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Planetfall: Going Native

"Dammit, Fari," I spat, "She just won't listen to me."

"Do you expect her to?" Fari replied.

"Yes!" I sighed, standing up and walking away from her. I realized I was going to be out of earshot soon and turned back around. "Listen," I said. "I love her. Totally love her. And that love tells me that I am totally wrong for her. I've known that for a long time. It's only recently that I've decided to do something about it."

"Niaro... You've lost me."

"Fari," I sighed, "She's a goddamn human! Just the other night, right before we had our fight, we were making love. I had trouble... I wanted to really just lose control, to rape her, Fari. To claw her and mark her up as mine. That happens, sometimes. It's part of me. Not always, either. Sometimes I just want to make love, to hold her and cuddle her. But sometimes..." I sighed.

I looked over at her, and I could see she was smiling. "What?"

"Oh, nothing," she said. "It sounds wonderful. To want someone that much."

"Fari, have you ever gone native?"

"Native?" Fari asked. "I've heard that some Pamthreats do it, but I've never known anyone who has."

"I have."

"Really? If I may ask, who?"


Her feet shifted back on the grass, as if she were about to turn and flee, which amused me. For some reason, "Civilized" Pamthreats find us "Nativers" threatening. I don't know why. "Why?"

"Because I wanted to. I was bored."

"How?" she asked, her feet pacing nervously. "I mean, did you just go out there and go native, or did you study, or what?"

I settled down to the ground, curling my feet underneath me in a non-threatening pose. "I studied at first. What plants were harmful, what were harmless. How wild Pamthreats survived the rain and the cold. It took a few months. At the time, I was going to the University and people pretty much knew what I was up to. Several times the AI tried to get me into counseling." I smiled up at her nervousness. "Anyway, I started to roam through the hills in an unnamed sector a couple of days at a time. The number was 71 comma 389 by 1045. It was supposed to have a large contingent of wild Pamthreats, Illos." I took a deep breath and considered what to say next. "Anyway, one week I just didn't come back. I didn't see the point. I was eating well, sleeping well. I had nothing to really pull me back to school. I didn't want to go back."

She eased closer, her eyes wide with surprise. "You mean you just didn't want to come back to civilization? Why not?"

I shrugged. "Who cares? I just didn't. I was happy, Fari. Happier than I'd ever been. I was free, away from everything and everybody except myself. You know, time becomes completely unimportant when you're free. The days become blurry and you forget if it's Seren or Aldea or even what year it is. It's wonderful."

"But you had to kill, didn't you?"

"Of course I had to kill," I replied. "I had to eat, didn't I? I had to learn how to bring down a rabbit with my claws and my teeth. I had to learn how to deal with bigger game. I had to scare off scavengers. But after a while the instincts of a Pamthreat do kick in, or else I just learned them really fast. After a while I didn't have to think at all. I could stalk the blackest night and pull down the fastest buck in the herd without breaking a pant. I could swim and walk and do whatever I wanted." I sighed, remembering those days. And the few times, living with Etta, when I had gone off for a week or more to repeat the life again. "I don't think I could ever do it again for an extended period of time. It was different. But this one time, I was out there for almost three years."

"Three years?" she asked, surprised.

I nodded. "Like I said, time becomes blurry. It's rarely very cold in the middle bands, you know that. I just ate and drank and lived... like a wild Pamthreat. It was wonderful."

"What brought you back? I mean... you said you were happy out there. What made you change your mind and come back to civilization?"

I laughed, shaking my head. "A female." She stared at me, stunned by my admission. "The downfall of males everywhere. Females."

I took a deep breath and continued. "In the three years I'd been running wild, I had encountered a few Pamthreats, and we'd basically managed to snarl each other off without actually coming to combat. I didn't piss on their territory and they didn't piss on mine. But this time...

"I was climbing a rock face covered mostly in scruff and the like, hunting rabbits. When, for the first time in those years I smelled something I'd never smelled before... a female Pamthreat in outright heat. Have you ever had your jaw drop and your glands just go crazy, like those silly drawing of Pavlov's dog you sometimes see in psychology instructions?"

She nodded. "That's what happened to me. It's hard to explain but suddenly I dropped everything and went looking for her. I was being driven by raw, sheer lust. Nothing more, nothing less, and I don't apologize for that. I wanted to find this female and mate with her. And I was going to."

Fari's green eyes stared into me; I felt like I was being examined. Funny thing, though... I also felt proud to stand up to her examination. "Then another scent got to me. Another male Pamthreat, just like me, on the prowl for her. And it wasn't a matter of a race; we would both find her. And then I decided that I wasn't going to let him stop me from finding and taking her. She was going to be mine. I was a Pendorian, Sentient Pamthreat, and that made me automatically better than he. Better mentally, better physically."

"Niaro?" she asked, looking up. "You don't have to polite around me. You can say 'fuck' if you want to."

I laughed. "Thanks, Fari. I'll use it if I feel the need. So I climbed the rocks. The sun was out, the air was very dry; her scent came to me over the wind, and I can't really describe what it did to me except to tell you that it drove me insane with lust. I ran up that mountain. I mean, my paws were going to be bloody long before I found that other male and told him to leave. And as I got closer I could hear her, yowling, in the distance. I mean, she was begging for it. I guess that's natural for them, they're animals, right. But to hear it just made my chest tight. The harnells of my legs were aching. And then I met him.

"He was climbing up the same hillside as I was, chasing after the same female. And when he saw me, he snarled to warn me off. I know that there are supposed to be standard signals for snarls, but I didn't know any of them except that most of them were warnings. But the scent of that female told me that I was in for the experience of my life and I wasn't going to let this brainless cat take it away from me for any reason."

"Can I ask you a question?" she asked.


"Wasn't what you were doing a little selfish? I mean, you were going after a female you couldn't kit with. He was. You and he were driven by the same sense of smell, the same instincts, but if the purpose of mating among any animal species is the passing of valid genes, then you were interfering in that process, right?"

I nodded. "I admit it; I was being selfish. I was after her for my own reasons. And so was he. Don't ascribe to him any moral 'propriety' to him, Fari. He didn't know what he was doing. He was just as out to get his rocks off as I was."

"But I mean, for you. Don't you think you had some moral obligation to back off, to let him have his way?"

"You know, I never thought of it that way. I guess you might say that, if I were inclined to feel guilty about what I did, but I'm not. I'm not a vegetarian, obviously... I don't really care what happens to animals as individuals so long as, for my purposes as a living being, there's enough of a diverse biomass to ensure the quality of sentient life."

Fari shook her head. "How Pendorian."

I smiled, giving my tail an easy wave. "I'm better than that. I think of quality in terms of beauty and power and aesthetic appeal and things like that. I'm not completely stupid."

"So tell me what happened?"

"I fought him. What more do you want me to say? I tore him up. He left bleeding, but he left long before we were done fighting in any serious way. I think part of that was because I knew that I could take him. I am a Pendorian. Even as lazy as I had been, I was stronger, faster, more survival-worthy than he was. After three years in the wild, I was definitely more powerful than he was. There was nothing to stop me from slaughtering him and taking that cat in heat. I think he sensed that."

Fari shook her head. "What was it like?"

"Patience, Fari," I said. "I haven't finished telling you about chasing her. Because even though she was obviously in heat, she wasn't going to let me have it without a fight. It wasn't play-fighting, but it wasn't fight-fighting either. I can't describe it. It was more like a ritual of some kind, batting each other around in this kind of violent interplay that was very arousing. I finally pinned her down, with my teeth around the back of her throat, and then I fucked her."

Fari's ears drooped a little, blushing. "You said I could use that word. And it's almost more fair to say I raped her. I slammed her down to the granite and held her there with my jaw around her neck, thrusting into her over and over. I was completely mindless; from where I was there was nothing more important to me right then and there than taking her and showing her that I was her mate and I was going to demonstrate that possession in the most visceral manner possible."

Fari shook her head. "I can't believe I'm listening to you talk this way. You should hear your voice. It sounds so... dark."

"It's not a pretty act, Fari. It's so animal. So... organic, I guess. It has only one purpose, to pass on the species, and for Pamthreats with their animal natures it's very much a raw, raping kind of act."

"So, why did you come back?"

"Because after it was over I didn't see the point of staying. I had done everything I had set out to do, going wild like that. I had ate, drank, slept, killed, and finally fucked like an Illos Pamthreat, and I didn't see much reason to keep pretending to be something I'm not.

"After I was done with her, she rolled over and resumed fighting, in a really spastic kind of way. I was scared, believe me. Once she was out from underneath me she shot away like a bullet from a gun, straight across the mountainside and was gone.

"And there I was, standing there, with my dick getting cold. Wondering what the Hell I'd gone through all that trouble for. Because I had gotten scratched, and beaten, and all that... but I realized I hadn't spoken a word of Felin in nearly thirty months, that I hadn't even really thought a thought... just kinda run on automatic for so long. The animal in me sorta faded right there. Not so much that I didn't survive for the three weeks it took me to find the nearest SDisk. Fortunately, out there in the wilderness like that SDisks are marked to be easily seen. I circled a couple of mountain ranges and sure enough, I eventually saw a big white tree with white leaves, a nanotech rowan.

"It was really strange getting onto the thing. I can't really describe it. I know the designers who created the SDisk roamers built them to look 'mysterious,' as if they came out of Backwater or something. And this one was. I found the tree; it was right next to a pool of water. I walked up to the tree and said, 'SDisk.' And it appeared on the water, a glowing square delineated by orange lines, with circles at each corner. Eventually I walked onto it. I felt scared. What was the reaction going to be when I returned home? Would anyone recognize me? I didn't have a scrap of identification or anything like that on me.

"I did finally verbalize my destination and got home. The town of Naurttith. I walked into a supply store first thing and ordered a pair of hands, and an hour later, once I'd gotten used to them, I walked out and returned to my own world, I guess.

"It was a few months later when I met Etta, and I guess it was with her that I found what I was looking for. Because she gave me something I was never going to get from a wild Pamthreat. She was willing to touch me."

Fari nodded, settling back down on her haunches again. "You were looking for love."

"No," I said. "No, that's not right. I wasn't really looking for 'love,' Fari. I was looking for someone who would hold me late at night. I wanted someone who gave a damn."

"Sounds like love to me."

"Maybe I was looking for it, I just didn't know it. But I never clearly declared that I, Niaro, was looking for love. But now I know that what I am isn't enough for her. And this time, it's another sentient I'm worried about. Not some nameless and mindless female. It's Etta, Fari. She needs something I cannot give her. She's nearing six hundred years old, and while she's hardly tliel, she's never had children of her own and I think that's a shame. She needs to have a human lover, Fari, someone who will give her what I can't."

"Maybe she doesn't want it?" Fari asked.

"Look, I want it. I know that sounds strange, but I want her to have children. I want her to have the mothering need and the children who will make her happy."

"Niaro," she said patiently, "Are you sure it's her who needs kids? It sounds to me as if you're the one who's pushing for children here, not her."

"But I'm not the one..." I stopped, thinking about it. "Fari," I tried to explain, "I'm talking about her being a mother."

"Being a mother isn't just eight months....or is it nine for humans? Anyway, it isn't just parturition, Niaro. It's raising them too. And I think you could accomplish that just as effectively if they were your children rather than she having to have them."

"What are you proposing?"

"I'll have them."

I couldn't believe what I had just heard. "What?" I asked, stunned. "Please tell me your kidding."

"No, I'm not kidding. Having children seems to be very important to you. I've done it before, and I'm willing to do it again. I don't see why you would be the least bit reluctant; after all, when was the last time you had children?"

"I don't want them for...." I stopped, realizing for the first time that she may have been right. I did want kids. It was Etta who was always trying to back out of having her own. "Fari," I said, thinking fast, "Can you think of any reason why I would want to be having her kids, and not my own?"

"Lots of reasons. Even after listening to you talk about how wonderful being a Pamthreat is, I know that you have some reservations about being handless and forced into speaking a language less than one-fifth of the general population speaks fluently."

"I think it also has something to do with being male. I know that what I do takes no time whatsoever. It's more... fundamental, I think, if I watch my coimelin go through the entire process."

"Well, that's rude," Fari said, grinning. "To satisfy your own sense of fatherhood, you'd want her to go through something she's not ready to?"

I growled softly, then nodded. "You're right. I guess I don't know what I want right now."

Fari stood up and walked over to me. I know it's something I do when I walk, but for some reason watching that six-legged, rippling gait as she walked grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go. Her body was both sleek and padded, her chest lean and her legs powerful. A pair of hands hovered above her, and I admired the fact that all of her cyberware was completely invisible. I couldn't see a thing. "You're staring," she said.

"Sorry," I apologized. "Just noticing something."


"You have an very good biocybe package. I don't even see your induction points."

"We don't use them anymore. You still have one?"

I nodded. "I don't like surgery, so I've avoided getting any changes done. I haven't had any maintenance done on mine since around the late six hundreds."

She smiled. "You old-timers."

"You cubs," I said, grinning back at her. I felt a little silly, looking over her and feeling my heart speeding up. I'm supposed to be older than that, but I still felt turned on by her presence.

She nuzzled my neck, giving me a soft nudge. "Really, I'd love to have your kittens, Niaro." Her voice dropped until even my ears could barely hear her. "And, to be honest, your tale of the Native Pamthreat female made me a little excited."

"Fari," I said, "You don't even know me."

"Sure I do," she said. "There are only fifty or so Pamthreats on this trip, and... we're special, Niaro. We get to know each other pretty well. You and me and Urian and Tirao and Giarra and the rest. I think I could name every Pamthreat on the team off the top of my head." She sat down in front of me. "Of all the males on this team, Niaro, you're the most interesting... to me, at least. I mean, you're kind and dedicated to both your coimelin and your work. And now... to tell me you're a Nativer." She shook her head. "Wow."

My mind roiled with all this new information. I stared at her, and in the back of my mind I suddenly wondered how many other female Pamthreats felt the same way about me....And immediately discarded that thought as unworthy. I sighed. I'm supposed to be an honorable mel, and trying to use my 'honor' to my advantage was just plain wrong. I returned to the problem at paw.

"I'll have to talk to Etta about it."

"I expect you to," Fari replied. "They're going to be your children, Niaro. You'd better be ready for that."

I nodded, then looked over at her with new eyes. "Fari... I should go talk to Etta."

"Yes, you should. And... I want to, too."


She nodded. "Okay, later."

"Niaro," Etta said after listening to my plan, "Why didn't you just tell me all this before hand?"

"Because I didn't know how you'd respond. I kept bothering you about when you were going to have children, but Fari pointed out to me that it was me who wanted the children. You and I joke about children and kittens...well, I really want progeny, lover." I paced the floor nervously.

"I want to meet her."

"You two talk the same way, you know that? The first thing she said after I agreed to talk to you was that she wanted to talk to you."

"It makes sense. She's going to be bearing the children I'm going to raise. I want her involved. I know what it means to sleep with a Pamthreat, but to raise one? And so many of you are telepaths." She shifted on our floor-bound bed, folding her legs underneath her. "If I don't like her, I can't imagine this working."

"I'll call her right now, if you want."

"If you can," she said. "Do it."

I pulled up a phone before my eyes (really, in my head, but it looked like it hovered before me) and called Fari. "Hi," I said when her face peered out of the 'screen' at me.

"Hi," she said, surprising me with a soft, shy quality. "What did she say?"

"She wants you to come over. Can you do that, now?"

"Sure," she said. "No problem. Five minutes."

"See you soon," I said, breaking the line, and feeling my anxiety level rise. I sat in nervous silence until Fari showed up. "Hello?" she asked.

"Hi," I growled back, trying to keep my feelings in check. Something about her made me feel hot; my face flushed, my fur stood on end. I wondered about how this looked to other people, two wild big cats, Pamthreats, circling each other. Except we were neither circling nor particularly wild. "She wants to meet you."

Etta nodded, looking between Fari and myself. "Yeah, I did." She smiled. "So you're this Fari that Niaro has told me so much about."

Fari nodded in reply. "He's told me a lot about you, too."

"Niaro," Etta said, glancing over at me. "Could we have a moment alone?"

"Alone? Sure... I guess." I left, feeling no less nervous.

We met again, the day after, on a grassy hill just inside the treeline of the southern forest. The sun shone overhead just a few degrees towards morning, and it promised to be a beautiful, if for the humanoids, somewhat cool day. A few clouds, very high, floated by. She giggled softly. "So we're really going to do this, huh?"

"Yeah, we are," I said, giving her a nip along the scruff of her neck. "Are you ready?"

"More than ready. I have a favor to ask of you."

I looked at her, concerned. "What kind of favor?"

"I want you to... tag me, I guess, is the way I want to put it. I want to run out into the woods, and I want you to track me down and take me the way you took that non-sentient. That's why I asked you to meet out here this morning. Only this time, I don't want you to be wasting your seed on anything." he giggled. "That's such a silly word, 'seed.'"

"Yes, it is," I agreed. "You're really sure you want this?"

"Absolutely. In fact, look what I've got." Overhead, one of her two robotic 'hands' floated, holding a bottle of something in its plastic grip. I looked at the bottle carefully, and on the side it read in clear Quen, Pamthreat Mating Scent, Female. ` "Fari!" I objected. "Don't even joke about stuff like that."

"Who's joking?" she asked. "I'll never be as brave as you are, Niaro. And, as a female, I'll be putting myself out for a whole different package of risks if I ever, in my long future life, have the courage to go native."

The idea of running through the woods again, of hunting her down, appealed to me. A lot. Images of the run, of the hunt, of the final bursts of speed and the final take-down and rut ran through my imagination like nothing else had in a long, long time. But I was still concerned, afraid I might lose control of myself during the act. And if that was going to happen, the time to put on the brakes, or at least the controls, was now. "Fari... do you want a, oh, what's it called... an out?"

"You mean a safeword?" she asked.

"That's the word I was looking for."

"No," she replied. "I don't. Really, I don't. Like you said, I know I'll come out the other side okay. Remember that even during wild mating, the object isn't to kill me."

I smiled. "You're trusting me a lot, you know. I don't know if I can ever return that kind of trust."

"Well, it's something I want to try. I figure after three hundred years playing out something kinky like this would be just about right."

I grinned. "Now?"

"Give me about twenty minutes to get situated, would you?" she asked. "Starting,!" She ran off into the woods, her four rearlegs making that characteristic "badamp-badamp" noise as she ran.

I waited, anxiously. I couldn't really believe I was going to go through with this. And yet, I really did want to. She was as fertile as it gets, and I was definitely as ready to put that fertility to good use as she. Time crawled.

Finally, the alarm on my internal watch went off, signaling that a half hour had, indeed, gone by. I decided to head in the same direction she had gone... made sense, after all. Which meant that I was heading deeper into the forest. I walked purposefully, picking my way over enormous fallen trees and through thick brush. The layout of the land wasn't bad, but the deeper I headed inwards the steeper and more obvious the mountainous nature of this terrain became.

And then I caught the scent of Pamthreat in heat. Part of me laughed inside, knowing damn well that there was only one female Pamthreat on the entire planet who would be giving off that scent right now, and knowing that this time I would have no rivals. But part of me responded to the scent with a deep and instinctual need, to find her, to have her. It felt as if the world became tinged with red... red, the colour of purpose. The colour of blood.

I sped up my walk. Contrary to popular belief, we Pamthreats are not made for long distance, but for sudden bursts of incredible speed. At any given moment I could accelerate to over a hundred kilometers per hour, if I needed to. You should see me in powered armor. At the moment, though, I was not out to bring down the object of my hunt, but just to locate her.

Her scent grew stronger as the terrain grew rockier. She was out to, at least in setting, repeat my experience. That was okay with me. I didn't mind. I kept climbing, my claws scrabbling on stone. If I had had metal in my claws, I would have been drawing sparks. My mind spun with the heat of desire. Every breath I took through my nose made me feel as if my brain were about to explode out the back of my skull.

And she was supposed to be the one in heat? I wondered as I ran. I couldn't believe how I felt. Maybe part of it was that this time I knew I was going to be accomplishing something. Something other than just satisfying my lust, that is. I knew I had felt like this before, but that didn't make this feeling any less powerful. I had to have her, I had to find her. Soon.

I heard a sound ahead of me, a scraping sound of claw and stone. Much like the sounds I myself was making. I applied that burst of speed, flying over the stony ground and flying out from behind the outcropping where I had heard that sound.

She wheeled around to face me. The scent was thick here, thick and strong. Her cyberhands were nowhere to be seen, and somewhere I found myself admiring her attention to detail. I almost never carried mine around, preferring to call them at need, but I had never seen her without hers.

She hissed at me, angrily. Already I could see cuts and scrapes along her body where she had run into trouble climbing. Her body was still lean and hungry-looking, or maybe that was imagination interposed with the smell that was reaching my nostrils.

I growled back, a throaty, open-mouthed growl with no communication behind it, no sentience at all. We were going to play this out to the hilt, I could see that now.

She turned and started to walk away, nonchalantly, her tail in the air. Disdain me, would she? I leapt after her, grabbing her hindquarters with my paws, claws still in.

She turned and swatted me in the head with her paw. I dug in further, now extending my claws. She roared her indignation.

Hah! Little cared I. I pushed off with my rearmost legs, leaping upon her back, pinning her down. She squirmed, angrily, trying to rock away. With a strong push of her rearlegs we rolled over onto the stones, and I felt my fur scrape along the rough, ragged rocks. I growled in frustration, and was upon her again.

To be honest, she wasn't fighting all that hard. In fact, she was really ready to be mounted, and everything in her demeanor suggested that. I wondered if she were tired, or if the scent had gotten to her, or if it was just that she really was ready to get fucked the way I wanted to fuck her.

I crawled my way up her body as she squirmed underneath me, but this time she wasn't fighting nearly as hard. This time, we were going all the way. Needless to say, between her scent and my own arousal I was hard as a rock, and once my four legs intertwined with hers, my rearlegs behind hers, my midlegs between hers, my jaws around the back of her neck, I slid my cock into her without a single pause.

She was soaking wet. I smiled as I penetrated her, feeling her cunt open up to me and slide along the length of my dick. I was going to go deep into her; I could feel the knot of her tail, pushed aside in our mating, press against my bladder, and I didn't care.

She howled and lowered her head. I had to move forward, since my teeth were still about her neck, and that only served to pull me deeper into her. I began to buck against her, and she began to whimper in pain as I did so. I was going to make sure this lasted a long time, even though in native Pamthreats the sex act usually lasts less than twenty seconds.

Her growling became more of an urgent purring sound as I pushed in and out of her, feeling her slick cunt try and grip my cock with every intense thrust. She was struggling not at all, and I finally released her neck; I needed more air. I began to fuck her slower, letting it last, letting her appreciate it more. The fact that we had fought, and that I had "hunted her down," didn't matter any more, at least not to me.

My cock grew harder. The pleasure was overwhelming as I made love to Fari there in the wilderness under a hot autumn sun. I was getting close, and I was going to roar when I finally did climax within her. I could feel the intensity of my orgasm racking through me, and the muscles in my legs, already abused from the hunt, were trembling in directions that had nothing to do with thrusting. I growled, feeling it coming. I was coming closer, I was....

I howled aloud, an profound animal roar that shook me from within like thunder opening up our summer day. I could feel my cock pulsating within her, shooting my seed into her, filling her fecund and fertile cunt with life.

I managed to keep my head up as I looked down at her. It took several seconds for those parts of my mind associated with sentient communication to come back to life. "Frrrr....Fari?"

"Niaro," she growled back, her head resting on the stone. "That was incredible. You were perfect."

"I was?"

"Yes," she growled, panting for breath. "I've never felt something like that before."

"You aren't hurt, are you?"

She rolled over onto her back as I slid off of her. "A few cuts and scrapes. Nothing that won't heal. Urrr....riao."

"I guess you liked it, then?"

"Adored it. So, do you think I'm going to be pregnant?"

"I hope so," I said. "We might have to do this again if you aren't."

"Oh, horror of horrors! Such a difficult assignment!" She laughed softly, the laugh coming as a soft Pamthreat rumble, lusty and feminine all the same.

"Even if you are pregnant, we could do this again," I hinted.

"Then you had fun doing it?"

"Yeah, I had fun fulfilling my part of the assignment," I admitted. "And you're right. If you want, I'll enjoy it all the more a second time around."

"Good!" she growled.

"Fari?" I asked. "Every once in a while, while I've been living with Etta, I've gone off in the woods again and lived as a native for a short time. Two weeks or so, usually. Would you like to go with me to one of those, some day?"

Fari tilted her head to look me. On her back as she was, the expression on her face was comical, and I had to stifle a smile to look at her. "I don't know, Niaro. That's a serious thing to ask."

"You could learn slowly, like me. Maybe someday you'll do it, and become a nativer."

"Maybe," she admitted. "Although I've never heard of a pair of Pamthreats going native together. Since our non-sentient relatives are such an independent and unsociable lot, I would think it's something of a contradiction in terms."

I nodded. "That doesn't mean we can't go out into the woods together. I can teach you to appreciate freshly hunted rabbuck and you can keep me warm at night."

"Why, Mister Argent. I do believe you're being manipulative!" she said with mock-indignity.

"Okay, I can keep you warm at night."

"That's better," she said. We laughed together softly. "When do you want to go back?"

"Later," I said. "Right now, I just want some time alone with you. If that's okay?"

"That's fine. When we know you're pregnant, what do we tell Etta?"

"Etta," I said, "we're pregnant. All three of us."

Fari grinned. "I still have to do all the work."

"I'll keep you company."

"Morning sickness in Pamthreats is an ugly thing, Niaro."

"I'll survive. I always have and I always will. Part of the charm of being a nativer." I grinned right back at her.

"Guess it is."