Going Home

This is another parallel posting from Literotica. This is a change of pace, suspense and eerie rather than sci-fi. This is early in the Millwater horror series even though the town only has a cameo.

 

“You about ready to blow this thing?” Tommy asked him.

Ed nodded. “Yeah, everyone clear?”

Tommy looked around again, “Still in the middle of the desert by ourselves, boss.”

“Fine, hit it.”

There were a couple of dull thumps that Ed felt through the soles of his boots. The men looked over the hood of the truck. The two large rocks they’d been tasked with destroying were split into quarters.

“Hoo-ah!” yelled Tommy. “Check that shit out!”

He started to run toward the rocks but stepped on a bootlace and fell flat on his face.

Ed shook his head and laughed, walking over to where the dust was still settling around the rocks. They were some kind of dark stone he’d never seen before. Crazy red-neck or not, Tommy was an artist with high explosives. The two boulders had split in four sections, almost like an orange. There was a sharp smell in the air, almost like ozone.

“GET DOWN!” Tommy yelled and Ed was on his face before he’d even thought about it. But it was quiet, no buzz of incoming bullets.

Tommy came running over. “Eddie! You okay?” Hands patted his back and sides.

Ed rolled over, “Tommy, I swear to Christ, if you did that because your own stupid ass fell on the ground…”

“You didn’t see it?” Tommy said. “The flashes?”

Ed sat up, “No, I didn’t see any flashes. What’re you talking about?”

“Serious as a heart attack, you walked over and there was two flashes of light right over you. I figured there was some unexploded ordnance. You didn’t see anything? Really?”

Ed looked at him. Tommy was such a shit liar that everyone loved playing poker with him. “You scratched your sunglasses or something,” Ed said. “There was nothing there.”

“Yeah, you woulda noticed it for sure. Hell, Eddie, one last squirt to the heart, right?” Tommy said, pulling him to his feet. “I wouldn’t fuck with you on your last day like that.”

“Yes you would.”

Tommy thought for a minute and laughed. “Yeah, I would. But I wasn’t back there, swear. Maybe it was the sun or something.”

They got in the truck and headed back to the security compound. Ed was flying out tonight, he couldn’t wait to get out of here. Twenty-four hours from now he’d be landing in Cincinnati, two hours later he’d be home.

“You think you’ll be back?” Tommy asked as they drove.

“No way. Three tours and two years contracting? That’s enough sandbox for me.”

“You’ll be back,” Tommy said, nodding as though it were a done deal. “You’ll get bored and you’ll be back.”

Ed shook his head. “No way. I’m going home, I’m gonna marry Dina, and we’re going to have a baby. I’ll find some nice boring job to do.”

Tommy laughed. “Calling bullshit.” He started on some long story about some hapless cousin of his who kept getting in trouble whenever he got home.

Ed smiled and pulled his hat down over his eyes. Tommy never cared if anyone was listening or not. “Talking to hear his head roar,” his uncle would’ve said.

~~~~

“Iraq,” the customs agent said, glancing through his passport.

“Yessir,” Ed said. He really hoped this big bastard wasn’t going to be a prick. He’d heard about guys getting hassled, especially contractors.

“You meeting someone?” the guy asked.

Ed frowned. That was an odd question and he just nodded.

“Good deal, the taxi guys crank their fees up at night. Didn’t want you to get screwed over.” The agent stamped his passport and handed it back. “Welcome home, Mr. Fairweather.”

It always surprised Ed when people were kind. He nodded at the man and headed down the empty concourse, just a few people from the flight in front of him. Baggage claim was almost as empty and he immediately saw Dina waiting for him. He started to walk quickly toward her and she ran to him, jumping up to wrap her arms and legs around him, squeezing tightly. Ed hugged her just as tightly, smelling her shampoo and perfume. Now he was home.

~~~~

His cellphone chirped three times and Ed snapped awake and grabbed it. He looked around confused and then remembered he was home.

“Fairweather.”

“Ed, Andy Lewis.”

Andy had been Ed’s CO in the Army and then his team leader when they both went to private contractors.

“Hey Andy, what’s going on.” The guy wasn’t trying to get him to come back already?

“Ed, everything okay with you?”

Ed squinted at his watch. “Yeah, I got home a few hours ago. Something wrong?”

“Checking to make sure everything was okay. Look, I didn’t want to interrupt anything, I had to be sure. Give me a call later.”

Ed sat up. Andy sounded freaked out but Andy didn’t freak out.

“Dina’s at work. Talk to me now, Andy. I’m awake. What’s wrong?”

It was quiet long enough that Ed thought he’d hung up.

“Tommy lost his shit a few hours after you left, Ed. Starting talking all kinds of crazy shit. They found him talking to the air, wandering around the market.”

“He was fine when we went out,” Ed said. “What happened?”

“Our guys brought him back, mostly naked and raving about fires and green mountains. I’ve never seen him like that. We put him to bed, hoped he’d sleep it off. A little later, he put a pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger.”

“Tommy? Holy shit,” Ed whispered. Tommy was the last guy he’d expect to eat a bullet.

“Yeah. I gotta write a statement here. Nothing happened to him while you guys were out? He wasn’t buying drugs or anything?”

“Tommy? Hell no, he was too Baptist to even drink beer. Something strange did happen after he blew those rocks. He yelled, said there were flashes of light around me. I didn’t see anything and he was kind of embarrassed about it a few minutes later.”

“Maybe he had a stroke or something?” Andy said.

“I dunno, he was fine later.”

“Be nice if there was enough of his head for an autopsy,” Andy said. “Look, I don’t want his insurance to get held up. I’m going to write it up that way. So if anyone calls and asks…”

“Gotcha boss,” Ed said. He wasn’t surprised, Andy was a good CO.

“Hey, why the hell did you guys det those boulders anyway? The locals are pissed as hell about that, were you just fucking around?”

Ed was surprised, “Tommy had paperwork, your name was on it along with some guy from the local security.”

There was another long silence. “I didn’t sign any taskings for that, Ed. Remember the local’s name?”

“Uhm, Freptar or something like that. It’s in my log book.”

“I’ll look into it. The mayor is meeting with us today, evidently those were an important monument. Maybe they’re just busting my balls over it”

“Andy, you know I don’t do independent shit.”

There was a sigh. “I know you don’t, Eddie. Starting to wonder what Tommy had going though. I gotta go deal with this, you’re not in any trouble. Enjoy the P&Q.”

“Let me know if there’s anything I can do, Andy.”

~~~~

Dina stretched as she walked to the bathroom. Ed had promised her that they’d spend a couple of days in bed when he got home. She’d had to work today but he’d certainly spent a day by himself sleeping. She didn’t mind, he’d had more than enough energy when she got home last night.

Today she had a surprise for him. A few months ago he said one of the things he wanted to do was go for a drive, to see trees and water and not have to worry about anything blowing up or anyone shooting at him. After some research, she’d come up with a carefully marked route on a map with the twistiest roads she could.

“Edward, get up,” she said, opening the curtains. “Right now.”

“Yep, I’m awake. What’s wrong?”

“Enough laying around, I need you to take care of something for me.” Dina held out the map.

Ed looked at it. “What?”

“I need you to get that car out of the barn and take me up this road for lunch!”

He looked at the map and then up at her, grinning. “Well, if you’re sure.” He grabbed her and pulled her into the bed.

“No!” Dina shrieked, wiggling to get away. “I’m starving near to death and I let you take advantage of me. Now you won’t even feed me! Brute!”

“Who was taking advantage?” he said, looking at the hickey on his chest.

“Pish-posh, that’s nothing. Get up!” Dina dodged another arm and backed up to the door. “Edward, I’m gonna fill a bucket with water.”

“I’m up,” he said. “That car is gonna be a mess though.”

“Maybe it’s not as bad as you remember.”

~~~~

Ed pulled the barn door open and stopped.

“Who’s car is this?” he said.

“I might’ve had Kyle fix it up a little,” Dina said.

“A little! Baby, this most have cost a fortune!”

“Well, you won’t let me pay for anything, so I used my money for this.”

Ed had bought a Impreza WRX when he’d left the Army. It was a few years old and pretty beat up. He planned to fix it up but before that happened he’d taken a contract with a private security company. This didn’t look much like the car he’d left in the barn. The dents were gone and it had been repainted, there were new wheels as well.

“He did some work on the engine too,” Dina said. “But you’re not allowed to look right now, you’re taking me to lunch.”

“You are the best ever!” Ed said, wrapping her in a tight hug.

“I’m happy you like it,” Dina said. She shivered as his hands found her bottom and he kissed her neck.

“Let me take you inside and thank you,” Ed murmured into her ear.

“No! You stop that! You’re taking me to lunch!”

Ed laughed and pulled the car out of the barn. It sounded great.

“You’re the navigator,” Ed told her as she got in.

“Okay, head over Route 26. We’re going to lunch in Millwater.”

“Sounds like a nice place.”

She nodded. “It’s gorgeous. And there’s some really nice antique shops.”

Ed looked over at her but she ignored him, smiling out the windshield. He hated antiquing. He kept staring at her but Dina refused to look at him. Finally, Ed laughed and floored the car. Dina shrieked as the tires threw gravel everywhere and they went flying down the driveway. The day couldn’t have been more perfect, warm and sunny with occasional puffy clouds blocking the sun. They got to Marietta and followed the road east, out of town. Dina rolled down her window as they left the town behind, tucking her long blonde hair under a baseball cap. Ed smiled over at her, there wasn’t anyone he’d rather be with.

The road into the river valley began to twist back and forth, bouncing up and down over ridges. Ed sped up.

“Don’t you make me carsick,” Dina teased him. “I will not hesitate to throw up on the floor.”

He gunned the engine in response and she laughed, putting her head against the seat, dangling her hand out the window, playing with the air moving past. Life was good.

~~~~

They pulled into Riverwood just after noon and found a place to eat. After lunch, it was a couple of antique stores. Ed was so happy to be with Dina that he hardly minded following her around the dusty rooms.

“Well, that’s it,” she said when they came out of the second store. “Ready to hit the road?”

“Really? Just two? Baby, are you feeling okay?”

“There’s only three in town and the other one is closed today,” she said, taking his arm. “But there are other towns nearby…”

“No, no, I don’t want to mess with your plans.”

She laughed. “But there’s a teeny little graveyard I’d like to see if you don’t mind stopping.”

“Nope, let’s get some gas and something to drink and we’ll be on our way.”

~~~~

“We’re getting close, there’s a little picnic and camping area.”

“For a cemetery?” Ed asked and she laughed.

“It’s in the national forest, no one uses the cemetery anymore.”

“Well obviously the Forest Service isn’t concerned about zombies.”

“Probably not, the bastards. It’s the next road on the right.”

He followed the narrow road as it turned back and forth out of the valley. They passed a large gas station and turned down the dirt road.

“Aw baby, did you bring me back here so I could play rally driver?” Ed asked, fishtailing the car around a bend.

“Remember what I said about throwing up on the floor? And be careful on this bridge, it looks scary.”

“There’s the entrance.”

He pulled in and turned off the car. Without the engine everything seemed very quiet.

“Let’s go look at the pond first,” Dina said. “There’s places to sit over there, under the pine trees.”

Ed looked around as they walked to the water. It was really quiet, the trees on the forested slopes around were completely still. Even the scratchy roar of the grasshoppers was muted. There was a little splash of water by the trees, where the pond drained over an old concrete dam and into the creek below. Other than that, it was just the scuffing of his feet in the pine needles.

Dina sat on a picnic table and opened her bottle of juice. He sat down and took a drink from his water. The smell of pinesap was really strong. There was a little bit of a noise as a breeze hissed through the trees. It didn’t help, just made the suffocating silence worse. He rubbed his nose, he usually liked pine trees, liked the smell of sap and the soft carpet of needles. Not today, it was gloomy and all he could think about was the smell of turpentine.

Dina was talking about something she’d seen in the antique store, getting it for the house and he tried to pay attention but the words were just sliding past him for some reason. He frowned and rubbed his nose again.

“…Eddie?”

“Huh?”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, why?”

“You’re hunching your shoulders like you’re expecting someone to hit you.”

As he was about to tell her he was fine, the wind blew harder, making the trees hiss again. He let the sound interrupt him, glaring up at the trees.

Dina frowned. “You’re not okay. What’s going on?”

“Really, I’m fine. Just annoyed with this place for some reason.”

“Then we’ll go somewhere else.”

“Sounds good,” Ed said, getting up. “Let’s go see your graveyard.”

“It’s up that hill over there,” Dina said, pointing to the far side of the parking lot.

He took a deep breath as they walked past the car and Dina smiled at him. “Feeling better?”

“Yeah. Don’t know what was wrong with me back there. So tell me why there’s a graveyard in a park.”

“Way back, there was a little pioneer settlement here. All that’s left is the millpond back there, and up the hill is the cemetery and an old well.”

Ed really wanted to get the hell out of there, but Dina was excited to go up and see the cemetery. Making her happy made him happy, so they started climbing the path. Dina was into old graveyards, but not in a creepy way. She’d grown up in a state home knowing nothing about her family. Now she stopped at little graveyards all over looking for people with her last name. When she found one, she carefully took notes and then would make Ed laugh with outlandish stories about Great Uncle Hezekiah or whoever.

When they reached the top he took another deep breath. It was better up here, but there was some kind of itch he couldn’t reach. He’d snap out of it, today was going to be perfect. He’d gotten her an engagement ring in Germany and he touched the velvet box in his pocket. Yeah, today was going to be perfect.

“There’s the well,” she said, letting go of his hand to point. They walked over to the fieldstone wall and looked down. There was a heavy steel grate keeping people from falling in, other than that, the bright light made it too dark to see the bottom. He thought he could hear the water at the bottom though. It made him have to pee.

“Hey, I’m going to duck behind this tree for a second,” he said.

She smiled and shook her head, “We just walked by a bathroom. Hurry up.”

He left his bottle of water on the edge of the well and kissed her.

“Be right back.”

There was a large shaded area under a tangle of trees and he stepped behind one and went against the base. Ed zipped up and walked back out to the well but Dina wasn’t there. Maybe she decided he was being gross and went on without him. He grabbed the water, but why was this full now? And the cap was still sealed. He knew he’d been drinking out of it. Did someone else leave it here?

He walked around the well, looking for his water. It was gone, this one had to be someone else’s. He left it there. The last thing he needed was some soccer mom screaming he stole it.

There was a little path into the trees and followed that, finding an iron fence and a dozen headstones, but no Dina. Had she gone back to the car for some reason? The back of his neck was starting to tingle and itch, something was wrong here. Ed started to jog back toward the well but made himself stop and take a few deep breaths. He wasn’t in the sandbox anymore, he was home and there was nothing to worry about here. Plus, Dina would make him go back to that PTSD group if he ran back there flipping his shit.

Once his breathing had calmed down, Ed walked the rest of the way to the well. She still wasn’t there, so she must have gone back down to the car. The water was still sitting there. He kicked a rock and it clattered against the stone well coping. The sound was loud, Ed realized that everything around him had gone absolutely quiet. Even the grasshoppers were silent, no birds, no wind in the trees. His footsteps were the only noise. The light was getting dimmer as well.

Sandstorm! he thought.

No, not here, thunderstorms here. He squinted up but the sky was a bright glaring white. No dark clouds that he could see. But there was the parking lot ahead. That’s where she was, she’d laugh at him for being nervous when he told her about this. His feet scuffed on the path and Ed was glad of that noise at least. It was almost like he was going deaf.

The tingling on the back of his neck was still there though. It had been joined by a rock in the pit of his stomach. Something had to be wrong here. He was walking past the car when he remembered he left the water up there. She’d give him hell for littering in the park it but he really didn’t want to go back up there. He didn’t have the energy and it was too hot and too still.

The Subaru was the only car in the lot but she wasn’t inside. How could she be when it was this hot? Ed glanced at the sky again. Still a bright glaring white. He noticed a green shimmer near the horizon, but it was the wrong color for a tornado. What was going on with the weather?

The hair on his arms stood up as the quiet began to spread around him. It spread from behind him, silencing everything around him. Like it was flowing down the hill behind him. Ed slowed his breathing down again. Panicking wouldn’t help Dina. Maybe she’d gone to the bathroom. He walked around the brick structure but the door was hanging open and it was empty.

The feeling of wrongness got worse. He wasn’t nervous anymore, he was fucking scared. It didn’t matter if he left Iraq or not, shit was going down right here.

“Dina!” he yelled, turning in a circle. He yelled over and over but there was no reply. Had someone kidnapped her? Had he missed any signs of a struggle?

Ed wanted to run back up the hill and look for traces, but that was ridiculous. He’d been fifty feet away, he would have heard something. And Dina was hardly helpless, she’d knocked a drunk Marine on his ass last year in Florida. She hadn’t even broken a sweat, no way could someone silently grab her.

But whose bottle of water was sitting on the well?

That picnic table in the shadow of the pines was the only other place she could be. Unless she’d walked out to the road. He could see the pines but not into the darkness underneath them. For some reason, he really didn’t want to walk over there.

A flash in his eyes made Ed duck. It was still silent and if there wasn’t any noise it wasn’t an explosion. He was fine, it must have been a reflection. He took a breath and started walking across the grass toward the trees. If she was there, he’d find her. If she was in trouble, he’d help her. She’d do the same for him.

“I’m yours and you’re mine,” he muttered, concentrating on putting one foot in front of another. They said it to each other all the time. The last thing in the world he’d do was let her down because something spooked him. The glare from the sky got worse, he could feel the sun beating onto his scalp. The fear got worse and worse but he forced himself to keep walking. Those trees looked like they were miles away. It was going to take him forever to get out there.

He glanced back at the parking lot, hoping to see her standing by the car. She’d have her hands on her hips, wondering what he was doing wandering out here. But the parking lot was still empty and now the car looked as far away as the trees. There was no way he could make it to either one in this heat and silence. He shook his head, it didn’t matter, she was his and something had gone very wrong. He was going to find her.

He kept walking toward the trees, not looking back. There were small puffs of dust from the grass, baked brown and dead by the merciless sun. There was a scrap of something on the ground, a scrap of nylon strap someone had abandoned a long time ago looked like. Maybe a dog collar. He’d had a dog once. He could still hear it; the screech of tires followed by its anguished screaming. It was the first thing that he’d ever had to kill, kneeling there in the street with the knife while the blood spread, staining the knees of his school pants.

The feeling in his stomach had grown spikes now. He swallowed, trying to hold off panic. How could a few trees scare him this much? And Jax was long gone, no need to worry him now.

It had been quick for Jax at least. Not like mom. She’d lasted a long time, kept smiling, even as his stepfather slowly beat her to death, night by night. Ed groaned quietly.

He thought he was done with remembering this shit! Why was he doing this to himself?

He looked up and could’ve cried with relief when he saw the trees right in front of him. He made it. And there was someone sitting on the picnic table! He stumbled into the shade of the pines, shuddering as he stepped out of that merciless heat and glare. The cool dim air washed over him, the feeling was almost like falling into cold water. He walked on, going to Dina. They were going to laugh about this later.

But that wasn’t her.

Dina was wearing khaki shorts and a green t shirt. There was a faded Hornet logo on the front. This woman was wearing long black pants and some sort of long, dark red, vest thing. And Dina had blonde in a braid down to the middle of her back. This woman’s short black hair stood up in spikes.

The fear and despair washed over Ed again. Where had she come from? The parking lot was still empty, he could see it from here, across the endless wastes of dead grass.

“Excuse me, have you seen a woman, green shirt and blonde hair?” he managed to ask.

The woman turned around. She moved gracefully in one smooth motion. Almost like a machine. She studied him, expression then abruptly smiled. She looked like a supermodel, high cheekbones, smooth skin and very red lips. Her eyes were a strange gray color, he’d never seen anyone with eyes that color. And the expression on her face was fixed, like it had been painted there. Ed had never seen anyone so beautiful and was deeply frightened. She wasn’t beautiful like Dina, this woman had a statue’s beauty or the graceful curve of an iridescent beetle shell. Dina was alive and laughing and perfect.

“Her?” The woman sounded surprised Ed could even think about Dina.

He felt a little ashamed for some reason, but he was stubborn, “Yes, her.”

“She was up there waiting for you, at the well. I suppose she might have gone off with him.”

Ed was almost nauseated with terror, his knees were made of water and every neuron he had wanted to run. Right now. Go away to anywhere that wasn’t here. But Dina was his, he was hers. That’s the way it was. The woman was looking past him, like there was someone behind him. Ed looked around but no one was there.

“You remember, Edward? The well?” She was talking to him like he was simple.

“No, I was just there. She was gone.”

“Not that well.”

She laughed and Ed could hear the cheerleaders laughing about his “poor kid” clothes his first day of high school. Ed looked at his feet, ashamed of everything he was. But he wasn’t leaving until he had an answer. He was hers, she was his and he was going to find her again.

She stopped, mid laugh and sighed instead. “Fine, be stubborn then, I’ll show you.”

She got up gracefully, beautifully and Ed almost screamed but bit his lips before she noticed. No one moved that way, no one real. It was too smooth, too perfect. There was something to it that woke up the ancient parts of his brain, making then scream of predators, screaming at him to run. Ed had a hard time making his legs move, but finally followed her. There wasn’t any choice, he had to find…what as her name again? Dina! How the hell could he forget that? It had to be this heat.

The sun blasted meadow was shimmering in the heat and Ed stopped to look back at the shade and a jolt of formless terror hit him like someone had thrown it from a bucket. He hurried after the woman. The fear faded when he was close to her again. Ed tried to stop walking but the terror of his memories shoved him, carrying him in her wake. They walked across the parking lot. His car was right there, a beautiful blue promise of escape if only he could make it, but he couldn’t stop walking. His hands were shaking so badly that he couldn’t have even gotten his keys out anyway.

The terror began to crowd in on him as they climbed the path. Ed was only a step behind her. He didn’t think of anything but following her, he didn’t want to be left here by himself.

“What’s your name?” he asked and she stopped and rotated, looking at him.

“What would you do with my name?” She sounded curious.

“You knew mine, I don’t know what to call you,” he muttered, unable to meet her beautiful eyes.

“Ah. You may call me Akatash min Marid then. No, your clumsy tongue can’t, can it? Can you manage Aka?”

He nodded and she swiveled around and started walking up the path again and Ed followed her. His eyes were drawn to the movement of her buttocks. It was inhumanly graceful. Ed couldn’t believe that he could watch her like this, that he could get turned on. But he couldn’t look away from the perfect motion of the perfect ass in front of him. She walked to the well. Aka pirouetted and sat on the edge of the well in one swift movement, like she was dancing. Ed looked for the bottle of water. It was gone and he was confused. Had he had been at the wrong place? Then he saw the trees he had gone behind. No, this was the same place he’d been before.

“As I said, maybe she got tired of waiting for you. Got bored and went off into the trees with him. Go and look.”

“With who?”

“Him! You wouldn’t know his name.”

There was a spark of anger inside of him. Of course he didn’t know the fucking name, would he have to ask if he did?

Aka looked amused, like he’d said it out loud. “You want to know his name as well? You can call him Varun.”

She waited, like he was supposed to recognize the name. She rolled her eyes.

“He gets so impatient. Go and look in the trees.” she said, waving him toward the tangled shade.

Ed was drawn to the tangle of trees, aware of every footstep, not wanting to look, suddenly sure he’d see Dinah there, her body ripped and lifeless. But he couldn’t stop himself, he wanted to close his eyes…and then he was gasping in relief, there was nothing there but the carpet of pine needles. He looked back at the woman and his mouth fell open. She had unbuttoned her vest and let it fall on the ground. She was smiling again and the expression looked real this time. He wasn’t sure if the expression on her face meant hunger or lust. It was probably both. She licked her lips and opened her pants. They fell around her ankles and she stepped out of them as she walked toward him. She moved slowly, looking even more like a statue, beautiful and utterly inhuman. Despite the terror, Ed’s cock was rigid.

“You don’t recognize me, salibi?”

Ed shook his head mutely. He’d never seen this woman before, he had no clue what she was talking about. But he wanted to run from her until his lungs burst and he wanted to crawl on his belly in the dirt to please her. He wanted to climb into the trees to hide or to scream his sanity away. But he didn’t move, he was frozen in place and out of choices. He was going to do whatever she wanted. He’d crawl, lick her feet, rip his own eyes out to please her. Whatever she wanted, because it was obedience not desire. Then a memory of laughter and blonde hair floated through his mind.

“Where is she?” Ed whispered. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to find her or just make sure she wasn’t watching what he was about to do for this woman.

“I told you, he gets impatient! She’s right over there, look.”

Ed turned, she kept talking but he ignored her. Dina! How had he missed seeing her? She was right there, so close he could hear her.

He could hear them both.

Dina wasn’t alone, they were both so close he could hear them both. Ed wanted to weep for her, she’d been taken over, just like Akatash was about to take him over. He wasn’t angry or jealous, neither of them had a choice. Like a mare being inseminated had no choice. Was that what they were doing to Dina and him? Why?

Dina was breathing hard, crouched over the figure in the shadows.

Ed kept watching, unable to believe his eyes. Dina was completely naked and she was pushing herself onto him. She was panting, like she’d been running. Every time she lowered herself, he pushed his hips up, driving his absurdly large penis up into her. Ed stood frozen, staring. The woman was standing beside him, close enough that he felt the heat coming from her perfect flesh.

“Who are you?” he whispered, pleading, keeping his eyes on Dina.

“I told you. What am I? Up and beside, from the Kaf” she said, sliding her hands down his back. He shivered at the warmth of her hands. “But don’t trouble your little brain. After all, how could Mr. Square know up?”

“What do you want with her? With us?”

“Mmm, you’re all so snuggly and scared!” she laughed, her hands tracing the edge of his shorts. “We’re playing qarin. Not pets, not quite right, but close. Because you’re so adorably tri-dimensional.”

“Is this real?”

“See? Adorable!”

The woman’s hands slid over his stomach, pulling his shirt over his head. The heat from her skin felt like sunlight on his back. Dina’s gasps were starting to sound like moans. She was muttering something but Ed couldn’t hear what. He couldn’t look away from Dina. Did she know he was watching?

Akatash pushed him forward as she stepped away. “Again! Why would you even think about…ohh! You have a relationship with her, don’t you. Little pets and their mates. This must be very upsetting for you. But see? Isn’t he magnificent?”

“Shoot it inside me,” Dina suddenly groaned. “I want to feel it.”

Ed stared at her, a pit forming in his stomach. Dina was grinding her hips on the shadowy figure. Ed knew then that she wasn’t being forced at all, she wanted it. She was begging for more. Was that the way she begged for it from men while he was gone? She was nearly a stranger, how well could he really know her? He’d been gone for a long time…

“Yes,” Akatash whispered in his ear, behind him again. “She only thinks of him. Poor Edward, your little mate has forgotten all about you.

“Fuck me!” Dina screamed.

“Forget about her,” Akatash said. “Come lie with me, I’ve forgotten, it’s been so long.”

As Ed watched, the stranger grabbed Dina’s ass, pulling her hard against him as his hips pounded in her. Dina moaned, her back arching as she frantically humped against him. The way Dina always came. No, she wasn’t being forced. She was enjoying this. Ed turned to look at the woman and she shrugged, giving him a mean little smile.

“How could you compete with him? Now he’s done and you waited too long.” Her clothes were back on and she was backing away, toward the well.

“Too late too late’ she said, almost singing it.

Behind him, Ed could hear Dina orgasming again.

The woman reached out into the air, like she was pulling a curtain back. Then she somehow stepped behind it. She was gone, along with the fear. Ed fell to his knees, his entire body cramping as he gasped and sobbed.

“Baby!” Dina yelled, running toward him from the well. He could see his half full water bottle sitting there, just where he’d left it. Nothing here but the mellow June sun. Nothing behind him. He tried to control his breathing. Nothing there, he was safe. No one else here but them. Then Dina’s arms were around him, rocking him as he shuddered.

“Where did you go?” she asked him. “You just disappeared.”

“Who were they?” he gasped.

“Who? No one is here,” she said.

“That woman, and that man. Oh God, I thought I’d lost you!”

“Shh, I’m right here. You disappeared, I looked all over but you were gone. Where did you go?”

“I was here,” he said. “I was right here.”

~~~~

Dina finally got him to the car, helping him walk on shaky legs down the path. Everything looked normal, he didn’t feel anything at all, the grass was as green as it had been earlier. Birds and grasshoppers made the usual racket. It was a nice summer day. Even the irritation was gone.

“You’re not okay to drive.”

“I’ll be fine, let me catch my breath.”

Ed sat down in the grass, Dina fussing over him. “You really didn’t see anyone?” he said.

“Up there? No, there wasn’t anyone there. Are you sure you didn’t hit your head?”

“I’m sure.”

“What did you see?”

Ed took a deep breath, “I came out from behind the tree and you were gone. I went looking for you in the graveyard, but you weren’t there either. I came down here and there was a woman over there. I thought it was you but she said you were waiting at the well.”

“And I was. Baby, we’re going to the hospital,” Dina said. “Something’s not right, you might have had a stroke or something.”

The spiked stone was back in Ed’s stomach. Hadn’t he told Andy the same thing about Tommy? Ed shook his head.

“No, it was real. It happened.”

“So you came to the well and that’s when I found you?”

“She led me up there, said you were in the trees and I saw you with…”

“What?” She looked worried.

“Nothing, it wasn’t you, I turned around and you were by the well.”

*Did she just relax?* Ed asked himself

But he didn’t trust his eyes at the moment.

“You went behind a tree,” she said. “You were gone for a while and I asked if you were okay. You didn’t answer, so I went and looked and you weren’t there,” she said.

“How long was I gone?”

She shrugged. “Twenty minutes maybe? Did you wander to a different parking lot?”

“And you didn’t see anyone, that whole time?”

“Ed, sweetie, I didn’t see a soul,” she said. “I walked around a little then I came back to the well. I was worried about you.”

He took a long breath. “I must have had sunstroke or something.”

She felt his head. “You’re pretty warm, maybe. Do you want your water?” She held out the half empty bottle and he recoiled slightly. “What’s wrong? You left this on the well.”

“Thanks,” he said, taking it. “I’m feeling better actually.”

“So we can head over to the VA.”

He shook his head. “Not spending any more time there.”

“Ed, I’m scared. What if this was like before?”

“It’s not PTSD, Dina. I’d know. Maybe it was heatstroke.”

“Hold out your hand.”

Ed held his hands up, they were both trembling like the leaves overhead and she raised her eyebrows.

No,, Dina. I’m fine.”

“You’re not okay to drive.”

Ed nodded. “Would you drive home?”

She laughed. “Your baby? Now I know there’s something wrong with you.” Dina took the bottle and he gave her the keys. They got in the car and he put the seat back a little.

“If I don’t feel better tonight, I’ll go to the VA.”

“Okay, you’ve got a deal. You just rest right now.”

He managed to stay awake until she got the car to the main road, but his eyelids got heavier and heavier as they drove.

“Falling asleep?”

He nodded. “That okay?”

“That’s fine, we’ll be home soon.”

“Don’t take me to the VA.”

“Trust me,” Dina said.

Can I? He didn’t know who she really was anymore. Had that really been Dina?

~~~~

As soon as he fell asleep, Ed was dreaming. The noises of the car and road were part of it, the woman was there on the picnic table, turning around and he tried to force himself awake.

“Shh,” Dina said, rubbing his chest. He relaxed, feeling the movements as Dina sped up. She was taking the freeway home, the windows rolled up and then she turned on some music.

“Just sleep,” she said gently.

Ed faded away again.

This time he wasn’t sure if he was awake or dreaming and tried to decide. The woman laughed at him again but then there was Dina’s music again. He was drifting in and out of sleep. He heard something unzipping and a soft sigh. There was a very quiet moan. He opened his eyes slightly, afraid of what he might see. It was Dina was beside him, not the woman. She made a small noise, almost like she was in pain. She was biting her lip. He felt a wave of love and tenderness, she was so worried she was crying? He was about to reach out to put his hand on her shoulder but…

“Oh, fuck yes,” she whispered.

Ed looked down and saw that her shorts were open. Her hand was in her panties. The wet sound got faster. Like it had with him. He wanted to watch, to hear what she said but the darkness was coming up to claim him again.

~~~~

“Hey sleepyhead, we’re here.”

Ed sat up and Dina kissed his cheek. “Feeling better?”

“Little bit,” he mumbled. “Feel like I ran a marathon.”

“C’mon, let’s get you in the house.”

He followed her inside, watching her ass the same way he’d watched Aka’s. He had a sudden wave of anger. If he’d known Dina was going to get into it, he would’ve fucked the hell out of the black haired woman. Then Dina could watch him have a good time. She unlocked the door and held it open for him, smiling at him and touching his face as he came in. The anger dissolved. She wouldn’t do that to him, this was Dina. He was hers, she was his.

“Couch or bed?” she asked.

“Bed.” He followed her up the stairs to the bedroom and sat down and kicked his shoes off.

“Maybe it was heat exhaustion,” she said. “That’s why you’re so tired. I’m going to get you some water, be right back.”

Ed pulled his shirt off and flopped back onto the bed. He held up his hand and watched it tremble. Some sort of hallucination from heat stroke. Had it been that hot? Iraq was much hotter than Ohio.

“Here,” Dina said, putting the water on the table beside the bed. She sat on the edge next to him, putting her hand on his cheek. “You’re cooling down I think. Your sleep schedule is all screwy and we were up late last night. I know you were pushing yourself hard over there. So just relax and rest. I’m going to do some stuff downstairs and then I’ll come up and we can watch some TV, okay?”

“I’d like that,” he said. “Sorry about your cemetery visit.”

“Don’t worry about it, make sure you drink all that water.”

“In the car earlier, were you…”

“Was I what?”

He shook his head, “Nothing.”

“Tell me Eddie. I’m not kidding.”

“Were you, uhm, touching yourself.”

“Edward! I was driving and you were asleep the whole time.” She sounded pissed.

“Sorry, must have dreamt it.”

“You really think I’d do that in public?”

“Hey, heat exhaustion, remember?”

“More like a filthy mind,” she said, leaning over to kiss his forehead. “Get some rest.”

As he fell asleep there was a little voice telling him she’d never said she hadn’t had her fingers in her panties. And if she lied about that who knew what else there was. The voice was irritatingly gleeful as he fell into darkness again.

~~~~

“Hey, I brought you some more water. I want you to wake up and drink it.”

Ed opened his eyes, there was a dull blue light outside. “What time is it?”

“Just after ten. Sit up and drink this, you.”

He sat up against the pillows and took a long drink of the cool water. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome but I’m mad at you. You scared the everloving shit out of me today. You’re going to the hospital next time something like that happens. I won’t lose you.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“You better call me ma’am, if you know what’s good for you,” Dina said. She took off her shorts and sat on the edge of the bed. “Move over, I want to lay by you.”

She turned on the TV, playing the movie they always watched in bed, just nature scenes and music. Ed sighed and leaned back against the pillows. He still felt like he’d busted ass all day but this was nice.

Dina took his hand and laced her fingers through his. “I’m mad at you because I’m scared. You’re mine and I love you,” she finally said.

“I know, and you’re mine. It was probably just jetlag and heat, I’m fine.”

“Baby, I want you to tell me something,” Dina said after a few minutes.

“Yep.” Ed had been drifting off when she’d spoken. “What’s that?”

“You were falling asleep? Never mind, tell me tomorrow.”

He pushed himself up, “No, ask me now.”

“I want to know what happened, what you saw. I’ve never seen you scared, not once. What was the man doing? You didn’t say, just that I was there. Then you ask me if I was getting off in the car. What happened out there? I want you to tell me all of it, about the woman and the man. What happened that was so bad?”

“It was just a hallucination, it didn’t mean anything.”

“Will you tell me tomorrow?”

“Deal,” Ed said.

~~~~

Ed’s eyes opened in the darkness, something was under the sheets sliding over his cock. His stomach was tight with fear, he couldn’t hardly breathe as he carefully reached down. He let his breath out in relief when he felt Dina’s long hair in his hands. He’d been afraid it would be short and spiky. Dina moaned, her mouth moving over his cock.

“Put your hands on my head,” she whispered. “I want to feel your fingers in my hair.”

“Dina, baby, I don’t feel too good,” Ed mumbled.

“Shh, don’t worry, you just lie back and I’ll do all the work.”

His cock went back in the wet heat of her mouth.

Ed glanced at the clock and was surprised to see it was after two. Dina was crawling up his body, giving his nipples little bites as she went by. She moaned happily as she took his cock and put it inside of her, sitting up in the dim light.

“You feel good,” she said, bending down to kiss him. “Just lie back, I’m going to make you feel really nice.”

Ed was surprised, Dina usually didn’t like being on top. She got shy when he looked at her.

“How does it feel?” she whispered. “Can you feel how wet I am for you?”

Dina didn’t dirty talk either, but it was too exciting to think about.

“You feel amazing.”

She looked at the clock. “It’s tomorrow. Tell me what you saw.”

Ed was half awake and she felt so good, otherwise he never would have told her, deal or not.

“That guy today, you were with him.”

“With him?” she said. “Like how?”

“Like fucking.”

“See? You have such a filthy mind.” She rolled her hips and Ed grabbed her ass pulling her onto him. She moaned quietly. “Tell me what happened.”

“The woman brought me up there, showed me you guys having sex.”

“So what were we doing? What was so scary?”

“You were on top of him, riding him. She took off her clothes like she wanted to have sex too.”

“That was scary?”

“It was the feeling around them. They were just wrong somehow. I was terrified of them both.”

“What do you think about my interrogation technique?” Dina asked, leaning down to kiss him.

“You can interrogate me anytime you like.”

“Good.” Dina lifted herself almost all the way off of him and moaned as she slid back down. “What was he doing while I rode him?”

Ed looked at her. “Why are you so interested?”

“I want to know what you dream about me,” Dina said, sticking her tongue out. “Was he doing anything to me?”

Ed sighed. “Fucking you, grabbing your ass.”

“Mmm, like you’re doing right now. Did I like it?”

“I thought he was forcing you, controlling you. You were just breathing hard at first. But then you started moaning and talking dirty to him.”

“What did I say?”

“Fuck you hard, cum in you. That kind of stuff.”

“I said that?” Dina looked amused. “Then what? Don’t evade the question either.”

“Fine. He came in you and that started you cumming. The woman said I had waited too long and she disappeared.”

“Oh fuck! I’m going to cum right now,” Dina suddenly moaned, sitting up and leaning backwards on her hands. “I’m cumming baby, keep fucking me! Go faster, please fuck me hard and fast…” her pleas turned into a long loud moan and Dina’s back arched as she sat all the way down on him, thrusting her hips against him and moaning. Ed wanted to enjoy it but couldn’t forget her on top of him back there in the forest.

Dina’s body relaxed and she shivered. She laid on his chest and kissed him, “You thought it really happened, huh? That’s why you thought I was masturbating in the car?”

Ed just shook his head and Dina gave him an evil smile and squeezed with her sex.

Ed gasped. “Oh God I love interrogation. But I don’t know what I think.”

“I want you on top of me,” Dina said, rolling him over on top of her. She spread her legs wide as she reached down and put him back in.

“Do you want me to talk dirty for you?” she whispered. “I’ll do it, I want your cum in me, Ed. I want you to take that beautiful hard cock and shove it into my wet little pussy. I want you to fuck me nice and deep and pump me full of cum.”

Ed pushed deeper into her and she groaned, wrapping her legs around him and pulling him tighter.

“Fuck me just like that baby, I want you to cum nice and deep. You know what I thought about while you were gone? When you cum in my mouth. I love feeling you shoot right on my tongue. I’m so dirty, letting you do that but it makes me so horny when I swallow. Tomorrow, I’m going to make you shoot in my mouth.”

Ed nodded, thrusting faster.

“Wait,” Dina said, putting her hands on his chest. “I want you to tell me something else.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Nope. Did you like it?”

Ed frowned. “What the hell kind of question is that?”

Dina smiled. “Did you? I’ll know if you’re lying.”

Ed looked away and she took his chin, making him look back at her. She squeezed his cock again.

“It’s okay, Eddie. Just tell me, do you like the thought of someone else’s cock inside me? It’s normal, you can tell me. Did you like it when I screamed for his cum?”

Ed stared at her and she smiled up at him. “Relax, lots of guys think about that. I’m just curious. Did you like watching me take that cock? Did you like watching me be a little slut?” She squeezed again.

“Yes!” Ed finally gasped.

She giggled and it turned into a moan. “Oh baby, fuck me deep like that. Cum inside me, I want you to shove it all the way up in me and let go, I want you to put a baby in there. Would you like that?”

“Yes,” groaned Ed.

“Do it baby, fill me up,” Dina whispered, pushing her hips against his thrusts.

Ed began to thrust hard up into her and she cried out when he began to cum. She wrapped her legs tight against him, lifting her hips into his thrusting cock until he was spent. Ed started to get up but she pulled him on top of her, milking his cock through one more orgasm.

When her breathing slowed back down, Dina stretched underneath him, hugging him tightly to her. “That was really good,” she said. “I think you mighta just knocked me up.”

“Good. Am I too heavy?”

“No, you’re perfect. I want to keep you inside me.”

Dina eventually curled up beside him, her breathing deepening and slowing as she fell asleep. Ed finally reached over and turned on the small lamp beside the bed. Dina muttered and turned over. What was going on, had he hallucinated the entire thing? He was wide awake now, his mind racing. Ed got out of bed and pulled a pair of shorts on. Dina muttered something and Ed smiled. She was always talking in her sleep, usually it was something pretty funny.

“What was that?” he said, squatting down next to the bed.

“Impatient,” she said, sounding annoyed. “He’s impatient.”

It felt like someone had dumped ice water down his back. He always thought it was just an expression.

~~~~

Ed sat on the floor beside the bed for a while, listening to Dina breath, waiting for her to say something. Eventually he gave up and went downstairs. There was no way he was sleeping tonight with his heart pounding like this. He got a glass of water and drank it standing at the sink and staring out the kitchen window. A breeze came through the window and dried the sweat on his chest. The leaves outside were dancing on the night wind. It was one of the things he missed when he was away, the breezes here on summer nights. Now he was here and but couldn’t make himself enjoy it.

He didn’t know if he wanted to know or not. After a few minutes he gave up and took his cellphone out to the back steps. Ed sighed, looking up at the stars. Just once he’d like to have a simple problem. He pushed Andy’s speed dial.

Andy picked up immediately. “Wolfton Security, go ahead.”

“Andy, this is Ed.”

“How’s it going Eddie?”

“Doing good, boss. How’s everything there?”

Andy laughed. “You ready to come back?”

He snorted. “Not even a little. Did you find anything else out about Tommy?”

“Hey Ed, I’m gonna have to call you back another time, okay?”

“Sure, boss,” Ed said, but the line was already dead.

He sat on the stairs listening to the crickets and frogs and watching the stars while he waited to get sleepy. Beside him, the phone buzzed. Someone had texted him.

PB, chk vaca-mail

The number wasn’t familiar but it had the Dubai country code. Willy Johnson had started calling him Mr. Ed. Then Willy told Tommy they made the horse talk with peanut butter and that was that, he was PB. Goofy ass name, but that was Tommy. He logged into the gmail account Andy had made them all set up the first time they’d had time off. It was a way to contact each other if they got robbed or ended up in jail. Wolfton didn’t officially know anything about it but they could quietly fix most problems. Ed opened gmail and logged in. There was a long list of spam and at the top, a message from HonkytonkCav8088:

No names PB. I don’t know what that thing was or why it was so important but the natives are losing their shit over this. No one can figure out who Freptar is. One of the old guys started babbling something when he heard that name. The other ones shushed him pretty fast. The guy kept repeating something, over and over. Al’asraa, it means ‘prisoners.’ Everyone in town is acting kind of strange, but nothing new. Our Baptist had a lady friend, she came by to see if he was okay. She didn’t seem surprised he was dead. She said he was talking to people who weren’t there, kept raving about green mountains. Ring any bells for you? No one here has a clue or they’re not saying if they do. Did you get a sniff of this on your end?

Ed deleted the message and thought for a while before he answered:

Wondered what was up, don’t think any smells would reach this far.

He sent the message and sat on the steps until the sky began to turn from black to gray. Ed got up and stretched and went inside to see if he could sleep.

~~~~

The next day was Sunday and for once Dina didn’t bug him about getting up and going to church. When he woke up around ten, she wasn’t around at all. He went downstairs and saw her car was gone. He didn’t see a note and when he tried to call her phone, he heard it ringing on the coffee table. That wasn’t like her at all. Something in her past had made her really careful about always being able to reach him. Maybe she just got used to him being gone. Ed got cleaned up and wandered around the house for a while. It was almost one when he put on his boots and went for a long walk in the National Forest behind their house. He didn’t bother taking his phone.

When Ed came back a few hours later, Dina’s car was in the driveway. He went through the back door and a plate smashed into the wall right in front of him.

“Where the fuck were you?!” Dina screamed. “Why didn’t you have your phone?”

“Calm down,” Ed said. “You didn’t have yours, so I didn’t bother taking it. Okay?”

“It’s not okay!” she snapped and stormed out of the kitchen. Ed shook his head and picked up the pieces of broken plate and threw them away before going into the living room. Dina was sitting on the couch, glaring out the window.

“Where did you get off to?” Ed said, sitting down.

“I can’t have any time to myself now?” Dina said. “You’re home so I have to check in at all times?”

“I didn’t say that. You didn’t leave a note and I wondered where you went is all.”

“I’ve been just fine on my own, Mr. Sergeant, sir. I didn’t realize you need to know every time I left the house.”

“Dina, you do what you want. I never asked you to check in, I just asked a question.” Ed got up and went back out to the kitchen.

“Now where are you sneaking off to?” she yelled.

“I’m going upstairs to read,” Ed said.

He shook his head, going through his bag for the Kindle. He didn’t remember her PMS being anything like this. In fact, he’d never seen her act like this at all. He took off his boots and laid down on the bed. Dina was thumping around downstairs and he heard another dish break. It was getting on his nerves but he was used to worse.

She came up the stairs but he didn’t look up from the book.

“Ed.”

He looked up and she was standing by the door, “Dina.”

“I just worry about you, okay?”

“It’s not a problem, sorry there was a misunderstanding.”

“You didn’t take your phone, there was no misunderstanding.” She sounded like she was working up to another screaming fit.

“It’s not a leash, Dina, but I’ll try and keep it close in the future.”

Ed went back to reading. He could feel her staring at him but she finally went downstairs. It was quiet and Ed’s eyelids were getting heavy. He put the reader down and closed his eyes for a nap.

~~~~

“I wanna *fuck*,” Dina said in his ear.

That was so unlike her that Ed thought he was waking up into another dream. He opened his eyes and she was kneeling by the bed.

“Just like that? Weren’t you just screaming at me?”

“We can figure that out later,” she said, unbuttoning her shirt. “I want to make sure I’m pregnant.”

“I want to talk things out first,” Ed said. “You’re acting strange today.”

“Don’t you want a baby?”

“I want to talk things over first is all. Then we can make sure you’re pregnant as much as you like.”

“Fine. I went into town to get some stuff and see a friend of mine. Happy?”

“I don’t care where you went or why, Dee. Why are you acting so strange?”

She unzipped and unbuttoned her shorts, letting them fall on the floor, “I’m not. You’re the one acting weird. Why don’t you want to fuck?”

“Dina, before now I could count on one hand the times you said fuck. You don’t think that might make me wonder what’s going on?”

“You said you liked it when I talked dirty.” Dina took off her bra and panties and looked at him. “Are you gonna fuck me or not?”

“I’d love to, but you’re still avoiding the question here.”

“Fine, be a bitch,” she said. “I’ll go get myself off. I guess you can’t get it up anymore unless you’re thinking about someone else fucking me? Maybe I should go find a real man.”

Ed’s temper had gotten to the breaking point but he kept his voice calm. “You do what you want. Just make sure to pack up your stuff first, you won’t be living in my house anymore.”

Dina’s mouth snapped shut and she looked shocked as he got up and walked past her and went downstairs. Ed went outside, closing the door carefully behind him and walked out to chop some wood. He was on the fourth round when he heard the screen door. He paid attention to what he was doing.

“Ed?” she quietly said from behind him.

He put the sledge down and turned around.

She was standing by the stacked firewood looking down, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s with me. I felt weird when I woke up this morning. I went in to the bakery to get us breakfast but I got so mad when I was driving there. I drove around for a while and I felt better when I got back. Then I saw you were gone and I got mad all over again. I love you, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

He put his arms around her as she started to cry. “Maybe you’ve got a bug, or you’re not used to me being around the place suddenly. Are you feeling okay?”

“Kinda woozy, thirsty.”

“Let’s get you to bed, I’ll check your temperature.”

She nodded, face pressed against his bare shoulder, “You’re very sexy splitting wood, in case I freak out again and don’t tell you.”

Ed smiled. “Well, thanks. C’mon, let’s get you inside.”

Dina was almost immediately asleep when her head hit the pillow. He took water in three times and each time she’d woken up long enough to drink the entire thing. Then she was almost instantly asleep again. Ed checked her temperature. Was she going through the same thing he gotten hit with the other day? Maybe he had hallucinated the whole thing.

Ed had just started his tour of hell, he just didn’t know it yet.

~~~~

It started off with the best day of his life; Ed was catching up on his reading the next day when he heard a whoop from upstairs and running feet. Dina ran out on the porch brandishing a pregnancy test.

“Oh, they tole’ me about you Army boys, but jes’ I didn’t lissen!”

“Really?”

“Yeah! Eddie, I’m pregnant!”

He jumped up and grabbed her around the waist and swung her around. Dina shrieked and laughed.

“I’m going throw up right on you if you don’t stop!”

Dina was laughing as he set her down. She put her arms around his neck and pulled Ed down into a long kiss.

“Now take me to bed and fuck me,” she whispered in his ear.

She got even wilder in bed this time. Ed wondered about it but wasn’t about to complain, they were having a great time together. He took her out for dinner that night to celebrate. She’d been yawning all the way home and had gone right to bed. Ed was too excited to sleep, thinking about the baby. He got out the ring, he’d ask her tomorrow.

Dina moaned and then muttered something in her sleep. Something about patience.

“What?” Ed had asked her but she just grumbled and turned over.

His mind was racing while he waited for her to talk again. Patience and impatience. ‘He’s so impatient’ That was twice now Dina had said it. Being sick or not, he was starting to believe it had been her screwing whatever that was, not an illusion. So, did they make her forget or was she lying to him? Whose child was that inside of her?

He was exhausted the next morning and Dina didn’t make his life any easier. She was already rearranging the house in her head, asking him endless questions about colors and furniture. Ed did his best to keep up but soon she was screaming at him again. Then after lunch she apologized and was fine again. He made dinner that night and she started screaming something about garlic before throwing the plateful of food at his head and storming up to the bedroom. Ed had cleaned the mess up and followed her, but she’d locked the bedroom door.

“Hey,” he said, tapping on the door. There was a large thud on the other side that shook the door and the sound of breaking glass.

“Message received,” Ed muttered, going down and getting his camping stuff. The cot in the back of his truck was way more comfortable than the couch.

The next morning started the whole rollercoaster over again. It didn’t matter what he did, she was either bawling and apologizing, or screaming like a banshee. He finally resorted to the internet, trying to find out if her hormones could be this out of whack. No clear answer without asking her a bunch of questions and he knew better than to try that right now. She yelled at him before dinner and then apologized as they sat down. Ed was pretty sure he’d end up at the VA in a padded room after nine months of this.

“I’m going to take a walk after dinner, would you like to come?” he asked her at dinner. Dina said she’d stay close to the house. He was sure to take his phone that time.

When he came back a few hours later, Dina was already in their room. He called a hello up the stairs and went out on the porch to read. She laughed several times and Ed smiled. He liked that sound. Maybe everything would be okay. He heard her walk across the floor, but it sounded like two people up there. He put the book down and glanced in the driveway. Just their cars here. Ed shook his head and sat back down. The bedroom windows were open and he heard Dina moan. It wasn’t pain, maybe she was getting ready for some make-up sex. Ed was happy to oblige in that case and went inside. He was at the bottom of the stairs when he heard Dina talking.

“He was watching us, he saw you fucking me,” she moaned.

Ed thought he heard another voice then, but too low to hear the words. But it didn’t matter what they were. He got his pistol out of the desk and quietly loaded it as he walked to the stairs.

Time to hand out some of my own terror, you creepy fuckers

She was encouraging whoever it was to fuck her as Ed started up the stairs. She orgasmed when he got to the landing. He waited, listening but then she started moaning again. Ed stepped over the squeaky stair and kept going up.

“Oh shit, you’re big,” Dina moaned through the door. “You could shove that thing right in my womb.”

Ed stopped at the top of the stairs. He stood outside the door, listening to the thudding of the bedsprings.

“It’s stretching me so good. Oh GOD! You pushed it all the way in! Push it deep, cum in me.” Dina groaned.

Ed could hear a rasping breath and he raised the pistol to eye level and kicked the door open. He was through the doorway and looking around the room. It was empty, Dina was alone on the bed. She was laughing hard, pointing at him with one hand while the other stayed busy between her legs.

“What the fuck,” Ed said. “What’s wrong with you?” He was sure someone had been in here, there was a faint smell that he didn’t recognize. Something spicy. Was he even smelling it?

“Aw, Eddie, don’t be like that. I thought it might get you excited, you liked it the other day. Did it work? You wanna pretend you’re getting sloppy seconds?”

Something broke inside Ed. He’d had enough. This was over. He grabbed his bag off the floor, glad he hadn’t bothered to unpack yet. He could buy whatever wasn’t in here. He walked out of the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.

“Ed!” Dina yelled.

He ignored the noise, he didn’t have a goddam thing to say to her. Torturing him was fucking funny?! He grabbed his truck keys. He shoved the bag against the screen door, pushing it wide. It made a thwack behind him. Dina was still yelling his name, laughing like it was all a big joke. Ed threw his stuff in the back and got in. He turned the truck around. Dina was at the screendoor, watching him.

“I’m fucking done,” he muttered as he jerked the wheel.

The tires screeched when he turned onto pavement, headed for the freeway. He’d head south. Smokey Mountains National Park would be good. He’d stop and get extra camping gear, find a quiet place up in the hills.

Then what, Eddie?

Then…nothing. Just like Uncle Phil. He came home from Nam different. Ed didn’t remember much about the guy. He was only eight when Phil disappeared. Gone for good into Olympic National Forest. More than his face, Ed could remembered the silence of the guy. Not listening silence, or the silence of a quiet man. It was the silence of the spaces Phil was making between himself and the rest of the human race. He made a place of his own, a place he fit. Ed was following in his footsteps now. Different war, so a different forest. Ed wondered if Phil would be proud of him or just laugh.

He kept driving south through the darkness.

~~~~

Ed’s phone had buzzed a few times. Andy was trying to get ahold of him. Ed was sure that Dina was probably bugging Andy to call him, tell him to go back home. No way. Done was done, she could have the house and the rest of it. He was getting gas somewhere in Kentucky when it went off again.

“Goddammit, what?!”

Andy laughed. “Damn, Ed! I get you at a bad time?”

“Did she call you?”

Then Andy sounded serious. “Did who call me Ed?”

“Never mind, not important. What’s going on?”

“Sounds important. Anyway, I think I’m finally getting to the bottom of a few things here. I gotta tell you I don’t much like my answers. They brought an old guy to the compound. He said he knew what was happening. Those rocks, they called them sakhrat alssijn, stone prisons.”

“You’re losing me, Andy.”

“Okay, I know this sounds fucked up, but you haven’t seen what’s going on around here the last couple of days. I don’t believe it myself, but it makes sense.”

“Andy, what makes sense?”

“It was djinn, Ed. They locked up some djinn and you let them out. You know what I’m talking about?”

“You been drinking?”

“Not yet. Listen, they say God made angels and men. But there’s a third group; djinn. They’re supposed to be made out of fire. We call them genies, but all our stories are wrong, bullshit They’re not some blue Disney cartoon. They’re mean and they don’t like us.”

“Andy, look…”

“No, you listen to me, Ed! You’re not seeing the shit going on here. It’s bad enough we’re evacuating the town now. I can’t talk too long. But this old guy, he thinks a couple of them followed you home.”

Is that what I saw back there?

“This guy, did he say what to do?”

Andy sighed. “He doesn’t think there’s anything you can do. These djinns live a long time and they’re hard to kill. Listen, I gotta go. I’m driving the last truck out. I’ll get in touch later, okay? Stay safe Eddie. Fi Amanullah.”

“Ma al-Salamah, Andy.” Ed said as the line went dead.

Had Andy lost his shit too? Had the Company Boys been experimenting on everyone again, exposed them all to some chemical? Ed tossed the phone back in the truck. That wasn’t what he saw, djinn, genies, whatever, that stuff didn’t happen. It wasn’t real. Real was what you could see and touch.

~~~~

Ed was in a bank the next morning, arranging for a monthly draft to start going to Dina. Then to a lawyer’s office. He paid too much to have a registered letter sent, telling her she was getting money and the use of the house until the kid was eighteen. The money would be more than enough to keep them both going. That took care of his responsibility, if it was really his kid. But she could play house with whoever she wanted on his dime. He just didn’t care anymore.

He bought some food and topo maps of the park in the town outside the gate. He found the remotest part he could and drove out there. He got out of the truck and looked around. It was completely silent, not even an airplane. The trees rustled down the slope and a wind blew past him. That was enough of a sign for him. He loaded up his pack and took the sparkplugs for the truck before locking up.

A few hours later he was headed up the slopes in search of a good campsite. The second hollow he walked through had a nice spot, sheltered from the wind. There was a spring too, a tiny pool with achingly cold sweet water. The water had worn a basin into the rock around it and a steady flow fell out of it into a tiny pool below. This was the spot. He patted the rock, saying thank you and got to work setting up camp.

The next day he started a routine. He turned on his phone in the morning and checked for messages. Andy wasn’t back in touch yet. On the other hand, Dina sent a steady stream that he deleted without reading. He wasn’t interested in anything she had to say. When he was done with that, he ate and then spent the rest of the day taking a long hike. He stopped for lunch and spent a few ours reading before hiking back to camp for dinner and sleep. Mostly he concentrated on keeping his mind quiet.

Ten days later Ed headed back to the truck. His phone and kindle were both dead and he wanted a few things from town. He plugged the phone into the charger and waited for it to turn on. Dina had called a bunch of times, he deleted the messages. No way. He did not want to hear it. She’d also sent a lot of email for the past couple of days and he deleted that without opening any. Ed didn’t want to read anything she had to say either.

Deep down, he didn’t know if he could face Dina begging him to come back. Or telling him to stay away. He didn’t have a clue which would be better. The phone bonged and another email from Dina appeared. Ed frowned and was about to delete it but then he noticed a couple of hikers coming out of the woods. He got out and put his pack in the back of the truck as they walked over.

“Hey there.”

“Good morning!” the woman said. “Are you headed to town?”

“I am. Need a lift?”

“That’s be great,” her friend said.

They put their packs with his and crowded into the cab. The introduced themselves as Mick and Lela. Ed had thought they were kids at first but they were older, around his age. They both talked a lot, but he enjoyed it. It was nice hearing other voices, especially as much as these two laughed.

“I’m headed for the grocery,” Ed said as they got to town.

“That would be perfect,” Lela said. “Thanks so much for the ride.”

“You need a lift back?” Ed asked as he pulled into the parking lot.

“That would be great. You don’t mind?” Mick asked.

“Happy to. I’ll be right here.”

“Then we’ll be back in an hour or so,” Lela said.

Ed went in and bought supplies and was back pretty quickly. He grabbed his phone and sat on the tailgate. It was still just the single message. The subject line was blank this time. He stared at it, knowing he should delete it, like all the others. He also knew he’d read it. Ed sighed and opened it. It was just one line.

I am yours and you are mine, to the very end. Come home, we miss you so much.

He shouldn’t have done it. Just those two sentences and he was destroyed. He couldn’t see through the tears, could barely breathe with the pain in his chest. He dropped the phone and stumbled to the front. He fumbled for the handle, then there was a soft strong hand covering his.

“Hey, Ed,” Lela said quietly. “Maybe not the best time to drive, huh?”

“I wasn’t, I just…”

“Shh.” She hugged him tightly, almost holding him up.

“How’s he doing?” Mick said from somewhere.

“Not so good. Why don’t you let Mick drive back, Ed. That okay?”

He didn’t care anymore, just held out the keys. They put him in the truck and started the long trip back.

“Sorry,” Ed finally said when he’d gotten control of his emotions again.

“For being human?” Mick said. “We know you’re going through something. Saw you around the woods.”

“Do you want to tell us what’s going on?” Lela asked, taking his hand.

Ed didn’t want to at first but she squeezed his hand and smiled at him. He started with a few sentences about the last few weeks. But Lela kept asking gentle questions, drawing more and more of the story out of him. Finally, he was telling them about the well and the woman and man. He knew he sounded insane but neither of them laughed or even smiled. They just nodded as though they heard that kind of thing every day.

“I swear,” Ed finished as they pulled into his parking spot. “I’m not on drugs.”

Mick laughed. “Nah, we believe you.”

Lela smiled and nodded. “We can see it all over you; you’ve been to the Outer.”

Ed stared at them as they got out of the truck. Mick sat on one of the boulder barriers and lit a cigarette.

“That smells so good,” Lela said. He handed her one and she lit it. Neither of them put it in their mouths, just smelled the smoke every so often.

Ed leaned on the truck and watched them. “You can see…”

“That you’ve been Outer, right,” Mick said. “It’s outside of what you can usually sense. Kind of a rough place for people, sounds like you came through pretty well.”

“You’re very brave,” Lela said.

“Who are you two, really? You’re not one of…” Ed’s voice trailed off. He didn’t know what to call them.

“That depends on how you look at things,” Lela said. “They’ve got their names and places, we’ve got our own. Who am I really?” She laughed and it sounded almost like running water. “Some of your brothers and sisters call me Lelawala.”

“You can’t really say my name, but I’m from the Makiawas,” Mick said.

“We’ve both been watching since you arrived. We wondered why you felt so twisted. But a new child and battling the Outer kind? No wonder!”

“Why did you lose it back there?” Mick asked, getting up to hand him his phone.

Ed read them the message and they nodded.

“Something’s missing, right?” Lela asked. “Do you know what it is yet?”

Ed shook his head and she surprised him by kissing his nose.

“You, silly. You’re in the wrong place!”

“Warriors like you are always welcome in my woods,” Mick said, getting up and getting his pack. “But I’m a really good judge of people and I think you’re stronger than a couple of angry damned foreigners.”

“Be nice,” Lela said. “They’re hurting too.”

“What?” Ed said. “That woman? No, they were the ones hurting…”

“Shh,” she said, putting her finger over his mouth. “Someone locked them in a prison for thousands of years, kept them from going home. They’re hurt and angry and probably crazy. It’s not all that comfortable here for us, but being trapped here for that long? Horrible. It will take them some time to start thinking again after all that torture.”

“Still, we take care of our own,” Mick said, shrugging his pack on. “So I’ll tell you what you need to hear. You’re strong enough to fight them or to try to make peace. It’s up to you but now is the time to decide. I don’t know what’ll come next for you but I know your heart is crying out for its mate and hers cries out just as loudly.”

Lela nodded and gave him a serene smile. “We can hear that perfectly. Whatever your choice, make your days good ones.”

“And don’t be afraid to kick anyone’s ass.” Mick tapped Ed’s chest. “Always listen to this, warrior.”

They smiled at him and walked off into the twilight, disappearing when they reached the trees.

I am always yours and you are always mine, to the end of time.

Ed finally nodded. He went through the boxes of stuff he’d bought and got out the cigars and whiskey. He threw in the jerky and carried the box to the edge of the forest.

“Thank you,” he said, leaving it there.

He went back and got in the truck. Screw the tent and that other crap. He had somewhere to be.

~~~~

In a hot dusty room, a red-haired man in a cowboy hat sighed tiredly as he sat down. He’d never complain about being bored again, not after the last few days. He opened his email and there was one message.

Andy, your intel was confirmed. I’m going back home and standing my ground. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. No one ever does, but I didn’t want to just disappear on you. I just got off the freeway, I’m waiting for my coffee. A few miles from here is a flashing light. That’s the road that takes me home. I decided to go back because Dina sent me a message;

I am yours and you are mine, to the very end. Come home, we miss you so much.

I’m not sure if she meant her and the baby, or her and something we can’t understand. But I’m not too worried and I’ll know for sure in a little bit. Maybe you’re wondering why I’d risk this, why I’d go solo and head-on. I’ve been wondering the same thing myself since I started back. Turns out it’s one of those simple answers: I’m hers, and she’s mine. Maybe we never got in front of a preacher to say it, but it’s always been for better and for worse with us. If this has all been in my head, I’m glad to know you’re okay. But if I’m headed into the dark, well it don’t mean nothing boss. I’ll be there for her and the kid until the very end, whenever that comes. Better and worse, right? You can’t choose one or the other. I can’t say if you’ll hear from me again but it’s been a privilege and honor serving with you. I’ve been very fortunate to count you among my friends.

Ed

~~~~

The pickup crunched up the long gravel driveway and stopped next to the barn. He sat there for a few minutes, not sure what came next. He heard the thwack of the screen door and there she was, walking down the porch steps. He got out of the truck and waited, watching her walk toward him. She was so beautiful.

“I’m sorry,” he said when she stopped an arms-length away.

She nodded gravely. “So am I. You won’t run away from me again?”

“I’m yours, to the very end.”

She smiled at him. “Things are going to be better now. You come inside.”

He followed her up the stairs and the screen door closed behind them. A little while later the lights went out. Then there were only crickets making their usual racket.

Mapping Command 2.0: Diplomacy

This is another installment of the Mapping Command redux series. No bit plot changes, a few extra lines here and there, lots of typo fixing. If you’re new to the series this is the sequel to Mapping Command:First Contact. I’d recommend reading that one first. If you’re a Mapping Command veteran, welcome back aboard. There are two more chapters in this series; MC:Rebellion and MC:Insurrection. As always, I’m interested to hear what you think.

|1.0

Cole was trying hard to pay attention to what they were saying but the scenery was making it difficult. Below was a massive chasm with a river at the bottom, just visible through the trees. Waterfalls thundered over the edges of the precipice on all three sides, filling it with mist and rainbows. There were tiny structures in the branches of the trees, spider webs in the sun. Then you realized that the gossamer webs were actually bridges that rivaled any bridge on Earth. The bumps scattered along the branches were massive lodges, nearly as large as stadiums but far more beautiful, reminiscent of Gaudi’s buildings, and the wispy horsetails of the minor falls were as easily as big as Niagara had been. He began to truly appreciate the titanic scale of the forest and miles deep chasm far below…

(…Cole?) the one he thought of as “Eldest” said.

He took a deep breath. “I apologize, would you repeat that again?”

There was laughter in his mind and he smiled, despite his embarrassment.

(I must take you to this place, I would enjoy seeing your face.)

He felt amusement from the other Elders and as another one spoke, the scene of waterfalls was replaced by the view from a tree, taller than any around it and the endless expanse of treetops to horizon, mist catching the golden rays of the sun…

Goddammit Cole, concentrate!

There was more laughter.

(We are pleased you find our home beautiful. I was speaking of the…chemistry? Yes, chemistry of your bodies. I am not able to find any of the harmful interactions that occur with our chemistry. The young could live among the humans with no ill effects)

The scene shifted again as another spoke, tree trunks vanishing into the distance, blurred by mist and Cole reminded himself that he wasn’t any of these places. Instead he was sitting on a platform that had been quickly constructed above “their” clearing beside the river. He was surrounded by Lakshmi’s people, all of them touching as they spoke. Instead of names, each seemed to have a different mental landscape view. When they spoke, the point of view shifted to the one speaking, including their feelings about what they said. It was the most distracting and stunningly gorgeous meeting he’d ever attended.

And the most important he thought and pinched his hand.

(…but I think that before any agreement can be made, we must include the males. They have as much of a concern here as we do)

That was the youngest of the Elders, Cole had gotten the idea that she was something of a radical. She often argued different views of the others, especially about relationships among the males. He was still a little apprehensive about meeting the males but these Elders had all assured that he would never be harmed.

(Yes, and we will not move from this place until we speak with the others. However they view the issue, the survival of our people will be carried on. Even if we must…***)

The voices dissolved into a sort of mental gibberish. Cole had first noticed it when they had attempted to discuss concepts of time. It seemed like there was only so much he could grasp of what they were saying. Beyond that, the concepts and words just didn’t make any sense.

Cole was suddenly sitting high over the chasm.

(Enough. These matters would be addressed if the path leads in that direction. We are agreed in three things; the gathering of humans as tathinni is far from the path for all, there is nothing of balance to it but whatever is agreed between a human and the People is their own path and not our People’s. Next, the agreement with Cole and Leah stands. We will meet with their Elders but they are…****…and will always be Beloved of the People. Last, a meeting place will be chosen near the wastelands where humans live. A permanent place will be built there and humans and People will dwell there as they will. Cole, do you understand and agree?)

“I do, and thank you for putting up with my ignorance of your ways.”

There was some smiling and amusement at that. Then he caught a familiar smell a second before Lakshmi climbed onto the meeting room, cradling Leah on her back.

(Elder ones, forgive the intrusion. Leah awoke and asked about your discussion. I will leave her and depart)

(Remain with us, this concerns you as well)

Cole got up and kissed Leah, ignoring the Elders as they stared.

“How’s it going here?”

Cole smiled. “You would not believe what this is like. I’m glad you’re here. I think we were just wrapping up. Come on.”

The humans sat down and Leah smiled at everyone. “Hello beautiful Others. I’m sorry I slept through all of this.”

(It is nothing, we saw that your celebration was strenuous)

There were hoots of appreciative laughter and Leah blushed. Cole smiled and she poked him in the ribs.

(I have something to say) It was the youngest of the Elders and Leah gasped, holding tight to Cole as they shifted to her landscape.

“Sorry, I should have mentioned that. But just wait.”

(Now that the three are here I would like to propose…####)
The mental static went on for a while and then there was a sense of agreement.

They shifted to the canyon and the voice of the Eldest.

“Holy shit! Tell me that’s a real place,” Leah whispered.

“That’s Lakshmi’s real home,” Cole whispered back.

“We’ve got to go there!”

(I will take you) Lakshmi promised.

Leah closed her eyes and smiled as the “landscapes” shifted for each Other that spoke. Cole tried to listen but he could only grasp an occasional concept.

“What’s an eloisha?” Leah whispered.

“That’s what they babies are called for the first part of their life.”

“And dreahnnai hoom?”

“As far as I can understand, it’s a spirit that inhabits some of trees. Not the whole forest, Lakshmi laughed her head off when I asked, no idea why.”

“Like a nature god?”

“Not god, a supervising spirit that runs things. More like the old hippy theory about Gaia.”

“Wow, you’ve been busy,” Leah said.

“I’m starving,” he whispered back and she laughed.

After another hour the council began to break up and the Others stretched, hanging from the platform or swinging into nearby trees. The eldest of the council came over and put her hands on Leah and Cole’s heads.

(I sense that you did not grasp much of what was said. It concerned how our people will be told, who will go to the distant lodges and inform them of what has happened. We also will request that you find a place where we may build a meeting lodge together. I feel that this place is distant from your home lodges, the young one you have named Lakshmi will accompany you and aid you in finding a suitable place. We wish to remain within the forest, but on the edge of the wastes you inhabit is acceptable to me)

Cole nodded. “I was going to suggest that. Being too far away from the buildings there would cause some problems.

There was mental laughter. (I’m certain that I face the same problems with my distant sisters. They will come there in time. Lakshmi will also show you a way of summoning us should there be problems before the lodge is built. I have enjoyed our time with you greatly and I look forward to speaking again)

“So have we,” Leah said. “I can’t wait to see your home.”

(I am pleased you find it beautiful. There is one more thing we will speak of)

The Eldest arranged herself in front of them and they joined hands. (This time together has given me an understanding of your minds. You may find in the coming weeks that you will learn us better through my youngest sister, Lakshmi. But I must make something clear to our new human friends. You both showed great love for our people in joining your path to ours. The word will be spread among all of us that you are now Beloved of our all people, male and female alike. Now there will always be a home for you among us, we will defend you and cherish you as our own)

“We are deeply honored by that,” Leah said. “I am so happy that we are able to help.”

There was a sense of hesitation, almost embarrassment. (I have a question that I wanted to ask privately. The incubators Cole spoke of, we respect the certainty that they will help. As I got to know your minds better, I felt a sense of curiosity about matters of pleasure. Is this common among your people?)

Cole laughed. “Many of us. You want to know if there are more of us that will want to carry your children?”

(That is the way of it. I am hesitant to ask yet more of you, but many of us sense a great change, a flowering if you like, between our peoples. The eloisha shared your minds as they grew. Deep in my mind, I know that they will be different, that something new has begun here. Others will notice and they will inquire, wanting the best for all our little ones)

Leah stroked her hand. “The curiosity is common among my people. I can’t say for certain how many people will want the same thing, but I’m sure there will be others. Even if no one else is interested, I want to carry more,” Leah said.

(Why are you so sure? The pleasure?)

“That helps but there’s a more important reason for me. In places that we travel, there is a kind of invisible called radiation. It poisons most life, often slowly. Cole and I were both exposed to the light during the fight for our home and in our searches for new places. Neither of us are able to create new life.”

Eldest caressed both of their minds. (This is the very deep sadness I feel inside you, more than the loss of your home. I believe this is why you were so willing to forgive the foolishness of young Lakshmi and so willing to love our people as your own)

Leah wiped her eyes. “I had much the same thought. It must have been difficult letting them go, even when your tathinni helped.”

(When they grew among the tathinni there were losses but only a few and we accepted that. All life strives. I think the dreahnnai hoom chose you, perhaps you were the only ones who could understand our anguish as fewer of our eloisha became Anek)

“Then I’m grateful to them,” Leah said.

(As are all thinking things, in their own way. All of us must eat soon, so I will go and hunt. We will return here and stay for the night. All want to remember this place that our people were saved. I will return soon)

|2.0

Leah sat on the edge of the stream, dangling her feet in the water. Three of the humming bird sized eloisha were chirping and whistling as they landed on her head and shoulders, jumping off again to circle and dive around her and Cole. Cole was on his back beside her, feet in the stream as he stared up at the trees. One of the babies discovered Cole’s shirtless stomach made a good trampoline and soon all three found a new game, leaping off Leah’s head and bouncing off Cole and back into the air, hooting with tiny voices.

“Not what I thought an afternoon with the kids would be like,” Leah said, watching one of the eloisha as it began to wrestle a button on her shirt.

“Better or worse?” he asked.

“Better, now that I’m here. Why do the Anek go away to eat?”

“You can ask Lakshmi, but I got the feeling that it wasn’t something they do the same way we do.”

“I’m glad they didn’t punish her, I hope there’s no hard feelings against her.

“I don’t think that’s how they do things. They feel like she’s a little bit of a goofball but a very lucky one. They like luck.”

“We’ll have to teach them poker. They’ll have whole new ways to cheat. It’ll be fun.”

They chatted occasionally, watching the shadows shift through the trees as the day went on. Leah got meal bars out and handed one to Cole. Their “triplets” sniffed at the bars and chirped. They looked at the bar and then up at Leah with a sense of surprised disgust before gliding up into the trees.

“I felt the same way the first time I ate one,” Cole said. “I wonder what they eat.”

“For now, they chase tiny creatures in the tree tops,” Lakshmi said from above them.

“Hey you! Want to come down and sit with us?” Leah said, looking up.

“You need time together and I did not want to disturb the young.”

“Does sitting by the water bother you?”

“Not in daylight.” Lakshmi swung down and padded across the clearing. She sat behind them, touching each lightly.

Cole wondered what was running around out here that he didn’t know about.

(Bad memories of tathinni, some things that are mostly elsewhere. Deep water holds a creature that will eat us, given a chance. Boogey Man? Yes. Your words are wonderful at times)

“Everything is okay with you and the Elders?” Leah asked.

(Yes, I have become the human expert)

“Well, yeah.” Cole said and Leah laughed.

(You must return tomorrow?)

Leah nodded. “Since we ‘just’ met, the colony leader must be informed.”

(I can move faster than you. If I carried you, we could choose a place for the Meeting Lodge on the journey. I have a place in mind. Then I will go to a nearby settlement and tell my story. Shall I return then? I feel a sense of belonging with you)

“We’d like that very much,” Cole said. “The Anek live in family groups?”

(Not family in the sense of our children, though those that have almost become Anek often seek out their mother, or fathers if they are male. We group ourselves by friendship and affection)

“I’m glad you feel that way about us,” Leah said. “Are you done…hunting?”

Lakshmi laughed. (Yes, we have all fed ourselves. Thank you for being polite, that is one of many things we will have to learn about each other. As the others finish their hunt they will return to the meeting place to enjoy time together. They will even stay awake in the dark, singing and telling tales, all the things that strengthen our bonds. They have invited the three of us to take part)

“You want to go, don’t you?” asked Leah.

(It is a great honor to be invited.)

“Then we happily accept.”

That evening, Cole and Leah sat among the Elders, baffled by most of what was going on but enjoying themselves anyway. There seemed to be several things going on at once, a sort of song, a counting game that may have been part of the song or not, smells that went back and forth that must have been a different kind of conversation, and a chirping chuckling hum that moved in and out of hearing. The chaos was fun at first but became overwhelming after a while.

“I’m sorry, I’m getting a headache,” Leah finally said to Cole.

“Me too. We don’t mean to cause offense but this is a little much for us.”

(What part of it bothers you?) Lakshmi asked, feeling concerned.

“All of it, I’m sorry,” Leah said. “Our little brains aren’t set up to take all of that in at once.”

Eldest was amazed. (You can hear ALL of our voices?)

When Leah and Cole described what they were feeling, there was the faint citrus scent that indicated surprise. The feelings of awe and amusement washed over them.

(We only listen in one way at a time, part of the game is dashing from one thing to another in our mind…I see you cannot quite grasp this but be assured your “little” brains are quite amazing. We’ll concentrate on touch talk for you. Sisters, let us show them all the places here that we know)

After that was a sort of virtual slideshow of the planet and it was long after dark before anyone wanted to stop. Lakshmi took Cole and Leah back to her nest, behind them Cole heard the Elders start to chatter again.

|3.0

(Goodbye for now, Beloved.)

Leah hugged her. “We’ll see you in four days at the meeting lodge place.”

(Agreed. Burn the plant I showed you if I am not there.)

Lakshmi leapt to a tree, already ten meters off the ground. She whistled a goodbye and rapidly ran up the rough bark and into the lower branches.

“That was fun,” Cole said, putting on his pack.

“You’re a sick man,” Leah grumbled, putting her own on.

“Did you even open your eyes?”

“I closed them five minutes into the first trip. That was terrifying.”

“We had to have been going forty, fifty kilometers an hour through those trees!”

“Yes, I know.”

“And those jumps!”

“Cole.”

He smiled and kissed her forehead. “Sorry.”

“I’ll take the long way next time, you and Lakshmi can go Tarzaning through the trees by yourselves.”

“I’m starting to realize that we’re damned lucky the Anek are friendly.”

“I know, the colony wouldn’t have lasted a week if they didn’t want us here. As strong and fast as Lakshmi is I don’t think technology would make a difference.”

“So we’re going to see Owen first.”

“First thing.” Leah walked through the trees and stopped. “Hey, this is our campsite from last time. Let’s stop here for a few minutes and get on the same page.”

“Right.”

They climbed up on a massive root and sat down, looking out over the river valley and colony.

“Changing this over to a scientific mission is going to shake things up some. But I think Owen should stay in charge. I don’t want Hub sending some bureaucratic favorite out here to take charge,” Leah said. “He’s done an amazing job keeping these people together and functional, especially after losing that many.”

“It’s amazing, considering what he started with.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Admin of New Plymouth was related to Committeeperson Ross who went and preempted all the specialists for Arboreal. Owen got stuck with what they didn’t want and they filled out the rest of his people with the people no one else wanted.”

“How do you know that?’

“Background research, I found out just before we left.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Cole smiled. “What would you have done?”

“I would have scheduled a meeting with Ross.”

“To punch him out.”

“Exactly, I can’t stand that fat, sanctimonious fuck.”

“And that’s why.”

Leah laughed. “Thank you for saving me from myself, husband.”

“You are welcome, wife. Honestly, I forgot until we started planning, it didn’t seem that important after the outbreak here. But I agree, Owen deserves a chance to run the show. I get the feeling he’s pretty good.”

“I agree.”

Maya, Owen’s assistant, tapped on his open door. “Leah and Cole from the survey team are here. They’re back early and they said it’s urgent but didn’t say what it was.”

“Okay thanks.”

He looked back at the screen and then back up when he realized Maya was still standing there. “Just message them that I can meet with them whenever.”

“They’re waiting outside.”

“Oh, why didn’t you just bring them in?”

“They won’t tell me what it’s about though.”

“Maya, they’re both CMC officers. They don’t need to tell you anything. Hell, they’re not required to tell me anything. Bring them in.”

She went to get them and returned with Leah and Cole.

“Sorry to barge in Administrator,” Cole said.

“Seriously, call me Owen. There’s not enough of us left to say that I’m administrating anything. Sit down, what can I do for you?”

“We’re here in an official capacity,” Leah said. “For the moment, this info is for your ears only.”

“Uh oh. Maya, could you close the door please?”

Maya looked disappointed but nodded and left.

Owen sighed. “I don’t suppose this is wonderful news and you don’t want people dancing in the streets prematurely.”

“You want the good news or the bad first?”

Owen leaned back in his chair. “I knew things were going too smoothly. Let me have it, Captain Jones.”

“Administrator Lykos, I have the duty and privilege to inform you that my team made contact with a group of sentient Others two days ago. They were representatives of a culture native to Arboreal.”

Owen stared at them for a few seconds. “You’re serious.”

Cole and Leah nodded.

He sighed and rubbed his face for a few seconds before leaning back in his chair. “Of course this is an inhabited planet. There wasn’t much else left to go wrong.”
Owen turned and reached down to open a bottom drawer. “You know, the night I heard the name of your ship, I half considered telling you to go away. My grandparents were Greek and I knew Xerxes was going to be a bad omen.”

“Wow, that’s got to be some kind of record in grudge holding,” Leah said.

“We all have our gifts,” Owen said, rooting around in the drawer. “How did the surveys miss them?”

“I’ve been trying to figure that out myself,” Cole said. “First guess, this clearing was the only place they were able to land. The natives are tree dwellers and don’t usually venture into the open. Whatever it is in the trees that’s messing with the wireless signals would have messed with electro-chem scans too. They’re about two-hundred years behind us, tech wise, so there’d be no EM radiation to pick up on, if the tree interference didn’t completely mask it.”

Owen sat up holding a glass bottle full of a dark liquid. “Being the colony admin here has been a shit-show from day one and this is the perfect ending. Now, is that it, or is there even more? Let me guess; we’ve settled in a graveyard of their most beloved emperors.”

“Uhm, nope. They refer to this area a wasteland.”

He pulled the cap off the bottle and looked at it. “And it’s taboo to settle here and they’re pissed as hell.”

“Your pessimism is top notch, but no,” Cole said. “They were very happy to talk to us.”

“Doesn’t matter how they feel. CMC will order the evacuation of my colony. I’ll be lucky to ever get offworld again.” He tossed the cap in the recycle bin and closed the laptop. “I think I can skip peanut and banana crop quotas. Want some rum? We make it ourselves.”

“Well, yeah. But before we get tore up, don’t you want to hear the good news?”

Owen pointed the bottle at Leah and raised his eyebrows. She nodded and he got three glasses out of the drawer. “Good news always makes me nervous, but if you must.”

“Cheer up Owen,” Leah said. “The good news is that they really want us to stay. I mean, really want us to stay.”
“Why? Do they plan on eating us?”

Cole laughed. “No. We sat down with them and talked…”

“Wait, how could you talk?”

“A traveling band found your missing survey crew. One of them was still alive and gave them a tablet and showed them how to use it before he died. They’re adept at….”

Owen held up his hand. “Stop there for a second.” He poured an inch of rum into each of the glasses and pushed them across the desk. He picked his glass up and Leah and Cole did the same.

“To Adam Kennedy, Anders Hallstadt, and Regina Martinez. Ad astra, per aspera.”

“Sic transit gloria exquisitores,” answered Cole and Leah and they all drained their glass.

“Never heard that part,” Owen said, pouring another round. “What’s it mean?”

“So passes the glory of the searchers,” Leah said. “It’s tradition for the survey crews that are lost.”

“That’s nice. Did they happen to mention where the bodies were?”

“They took them and performed their ceremonies for honored dead. It’s a taboo subject, but they’ll discuss it with us if we want.”

Owen shook his head. “It’s as good an end as anything else these days. Why do they want us to stay?”

“They’re in big trouble and facing their own extinction,” Leah said. “We can help them without much trouble. Their population has been crashing because of a complicated issue that interfered with breeding generations ago. What they need from us is pretty simple, incubators and a safe place to raise the young.”

“They already requested a permanent meeting place,” Cole said. “We have a tentative spot nearby. Our contact would also like to meet you, soonest. She’ll set up a meeting with their Elders. Do you think you could handle a science mission and diplomacy instead of a colony?”

“It would be a dream job, but let’s be realistic Captain. First Contact with a friendly race of tech users? This will go to someone with more connections than me. Anyway, I’m not a tech type and I haven’t done any diplomatic training.”

“The Big Office will keep you here if you want to stay,” Cole said. “You’re already familiar with the planet it doesn’t require a techie. CMC really likes simple ‘best fit’ situations.”

“Guys, I know you’re CMC and not that goddamned Committee, but you have to know that assignments like this don’t get handed out to people like me. I’m a refugee, wasn’t anyone important on Earth. I wasn’t part of Vanguard and I don’t know anyone who was.”

Leah spoke up. “Now you do. First of all, they owe you. You got screwed over royally by Hub and it’s not a secret. We know that Shai and Kayleigh…”

“Wait, you’re talking about the Director of Colonial Mapping Command and her wife? Shailaja Parvathi and Kayleigh Evans?”

“Of course. We were friends back before the Diaspora even started.”

“And you got sent here?”

“Shai assigned us personally. I told you, that outbreak isn’t a secret.”

“That’s true,” Cole said. “There’s a whole new crew of janitorial and hull cleaning techs because of that.”

“I thought they’d forgotten all about us. Honestly, I was surprised to hear you were coming at all.”

“Until someone invents some kind of ansible, communication is going to suck with the colonies. No Owen, I guarantee Kayleigh and Shai keep track of every single outpost and colony and worry about all of you. Kayleigh is really going to want the simplest solution. Believe it or not, they hate the bureaucracy that’s taking over Hub as much as you do.”

“Oh I believe it. You really were both part of the Vanguard Project?”

Leah smiled. “My parents met at Almaro. I was born into the Project, graduated from Armstrong High and everything. I tested into the Advisors and Engineers.”

Owen looked at Cole who shrugged. “I’m a newbie, they stole me from the Air Force two years before Announcement Day.”

“Cole is modest, he trained a lot of the Raptors.”

Owen’s eyes widened as he made the connection. “Holy shit, you’re that Captain Morgan aren’t you?”

“I’d really like to keep that quiet,” Cole said. “Please. That part of my life is done. This part is way more fun.”

“Then before I officially forget who you are, I want to say thank you. I can see you’re embarrassed now, so I’ve already forgotten.”

“So, poof, now you’re politically connected,” Leah said. “But it’s probably not what you think it is. Just as much, or more, hard work and sleepless nights. But there’s a lot less interference doing it. Owen, we both know you can handle it, you’ve kept a crew of leftovers together after a tragedy that would have ended most colonies. If you want to run this, and I hope you do, we’ll send our own private messages to the Big Office saying you’re the best candidate.”

“So what are they like?”

“Sort of centaur like, a little bit spider like, but not either really,” Leah said. “Hard to describe, but they’re utterly amazing people.”

“You like them a lot.”

Cole nodded. “Owen, they took care of our sick without question. They communicate with voices partially, but there is a way they can touch you and you hear their voice. You also can feel their personality. Diplomacy is going to be interesting, they don’t seem to lie and there’s absolutely no wiggle room in what they say because you can feel their intention.”

“I think they’re wonderful,” Leah said. “Healing is almost a religion to them, one of their biggest sins is chasing a wounded thing away. Which is another big reason they don’t want us to go.”

“What do you mean?”

“We told them about Earth, they didn’t have a concept of separate planets and couldn’t figure out where we were coming from since they saw us falling out of the sky.”

Owen rubbed his eyes. “Cultural Affairs on Hub is going to utterly lose their shit over that. So, they found out about Earth and…”

“And they realized that we’re all wounded. Which is true, isn’t it? They’re concerned about us and want us to be whole.”

“They’re going to experiment on us, aren’t they?”

Cole and Leah both laughed. After a second Owen did too. “Okay, that was a little over the top, I admit. So they’re going to try to heal us?”

“I got the impression they want us to rest and heal ourselves,” Cole said. “That’s not to say they won’t try to help at some point. Leah is right, they’re incredibly likeable. Gentle, curious, a sense of humor, They could easily be another ‘best friend’ race like the Gyr.”

“And I’m pretty sure they’re Founders’ Children,” Leah said. “Just not a humanoid branch.”

“Okay, let’s keep this to one raft of mayhem at a time. That whole theory is completely over my head anyway. You said they’re behind us technologically?”

“The Anek are at about the level of the steam engine.””

“Anek?”

“They don’t use names like we do. In the conversation they asked me to come up with a name to refer to them. I thought of the goddess Lakshmi and Leah came up with Anek Haath, many hands. They have ten different limbs.”

“You two named an entire race? Holy shit, Cultural is going to crucify you.”

Cole snorted. “I’m CMC, not some parasitic bureaucrat so they’d have to leave their safe cozy offices. I’m not worried. Anyway, I didn’t name them, they have their own name but it’s a feeling and an odor, not a word. Cultural can spend ten years flailing around for translation and you know what? It’ll come out as ‘People’ because individualistic races always do.”

“My boyfriend was Indian, you know they don’t actually think Shiva, Parvathi and all the rest really had lots of arms, right? Those are their aspects. You’ll get Cultural wound up about that too.”

“Owen, you know what they’d start being called otherwise?” Leah asked. “People living high in the trees with multiple arms? Spiders. I know, because Cole and I both started thinking of them that way. Cultural can sit and spin because these are wonderful people, they shouldn’t be called monsters. I bet Hindi speakers won’t mind, if they even think about it.”

“Okay, okay. Just be ready for that fallout is all I’m saying. You were saying they had steam engines?”

“No, they’re about that level of tech,” Leah said. “They don’t need steam engines; they provide the motive power themselves. They’re immensely strong. For example, one carried us from the meeting place to the place they want the permanent embassy. I was worried both of us were too heavy and she thought I was making a joke.”

“They’re also fast,” Cole said. “We probably traveled a hundred kilometers in three hours. If they had a problem with us none of you would be here.”

“What do you think?” Leah asked. “I think you can handle it, you’ve been asking questions like a pro.”

Owen smiled. “I want to run it. In fact, if I had a straight bone in my body, I’d probably be trying to kiss you right now.”

“What, you don’t think my husband is cute?”

“Uhm…anyway. Here’s to the Arboreal Scientific Mission.” Owen lifted his glass. They echoed him and drank.

“There’s still going to be a million details to work out,” Owen said.

“Probably more. But we can help and remember we’ve got help on their way. A lot of them have experience in this kind of stuff,” Leah said. “Hub will find an FCT somewhere to help us out.”

“So first we finish the rum,” Cole said. “And then I want to know the reason Owen ducked the question about me being cute.”

Leah sighed. “He’s a typical pilot, has to be adored be everyone.”

Owen laughed and poured another round of rum.

|4.0
Cole had partly dissembled the mule in front of their hab. He had started out planning to replace just the worn bearings in the bot’s “hips” but the more he took apart, the more he found wrong. He’d finally just decided to give the entire unit an overhaul.

Leah came out and sat on the bottom step watching him work. “I have cold water for you.”

Cole looked up from the electronic innards and smiled. “You are the best and most beautiful thing in the universe.”

Leah pouted at him. “But not the multiverse?”
She couldn’t keep the face very long before she started laughing.

“Well, if n, the given value for Leah, is infinite…”

“Yes?”

“Then I could be a very happy man,” Cole said.
He sat on the step beside her and taking a long drink of water.

“I can’t help but notice you dodged the question.”

“Yes ma’am, it’s the key to domestic bliss.”

She laughed and poked him in the ribs. “So, are their machinists going to come after you for tearing apart their toys?”

“I sure hope not, they both died.”

“Damn. Owen’s doing an amazing job but he’s running out of time here.”

“That’s why I’m doing my part to hold off entropy. If there’s time, I might tear down another one that stopped working.”

Leah looked at the collection of parts spread out on a tarp next to the robot and then at Cole’s greasy hands and smudged face. “You’re delighted you get to take something apart, aren’t you?”

“Maybe.”
“Admit it, you like getting all greasy and dirty.”
Cole leered at her. “Are you propositioning me?”
Leah laughed. “If you’re able to put all that back together, I’ll think about it.”
Cole went back to work and a few minutes later, Gavin came down the path. He stopped when he saw Leah.
“Hey there.”

“Hi Gavin, how are you?”

“I stopped by to see if the relay modification worked.”

“I’m sorry, we ran into some issues with other things and I didn’t have a chance to try it. This is my husband, Cole. I don’t think you’ve met. Cole, Gavin is the network guy I met with before we met.”

“Yeah, hi.” Gavin glanced briefly at Cole who was standing up and putting out his hand. He ignored him and went back to undressing Leah with his eyes. “Maybe we should have another meeting, I had some ideas for software mods.”

Leah got angry when she saw Gavin snub Cole. CMC might have relaxed social rules, but no one was ever rude like this. Not for long anyway.
“I’ll get my tablet, you can transfer them and I’ll take a look.”

She got up and went inside.

“You really know what you’re doing there?” Gavin said, looking at the collection of dissembled parts.

Cole looked up. “Wouldn’t have torn down a working mule if I didn’t”

“Hope so. So are you guys CMC ‘married’ or married for real?”

Cole carefully unscrewed a battery relay. “Married back on Earth, if there’s a difference. We met at Echo-Alpha.”

“Yeah? I was there myself, I was in the first wave of volunteers right after Announcement Day. Graduated with class number one of the Colonial Guards.”

“Cool.”

“You’re a Pioneer, right? What class?”

“I was recruited from outside, just did a familiarization thing, we didn’t have class numbers.”

“Oh, okay. You were one of the tech weenies we saw around.”

Cole looked up, tired of the condescending dismissal in his voice. “Actually, no. I arrived two years before Announcement Day. I was a flight instructor and a squadron pilot. After the Defense ended, I transferred to work with my wife.”

Gavin smiled, it was pretty obvious he didn’t believe Cole. “Oh okay. You were a real live Vanguard Raptor then? What did you fly?”

“Red Tails with Squadron 22.”

“Uh huh. And you were a Nightingale during the Defense.”

Cole nodded. “Yep. Not fun times.”

“Sorry, I should have told you his last name,” Leah said from the doorway. “I didn’t know you were into that stuff. This is Captain Cole Morgan.”

Gavin laughed and shook his head. “No, no way.”

Cole pointed a screwdriver at his tablet. “Look it up. My service records are part of the heritage wiki.”

Gavin scrolled around and then looked at Cole and then at the tablet again. “Uh, okay. Sorry about that, Captain. It’s an honor.”

“Just Cole, that part of life is over. Leah, I’ve got to go over to the shop and see if there’s a new set of relays.”

“Okay, see you in a few minutes.”

Cole nodded at Gavin and walked away.

“Hard to believe he’s a legend. What’s really wrong with him?” Gavin said.

“Other than seeing Earth die with his own eyes you mean?” Leah said. “If you weren’t there I don’t think you’d understand. So, what are these mods about?”

Gavin looked her over again. “There aren’t any, just wanted to talk to you alone. We both know you were checking me out in the park. I was about to make my move when Admin pinged me and you took off. I came by to see if you wanted to pick things back up where we left them.”

“I didn’t think things were any specific place. If you’re interested in seeing if there’s chemistry, bring your girlfriend over for drinks tonight and we’ll talk about it.”

“Maya? Why would I do that?”

“You want us to share with you, right? You share with us back.”

“Nope. I don’t play that way.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think you would. Look Gavin, I know Mapping has a reputation for some crazy stuff and bed hopping happens. But it’s not just about getting your nut with someone’s wife. It’s more about the strong bonds between people doing a dangerous job and sharing affection. I apologize for giving you the wrong impression but I’m not interested.”

Gavin looked pissed and took a step toward her. Leah hopped off the step, facing him at a slight angle.
“I think you’re about to do something stupid,” she said softly. “Before you do, take a look at me and see if I look scared. And I’ll warn you, you’re a lot bigger than me and that means I can’t risk giving you a gentle lesson. I will break something.”

“Think I’m scared of you?”

Leah kept talking like she hadn’t heard him. “And if I hear that you’ve laid a hand on anyone else without their permission, it would be best if you started walking and didn’t come back.”

Gavin tensed, getting ready to make her flinch but Leah just relaxed more. Something made him take a closer look at her and he decided to back off. No, she didn’t look scared. In fact, he could tell she was really looking forward to fighting.

“Whatever. Fucking cock-teasing cunt,” he muttered, stalking away.

Leah stood there and watched him leave. She was glad Cole wasn’t anywhere he could have seen this. She didn’t want to try to explain to Owen why her husband had murdered his comms tech.

The next morning, Leah yawned and rolled over. Cole wasn’t in bed and she got up and looked outside. He was on the shared porch between their hab and the empty one next door doing Tai Chi in just a pair of shorts. Leah yawned again and went to make coffee. While she was waiting for it to brew, she looked out the other window and was amused to see that across the path there were two female colonists on their porch watching him intently.

A few minutes later Cole came in and she gave him a cup of coffee. “You should do that naked like you do on the ship.”

“Thank you, and why is that?”

“You had some admirers across the way.”

Cole looked out the window but the women had left.

Leah laughed. “Probably inside wiping the drool off.”

“Uh huh, right. What time is Owen coming by?”

“About half an hour, go get cleaned up.”

Owen looked up at the three mammoth trees. “I don’t think structural stability will be an issue. How high up will they put it?”

“About seventy meters,” Cole said. “Much lower than that and they’re not comfortable.”

“How will we get up there?”

“I was thinking a solar/wind mini-array powering a lift basket,” Leah said. “Lakshmi showed us that trees generate their own microclimes, there’s an almost constant updraft close to the trunk.”

“Interesting. There’s a good sightline to the colony up there?”

Leah nodded. “I was planning for a direct link laser to get around the EM interference.”

Owen nodded. “That works for me. When does all this happen?”

“Lakshmi, our contact, will meet us back here three days from now. She showed us a way to reach out to anyone nearby as well,” Cole said. He walked along the immense buttress root until he found a mossy plant. “You burn this, evidently they can smell this a long way off. You’ll need a hot flame, it’s hard to get going.”

Owen took a careful picture of the plant. “What does it smell like?”

“It’s not bad, kind of a spicy smell. Rub it on your fingers.”

They were walking back the quad when there was a double boom that echoed across the clearing. Cole shaded his eyes and pointed at a contrail.

“Wonder who that is?” Leah said.

Owen looked at his tablet. “Maya says it’s the Agamemnon.”

“That’s a Greek name, now you can relax. That’s Marie Martin’s ship. She’s been working with Henry Rogeau. I told you that help was on the way.”

“Stop looking smug Captain Jones. Otherwise you can walk back from here.”

“Sorry Mr. Administrator, sir.”

“That’s better.”

When they pulled back into the colony, there were a crowd of people standing around in front of the administration building. “What’s that all about?” Leah asked.

“Probably nothing good,” Owen sighed.

He pulled up beside the crowd, Gavin was standing on the porch with a couple of other men. “Administrator.”

“What’s going on, Gavin?”

Gavin made a point of looking at Leah and Cole. “We’d all like to know where you disappeared to with these two.”

“Disappeared?” Owen said, holding up a tablet. “That assumes I was out of contact.”

“It was set to emergency notify only.”

Owen walked up the stairs and Cole started to follow him but Leah put a hand on his arm and shook her head.

“Was there an emergency?” Owen asked, looking around.

“There’s a shuttle landing!” a younger man behind Gavin exclaimed.
Leah and Cole both recognized his voice as the one who had bluffed about having auto-guns when they’d arrived.

“That’s why we have a runway, Brad.” Owen said. “I thought we had covered this already Gavin, I serve as the Administrator but that does not make me anyone’s slave. I have the same rights here as you or anyone else.”

“And there must be continuity in the government,” Gavin said. “We’ve asked you to appoint a deputy before. Now we’re here to demand. In fact, I’ve already been elected.”

Leah saw most of the crowd looking at each other and guessed they hadn’t been asked to vote.

Owen shook his head. “Go read your bylaws again Gavin. That’s not how it works.”

“Then it’s time to change the bylaws!”

“Oh shit,” Cole said quietly and Leah nodded. She pulled out her tablet and messaged Xerxes, entering a short message to be encrypted and given a priority when the next courier drone passed overhead.

“We’ve covered this as well. You signed the accords like everyone else,” Owen said calmly. “You have the right to file a protest with Hub and request inspectors to mediate the situation.”

“Like your friends there?” Gavin sneered and most of the crowd turned to look at Leah and Cole. “It’s time to tell us where you snuck off to.”

“Bleeding Christ,” Leah snapped. “The guy has been busting his ass to keep this place running and you’re gonna bitch because he took the morning off to show us around?”

“It’s not week-end,” Gavin blustered.

“What was the last break you worked?” someone yelled. “Owen is in his office all the time!”

“And that’s why he needs a deputy,” Gavin said.

“I’ll choose my own deputy, thanks,” Owen said. “But if you’re looking to help out, we always need folks cutting sugar cane.”

There were a few laughs and Cole saw the crowd’s support for Gavin slipping away.

“Excuse me,” a new voice called. “Someone want to tell me where to park?”
It was Marie’s partner, Henry Rogeau. He had been born in Haiti and worked hard to cultivate his Creole-French accent.

“More mouths to feed now!” Brad said, throwing up his hands. “We’re gonna need us another Tea Party, CMC are invading like the Redcoats!”

“Redcoats!” Henry exclaimed.
He sprinted at the plastcrete base of the Administration hab and pushed off it, jumping to a rail, flipping over it to land on the porch. There were a few “oohs” from the crowd and he bowed slightly.

“Now, I beg your pardon, sir,” he said, his French accent thicker as he walked toward the kid. “I perhaps didn’t hear you correctly? Did you just imply that I am English?”

“No, that you were…” Brad tried to say.

“Non! Redcoats are English pig-dogs, no?”

“It was a metaphor!”

Laughter was starting to spread through the crowd.

Henry shook his head sadly. “Don’t you mean a simile?”

Brad stammered but no one was paying attention to him anymore.

“This isn’t over,” Gavin said quietly to Owen.

He shrugged. “I think we’re done for now.”

“Now, who can tell me where to park?” Henry yelled over the laughter and the crowd pointed at several ground crew hurrying away toward the field.

“What was that all about?” a woman asked Leah.

“Marie!” Leah hugged the slender woman. She was a bit shorter than Leah with large dark eyes and long black hair. “Owen has a bit of a power struggle going on. How was your transit?”

“Boring as ever,” Marie said. “How’s the survey going?”

Leah raised an eyebrow and smiled.
“Uh oh, I know that look.”

“Come on, I’ll introduce you to the colony admin, he’s a good guy.”

When they went inside, Maya was already Owen’s office. Leah tapped a bent finger against her lips and Marie nodded, recognizing the hand-chat as talks too much, asks too much.

“Owen, I’m sorry,” Maya was saying. “I don’t know how he found out you weren’t in your office, I didn’t say a thing to anyone. I was enjoying the peace and quiet when they just started to show up.”

Owen smiled at her “Don’t worry about it. It was hardly a secret since I drove out of here this morning.”

“And I’m sorry about Gavin. I mean, I agree that you need a new deputy. But that’s just because you work so much that I really do worry about you. But…maybe someone with more experience than Gavin has?”

“Thanks Maya, it’s on my list of things to think about when I get a minute.”

“Okay. Is there anything you want me to work on?”

“Actually there is. Take the quad down to the cane field and see if you can find out why they’re so far behind down there.”

“Uhm, sure. You don’t need anything up here?”

Leah rolled her eyes and Marie smiled.

“I just have a meeting. Maybe I’ll make it an early day after that.”

“Please do. You look tired, boss. Get some rest.”

Maya got her tablet off her desk and nodded at the two women.

“Welcome to Arboreal, Captain Martin. Hi Captain Jones.”

“Thank you, Maya. It’s a very pretty place,” Marie said.

Maya smiled and left, closing the door behind her. Almost immediately Cole came in.

“Henry will be here in a few. Aggie already parked herself next to Xerx. I wonder how many chess games they’re playing already.”

Owen waved them in. “We’ll need another chair, grab Maya’s.”

Leah sat down as Cole wheeled the chair in.

“Owen, I’d like to introduce Marie Martin. She’s an old friend and a kick ass xeno-biologist. We had to steal her from the research group.”

Owen stood up and shook hands. “Captain, I am deeply in your debt for rearranging your schedule to come here.”

“It’s Marie, and you’re very welcome. I’m glad I can give you a hand. My partner is Henry Rogeau, he’ll be along in a minute.”

“Great. While we’re waiting, you look like you have something to say, Leah.”

“Just that I think you need to be very careful around your assistant.”

“I already know that. I’ve had a few sensitive issues leak that had to be her. But right now, my hands are tied, especially with so few people. Disruptions don’t ripple through the colony now, it’s more like a tsunami. I reassign her, you can bet her boyfriend will start having ‘problems’ keeping the comm net up and I’ll have a ton of angry people. Their friends include the coordinators of two of my farms, I don’t want to think that would play out.”

“Phew,” Marie said. “I don’t envy your job. Hopefully we can help you get a few more colonists settled.”

“You’d think with everything that’s happened we would have grown up a little,” Owen said. “But we’ve just dragged our problems with us.

Henry came in and was introduced to Owen. Leah went and locked the front door and Marie looked at her curiously.

“Go ahead,” Leah said to Owen.

He looked surprised for a second, then smiled and nodded. “Marie, Henry, these two showed up with some news yesterday…”

“…so we’re setting up an embassy now,” he finished half an hour later. Leah figured she’d probably tell Marie all of it later, but Henry presented more of a problem. He had already asked for a transfer, he’d just come along with Marie when they’d heard about the Arboreal mission. Plus, he’d kind of been a blabber mouth at school…

“Damn,” Marie said. “When’s your next courier go through?”

“Another week,” said Owen. “Leah said some of you can stand in for an FCT until we get an answer.”

“Probably longer than that,” Marie said. “Jake’s team was on deck but they got briefed for some problems out rimward. The Brazilians are weeks overdue, even if they showed up today there’s mandatory stand down and debriefing.”

“Wasn’t Ian Holm just getting a new crew together?”

Henry shook his head. “They got mixed up in a Dominion ambush during transit. Last anyone heard, they ejected planetside and half the team was still missing.”

“That’s everyone?” Cole asked.

“Remember, the Committee stole two of our teams. They have them both out certifying a new planet.”

Cole sighed. “I wish one of the Elder House Regiments was still around.”

“Who?” Owen had never heard of anything like that.

“Elder House Regiments are old Commonwealth military units. Really old, they’ve been around since the Empire. His Imperial Lantern and Emperor’s Armored Fist are two famous examples?”

Owen nodded. “I thought those were joke names.”

“Don’t say that to them. Anyway, the Regiments all have their own contact teams that function like our FCTs. But with the Dominion starting to get active, any help from the Commonwealth will be a long time coming.”

“So, what are you saying?” Owen asked.

“Same shit, different planet,” Henry said. “That’s why we all do FCT modules in training.”

Marie glanced at Henry and back to Owen. “It could be worse, the Anek sound friendly and they’re pre-flight tech. That removes some complications but there are always more that pop up. And we’ve all had experience with other first contacts twice. I don’t think anyone besides Cole is a strong empath but honestly? Almost all of it is common sense.”

“She’s right,” Leah said. “Obviously we won’t be speaking for the Commonwealth or setting up any treaties, but they’re not interested in trade agreements and I have the feeling that they could push us out any time they chose to. What they really want is our help, and to know if they can help us.”

Owen leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. “Okay, with all that in mind; Cole and Leah, I’d like you to focus on the embassy lodge. You can use one of the quads to get back and forth so you don’t have to spend all your time walking. Comments?”

Cole thought for a second. “With only three quads working, why don’t we stay out there?”

“If you want, that’s fine. I’ll probably be stealing Leah every few days to work on the proposal. You’re still good with helping with that? Thanks. Marie and Henry, I’d like you to run another short survey leg along the original track. That’ll complete the southern side of the map and give you a decent introduction to the area.”

Marie nodded. “I agree. Would you like us to find any other new civilizations?”

“See, we’ve hardly met and I can already tell that you hate me. Once you’re back, I’ll steal one of you to help me here and the other one will help on the embassy if it’s needed. Or one of the other ten things that will come up. But first, Leah and Cole, you’re due crew rest and you other two are probably due a couple of days to tie one on and stumble around.”

“I’m good to go,” Cole said and Leah nodded.

“And you’re not due to meet your contact until the day after tomorrow. You’ve got more than enough time to work yourselves to death. I also don’t mind that Gavin and his friends will all see you four wandering around.”

“You want I should stab him, boss?” Henry said, sounding like Peter Lorre.

“Weren’t you were French a minute ago? And no stabbing anyone, if I have to really say that. Now, all of you get the hell out of my office, I have real work to do.”

They got up and left.
“Damn, he’s good, why is he running a tiny colony?” Owen heard Henry ask as they were walking outside.

“Fake it til you make it, frog,” Owen muttered and called up a handbook on the alien contact checklists and began to read.

|5.0

“They put us in the hab across from yours,” Henry said. “You guys want to hang out later?”

Cole looked at Leah who nodded. “Sure, I’ve got a decent bottle of rum they make here.”

“That reminds me,” Marie said, “Wendy from hydroponics sent a care package along for you guys.”

“Excellent!” Leah said. “I could use a good smoke out at the moment.”

“Around eight?” Henry said. “Cool, we’ll see you then.”

Leah closed her eyes and sighed as the hot water ran down her back. There was a tap on the door. “Please come in,” she said.

Cole came in with two drinks in his hand. “Rum and fake fruit juice.”

“Yay. Get in here with me.”

“I was hoping you’d ask.” Cole was already naked and stepped into the spray.

Leah tasted her drink and then took a long swallow. “I thought shit was about to get pear shaped this afternoon. I sent a coded request for a security team to Xerxes, I’m half tempted to sleep out in the ship.”

“I’m glad Henry is such a lovable asshole, it was a pretty good distraction. I wouldn’t worry too much yet, a lot of that crowd was there for the entertainment. I don’t think Gavin has a ton of support.”

“Not yet anyway.”

He nodded. “Never underestimate the power of boredom. That will change soon enough. I wonder when Owen will tell them.”

“When he thinks everything is in good shape. He’s going to be very good I think.”

“I agree. Now, we’ve got two days off. What would you like to do?”

“I’d like to fuck, preferably a lot,” Leah said. She finished her drink and set the cup on the sink. “And sleep. Eat if there’s time.”

“Great minds think alike,” Cole said and put his drink beside hers. Leah smiled as he pushed her back against the wall and knelt down.

“Looks like you’ve got something on your mind,” she said as he put her leg over his shoulder.

Instead of answering, Cole licked along her lips and sucked her clit into his mouth.

“Holy shit,” Leah groaned and leaned back on the wall. “Your mouth feels so good baby, eat my pussy, I want to come all over your face. Yes, just like that…”

Leah was tingling before Cole was through with her. She tried to reciprocate but he refused to let her do anything except stand there while he toweled her dry. She collapsed in a chair and he brought them another pair of drinks.

“You’re magnificent,” she said, toasting him.

“And you’re gorgeous,” he toasted back. They sat and watched the hazy sun creep toward the treetops.

“It’s nice to see Marie, I missed her,” Leah said after a while.

Cole nodded. “Looks like she’s about at the end with Henry.”

“They have been out twice together, I’d expect it. I like Henry but…”

“He’s an asshole,” Cole said and she laughed.

“Yes, he’s kind of an asshole. The good thing is that he knows it and uses it to his advantage, like he did today.”

“I’m not saying I don’t like him. He’s just intense at times.”

“He tends to overcompensate around you. He was a transplant to the Project in his late teens and really wanted to be a Ranger.”

Cole sipped his drink. “I know, but none of that makes a whole lot of difference out here. You’d think he’d get over it.”

“He also had a serious thing for me for years. Then a gorgeous fighter pilot appears and we’re married a month later.”

“I’m surprised you never went out with him.”

Leah shrugged. “He was kind of an arrogant ass already, not really my thing.”

“So I’m kind of surprised he lasted two missions with Marie.”

Leah smiled. “I guess he’s really, really good in bed. Marie wasn’t the first person I heard that from. And don’t worry, I brag about you back.”

Cole laughed. “I really don’t want to know.”

“Liar.”

“Okay, in the interests of improving my game, what makes him good in bed?”

Leah sat up a little. “Your game doesn’t need any help, trust me. From what I’ve been told, he’s just as arrogant in bed and kind of rough. Some of our friends get off on that. I think it can be hot once in a while but not for two missions.”

“You really like that?”

“Do you remember fucking after my meeting with Gavin? That was incredibly hot and a little rough.”

“It was hot, but I don’t think I’d want that every time.”

“God no, I am so into making love with you. It’s just like…having a taste for horseradish sometimes.”

“Have you ever been tempted?”

“Would it bother you?”

“You are the center of my life. The only thing that would bother me is if you felt like you had to hide something. I’m madly in love with every part of you.”

Leah got up and came over to his chair. “I want to sit on your lap.”

He held his arms open and she sat to the side, legs crossing his lap. Owen kissed her head. “I take the question back though. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“I’m not. We’ve never talked about this kind of thing and I’d just feel better if we were touching. Plus I like being naked with you. Okay, ask me again.”

“Have you ever been tempted to get with Henry for some rough, dirty sex?”

She smiled. “Perv. Tempted as in thinking about going and actually doing it, no. I’ve fantasized about what he’d be like during personal play time a few times though, tried it with toys and my fingers.”

“Really. Well, if you ever need an outside opinion…”

“Mm, I’d love one. Let me ask you something back.”
“Sure.”
“If I did get with Henry, would you want to watch?”

“I don’t know if I could watch someone be rough with you.”

“Spicy food, remember. I’d be a willing, maybe eager, participant in it.”

“There’s part of me that likes it…”

“I know, I can feel it against my leg. It’s the rest of you I’m curious about.”

“You know that I never thought less of anyone who’s asked us to play, I just wasn’t interested in anyone else. If you had wanted to…”

Leah kissed the end of his nose. “I felt the same way, I still do. For me, it would be just another game for us to play. When I beg you to tie me up, I don’t think it’s because I’m a slave. It’s just fun. If we were to play with other people it wouldn’t mean I didn’t want you. You already know it’s you and me until the stars die. The thought of you in my bed for the rest of my life turns me on more than any fantasy.”

Cole leaned forward and kissed her. The feel of his lips made her heart beat faster, just like the first time he’d kissed her.
“You and me,” she whispered.

“Until the stars die.”

They began to kiss, gently caressing each other until Cole’s tablet pinged a few minutes later.
Leah picked it up. “They’re wondering where we are.”

“I guess we’d better get dressed then.”

She got up and looked through her case of clothes. “You know, this goes both ways.”

“What do you mean?”

“You mean to tell me that you’ve never noticed Marie eye fucking you?”

“When was this?”

She shook her head. “I love you madly but sometimes you’re really clueless. What about this shirt?”

“I like that shirt a lot.”

“I know you do. Should I wear it?”

“Of course.”

Leah bent over and kissed the top of his head. “Probably part of the reason she’s checking you out is all the bragging I do about you.”

Cole’s lips found her nipple and she sighed. “You’re getting me excited, we have to go.”

“Really? I guess you’ll just have to be horny all evening.”

“Mmm, someone named Cole likes playing with fire.”

Leah moaned as he sucked harder and nipped at her nipple and then jumped as his fingers found her wet slit. “Cole! What are you doing?”

“Sorry, just wanted to have a taste,” he said, smiling up at her and licked his finger.

Leah fanned her face and went to find a pair of panties. “You are an evil beast, sir.”

“Leah!” Marie said when she opened the door. “It’s been forever, I can’t believe you came all this way!” She kissed Leah on the cheek.

Marie was gorgeous. She had pulled her long hair back and it was in a thick braid that almost reached her waist. The tightly pulled back hair made her dark eyes seem even larger. Marie was wearing a long gauzy skirt and tight embroidered vest with a tight shirt under it.

“Settling in okay?”

“Yeah, these habitats are nice. Get in here. Hi again, Cole.”

He bent to kiss her cheek but she turned her head at the last minute and he ended up kissing her on the lips. Marie opened her lips slightly and Cole kissed her for a couple seconds longer than a casual kiss.

Marie smiled at Leah. “You’re right, he is a good kisser.”

“Oh, you have no idea,” Leah said.

“Hey there,” Henry said as they walked in. “They still don’t have the AC replaced.”

He was wearing a loose fitting pair of undyed linen pants and a guayabera shirt that was mostly unbuttoned.

“That’s okay, it’s nice and cool at night,” Cole said. “Let me show you how the fans work.”

Leah looked watched Henry as Cole showed him the control panel. He was a little taller that Marie, maybe Leah’s height if he stretched. He was slender and his light brown skin covered a nicely defined set of muscles. His eyes were a shade of hazel and he had incredibly long lashes.
When he patted Cole on the shoulder and bent over to feel the air coming out of the vent, Leah saw a glint inside of his shirt and remembered that he had pierced nipples. She wondered what he’d do if she tugged them with her teeth and felt her nipples harden a little.

Cole, damn your eyes for teasing me at the last minute!

“And hello again,” Henry said, coming over to kiss Leah’s cheek. “You look incredible.”

“This old thing?”

Leah was wearing a pair of black drawstring pants made of loosely woven cotton and a Mandarin blouse in red silk. The buttons were widely spaced and she usually only left one of unbuttoned when they were going out, just enough to tease Cole. But she’d decided to really push his buttons tonight and left the top two open, leaving the shirt open down to between her breasts. Underneath she had a black silk demi-cup bra that cradled the girls nicely and ended below her nipples. If you peeked, they weren’t hard to see. Yep, Cole was going to pay for torturing her. And it was exciting, feeling the silk sliding over her nipples.

“Don’t worry, you look nice too,” Marie said, patting Cole’s back. He was wearing his own set of drawstring pants and a white cotton pullover he’d gotten from the tropical colony on St. Johns. “Simple, yet classic.”

“Thank you Marie, it’s nice to finally be appreciated,” Cole said.

Leah laughed. “As promised, one bottle of rum.”

“Beautiful,” Henry said, taking the bottle. “I’ll get some glasses.” A few minutes later he was back with a tray, ice, glasses and a pitcher of juice.

“Wait until you taste this juice,” Marie said. “We brought it from Hub, it comes from Juneo Hoh. It’s incredible.”

“Anything is better than bug juice,” Cole said as they sat down. Henry made drinks and passed them around.

“And as promised,” Marie said, reaching into her case and pulling out a large block of marijuana. “Wendy’s finest ‘dro.”

Cole opened the bag and inhaled. “God, that’s amazing,” he said, handing the bag to Leah to smell and she nodded. “I’ll go get my vape.”

“But wait, there’s more,” Marie said, pulling out a large padded bag. “I thought you might appreciate this.”

Cole carefully pulled out an art-glass water pipe.

Leah whistled. “That’s amazing.”

“Helps to have friends in the lab,” Marie said.

“This is incredible,” Cole said. “We’ve got to try it of course.”

The other three laughed and they chatted as they sipped drinks and passed the pipe back and forth.

“Phew, I think that’s enough for me,” Leah said after her sixth hit. “Wendy outdid herself with this stuff.”

Marie sipped her drink and laid back on the couch with her eyes closed. “There’s one thing about the strain, wait until you feel the body buzz.”

This might get interesting Cole thought. Regular weed always made Leah horny, if this was one of Wendy’s crazy strains…

“Whoa!” Leah said. “My face is tingling.”

Definitely going to get interesting.

They caught up on the gossip and then Marie sat up. “You guys discovered another race! Lucky bastards, I can’t wait to meet the Anek. They sound amazing.”

“Oh, our descriptions don’t even do them justice,” Cole said. “Their physical form is a little startling at first, but it’s amazing how quickly you get used to it. They just exude a kind of calmness.”

“Most of them anyway,” Leah said. “We’ve only met one male and he was a little intense when we met.”

“Hostile?” Marie asked.

“Not exactly,” Leah said. “Just…intense.”

“So you’ve met with just the females?” Henry asked.

“There’s two genders, they only meet occasionally,” Cole said. “So far, mostly females.”

“Too bad you guys are exclusive, maybe you could have had fun for once.”

“Don’t be an ass, Henry,” Marie said. Cole and Leah carefully didn’t look at each other, knowing they’d start laughing if they did.

“Sorry, just kidding around,” Henry said.

“For the record, we’ve had plenty of fun being exclusive Henry,” Leah said sweetly, rubbing the inside of Cole’s thigh.

“Touché, madam,” Henry said, toasting her. “By the way Cole, did you know you’re famous?”

“What for?” Cole said cautiously.

“Your humble scribblings have graced the wardroom walls of the last three ships we transited on.”

“He means your ship drawings,” Marie said, rolling her eyes. “We saw your signature and I wasn’t surprised. You gave those ships souls.”

Cole suddenly realized what they were talking about. “Oh, okay. I’ve done six of those portraits so far. I didn’t know if they liked them that much.”

“Liked them?” Henry said. “Uh, yeah. The three we saw were framed and lit with their own special lights. We saw the first one on the Pathfinder with all the ghostly explorers in the background pointing. Then the one on the Xuanzang, the ship heading for Hub with the Chinese junks escorting it, that was incredible. But the one of the RBN Singh Rawat, my god, man.”

“It was my favorite too, flying away from Earth with all the gods and goddesses running alongside it, crying…” Mara choked up and waved her hands in front of her eyes.

Leah put her arm around Marie’s shoulders. “You should have seen the captain when Cole presented it to her. She’s a Singh herself, a very stern Sikh. But she had pretty much the same reaction.”

“What are the other three you’ve done?” Henry asked.

“My first one was for the Tenzing Norgay, the ship is against the stars and an outline of Everest in the background. Then I did one for the Lewis and Clark that’s a bit like the Pathfinder.”

“I made him put in Sacajawea,” Leah said.

“She did. I’m so happy I listened, it totally made the portrait. The L&C is approaching a Slingshot gate and they’re all beckoning her to go through. And the Magellan, he’s in the starscape behind the ship, looking ahead with a telescope.”

“You’re amazing,” Marie said.

“Thank you ma’am.”

“Do you ever do people?” Henry asked. “Or just spaceships?”

“Of course I do people. I have the best model ever, how could I not?”

“You have to show us! Do you have them with you?” Marie asked.

“Go get them,” Leah said. “Otherwise we’ll all forget.”

“Okay, back in just a second,” Cole said, getting up.

He brought the book back and they gathered around a table and flipped through it.

“That one is great,” Henry said, pointing at one of Leah on St. John’s. He touched her shoulder but it turned into a caress. Cole saw her nipples harden under the silk. Henry noticed as well, not bothering to hide the fact he was looking and Leah didn’t seem to notice. Or she didn’t mind, Cole wasn’t sure which.

“Oh, that’s absolutely beautiful,” Marie said when she turned the page.
It was a sketch Cole was still working on. Leah was sitting on rock, looking up into the massive trees with a half-smile on her face. There was a patch of sunlight on her face. Cole planned to add Lakshmi eventually.

Marie smiled. “You two, sheesh.”

“She’s right,” Henry said. “I bow to your ability, sir. Now, where are the naked ones?”

“In the book!” Leah said. “I’m even hotter without clothes.”

“Oooh, let’s see!” giggled Marie, flipping through the pages.

Cole thought about refusing, but watching Henry drool all over Leah was hot. And kind of fun but he wondered how far she’d push things. They hadn’t resolved anything and Leah tended to lose her head when she got horny. And she always got crazy horny when she was high. But it was the two of them forever, so he wasn’t too worried. Wendy’s weed didn’t hurt in helping him relax either.

Marie’s eyes widened when she turned the next page. “Cole!”

“That’s one of my best,” Cole said proudly.

He’d done it on St. Johns when they’d take a week at the beach. Leah had a flower behind her ear and was lying on her side, propped on one elbow. Behind her was a stretch of beach and a waterfall in the distance. She’d been teasing him all day before and Cole had poured every bit of his arousal into the picture, it wasn’t overtly sexual but every sensual line of Leah’s portrait was erotically charged.

Leah laughed. “Close your mouth Henry, you’ll catch a bug.”

“That’s absolutely amazing,” Henry said. “And I finally get to see what you look like under there.”

Leah laughed and they were soon talking about life on St. Johns. Henry was taking occasional peeks down her shirt, Leah acted like she didn’t notice but Cole could tell that she knew.

“So what do I have to do to get one of me like that?” Marie asked, pointing to the portrait.

“First I had to cock-tease him all day,” Leah said. “Then promise to do all sorts of dirty things to him.”

Marie laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Baby, now that I made you bring that over here, I feel bad,” Leah said. “Would you go put it back so I don’t spill something on it while I’m trashed?”

Cole laughed. “If you’ll feel better, sure.”

“I should put the pipe over there too, I don’t think there’s anything like that for a few hundred light years,” Marie said. “I’ll follow you, Cole.”

Henry looked at Leah after they left. “Cole is a good man.”

“The best. I’m lucky.”

“It almost makes me feel bad about wanting to fuck the shit out of you.”

“Henry, you’ve heard me fuck Cole. Do you honestly think you could do better than that?”

“Wouldn’t know until I tried, would we?” Henry said, looking down her shirt.
He looked up, surprised, when she pulled it wider to let him look.

“I’d give you a chance, but you’d fail,” Leah said.

Henry reached out, pretending to go for her tit. He was surprised again when she leaned forward to meet his hand. He cupped her breast through the shirt.
“You sure about that?”

Leah bit her lip. “Maybe. Just one chance, so you’d better make it count.”

She looked him in the eye as she unbuttoned her shirt the rest of the way, letting it fall open.

“I don’t know how to thank you enough for bringing me this,” Cole said, rinsing out the pipe.

“I’m sure we can figure something out,” Marie said. She was tempted to jump him but didn’t want to screw up her friendships. They walked back across the walkway to the other hab and she looked up and gasped.

“What is that?”

“It’s called the Lesser Arboreal Nebula, we’re just far away to see all of it,” Cole said. “They have an amazing sky here.”

They stood and looked up for a few minutes and Cole was getting very aware of how close she was standing.

“I’m going to love working here,” she said finally. “I guess we should go back in and see what they’re up to.”

The lights had been turned down and the other two were missing. Cole followed Marie into the bedroom. Leah was breathing hard and there was a rhythmic wet sound. He saw her then, lying on the edge of the bed. Her shirt and bra were gone, her pants were around her ankles and her panties pulled down around her knees. Leah was gasping and grunting, fists clenched in the sheets while Henry sucked hard on one of her nipples. His other hand was busy between her legs. Leah was lifting her hips against his hand as it slapped against her pubic mound, driving his fingers into her wet sex.

“Holy shit,” Marie said quietly.

Leah’s eyes opened and she looked at Cole. Her eyebrows went up slightly and he could tell what she was asking him. She looked at Marie and the bed beside her before arching her back and cumming on Henry’s fingers. She groaned as he added a third finger.

Marie touched his arm. “I didn’t know you two were open now?” she whispered, looking worried.

“Evidently we are. You’re our first,” Cole said.

She smiled at him. “That makes me really happy.”

She unbuttoned the vest and slipped it off. The shirt underneath wasn’t only skin tight, it was translucent and Cole traced her dark little nipples through it.

“Do you want to stay in here with them?”

He nodded and she smiled. “It’s hot, isn’t it?”

Marie pulled his shirt over his head as he pulled her close. They kissed as she pulled him over to the bed and pushed him backward onto it. She laid beside him and Cole pushed her skirt up. Marie lifted her hips to help him, she wasn’t wearing any panties and moaned when his fingers touched her wet flesh.

Leah took a deep breath as Henry’s fingers pushed deeper into her. She was ridiculously wet, having someone else’s fingers in her was so dirty and hot. Leah looked over at them and smiled.
“Isn’t she gorgeous?” she whispered to Henry. Watching Cole and Marie make out while they undressed each other made it even better.

Marie smiled at her and whispered something in Cole’s ear and he turned to watch Henry pull Leah’s panties the rest of the way off. Leah’s eyes were closed as Henry pushed her legs wider with his knee.

Cole turned back to Marie, kissing along her jaw and neck to her shoulder. She pulled off her shirt and sighed happily as he kissed his way down to her breasts. His fingers slid over her sex at the same time his lips found her nipple, holding it as his tongue danced and swirled over it.
Marie was breathing harder, pushing her hips up to meet Cole’s stroking fingers. He began to tease her other nipple but she couldn’t take it anymore and twisted her fingers in his hair, pushing his head lower. She sighed happily when he put her legs over his shoulders, whimpering as he began to circle her hard clit with his tongue.

“Good idea,” Henry said and Leah looked over to see Marie arching her back, pulling Cole’s mouth tighter to her pussy. Leah pushed herself up the bed as Henry got between her legs.

“Ohh fuck,” Leah gasped as Henry shoved two fingers into her at the same time he sucked hard on her clit. She grabbed his head, forgetting all about Cole. “Do it, like that!” she groaned as he sucked.

Leah whimpered as his finger slid out but her head went back and she started cumming hard as he suddenly shoved three into her, fucking them in and out and tugging her clit with his teeth. Leah humped against his mouth.
“Suck me good, you’re gonna make me come so hard, fuck that cunt, c’mon…” She screamed as orgasm after orgasm hit her like a freight train.

Cole moaned and she looked at the other couple. Marie had him on his back, stroking his cock with the head in her mouth. She pushed down and Leah watched, fascinated, as she kept going until her nose was against Cole’s pubic bone. Leah could see her throat bulging before Marie came up and took a deep breath before taking it in her throat again. She had to get Marie to teach her how to do that. Leah wondered what she’d look like fucking Lakshmi and came hard on Henry’s face again. She groaned, lifting her hips as a finger pushed into her ass, twisting back and forth. He was turning out to be as good as she’d heard.
After another orgasm Leah pushed Henry away and she sat up and pulled his pants off. He was very hard and his cock looked huge on his slender frame. Leah began sucking and licking, determined to get it all in her mouth.

“Watch Leah fuck him,” Marie whispered in Cole’s ear before swallowing his cock again.

Leah gagged and gasped, then pushed her mouth down again. Henry’s head went back and he grabbed Leah’s head, thrusting hard into her mouth. Leah moaned, feeling him push into her throat. Then she had to breathe again, using her teeth on Henry’s cock to get him to let go.

“I’ve wanted to see your lips wrapped around my cock since the day we met,” Henry said, looking down at her. “I didn’t think it would take this long but you met that fucking flyboy.”

“The one buried in Marie’s throat you mean? Sounds like he’s making her cum pretty hard, I don’t think you can keep up with him after all,” she taunted him.

Henry wrapped his fingers in her hair, pulling her mouth down as he thrust hard again. Leah moaned, putting her hand between her legs. She was so wet.

“It’s okay,” Marie whispered in Cole’s ear. “She likes it and she’s right. You’re making me cum so good. I want you to fuck me now, okay? Get between my legs and push that beautiful cock all the way in me.” She took his hand and put it between her legs. “Feel how wet I am for you? Come on lover, fuck me nice and deep.”

Cole turned, leaning forward until Marie was back against the pillows. She took him in her hand, rubbing the head up and down her wet lips.

“Feel it? I’m gonna put you in, just…oh my god…”

Marie’s eyes rolled back into her head and Cole thrust into her. His cock easily slid all of the way up her cunt and she squeezed him, her body tensing as she came.

Henry pushed Leah back and flipped her onto her stomach. Leah pulled her legs up, getting on her knees. She gasped as he slapped her ass.

“Spread it.”

Leah reached back to spread herself. She moaned as he pushed the head into her and pushed back, trying to get more. Henry shoved himself in hard, pushing her flat on the bed. Leah came again as he began slamming into her, their flesh slapping together. She screamed into the pillow as his cock thudded into her cervix over and over.

I’m so going to regret this tomorrow, but right now… Another orgasm began to race through her and Leah groaned.

Marie was breathing hard, her cunt tightening as she watched the other two and orgasmed again. Leah opened her eyes and looked at Cole. She moaned as Henry speared into her again, keeping her eyes on Cole’s. Henry grabbed her hips and pulled her back against his cock. Leah imagined Cole finding her like this, furious. He’d come over here and shove his cock in her mouth, shoving it deep until her throat bulged like Marie’s… The orgasm was too intense this time and Leah collapsed into it, going limp and letting Henry pound her.

“She’s okay,” Marie said and kissed him. “And it gives me an idea.” She lifted one leg and put it on his shoulder, then the other. Cole looked down, watching his cock push deep. “Now fuck me hard Cole. Show that motherfucker how to pound a cunt!”

He pulled almost all the way and shoved back in.

Marie began to breathe harder, gasping out encouragement as he bottomed out deep inside of her, over and over.

“You’re making…me cum…all over…your cock…yes! YES!” Marie screamed as she pushed up against him and Cole fucked her even harder.

Henry pulled out and Leah looked over her shoulder and smiled. “Giving up?”

“What do you think?” Henry asked, pouring oil on his cock.

Leah’s stomach was full of butterflies. She didn’t know if she could take it that roughly in the ass but she wasn’t going to back down.

“Better make it good, because it still sounds like Marie’s getting a better fuck than me.”

Henry dragged her to the edge of the bed. Leah let her legs fall over the side. She reached back, spreading her ass. She wanted this, she wanted him to cum up her ass, right in front of her husband. Cole was looking down at Marie, slamming into her as Marie convulsed and moaned, over and over.

Henry pushed an oily finger up her ass and Leah grunted, pushing back. She gasped as he used a second finger, sawing them in and out a few times.

Leah looked back as he ran his cock up and down her ass crack. “I want it nice and hard,” she said. “Make me feel that cock.”

He put it against her ass and shoved. Leah gasped, reaching down to rub her clit. She grunted as he shoved again, forcing more of it into her asshole. Another shove and she was on the edge of an orgasm, feeling him sliding so deep inside of her.

“Fuck my ass!” Cole heard Leah wail.

“Look at them,” Marie said. Leah had her face in the sheets, Henry’s hands were clenched on her hips as he thrust in and out of her.

“I want you to cum nice and deep in me,” Marie said as she watched the other pair. “But next time, I want you to fuck my ass. I want to have my mouth between your wife’s legs, eating her while your cock makes me cum over and over. Would you like that?”

“Yes,” Cole gasped and she squeezed his cock, looking up at him.

“Good. Now fuck me nice and deep, I want you to cum so bad. I can’t wait to feel it, I’ve wanted to fuck you for so long. C’mon, faster, cum with me.”

He was breathing hard, fucking her with short strokes.

“Yes, just like that,” Marie whimpered.

He shoved hard once more and the feeling of his cum set her off and she squeezed him, wanting all of his cum. When her breathing had slowed, she moved her legs, pulling him on top of her and Cole kissed her neck and nipples.

“She never wanted to share you,” Marie whispered in his ear. “Now I know why, just give me one more, come on.”

Cole pulled all the way out and slid smoothly all the way inside of her again. Marie felt their cum run out and down the crack of her as. Her back arched as she pulled Cole into a deep kiss. Beside them, Henry was cumming in Leah as she rode out her own orgasm. Marie covered his face with little kisses.

“That was amazing, thank you,” she whispered in his ear. “When Leah catches her breath, take her home and hold her. She’s going to crash off the emotions and wonder if it was a mistake.”

He nodded and she kissed him once more.

Leah’s legs were wobbly and Cole helped her to bed. He got in beside her and spooned against her.

“Oh, don’t. I’m all sticky and goopy,” she protested sleepily. “You won’t want to cuddle me.”

“Don’t be an idiot. I’ll always want to hold you. Even when you’re goopy.”

“You always have such lovely answers. Thank you for this, I had fun. I hope you did too. I’m sleepy.”
“Me too,” Cole said and soon they were both asleep.

|6.0
There was a tap at the door the next morning and Cole opened it to find Henry standing here.

“Hey, c’mon in.”

Henry looked uncomfortable. “Uhm, are we good? I was spouting some rude shit last night.”

Cole shrugged. “I don’t think you had a hope in hell of winning.”

Henry laughed. “Marie says I didn’t. You are the champion.”

Cole shook Henry’s hand. “We’re good, really. Leah wanted to play a game and you made her happy. Marie is lovely, I think she had fun. All is well. We were just putting lunch together, come in. Where’s Marie?”

“Hanging back to let me apologize for being an asshole.”

“You’re a lovable asshole, come in and we’ll drink beer.”

The two couples sat around the table eating and trading stories.

“What’ve you guys got going on today?” Leah asked. “I was thinking of checking out the hot springs.”

“Ooh, yes,” Marie said.

“I’m hanging out here, drinking beer and listening to music with Xerx,” Cole said to Henry. “You’re welcome to hang out.”

“That sounds great, I’m tired of being hot. Can I ask Aggie to link in? I think she’s a little lonely, she didn’t like the SI on the Ericsson.”

The rest of the colony was in the middle of their work cycle so Leah and Marie had the place to themselves.

Marie sighed, leaning her head back against the cushion. “I love being in the field, really I do. But the idea of a hot bath whenever I want one is so tempting.”

Leah nodded, slowly lowering herself into the hot water. “All we need are some stud masseuses and we’d have the perfect spa.”

“Ooh, drinks with little umbrellas. Hey, I really want to ask you something.”

Leah laughed. “I know, you’ve been practically bouncing up and down all morning.”

“Have not. What changed your minds about being open? The weed?”

“We’ve smoked pot together before without anything happening.”

“Except you dragging Cole into a closet and having noisy sex that time.”

“Pish-posh. We just get carried away sometimes. It’s kind of a complicated answer actually. Will you swear this stays between us, for now? Not even Henry.”

Marie sat up. “Of course, and he’s a chatterbox, I know. This does sound like a complicated answer.”

“It started at the end of our first survey leg….”

As she told Marie the story, Leah had to keep herself from laughing. Marie didn’t interrupt her once, not a single question. She just sat there with her mouth hanging open.

“…then on the way back to the colony we both were constantly incredibly horny. It has to do with the seal she used to keep the plug in. I had a meeting with a guy in the comms section and ended up getting incredibly horny in front of him. I nearly dragged him off into the tall grass.”

Marie shook her head. “I can’t imagine what I would’ve done.”

“It was so fucking intense, but I didn’t want our secret to get out. When I got back, I told Cole what had happened and he got really turned on…”

Marie was actually breathing hard by the end of the story. “That’s fucking incredible. I don’t know what part of that is more amazing.”

“I thought that’s what you’d say. Look, I have a lot of serious questions and a xeno-bio is just the person to ask.”

“About the compatibility? Yeah, it’s got Founders written all over it. You’ll have to wait for any analysis that’s more in depth but I think they were as engineered as any of us. I was wondering, how are you guys doing this morning? He’s okay with it? I know he got tense a couple of times watching you last night.”

“He’s doing better than I am to be honest. I jumped the gun, we hadn’t actually talked it through the whole way and I have a little guilt about that and some other stuff.”

Marie floated over to the bench where Leah was sitting and sat next to her. “I thought you seemed a little…subdued, I guess. Did he say anything about that?”

“He didn’t even bring it up, just told me he figured it was coming and didn’t mind. He did he admit he got a little uncomfortable watching Henry be rough but I had warned him and he was pretty sure I could kick Henry’s ass.”

Marie laughed. “I’m pretty sure too.”

“He said you were helping him keep calm, so thank you. Not for getting him to let it continue, for helping him not…I don’t know. Not hurt or be uncomfortable.”

Marie put her arm around Leah. “You look sad, don’t be. Like he said this morning, everyone had fun. Everything seems back to normal today.”

“Marie, I have this feeling that I kind of dragged him into this. First there was the thing with the Anek. He was helpless on the floor and I saw him but instead of helping, I just wanted to be fucked more.”

“Weren’t they influencing you though?”

“Yeah, but then there was the meeting with that asshole Gavin.”

“But instead of jumping him, you went home and jumped Cole instead.”

Leah looked up. “Without the babies, I would have Marie. I would have been an absolute whore and fucked him without a second thought.”

“Do you think so? Without the babies inside you, you wouldn’t have had those feelings. Have you seen him since?”

“Yeah, two days ago.”

“Any temptations?”

“He knew I was checking him out and wanted to push the issue. The only temptation I had to avoid was kicking the shit out of him.”

Marie kissed her check. “So you see? I’m right. What was it like with…Lakshmi? When you were with her?”

“That’s totally different, it’s impossible to describe but we’re sort of in each other’s head. They’re both so sweet and kind and loving. The opposite of Gavin.”

“Now you’re making me want to try it even more,” Marie said. “And with us?”

“Well, I was high, but I wanted him to find me like that. Half naked with Henry on top of me.”

Marie smiled. “Yeah, wow. But tell me why you wanted that? To hurt him?”

“No! Because I wanted him to see how sexy it could be. I wanted him to fuck you right there.”

“Okay. So what would’ve happened if we hadn’t come back in?”

Leah smiled. “You had four more minutes, I was watching the clock. I would have come looking for him.”

“And if he had seen you and walked back out?”

Leah shuddered a little. “I don’t want to think about that. I would have gone after him.”

“But he happily joined in, playing your game and even worrying that you were safe. Think about your personalities Leah, it comes out in sex too. You’re the adventurer and he’s the protector. You two have always been that way.”

“I just don’t want him to think he’s got to worry or that he’s less of a man or something.”

Marie laughed. “You think I was kidding when I said that I haven’t been fucked that well in a while? No one there thought that Cole was less of a man and seeing the way you look at each other, I don’t think he’s worried. He said he’s not, did you believe him?”

Leah nodded. “He’s a terrible liar.”

“So this is all in your head, not his. Part of you two being perfect for each other is the dynamic of you charging ahead and him slowing you down, keeping you safe while you drag him into new things.”

Leah smiled and leaned over to give her a quick kiss on the cheek. “You’re a very wise woman.”

“Thanks, you just needed a push. You’re right, you need some time together, to reassure each other but I’m not worried.”

“You and Henry are okay?”

She sighed. “No, we’re not. Nothing about last night, we’re just at the end of our road, he’s going to head out on the Ericsson when we’re done here. It’s okay, we had a good run and breakup sex is lots of fun.”

“Really?”

Marie nodded. “Oh yeah. Last night I woke up really horny. So I woke him up to taunt him about not being as good a lay as Cole. We had some very fun hate sex.”

“You’re going to get me all horny again.”

“Yeah, I’m already horny again. I’m going to have a hard time getting back to the hab without my hand in my pants. Seeing Henry fucking you in the ass like that? I was already thinking about that but then I hear about sexy aliens, holy shit!”

Leah laughed. “I wondered if that would turn you on.”

Marie looked at her. “Are you fucking kidding me? That is one of the hottest things I’ve ever heard. I’m tempted to run back to the hab just to get myself off.”

Leah looked around. “We’re off-cycle. You can do it here.”

“You don’t mind?”

“I watched my husband do some wonderfully dirty things to you while your husband fucked me nearly stupid. I think we’ve broken that barrier.”

“Can I use the bench? I’d probably sink as I was about to cum.”

“Of course, and we should make sure you’re safe.” Leah got out and sat behind Marie. “I’ll keep my arms around you so you don’t float away. Don’t worry about Cole, you have to do all the work yourself.”

“Something tells me he wouldn’t mind,” Marie said, settling back into Leah’s arms. “Did he tell you what I said?”

“About what?”

“I told him I wanted him to fuck me in the ass, that I wanted to be eating you when he did.”

“You keep that up, you’re going to get Cole laid later.”

“I want the three of us to play.” Marie leaned back and sighed as she played with her nipples. “Did you like watching the two of us together? I really liked watching you two fuck like wild things…oh oh oh!”

Leah smiled as Marie gasped and shuddered.

“Keep holding me, I need more,” Marie moaned.

“Greedy.”

“Uh huh. Answer me, did you like it?”

“Yes, I want to deep-throat him like you did. Seeing that bulge in your throat was so hot, I thought…”

“What?” Marie panted, moving her hands between her legs. She exposed her clit, gently tapping it.

“I made myself cum thinking about how you’d look with Lakshmi in your throat.”

Marie’s back arched and she whimpered. “I want to try that so badly.”

“The Eldest mentioned there would be more of them that wanted to implant humans.”

Marie moaned, pushing a finger between her lips. “Tell me what would happen.”

Leah moved a hand to Marie’s breast, circling her nipple. “The male is first. He would begin to touch and you’d start feeling very good. Warm and relaxed, really wet. He’d be accessing your nerves, making you want him to keep going. One of their sets of arms is very small, just used for sex. They’re very sensitive and he’ll stroke your skin, making sure you’re ready for him.”

“Oh fuck” Marie moaned, her body tensing again.

Leah couldn’t take it and put a hand between her own legs. “He explored my vagina with the tiny hands, they’re very small, only a few centimeters across, he stroked me inside, learning my body. He seemed fascinated by my clit. They’re very sexual, he put his penis in my vagina out of curiosity, just to see what it felt like.”

“What’s it like?” Marie whispered.

“It’s kept in a pocket underneath their body. It felt large, and it’s prehensile.”

“What!”

“They don’t thrust with their hips, the penis moves back and forth on its own.”

“I want to get fucked like that so bad,” Marie moaned as she came again.

Leah began to rub her own clit and Marie wriggled, feeling Leah’s hand between them. “Your nipples are so hard against my back. What happens then? You said they put them in your ass.”

“The eggs use your waste, yes. He’ll pick you up and turn you over, pulling you underneath him. He wanted me to stay excited, he kept stroking my vagina with one hand while the other rubbed something slippery over my ass. Then he guided his cock into my ass.”

Leah was starting to breathe harder and she reached around, twisting and tugging on Marie’s nipple. Marie moaned, putting her hand over Leah’s.

“What’s it like?”

“It felt huge, it just kept squirming around, going deeper. I heard him think that the eggs had to be deep inside. It didn’t hurt, just stretched me and filled me so good. He pulled me tighter, like a man would, but held me still while his penis, it kind of rippled, I could feel it pumping my ass full.”

Marie leaned back hard, whimpering. “Then the female?”

“Yes, she picked me up and her egg tube was even wider but it felt so good and she was so gentle and loving. I wanted her babies so bad and I begged her to fuck me. She held me still, and I could feel them rushing out of her, feel them widen me a little bit as they passed through. She whispered beautiful things to me, telling me how wonderful I was. As she pulled out, her tiny arms pushed something into me and I felt it solidify, keeping their young inside.”

Marie’s body tensed again and she moaned loudly. Leah pinched her nipple hard and it made Marie cum even louder. Leah rubbed her clit faster, starting to cum. She pulled Marie tight, her hips pushing her wet sex over Marie’s lower back.

“How are you doing,” Marie asked after a couple minutes.

“Cole’s still getting fucked,” Leah panted. “But I’ll make it home.”

Marie turned around in her arms, kneeling between Leah’s legs. She smiled, caressing Leah’s cheek.

“I want to hear more about this, but I’m already having a hard enough time not pushing you back and licking your pussy right now. Maybe the three of us can be naked and talk about it.”

Leah’s eyes widened. “Oh my god yes, that would be amazing.”

“I think we’d better go find the boys before someone comes looking to see what’s going on.”

Leah laughed but she had a sobering thought as they dried off. Somehow she didn’t think it was going to be this easy telling Owen.

Mapping Command 1.0: First Contact

This is a redux of the original series originally posted on Literotica. There are no plot changes but various spelling errors were corrected and I made minor changes that I thought made the characters and action clearer. I also added a number to the title (thanks nthusiastic!). I’ll be continuing this through the chapters as I get breaks from other projects (the foundation story of this universe is almost done!). If this is your first time, welcome to Arboreal. We’ll be gentle…mostly. Enjoy.

|1.0

“Xerxes for Pathfinder operations.”

“Pathfinder ops. Good morning Xerxes.”

“Howdy Pathfinder. We’ve got systems active and a green board. Ready to separate when you are.”

“Copy that Xerxes, decoupling umbilical now and retracting soft seal.”

A series of thuds and clunks was followed by the ventilators changing pitch as the little ship started making her own air.

“We’re clean,” the co-pilot said, glancing out her porthole.

“We’ve got good separation Pathfinder.”

“Good deal, Xerxes. Two minutes from orbital insertion, releasing hard locks.”

Several more clunks reverberated through the hull as on Pathfinder moved the smaller ship into launch position.

“We’re still good,” she said, glancing up from her magazine.

“We’re showing a good latch on the launcher, Pathfinder.”

“Showing the same, thirty seconds to kick, Xerxes. It was a pleasure having you and your crew aboard. Looking forward to seeing you in sixteen months.”

“Thanks Pathfinder, you guys stay safe out there.”

“You three do the same. Powering up launcher, stand by.”

Cole tightened his belts and beside him Leah did the same.

“I really don’t like this part,” she said.

Cole grinned, watching the countdown on the instrument panel.

“And firing, in three… two… one…” The voice of the other ship calmly counted down the last seconds. There was a thud as the hydraulic arms threw the little ship forward. They both grunted as their bodies instantly went from weightless to twice their normal weight. The Pathfinder quickly shrank to a point of light behind them and Leah whooped at the top of her lungs as Cole laughed. She bitched about the kick every time and every time she acted like a teenager on a roller-coaster on the way down.

Cole and Leah worked together as one of the planetary survey teams under the Colonial Mapping Command. They were married in addition to being a crew and their repeated missions together made them unique in this job. They’d paired up back on Terra just before the attack and they’d been happily working together ever since. Most survey teams got very tired of each other after a long mission. Often there wasn’t anyone else to talk to and teams ended up sharing some very small spaces. A few teams lasted through a second mission but they were rare. Even larger crews had the same problem and transfers between ships after extended missions were common.

For whatever reason Cole and Leah were as happy together now as the day they’d gotten married. Or their first date for that matter. When the psych SI at Hub Station noticed the anomaly it had scheduled a series of interviews for them both with the psychs in hopes of figuring out what made their partnership tick. If they could quantify the secret, maybe more stable teams could be created. Cole and Leah didn’t know if there even was a secret, they really liked being around each other and never seemed to need any time apart.

After a week of increasingly strange questions the head of Project Operations had put her foot down. She needed good crews far more than psychobabble and theories, no matter how much the chief medic protested. Captain Parvathi had personally signed off on their evaluations and assigned them this new mission. They got off the station just in time to join up with Pathfinder as she headed out rimward on another search for the rare habitable real estate that humans could use. They needed it.

Five years ago, the population of Earth had gotten a major surprise: they weren’t even close to being alone in the universe, humans were just one of many intelligent races out there. The surprises didn’t end there; humans weren’t natives of Earth. They were the descendants of ancient colonists and they weren’t alone in that either. Humanity had quite a few cousins that had been searching for them for a long time. The old empire had been gone for thousands of years but her colonial children thrived.

Humanity’s cousins hadn’t come alone either. With them came representatives of alien races. Some of them were oddly familiar, making historians take a much closer look at the myths and legends of Earth. Even more were stranger than anyone could have imagined. Together, they were the members of a loose confederation with a mind-numbingly long name that loosely translated to “Commonwealth of Free Planets.”

But not all the news was good. The Commonwealth was fighting a centuries long war with the old enemies of the Empire that called themselves the Dominion of the Oppressed. The Dominion’s spies had quickly learned of Earth after She was discovered. She was the least technologically advanced planet of the colonies and made a very easy target. They were on their way to smash Her.

It wasn’t a surprise to most people (especially those with three or more children) how quickly the fractious nations of the planet resolved their differences in the face of a common enemy. Arab or Israeli, Christian or Muslim, conservative or progressive, white, black, yellow, red, brown, none of it mattered anymore. Maybe they’d pick things up where they left off when they’d beaten the Dominion but for now, everyone was just human. And they’d just found out they were an endangered species.

The industrial might of the planet began to retool. Advisers arrived, teaching techniques for creating the materials needed for evacuation and defense. New settlements were rapidly constructed on a pair of planets far from Earth and colonists began to arriving. There were problems of course but they were minor and it looked like Earth might have a chance.

Then the Dominion had arrived sooner than anyone could have guessed, just three years after Earth’s first contact. First came raids on the orbital stations as the Dominion tried to destroy Earth’s Slingshot. If that was destroyed, the humans would have nowhere to go. Dominion strike teams had landed on Earth to sabotage whatever they could, trying to clear a way for the ships that would deliver massive balls of nickel-iron.

Happily, Earth wasn’t alone. She had the support of twenty-two other civilizations and they all sent whatever help they could. Ships of all sizes joined the defense, keeping the Slingshot gate operational against the onslaught. There was some hope, the Dominion had been fought to a standstill.

Then the asteroids had appeared, hurled from the outer edges of the solar system. The Commonwealth went on the attack, trying to destroy the nickel-iron projectiles but it was a hopelessly large task. Humans were evacuated as quickly as possible while the defenders tried everything they could. Near the end, heavy cruisers from Earth, as well as the Xero’pah, the Ryilsoldra, and Ulthira had even attempted kamikaze runs, using their ships’ mass to try and divert the nickel iron asteroids from their lethal trajectories. The sacrifices of those ships and crews permanently cemented friendships with the humans. But in the end, none of it mattered. There were too many incoming, they were too large, and they were too fast.

Earth burned, along with most of her children.

Humanity was left with two partially colonized planets and a handful of tiny outposts. One planet, Sanctuary, was beautiful but had a very fragile ecosystem. Too many colonists would have strained the oxygen generating capacity of the native flora. The population was kept small while engineers worked out the best way to terraform the planet.

The other colony, Hub, was far more robust. There was plenty of oxygen and lots of space but it was far colder in the high latitude habitable zones. The equatorial regions were warm and full of archipelagos that would have been a tropical paradise if it wasn’t for the massive hurricanes that constantly circled the middle of the planet. An automated weather station was emplaced in a hardened bunker, the toughest one they could make.

It lasted less than a season.

So there wasn’t much living space. There weren’t as many humans anymore either. The best estimate was that just under four hundred million had been evacuated in time. That many was a miracle of logistics, mostly made possible by their allies. But no one ever forgot that six billion others had never had a chance.

Mapping Command’s primary mission was to find places for humans to start rebuilding. As many as possible and as far apart as practical. They’d be a much harder target when the Dominion came after them again. There was a major challenge to the effort; almost all of the known planets were already been claimed by one race or another. Some by natives, others by other allies, some by previously unknown races.

Luckily space was big. Very big. So they kept Pathfinder and her sister ships working constantly. The large ships made the first pass to catalog potential candidate worlds, listening and watching carefully for any sign that someone else was already there. History had taught  enough to ban any attempt to take living space from another sentient race. The tragedy of losing Earth made it an unbreakable rule for the CMC.

If a world passed the first test, smaller ships with survey teams aboard followed. They spent months observing the candidate planet carefully. Only when they’d learned as much as possible was a manned landing attempted. Even then, it was still a dangerous job. Crews had been lost to mistakes, hostile micro and macro lifeforms, and sometimes just plain bad luck. Cole and Leah had been working on the planetary survey side of things for eighteen months and had helped open two new worlds. This time the mission was a little different.

“We’re in a good descent orbit,” Cole announced, an hour after they’d left Pathfinder.

“I can’t wait to get out of this tin can,” Leah sighed. “I miss the wind and sky.”

“She didn’t mean that,” Cole said to the ship’s synthetic intelligence, Xerxes. He patted the instrument panel. “She loves you.”

“Not as much as you do, Cole,” the ship replied. “Let’s talk later when she’s asleep.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa Miss X! What’s with trying to steal my man?” Leah laughed. “I thought we were going to run off together.”

“No, I just changed my mind. You called me a tin can. Cole, I’ve got the colony location confirmed, we can lose enough speed on the next pass to start atmospheric braking. Six hours to wind and sky, Leah.”

“Sounds good. Give me a fifteen-minute notice heads up for braking.”

“Will do, Cole.”

He unstrapped and pushed off his chair, stretching in the zero gee, “I wonder how we can keep busy until then.”

Leah unstrapped as well and unzipped her jumpsuit down past her navel. “All this privacy has given me some ideas.”

He chuckled and let his hands slip inside, around her waist. “You have the best ideas.”

“What are the odds that a satyr and a nymphomaniac would find each other?” Xerxes asked but the only answer was giggling and then a long moan.
The ship laughed to herself and created a twin to play chess with while she kept one eye on the orbit ahead. The synthetic intelligence units working with humans were fairly rare and astoundingly expensive. They were created by the Ulthira in a very secretive process and ships throughout the Commonwealth used them. They weren’t much faster than a human mind but they were able to interface with computers at tens of times the speed of a human. That, along with absolutely eidetic memories and electronic senses far beyond a biological entity, made them the best navigators and ship handlers out there.

Interestingly, until the synthetic brains took on the traits of their users they weren’t easily able to communicate. So they were very capable helpers but nothing like the autonomous overlords humanity had feared for so long. There was a great deal of discussion about whether that was an intended design or an accident of manufacture. The Ulthira never commented on the synthetics, other than taking orders for them.

|2.0

“Arboreal Colony ops this is the Xerxes. We are inbound for landing. How copy?”

There wasn’t a reply and the two looked at each other.

“You don’t think…” Leah said.

“Nah, they probably don’t bother to have someone on the desk all the time. Ms. X, can you connect with the colony SI?”

“It’s an intermittent link, but he’s saying that someone has been notified. No guidance beacon is available at this time.”

“Hope they don’t have any hoppers up,” Cole said, banking the ship in a series of long curves to lose more speed. “We’re trailing one hellacious shockwave.”

“Inbound shuttle, this is Arboreal Station, identify yourself immediately.” The voice on the radio sounded very impressed with itself and Leah rolled her eyes.

“Arboreal this is Xerxes,” Cole answered. “We’re downbound from orbit. Recommend you advise any local traffic of wake turbulence,” Cole answered.

“I don’t know about no Xerxes. You’d better identify yourself shuttle. I ain’t shutting down the autoguns until you do.”

“Captain, there are no indications that this outpost possesses any weaponry capable of engaging us,” Xerxes reported. “Shall I activate our countermeasures?”

“Don’t bother darling, he doesn’t bluff for shit,” Leah said, pulling on her headset. “Arboreal, this is Captain Jones, Colonial Mapping Command. I am aboard Xerxes eight-zero-eight. We are a scheduled arrival. Confirm with your SI, check your goddam arrival logs, or contact the colony administrator. I don’t care which but do it now.”

There was some sputtering and clunks and then a new voice. “Sorry about that, Xerxes. You’re cleared to runway one, no local traffic aloft. Guidance beacons are up.”

“Automated landing available, Cole,” Xerxes announced. “Be advised there are locally heavy storms around the area.”

“You want to take her in?”

“It would be a good idea if you don’t mind.”

Cole took his hands off the controls. “All yours, gorgeous.”

“See Captain? That’s why I love him better,” Xerxes said smugly.

Leah laughed as the landing gear thumped down. The shuttle bounced and pitched through turbulence as they watched the treetops get closer.

“Damn, they really are that big,” Cole said, looking at the altimeter and then out at the trees blurring past. “I figured someone got meters and feet confused when I read the report.”

The massive forest was only dwarfed by the massive storm clouds as they crossed into the open grassland with the colony in its center. The shuttle bounced and rocked through storm clouds, losing and gaining tens of meters at time as they listened to the roar of the engines change as the SI fought to get the ship down. Cole and Leah both pulled their harnesses tighter as they were thrown to left and right. Finally, they were below the clouds, rain sheeting over the ports as the ship sank rapidly toward the miles long runway. Finally, the roar of the jets faded into a low whine.

“Contact,” Xerxes said as there was a bump and the landing gear screeched. Then the shuttle was thrown back into the air by a gust of wind before coming back down to hit the runway again. The engines howled again and the shuttle stayed on the runway, the screech of the gear turning into a rumble as they began to slow.

“Wait, was that a landing or were we just shot down?” Leah asked.

“I’d like to see you make a smoother landing, Captain Kangaroo,” Xerxes shot back.

Leah and Cole both howled with laughter as Xerxes let the ship spend their remaining inertia racing down the long runway. Soon they were turning out onto a concrete apron and the sound of the engines died completely and they unstrapped.

“Thank you for bringing us down safely, beautiful girl,” Leah said, running her hand over the bulkhead. “That was magnificent and we love you.”

“You’re welcome, and I love you too. Now stop trying to flatter me and go meet your people.”

“But I’m your favorite again, right?”

“Shameless,” Cole said, unlocking the hatch. “Don’t fall for it Xerx.”

They climbed out of the ship and Cole put on a headset, chatting with Xerxes as he started inspecting the exterior of their ship.

Leah stood under the wing and out of the gusts of wind and rain, wondering if anyone would bother to come down to meet them. She took a deep breath, hyper-aware of all the smells after six weeks breathing only processed air, then squatted and lightly bounced on her toes. The data sheet said .78 Hub normal, it felt pretty good. Higher oxygen along with high humidity. There was a bright spot near the tops of the trees as the sun tried to shine through a gap in the clouds before fading away again. It was quite warm, but it felt nice.

A bicycle came down the taxiway, an older man pedaling fast. Behind him were a few more people on bikes, some of them weaving and laughing as they rolled through puddles. The first man hopped off his bike and joined her under the wing.

“Captain, I’m sorry as hell about that. Owen Lykos here, I’m the colony admin. It’s the end of the week for us, just got into beer-o-clock.”

She laughed. “Can’t blame you for that, unless you didn’t save us any. Don’t bother with ‘Captain’, it’s just Leah. The other one wandering around out there is my husband and partner, Cole.”

The ground crew began to arrive and get themselves organized.

“Anything she need?” one of the women said, pulling out a tablet.

“I think we’re good,” Cole said, taking off his headset and handing it to her. “Xerxes has an advanced SI aboard, she’ll let you know.” The woman nodded and put on the headset and began talking to the ship herself.

Cole walked over and introduced himself. Owen shook hands. “I want to thank you again for coming. We’re in a tight spot here. First, you’ve been inoculated, right?”

Leah nodded. “You would not believe the number of injections we had to get before they’d let us come. My arms and ass hurt for weeks. I read that they tracked the strep outbreak to a ventilator system?”

“Yeah, a couple in the residential hab cluster. Someone on Hub made a mistake in the clean room and I lose a third of my people, including my entire survey team. Now we’ve got the next wave of settlers ready to transit and nowhere to put them.”

“We’ll get your survey back on track,” Cole said. “There’s even more help on the way. The Big Office messaged incoming teams about your problem. A couple teams just arrived from a Rimward mission, they’ll probably be coming on the Lewis & Clark. A few more are headed this way as soon as they’re available and find a ride. You’ll be ready for your newbies, promise.”

“Thanks Cole, but we’re a pretty low priority colony and don’t have much political pull on Hub. I don’t know if they’ll find room for passage.”

Leah patted his arm. “Don’t sweat that, CMC doesn’t do politics, it’s all about the mission. Besides, lots of us are interested in getting to see what the result of our work is like. Usually we get relieved before anyone shows up and head back to Hub to data-dump and do the mandatory leave time. You’ve been to Hub. Boring, cold, and nowhere as pretty as here. They’ll be here, but if you’ve got any brewers, you might want to let them know.”

Owen laughed. “I’ve heard about you survey crews and beer. Okay, I’ll be cautiously optimistic. Grab your gear and I’ll take you over to the residential hab.”

Leah and Cole spent a day and half in the colony, catching up with a couple of people they knew but mostly checking and rechecking their gear. Then it was loaded onto a mule, an isotope powered six-legged automated hauler. Then it was time to get to work.

The colony sprawled across a hundred acres but it was a tiny speck in the continent wide forest. It looked a little like the Pacific Northwest once had but much, much larger. The low gravity and constant humidity made for some truly massive trees. Their average size near the colony was twenty-five meters across the base and two hundred meters tall. Things just got bigger as you traveled further into it.

They followed a path that Leah and the colony SI had laid out, zig-zagging through the trees to give them as much coverage as possible. They spent the days setting out cloud scanners that fired and recorded thousands of laser bursts per second, recording data and referencing the overlaps to tie the new maps into old. Then they packed up and hiked a few kilometers, unpacked and did it all over again. Normally they would have used small helo-bots, drones that could do most of the repetitive work, but something in the trees had been interfering with the radio signals. So they left them on the mule and did it the old fashioned way.

|3.0

After a week of long days, they were ready for a break. They arrived at a large meandering creek that an earlier crews had mapped. Several good campsites had been tagged along the banks and they headed to the closest one. There was an automated supply drop the day after tomorrow and then they’d spend a week zig-zagging back to the colony on a different vector.

The water was an odd color of blue green from the algae coating the rocks at the bottom; it wasn’t very cold, but it registered as clean and tasted good. Leah and Cole were happy to abandon the sani-wipes they normally used to clean up. While they got you clean, they left a weird chemical smell on the skin. The first time in the field they’d learned that and it tasted awful. They stripped off their clothes and happily jumped into the creek, using real soap and water to get clean.
That was Leah’s favorite part of being on a planet. Showers with recycled water on the ship never left you feeling completely clean. Their clothes were next, scrubbed, rinsed and laid out to dry. They finished up their last day of work naked, Leah uploading data to the colony server while Cole set up the inflatable dome tent and moved their gear inside. It was almost dusk by the time they were finished and Cole watched over Leah’s shoulder as she finished transferring her data logs.

“Oh ho, I see your shrinkage problem has resolved itself,” she said, looking up from her datapad and leering at her husband.

“Just my way of saying I like your outfit,” he said, bending down to kiss her neck.

“This old thing?” she murmured, reaching back to run her fingers through his hair. “I just threw this on.”

He helped her to her feet and they wrapped their arms around each other as their lips met. Leah began to breathe faster as he reached down and cupped her muscular ass. Then the computer began complaining that the colony SI hadn’t gotten a good copy of the data and was asking for some the files to be sent again.

“Ignore it,” Cole said, pulling her closer.

“I could do that. But remember what happened on St. John? The search and rescue team helocasting in? It was a kind of a mood killer.”

“Hmm, good point.”

“I’ll get these out as quick as I can. Go warm up the bed. I’ll be in soon. Do not fall asleep.”

Cole went inside and stretched out on the air bed. It was a little cool so he pulled the sheet over him and stuck a pillow under his head, planning to grab a short nap. They’d both smelled too bad to have much fun for the last couple of days and Leah was going to be relentless tonight. He was half asleep when he heard her come in.

“Everything good?” he asked without opening his eyes. There was no answer. She rubbed her hand over his foot and leg, squeezing his thigh.

“Mmm, keep that up and there’s going to be consequences,” he said.

The caresses moved between his thighs and up. She cupped his scrotum and he opened his eyes but it was dark in the tent so he could barely make out her shape.

“Let’s get this out of the way,” Cole said pulling the sheet out of the way. She didn’t stop and began to rub his cock as well. She still hadn’t spoken a single word and something didn’t seem quite right.

There was a bonging sound, the signal that data had been transmitted and accepted from Leah’s datapad. Then the bong of another incoming request and he heard Leah quietly swear from outside. Cole’s eyes opened wide in shock. He desperately tried to see what was in the tent with him as he bolted upright. What the hell was it?

Whatever it was, it shoved him back down onto the bed hard. Now that he paying attention he realized it wasn’t a human hand. There were way too many fingers! He tried to push whatever it was off of him, feeling a hard furred surface, instead of Leah’s warm skin. He tried to shout, but his voice was no more than a whisper. All his strength was fading; all his muscles had suddenly become weak and shaky. No matter how much he tried to struggle, nothing happened. His arms were pushed down to his sides while another pair grabbed his shoulders. And somehow it was still touching his cock! How many were in here? He tried to shout but could barely get a whisper out.

“Be patient, I only got one more,” Leah said from outside. “I’ll be done in a minute.”

Unable to resist, he was picked up and turned over. The sheet was wrapped tightly around him, making a snug, makeshift cocoon. He still couldn’t tell how many of them there were. There seemed like a lot of arms holding him. Cole was lifted off the bed and carried to the edge of the dome where he was tucked behind some of the field gear. He tried to struggle but his arms and legs were so heavy that he couldn’t even roll over. He tried to see who had grabbed him and his blood froze as he saw it silhouetted against the light from the doorway; only a single being with an elongated torso and too many limbs. This couldn’t be real, he had night terrors or something.

Then it bent lower, examining him. Up close he could just make it out. It’s face roughly resembled that of a human’s, but with larger eyes that looked completely black. It had impossibly high and sharp cheekbones, a short chin, and a thin lipless mouth. Cole couldn’t see much more than that in the dark. Its head twitched back and forth in fluid little bounces as it looked him over before it prodded his throat, making it tingle unpleasantly. Cole’s mouth and throat felt like he’d been to the dentist. His lips were numb and he tried to say something but nothing worked.

“Hello outsider,” it suddenly said in English. “I’m going to make your mate scream.”

Suddenly terrified Cole tried to yell for Leah. The thing sounded just like him! It left him lying there as it went back to the bed mat, crouching down where he’d been laying.

“You still awake?” Leah asked from outside.
There was a thump and a snap as she closed the equipment case.

“Just waiting for you,” the thing said back in his stolen voice. Cole’s head was now so heavy he couldn’t even hold it up, couldn’t even open his mouth

“Hey baby,” Leah said as she came in. “Starting to cool off out there. I hope you didn’t start without me.”

“Just a little bit,” he heard it reply.

“Naughty,” Leah laughed. He could see her outlined in the dim light of the doorway. Cole could smell the lotion she always used, he could even faintly smell her sex. He tried struggling, wanting to make some kind of noise to warn her that wasn’t him in the bed. His body had completely quit obeying him, leaving him mute and paralyzed in the darkest corner of the tent.

“Come over here,” it said. The voice was still his, but the tone was changing; it was deeper, more guttural. Leah didn’t seem to even notice. She knelt down into the inky darkness and disappeared as she laid on the mat. He heard her sliding across the sheets, and then most disturbingly the sound of a kiss and then a giggle. Inside Cole was screaming, but his cock was betraying him, starting to stir as he listened. No! He didn’t want this! All he could do was squeeze his eyes shut, trying to block out the sounds somehow.

“I want to touch you,” the thing said. It didn’t sound like him at all anymore, Cole knew she had to notice now.

But she didn’t. Leah giggled again at whatever it was doing and then it changed into a long slow moan, “Ohh, that feels really nice.”

“You are so warm and wet. ”

“Cole, what’s wrong with your voice?”

It hardly sounded human anymore but Leah didn’t sound afraid at all.

“Shh,” the creature answered and the wet noises started again.

“Ooh, whatever you’re doing, I like it. Keep going!” she gasped

Cole heard her breathing get deeper and faster, making him insane with fear, jealousy and disturbingly, a growing lust. They were used to everyone around them constantly swapping beds to break up the monotony of long ship transits and survey missions. Crews got horny and bored, and the huge losses they all felt had somehow made everyone even more promiscuous. They’d gotten their fair share of invitations but neither of them had ever been interested. They had enough fun on their own.

But now? He wanted to scream, didn’t she know that wasn’t him? The fact that he was painfully erect didn’t help at all. He heard the rustling get faster. Leah began to make the little whimpering sounds that meant she was close. How could she not know? Cole squeezed his eyes shut but he couldn’t block out the noises as his wife orgasmed with a scream.

It seemed quiet after the shriek of pleasure, he could hear her panting slowing down. There was still that liquid noise of something moving in her wet sex.

“I want you to get on top and fuck the shit out of me,” she finally gasped.

There were sounds of movement. “Spread your legs wider,” it ordered.

Cole her the whisper of her spreading legs against the bed cover. There was a quiet grunt and then she whimpered with excitement. “Yes!”

“Wider!” it demanded.

“Oh god, yes. Fuck me,” she moaned.

Wanting to scream or cry, Cole gave up trying to ignore what was going on and opened his eyes. The second moon had come out, there was a dim glow from the roof of the tent that slowly got brighter. He could make them out; Leah had pulled her legs up to her chest, putting her arms behind her knees to spread herself wide while the many legged thing crouched over her.

“Wait…what is that?” she moaned. “Oh shit, what are you putting inside me?”

The creature made a noise that was almost a chuckle. “Do you like it?”

Leah sounded even more excited now. “Fuck yeah, keep going! Don’t you dare stop! Fuck!” she screamed as another orgasm hit her.

Cole could see her pushing up into its thrusts and her back arched as she came again.

“What was that? You… I still have something inside me.” Leah said, breathing hard after the intense orgasm.

Cole was dumbfounded. How did she not see the horror on top of her?

“Do you want more?” The voice asked. It had a hard edge now and a sibilant hiss.

“Yes,” she moaned. “It’s amazing.”

Cole couldn’t turn away, couldn’t close his eyes as Leah was turned on her stomach by all of those legs. She whimpered again, lifting her ass into the air.

Then he saw another shadow appear in the doorway. It was another one of them, looking down at him.

“And do you like that?” the voice asked again.

“Stop teasing,” she groaned. “Put it back in me.”

“Have you realized that I am not your mate?” it asked her.

“I don’t care, fuck me!”

Hearing that hurt Cole more than anything else could have.

Leah made a little yelp. “Oh, wait! That’s….”

Her voice turned into a low guttural moan that Cole knew well. She made that noise when he pushed into her ass. She grunted softly and rhythmically.
Cole looked back toward the mat, saw her pushing her ass back against it. She finally noticed him cocooned on the floor and smiled.

“Hello you. This feels so good,” she said, her voice thick with lust. “Why aren’t I scared? I know I should be. But it feels so good.”

The second one crouched over him, unwinding the sheet and letting Cole slide onto the floor. His arms and legs weren’t working but his cock stood up rigidly. The thing looked at it and then at his face while it rubbed its upper limbs over itself. This one looked different, larger than the first one and it had a slightly different shape. It extended something from its abdomen and began to lower itself, crouching down over him.

He thought it was a penis at first but saw it was thicker, like a long heavy tube. It pressed against his cock and then he slid inside of it. It was incredible, he’d never felt anything quite like this before. It was tighter than Leah, even tighter than her ass. There was a slippery warmth moving down over his cock and balls, something coming out of the creature. It was thick and sticky, like hot honey being poured over him. The thing made a sort of crooning noise as his entire cock was engulfed. Slowly it slid back up his cock, the warm fluid slowly oozed down over his balls.

Cole was felt the weakness in his limbs seeping away but it didn’t matter anymore. He was exactly where he wanted to be. He managed to lift his head slightly, watching as the muscular tube was pushed down over his cock again, widening it slightly. The creature made the noise again, it felt like her muscles were tightening around him, forcing him out. He was surprised in a distant sort of way; they didn’t have hips to thrust with. Instead the tube thing flexed and squirmed. His cock slid out of the end and he was fascinated to see the tube line back with his cock again. Prehensile sex organs? He gave up thinking about it as the tight slippery sheath pushed downwards again.

Leah was grunting and moaning, hardly sounding human herself anymore, just an animalistic fucking machine. Cole looked at her in a haze of lust. The thing was holding her in the air like a doll, pulling her onto its cock with short, brutal looking movements. Leah was pushing her ass up, her hands mauling her nipples. It began thrusting faster and he knew it was going to cum in her.

The sheath over his cock tightened and began to milk his cock in long spiraling waves of pressure. Cole gasped and looked back at the one crouched over him.

“That’s amazing,” he heard himself whisper.

The stroking sensation moved over the sensitive skin of his cock again and he felt the tingling in his chest. Cole began to gasp, trying to shove deeper inside. The sheath pressed down onto him and there was a sharp squeal that went higher and higher, hurting his ears until it was too high for him to hear. His stomach tightened and he managed to push up slightly, pushing into her as the cum erupted from him. The thing must have felt him cumming, it pulled itself up and then shoved back down on him several times before making the same sound again.

Then it was still, hovering over him. It caressed his face and he looked up at it. The sucking tube slid off his cock, leaving the thick gooey substance from his bellybutton to his thighs. The face was softer looking, not all harsh angles like the one still brutally fucking his wife. This one felt different, gentler somehow. Thin arms with tiny hands reached out from under it and stroked his cock lightly. It felt like mild shocks, but it went deeper, tickling the pit of his stomach before the tingling moved into his chest. His cock had begun to soften but as he watched it twitched and began to stiffen again, twitching with his heartbeat.

The larger one got off of him and went to the bed, watching as the smaller one shuddered, pulling Leah against it, holding her tightly as it inseminated her. Leah just gasped, occasionally twitching with small orgasms as it filled her. The creatures chittered at each other for several moments until the male let go of her. Leah slumped down to the bed, whimpering softly. She didn’t notice that the creatures were trading places. The female extended the thick tube again, pressing it between Leah’s legs.

“Again?” Leah whimpered. Then she moaned, begging to be fucked again.

The male came over and looked down at him.

“My breed-mate is correct, two chances are better than only one,” it rasped at him before picking Cole up and turning him onto his stomach.

“What are you doing?” Cole mumbled.

“Be still,” it said and he felt a distant horror as its cock slid between his thighs and over his balls. It felt like the males had prehensile sex organs as well. Then it was Cole’s turn to grunt as the thing found his asshole and pushed its way into him.

On the bed, the female held Leah, staying still as the tube slowly moved inside of her. Leah was quieter now, simply whimpering and moaning from the gentle fucking the female seemed to be giving her, but Cole was finding it harder to pay attention. The long smooth length of the creature’s well lubricated penis probed inside of his rectum. It was humiliating and it was starting to feel very good. It picked him up, holding him in the air as its thrusting went deeper and faster.

The other one finished with Leah and left her on the bed, dazed and still whimpering quietly. It watched her mate fuck Cole and there were high pitched noises at the edge of his hearing as they talked to each other. Then Cole felt the penis jerk several times and something hot squirted out deep inside of him. After a moment, it let go of him, the creature’s penis sliding out of him as it let go. The larger one pushed it aside, picking Cole back up. It was definitely more gentle with him, supporting his body instead of imprisoning him.

Cole knew what was coming and tensed, but she caressed him, saying something he didn’t understand. The tiny shocks moved through him again, relaxing him. He felt her press against his ass but didn’t feel anything but desire, a longing for her to fuck him. His anus had loosened enough that she slid into him, helped along by the thick, warm, excretions. Cole couldn’t help but moan as it caressed his prostate.

(Your pleasure is good. It will help)

He didn’t hear the voice really, it just sort of arrived in his brain. How was it doing that?

(The same way we can hold you quiet and make you feel desire. We’ve been watching, studying you.)

“Why?” Cole mumbled.

(Shh. It won’t be long; my eggs are coming now.)

Cole jerked in fear, remembering watching nature documentaries as a child. There was a wasp that laid its eggs inside of a caterpillar. Later the larvae would hatch, eating the host from the inside out.

(What a terrible thing to think about my children!)There was a definite sense of amusement that anyone was that dumb. (And that is not how they feed.)

She made the cooing noise as the ovipositor began to pulse. Cole moaned as it thickened and pulsed, pressing against the prostate again as the eggs began to be deposited deep inside of him.

(It’s nice for both of us, isn’t it? Yes, clench around me like that. So tight!)

The voice was growing urgent and excited. Cole tried to push back, to get more of it and suddenly found that she was helping him, sliding him closer to her. He shoved back, moaning and squeezing as more of the tube slid into him, a thickness pressing his asshole wide before mashing his prostate again.

(Soft, tight, pretty little toy!)

Her legs wrapped around him, holding him tightly as the ovipositor pushed even further, spreading him open as it thickened again. Cole groaned loudly, the pressure triggering another orgasm of his own. His sperm spattered onto the floor while the thing above him held itself rigidly. The ovipositor thickened again, and he felt another wave of pressure inside of him. Finally, the constricting legs relaxed, lowering him to the floor. It caressed his back gently soothing him as it withdrew. There was another tingling sensation as it withdrew from his ass.

(Now you must listen carefully little toy. We are both in you, the eggs are fertilized and my young are already being born. They will feed on nutrients in your waste. We have examined you, it will be well. I’ll return when it’s time for them to leave you. Until then, I’ve sealed them inside of you.)

Again Cole had a sense of terror, the horror of being eaten alive from the inside. In return there was the sudden image of something vaguely like a monkey, evil little faces with blood stained canines. They were breaking open an egg case and were stuffing themselves with the embryos.

(You see? No race is without its memories of horror. Only a mindless beast would condemn another to that sort of fate. We are neither vicious nor beasts. You may even find pleasure.)

She gently picked Cole up, caressing his body before arranging him beside Leah who sighed and squirmed against him. The Other stroked both of their faces for a moment.

(Peace, little tathinni. You won’t be harmed and I will return.)

It stood up, it’s face revealed in the moonlight. Cole realized then how beautiful it was. Leah must have felt the same way, sighing and rubbing her face against its touch. It made a soft chirping noise at them and then the creatures were gone.

Slowly Cole and Leah regained the use of their arms and legs. The worst part of it was the uncomfortable pins and needles tingling, but that was soon gone. In its place there was an overwhelming lust. Almost unable to control themselves, they kissed as their hands moved over their bodies. Cole kissed Leah’s face, ears, neck and nipples, making his way between her thighs. She was soaking wet and he began to lick her. Leah sighed happily, tangling her fingers in his hair.

“Weren’t they beautiful?” she whispered. “Perfect and beautiful. She talked to me when she was inside of me. I love you, but I just couldn’t stop myself. I didn’t want to stop. And I liked knowing you were watching me.”

Cole spread her sex, licking her and pushing his tongue inside. Just below her lips he could feel something new. It was a rubbery substance, almost like silicone covering the area around her sphincter. As he explored it with his fingers she grabbed his hair, pulling his mouth tighter against her.

“What are you doing to me?” she moaned, breathing hard.

He pressed against it gently and she arched her back as she screamed. Her cum flooded his mouth and he swallowed, licked, and stroked her through several more orgasms until she breathlessly begged him to stop.

Cole smiled as he rolled onto his back, leaving her panting and covered with sweat.

“That was incredible,” Leah finally gasped.

She turned and covered his face with kisses. Where she got the energy he didn’t know, but her hands quickly found his cock and stroked it gently. Amazingly, after coming twice, he was already hard again and eager for her touch.

“Let me show you what that felt like,” she said. She kissed a trail down his body and began to lick the length of him while her fingers explored. There was a soft pressure between his cheeks and it felt like the creature was giving him those shocks again. A trembling, an agonizing ecstasy raced from the pit of his stomach and into his chest and neck before erupting into his mind. He grabbed her head, pushing her mouth lower as his hips pressed upward, pushing as much of his cock as he could into her mouth. Leah let him into her throat and pushed firmly against his ass. The sparks grew into an overwhelming, indescribable ecstasy that overwhelmed his mind. Leah moaned as she felt him shudder, feeling the last of his cum slide down her throat.

When Cole opened his eyes, Leah was stretched out beside him, her body half lying on his. “I wonder what it’ll be like,” she whispered.

Cole thought about the voice in his head, remembered the affection, even love, he’d felt from the creature. She wouldn’t let them be harmed, they were carrying her young and she loved them.

“I think it’ll be okay. Whatever happens, we’re together, like always.”

“It’s you and me until the stars die,” she said sleepily and then chuckled.

“What?”

“Next time, I’m making them take us to dinner first.”

He laughed, wrapping his arms around her. Soon they were asleep, utterly exhausted.

|4.0
The next morning, they slowly woke up, wrapped around each other. Leah was half awake, teasing Cole’s nipple with her fingernail. He woke up, already erect. Leah rolled on top and straddled him.

“I love you,” she whispered as she slipped him inside of her.

When she finally emerged from the tent, Leah stretched and worked the kinks out of her back. A real bed or real water, why were they so mutually exclusive? Maybe she was getting too old for this. She smiled at the thought and rolled her head, loosening her neck. She froze as she looked up.

One of the creatures from last night was curled in some low branches a few meters overhead.

“Hello?” she called up.

It looked down at her and unfolded itself, swinging easily to the trunk of the tree to climb down. She’d thought of them as spiders last night, but it wasn’t really very spider-like at all. While there were eight limbs, they weren’t the same. Four of them, thick with muscle, were used to gracefully climb down. They ended in thick pads, almost like a camel’s foot and joined to the torso with massive shoulders midway along the long torso. Between them there was another pair of heavy duty limbs that folded above the back. Instead of pads, these ended in large hands. She saw there were seven fingers, including an opposable thumb on either side of the palm. Leah was immediately jealous; the things she could do with hands like that!

The creature dropped the last few meters, landing gracefully on the four carrying legs. The creature had human looking shoulders supporting another pair of arms. These were comparable in size to human arms and ended in smaller versions of the seven fingered hand. She watched the creature move and decided it was the female, which was a little bit of a relief. The male had been fun but part of that had been the menace of him. She didn’t want to feel that again.

It stopped a few feet away from her. The head was human sized, placed on a long graceful neck. She had very large eyes that were matte black and as Leah watched, eyelids flickered over them from the sides. The face was triangular and reminded her of one of the elfin looking Xero’pah, with the addition of a longitudinal ridge running from the top of the head, between the eyes and down below the mouth. It widened, giving the creature a small chin. The mouth opening was roughly square and lipless, and she didn’t appear to have a jaw. Instead there was a shutter like structure on the inside of the mouth. She swiveled her head to look around their small clearing and Leah saw that the ridge continued down the back of the head, almost like a fin. It branched out into what looked like a series of quills that ran down her neck and disappeared into the complicated folds of fabric she had belted around her. The entire body looked like it was covered in short fur, almost like the plush of a stuffed animal. Leah remembered what it had felt like, sliding over her skin and shivered. The creature’s head bobbed gracefully as it studied her again, almost looking like it was a balloon floating on a string. There was something like military web gear over the clothing.

Definitely tech users, Leah thought.

Cole came out of the tent behind her, wearing just a pair shorts. He stopped short when he saw the creature.

“Okay. Uhm, good morning. Leah, I think she communicated through physical contact.”

“Males are better at your speech,” it said in a low, sibilant voice. “But it is possible. Females prefer to talk through touch. More intimate. Are you well?”

“Yes,” Leah said.

Cole nodded as he came to stand beside her but the Other stared at him. “Oh, that is a head motion indicating agreement.”

“This is a good thing. I returned, I must speak to you.”

“We’re happy you did,” Leah said.

She blinked twice and there was a soft rattling noise from her throat.

“An apology, that is our sound indicating surprise,” she said after a moment. “There is much I must say.”

“Would it be easier to talk with us if we were touching?” Cole said.

The blink and rattle again. “You would allow this.”

Leah smiled. “It seems like a small enough thing after last night. I think that we should communicate as efficiently as possible right now. We eat after waking up and I’m hungry. Would you mind if I ate first?”

“I would not.”

“Can I offer you anything? I don’t know if we are compatible in foods.”

“You are generous but I ate not long ago. I will not need food.”

Cole got out some One-Day food bars and dried fruit and they sat on the ground eating. The stranger folded her legs under her body and waited. Cole and Leah shared a water bottle which seemed to surprise her.

“Thank you for waiting,” Leah finally said. “When we are touching again will there be the same urgent sexual feelings?”

“You should not. I am not certain; we have not had much experience speaking with you this way.”

Cole and Leah looked at each other and shrugged. They scooted across the ground until they were close to the Other. She slowly unfolded the heavy top arms, obviously being careful not to alarm them. She put the large hands flat on the ground and carefully slid them under their legs. The short, soft fur covered the back of the hands and Leah smiled. It felt nice.

(Thank you, your smooth skin feels just as nice. Hello. Obviously we are not made to communicate the same way your people do. Much of our speech is higher than you are able to hear, though some is lower. Among ourselves, odor and touch are also used.)

“How did you learn our language?” Cole asked.

(We saw some of you a season ago, near this place. These ones were not well; they were unable to move and suffering much. A pack of males found them but they were very ill and soon went beyond. Before they did, one of them gave the pack a flat thing that spoke and taught the pack your language. It was decided that the knowledge was important and the males came and spread the knowledge among us. Please understand that their deaths were not the fault of the hunting pack. They did what they could but did not understand your bodies well enough.)

“Thank you for trying,” Cole said. “We know that your people are not to blame. The sickness came from the place where my people have been staying. I am very relieved it did not pass on to you.”

(Oh, no. We’d never allow that. We did not know the ways of your people and honored their bodies the way we do our own. It is not a subject we easily talk about, but I will answer whatever questions you have.)

“Thank you for taking care of them,” Leah said, wiping her eyes. “It was assumed their bodies were lost to the forest. We do not need to know the details, we are happy you put them to rest.”

(You are welcome. Passing beyond is not something we speak of easily. This is how we came to learn your speech. We were aware of your people as soon as you fell here. My people have been watching yours from the trees. We have been very curious about you.)

“No one realized that your people were here, we would have left you in peace had we known.”

There was a sense of confusion. (As you say. I do not understand where you came from but there are things I must say to you now. About what happened here.)

“That would be good,” Leah said. “I think there is much we have to tell each other.”

They felt a sense of sorrow and shame from her. (Yes. What happened here was wrong, out of balance. I knew this soon after and came back to put things back in balance.)

Leah put her hand on top of the Other’s. “I’m sorry, we usually trade our names when we meet. If you’re comfortable with that, I don’t want to be rude.”

(I heard of your naming. Among us there is no need to ask, our scent is… I know of no way to say it. This is my name.)
There was a fragrance, a sweetness with something like wood smoke underneath. It was impossible to describe beyond that, but beautiful.

“Wow, that’s wonderful. My name is Leah; my mate is Cole.”

(Then if it is allowed, you should choose a name to represent me. I have not heard the word spider. It is not a good thing?)

“It is a many legged hunter from our home. It’s usually tiny but they frighten many people. But you are far more beautiful,” Cole said. “Would the word Lakshmi suit you?”

“She was a many armed goddesses from the stories of our world,” Leah said.

(Lakshmi. Yes, it is a nice sound.)

Cole put his hand on hers. “We’re very pleased to meet you, Lakshmi. You said there were things that must be said.”

(There are, I was in a rush to say them. What I must tell you is that what I did, my mate and I, was terrible, far out of the balance. My people will be alarmed. It was not decided whether or not we should meet you. You are obviously more than simple tathinni, it was a bad thing to treat you that way. I will remove the young from you and there will be no harm done to you.)

“But to them?” Cole asked.

(They are like tiny seeds; they will not grow.)

“Before we discuss that, I have a question,” Leah said, “Why did you come to us last night? There must have been a reason you would take that chance.”

Now there was embarrassment. (Here there are the opening of many words to say and we would be here a season saying them all. Using very few I will say that our reproductive system runs in cycles. Your own does as well I have heard, when you are fertile. The mate and I were in our breeding time. We ran and hunted together and it was good. We agreed that we would mate. We were looking for a suitable place and saw you. When we are ready to mate…it is like a strong fever or madness…the urge to make young…)

Leah laughed. “I have the same feeling sometimes.”

(For us, your people resemble…hmm. There are many words here. I will try to explain. You are able to reproduce in pairs and the female carries the young. it is very different for us. We became…like ourselves? Like we are now as partners with another type of creature.)

Cole and Leah got a mental picture of the simian she’d shown Cole last night. This one didn’t look as murderous.

(We saw their needs, protected them. In return they carried our young. I see the word symbiont in your mind? Yes, that is the word. Long ago there was a sort of sickness among them and they were driven insane. Some began to attack us, to attack the ones who carried our young. It was a very dark time, but we finally drove them away from us. Those were the tathinni and when they were gone, we had no easy way to care for our very young ones. We eventually found other ways, none work all the time, but some survive. That is part of our past. In the present, my mate and I were together, each examining the strengths of the other. Near the end of our hunt, we crossed over the place where you were resting. We saw Leah washing in the water and realized how much she resembled tathinni. We knew enough from your tablet to know that it might work and the breeding fevers were high…) Again there was a deep sense of shame and embarrassment. (I have departed the Path and am far from it)

“Shh,” Leah said. “I feel your sorrow and I forgive you.”

Instead of saying anything Cole tried to ‘feel’ back at Lakshmi: (forgiveness, kindness)

Leah squeaked, her eyes wide and there was a sharp citrus odor in the air. The quills along Lakshmi’s neck and back stood on end.

“Sorry!” Cole said. “I didn’t know if that would work.”

“Baby, if I wasn’t already madly in love with you, I would’ve been after that,” Leah said in a shaky voice. She took a deep breath and laughed, fanning her face.

(It was strong…loud is the word? It traveled through me to Leah before I could stop it. This is a new thing; we were not aware we could speak outside ourselves. There are no memories of anyone being able to speak to tathinni. Nudges or hints, their minds were very small. Since yours are not, I suppose we may speak. I thank you both for your forgiveness.)

“I forgive you, but I am very concerned about this,” Leah said. “To touch in the way we mate among ourselves, is an important thing for us. For that to happen without permission is a very serious thing for us, very far out of balance. Those who take another against their will are not tolerated. I know that your intent was not evil and that this was a mistake. But you must know, and tell anyone else in their breeding time that this must never happen again. Not with any of us.”

(Yes, it is a thing deeply out of balance and I deeply regret it. It will never happen again. I am young and often foolish but it does not excuse this thing I have done)

Leah nodded. “Thank you. As for never happening again, well, the damage is done and it was not completely a bad thing…”

“Hold on,” Cole said. “I know that your intent was not evil, that this was a mistake. What about your mate? He had a sense of menace that you did not, of ambush and cruelty. Will he understand or do we need to worry for our safety now?”

(I do not know everything about the males, beyond breeding fever we do not mix easily. I know that they are hostile among themselves as the fever comes. I know that this is left over from our earliest days. Please know that he never would have been allowed to harm you. You were both male and he saw you as his competition but they are not like this normally. They…sing to trees? No, there are not words for this. If you were to see him today he would be quite different.

The mating fever was gone once we had finished with you and we realized the terrible thing we had done. He is full of horror and sadness and travels to his…group? He will warn them to avoid your kind during the fever. It just that you looked so much like… But word spreads quickly among us, my people are civilized. But I wonder about myself now. This was all badly done and I will try to find the path once more)

“Baby, I’m not defending what they did. We know that there were deeper forces at work here than just rushed decision making. If they co-evolved with a symbiote…”

Cole nodded. “I know, wrong place and wrong time. Wrong body form too.”

“Or the right one.” Leah laughed. “It won’t be a problem for long anyway. Lakshmi, how long do your young stay in us?”

(Twelve days, perhaps fourteen. But I will take them out of you today)

“Not so long then. My people will be leaving here not long after that, you don’t need to worry about any more mistakes.”

There was a feeling of sorrow and confusion. (I have chased your people from your homes with my foolish choice)

“Oh, no,” Leah said quickly. “It has nothing to do with what happened here. My people have very strict rules about where we can live. The ones that first saw this place did not see your people, I think because of the trees. But we will never take living space from others.”

(This is a great confusion for all of us. Will you tell me where you came from? Some think you are from the other side of the ocean but others say that you come from the sky. We see you falling down sometimes. We are amazed that you are not broken to pieces from falling that far)

“I guess the sky is the best answer,” Cole said. “But behind the sky, above that if it makes any sense.”

There was a gentle laugh and Cole and Leah smiled at each other. (No sense at all. Why are you looking for a new place to live? Did you fall down because of a sickness among you?)

“Dear Merciful Ones,” Leah said and scooted away from her arm. “It is a very painful thing for us to speak of, our feelings are very strong and it is difficult to control them.”

Cole nodded, standing up. Lakshmi trilled like a bird and held up her hands.
“Please, stop,” she rasped. “I can sense the deep sadness in you. I am prepared for it and will not let it pass through me. I am warned, I can share your sadness.”

Leah looked at Cole. “Can we do that to her? I mean, they don’t know what happened, I don’t want to give them that burden.”

“We are grown, face our own path,” Lakshmi said. Her stilted clumsy speech sounded reproachful. “We are not like feeble ones to be put in a nest and protected.”

Cole smiled. “I think one of our people would say ‘Stop treating me like a baby.'”

“A young one? That is not how they grow. But I understand and agree.”

“This really sucks,” Leah said, sitting back down. “Far out of balance. Come on, Cole.”

(Balance is rarely achieved; it can only be searched for) Lakshmi told them when she had put her hands on them again.

“Hmm, seems like Buddha got offworld? Never mind, it’s a bad joke. This story starts deep in our past. Our ancestors were put on our world to make a place to live. This was so long ago that we forgot that we had ever been beyond the sky. When we were found by our…sisters and brothers? Others like us and we were found by an ancient enemy as well. They were still fighting, thinking we were the same as our ancestors. It didn’t matter to them that none of us remembered the fight. They destroyed our home and nearly all of our people. That is why we look for new places to live.”

Before she could stop, Leah was remembering Earth, how it had looked from space. A sunset over the Pacific, their honeymoon at the Grand Canyon, the forests of her home…

The sharp citrus smell was in her nose and she tried to clear her mind. “I’m sorry, that smell means you’re upset?”

(Very surprised is better. I wondered what was beyond the sky, you have shown me part of that. But Leah, you must not let your people leave yet. I must take word of this to older ones than I. We already knew there is much we can teach each other; we just didn’t know how to meet you. But more importantly, it is a great imbalance for us to chase away wounded things, to leave the Path forever. To protect and heal them is balance we bring to the world. Do not make me guilty of this thing, I beg.

Tell your people that you take nothing from us, we loathe the open places on the ground. One of the many things that confuses us is why your people stayed in the open, like they were afraid of the forest. More than this I should not say, this is talk for older and wiser ones than I am. I will go to our Elders when we have finished, yes? They must talk to you before you flee)

“Cole? Is that allowed?”

“Officially there are no exceptions. But remember how Bernie broke almost every major regulation interfering in the Gyr’r jazz and blues war?”

“They are allies and obsessed over our music,” Leah told Lakshmi. “There were going to start killing each other over the difference between two kinds. Our Elders decided it was a pointless thing and intervened with a third kind of music.”

“She told me that rules are our servants, never the opposite. It’s a good point, but we can’t handle the work of a First Contact Team alone. We’ll need our own wise ones.”

Leah thought about some of the epic FCT parties. “Well, they are trained to speak with other people on our behalf anyway. Many of them are already coming here.”

(This is a very good thing. I think our people would do much good for each other. First I will remove the young to repair the damage done. It is no way to introduce our people)

Cole and Leah looked at each other. They’d been together long enough that they didn’t need to speak. After a second Cole nodded.

“First of all, there was no damage that will not heal in time. I can’t speak for my husband but I enjoyed last night.”

(But we influenced your feelings when we touched you, made you feel…)

“Made me feel really good. How long do the effects of that kind of touch last?”

(We must touch you and concentrate at the same time. Your…I do not have the words. You are familiar but very different at the same time. It is not an easy thing to do)

“But Lakshmi, I enjoyed thinking about it after you had left.”

Cole nodded. “We both did. You can tell what we’re feeling, look and see.”

After a few seconds there was a feeling of awe. (You are quite remarkable, much stronger than you look)

Leah laughed. “Yeah, us humans get that a lot. As for the babies, well, it’s been a rough few years for me and I’d like to help bring some more life into the universe. What do you think, Cole?”

“Helping bring your young into the world isn’t a bad way to start a relationship between our races. I’m in.”

Lakshmi was silent, they could feel how stunned she was. (You would really do this)

Leah ran her hand gently over Lakshmi’s “You can see it, can’t you?”

There was a leap of joy from the Other. (I have no words)

“We have to wait to tell anyone until the babies come,” Cole said. “Between the way we met and the fears you saw in my head last night, well, our people would have some serious issues to deal with. Those fears are common for us.”

“Males don’t carry babies, it would be very difficult for most of our men to understand Cole’s decision. He’s right. But it’s not very long to keep a secret.”

(Not very long. I am full of wonder at you both. There are many things to be said in the future. For now I will say that you coming here may bring a balance to my people we did not even know we lacked. The fact that there are other minds to speak with! Will you tell me more about what is behind the sky?)

|5.0
They had left Lakshmi a few days ago after making plans how and when to meet again. Leah thought it was kind of funny; an amazing encounter like that, something that could change the course of an entire civilization, and now here she was, setting up cloud scanners again. Like nothing had changed at all. They had discussed heading straight back but it would have caused a lot of questions, and at the end of the day, the work had to be done. Not that the colony would ever expand into the forest, but they had a job to do.

In spite of Lakshmi’s assurances, they both kept careful track of how they felt. So far, everything was good. Leah fell off her chair laughing one morning when Cole announced he liked not having to find a tree to lean against for his morning dump. The other big change was how much more affectionate they were. They had been close before but now things were more like they’d been when they had been dating. Neither could wait to meet back up at the end of the day and when they weren’t making love, they were sitting closely, just enjoying the feeling of touching each other. It might have been a little unusual but they were enjoying it. Cole figured the fear he’d felt for her that night had made him realize what she meant to him. True to form, Leah didn’t think much about it, just enjoyed the snuggling and kissing.

They were eating breakfast one morning and Leah yawned. “Man, crazy dreams all night long again. I’ve been having the same ones over and over for the last couple of nights. Wherever I go, there’s a bunch of singing birds around me. Maybe I’m thinking about the little folk or something.”

Cole looked up, “Wait, you’re having those too? Except it’s fireflies carrying tiny bells for me. Did you try talking to them yet?”

“Oh my God, you think that’s real? Did you try? Did they answer?”

“Just a vague awareness is all I remember. They’d have to be very small which means their brains can’t have developed much.”

“It makes sense though, if adults are able to access our nervous system they’re doing a minor version of the same thing. Wow, that makes me feel even more protective of the little buggers.”

“I’ve been wondering if that’s really us or a product of the implantation.”

“Does it matter?” Leah said. “I’m the mom right now and I say nothing is going to happen to them.”

“I know, gorgeous,” Cole said, hugging her. “Just scientific curiosity.”

“Speaking of curiosity, have you thought about the likelihood of this? What do you think the chances are that we’re compatible chemically on any level? Not to mention we’re the same shape as their symbionts? Or that they can access our nervous system? Or that we’re roughly the same ethically? How many non-Colonial races can even eat the same thing as we do?”

Cole nodded. “Your theory is popping up again.”

“Not just my theory, a lot of xenobiologists think there is something more to all of this. We know the old Imperials tinkered with genes.”

“On themselves, just adapting to different worlds.”

“We don’t know if that’s all they did. It points to a certain urge to play god, that’s for sure. Just think about the way evolution works, work out the odds of just this one planet and Earth being compatible. Tell me how many rolls of the dice that would take.”

“If they’d been able to engineer an entire planet I think they would’ve been able to conquer most of the galaxy, not just a few hundred worlds.”

“My love, if they were able to do something on a planetary scale, I don’t think they would’ve been interesting in conquering the galaxy. Remember that no one knows where the Imperials came from, no one will admit to knowing where their homeworld is. And no one knows where they went or why. The Xero’pah remember them best and I asked Daylon Verh what they thought about everything. He actually smiled and told me that the question makes them itch all over.”

Cole laughed at the thought of one the dignified and enigmatic “elves” abandoning decorum and itching furiously.

“I was shocked he even joked about it. There’s an awful lot of coincidences in the galaxy, too many in fact.”

“Curiouser and curiouser.”

She squeezed his ass. “Speaking of which, I’ve got some curiosity of my own.”

“Oh yeah? Anything I can help with?”

“Well, I have an experiment in mind. If you were to strip down and climb up on that log, do you think it’s possible for me to sit on your lap and get your cock inside me?”

“Well, in the interests of experimentation…” Cole had said, pulling his shirt over his head.

A few days after that, they were at the edge of the forest. Leah sighed as they went around the last of the giant trees. “Finally.”

The cluster of geodesics was finally visible, two kilometers away and a hundred meters lower, spread out across an ancient river terrace.

“Leah, we need to sit down and talk before we head in.”

“I know, my love, it’s just the promise of a soft chair and a cold beer. How’s the mule holding up?”

Cole looked behind them. The six legged machine trundled over a root stopped, flexing the last two legs before whirring back into motion. He’d only caught up to her an hour ago, the mule had been getting worse by the day and had ground to a halt last night. She’d gone ahead, working back and forth while Cole did what he could with the ailing robot. Leah was grateful that he was a genius with hardware, she didn’t have the patience for it.

“Still going, but he’s gonna need to get the bearings switched out on those back legs, wouldn’t hurt to put some new actuators all around.”

She nodded, leaning carefully back against the side of an exposed root.

“How’s your bottom?” he asked, getting water bottles off the mule.

“It doesn’t hurt or anything, just really aware of it today.”

Before they’d evacuated Echo-Alpha, also known as Almaro, New Mexico, she’d been reading an article about the reactions of the world to the sudden news that humans were not alone in the universe. It had used the phrase ‘the new normal’ and that’s what this had turned into. Things were radically different, you could lose your shit or just get on with life. They’d been implanted with alien eggs that were growing inside of them, fine. At the moment Leah was more worried about the damn robot.

In the last couple of days, they’d started having a lot more sex. In the mornings, before bed, and today when they’d met up for lunch. She wasn’t complaining, she loved the surprise when Cole had grabbed her from behind, his hands going under her shirt while he kissed her neck. She moaned and gasped, pulling enough of their clothes down and out of the way to get him inside of her, holding onto the mule as he fucked her from behind.

They learned fast to be very careful of the plugs Lakshmi had left in them. They couldn’t figure out the exact mechanism but the logic of it made sense; if you wanted a furry little critter to leave something alone, make something that’s distracts them completely every time they got curious. Even with their bigger human brains, the plugs had the same effect. They’d taken advantage of it, using the intense sensations to drive each other to higher levels of desire and orgasm. But they had to be careful. Leah had stopped for lunch and was waiting for Cole. She’d forgotten and sat down on a log without thinking about it. When Cole caught up, she’d had her pants pulled down and two fingers sawing in and out of her cunt frantically. They hadn’t bothered to try and get any further that day and it had turned into a very fun evening but they were both a lot more careful after that.
And the new normal meant they had more than themselves to worry about, so even though the colony was in sight, they decided to make camp one more night. They set up the dome and used the water they’d been saving to rinse the chemical smell off their skins. Neither of them bothered to dress again and they lounged on the bed inside, enjoying the early stop.

“Before we get too into this let’s talk,” Leah said, taking a deep breath as Cole kissed down her shoulder. “You can do that all you like later though.”

“Oh good,” Cole said, laying back and she leaned back against him, his arm wrapped around her.

“You’re right, in spite of good intentions, Owen would lose his shit about this if he found out,” Leah said. “We already know not to go anywhere near medical, but we should have more of a plan than that.”

“I don’t think we’ll need medical anyway, I haven’t felt this good in a long time,” he said. “We don’t need much resupply at all, food and I want to replace some parts on the mules. You do your data dump, we grab a hot shower and a few cold beers and we beat feet out of there.”

“But we’re supposed to take a full four days off. The admin SI will notice if we head out too early. And I’ve got to talk to their network people about getting better links, these trees play hell with signal and I’m getting tired of answering queries all evening. Be nice to get the helo-bots working as well.”

“We could say we want to head back out there and camp for our time off but four days is probably okay, as long as we meet Lakshmi in time for the birthing.”

“We’ve got to be so careful Cole; we’re breaking about every rule I can think of about contacting a sentient species. If anyone finds out we’ll be lucky to ever get off of Hub again.”

“To me it’s a little hiccup, we’re reporting it as soon as the babies are safe. In the meantime, I’ll file a time stamped confidential report with the Diaspora office. Kayleigh will understand protecting children of friends better than anyone.”

“So what’s our plan then?”

“Just act natural.”

Leah laughed. “Always foolproof. Now, about the stiffness that’s pressing against my back.”

“Sorry ma’am.”

“No, no, that’s fine. Could you scoot down a little though?”

“Like this?”

“Uh huh,” Leah said, reaching between her legs and arranging his cock so that it rested against her lips. “That’s awfully nice.”

“It is. We should be careful of chafing though,” Cole said, slowly pushing his cock back and forth along the length of her lips.

“We should?” Leah said, her breathing getting faster. “What do you suggest?”

“Well, if I move my hips like this, I slide against your ass too.”

“Baby, you’re sliding right over it, oh fuck! Yes!” Leah moaned. “That thing is making me want your cock up my ass so bad. Tell me you’ll fuck my ass when we’re done.”

“I’d love to fuck this tight little ass,” Cole said, changing the angle to push against the plug a little more for emphasis. He reached over her hip but her hands were already between her legs. He began to play with her nipple instead.

“Harder, twist it harder,” Leah demanded, shoving back against him. “Oh this is so good, you’re making me cum, keep going,” she panted and Cole felt his cock get wetter and wetter as she came on him.

Cole let go of her tit and went back to kissing her neck and shoulder as she caught her breath.

“See? Now everything is nice and slippery.”
Leah laughed, reaching back to touch his face. “Is it really weird for you, having something in your ass?”

He shrugged. “It’s different, but you know, getting ass-fucked by a couple giant spiders puts the whole thing into perspective.”

“You’re getting broader horizons. A couple of times I wondered about using a finger or two when I was sucking you off.”

“I think that would be lovely,” he said and traced the edge of her ear with the tip of his tongue.

Leah shivered. “Did you like it? Getting fucked like that?” she whispered.

“Nerve wracking at first but it got better fast. Then Lakshmi made it feel really good.”

“She does, doesn’t she? I thought about that, what it would be like watching you get fucked.” Leah’s breathing was getting faster again. “I got really hot, would you let her do it again?”

“Would you like that?” He slid lower, putting the head of his cock against her lips.

“I want to watch her make you squirm…oh fuck, right there!” She pushed back and they both moaned as he slid inside of her. “Now fuck me nice and hard, my love.”

|6.0
Cole had finished work on the mule this morning while Leah had her meeting with the colony’s last network tech. He was sketching a brigantine under full sail heading into the sunset. Two days from now they’d be heading back to Lakshmi. He was a little anxious and this was the best way to empty his head.

“Hello, wife,” Cole said, putting his pencil down as Leah came through the door and locked it behind her. “How did it go?”

“Please put down whatever you’re doing and fuck me right now,” Leah said, pulling her shirt over her head.

Cole got up and stretched as she pulled her shorts off. She yanked his shirt off before and slid her hand in his shorts, squeezing his cock. She moaned, grinding her panty covered sex against his thigh as he unbuckled his belt.

“Wow,” Cole said, stroking a nipple. Just that was enough to set her off and she ground against him harder as she came, panting in his ear.

“I am going to fuck your doors off,” she whispered and licked the edge of his ear.

She pulled him over to the bed, falling into it and pulling him in on top of her. She yanked her panties out of the way and guided his cock inside of her.

“Holy shit, that feels so good, I’m gonna cum again,” she gasped and pulled his hips down as she thrust up, her stomach clenching as another orgasm raced through her.

She went limp and Cole started to move but she grabbed his hips again, keeping him in place as she squeezed herself on his cock rhythmically.

“You stay right there.”

“Yes ma’am. Not that I’m complaining, but what was that?”

She giggled. “That was me forgetting not to be careful about sitting down.”

“Oops.”

“Yeah, I was being careful and then shifted without thinking about it. One little move and zowie.”

“That happened to me after you fell asleep last night.”

“I wondered why you were lying next to me masturbating,” Leah said and laughed.

“You were awake?”

“I liked listening,” she said. “It was hot. That’s why you got a blowjob for breakfast.”

He ground his hips into hers and she gasped and started laughing again.

“You’re going to kill me doing that.”

“So what happened today?”

She looked a little nervous. “Do you really want to hear?”

“From the look on your face it must have been interesting.”

Leah wrapped her legs around his waist. “Just remember that I’m not exactly in my right mind?”

Cole nodded, even more curious now.

“I went to meet the tech guy, Gavin. He wasn’t in his office and I had to go find him. He’d forgotten of course, everyone’s firmly on colony time around here. I found him working on one of the arrays next to that park, so we ended up meeting there. The only thing to sit on are those thermoplast benches but I sat down carefully and all was well.”

“I don’t think I met Gavin.”

“Yeah, he’s that big guy, probably full two meters tall with arms about as thick as my legs.”

“Okay, yeah. I know who you’re talking about.”

“We were talking about a relay design that would boost signals when I leaned forward to see what he’d laid out on his tablet. Boom, right onto the plug.”

Cole laughed. “Uh oh.”

“I jumped up and the poor guy thought something had bitten me! He was looking all over to see what was wrong, I said something about a leg cramp and stayed standing up for the rest of the meeting.”

“How bad was it?”

“After the first shock I didn’t think it was that bad. Then I realized he was looking down my shirt as I was leaning over looking at his tablet. When he wasn’t looking, I undid a couple of buttons so he could get a better view. And it just got stronger after that.”

She was breathing faster and he could feel her getting wetter.

“Did he notice?”

She bit her lower lip. “Oh yeah, he wasn’t shy about looking either. I wished I hadn’t worn a bra. I wanted to just show him my tits but I doubt he would have been impressed. His girlfriend is that assistant of Owen’s. She’s stacked.”

“Hush, your tits are perfect and you know it.”

“Well, we figured out a plan to get the signals boosted up. I didn’t want to risk sitting down again so I was walking back and forth. He knew something was up, he wasn’t shy about checking me out. He grew a nice big bulge in his shorts and I don’t think he was wearing underwear. It was outlined perfectly. I started thinking about asking him to find a deserted place in the park, I wanted to fuck that big cock really, really bad.”

Cole felt a strange thrill at her confession. “What stopped you?”

“It was the plug. I didn’t want any questions about it. But if it hadn’t been there I think I would’ve done it. I know he would’ve done it, too. We went back to figuring out the technical specs but I could hardly pay attention. I was too busy fantasizing about him pulling that big cock out. I wanted it inside of me so bad. I’m sorry baby, but I needed a fuck and I didn’t want to wait.”

Hearing his wife talk like this was really turning Cole on. “You would’ve fucked him just like that?”

Leah moaned, squeezing his cock with her cunt, “Yes. And when I had to sign for the work I sat down to do it, right on top of the plug. Maybe it was on purpose, I almost came. I wanted to get myself good and horny. I had decided I would at least suck him off while I fingered myself. But he got a priority call and had to go fix something.”

“Lucky me, I guess.”

“Don’t get mad at me, baby. Please? I said I wasn’t in my right mind. I just wanted to cum so badly.” She grabbed the sides of his head and looked into his eyes. “I promise I’ll never fuck anyone else before asking if you want to watch first.”

“Uh, thanks. I think.”

“I didn’t know I was such a dirty slut but I can’t stop, I’m constantly having the dirtiest thoughts,” she gasped. “Baby, would you fuck me nice and hard? Fuck me like you would have if I really had taken him back in the trees.”

“What would you have done?” Cole asked, trying to sound irritated instead of intrigued.

Leah licked her lips. “I would have showed him my panties. I wanted him to look at how wet I was.”

Cole slid his hands over her ass. “Boy-shorts.”

“Yeah, the tight black ones you like so much.”

Cole decided to play along with her fantasy. Maybe he wasn’t in his right mind either. “He just looked? No touching?”

“No, baby. He had to touch them, to feel how wet I was.”

“What happened?” Cole thrust hard into her and Leah writhed underneath him.

“He said he wanted to see my cunt,” she moaned. “I just couldn’t help myself, I pulled them down to show him. I’m sorry baby, don’t be mad.”

“Don’t tell me what to do. Did he push his fingers in your cunt?” Cole asked, shoving his hips hard into her again.

“Ohh God, they’re so thick,” Leah moaned. “He pushed them up into me so deep that he lifted me up on my toes. It made me cum all over his fingers and he put them in my mouth and made me suck them.”

Cole grabbed her ass and pounded hard into her again.

“Then he spun me around and just bent me over. I couldn’t wait to get that big thing inside me. I reached back and spread myself for him. He shoved it right in, it went so deep.”

“You whore,” Cole snarled, getting off the bed and pulling her hips to the edge. “If that’s what you want…”

Leah orgasmed as he thrust back into her. She shoved her ass back against him and he grabbed her hips, pushing and pulling her onto his cock.

“Oh GOD! Do it Gavin, fuck me hard!” she screamed.

He traced the edges of the plugs then pressed it hard. Leah went rigid, screaming and then shoved frantically backward, getting him as deep as she could. He pressed against the plug again and she went rigid before collapsing into the sheets.

Instead of waiting for her to recover, Cole kept slamming his cock into her.

“Please, no more!” she wailed.

“Too bad,” he growled and she reached back to rub her clit.

“I’m your whore!” Leah screamed. “Use me, baby!”

Cole traced the edges of the seal making her squirm and moan again. The he shoved his thumb hard against it. Leah’s cum soaked his cock and her body went rigid as she groaned loudly.

“I’ll have to wear you out if that’s how you’re going to be,” Cole said, pressing again.

“Oh FUCK! No more! Please!”

He pulled out of her and she tried to stand up but sagged back into his arms.

“Why the hell did I even bother looking at him?” she panted , collapsing onto the bed. “No one could ever fuck me like you do. You are evil and that was incredible, I love you.”

“I’m glad we’re going to meet Lakshmi this week,” Cole said. “I’d have to double up my longevity treatments otherwise.”

“Silly man, you just need to stay hydrated. Speaking of which, where’s my cum?”

“Wait, your cum? What make you think this is yours?” he teased her.

“Because I want it, get down here.”

Cole laid down beside her.

“My cum!” Leah said, licking the length of his cock. “Mine, all mine,” she said before pushing her mouth onto him.

|7.0
They took a direct path back to the clearing, taking a day instead of six. It was a good thing, Leah thought. She was getting hornier and couldn’t have taken walking that long, no matter how good the sex was on the way.

After they set up the tent, they stripped off their clothes and waded in the river, laughing as they splashed each other.

“Hello,” a voice said from above them.

“Hello!” Leah said, looking up.

Lakshmi swung off a branch and onto the ground.

“Can I hug you?” Leah asked, climbing out of the water.

“Hug?”

“Like this,” Leah said, embracing Cole who was following her. “It’s an affectionate greeting.”

“I’d like that,” Lakshmi said and Leah slipped her arms around her. Lakshmi’s arms wrapped around her in return, caressing Leah gently.

“I’m glad you like it,” Leah responded. “Of course he’ll hug you too. C’mere Cole.”

There were mental and physical caresses for Cole when he put his arms around Lakshmi as well.

(I’ve looked forward to seeing you both. It feels like you’ve enjoyed yourselves.)

“Maybe too much,” Leah said and Lakshmi laughed.

(I’m glad to see you happy. I’ve asked our elder ones to come and help me explain. We have many stories to explore together, after the young leave you)

“What’s it going to be like?” Leah said, slipping her arm around Cole.

(If you’ve enjoyed yourselves, I think there will be pleasure. The ones who did this before were much smaller than you but still took much pleasure from the process)

“Was there any trouble from your Elders?” Cole asked.

(They were…not pleased. But we’re…pragmatic is the word. It happened and if balance is restored all things will be good. They will explain)

Lakshmi ran her hands over them. (The eloisha are very strong. I can hear them singing)

“We heard them in our dreams,” Cole said. “I’m going to miss it.”

(Truly? Such a remarkable thing, to be able to talk with the one who carries them. It will be dark soon, would you mind waiting one more night? This is best done in the light)

“Of course. Do you sleep?” Leah asked. “Will you spend the night with us?”

(I’d like that very much. Will you sleep in my nest? I’m not comfortable sleeping on the ground)

“Wherever you like,” said Cole.

(I built it lower than usual, bring your coverings and I will carry you)

They got dressed while she waited and Cole put their blankets in a pack with their water. When they were ready, she wrapped the large set of arms around them and began to climb.

“We’re not too heavy?” Leah asked.

Lakshmi just chuckled in their heads. (You are not a burden)

Cole wondered how high they normally built their nests when Lakshmi set them down. They had to be at least sixty meters in the air. Lakshmi’s nest looked like a huge basket, maybe eight meters across. The floor was curved like a bowl and was supported by four arches that joined at the peak of the roof. From there vines bound it to the massive branch above them. In the center of the bowl was a thick pad on top of what looked like moss and grass.

“This is amazing,” he said. The prime sun was going down and the golden-red rays were filtered through the trees, lit up by the mist. Three of the moons were showing over the tops of the trees. It would be bright tonight. “How many worlds Leah? Have you ever seen anything like this?”

“Not even close. And the nest! You have a beautiful home Lakshmi.”

(This? Hardly my home, this is like your little blue nest below. When I show you my home you will see beauty)

“I can’t wait,” Leah said before yawning. Cole yawned a second later.

(What is this?)

“It’s a way our bodies try to fight off sleep,” Leah said. “We’re fine, it was just a long walk today.”

(And you should be rested for tomorrow, sleep now. We are safe here, nothing will come near)

Leah snuggled between Cole and Lakshmi. Both of them put arms around her and she sighed happily as she fell into dreamless sleep.

Cole opened his eyes and carefully extricated himself from Leah before stretching and yawning.

(Good morning. You rested well?)

“Yes, thank you,” Cole whispered. He got a water bottle out and looked to see if it had refilled itself last night before draining it again.

“That better not be all the water,” Leah said as she stretched. Cole got the other bottle out and handed it to her.

(It is amazing that you use just one place for so many things)

“Even more than you’ve seen,” Leah said. “You don’t use your mouth for drinking?”

(The…quills you call them? They gather moisture constantly; I can get moisture in other ways but it can be a bother. What you call my mouth is only used for sounds)

“How do you eat?” Leah asked.

Lakshmi felt strangely embarrassed. (A hidden orifice accepts food. It is near my stomach, underneath me. It isn’t easily seen. Are you ready?)

As she carried them to the ground Lakshmi explained the best way to do things. Cole pulled blankets out and Lakshmi climbed back into the trees. Soon she was back with armloads of the mossy material. She arranged it carefully and Leah and Cole spread a blanket out over it.

(Leah, are you ready?)

“Cole, hold my hand?”

“Always.”

She stripped off her clothes and Lakshmi picked her up and laid her carefully on the blankets. Her hips were higher than her head and Lakshmi spread her legs and made a small depression between her feet. Leah took a deep breath

(Don’t be afraid, my brave one)

“Childbirth in humans is really difficult and painful,” she said.

(This won’t be either one of those things, I promise)

Cole kissed her lips gently. “I’m right here.”

Lakshmi folded her legs under her, laying on her side. She shifted around until she was curved half around Leah, her face even with Leah’s chest. She put one of her arms under Leah’s head with the hand resting on Cole’s leg.

She made a trilling chirping noise and beneath her, a seam opened. A miniature set of limbs unfolded from either side and they reached into the seam, widening it as they eased the Lakshmi’s ovipositor out.

(The greln, most delicate of my many hands)

They could feel the Other’s pleasure as the tiny hands slid down the ovipositor. A drop of gel like fluid emerged from the end and Lakshmi made the trilling noise again.

(I’ll gather more of this and it will dissolve the plug I put into you. Then we’ll begin)

Leah nodded, starting to breathe hard. “I’m getting really excited.”

Cole smiled, watching her nipples stand up and crinkle.

Lakshmi massaged the length again, more of the gel began to ooze from it. One of the hands kept stroking and the other scooped up the fluid and started to spread it between Leah’s legs. She moaned, lifting her hips to get closer to the touch.

(Shh)

One of the large top arms gently held her down. Leah’s eyes got wider. One of their many games together was bondage and Leah loved being tied up. Cole could tell being held down like this was getting her even more excited. The greln hands traded places, spreading more of the gel between her legs and massaging it between her cheeks.

“It’s warm and feels so good,” Leah whispered.

(It’s opening you again. Now I’ll remove what was left inside)

Leah moaned as one of the tiny hands slid into her ass. Lakshmi continued to smear the gel between her legs as the other hand slid deeper, stroking and petting. Leah had her first orgasm as the hand slid back out of her, whimpering and biting her lip.

(You’re ready now, I’ll help you)

The arm holding her began to make long strokes over her abdomen and lower stomach.

“She’s making me squeeze, oh fuck Cole, it feels so good!” Leah squeezed his hand hard as she came again, squeezing her eyes shut.

(Now they are awake and coming to the world!)

Leah’s eyes opened wide and Cole heard a wet sound as the first of the eggs popped out. Her back arched and she moaned loudly, cumming each time another of the young left her. She was exhausted after eleven orgasms, soaked with sweat and shaking.

Lakshmi took the eggs and laid them on the blanket next to Cole. They were a translucent bluish color, about the size of golf balls. He could see something moving inside of them, and a slit opened as the first of the young emerged, wet and struggling to stand. It flopped toward Leah and Cole helped it to her side.

Leah relaxed, catching her breath. “That was amazing! I’m going to end up with an anal fixation if I’m not careful.”

(They are very healthy and larger than I’ve seen before. You did well, my brave one)

More of the young were emerging and Leah put out her arm and they began to climb onto her, trumpeting and chirping with tiny voices. Lakshmi was stunned, watching as they gathered on Leah’s chest, nuzzling her and making tiny noises as they crawled over her.

Leah squirmed and giggled. “Okay guys, not the nipples. This is weird enough already.” She nudged them away and they scattered, fleeing from her fingers. When her fingers stopped nudging them, the babies went back, nuzzling the fingers. It almost looked like they were trying to get her to chase them again. The first of the hatchlings spread its upper arms, opening translucent membranes wide. There were startled chirps from the others until they discovered they had the same thing.

(The Elders must be told…I’ve never seen such a thing. Well done beloved! They are so active, usually it takes a day for them to move so well)

Leah used her fingertip to play tag with one and it rubbed itself against her skin, chirping and whistling. It was such a high pitch that she could barely hear it.

“Do they recognize me?” she asked.

(Not even in the oldest memories is anything mentioned, but I would say yes. They are making very happy noises.)

“I’m the best surrogate mother ever,” Leah told Cole and he leaned forward to kiss her.

“You’re the best everything ever,” he said.

One of the more adventurous ones jumped up, using its wings to bounce into the breeze. It suddenly sounded alarmed as it realized it was airborne.

“Ooh, careful,” Leah said, letting it land on her finger.

(That is how they’ll move for the first part of their lives)

“Do we do something to keep them safe?”

(They’ll scatter into the trees soon. Usually it takes them days. These are much larger, more active than any I’ve ever heard of. It won’t be long)

The Terrans watched the little creatures learning to walk and flap the membranes, entranced. The one on her finger nuzzled her knuckle and snapped its wing membranes open again.

“You’re welcome,” Leah murmured as it pushed itself off into the breeze. It circled them several times, whistling and darted up into the trees. The rest of the babies watched and soon they were all jumping into the air, whistling as they spiraled into the trees.

“What happens now?” Cole asked.

(Now they will learn and grow. The ones that still survive many seasons from now will start to change again. As they grow larger they’ll begin to grow my peoples’ stories in their minds, learning to talk and reason. They’ll seek out adults to live with and continue to grow and learn)

Leah watched the last of them soar off into the heights. “How do you protect them?”

(If they stay close to us they do not develop properly, do not grow the memories. They rarely grow to the proper size. It is not a good thing when this happens. I protect them best by finding the best mate, the best tathinni, and being intelligent as I can. We have done our best for them, now it is their turn)

“Will you know them?”

(Certainly! They know my scent, that of my mate. We recognize theirs. It is not a good thing to mate with offspring.)

Have you had any come back?” Leah asked.

Lakshmi stroked her gently. (This is my fourth brood, but only in the last while would the first brood be old enough to become Anek. I have not seen them but maybe they found a distant village. I will be seeing more than one from this birth, they were strong and smart. Thank you, beloved brave one)

Leah sat up and kissed Lakshmi’s forehead.

“You’re welcome. I’m glad I helped, that was the most amazing thing. I think I need a good scrub in the stream.”

(Are you ready Cole?)

He laughed. “I have no idea, but let’s try.”

A little while later he was laying in the same place. Leah kissed him and snuggled against him.

“You are going to have such a good time.”

He kissed her as Lakshmi began to stroke the thick tube.

He moaned as one of her arms slid inside of him, “Fuck, right in the prostate.”

“I see that,” Leah breathed into his ear. His cock was hard, jumping as Lakshmi’s smallest arms cleaned the plug away.

(Beloved darling. They’re coming quickly)

She began to stroke his abdomen and Cole’s back arched. “Holy shit,” he yelped.

Leah giggled. “I told you.”

Cole twitched as the first egg left him. He started to groan as the second appeared. Leah took his cock in her mouth, licking him before pushing her head down on him. Lakshmi twittered as Cole moaned, cumming in Leah’s mouth. The pressure pushed the rest of the eggs out of him all at once.

(…that was impressive)

“You’re telling me,” Cole said, gasping. The young began to climb on him and Leah as they hatched, chirping and whistling. They were even more rambunctious than the first group.

(Another mighty brood, thank you beloved darling)

Cole and Leah laid there, watching as the young ones took off and circled above them.

“That may have been the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” Cole finally said when the last one had disappeared.

“It’s right up there at the top,” Leah said, leaning over to kiss him. “How do you feel?”

“Sticky actually.”

“I know, right? I left you a towel by the creek.”

|8.0
After they’d packed some things, Lakshmi carried then back up to the nest.

(Are you tired?)

“I feel great,” Leah said. “Wide awake. How about you?”

“Wonderful,” Cole said. “Lakshmi, do you need to rest?”

(Why would I? You two did all the work)

“It was a group effort,” Leah said. “But I wouldn’t mind laying around for a while.”

(My mind is at peace and I sense a great good has come. I feel your curiosity, shall we talk of our stories until the Elders come?)

“I was curious,” Cole said. “Where would you have put the eggs if you hadn’t found us?”

(There is a kind of plant high in the treetops. It provides a substitute for the food although the eggs are not at all sheltered. Most of them do not survive to hatch. If we were closer to my home there would have been mechanisms that work somewhat better)

“How did you know how to help us birth?” Leah said.

(I remembered back to the way it was done with the tathinni. You are larger and it was even easier than I expected)

“You remember them? How old are you?”

There was a sense of confusion. (…I think we do not look at time the same way. There are not words we can both use. That is a question for the Elder ones)

“I got the sense that the trouble with them was a long time ago. Are you that old?”

Lakshmi laughed. (Of course not! That would be an Elder’s Elder many times over. I have their memories; don’t you carry the memories of those who came before you?)

“We don’t. Leah, does that sound like racial memory?”

“Sure does,” Leah said. “Lakshmi, we are born knowing nothing. We spend the early parts of our lives learning how to move and communicate.”

(That is very strange. So all of the wisdom is lost when one of you goes beyond?)

“In one sense, yes. But we talk to each other and share…stories I guess you’d call them. We write the important things down. Then anyone can go and read and learn.”

(But what if they didn’t think to tell everything?)

“That happens sometimes, or the writing is lost,” Cole said. “In some ways, we’re alike though. Our young grow up with us and spend much of that time learning. After a time, they leave and go into the world to make their own way.”

(How very strange and wonderful you are. We wondered what the symbols in the tablet were for. I’m glad it made sounds for us)

“You don’t have writing?” Leah asked.

(I know of nothing like what you’re describing. If one of us knows something the others do not, we pass it along immediately. That is why touch is so important. It is how knowledge moves for us)

“You’re very strange and wonderful to us as well,” Cole said. “Wow, I suddenly have so many questions!”

Lakshmi and Leah both laughed.
(It would be best to wait for the Elder ones, they are far wiser)

“Your mate doesn’t know that the young were born? He doesn’t help?” Leah asked.

(No, he will know it was time and he will recognize them if he sees them among the trees. They are very different from us and we are not long term mates like you. He had a magnificent body, it will serve my children well. You would not know, the young take the…spirit is the word? Spirit of the female and the body of the male)

“He did have a magnificent cock,” Leah said.

Lakshmi laughed and they joined her. It was almost like having your brain tickled.

(If you say so. That is not made for me, it is not meant to fit inside of us. When we find males to mate with we hunt together, build a ceremonial nest, and find a place for our young. He fertilizes my eggs and we part ways)

“So you don’t have sex for fun?” Leah asked.

(Of course we do, it is an important part of our relationships. Females pleasure females. I have heard about some who try to fit the male part into their egg-tube for pleasure and I hear rumors about males, but I cannot say)

“Can I ask what you do?” Leah said.

(I will answer this. I must say that the process of birth affects my feelings much the same way as yours. I would not force you, but I need relief. I could go elsewhere….)

“Don’t you dare,” Leah said. “I’ve been looking forward to sharing my mate with you again!”

Cole nodded, “And I’d like to share her with you.”

(Then come lay beside me)

“We wouldn’t want anything impeding communication,” Leah said, pulling her shirt over her head. Cole undressed and followed her onto the bed.

(Now then. Females play together with our…ovipositors? What an odd word. They are very sensitive, inside and out. If there is a size difference, one will put hers inside of the other. It’s very pleasurable for both. When two are closer together, we use our smallest hands. Or stroke the…there is no word. The place where our ovipositors are kept safe. Your…cock was a new pleasure, it felt very good. When you squirted in me…yes, orgasm would be the word. I came? Your language is very amusing at times. I would like to try that again)

“Oh, we’re willing,” Leah said. “What can we do to excite you?”

(Finding the path is the best part of the game)

“Oh this is going to be fun.” Leah said, starting to slide her hands over Lakshmi, tracing her arms and shoulders.

Cole began to do the same on the other side of her, feeling her reactions. Cole found that he could make her squirm by teasing the soft quills that ran up the back of her neck and over her head.

(Your mouths! So warm and wet!)

Cole watched Leah suck the fingers of Lakshmi’s different hands, giving each of them a blowjob almost.

“Do you kiss?” Cole asked her.

(I don’t know what that word is)

“Like this,” he said and began kissing along the line of quills. She quivered and he smiled. “It’s what we’re doing when we press our mouths together.”

(I wondered. No, we do not do that)

“May I?” Cole asked and Lakshmi touched his face gently. He kissed along her jaw and then her mouth.

(How odd and delightful)

“Use your tongue,” Leah said.

Cole kissed her again, exploring her mouth with his tongue.

(But I’m afraid I don’t feel much)

“We’ll have to find something else then,” Leah said, running her fingertips over the quills. “Kissing is like hugging, a sign of affection.”

(Yes, as we’re together longer I find it easier to see the images in your head)

“Can you read our minds?” Cole asked.

(…I see what you mean. No, your inner thoughts are hidden and looking too closely is…taboo? Your private thoughts are safe. Notice that you had to think carefully and distinctly to speak to me earlier)

“Boring, time for more exploring,” Leah said and Lakshmi chirped as Leah licked along her spine. “Okay, that’s a good spot.”

(Your mouths are incredible, the things you’re doing with the tentacle are very exciting)

“What tentacle?” Leah laughed. “Cole, have you been holding out on me?”

“She’s talking about our tongues I think.”

(Yes. I have imagined them on my…ovipositor)

“Please show us,” Leah said. “I want to see it.”

Lakshmi rolled onto her side, lifting Leah out of her way and tucking her next to Cole. Midway along her body there was an opening, a sort of a pocket that relaxed and her ovipositor slid slowly out. It was a pale blue at the base, turning almost indigo at the end. From base to tip it was about forty-five centimeters long and seven centimeters at the base, tapering to five at the tip. It had a domed tip with a deep dimple.

Leah knelt down and traced it with her fingertips. “It’s gorgeous, look Cole.”

(Your touch is….) She sent a feeling of tingling lust and anticipation to them.

“So how about this?” Leah said and began to lick from the base to the tip.

Lakshmi chirped, her smallest arms grasping at the air. (YES!)

“Those smallest arms, try those, baby,” Leah said. Cole slid past her gently rubbed one while stroking the edge of the pocket that the held the ovipositor. Lakshmi twittered loudly and they felt a wave of excitement.

“I think I found a good spot,” he said.

(Oh! So very sensitive, the pleasure…)

Cole began to rub his lips along them as Leah put the end of the ovipositor in her mouth, sucking it gently and teasing the dimple in the end with her tongue. It slowly relaxed and she traced the edge with her tongue. Lakshmi was making sounds like a whole flock of horny song birds. Leah and Cole felt her excitement. Cole tried to push his feelings back and somehow he felt Leah doing the same. Lakshmi went rigid and there was a high pitched chirp that soared into a higher pitch than they could hear.

“Are you okay, love?” Leah asked her after a few seconds.

(Yes! Keep going!)

Lakshmi’s opening oozed a clear gel and one of her hands stroked Leah’s back. Leah sucked the end and then shoved her tongue inside. Lakshmi must have enjoyed it, she began emitting a smell almost like burnt marshmallow and the liquid began to flow out of her. Leah ran her hand along the length, smearing the fluid into Lakshmi’s ovipositor, gently stroking the pocket. Cole was kissing and sucking the tiny fingers and Lakshmi was twitching them, grasping Cole and then trying to get away, then pressing toward him again.

“Trade places, I think someone is ready for you,” Leah said and switched places with Cole. He knelt down and Leah took his cock and rubbed it against the end of Lakshmi’s egg tube.

(Please, please, please, yes, yes! Please!)

Leah smiled. “She’s as greedy as I am.”
Cole slowly pushed into her. She was tighter than she’d been the night they’d met and the thick honey feeling of her sheath oozed down his cock as she stretched around him. He stopped, not wanting to hurt her.

(No, it will stretch. Push it, fill me! I want to feel so full…)

Cole thrust harder and moaned at her tight wet heat. And she’d told them the outside was as sensitive as the inside… He took her ovipositor in both hand, stroking it. Lakshmi’s entire body was shivering now.

(You’re stretching me, it feels so good)
Cole held the tube tighter, holding it as he pushed the last few inches of his cock deep inside of her. Lakshmi’s voice pierced their ears before climbing out of their hearing.

“Isn’t that nice?” Leah said. She kissed her way down Cole’s chest and then began to kiss and lick where he was joined to Lakshmi. Leah squeaked as Lakshmi used one of the large grasping arms to pick her up and pull her against Lakshmi’s lower body. Leah put her mouth to work around the base of the ovipositor, thinking that what Lakshmi had in mind. But she was pleasantly surprised when her legs were nudged apart. Leah moaned as the small arms began to stroke and pinch along her thighs, moving toward her sex.

“Oh! She’s pushing those tiny arms inside me!” Leah moaned. “She’s fucking me with them, baby, it’s amazing…”

Cole began thrusting in and out, speeding up and slowing down, teasing Lakshmi as best he could. He was wrapped in the other arm and it held him close as the tube tightened around him.

(Fill me!) Lakshmi pleaded in his mind.

“Yes! Give her your cum!” Leah moaned.

Cole shoved himself as deeply as he could, running his fingertips along Lakshmi’s length as his cum jetted out into her. There was a rapid jumble of sounds and images in their heads as she tightened into rigidity.

(Paradise) she whispered when she started to relax.

But Leah was whimpering now. “Cole, she’s stroking me inside! Those tiny fingers!”

(What part is this, beloved?)

“My cervix,” Leah gasped. “It’s…oh fuck, she’s stroking it and her finger just slid….” Leah’s moans turned into screams as she buried her face in Lakshmi’s side. “Oh, don’t stop, I’m gonna cum again,” she gasped. “Yes, right there! YES!”

Cole traced her shoulder blades and Leah slowly relaxed, her panting changing to long deep breaths.

“Oh God, I have to sleep. Loveyoubothg’night.” Leah put her face against Lakshmi and moments later was breathing deeply.

(That was rather sudden) Lakshmi felt concerned.

“Don’t worry, it’s the sign of a great orgasm,” Cole said.

(Would you stay inside of me while she rests?)

“I’d like that,” Cole said, laying back as the arms nudged him over. “I don’t know how much longer I’ll stay hard though.”

(Then let me help you like before, wonderful beloved)

Cole shivered as the soft tingling crawled deep inside of him.

Leah slowly opened her eyes, hands were petting her, moving her around.

“What are you two up to?” she murmured.

“We thought of something you’d enjoy.”

(But we can always stop)

“Uh-uh, don’t you dare,” Leah said as her legs were eased apart. Her eyes opened wide as Cole’s tongue traced her sex. Lakshmi was laying on her back, the largest arms holding Leah up as he began to eat her out.

“Your mouth feels so nice,” she whimpered and then moaned as he slid his fingers into her. Soon she was panting, grabbing his hair and hunching her sex frantically against his mouth. Cole sucked as hard as he could on her clit several times and Leah’s cum soaked his face.

“That’s amazing,” she moaned.

“I’m glad you liked it, but we’re just getting started.”

(Is she ready?)

“Am I ready for what?” Leah asked. Something slid along her thigh and she looked down. The thick ovipositor was making its way between her lips.

“Oh fuck, yes. Put her in my cunt, baby!”

She moaned as Cole pushed it into of her. “Oh this might be too much,” she gasped.

“Are you sure?”

“No! Keep going.”

“Just say when,” Cole said, and he slowly pushed a finger into her ass.

“Ooh, you dirty, dirty man,” she moaned. “Are you going to fuck my ass?”

“Only if you beg me to.”

(I think she likes it)

“Fuck yes I like it!” Leah pushed her hips against the ovipositor. “You feel so good.”

(You’re so warm and tight) Lakshmi moaned.

“And I told her your fantasy about Gavin and his huge cock,” Cole said, smiling down at her.

(Yes, would it feel like this?)

The ovipositor began to swell, widening inside of her and Leah arched her back screaming, “Oh FUCK yes! Give it to me! Fuck me hard!”

She grabbed her nipples, twisting and pinching them, “Baby, fuck my ass now? Pretty please?”

“Since you asked so nicely.”

Leah was picked up gently while Cole laid on Lakshmi’s underbelly.

“I’m so ready, baby. Put your cock in my ass, please.”

Cole pressed the head of his cock against her ass. Leah grunted as the head slid in. “Okay, give me a second.”

They both stroked her body as she got used to it. Her breathing got deeper and faster.

“Now fuck me nice and hard!” she wailed. “Fuck my ass hard! Like that!”

They began thrusting in and out of her, Lakshmi pulsed wider as Cole thrust. Leah was orgasming continuously, screaming their names.

Someone was touching her again. Leah opened her eyes and Cole smiled at her, wiping her face with a damp towel

“Remind me to never leave you two unsupervised,” Leah whispered. “That was amazing, but I surrender.”

“You? Is that possible?”

“I know, right? But birthing beautiful songbird babies and then getting my brains fucked out, well it just takes it out of a girl.”

“Lakshmi’s Elders arrived right at the end of playtime.”

“Oh shit. Please tell me you’re joking.”

He laughed. “Nope, they were quite impressed.”

“Do I have to get up?”

“Not until tomorrow. We’ll contact the colony after we talk. We’ve got to get our stories straight before anyone shows up.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Lakshmi shared the story of the babies. Their reaction was impressive, wildly overjoyed would be accurate. You should see them dance, all their arms and legs…well you have to see it. We began talking, the nursery plant and their ‘mechanisms’ aren’t working very well. Since they lost the little monkey people their population has been steadily declining. Crashing really. I told them we can help.”

“It was fun, but I don’t think I can do this again for a while,” she groaned.

Cole chuckled and kissed her forehead. “Don’t worry, I was thinking more about incubators and places we could set up to help them grow a little more safely. Predation takes a huge toll on the but they seem to like being around us and I’m sure there are people who would be happy to live among the trees. We can definitely help them out and that sidesteps the rules on colonizing an inhabited planet. Scientific assistance missions are encouraged.”

“You are so lovingly sneaky,” she mumbled. “I bet there’s lots of people who will want to try it our way.”

“I don’t doubt it. It’s going to be a big day tomorrow. Go to sleep, beloved mother of many. I’m right beside you.”

“You and me,” she mumbled.

“Until the stars die.”

Leah smiled and snuggled closer to him.