I heard the door to the common room whisk open and shut, but ignored it as I proceeded to press 70 kilos over and over in an attempt to build stamina. Then I heard crashing and banging sounds that made even Malthus look up. "Dave, who is that?"
"It's Aaden, Ken. He appears to be packing."
I put the bar back on its rest and stood up, toweling the sweat off my forehead before heading back into the house. The dog followed. "Aaden?"
"Ken!" I heard his voice shout. Moments later he floated, or more accurately, flew out of the grav tube and seized my shoulders. "Drop whatever your doing. Tell me, lover, right now... do you have any long-range plans?"
"How long range?" I asked, bewildered.
"Years. Five or so."
I thought about it. "There are a couple of birthdays I'd like not to miss, but other than that, no. Why? What's gotten into you, Aaden?"
"We're going into space," he said breathlessly. "We're going to a star identified in the charts as RD+34o."
"Aaden," I said, "You hate space travel. You barely tolerate trips to Terra with me, and that's fifteen hours away. According to my b/c link, RD plus 34 degrees is nearly two years away under Ohadi." Mentally, I also realized that that's nearly three years of experiential time for the crew.
"Ken, I have to go. This could be the most incredible breakthrough of all time!"
"In what?" I asked, trying to think of subjects he became this passionate over. "Sadomasochism or xenobotany?"
"The second!" he shouted, diving back down the grav tube and vanishing from sight. "Pick up a PADD and read my article referring to the discovery of the starship Shakespeare's Sister."
I located my personal PADD and read the salient information quickly. The Sister, a human starship, had been exploring in that sector when they came across a world classified as MNT40, a designation which basically meant humans could live there without hardware, but they wouldn't enjoy it. The Sister had encountered a complex band of vegetation that completely circumnavigated the globe at the equatorial region, and that the vegetation exhibited properties of motion, awareness, reaction. "Read the conclusion under nodal properties," Aaden shouted.
"'Although data is sketchy at best,'" I read aloud, "'I believe that these nodes exhibit properties which, if they do not lead to sentience, at least to lead to an animalistic awareness of their surroundings, and with the technology at hand, uplift of the first SQ-celled lifeform to sentience could be possible within the next two to five decades.'" I chuckled as he rose from the g-tube. "Aaden, you don't need a comma between 'hand' and 'uplift'. That's a splice."
He pulled the PADD from my hands. "Damned writers," he chuckled. "Don't you see? I have to go. I have to do this. Please, Ken, I want to be there. I have to study this. Think of it... sentient vegetation. It's a serious race, and we can win it... we have the fastest starships in all the universe. We can get there a year and half before everyone else, if we move now, under Ohadi."
I thought about it for a second. "Aaden, you're ridiculous. Do you have any idea what travel like this calls for? Do you know what space travel is like?"
"I know you've done it."
"The last time you almost forgot about me because I was declared missing in action."
"Never," he insisted, shaking his head. "I never thought you and P'nyssa could vanish from my life. I knew you'd both be back. Besides, the technology's so much greater now, so much safer. Please."
I had trouble believing my ears. Aaden was literally begging me, out of scene. Begging me to go into space. "You're serious."
"Yes," he breathed softly, looking down into my face. "I need this. More than anything, I need to be there."
"Have you stopped to consider that we have two children right now? I mean, I think Noah's old enough that I might consider him ready to take to Castle life in general and just have Ress or somebody watch him, but Sheja's only eight. And Malthus, hell, he could die of old age on the trip." I squatted down on the floor and began petting the object of my address, the family dog. Noah had insisted.
A look of concern crossed his face. "I want to go; I don't want to go alone. And I want you all to go with me."
"If we talk Nyss into it, I think we could bring Noah and Sheja."
"You think so?" he asked.
"Shipboard families are becoming the norm," I said slowly. "I would worry about them becoming unused to groundside life, but we've already spawned a few spacers in the family."
Aaden grinned. "Like Rainy."
"Rainy's the big one," I admitted. "But Molly too, y'know. And Denni, don't forget!"
He nodded, smiling. I thought about it for all of five seconds. "Dave."
"I'm putting together a Xenobotany expedition outbound for RD+34o, hereafter referred to in Pendorian literature as Aaden's Star. I want an Asimov class starship prepped for long-duration voyage refit and recomissioning. Twenty four weeks, tops, to complete the vessel. I want a reasonable schedule of stars to explore and/or investigate in return transit, maximum duration of miscellaneous time is another twenty-four weeks. I want a complete crew availability roster as soon as possible. The executive crew is to be lifted in toto from the starship Nyano Neuroth, pending acceptance by the captain."
Watching Aaden's jaw drop lower and lower was a privilege I rarely get. "Oh, yeah, although the captain will get final say, pending captain's acceptance the starship is to be recomissioned with the name Nyano Handele."
Aaden was stunned. I smiled. "You asked for it."
"I... but. But. But."
"Isn't that what you wanted?"
Tears were forming in his beautiful eyes. "It's everything I wanted. I don't believe you!" He grabbed me and hugged me tight. "My fah, I love you so much." Then he pushed me away. "Isn't this abusing your power?"
"Let me abuse it for once!" I said, smiling. "It's been nearly a century since I abused my power." He chuckled, and I laughed along. "Only problem now," I mused, "is how are we going to ask P'nyssa?"
"You guys want to what?" P'nyssa asked, more than a little surprised. We started to lay it out for her, out voices jumbling and jumping over one another, before she held up her mitts. "Wait, wait, I heard you. I just don't believe you two."
"What's not to believe?" Aaden asked.
"It means going into space, for one thing," P'nyssa said.
"I'll get over it," Aaden insisted, stepping over to where she sat, kneeling before her and taking her mitten his paws. "P'nyssa, you and Ken have gone spacefaring many times. I haven't. If I'm going to be part of this family, like I have been for half a millennium, I have to learn about that side of this life. I'll go alone if I have to; I won't ask Ken to come with me, without you."
P'nyssa looked down at him, an angry look crossing her face. "Aaden Satpulov Shardik," she said, nearly growling the last word, "That's the last time I ever want to hear you say that. You're just as important to me as he is, and I'll be damned if you're going to start prioritizing this triangle because you came second or because you're homosexual. Do you understand me?"
Aaden gulped. "Yes, Nyss," he said, looking up into her face.
She smiled and kissed the top of his fuzzy head. "Then we have to ask the children. Noah! Sheja! Come here! Dave, would you find them and tell them their parents are looking for them?"
"Already done, P'nyssa," Dave replied calmly. We waited quietly until the door opened and Noah bounded in, followed by his only slightly less boisterous sister. "Daddy!" she squealed first, running over into Aaden's arms. I smiled as Noah slowed down, becoming as cool as a river in winter. "What's up?" he asked. I almost heard "What have we done now?" in his voice.
"We have a family decision to make," I said.
"Uh-oh," Sheja said. "Sounds ser'os." I laughed as she sat down next to Aaden on the floor, who tousled our little Mephit's headfur playfully.
"It is, honeyfur," P'nyssa said softly. "Aaden has to go somewhere, and we have to decide if we're gonna go with him."
Sheja turned to look at Aaden. "Where do you want to go, Daddy?"
"A long way away," Aaden said. "It might take a long time to get there, and even longer to get back."
"How long is a long time?" Sheja asked.
"Ten years. Longer than you've been around, honey," P'nyssa said softly.
"Oh," she said.
"So what do we have to do with this?" Noah asked, tapping his left forepaw in boredom. Despite his sometimes overzealous attempts to prove that he was independent and mature, I really loved Noah. He was a fine kid.
"We want to know if you two think you could take living on a starship for ten years."
"A starship?" Noah asked, his eyes going as wide as a SDisk. "You mean, like Molly does?"
"Yep," I said. "Think about it before you decide, Noah. It'll be a long trip, under Fleet rules, and all of your friends are going to stay ringside. There won't be that many people your age there."
"What about Malthus?"
"He can go with us," I said. "He's housebroken."
"No problem," Noah said. "If Malthus goes, I can take it."
"Are you sure, Noah?" I asked. "Because they won't be your friends when you come back, at least, not in the same way. They'll all be at least ten years older... and that's a lot of change. Think real hard, kiddo, because ten years ago you were three and could barely talk."
Noah was silent for a while. "Yeah, I could take it. I'll still go to school and all, right? There will be people like me on the ship, right?"
"Yes, and yes," P'nyssa replied. I was sure I heard particular emphasis on the first affirmative. For some reason, I never seem to have trouble with my children going to school, and I was happy with that fact.
"No problem, then," Noah replied.
"What about you, Sheja?" I asked.
"Me? I dunno..." she said, looking around at her three parents. "I mean, I'll miss Carri and Aldal and Tim, but I want to go with you guys."
"But do you want to go into space?" P'nyssa asked.
"Uh-huh!" she replied, smiling wide. "I would really love to! But it's gonna be a long trip, right?"
"Yes, honey, a very long trip," P'nyssa said. "You'll grow up all the way on the trip."
"Oh," she said. "That is a long time." She seemed to think for a long time, her eyes glittering thoughtfully. "I wanna go..."
"Then why don't you sound sure?" P'nyssa asked.
"Because it seems so long. I'll miss everybody on the ring."
"But you'll come home," I said. "They'll still be here. You'll make new friends on the trip."
Don't push her, P'nyssa 'pathed to me.
I'm not, I replied. I want all the data to be there. I want the family to all be firmly decided. And I want to convey that to an eight year old.
"Okay," Sheja said finally, looking up. "I wanna go."
"Yes," she said, with all the finality an eight-year-old can muster. "If everybody's going, I'm gonna go, too."
P'nyssa sat back in her seat, sighing. "Okay, that's it then. The five of us are going, together. Dave, please enroll the kids in the first Starship Emergency Procedures For Civilians class you can find."
"Done," Dave replied with such speed I could tell he had already made a deal with whatever AI handled such things, probably Lexander, to reserve spaces for the kids.
I snuggled up close to P'nyssa later that night, my left hand caressing her familiar breasts as we lay on our sides, my chest to her back. "Do you think we're doing the right thing?" I asked.
"I think so," she said. "Like you said once, no matter what you think you know about something, you're still jumping into it blind, because if you know everything about it, you wouldn't bother jumping in at all. We've raised seven children in this house, and we're going to take two of them into space."
"Does that last part frighten you? The last time we took an extended trip together was a long time ago." My fingers slowly caressed her belly, feeling the soft flesh giving way under even a delicate touch. P'nyssa had grown softer as she had had seven children already over the past millennium.
"No," she said, reaching back past to run her mitten over my thigh. "I don't think it does. Lots of people take their children into space nowadays; we'll just be one more."
I snuggled even closer; she responded by pressing her hips back against mine, where my body cupped hers. "Feeling a little cheerful tonight, huh?" I said.
"Not especially," she said with a sigh. "I just... people expect change, especially in themselves. But even when we change, we seem to change together... all three of us, now. We spend so much of our time apart that I'm surprised at how together we seem to be."
I kissed her shoulder softly. "You're looking for another way to say 'I love you.'"
She nodded her head solemnly. "I guess I am," she replied. "Because I do, more than anything else. It's hard to describe how much I love you." She turned over suddenly to face me. "Aaden is only half wrong," she whispered. "I love him utterly and completely. Don't take this the wrong way, Ken, but he finished you."
"I wouldn't be completely me without him?"
"Uh-huh," she whispered. "You wouldn't be the mel I love so completely if you didn't have that mel there to love as well. If you weren't that mel... I would have never have met him, and never fallen in love with him the way I did, and still do." She stopped.
"So why is he 'half wrong'?"
"Because you and I did come first. But we don't anymore. Without him, you would be someone different. I want him to stay; I'm willing to risk my family to keep him."
I blinked at that, barely attentive of my hand almost of it's own habituated will fondling her breasts. Finally I smiled. "I love you both, P'nyssa, and you're both going with me. We'll know in a decade if our decision was the right one."
She smiled. "I think it was."
"I do too."
"Then we're going," she said, her mittens sliding up my thighs slowly, coming to rest as they cupped my genitals.
"We are," I said. "Are you interested in my coming, too?" I said.
She giggled. "Maybe I am." Her mitt closed around my hardening cock, stroking me. I sighed as she slid down under the covers, her legs folding up against mine so they would hang off the edge; she's always been conscientious about keeping the bed "made," even when we were sleeping in it.
Her mouth slid down the length of my cock. I gasped hard and entwined my hands in her headfur, long and black and curly enough to be called hair. I could feel her tongue swirling around my shaft, firmly pressing the flesh against the roof of her mouth. In the centuries together, we had done this so often that she knew exactly what excited me, and just when not to do it, to leave me off balance and wanting more from her.
As her lips suckled my cock, her mitt closed down on my testicles, tugging at them softly, pulling them until I was just on the verge of pain. I gasped and sighed at her touch, her sucking. "P'nyssa, dammit, I want to get inside you."
She looked up at me. "You are inside me," she pointed out.
"Not when you're talking to me, I'm not." I smiled.
She wiggled back up until we were face-to-face again. "Then what would you recommend as a remedy for that?"
I grabbed her shoulder and hauled her abruptly in my direction, dumping her face-down onto the bed. With a playful leap I straddled her hips and laid down on top of her, my cock poking playfully at her cunt. "Can you keep talking if I get inside you this way?"
She giggled. "I don't know yet." She kissed me cheek.
I shifted my legs so they were now between hers, spreading hers in the process. Her butt lifted slightly from the surface of the bed. With a gentle push I slid the head of my cock into her.
"I think so..." she whispered, gasping.
After a quick withdrawal, but not all the way, I slid in again, this time deeper. And again, until finally I had as much of my cock into her as I could manage at this angle, her face-down to the bed, my chest pressed against her back. "How's that?"
"Fine," she gasped, bending her legs at the knees enough to kick me in the butt. "If I can't talk, I can at least get to ya," she said.
"I know," I said, stroking slowly into her soft cunny, enjoying the centuries-familiar grip of her body around my shaft. "I love you, Nyss."
She sighed softly, nodding her head against the pillow. I propped myself up on my hands and slightly on my knees, giving me a better angle. I began stroking her cunt slowly with my cock, taking my time. As the pressure to climax rose in my groin, I began stroking her harder. One of the reasons we both like this position so much is that my cock doesn't go too deep into her and hit her cervix, and that on the downstroke I can be as forceful as I like because her ass takes the brunt of it. We were both gasping for air as I approached closer to my orgasm, and with a loud shout I came, pressing down deep into her. I just held her close, feeling my muscles tremble in the intense release, feeling her tremble along with me.
After a minute or so, I forced my eyes open to look into her. She giggled again. "I'm still talking."
"I didn't say you couldn't after we were done," I pointed out.
She laughed, then lunged forward and licked my nose.
"Gotcha," she smiled. "I love you."
"I've been slimed," I protested, rolling over to one side and lying next to her. After wiping her saliva off my nose, I leaned close to kiss her. Instead, I lunged for her nose.
She dodged easily. "See, I've been living with you for too long. I don't need my telepathy to read you and know what you're going to do next. I could see it in your eyes."
"Come on," I said. "Let's go to bed. We've got busy days tomorrow. I have lists to make, people to visit."
She murred softly. "And I have to get my practice ready to shut down."
"Yeah," I said as she rolled over, cuddling up against me. I wrapped an arm around her shoulder. "Sorry."
"Don't apologize. It's something I enjoy, but I like space medicine, too," she mumbled.
She was already asleep.