Elenya, Narquel 24, 00164
The shout from the command cabin jolted me awake from yet another short catnap. The four-day transit time to Terra was trying on my nerves and stamina; Kangaroos are great trans-atmospheric shuttlecraft, but they’re cramped inside. Information is light, so I had plenty of reading, music, video, and even writing to keep myself occupied if I so desired. Consumables such as food are not, and our technology in that field isn’t as advanced as Terra’s, so my stomach, and I guessed the stomachs of my five companions, were not so content.
I wished earnestly that we’d hurry up find a way to make the big ships as fast as a Kangaroo. Those were the days of luxury, I sighed. It was a pity they took three months to cross the same distance.
I groaned audibly as I creaked out of my chair, stiff and sore, and walked forward on velcro slippers to the CC. I grabbed hold of a support strut and leaned in casually, looking down at our lovely Felinzi pilot. “What’s up?”
She didn’t look up from her console as she said, “You said advise you when we were leaving hyperspace. Ten minutes.”
“Mph,” I agreed tiredly. I noted the copilot’s chair was empty. “Shtamed taking a nap?”
“Yep,” she replied. “Go ahead, have a seat.”
I eased myself into the red-upholstered chair and strapped the harness on, looking over the ever-bewildering array of readouts, displays and consoles. In the first six years of Pendor’s shift to a space-faring culture, many people had been surprised at the sudden rush of people anxious to get “out there.”
I had not been so surprised. I’m so fully aware of diversity that I was sure we’d have hundreds of talented starstruck Pendorians anxious to take their place as crewfen. Pendorians who would understand why I insisted on having a small crew learn about zero gravity and spaceflight even before we lived in a place with stars in the sky. What frustrated me was that my own rise into space was, for me, painfully slow. I had taken classes in orbital and special mechanics, starship maintenance and so forth, but I wasn’t as quick a learner as many. I had expected more from myself.
I blinked at the controls, forcing myself to think of what I wanted, reached for the keyboard and dialed a plus-z overhead view of our ship’s predicted path, closing in on a time-tolerant view of the approaching ex-hyperspace window. Eight minutes to go.
As I watched the clock tick down, a thought that had been nagging me for the past day finally clicked in my head. “K’meh?”
“Uhm…” I paused to collect my thoughts. “Neither P’nyssa or anyone else with whom I feel I have a comforting relationship came with me on this trip. I, uh… well, first of all, I want you to stop calling me ‘Sir.’ That ‘Kennet’ you addressed me with earlier is fine.” I swallowed hard, thinking about how sometimes dealing with people was so very easy, and then at times like this I couldn’t get out a single word. “You and I were talking rather… comfortably yesterday, and I’d like to ask if you’d consider sharing my room.” I snorted a soft laugh at my own reluctance. “My bed.”
K’meh didn’t even blink at the invitation. “I thought you had the invitation of Dr. Stoneman.”
I smiled, checked the clock, and placed my hand over hers. “Dr. Stoneman and I have every intention of having dinner together. If something else develops out of that, which I doubt, well… Let me be honest, K’meh… I don’t like to sleep alone.”
She laughed freely, tossing her head back. “So,” she said loudly, recovering, “Am I a roommate, or backup?”
I blushed, embarrassed. “Maybe a little bit of both.”
She pulled her hand free from under mine, and then laid it atop mine reassuringly. “I need a roommate, and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have.”
Before I could answer, there was a curious lurch, but it felt as if it were coming from inside my skull, rather than against the harness, which seemed to move not at all. K’meh was suddenly busy. “Kanga Two, Kanga Two.”
“This is Kanga Two,” the radio announced cleanly. “That you at the helm, K’meh?”
“Affirmative, Segio. How’s your compliment?”
“We’re fine. Nice scheduling; we came out clean.”
“Nice to drive with you, Seg. See you on Terra.”
“Right. Stay in touch.”
“Will do. Out.” She turned her attention to the navigation computer. “We’re an hour out from Luna Insertion Orbit, and it looks like we’ll be coming along the right path so we should be landing at Tycho in slightly under two hours.”
I nodded. “Sorry about the stop at Luna.”
She smiled and pointed around herself towards the back. “The scientists wanted a Luna conference. Besides, everyone wants a past they can touch,” she finished mysteriously.
I settled back into the chair and looked at her curiously, but decided not to continue the conversation. Instead, I summoned up the collection of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe that I’d been reading earlier. Eventually, I leaned back in my chair and napped.
“Vatare’,” the voice said, someone shaking my shoulder. “I’m going to need the co-pilot’s position for landing.”
“Eh?” I said, waking quickly. “Oh,” I said, smiling, “sure.” I creaked against out of my comfortable seat, handing it back to flight specialist Shtamed. I drifted back to my equally comfortable passenger chair and pulled the harness back on there as well. “You have one minute to secure positions,” K’meh announced, “before we detach from the hyperdrive module for descent to the lunar surface. Please make sure you are all strapped in securely.”
The actual landing took only fifteen minutes more. Although I had put off thinking about it for the past couple of days, now that we were actually coming close to Tycho Base my anxiety level was increasing with every diminishing meter. I tried to relax. It had been, for me, centuries since I had last spoken to Victoria Stoneman face-to-face. I looked down at my hands, still perfectly smooth and relatively untouched by age or effort. I knew Victoria’s wouldn’t be the same.
The Kanga came to a gentle, perfect touchdown on the lunar terrain. Although I had always been an avid reader of “science fiction,” and had been a member of a spacefaring race for nearly fifty years, this was my first visit to Earth’s moon, that object that had hung overhead for so much of my youth.
We were lowered into a receiving bay, and then the entire platform started to move across the bay, apparently on some sort of giant truck. The same philosophy that had led to the development of the huge tractor- carriages that hauled space vehicles out to their launch pads apparently had been adapted for use on Luna. The truck pulled into a smaller bay, and airlock doors double-sealed behind us. There was a delay as air was pumped into the airlock, and then the doors in front opened, leading us to a pressurized maintenance bay filled with a large collection of uniform spacecraft, none of which were ever intended for atmospheric flight.
“The outside is apparently safely pressurized,” K’meh announce. “At least, I hope it is… there are humans out there working in shirtsleeves. I’m going to open both doors on the airlock sequentially.” The outside doors opened first, followed by the inside doors; there was just a slight pop as the pressure outside and in equalized.
“After you, Kennet,” said the Uncia medic who had come to Luna to give his presentation on xenophysiology and space medicine. I nodded and slowly stepped down the self-extending steps onto to vaguely ellipsoid landing platform.
A stairway ramp was rolled up to the platform and a tall, aging Caucasian human with swept, black hair and grey eyes bounded up, followed by a small party, in the center of which I spied Victoria. He crossed the platform assuredly and held out his hand. “How do you do? I’m Martin Scheider, Commander of Moonbase Tycho. Welcome, and welcome to United States Territory.” He held out his hand.
I took it and shook comfortably. “Glad to be here,” I said. He smiled in response, and I thought I would call his smile ‘charming.’ I wondered how much of that smile was honest, and how much of it he reserved for the politicians he had to deal with on a daily basis. Most of it felt honest, to me.
“I understand that the three Pendrii behind you are here for the conferences on extra solar exploration, but I am also led to understand that you personally are here to visit Dr. Victoria Stoneman?”
I coughed politely and said, “Yes; Dr. Stoneman and I have been corresponding for a number of years, and seeing as I was going to be in the neighborhood I requested clearance to land and visit.”
“I received the information five days ago.” I wondered how the information had been worded. As a request, or orders? He continued. “I would like to introduce various members of my staff. This is Wilton Marchoff, my deputy director,” I shook hands with her, “Elizabeth Knight, my chief medical officer, and I believe you already know my head of Physical Sciences, Victoria Stoneman.”
I shook hands with Dr. Knight before bowing deeply to Victoria. “Hello, Victoria. You’re looking wonderful for eighty-two years.”
“As are you, Ken.” Her smile was dazzling. She held out her hand and I kissed it; As I had realized earlier, her skin was thin and fragile, projections of her great age upon her. I felt saddened by her suddenly, just standing there.
Commander Scheider seemed slightly surprised by the familiarity of the exchange, but he recovered quickly and said, “Well, let’s have your crew settled into their cabins. I understand that you and your flight crew will be heading on to Moscow in a few days.”
“The day after tomorrow, at 19:00 Greenwich Mean Time,” K’meh replied. Is there a problem with that scheduling?”
“Just give us six hours notification and we’ll have a clearance ready for you,” said a broad-shouldered man standing with Commander Scheider’s party. “Does your ship require any particular type of refueling or maintenance?”
“Not that it isn’t already getting,” Shtamed replied. “It’s the atmospheric insertions that really tear them up, and we have a facility at New Boeing Field to do that sort of maintenance work.”
As we were led into the underground moonbase (a trip which involved a short hop in a tracked tube), I noticed K’meh glancing about nervously. We were shown our temporary quarters, and when the doors closed I dropped my bag and gave her a tight hug. “Feeling claustrophobic?” I asked her.
“A little,” she admitted. The quaver in her voice gave away just how big “a little” was.
“We just spent four days cooped up in a Kangaroo. Compared to that, this is spacious. It’s bigger than the entire cabin!”
She smiled. “Forgive me if I don’t trust Terran technology.”
“Now, now,” I chided. “Nobody has died from a hardware failure in nearly two decades.”
“What about that big blowout four years ago? A window and three successive bulkheads all failed!”
“You know that was sabotage,”
“And that’s supposed to make me feel more comfortable about being in a Terran facility?” she replied.
“Nobody died from it.”
“Two of their security officers were nearly frozen to death and asphyxiated.”
“They survived, didn’t they?”
“They lost fingers and toes.”
“They got them back,” I said, giving her another squeeze. I decided not to tell her about Victoria. “Besides, after four days without a shower, I think we both need one. Maybe two.”
She sniffed at herself delicately, wrinkled her nose and said “If I was as much of a feline as I appear to these humans to be, I’d lick myself clean.”
I laughed at the gesture and said, “Would you like to take one together?”
“That sounds wonderful,” she agreed, stepping free of my arms and locating that bathroom. From within I heard her voice say, “Then again, maybe not. Have you seen the size of their showerstall?”
I poked my head in and looked. She was right; it would barely hold one of us, much less two. “On the other hand… take a look at the water restrictions.”
She read them carefully, sighing. “How are we going to do this?”
“We take one together, pooling our ration so that you get as wet as possible, we turn up the heat lamps in the bathroom, and then we rinse off the same way.”
“Okay, let’s try it,” she said, shrugging out of her flight uniform. Inside, she did smell like an unwashed cat, a very unwashed one. I was quick to grab the showerhead and play the streams all over her body, turning on the shower massage portion to drive the pressurized water under her fur. She giggled in places when I did that. Once she was wet I ran it over myself just as quickly, then turned the water off. “Do you have soap?”
“In the black bag,” she pointed. “It’s the brown bottle.” I found the wide, plastic squeeze bottle of soap, splashed some in my hands and ran then over her torso, starting at her neck and sliding down quickly. “Smells good,” I said. “Is that clove oil?”
“Yep,” she replied, purring softly as my hands ran down her chest. Normally, I tend to think of pilots as being very thin, light people. K’meh’s body could only be described as lush. Her hips were wide, her breasts were very full, and her shoulders were broad. Her fur was an almost-white grey liberally polka-dotted with teardrop-shaped spots of brown streaked with gray, the spots thinning out at her neck and between her thighs, although they seemed quite dense at the base of her spine. She was just as tall as I was.
I had a hard time ignoring how alluring she was when I ran my hands under her breasts to get the soap up against her pelt, and I don’t think she minded too much when I lingered there longer than was necessary. I had her turn around and gave her back similar treatment, rubbing my hands in small, tight circles to massage her neck. She purred softly and leaned her head against the yielding wall of the shower. “Rub harder,” she purred pleadingly.
I pushed in harder, down around her spine and between her shoulderblades, trying to ease the pressure of 120 or so hours of flight time. Although the computers on board had taken much of the effort off her hands, none of us were completely relaxed– just sitting makes me tense sometimes. She purred softly, collapsing against the showerstall wall and letting me hold her up as I rubbed her. I slowly worked my way down and began caressing her hips and buttocks; the sounds coming from her muzzle were positively ecstatic. She moaned softly as my hands pressed into the tight flesh of her thighs, as much for the massage as for the soap, kneeling down and working down to her calves and finally her feet. “I’d like to do this part when we’re dry.”
“That sounds wonderful,” she sighed. “Would you like me to wash you as well?”
“Please… but be quick. I don’t want the soap on you to dry suddenly and give you a rash.”
“It won’t be that long,” she replied, smiling and trading places with me, running her soap along my chest with her paws. I suddenly understood why she had reacted so vocally to my touch; after four days of wearing the same clothes and sitting in the same position, just to be touched by another person was sheer bliss, never mind that she was massaging me just as firmly as I had her. Her hands were just as sure, rubbing my neck, back, buttocks, thighs. I nearly passed out, it felt that wonderful. I wanted to sleep, and sleep for real.
When she was finally done, I turned around and grabbed the showerhead. “In,” I ordered. She smiled and got in as I again ran the water over her head, her chest, teasing at the fur to get the soap out of all of it. When she was rinsed, I turned the head on myself and rinsed off quickly. “Whew,” I sighed.
“Yeah,” she replied. “After that, I feel ready for sleep.”
“Computer?” I asked aloud. There was no response. “I thought they had vocal-control computers on Tycho?”
“Maybe you need to address a terminal or something,” she said thoughtfully as she toweled off. Being furred, she needed more time than I did to get the water off her.
“I’ll go take a look.” Without a concern for modesty, I walked into the main room and found what looked like a keyboard terminal with a condenser microphone. The wall appeared to be a wide-screen display. I toggled the ‘power’ bar in the upper-right-hand corner of the keyboard and the screen came up with a menu. “Computer?” I inquired aloud.
“Listening,” came back a flat and unpleasant male voice.
“Where is Doctor Victoria Stoneman?”
“Doctor Stoneman is in her laboratory,” the computer replied.
“Can you please connect…” I suddenly realized that I was still naked. I leaned far out of the chair I was sitting in to grab a long nightshirt from my bag and slipped it on.
“Repeat, please,” the computer responded.
“Can you please connect me to Doctor Stoneman?”
“I am inquiring Doctor Stoneman right now.” I cursed under my breath about stupid computers and computer programmers.
Finally the screen cleared and Victoria peered out at me. “Ken!” she responded cheerfully, smiling.
“Hi, Vicki,” I replied. “You’re looking swell.”
“You too,” she said. “Are we still having dinner tonight?”
“When’s ‘tonight?’” I asked.
“It’s only noon right now. How about eight o’clock?”
I closed my eyes and sighed, thanking a deity at random. I think today’s was Loki. “That would be wonderful. I need to take a nap. Is there anything you want from me when I show up?”
“Just you,” she replied softly. “See you in a few hours.”
“Okay,” I said. “See you then, Vicki.”
K’meh chose right then to walk out; After setting the alarm clock I turned to watch her walk naked across the room and dig through her bag for a fur brush.
I stood up and walked behind her, giving her a gentle hug. “Would you like me to help with that brush?” I asked.
“I sure would,” she sighed, sitting down slowly on the edge of the bed. Then again, in the one-sixth gravity of Luna, everything seemed to happen in slow motion anyway. I started at the top of her head, dealing with knots and tangles for the next half hour. She purred anyway under my gentle touch. It didn’t seem quite so hard to concentrate on what I was doing this time, even though I got a rather solid erection while I was brushing her breasts and about her vulva. I gave her feet the massage I had promised, and she did indeed fall asleep during it. I slipped under the light sheets with her and joined her in complete unconsciousness.
At seven the alarm chime woke me up, making me blink and look up. With a soft groan I climbed out of bed, careful not to disturb K’meh who chose to stay solidly asleep. “Smart girl,” I whispered softly.
I decided to dress smartly, so I located my Pendor Interstellar Fleet uniform and pulled it on, carefully buckling the various snaps and frogs and such, pulling the collar out and adjusting the cufflinks. I examined myself in the mirror and decided that I looked reasonable after brushing my hair. I reached for the keyboard and began typing in commands. I asked for a quick map to Victoria’s home, found it, memorized it as best I could and walked out. K’meh, fortunately, slept through the whole operation.
I had to ask someone for directions anyway.
I approached the doorway with a hint of trepidation and pressed the door chime. The door opened. Victoria stood before me, looking wonderful in a simple light-gray monk’s robe that folded around her body and was tied around her hips. She wore the hood up, but lowered it behind her head as I looked in. “Hi,” I said.
“Hello, Ken,” she replied softly. “Come in; dinner is still cooking, so it might be a few minutes before it’s ready. Make yourself at home, look around.”
I nodded and stepped through the door, hearing it close behind me. She smiled and turned back into the kitchen to again pay attention to her cooking. “I remember your penchant for beef, so I’m cooking steak.”
“Not really,” she replied. “I’m told some people can tell the difference.”
“Depends on how different ‘different’ is.”
“It’s made by Solid Artificial Photosynthesis.”
“I probably won’t be able to tell the difference, then,” I said, glancing around her home qua laboratory. There were a variety of instruments laying about, the most notable was an authentic-looking brass reflective telescope that peered out a large bay of windows at the stars. To the left of the windows was a framed copy of her certificate from the Nobel Committee for Achievement in Mathematics and Physics. There was a drafting table in one corner, above which a carefully drawn illustration of a house was taped to the wall; the corners of the drawing were yellowing with age, and the paper appeared to have cracked in places. Several tears in the sheet had been repaired with cellophane tape, telling me this drawing had moved a couple of times, but probably wouldn’t survive moving again. “This house,” I said aloud, “You live there once?”
“I was going to,” Victoria replied, two plates in her hands. “Come, I’ve got dinner ready. Sit down.” I took a seat at her dining table where she indicated. From where we sat, we could look out the windows at the stars overhead.
“You were going to? What happened?”
“I drew that back when I was young, and poor, and new to Luna. Then the accident, and… ” Her voice trailed off. “I haven’t been to Terra since then, you know.”
She laughed softly. “It’s sad, isn’t it?” she said, turning to look at me. “I have all the money I could ever want, the affection of everyone on Luna, but I just can’t do what I want. I can’t go home.”
“So, what happened to the house?”
“Oh, it never existed. I was just drawing it freehand to see what I thought I wanted. It looked about right for New Hampshire, huh? I guess I could have given the drawing to my daughter, but she never could stand to live out in the country the way I wanted.”
I nodded. Then what she said dawned on me. “You have a daughter? When?”
“About forty years ago,” Victoria said calmly. “About two years after the accident, in fact. I wanted to get that over with, and I decided that since I was going to be bedridden anyway, that was the perfect time to have my child.”
“That was before the birthright selection, right?” She nodded. “What did you do with your second birthright?”
“I gave it to her. She’s allowed three children. Four, actually.”
“Four? She bought a fourth?” I asked.
“I bought it for her. She wanted it, and I haven’t got anything better to do with my money.” She laughed softly. “Most of it goes to charity anyway.”
I nodded, watching her move with a calm majesty I thought I would never have. “You know, Vicki, you’re as beautiful as you ever were.”
She smiled back. “You were never a good liar, Ken. When you first knew me I was the overweight lonely girl with braces and coke-bottle glasses. If I’m as beautiful now as I was then, I think I’m in trouble.”
“You know what I mean,” I said. She smiled back at me and said, “Yeah, I guess I do. You yelled at me, once.”
“You pissed me off, once,” I replied. “I’m sorry.”
“So am I,” she said. “Apology accepted,” she said.
“I still think you look wonderful.”
“Ken,” she sighed slowly, “Let’s face the face. I’m eighty-two years old. And unlike you, I am not going to live forever. I’m going to live a lot longer than my groundside relatives. My family stock was always long-lived, and good food, a lighter gravity, and–” she spread her fingers over her chest– “an artificial heart are all good reasons that I should live well past a hundred.”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t find you beautiful, Vicki.”
She smiled. “Do you really?”
“Yeah. Why shouldn’t I? It’s not like I find small differences in body types a disadvantage.”
“Yes, I saw your female friend. She’s very pretty.”
“K’meh?” I asked. “Yes, she is.”
“So why do you want me?”
I looked around idly. “Because I came to visit you. K’meh and I are just newfound fast friends, but she’s not you, Vicki. Besides,” I smiled mischievously, “call it an ego thing.”
“Ego? How so?”
“I did want to be the one to take your virginity.”
She laughed. “You silly kid. You haven’t changed one little bit.”
“Watch who you’re calling ‘kid,’ youngster,” I said, “I’m still a hundred and twenty-eight years older than you are.”
“Really?” she said, looking up. “I didn’t realize… where did the other twenty-eight years come from… or is that how long the set-up took?”
I nodded. “Pendor took four point five million years to set up. Although I spent most of that time ‘in transit,’ so to speak, the monitoring and measuring of progress took twenty one years.”
“And the other seven?”
“All by yourself. Tell me how that happened?”
“How what happened?”
“How you came to build Pendor. What happened? One day, you were there… the next, you were gone. That hunk of junk you drove was gone.”
I sighed quietly and told her the whole story, starting, as the White Queen once said, at the beginning, and going all the way to the end, and then stopping. She was silent through the whole thing, sipping from a glass of wine.
“And that’s it?” she asked. “Someone decided you should be God, and that was that? Suddenly you were?”
“Something like that. I mean, I know someone had to start the process, but eventually it became a closed loop, me handing Fawn to me, over and over eternally.”
“Too bad we can’t go back in time and do something about it.”
“Maybe someday somebody will. Until then, we have to live with it. Do you find what I did… repulsive? I know some people do.”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t. Predictable, for anyone who knew you, maybe. You were never into power, really, so much as you were into satisfaction. I like your solution.”
I reached out and touched the back of her hand with mine. “Thank you.”
She pulled her hand away from me. “That’s not the real one,” she said. “Besides, I’m really too old for that sort of thing.”
“To what?” I asked. “Be touched?” I grabbed her other hand and held it tightly, being careful not to apply too much pressure. “Everyone needs to be touched, Victoria. You do, I do, everyone does.”
“You’re reading too much pop psychology, Ken.”
“Am I?” I asked softly. “I’ve raised over a hundred children in my household, given birth to eleven species. I think I know a few things about people. Thing one is that all people need to be touched.” I was quiet for a minute. “Victoria… even though you and I never slept together, I know how physical a creature you were. Remember playing flag football in the mud in that field behind the theatre?” She nodded, her smile distant and wistful.
“That was a long time ago.” She lifted her right hand and waved it in front of me. “That was before this. That was before an accident took away my arm and my leg.” She smiled. “It’s nothing.”
“Nothing? You saved 82 people that day.”
“Four people died anyway.”
“Still… You’re a hero. Don’t dismiss that.”
“Oh, I don’t,” she said. “Look at this room. It’s hero worship of a sort, Ken. They can’t send me home; I’ll die. So they stick me in the most expensive nursing home in the galaxy. They let this nobel-prize-winning cripple dote about her laboratory and sometimes they visit her and thank her for being such an important part of Moonbase Tycho.”
I stood up, grabbed my chair and planted it next to her. I sat down besides her as she looked away. “I’m not going to ignore you or fawn at you or dote on you.”
“No, you’re worse, in a way.”
“Because I’m twice as old as you are?”
“No,” she said firmly. “No, you were always meant to live forever, Ken. It was obvious from the day we met you. Although I would like to have seen what you looked like with grey hair.”
“I’ll dye it the next time I stop by.”
“Do that,” she said, smiling. I leaned down to kiss her smile, and she let me. As I backed away again she said, “No, that’s not it. It’s because you haven’t changed at all. You don’t hurt me because of what you are, you do because of what you were. I remember you, walking around with a squirt gun, and shooting me as I begged you not to. You remind me of what I had.”
I stroked her cheek softly; her skin was wrinkled with age, but the surface was still smooth. Her eyes were still bright. “I still want you, Victoria. It isn’t age, or beauty, or even ego that makes me want you. It’s simple honestly. I just remember the beautiful black woman who spent a summer with me, who I held in my arms the night she cried as her boyfriend left her.”
She laughed. “And I used to think you didn’t like me because I was black.”
“I hardly think race was stopping me from paying attention to you. Look with what I sleep with nowadays.”
She nodded, smiling. “I used to wonder when it began.”
“When what began?” I asked curiously.
“When we stop being people and start being machines.” She tapped her chest again, through the monk’s robe she wore. “Is it when I get a bridge for my teeth? Dentures? Contact lenses?” She smiled. “When do you start thinking of Grandma as a cyborg?”
“What brought this depressing line of thought on?” I asked.
“I was just wondering when I stopped feeling. Did you know, Ken, that every six months Beth checks to make sure the age spots on this arm match the ones on my left?” She turned to me. “As much as I want to give you what you want, as much as I wish the feelings were still there… they aren’t.”
I nodded. “Can I still spend the night next to you?”
She looked over at me curiously. “Whatever for?”
“How about for old time’s sake?” I asked, smiling. “How about, because I want to?”
She thought about it quietly. “Very well,” she said, smiling. “Maybe those feelings aren’t so dead after all.”
“Are you tired?” she asked, surprised. “I am, but I assumed you and your friend would be getting sleep since you landed.”
“I didn’t get enough,” I said softly. “Your dinner filled me, and I tend to get tired after a big dinner.”
She smiled and nodded, rising. “Come this way, then,” she said, leading me through a small door into a dark room that lit as we entered, the room behind us darkening and the door closing. Her bed was large enough for two, I guessed, the same size as the one K’meh and I were sharing. She turned around and said “You’re really determined to do this.”
“Dammit, Vicki, this isn’t necrophilia and it isn’t altruism. I want you. Is that so hard to get through to you?”
She shook her head and reached into her robe, tugging at a short string that opened the whole thing to me. Underneath, her skin was still clean, her breasts hadn’t sagged all that much, although they had perhaps lost some mass. The benefits of living in a low-gravity environment. I smiled. “Do you still want me?”
“Yes,” I replied, smiling. “Why shouldn’t I?”
“Because you’re so used to youth. All of your children, they all look so young, strong, pure.”
I walked over to her, my jacket and shirt unbuttoned, and pressed my bare chest to hers in a tight bearhug. “Why should that make a difference at all? They’re that way because I don’t want them to die, Vicki, not because I want them to always be young.” I sighed rested my head on her shoulder. “I don’t want you to die, either.”
She sighed. “I wasn’t meant to live forever.” I dropped the subject like a stone. Every time I had discussed the possibility of her Hallwalking, she told me to not discuss it. I stepped back and undid my clothing, standing before her naked as she stood with me. She smiled. “You look wonderful.”
“As do you.”
“Thanks,” she said, taking my hand and leading me to bed. Her hand felt frail in mine; despite the advantages of the lower gravity, one of the problems inherent with it was the lack of resistance; there was little reason for muscles to remain at the strength they have on Earth. She turned on her side and I cuddled up behind her. I held her close and together we fell asleep.
With dawn I awoke to find her still lying against me. I was fascinated by her body, so different from anything I had ever encountered before or probably would ever again. It wasn’t that I was erotically charged by her pronounced and visible aging, or that I wondered what the experience she was going through was like, so much as I merely found it so different that I felt it worth exploring, worth touching. Like her.
She stirred as I ran my hand over her belly, her skin responding to my touch only slightly. Her hand reached up to touch mine, and her eyes opened slowly. “Maybe I’m not so old as I thought,” she smiled. “I had a strange dream last night.”
“Memories of a man lying next to you?” I asked, smiling.
“No, not even that. Although having you lie next to me proved to me how much I missed it.”
“Enough to get out more often?”
“That remains to be seen,” she whispered, squeezing my hand tightly. I leaned over and kissed her softly, my left hand touching her belly softly and then sliding down to probe delicately between her legs, stroking through the thick, almost wiry pubic hair, which I bet if I looked was a mixed silver and black as the hair on her head. Her mouth felt warm against mine, warm and wet. Her vulva was just as warm and just as human. With my fingers and with experience, I parted her outer labia and slid a finger between them, playing with her lips and her clitoris. She sighed slightly, a high-pitched “ieee…” sound. She looked up at me. “I forgot…”
“Forgot what?” I asked softly, stopping for a moment. “Don’t tell me you don’t masturbate anymore.”
She shook her head. “I thought I was getting to old even for that.”
I slid my fingers across the top of her clitoral hood. “Victoria, you’re never to old to play with yourself. Besides,” I said smiling, “You haven’t got a heart to fibrillate.” She smiled at me and I kissed her lips again, sliding down her chin and across her breasts briefly. There was an unfamiliar, musky scent to her that I refused to categorize, even to myself. The scent was replaced with a much more familiar scent when I slid between her legs. I kissed the top of her mons and her hands clutched at mine, my arms stretched out before me over her body.
She moaned again, that high-pitched “Iee!” sound. Her body shuddered under my tongue as I licked at her cunny, trying (and losing) my argument with her pubic hair as to where it belonged. She began to thrust her hips upwards; I had to clamp my hands down on her thighs to hold her in place. Her voice’s pitch climbed higher, reaching for notes even beyond my hearing. I was wondering how much longer she could keep this up; her body was curling in response to my every lick, until she finally answered my question, screaming and pounding the mattress with her fists. “Okay!” she gasped. “Okay, you’ve proven your point, damn you!” I smiled and crawled up the length of her body, touching her gently as I slid up to lie besides her.
She laughed softly as she wiped her brow of sweat that wasn’t there. “I haven’t had a climax like that in nearly two years. How could I forget?”
“I dunno,” I said, smiling. She reached down with her real hand, thin and frail, and wrapped it around my penis. “When I was younger, I used to play with these things a lot.”
“Before or after the accident?”
“Both,” she said. “The accident never slowed me down, Ken. I was boffing male nurses even before I had the borgings fit on.”
I laughed. “That sounds like you. You just let age catch up to you?”
“Age and depression,” she sighed, her hand slowly stroking my cock. “I got over the depression,” she said, smiling, “But not the age.”
I nodded, slowly easing myself over and between legs. She smiled up at me, her hands reaching up to my shoulders, as I slid my cock into her. Her eyes closed fast, her mouth open, a soft gasp. “Oh, yes…” she sighed. I made love to her slowly, stroking deep within her cunny; she pressed her hips upwards with every stroke. We began to make love with a little more urgency, pressing up against each other, kissing as we made love and my climax rose on soft cat feet to explode within me and her, a tiny explosion of desire and pleasure.
I looked down at her and said, “Victoria, you’re still a lovely woman, inside and out.”
She laughed brightly and looked up at me. “You’re right,” she said. “Even at eighty-two I should have more lovers, right?”
“Right!” I laughed. “When I was your age I had a dozen lovers.”
“I should be thankful I only have you chasing me,” she said. “Oh!”
“Are you okay?” I asked. That hadn’t sounded like a happy “Oh!”
“Yeah,” she smiled. “Don’t go acting like I’m some frail old woman just because I am. My back hurts once in a while, Ken. Part of that’s your fault, you know… It’s been a long time since I had sex with someone.”
I smiled and leaned over to kiss her. “I missed you sometimes.”
“You have memories that go back that far?”
“Remember that biocybernetics is Pendor’s premier science. I can remember anything I want.”
“‘We can remember it for you wholesale.’“
“Something like that,” I said, smiling and recognizing the reference. “We should get dressed.”
“Shouldn’t we shower first?”
“What about the water restrictions?” I asked.
“I don’t pay attention to those. I guess they figure I’m going senile.”
I laughed and shook my head, joining her in the shower. We were efficient, however, and tried not to waste any water.
“Missed you last night,” K’Meh said gently.
“I know. I just needed to…”
She reached out and touched my arm. “You don’t need to explain,” she whispered, pulling me close to her. “I understand.”
I smiled at her. “I’m glad someone does,” I replied. “I’m going to spend the day at the medical conference. Want to join me?”
She stuck her tongue out. “Doctors. I’m going to go talk to some of the pilots; see if I can convince one of them to take me up in one of their ‘Shoppers.’“
“‘Shoppers?’” I asked. “What’s that?”
“Short Hopper. It’s what they call a vehicle that can just make lunar orbit. They use them for all sorts of things.”
“If it can make lunar orbit and back, theoretically it could make it to Earth. That’s no short hop.”
“That’s what they call them,” she replied, smiling and struggling on a new set of flight overalls. “I’ll see you later,” she said, kissing my cheek.
“See ya, K’meh,” I said as she disappeared out the door. I shook my head, pulled on a set of clean clothes myself, and then spent the opening session of the day taking notes. Although I found the medicine fascinating, especially when the subject of genetics and drift came up, I was relieved when Commander Scheider invited me for lunch.
As our lunches were served, Scheider started the conversation with “So, how do you like our moonbase?”
“It’s nice,” I said. “The food’s better than we have on our fast starships. One of the problems with our starting out with an FTL drive. We didn’t bother to work on life support quite so strongly as you did.”
“Yes,” Scheider replied. “Your materials technology specialist has been taking notes almost nonstop since you arrived. I must admit that I find working with your people fascinating.”
“Why is that?”
“The difference in technology and thrust.” He smiled, slightly embarrassed. “As well as the overwhelming evidence of their alien origin. If I were dealing with you, I’d have trouble remembering that you were from another planet. I can’t forget it with them.”
I grinned. “I can understand that. I can walk around unnoticed. Tell me, have you had any complaints from atmospherics life support regarding fur in the filters?”
“No,” Scheider replied musingly. “Not that I know of. Then again, there are only five of your people around. Do they shed that much?” he asked.
“Not particularly. I was just making sure they weren’t being a nuisance. After all, ALS tends to be some rather critical, and delicate, machinery.”
He nodded as he dug into a rather typical hamburger. The conversation was typical and light for the rest of the meal; I was surprised that he completely avoided the subject of Victoria Stoneman.
“Hi,” I said, peeking out from the covers as K’meh came tripping in, light as a feather even in one-sixth gravity. “K’meh?”
“Huh?” she asked. “Oh, you’re awake! I had so much fun today. We went lunar buggy riding. That’s insane! It was incredible!” She laughed, and I laughed along with her. She stripped out of her clothing and snuggled up against me. “So, Ken, are you going to keep your end of the bargain?”
“What bargain?” I asked. “I said I wanted a roommate, not backup.”
“You said ‘A little bit of both,’” K’meh murmured. “I think I want a little bit of the ‘up’ part,” she laughed.
I laughed along with her and turned over to face her. “You’re in a brutal mood tonight.”
“Oh, brutal,” she said, flinging the covers back and grabbing my still-flaccid penis in her paw and stroking it slowly. It came to life pretty quickly under her urging and the moment I was hard she slid down over it, sliding it deep inside her, cooing loudly. “Yes…”
I grabbed her hips and pressed up deep into her. “Oh, yes,” she gasped against. My body complained at what I was putting it through, and every thrust threatened to fling us from the bed in the unfamiliar gravity, but we held together, her tongue hanging out the side of her muzzle as we made love passionately, holding onto each other until we both climaxed loudly.
She smiled down at me. “We’ll have to do that again.”
“Some other time.” I smiled. “I’m still trying to get some sleep.”
She snuggled close and wrapped her arm around my back; I shifted back to get as much contact between us as I could. I sighed and closed my eyes. With a pilot’s understanding of the need for sleep, K’meh was already out, and I managed to fall asleep almost as fast.