The Journal Entries

Erwer, Narquel -7, 00916

Asking Samuel

"I'm not sure if I like these facilities better than those of a major docking facility," Tasha growled softly as she pulled the ship up against one of the cargo-handling stations of Terra. "At least there I know I've got control of the ship, and the small-ship facilities are a hundred meters away."

"It's tradition," David said, smiling.

"Tradition, Hell," Tasha said. "It just gives me anxiety and raises the dockage prices."

"I know," David said. He took off his headphones and tossed them up onto the co-pilot's station. "Come on, let's go see what we can move. We've got a hold full of mail and history. Let's get it to the right people."

Tasha followed him down to the main loading ramp, a huge circular arrangement that opened up onto the main loading deck of the station. David looked out into the deck, thinking that anywhere in the galaxy, a warehouse was a warehouse. The other three docking rings of this station were currently empty, a fact which surprised David very little; Terra was rapidly on its way to being little more than an interstellar curiosity. "Home," some people called it.

"Sometimes, children grow up and leave home."

"Excuse me, David?" Tasha asked.

"Nothing, Tasha. Come on, let's find the stationmaster."

It didn't take long; the stationmaster was also out to find them, and a few minutes later he strolled across the deck. David thought the long, flowing full-circle red robe with gold trimming to be appropriately ostentatious. Tasha leaned over and growled, "He looks like a priest."

"Gatekeeper to the realm," David agreed, speaking out of one side of his muzzle.

"Ah, Captain Elohim. How are you? I'm Marcus Aurelium, your stationmaster. I understand you have some... national treasures to return?"

"Yes," David said, feeling the smell of money exude from Aurelium. "We have some exhibits from the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. to return. They've been on exhibit at the Xenohistorical Museum of Pendor." He reached into his pocket and turned over a small memory chip. "That has all the details."

"Excellent," Aurelium chimed. "Your payment will be eight hundred and twenty two thousand u-dollars."

"In barter."

"Excuse me?" Aurelium asked, surprised.

"In parts barter," David replied, calmly. "I expect eight hundred thousand of that in commodity items. I'm on my way to Wisdom, and I want an appropriate cargo to carry with me. U-dollars are not accepted outside of TCS."

Aurelium swallowed. "I'll see what I can do."

"Do that," David smiled, enjoying his role as a heathen. "Or else I have permission from both museums to withhold the exhibit until such time as sufficient payment is made."

"I understand."

"I bet you do," David replied. "Now then, when I can secure groundside passage for my crew?"

"There's a passenger shuttlecraft every other day," Aurelium said, nervously glancing at a display he carried. "It should arrive in about fourteen hours."

"Good. Tasha, please help me secure the ship."

"My pleasure." Katckin and Neorat turned and reentered The Rat's Asking.

As the passenger loading door closed behind them, David barked out a short laugh. "I can't stand these humans they have nowadays."

"What does that mean?" Patricia, a human on his crew, asked as she walked up the gangway.

"The groundsiders. Even the ones who make it to orbit but no further. There's something so... simple about them. You pull on their strings and they dance for you," David said, miming the action with his hands. "That one," he said, hooking a thumb over his shoulder, "Acted as if he held the keys to heaven and we were trying to take them away from him."

"I wonder if it wasn't that he was faced with a very independent pair of 'morphs," Tasha said. "I mean, this ship is yours, David. The registry mentions no bank, no patron, nothing. It has your name and nothing else. You don't even pay taxes on it. It has no AI, which sometimes screams 'pirate,' but everybody knows your record is completely spotless. And me, well, I'm just registered as your killer tough kitty navigator."

David stared at Tasha, then Patricia, who stifled a giggle behind her hand. "You two..." he said, shaking his head. "We have a ship to get cleaned up. Let's go."

"Chico, man, you got a tuxedo to be my best man?"

"What the Hell do I need a tuxedo for on a starship?" the short Asian human asked as he unbuckled his seat harness. "I'll rent one someday. I'm a doctor, not a soap-opera star."

David grinned as he pulled the keys from the rented airvan. "There it is."

"Where do your parents live?" Denni asked, staring across the wide grass at the enormous building before them.

"There!" David said. "All of it belongs to them."

"That's all of it?" Denni asked. "That's Elohim Manor?"

David nodded. "It was one of the hardest things I ever did, getting away from them. I raised every last udollar to buy the Asking by myself. I had to fight with them every step of the way to make sure that they would let me take the Merchanter classes, and when I told them I was going into debt to buy her, Mom said they'd buy it for me. I still have that money in a bank somewhere in Switzerland."

"You didn't return it?" Denni asked. "I'm surprised."

"I'm not stupid. I have pride, and I've known success. But I may need that money someday."

Denni nodded. David sighed and opened his door, clambering out onto the graveled driveway. "Fall out, crew. We're home."

"My God," Marder said, looking around. "The last time I saw a place like this, it was in a porn vid!"

"Why does that figure?" Patricia asked. David debated breaking up the needle match between the two humans, but decided that so far it hadn't hurt anything. The more he thought about it, though, the more he thought Marder just didn't need to be a part of his crew.

Chico clapped him on the shoulder. "So, you're rich, man."

"Rich is relative," David said. "I'm rich with the ship and you guys. My parents measure rich relative to humanity. They're doing better than most, so they think they're rich."

"It's pretty, anyway," Chico said, shrugging. "I dunno, man, I don't think I'm going to be a spacer forever." He gestured, encompassing the building before them. "Someday, man, to retire to place like this. To have roboservers named Jeeves bringing me two P.M. tea and biscuits. To put my feet up and have beautiful Negro women feed me grapes and roll around in bed with." He laughed. "In my wildest dreams."

"Might happen," David said. "You just really have to want it."

A small robobutler floated out to where they stood. Chico, who had been watching the house closely, noticed it first, and tapped David on the shoulder. "Excuse me, sirs," it said in clipped, properly British tones, "You will have to remove yourselves and your vehicle from the premises."

David walked up to the butler. "I am David Elohim. Please inform Master Samuel that his son is here to see him."

Despite lacking a face with which to show expression, the robot seemed to pause momentarily. "Master Samuel has been informed. I assume the rest of the party is yours?"


"Please, follow me. Rooms are being prepared. How many will you require?"

David counted. "Six."

"Very good, sir." The robot led them into the house, where the butler said, "Please remain here. Someone will see to you shortly."

David glanced around at the cold, white marble flooring and wall paneling that made up most of the anteroom. The floor was covered in a white fur rug, which David remembered was vat-grown mink's skin. The light was fluorescent, which lent a harsh tinge to the already chilled atmosphere. A recessed statuary against the wall to his left was walled with mirrors which only served to reflect the harsh whiteness.

"Daaaavid!" A feminine voice echoed off the ceiling, and David snapped his head up to see his mother walking down the stairs, a long cigarette in her hand. She walked down the stairs slowly, as if analyzing the visual effect of each and every step she took. When she reached the landing, she walked across the mink rug just as slowly. "You've come home." ,

"Only for a little bit, Ma," he said, bashfully. "I, um, I don't think you've ever met my crew."

"Why, no," she said. "Who are these people?"

David pointed. "This is Patricia, my second of engineering and chief accountant. Tasha, my chief pilot and navigator. Marder, engineering. Chico, ship's records, medical and science officer, and the best cook I've ever had. And this is Dennielle, who's my engineering chief." He took a deep breath and said, "And I've asked her to be my wife."

The femNeorat turned to look at Dennielle closely. "David, you're joking."

"No, Mother. Dennielle and I intend to get married the old fashioned way. We want your permission, and I want to ask you for permission to do it on the house grounds."

"She's a... a..."

"Mephit is the appropriate term, Miss Elohim," Denni offered.

"Carioch," the femNeorat said coldly.

"Excuse me?"

"We Rats do not carry our patriarchal names only. My name is Jessica Carioch."

"Oh," Denni said, taken aback. "I'm... I'm sorry."

"We'll have to take this up with Samuel, surely," Jessica said. "He will have a few words on the matter."

"That depends on what the words are going to be," a new voice introduced itself. "How are you, son?"

"Father!" David said, crossing the room and giving a large, strong-looking Neorat a warm and familiar hug. "I'm doing well, thank you for asking." He paused, making the introductions all the way around, until he reached Dennielle. He took a deep breath and introduced her the same way.

"Samuel," David's mother said, "Surely you're not going to give this your blessing."

"Shut your mouth, Jessica," the melRat said calmly. "You should know by now we never talk David out of anything, so we may as well give him our blessing and let him be on his way."

"And, what about having the wedding here?" she asked, critically.

"Oh, sure, sure," Samuel smiled. "We haven't had a good party on the Elohim grounds in, oh, four or five years, I think." He walked over and stood in front of Denni. "So tell me, young lady, aside from being just one more Pendorian, do you have any pedigree worth speaking of?"

"Dad," David said calmly. "If we have the wedding here..."

"Shut up, son. I asked the lady. If you're going to marry her, she'd damn well be able to speak for herself."

Denni took a deep breath. "My father is Aaden Satpulov Shardik, a Tleil. My mother was Rowan Masters Shardik, also a Tleil."

"Entirely second generation, eh?" The NeoRat examined her closely. "Like my son here. How old are you, to be a second generation Mephit?"

"Eighty-four years old."

"That all?" Samuel asked, surprised. "Didn't know Tleils were still having babies like that. Are they real Tleils?"

"Excuse me?"

"You know, the first one hundred. Sometimes, you'll catch one of the hrair calling themselves Tleil instead."

"Yes sir. Both are legitimate Tleils."

"Good, good. Now, did I hear you calling yourself a Shardik?"

"Yes, sir. Aaden Shardik is my father."

Samuel smiled and turned to his wife. "There you go, Jessica. If we hold the wedding here, you have a good chance of getting Ken Shardik to come to the wedding, and that'd be one damn fine coup in your cap, right?"

"Dad, you're mixing metaphors again. It's either a coup d'etat, or a feather in your cap."

"Shut up, son." Samuel looked over the assembled guests. "Well, Jeeves here will show y'all to your rooms. David, I assume at this point you're sleeping with the young lady already, so unless someone from your crew isn't here, I don't see why you asked for six rooms."

"Because, Dad, the groom shouldn't see his bride the day before the wedding."

"Wedding's not for two weeks, son. We need time to prepare. Consider it downtime. I'll see that your ship is tended too."


"Not another word, David. Damn your Elohim pride, son, and let your old man at least give you a vacation."

David swallowed. "Sure thing, Dad."

"Besides, I'll just take the money out of 2687."

"Dad!" David said, shocked. "How dare you access my Swiss bank account."

"Son, it's my money anyway." Samuel smiled a secret smile. "I'm only joking with you son. You wouldn't let me buy you The Asking, and I've never told you this, but I'm damn proud of what you managed without me. And I won't touch your nest capsule."

"I appreciate it, Dad. Thanks."

"It's what children are for, David. Jeeves! Show these guests to their rooms. They will be here for fifteen days. And see to it that they are well tended to."

"Of course, sir."

"Your mother doesn't like me," Denni said for the fifth time that day.

"Mom doesn't like anybody," David replied. "She exists to impress people, to prove to them that even though she's a Rat, she's as important as they are. She measures success strictly by social status."

"Madame will look lovely," the shopkeeper standing to Denni's left said as he adjusted the bow at the front of her dress.

"I don't know," David said. "I don't think that's really quite your style. Go with something silly."

"Perhaps a faux hoop skirt would do the trick?" the shopkeeper asked, holding out something from one of the racks. "I am afraid that fashions for Skunks are not something we are readily equipped to deal with."

"How about that?" Denni asked, pointing to a solid silk arrangement.

"Oh, Madame, I am sure you would be beautiful in that."

"Let me see what I would look like with it on." The image surrounding her shifted, and instantly she was wearing the dress she had pointed out. She reached up and 'adjusted' the veil until it was over her eyes. "I don't think these were made with muzzles in mind."

"We can shorten it until it just covers the eyes," the shopkeeper added. "Muzzles, at least, we are familiar with. It is your build and coloration we find unique. Viola'!"

Denni looked at herself in the mirror. Although the head covering did tend to detract from the overall view, when she pushed the veil back she had to admit that the dress did indeed make her look very pretty. "I think we'll take this one."

"Very well, Madame."

"Now this is decompression," Tasha murred as she hoisted the mug to her face. "I dunno how you do it, David. That house is so big and lonely. After a week in there, I'm already goin' stir crazy."

"But a beerfest in Germany?" David asked.

"It was only a short hop away. The airvan made it without even a refuel," she pointed out. David noticed that her speech was slurring after only one glass. He glanced around.

Tasha had managed to find one of the rawest, crudest taverns in all of Berlin. He didn't recall its even having a name; it was just a basement hole in the wall sequestered off from other holes in the wall by basic cement. The clientele looked none-too-pleasant either, a side effect of Berlin's old spaceport. The tables they had been seated at were tiny; He, Denni and Tasha had taken one, and Patricia, Marder, and Chico another right next to them.

Of all of them, Patricia looked the most nervous. David leaned back and whispered, "What's into you?"

"Have you seen those five thugs over in the corner? It's like an infantry squad. They're waiting for something."

"Patricia, you're being paranoid," he said softly.

"No, I'm not!" she hissed back. "It's not paranoia if something's really about to blow up!"

"Just calm down, okay?"

"Look," she said. "I'm just your accountant. This is why I don't go barhopping with you guys usually."

David nodded, patted her on the shoulder, and turned his attention back to Denni, who seemed to be reading something with a great deal of interest. So far, they had not been disturbed by other patrons.

"Oh, my God," he heard Patricia murmur behind him, and then he felt a tap on his shoulder. "See?" she said. "I told you."

Another crowd of six men walked into the bar and began to approach the five Patricia had pointed out earlier. David had to agree with Patricia on this count; the testosterone was so thick he could smell it from where he sat. Other patrons left hurriedly, anticipating trouble. From each group, one man, each apparently the leader of his 'gang,' separated and approached the other. David watched intently as the two men sat at one of the tiny tables and merely glared at each other, balefully.

"You guys can sit and watch," Patricia said. "I'm going to go where it's safe." She slid her chair back and slipped under the table, disappearing behind the dangling tablecloth.

"Where's she going?" Tasha asked.

"She's convinced that if a fight breaks out, under the table is safer than up here." David continued to watch the two men intently, then out of the corner of his eye motion attracted his attention. Marder, who had always had something of a running battle of wits with Patricia, slipped his hands down under the tablecloth and just sat there, grinning evilly. David laughed, and a chuckle ran around the table.

He wasn't sure what happened underneath Patricia's table, but suddenly he heard a THUMP! against it, and then Marder reached up, grabbed a napkin, and slid it under the table again. "This is too good to pass up," Tasha said. She pulled a pen from her pocket and scribbled something onto a napkin. "David, hand this to Marder."

David glanced at the note, which read "She doesn't swallow, does she?" He fought hard not to laugh as he handed it to Marder. Marder did laugh out loud, and then held it up for Chico to see. His timing couldn't have been more perfect; Chico had just raised a glass to his lips, and just as he read the note he laughed hard enough to spray beer all over the table. "Chico!" Denni complained. "Do you mind?"

"Sorry," he said, still giggling as he wiped his mouth. David glanced over at the two parties. but apparently in the commotion over Patricia whatever had been the problem had been resolved. Both parties got up and walked out. Whether to fight it out or towards peace, David didn't know and he figured he never would. "Patricia," he said. "It's over. You can come out now."

Patricia climbed out from under the table slowly, looking over in the direction where the two gangs had been, and finding them missing, stood up. "Okay, what was all that laughing about?" she demanded, irritated.

Marder glanced up at her and said "We were just discussing an aspect of your personal development that you hadn't achieved yet." Chico and Tasha collapsed, laughing.

Patricia walked around to stand in front of Marder. "What? What aspect?"

Completely deadpan, and timed just as Chico had again lifted a stein to his face, Marder said "You don't swallow, do you?" Chico again sprayed beer all over the table, and Patricia's face grew hot and red. "Swallow?" she demanded. "I don't swallow WHAT?"

Marder merely shrugged, smiling. "Marder, I don't swallow wha..." She suddenly realized what he had been talking about, and what she had been shouting about in a tavern full of people. "Marder, you are dead," she hissed, then tears welled in her eyes, and she ran for the bathroom.

"I'd better go see to her," Tasha said. "That got a little out of hand."

David nodded, and sighed. The situation between Marder and Patricia had always been sticky, and he worried that someday it was going to explode. Of the two of them, Patricia was the most competent at her job, but Marder was the more stable of the two, and he was split with the decision of asking which of them to not renew their contract.

After a few minutes, Patricia returned back to the table and sat down. It was obvious she had been crying. Marder managed to surprise both her and David, however, by reaching across the table and putting his hand over hers. "Pat, I'm sorry. That was really uncalled for."

She smiled a little. "I... That's okay. I guess I was acting a little paranoid. I'm sorry for being silly."

"Not silly," Denni said. "You did what you felt you had to do. It's okay, really."

"Besides, Pat," Tasha said. "I'm the one who originally wrote the note."

"You?" Patricia said. "Oh, you just wait."

"Hey," David said. "You know the rules about practical jokes on my ship. That extends to my home, too. You all got that?"

They all nodded. "Good," he continued. "The needle matches and the dozens are okay. Tonight the word battle got a little out of hand, but I want you all to be professionals as well as friends. Marder, that's the first time I've ever heard you apologize for anything you've ever said, and I'm impressed. Now, I'm supposed to get married in a week. Let's behave ourselves until then." He sat back in his chair and didn't wait for response.

Denni leaned over and whispered, "Headache?"

David nodded. "Little one."

"Want to head back home?"

He nodded again, and then he and Denni stood up. "Look, folks, we're heading back to EM. Anyone coming with us?"

They all stood up. David smiled; a two-hour drive just to sit in a bar for two hours, then another two-hour drive back home. It was something that could only appeal to spacers.

The day of the wedding hadn't come too soon for David. His headaches were rapidly getting worse to the point where Chico was giving him painkillers regularly and Denni had forced him into the bathtub last night for over two hours while she sat behind him and rubbed his back. His mother was simultaneously ecstatic and annoying. The party was already enormous; six hundred people were expected to attend. Nicolette Turbane, the eldest Neorat still alive, was expected to attend, as well as her mate Francis Foco. Debra Mondino, current head of the United Nations of Terra, had RSVP'd as well. And although few people were aware of it, Kennet Shardik would be bringing a large party as well.

People began to filter in through the front doors; they were led down an aisle to the back of the house, where the wedding was to be held at noon, sharp. It was already eleven o'clock, and the crowd had swelled appreciably. The Rabbi, a short balding man, looked uncomfortable as he was introduced to both the bride and groom. Despite philosophical disagreements with the arrangement, he saw no reason not to welcome Denni into a union with a member of his faith, and finally agreed to perform the ritual.

A shadow passed over the crowd, and everybody looked up, surprised to watch as a small, disc-shaped spaceship came to a halt overhead. It slowly descended, disappearing behind the bulk of the Manor. A stir arose in the crowd still entering the building, and then everybody stood as the doorman loudly announced, "Kennet, Aaden, and P'nyssa Shardik. Paul, Carroll, and Conrad Lewis. Ress, Maha, and Bawr Mahn. Nance Narrone. David Majors." The names went on for a while, and David became dizzy thinking about who from Pendor was standing in the building.

Two of the people on the list of twenty who walked through the door caught David's eye. Dressed in immaculate black tuxedos, they were not of any species; they appeared to be robots. One was of a silvery color and a distinctly masculine shape, the other of reflective obsidian and a much more feminine description, and they moved with the surprising grace and ease.

His curiosity got the better of him, and he remembered hearing David Majors on the list of names read aloud. He walked over to the "male" one. "David?"

"David?" he replied, smiling back at him. "You seem well from the last time I saw you."

"I, uhm, how are you here?"

"The ship back there has a long-range FTL receiver back to Pendor, where my mental housing is. Up here," he tapped his skull, "is the short-range radio by which I'm run."

David nodded. "I'm glad you made it."

"As am I," the AI replied calmly. "I am distinctly uncomfortable in this role, because time is compressed for me; back on Pendor I'm receiving only a fraction of the data I could be using interactively, and will have to process all of my impressions later. But I would not have missed Dennielle's wedding for any reason."

David nodded. "Excuse me," he said. "I have other guests to greet."

"Of course," the AI replied. David walked away from the two robots, feeling dizzy. He was not at all surprised to see the Pendorians swamped with would-be conversants. He retreated into the kitchen, where the caterers were busily preparing the reception dinner. Through the rear doors, he made his way upstairs to his father's office. He rapped on the door.

"Come in, son," the voice inside said.

"You haven't come down to see the guests, Dad," David said as he eased the door opened and walked in. The office was another one of those rooms that showed ostentatious aging; lined with oak bookshelves, a model globe of the Earth in one corner, and a large oak desk behind which his father sat. The desk was set facing the side wall, so that his father didn't seem to be sitting 'behind' it when people entered the room. He felt it made him seem more accessible.

Samuel turned around. "I take it all that noise was the Pendorian contingent arriving?"

David nodded. "David Majors even came with them. The Lewises and the Mahns are here too." He walked over to the window and glanced down at the front lawn, now scattered with airbuses and the Pendorian contingent's starship. He noted the Huffman aiming laser and its surrounding receptor dish at the top of the ship pointed straight up.

"Nervous, are you?" Samuel asked.

"Dad, why do you and Mom stay together when you're so different?"

Samuel looked a little surprised by the question, then said, "Because believe it or not she's not the woman you see down there. When we're alone, when she's not fired by her hatred of humanity, she's a very sweet and wonderful woman." David glanced down at his father, surprised. "Oh, yes, she hates all of humanity with a passion you wouldn't believe. That little secret your lovely fiancee' told you is what fires her hatred, and one of the reasons we never told you about Alpha Team's influence in our genesis. I think Jessica would be happier if you married a Rat, David, but at least Denni isn't human.

"People show their hatreds in different ways, David. Your mother's favorite method is contempt. When the Lord and Lady Elohim bequeathed us this house, your mother hated them because she thought she would never get it. When they killed themselves five years later, she hated them because they were too cowardly to continue living." Samuel looked around. "Love is what keeps me and your mother together, David, but hatred is what keeps her alive." He glanced at a monitor that jutted out from the surface of his desk. "She must be going crazy with conflicting desires now that Shardik is here."

David nodded. "Do you think I'm making the right decision?"

Samuel smiled. "Yes."

"That's it? No advice, no words of wisdom?"

"I have never been able to tell you how to live your life, son. You've never listened anyway. You're making the right decision for you, kid, and that's all I need to tell you."

"Thanks." He paused for a second.

"Still want to be a spacer?"

"Yes, Dad," David smiled, his eyes alight. "That is never going to change."

"I guess the house goes to Olivia then."

"Someday," David smiled, then looked out the window. "Speaking of which..."

"She's arrived?" Samuel asked, rising from his desk. "So she has, so she has. Come, let's go greet our blood, flesh and genes."

David nervously looked up into Dennielle's face. While a tiny corner of his brain screamed "Why are you doing this?" in painful falsetto, the rest of him kept right on with his initial plans. He swallowed hard and said, "I do."

The Rabbi smiled. "On this day, October twelfth in the year two thousand eight hundred, I pronounce you man and wife. You may now kiss the bride."

"So what's it like being married?" Shardik asked.

David smiled, then lowered his voice to a just-between-us voice. "It's a little like buying your first starship. I'm suddenly aware that I now have two very difficult creatures I call 'her' to take care of."

Shardik laughed. "I suppose that's one way of looking at it. You will take care of her, David." He clapped David on the shoulder. "I believe in you. By the way, if I ever have need of an experienced interstellar captain, can I call on you?"

David smiled. "Sure," he said. "I don't see why not."

"Thanks," Shardik said, smiling in a peculiar fashion. David suddenly wondered if he'd written that legendary voucher he was going to regret later.

Tiredly, David and Dennielle climbed the stairs to their bedroom together. Still dressed in the formalwear they had suffered the day through, they stumbled into the room together, laughing as they bumped shoulders against one another in the doorway. David finally closed the door behind them, resting his head against the doorframe as it shut with a satisfying click. He turned slowly and saw Denni fumbling with her clothing. "Want help?"

"Would you?" she asked. He roused himself from his lean and reached up. "You'll have to sit down on the bed," he said. "I can't reach the top of your dress from here." He smiled, thinking that maybe he should have married someone a little shorter, or maybe he should be a little taller himself. She sat down and he crawled onto the bed to get behind her. He began by finding the ridiculously tiny clasps that held her top closed and undoing each of them. There were nearly two dozen of them, and by the time he was done he began to appreciate the purpose of the wedding dress. Not only was he frustrated, he was also excited. He laughed aloud when he realized his hands were shaking. "David?"

"Huh?" he asked, looking up nervously.

"Why are you laughing?"

"My hands are shaking. I can't wait to get you out of this dress. I mean, I have... I can't believe I'm your husband now. It feels so weird." He reached around her waist and pulled the bow loose. It fell about her, and he tossed it on the floor. She reached forward with her arms and pulled the top of the dress off; underneath she wore a corset, complete with whalebone supports. David saw more of the tiny clasps he had already opened and sighed. He started on those as well.

As he opened up the last clasp, it nearly sprang away from him and fell to the floor. He smiled and reached around, running his small hands along the undersides of her soft, large breasts. She sighed. "Oh, that feels good."

"I can't believe we've held off for two weeks," David said.

"I can," Denni sighed. "It's been worth it."

David felt her body shiver as his hands caressed her nipples, which hardened under his touch. Her hands reached down and back, caressing his knees and thighs through the material of his tuxedo. David reached down and found the zipper that bound her skirt, sliding it down beneath her hips. "Okay," David said, "Stand up."

Denni stood up and, with her back still to David, slipped the dress down over her hips and tail, dropping it to the floor. David's heart jumped as for the first time in two weeks he saw Denni unclothed. "God, I missed this sight," he said.

She turned around and giggled. "That's what the dress is for," she said. "It makes it feel like you're unwrapping a present."

"Well, it works!" he said. She giggled and leaned over, her full breasts dangling in front of his eyes. "Now, let me undo you."

"Do I have to keep my hands to myself?"

"Just don't get in the way," she laughed. He nodded as she pulled loose the bowtie around his neck, slipping it off and tossing it on the floor with her wedding dress. Her hands worked down the studs of his shirt, tossing each one of them onto the dress as well. She slowly pushed his shirt open, caressing the soft fur that lay underneath. "David, have I ever told you you're beautiful?"

"Not quite that way, my love. But I'll take it as a compliment."

She laughed and attacked his cummerbund, then his pants. As she pulled down on the zipper, she giggled. "What's this?" she asked, caressing the hard lump she felt through his pants.

"It's a gift," David replied, smiling. Surreptitiously, he kicked off his shoes; they hurt. "Why don't you finish unwrapping it and find out?"

She nodded. "Your turn to stand." David got up off the bed, and his pants fell to the floor; he stepped out of them. She reached down and tugged on his underwear, and it slipped down just as easily until it dangled on the tip of his tail. He shook it off. "Well," she said, stroking him between his now-naked legs, "That certainly is quite a gift."

He gasped as her hand encircled his sex. "I bet." He retreated from her, climbing back onto the bed. "Come here, my wife."

"Gladly, my husband." She smiled, then crawled across the bed to join David, lying down next to him and cuddling close. Her hands stroked his body tiredly.

David found his excitement rising as she touched him. He had missed her so much the past two weeks; at least on board the Asking they had been cuddling close to one another, even if they had put off lovemaking since Pendor. David reflected with surprise and realized that during the entire past two weeks he hadn't even masturbated once.

Denni snuggled closer, her head on his chest. His free arm reached around and scratched the fur along her back. He found all of the simple things about her, like her fur and her breathing, so alluring by themselves. She giggled. "I should do something about that."

"About what?" David asked.

"About that," she said again, raising her head and squirming down the bed until her muzzle touched the tip of his sex. He moaned, his excitement erasing all the sensations of exhaustion that had gone with the ceremony all day long.

A soft roar overhead told him that the Pendorian contingent had just left. It registered dimly in his spacer's brain as Denni took all of his shaft into her Mephit muzzle. "Oh, Denni," he gasped.

She didn't say a word, but suckled softly on his sex, her warm mouth surrounding him. He stroked her fur idly as she caressed him with her tongue; when she took his entire shaft into her mouth, down to the hilt, he moaned aloud; so many different sensation, so many different things to feel; the tightness of her throat, the softness of her tongue, the warmth of her body. And love, for he did love her more than he could have possibly imagined before meeting her.

She moaned herself as she caressed his sex with her tongue, and David looked down to watch her head bob back and forth slowly. He felt close to orgasm already, but she managed to keep it at bay by building slowly, backing off when it got to be too much. David could feel his testicles tightening against his body, and he knew that unless she stopped completely he was going to climax soon. He said so.

She ignored him, her mouth suckling his sex, dragging out in tight, almost painful suction as she pulled back until just the head was in her mouth, then dove downwards, taking it all again. Her hand cupped his testicles, and David squirmed against the bed as his climax drew closer. His thoughts were incoherent, and his hands trembled as his climax became closer and closer. The tension in his thighs and calves grew. "So close," he whispered. "So close."

Her mouth suckled him harder, her head bobbing faster. She wanted him to come in her mouth, and he wanted to oblige her. His body shook, and then became still; even his breathing stopped, and he knew he was right there on the edge.

"Ohhh..." He gasped aloud, moaning uncontrollably as he came, shooting his seed into her mouth. He could feel her throat working against the head of his cock, swallowing as thick jets of semen, two weeks' worth, shot out of him. She managed to get it all. "Oh, God, Denni..."

She finally looked up and smiled. "Yes, David?"

"That was incredible."

She slid back up to where she had lain a few minutes earlier. "I'm glad you liked it."

"Liked it?" he said, sitting up. "LIKED IT?" He growled softly. "I'll show you how much I 'liked' it." He slid down the bed until he lay between her legs. "I should always return a favor, right?"

"A good spacer remembers his debts," she giggled.

"Damn right," David said. He leaned down and licked at the soft fur that covered her pudenda. "At least, he should try and return in kind." She slid her legs further apart, and he looked down. The sight of her cunny had fascinated him, and it still did; the pink flesh just seemed to open up for him as his small rattongue licked her labia. She moaned as he found the hood of her clitoris, licking rapidly. He reminded himself to slow down; he did have a tendency to be overeager. His mouth probed her vulva, licking the silky fur of her outer labia, then sliding in to the equally silky skin of her inner lips as well, before sliding down to the musky depths of her cunt, tasting the juices that seemed to spill out of her. Then he slid back up to her clitoris, which was budding just a little beneath its hood. She was sensitive there, and he avoided her clitoris directly, concentrating instead on her hood and the skin surrounding it. She squirmed and moaned at his tongue's wet touch.

"Oh, David," she moaned. "You're so good at that."

David didn't know if that was true; sex, especially oral sex, was something he had never thought of himself as skilled at. If she believed so, though, he wasn't about to contradict her. His tongue flicked slowly against her lips, and the smell that filled his nostrils made him dizzy with lust. He felt his erection return, and his desire to get inside her struck him full force, but he wanted to see her climax first, he wanted to watch her moan the way she had made him moan. Her body tensed, like his had, as he applied a soft touch directly to her clitoris, and she gasped aloud as she came, moaning loudly. "Daaaavid..."

He smiled up at her, then without saying a word slid up between her legs and slid his erect sex into her. Her eyes opened suddenly, and he smiled down at her. She nodded wildly. "Yes, yes!"

"I love you," he said.

She looked up at him. "I love you, too." He began to stroke his cock back and forth within her, and lowered his muzzle until it met hers. She tilted her head to the left; he did the same, and their mouths locked together, not entirely perfectly, as their tongues wrestled.

His hips stroked against her thighs of their own violition; David concentrated on the kiss, which he suddenly wanted to last their whole lives long. She didn't try to break away, sensing his desire. Supporting himself on his arms, their bellies touching, his cock stroking in and out of her femhood, the urgency of their lovemaking rising between them.

A small peal escaped from Denni, her body shaking underneath him. David was surprised; he hadn't expected her to come so quickly. Her tongue paused for just a second, and then the kiss went on. David never lost a beat as his cock slid between her warm labia and into her even warmer body. He could feel her cunny grasping him, could feel her trying to tighten up against his invading sex and hold him within her.

Denni came again, her body bucking up against his. He slowed down a little and more sensation came to him. Their kissing never stopped, and suddenly he felt his second climax rising. He concentrated on it, and on her tongue, and suddenly he echoed that small whimper of ecstasy as he came inside her, feeling his cock pulse again, this time against the soft walls of her beautiful cunny.

Slowly, the kiss ended as he pulled up and away from her. He smiled at his wife. "I love you," she whispered, then reached up and pulled him down against her. "Wulp!" he exclaimed as he fell down beside her. "I love you too."

"We're heading back to the stars tomorrow, right?" she asked.

"That what it says in my schedule book," he replied. "Yes, we're going back to the stars tomorrow."

She sighed. "I hope we've made the right decision."

"I think we have. Are you tired?"

"After all that? You must be kidding. I'm dead, David."

"Me, too. Let's get some sleep."

The next morning, Jessica insisted on serving them breakfast. The robobutlers brought out an extensive meal for the six of them, and David thanked his mother profusely for her kindness during the past two weeks. They started to make their exit when a voice from the top of the stairs said "Wait one moment."

David turned around to see his father descending the stairs. "Dad?"

"Just wanted to give you something, David. Don't give me that look; I know you don't want favors or anything like that. But I don't want you to go away without something of a wedding present from your parents, David, Denni. But you gave this to me ages ago to keep, David, telling me that you didn't want it because you didn't think you'd ever meet a fem that appealed to you the way the Asking did. Well, here, obviously you've changed your mind."

David took the small box Samuel held out and opened it. "My Right of Replacement key?"

"Nobody misplaces one of those things, David, no matter how symbolic they might be. Take it with you; she's not ever going to be able to bear you children the way you want, and I think that's okay. But if you ever find someone to contract with, remember that you're a very desirable father, a self-made success by any measure."

David nodded. He leaned over awkwardly and kissed his father on the cheek. "Thanks. Good-bye, Dad."

"Good-bye, son. Don't be a stranger. If your travels ever take you this way again, look up your folks, would you?"

"Sure thing. Bye, Mom."

"Good-bye, David."

"Rat's Asking to Antarctica Control. This is First Officer Dennielle Elohim, asking for departure."

"Departure on standard vector SLS-21 at 13:21 authorized. Departure initialize at 60 meters per second until plus seventy thousand."

"Copy, Antarctica Control. Rat's Asking, out."