responded, pointing. I grabbed it and slathered some on my cock and some on his ass. My right hand was now slick anyway so I slid a finger up into him. Felt like a normal asshole to me. I tried to slide my cock in but he was tight; as I pushed, he tried to let me in but my cock just bent in the middle and didn't get anywhere. With both hands I pushed it down and inward. Suddenly it popped into him with a sensation so strong I could swear I heard it. He groaned aloud as my cock plunged its way along the length of his asshole. Which was longer than I expected; his sphincter had a grip. My hips met his buttocks and I was all the way in him; I could feel the heat of his hole searing the root of my cock.
"Wow," I gasped, complimenting him.
"Yeah," he growled, a deep and chromatic sigh of pleasure.
I began fucking him slowly, watching my cock slide in and out of his hole. That incredible tightness was a sensation of contrasts; it gripped mostly at the root of my cock rather than at the head; I could feel pleasure coursing through my groin, but not a familiar pleasure. "Harder," he growled.
I complied, giving him what he wanted. A low-pitched growl arose from him, an animal sound I knew all too well. I fucked him harder, pushing myself up off my knees to press my cock against his prostate. "Yeah," he moaned. "Yeah!"
I scratched at his back, watching as my nails left trails of brown in the surface of his black skin. He moaned as I fucked him harder, his body a quivering bulk of pleasure as my own climax approached. I slowed down to appreciate the sensation, letting the head of my cock appreciate some of that grip. That was too much for me and I exploded inside him, pumping come into his guts.
"Yeah," I sighed, leaning over and kissing his shoulders. He collapsed to the bed and I fell out of his hole, collapsing on top of him.
"Yeah," he agreed. It seemed to be the word of the day. "I'm glad this design came with that feature."
"Anal orgasms," he chuckled.
"Lucky you. I only get those once in a great while."
"Can I do it for you?" he asked.
"Later," I agreed. "Right now I could use a glass of water and bedtime."
"You're welcome to spend the night," he said with that dazzlingly white smile.
"Lance, tell Nyss I'll be elsewhere tonight," I said as Oz got out of bed. A minute later he returned with a tall glass of water which I gulped down gratefully.
Oz climbed into bed next to me, then sat there looking at me curiously. "What?" I asked him.
"I like you," he said.
"I like you too," I said. "But what do you mean?"
"Well," he said, his expressive face lighting up, "You're not like other guys I've slept with. Usually someone expects something different out of me. They hear the word 'robot' and they they expect something, you know? It's not like I transform or anything. Maybe that's what they think. That I can make it bigger, or go longer, or something. You're the first guy I've gotten to fuck me in a long time."
I chuckled. "You don't look any different on the outside."
He laughed. It was a musical sound. "I don't feel no different, either. I don't think I do. Oh, I don't know. But you were right about one thing. It is time for bed."
I yawned. "Yep." I realized I was still sticky between the thighs. I cuddled up close to him. "'Night."
An alarm woke me in the middle of the night. It was inside my head, a personal alarm from Lance. I was awake in a heartbeat. "Huh, wha?" I said, glancing around. My thrashing woke Oz.
"Sorry to disturb you, Ken, but a letter came for you marked Personal Emergency. Would you like to see it now?"
"Huh? Yes. Right here."
A screen resolved before my eyes. A letter appeared; I recognized the handwriting as Aaden's.
Find someone to be withe before you read this. P'nyssa should already have a copy of this and the two of you will need each other very soon. I don't know of any way to make this hit any softer or with any less pain, so just know that we all love you here on Pendor and we'll do everything we can to make this time easy for you.
Paul and Carroll are dead.
They took their lives last night in a quiet, private ceremony. Only Dave knew what was planned and he invoked privacy just as anyone else would, but he's as hurt as we are to have to tell you this. He reported the bodies to us this morning. They left a single note, which read, "Tell Ken and Danielle we love them but a thousand years have gone by. It is time for us to move on. Bless every one of you who have stood with us through the years." He may have sent you something more but Dave tells me it's unlikely.
You're going to be home in just under two weeks; we're going to have a remembering ceremony then. Almost everything's being held until you get back. Please, don't cry too much.
Love and worry,
I read the note and tears welled into my eyes. I looked over at Oz who tried to smile. I watched it fade as he realized from my expression that all was not good. "What..."
I closed my eyes and asked much of him as I fell into his arms. I started crying like I hadn't cried in nearly nine hundred years. And some part of me hasn't stopped hurting since.