The Downfall of Rakip


By Sharon Best, edited by JH


Part I


 [The following document was given to Scribe Shara'Lynn Best shortly before the final devastation of the planet Rakip, the seventh planet in the system of the orange-yellow star VGC 13201 [1], in 5729H.  Translation provided by the Scribe. [2] It is a unique contemporaneous account of both a Scribe's activities as observed by a protected species and the species' reaction to a gross violation of the Prime Directive. 


[Cross-references:  VGC 13201:Ambre; VGC 13201 Jaime'Lee Smythe; Files SLB 963-965. ]


Excerpts from Kaltlakast's Personal Journal

13 Ambre 3462


Summer again, and the fur curls up and snarls.  It seemed so much cooler when this month was named Mescidor - now it's Ambre, after Her Holiness, the Goddess, and the very sun seems hotter when it reflects off her sunlight-colored hair.


The hottest, steamiest room in Perthy has to be Irplakitskal's office in the bowels of the Chancellery - and there were five of us in there, knuckle to elbow - the odd jobs squad of Section Three. [3]  At least he didn't raise the temperature by giving us 15 minutes [4] of indirection and hot air before getting to the point, like Swanomins [5].   He just barged into the subject without finesse:  "You five are going to surveill Ambre, and find out what makes her tick.  She's an enigma.  I hate enigmas.  How can someone be as powerful as an Arion and want to 'protect' poor little us?  Find out."


Ridiculous.  A mathematician, a soldier, a financial analyst, a fitness instructor and a 30-year-old man of the world with a psych degree, all playing at being spies, are going to ferret out the secrets of an almost invulnerable alien who sees and hears through walls.  We're not even a military species, let alone a devious one. 


"Are you going to issue us a heat shield?" I asked.  "That junior priest who was looking through her keyhole got vaporized in about two seconds flat.  Not to mention the poor dupe from military intel who got torn limb-from-limb by the mob - sorry, crowd of believers - at the last Apparition." 


"Kaltlakast," he growled back, "even a dammed toffee-eater like you can be of service at the front  - as Kintzi bait." 


He can't be one of our species.  No empathy, no insight.  He must be the reincarnation of a zubas[6].  At least my wit didn't go into hiding.  "I'd probably give them indigestion - too rich a diet.  But it would be a pity to waste me on a couple of Kintzi, wouldn't it?


He just rolled ahead, assigning us all to the palace in various sinecures to watch Ambre as she recovers from that crafty Arion attack.  I'm now the Deputy Chamberlain in charge of pilgrimages - the perfect spot for a non-believer.  Fortunately, the administrative assistant can do all the work. 


Dinner with . . . .[7]



15 Ambre 3462


Just before dawn all of Perthy was awakened by a sharp sonic boom and a loud roar, which drew our attention to a brilliant white streak of light in the sky arrowing to ground just outside the city.  It was the announcement of another Protector coming to defend us.  Jaime'Lee Smythe - how odd that the younger and less experienced the woman, the more names she has.  She is also shorter and less regal than Her Holiness, but still has that bewitching gold mane.  I was among the thousands who ran to Kalgoorleb Road where that glowing arc in the sky faded to its end. 


While the crowd was cheering our new savior and demi-goddess, I walked over to the nearby park and grabbed a limb to swing on.  Dreadfully uncivilized, but there are times when only a workout in the tree limbs can clear the mind and purge the body of civilized tensions.  Of course, if Ambre ever knew I'd indulged my "ape" self, I'd be out of the Palace and attending self-criticism sessions. 


I fear we are abdicating our defense, our self-respect, our intelligence to the directives of self-described superior beings.  If we win this war will we be slaves to Ambre's vision, rather than that of the Arions?  Perhaps this Jaime Lee has a better answer. 



32 Ambre 3462


Another sonic boom this evening, but no roar, and only a short burst of light, like a meteor over Perthy.[8]  There was great anticipation that yet another Protector had arrived to turn the tide of the war, but no.  JaimeLee, though,  is yet another enigma for Irplakitskal.  Fast, tough, capable of destroying Arion battle cruisers - and yet she is almost Arion in spirit herself.  She boasts of her prowess, displaying not only those lascivious bare arms but those mesmerizing legs as well.  In private, in the palace, she struts past us, daring us to stare at her.  When we succumb and gaze at her in awe, what a mixture of emotions appears on her face!  The glow of pride in her perfection, the hooded eyelids of seduction and contempt for her acolytes, a wisp of self-doubt as her pupils scan our faces to find any sign of reserve in her presence, the implicit dare in the lift of her jaw, the bared teeth, which her kind seem to think is some kind of greeting but to us communicates an underlying fear and tension.


When she is not posing, she is as easy to read as a newspaper.


Another one who is reading her is His Serene Eminence, whose directions to the faithful each week contain more and more condemnations of the shocking presence of uncovered bodies in our midst.  If there weren't a war for survival going on, he might have a point. 



2 Supremis 3462


As in every year, Perthy boils under our summer sun.  In past Tharmetors every one with two coppers to pitch would flee town and find a cool mountain lake to swing by.  Now the month is named Supremis and we are all trapped by the sea in sweaty, steamy Perthy.  No one complains.  The Arions continue to devastate the rest of the planet.  They hit Brooem last week, scorching the fields with lasers, exploding the buildings with grenades, pouring jelly fire [9] into the bunkers in which our children cowered and incinerating with heat vision or projectors any one who ran.  None of this was in the broadcasts or the papers, all of which are full of two golden-haired women who are leading us to eventual victory and human enlightenment.  I have the news from Cousin Randerarz, who showed up on my doorstep this morning with blackened fur, scars on his face, and a terrible suppurating wound on his thigh.  Hadn't answered a letter in 20 years, never stopped by when he was in Perthy, shunned me at the last Predlari [10].  Now he's in the guest room eating my rations. 


I couldn't help him at the food and shelter office.  Irplatkitskal wanted me urgently.  With the trams not running because of yet another blackout, I had to walk to the Chancellery and I started panting long before I got to the office.  As I hyperventilated, I ran into Dlavadrig, the newspaper hawker, in Chuvadam Square.  "There is another," he whispered to me. 

"Another what," I groaned.

"You must know.  Another goddess, a Protector, a savior," he chimpered. 

"Too much brashletta,[11] Dlava," I snapped.  "Quiet, before Her Inquisitors hear such nonsense.  Protectors announce themselves."

"She has the golden mane!  She floats!  She hears!  But she hides.  The Third Section must know!  You must know!"


Good Ambre, does everyone know I'm with the Third Section?  Some alien woman with long fur buys a photomagazine from him, and its the advent of a Protector.  He wouldn't let me go until I swore to tell someone at the Chancellery. 


What do you know, Irplatkitskal had the same concern. 

"Someone broke into a clothing store in Chuvadam four nights ago," he muttered as he shoved a file at me.

"How nice to know that the Arions have been defeated, and we can now spend our time on mere burglars," I replied. 

"Look at this photo of the lock," he smirked.  The laminated padlock was half melted, with the clear imprint of a delicate hand - not ours. 

"Her Holiness, the Goddess Ambre, was receiving local commissioners all night," I sallied.  "I had to announce 65 of them.  Besides, her tastes run to tiaras and satins, not cotton things and furs."

"Well, it wasn't Miss Shoching either," growled Irplatkitskal.  "She was scooting around Blorneo [12] looking for Kintzi and not finding them.  Damned cats."  He shuddered. 

"Well, logically, the culprit is an Arion spy, who is trying to lay low for some reason or another," I mused.

Irplatkitskal grinned.  He only does that when somebody makes a big mistake.  "A LOGICAL Arion spy wouldn't leave such a calling card.  But there is a golden-haired humanoid woman who suddenly appeared in Chuvadam four days ago.  There's no record of any humanoid entering Perthy for the last three months.  So unless she sneaked in under a pile of vegetables, she flew.  Next time, before mouthing off, you might bother to look at the file." 

"That triple boom that night - her?" I murmured.  

"The police have been getting crank calls about a floating golden woman from some man called Dlavadrig and from a couple of old nosy biddies who sound like they've been tasting their own brashletta," he growled.  "It's time for you to get out of the palace and do some field work." 

"Give it to Blegdaral - he's done nothing but lead exercise classes in the courtyard," I whined.  "I'm too obvious - I've never done a successful tail, and I'm up to my earwhiskers in finding out what Her Holiness plans for the next Apparition." 

Irplatkitskal sneered right back.  "That's right - you're our palace party agent.  Afraid even to go out to Chuvadam Square to ask a few questions. And you still haven't given me one shred of information about what our Goddess really has in mind for us poor inferior apes."


So, I'll call in sick tomorrow and it's off to Chuvadam.  Probably some teenager who's dyeing her hair yellow and shaving her arms to act Velorian. 


3 Supremis 3462


Up early this morning, awakened by the hoot of the end-of-curfew whistle. I heard Randerarz rolling over in his bed, moaning for Edwilla and the boys.  As painful as those dreams may be, he does not wake, as if he fears the morning's reality even more.  There was nothing in the cool-box to eat:  Randerarz had finished off the milk and eggs I was saving for breakfast, and my ration number doesn't come up till tomorrow [13].  I don't know how I can feed us both.


At least I had a few minutes to think.  I couldn't just go around and ask questions with that chatterbox Dlavadrig and that gaggle of old ladies in the neighborhood.  I might as well broadcast my plans.  A disguise might work - perhaps a meter reader, a housing inspector or even a student peddling magazines.  But none of those changes my face, and if this woman were a Velorian, she'd surely remember it.  Last week, Her Holiness, Ambre, waved a waiter over at a state dinner to thank him for his devotion.  She had seen him once, for a second, at a reception six weeks before, when he had mopped up a spill 30 meters away, in a crowd, and had mumbled:  "I hope Her Holiness is not displeased."  And I have a very striking face, not easy for a woman to forget.


Then it came to me.  The one woman who forgets me, or at least pretends to, is Pegartha.  She's always running a con.  She should be able to disguise me. 


Peg moves around a bit, but a call to Visklaveltar at the office turned up her current address.  So by 07:30 I found myself in the alleys of Fremnatle, brushing by the few drunken sailors we have left and dodging pickpockets.  She was in a third floor studio walkup over a bar that probably was serving stuff a lot harder than brashletta.


My knock on the greasy, sooty door was answered by "Go 'way, you only paid for three hours," and a series of curses that should have been sufficient to convert every Arion around the planet into frogs.  No such luck.


"Pegartha, it's me," I called back.  "Of course you are you, and you are a son of a slimy zubast for waking me!  What's your name, fool?"  Same old Peg, cranky in the morning. 


"It's Kaltlakast, darling, here to make up for that game of kerpok [14] you lost last year."  She opened the door in a hurry.  Darling no more.  Last year she had silver-tipped fur, a luscious figure and a soft, pillowy bed in a Swanbella apartment.  Now her fur was slate blue, matted, and her bed had a ratty mattress and a threadbare quilt.  There was a strong male musk in the room - and the figure was a lot thinner. That 34 hour kerpok game must have wiped her out. 


I scratched furtively [15] and stepped in.  After the usual banter, she got to the point:  "Things must be getting pretty bad if you're looking for my help.  What happened, your family's bank got zapped, or did that witch Ambre do a number on you?"  "Neither," I said, "I just have to look inconspicuous for awhile.  Someone's in town and I don't want them to stumble onto me."  "It figures," she spat.  "Another draft-dodger.  Before the war, I'd guess an angry husband, but now they're all at the front." 


"Another reason for me to lay low for a bit, Peg." 

"Well, I'd better keep you around, Kalty, if I'm ever going to win anything back." I then learned yet another of her hidden talents:  minimalist art.  Half an hour later, a few trims of my fur, some ear putty, a fake spot or two on my muzzle, and some strategic makeup, and my mother wouldn't recognize me.


"Peg, dearest, you're a genius.  And genius, I know, must be compensated."  I started to withdraw a gold piece from my money belt. 

"Kalty," she murmured, "money isn't what I need."  She wrapped her matted arms around my waist and laid her head against my shoulder.  "Take me away from this.  Find a way for us to be together." 

I stepped back, out of her arms.  "It's Kaltlakast, Peg, not Kalty.  Take the gold [16].  Let's just try to stay alive and get through this war."


"Your father must have fucked a zubast," she howled.  "Get out of here, you ungrateful jerk!  Shove your money up your purple ass!"  She threw a water pitcher at me and I retreated out the door.  "You're trying to survive?  What did you lose, your valet?"  she screamed after me as I stumbled down the stairs, carrying my bag.  The gold piece I'd dropped at her feet followed me down, followed in its turn by four quick little urchins who appeared from nowhere.  They tumbled down the stairs, screeching and elbowing each other to grab it. 


Wearing the shabby overalls I'd brought, I headed for Chuvadam as a water meter reader.  The occasional growl from my empty belly was the final touch of authenticity.  A few inquiries in the square produced the address and the landlord's name.  A smile almost crossed my face when I threw caution to the wind and asked Dlavadrig for directions and he refused, saying "Buy a paper first."  He's not so helpful to the lower classes.     


The landlord confirmed that he had rented a cottage (two rooms down, one up) on Chuvapalam Road, near the nature reserve, to a golden-maned human woman who paid with a handful of silver and platinum coins.  I just stared.  A full house when everyone else is taking in war refugees?  I mumbled my thanks and went on in my meter reader's guise. 


The cottage was surrounded by dense jungle foliage and was barely visible from the roadway.  Nothing like the direct approach, I said to myself as I plodded up the path and knocked (no scratching) on the door.  I heard the lightest of footsteps and the door opened swiftly, as if she had already seen me.  I got halfway through the first sentence of my prepared speech, despite the fact that my brain had instantaneously decoupled from my jaws the moment I beheld her.  Yes, beheld.

She was tall for a human, crowned with silky golden hair the color of dawn sunlight at a beach, cascading down past where her long, long neck met her body.  Skin - skin everywhere. Almost the same tawny color as the hair, on her face, her arms, her legs!  My heart pounded, my mouth panted, my eyes were paralyzed and my member . . . .  She wore a kilt made of animal skin that hardly went halfway to her knees, and below, only the Goddess Ambre herself had long, tapering legs like that.  Her torso was covered by pelts and fur, but the general shape was unmistakable.  And so young, like JaimeLee Smythe.  I knew instantly that here was another Velorian indeed.  If only I ever regained the power of speech to tell anyone else. 


I missed her reply to me the first three times.  Then very softly, she touched my arm with bare fingertips and I trembled.  "Can I help you," she was asking in decent Por'kip [17] - but with a lilting intonation that reminded me of a cantanotte [18].  I blinked rapidly as my mind began to function like a broken earth-car. 


"Water, water," I stammered. 


"I'll get you some," she lilted, and turned to return into the cottage. 


"No, no, no. Water yes, I mean no, I mean meter, water, reader," I gibbered.  She turned back to me with a faint smile.  Her moves were graceful, light, as if she moved on air. 


"I am a stranger here," she said slowly, and I thought I was hearing a voice from the clouds.  "I do not understand.  Perhaps you could speak more slowly?" 


The words rushed from me.  "I am the water meter reader.  You are new here.  You have a name?  You have a meter?  You have water?" 


"Yes to all.  I am . . .," she then hesitated for a moment, and then, apparently considering me harmless (I certainly was), continued, "I am Shara'Lynn Best, of Algonquina.  I am here for a time, studying your planet's culture and trading practices.  And yes, I do have water.  I don't know where the meter is." 


If this Shara'Lynn Best is Algonquina, I am a frog.  The Algonquinan humans I have seen are shorter, have olive-colored skin, mostly dark hair (although some have a very dark golden hue) and sound like trogs.  She has three names, the middle of which is almost the same as JamieLee's.  Her voice sounds like Ambre's on those few days when the Goddess is calm and happy, but with an undercurrent of uncertainty and excitement.


I somehow stumbled through the cottage, into the lower storage room, and found the meter by walking straight into it in the gloom.  I left the cottage in a daze. 


This all makes no sense.  I see the Goddess and her Helper, JamieLee, several times a week, and JamieLee with bare skin.  Stunningly attractive, yes, but by now I'm used to it.  And this one is not quite as tall, not quite as stunning.  In retrospect, it has to have been an emotional connection as well.  But how, before we exchanged a single thought?


I returned home as if I were a homing pigeon, penned these words, and now to bed.  Dinner and Randerarz will wait till tomorrow. 


4 Supremis 3462


Randerarz and I both woke up before sunrise, thanks to our empty bellies.  With the electricity off, we sat at the dining table nursing glasses of water and talking for a few minutes.  All he wants to do is kill Arions, as many as possible as heroically as possible.  Unfortunately, neither hatred nor heroism kills Primes or Kintzi.  He went off to the registry office and I got in line at the ration bureau.  Mercifully, they had a pot of gruel for us early birds while we waited - the four ounces tasted like ambrosia. 


Helped by the early start, I got to the Chancellery just before noon and went directly to Irplatkitskal's office.  After I reported my findings, he surprised me. 


"All right, report back to the Chamberlain's office and keep an eye on Ambre.  She's been too quiet lately."


Yesterday I touched a vision in the flesh, a searing light that rearranged my entire cosmos, and he is sending me back to tiaras and teas.  "I see," I replied.  "I very skillfully, for once, spy on the biggest secret on the continent, something that could change the war, and you now put me back on the canap circuit.  You're supposed to keep the Arions off balance, not your own people in Section Three."  I braced myself for a tirade, or even reassignment to the front, but Irplatkitskal had something else in mind.


In a low voice, he stated calmly:  "One, this undercover Velorian should be contacting her commander soon, and you will be right there to pick up on it.  Two, we've learned the hard way that operatives who shadow Velorians either get made or get hopelessly infatuated with them.  Three, you're such an incompetent nagba [19] that if I leave you on that assignment you'll blow it in ways I couldn't possibly anticipate.  Four, I own you.  Now get out of my sight."


As I made my way out of the room, though, I thought I heard him mutter, "And maybe you'll just survive this."


I stumbled off to the Palace and spent the afternoon catching up on invoices.  I did manage to recommend Pegartha for a block deacon's post and stipend.  Peg's no Ambre-worshiper, but she's smart enough to go along and con the Palace out of a few hundred marks.  Visklaveltar has also been assigned to the palace, as a serving maid.  That's more Blegdaral's level of intelligence, but he's been assigned to Swanomins as a bodyguard.  She winked at me this afternoon in the quarters.  With my mind on golden hair and golden skin, I didn't pay any attention.


16 Supremis 3462


Blegdaral appeared in my office doorway this morning.  As usual, he communicated in a few hooting grunts, but I figured out that Swanomins wanted me right then at the Chancellery.  After making an excuse to my assistant, we hurried across the park and into a side door I'd never noticed.  Behind this door were more Council Guards than I'd ever seen, electronic surveillance, and plenty of classified countermeasures.  Blegdaral found an open spot and did stretching exercises.


I eventually was ushered into some sort of underground conference room where I saw Swanomins, Irplatkitskal, and a couple of professors on our side of the table and two Scalantrans and an odd humanoid on the other.  Swanomins waved me into a seat between him and Irplatkitskal.  I was to observe, they said. 


After the usual Scalantran pleasantries [20], they introduced the humanoid:  Dr. Warner Vobrownot.  I never did find out where he came from.  He was a short, pale, blocky man with a balding head and sunken eyes. His bare forehead took up half his face.  It seemed that Dr. Vobrownot was some sort of weapons developer that specialized in the destruction of "hard targets," and the Scalantrans were his agents. 


"Yes, yes," interrupted Swanomins, "we want to hear from the doctor himself."  We certainly did - I remember every word, delivered in fluent Por'kip in a hissing, grating voice that reminded me of earth-car transmissions that were low on fluids.


"I am pleased to grant you all the Vobrownot number of one," he said in his metallic voice.  "You have met me face to face.  It reminds me of the time I met the War Minister of Vendor - he had no appreciation of the mathematics of chaotic dissolution but he had the most marvelous plagiocephalic physiognomy.  And you do too.  I wonder, is it possible that there is a biometric similarity among Arion victim races?  There might be a third-order correlation in the orientation of the cranial axes.  Dollaron, take a note, please.  But a first-order confirmation of the hypothesis would require us to leave you to the Arions, and my good friends from Scalantra would rather see if you could fund my research for a few more years.  Still, isn't the confirmation of such a hypothesis worth the effects on the control group?"


And on he went, mumbling for a while about mutations and music and mustard gas and multiple personalities.  The next moment he was shouting at the Scalantrans, ordering them to seize us and administer truth serum to us so that he could find the Arion spy that wanted to steal his ideas.  A moment later, he tilted his head like a bird's, chirped "excuse me," and continued ranting about a new method to prove that multiple mathematics could occupy the same space, or something like that.  I almost turned to Irplatkitskal in shock, but training and good breeding held and I kept a stone face.  Swanomins looked as if he had eaten rotten fruit.  Our professors just smiled. 


During a break, after Swanomins threatened to give everyone who had organized this farce a long-term acquaintance with a pit full of silkablumar [21], Professor Fancandon explained.  Vobrownot was an extremely eccentric genius who had no home, no possessions and who traveled from university to university living on the generosity of his hosts.  Because he had nothing to distract him, he had been able to advance mathematics beyond normal comprehension.  However, every few years, he got tired of theory and concerned that he was being targeted for death.  He would then turn his talents to weapons development for whomever he was with at the time, in exchange for protection and a substantial fee, which went into some Scalantran financial maze.  We were lucky enough to be the hosts of his latest descent into paranoia. 


"Well, Kaltlakast," interrupted Irplatkitskal, "what did you see?"  I replied that I saw a madman who was more likely to kill himself and us with him than the Arions.  Fancandon, however, got the last word:  "If we let him go, and he goes to the Arions . . . ."  We returned to the conference room. 


Dr. Vobrownot eventually got to his point.  He had conceived of something that sounded like vibrating an anti-matter mass at a frequency that would rupture all high-level organic chemical bonds, even those in the body of a Supremis.  Fancandon noted that the containment calculations were too complex to be solved, at which point Vobrownot smirked, "not if you use Vobrownot operators." 

"What are they?" asked Fancandon. 

"I don't know yet, but I'm going to deduce them next week," replied Vobrownot. [22]

At this point Professor Oblobmow spoke for the first time.  "But at that level of energy, even if the weapon were used in space, you would disintegrate every organic being on the planet as well." 

To which Vobrownot riposted, "The collateral consequences of such a scientific achievement are trivial.  Consider the purity of the science and the elegance of my algorithms.  Only a fool or a thief would think otherwise.  And you are not a fool, so . . . ."


Before he finished the thought, Swanomins interrupted and assured the doctor that we were merely overwhelmed by his genius, and promised him full funding.  He then ushered us out the door while the Scalantrans started figuring out a cost-plus contract. 


In the hallway, Swanomins grabbed Irplatkitskal's elbow fur and snapped, "Find some way to distract that lunatic for a few months.  Find out his sexual preferences, if you have to, and satisfy them.  But in Ambre's name, never tell me what they are."  I hurried to the elevators before Irplatkitskal could turn to me.  After that session, the Ambre worshippers at the palace were refreshingly rational.  Or maybe this war is warping everyone's judgment.


17 Supremis 3462


Professors Fancandon and Oblobmow have been assigned to Section Three as Dr. Vobrownot's keepers.  They claim to be overjoyed.  Word has also gone out to the Fremnatle streets about some very strange evening companions for him.  Decency precludes a description.


26 Supremis 3462


Sochajon, our mathematician, has been hanging around Chuvadam to keep an eye on Shara'Lynn.  She has been extraordinarily passive, merely purchasing books and magazines and occasionally strolling through the neighborhood and "practicing her Por'kip."  Dlavadrig, the newsvendor, has even given her some magazines for free-the first time for that old skinflint.  According to children who have knocked on her door, she spends hours indoors alone, apparently talking to herself in front of a stack of iridescent cubes. [23] 


She hasn't registered with the ration bureau, and is hardly buying anything on the black market, as near as Sochajon can tell.  On the other hand, both Ambre and JaimeLee skip meals for several days at a time, with no apparent effect.  Maybe Shara'Lynn's cubes are some sort of food source, brought from their home world, and maybe the talking in front of the cubes is some sort of prayer or food ritual.  Perhaps that's what the other two are doing in their chambers when they spend hours there and come out full of energy.[24]


9 Daxxanis 3462


A troubled sleep again last night.  I don't remember much, except a vision of a golden-haired human calling to me and my running toward her but never reaching her.  I woke up very hard. 

I made it to the Palace early so I would be sure to see Ambre and JaimeLee.  As always, Ambre looked like the spirit of beauty from some world beyond our full comprehension, but not something that calls to one.


JaimeLee was younger, less self-contained, and bare as could be. I felt my body responding instantly to that skin, those eyes, that skin!  She may not call to my spirit, but oh, was my body listening!




11 Daxxanis 3462


Today was rations and registration day.  About 3 o'clock I found that the paperwork was done and I'd picked up and put away my little packages of food for the next 15 days.  I found myself wandering out of the house and toward Chuvapalam Road. 


The streets were less crowded, and most of the Rakip on them seemed older, like grandparents, or young, like grandchildren.  Also, on line at the registration bureau a couple of women had stared at me with curled lips and steely eyes, and none of my men friends were in line.  Clearly, the conscription boards and the work detail overseers have been busy.  I decided to buy a paper at Dlavadrig's in the square, but the kiosk was shuttered and a note, "Closed for the war," was stuck on the door. 


Well, if no males were going to be around, I was going to be obvious anyway and I continued up Chuvapalam.  She wasn't there, or she was occupied with cubes inside, and I suddenly felt foolish.  I plodded up to the nature reserve and tried swinging on a limb or two, but it was so useless I stopped after a moment.  Back to reality I went.


Randerarz had returned home also and had put his milk and eggs in the cool-box when I returned.  It still looks empty.  But he had news - he had been accepted into the pilots' program and would start training on simulators before the end of the month.  He'd still have to stay with me for a while, until he was shipped out to train on real air/spacecraft.  It seems that not many Rakip are thrilled by the idea of jumping into our used Tolani fighters and challenging Arion warships of Vendorian steel, but Randerarz, despite his age, has always had sharp reflexes and he now has plenty of motivation.  I'm sure he'll be a hero, so long as there are any Tolani fighters left for him to fly. 


25 Daxxanis 3462


The Kintzi are back.  A raiding party landed at Lunandan on our Southern Continent and torched Lunandan and a dozen villages nearby until word got back to Perthy.  I was in the throne room, listening to Her Holiness giving her morning lesson to the faithful (channels 1 through 4 today, a major address on growing toward humanity), when the flunky bowed and scraped his way in, bearing the message in a white envelope on a silver salver.  Her Holiness could not sink to reading a mere report, so it had to be droned out by none other than Swanomins, who interlarded every other sentence with platitudes about Her Invincibility and Justice and Right.  Even Blegdaral got bored.  After it was all over, She beckoned JaimeLee over from the corner in which the girl was standing, clad only in a halter and shorts, but shielded from our view until then.  His Eminence puffed up like a blowfish while the rest of us worried what would give out first - his self-control or his artery walls.  None of us could be sure - we were too busy restraining our own instincts.  Fortunately, Ambre quickly whispered in Her Helper's ear, and JaimeLee soared out a fortunately open window before we could react.  The noon news was almost entirely given over to the reports that she had killed all the cats, pictures of the ravaged towns, a few brief views of Kintzi corpses, and tributes to our Protectors.  I noticed that there were no Rakip bodies or wounded shown.  Randerarz, who was visiting me in hopes of a free Palace lunch, had the answer:  "The Kintzi eat us.  No one who sees their work will ever be the same again."  I skipped lunch.  So did he. 


No sooner had Randerarz shambled out of the corridor than Pegartha came to pay a call.  I was startled for a moment as she entered - I thought I saw a spirit from the grave.  I almost went down on my knees.  She was wearing the snow-white linen robes of an acolyte, which I see all the time.  But she actually had shaved her arms, neck and face down to gray skin, and bleached her mane to what she must have hoped was yellow but ended up a faded gray. 


I forced a chuckle.  "Peg, you've really improved your disguises."

"It's Pegartha, Kaltlakast," she replied in a soft but steely voice.  "And I'm not in need of any gold pieces now.  I am bathed in the Light of Ambre." 


She was playing the part well, so I went along. "So you're still in Fremnatle, bringing the rest of us into the light?"

"I'm happy to see you here serving Her Holiness, and happier to see that you are part of the new Light, Kaltlakast," she intoned in that soft voice. 


Did she think my office was bugged?  Could she be right?  "I am a loyal Rakip," I said, "grateful to our Protectors and willing to fight for our planet."

"But you do believe, don't you, Kaltlakast?"  She must have been trying to warn me of something, but I didn't catch it at the time. 


"Peg, it's hard to focus on theology in the middle of a war for survival.  I serve Ambre to save our people.  I leave the believing to those who need it." 

"So you still believe in nothing except getting what you want, and getting by for the rest," she said quietly, almost sorrowfully.  "You are still an ape at heart, a less-than-human.  :You probably still go out with the boys and hoot and pound your chests when you've had too much brashletta." 


"No, Pegartha, I got past that a long time ago.  Now when I drink, I just remember the old times with you and the rest." 


"The old times.  They were good, Kaltlakast, when you could be what you wanted and do what you wanted and feel blood running through your veins each morning.  But now there's a war and Arions and noise and horror every day, and the old times and the old ways don't work.  We are fortunate now to have the humans to defend us and show us what to do.  What would we possibly do without them?"


"Be ourselves, perhaps," I murmured. 

"I don't have to be myself," she said, looking me in the eye.  "I'm going to be better.  All I have to do is follow the Holy Ambre.  But I've got to go, Kaltlakast.  I hope you find a better path.  I hope I will help you there." 


"Well, now that you're back on your feet, perhaps we should get together and pick up our friendship again."

"I'd like that.  You can always meet me at the Mission on Fremnatle Square."

"Only there?" I probed. 

"That's where I spend my time, now."  And just like that, she left.  So Peg, who never had a spiritual bone in her body, is now an acolyte of Ambre - or she is pulling a first-class con.    


27 Daxxanis 3462


The summer heat is starting to break and we are suddenly looking at an approaching autumn without much of a harvest.  Even we in the Palace are being asked to find ways to cut food and fuel consumption even further - JaimeLee may have to start using doors this winter. 


After almost two months, Shara'Lynn hasn't yet gone near the Palace or Ambre, as near as we can tell.  In fact, no word of her has even been heard in the Palace.  Irplatkitskal is peeved, as usual.  Last night, when I strolled over to Chuvadam to talk with Sochajon and see if he had any more news, Irp the irascible popped up and dragged me three blocks away before I could get a word in.  I got a 10-minute chewing out about security procedures, sticking to my tasks and professionalism.  In today's meeting he growled that Sochajon was mooning over the woman and hadn't developed a single thing.  He is now convinced that she is more than a deep cover operative and that her lack of contact with the Palace means she has something to do with the Arions. 


We don't need to moon over the mysterious Shara'Lynn.  JaimeLee has been more than impressive enough, and with plenty of uncovered body too.  This evening's news showed her destroying three more Arion space cruisers by flying straight through them (Vendorian steel!), and for the first time in months, Ambre herself was in the fray, knocking out a few small ships with one arm.  Hopes are high with two Protectors in the air.


28 Daxxanis 3462


It was about 19:30 that I finished my work at the Palace and prepared to leave.  In the hallway, none other than Visklaveltar waylaid me.  I was summoned to Her Holiness' private chambers.  We climbed the marble staircase to the top floor, where four male Rakip in snow-white tunics, with faces, arms and legs shaved, flanked 10-foot high white and silver doors.  After a moment's pause to look me over and frown at my hairiness, we were escorted into the center of her anteroom.

Her chambers were filled with white satin and silver filigree, as if we were in some sort of polar fantasy.  The coffered ceiling was almost 20 feet high, and at the far end of the room there was a small balcony, entirely covered with silver artwork, set into the wall about 12 feet high.  The railing had a gap in the center.


 The anteroom had thick, white carpeting, with silver statues of Ambre in different poses and interpretations filling niches in the walls. Chairs, sofas and small tables were carefully placed to create conversation areas.  It would have been luxurious except that the white and silver environment gave me the feeling that we were cold cuts inside a huge cool-box.


I didn't have much time to feel cold.  The doors to the balcony opened and Her Holiness, Ambre, appeared, wearing the bright  metallic uniform she often wore in combat. Her crystalline blue eyes seemed to look right through me, her injured arm behind her back. I stared back as she slowly drew the index finger of her good hand down the front of her uniform, the polished silver garment obediently opening at the touch of her fingernail to reveal the even more scandalous outfit she wore beneath.


That small, white triangular garment fit teasingly across the bottom of her long torso, not even extending up to her navel, and a tiny wrap around her teats. [25]  She made JamieLee in her most lascivious outfit look like an ingnue.  She stepped gracefully across the balcony, through the railing's gap and glided down as if on an invisible ramp to meet us.  Her golden hair and skin were the only colored items in the room, and our eyes were riveted on Her approach.  Of course, mine would have been had we been sitting in a jungle garden.  I bowed and scraped as She raised her left arm in greeting, the right still being injured.


As She touched the carpet so gently that it did not seem to dent, She addressed Visklaveltar:  "You were prompt, young one.  But remember that the Light blinds those who do not respect it.  Now, show me how a serving woman should enter her Goddess's presence."  Visklaveltar, without a word, kneeled and kissed the floor.  "Better," Her Holiness chided, "but now leave us and return to your chamber to study My Book.  Do not delay - I can see you wherever you are."  Visklaveltar bowed, took six steps backward, bowed again, and backed out of the anteroom. 


"Have I too lacked respect for Our Goddess?" I asked. 

"Kaltlakast," she replied, "you do not lack the respect I demand from Rakip of your clan rank.  You are in far greater danger - you do not believe."  And for the next 10 minutes She merely spoke to me, reminding me of the peril of the Arions, the clear inadequacy of our science and culture and the bright future that humanizing us would bring.  


At the end, She sighed for a moment and brought Her sparkling blue Eyes directly in front of mine.  "I think we need a more effective incentive for you," She intoned.  "Gaze upon your Goddess, Kaltlakast.  See Her Perfection."  She started stroking the parts of Her Body with those long, bare Hands, golden Pointers, soft and yet possessed of unthinkable power, as She named Them, bare skin glistening with its golden hue in the lights.


"See My Arms, strong enough to move mountains, soft and bare, waiting to lift you to Me.  See My Breasts, warm and full, each holding the energy of a small sun, waiting to warm you.  See My Belly, taut and firm, holding My innermost secrets, waiting to be filled by you.  See My Thighs, steely and tensed, ready to spring, waiting to fly you."  Golden hands stroking bare, bare flesh, rounded and curved as we never saw ourselves.  I was rising, rising, as Her Hands now rose to the narrow white band covering Her Sex and began to peel it downwards.  "Come to Me, Kaltlakast, bathe yourself in My Light," She intoned.


I couldn't move, I could hardly think, and I felt as if I was about to incinerate myself with frustration.  And then I smelled it - a thin scent of wildflowers and honey, drifting into my nostrils, displacing every thought in my mind.  Ambre's Face expanded to become my universe.  Golden Hair and Her golden Face filled my eyes.  My arms rose of their own accord to touch My Goddess, to surrender my will, to rise toward the human . . . .


And then the air raid sirens screamed, and Visklaveltar ran into the room shouting, "The Kintzi, My Lady, the Kintzi are landing on Geava!"  Three military aides simultaneously ran into the room, and then into each other, shouting at the top of their lungs that they had no idea of the attack and begging Her Holiness' pardon.  With a look of impatience Ambre motioned to me to leave and streaked into what must have been Her dressing room.   Hardly a moment later we heard the triple sonic boom of Her departure. 


I stood there, my jaw slack, my will depleted, until Visklaveltar gently took my right arm and said, "Let's get out of here."

I stammered, "Wh-why."

"She's not likely to find any Kintzi out there, and She'll be back soon, in a bad mood."

"Bad mood?" 

"Later, Kaltlakast," Visklaveltar murmured, as she dragged me out through the portals and down a back stairway.  With all the hustling, I didn't get my wits back until we were sitting on an almost empty tram, headed for Sochajon's apartment. 


Visklaveltar had triggered the alarm, to get me out of Ambre's clutches.   She refused to explain, saying only that she had orders.  After I gave up trying to find out, she went on: "We're blown, Kaltlakast.  Both of us are going to hide out for a couple of days until Ambre moves on to other things.  The Inquisitors are probably going to be at your apartment and mine as soon as She returns."

Fortunately, we arrived at Sochajon's in time for me to call Randerarz and have him bring my things and this journal over here.   Visklaveltar had the study, and I had the laundry alcove to sleep in  -- except sleep is out of the question.


Next Chapter


(Remainder of excerpt unreadable due to damage to memory core. SLB)




[1] Known to Terrans as Eta Andromeda Seven.  [SLB]


[2] And I've gone on to translate it to English.  [SLB]


[3] Section Three of the Chancellery was the planetary counter-intelligence unit, primarily tasked with research and countermeasures against the Arions.  It was only about six months old and had approximately 100 active personnel.  Irplakitskal was the deputy director for special operations.  [SLB].


[4] Local weights and measures have been converted to Terran units for this English translation.  [SLB].


[5] The director of Section Three, and a member of the planetary council. [SLB].


[6] A large, bat-like mammal legendary for its ill temper and lack of sociability.  [JAH]. [JAH are the initials of the archivist/interpreter at the Scribes' Archives:  They're fanatics about maintaining the authenticity of their records:  SLB]


[7] Kaltlakast omitted much detail not relating to our relationship in the manuscript he gave me.  These deletions are his.  [SLB].


[8]   This, of course, was my arrival. [SLB].


[9]   'Aishbal. [SLB]  A napalm-like substance, but much more viscous and difficult to extinguish. [JAH].


[10]   A biennial clan reunion with major religious significance.  [JAH].


[11]   The local alcoholic drink of choice, made from fermented berries.  [SLB]


[12]   A large southern island, about 1,500 km from Perthy.  [SLB].


[13] By this time, Perthy residents were on strict rations, when they could even get food.  Arion action, diversion of resources to the military and general disruption had reduced nutrition levels to 60% of normal.  Amazingly, the constant hunger had little effect on the gentle and sharing natures of the locals.  [SLB}


[14]   A card game using palm leaves, characterized by multiple bets, bluffing and sequential play.  Rakipians frequently bet and lost huge sums on a single draw.  [JAH]


[15]   Yet another "ape" behavior that Ambre had prohibited.  Rakipians traditionally scratched the doorpost of another's house with their hand-claws before entering.  [SLB]


[16]  A Rakipian of the upper clans faced strong family and cultural pressure to marry up.  Families typically negotiated three or four potential alliances with suitable mates and the child was expected to choose among them. [JAH]


[17]  The principal language of Rakip. [JAH]


[18]   The Rakipian nightingale.  [SLB]


[19]  A multi-colored bird with extremely long feathers, considered to be beautiful but vain and stupid. [JAH]  Think of a Terran peacock or bird of paradise with the mind of a domesticated turkey - a complete birdbrain. [SLB]


[20]   Roughly equivalent to the pleasantries you get walking into the office of your Terran ex-spouse's divorce lawyer.  [SLB]


[21]   Poisonous leeches that burrowed through the fur into the skin.  [JAH]  Without law degrees. [SLB]


[22]   In fact, his discovery and development of what are now called Vobrownot matrix analysands occurred during the next six weeks.  [JAH]


[23]   Datacubes.  As a new Scribe, I didn't realize how much my neighbors would find out about me and tattle to the authorities.  Another reason that I post my chronicles - I hide better in plain sight.  [SLB]


[24]  Kaltlakast wasn't as stupid as he sounds here.  Rakipians were well acquainted with all types of sexuality, but they tended to put their entire energy into it.  The idea that intercourse was energizing was contrary to their experience.  [SLB]


[25]   A bikini!  I never saw Ambre in one.  Pity.  [SLB]



Part II


Excerpts from Kaltlakast's Personal Journal

29 Daxxanis 3462  0730


After setting down my pen last night, I stumbled into Sochajon's tiny study, to see if Visklaveltar was awake.  I just plopped down on the floor, cross-legged, and moaned, "What now?  I've managed to become the enemy of the Arions and of my own side, and I haven't done one warlike thing."


She paused for a few moments, and then replied, "Neither have most of us.  We Rakip think and feel too much to be great warriors.  But that is why we must survive, because the galaxy has too many of the other kind."

I couldn't reply - those words were so Rakipian, so gentle, so knowing - and so irrelevant.  I was about to break the silence when she knelt down to the floor beside me, and placed a hand on my shoulder.  "The worst thing one can do now is to be alone, Kaltlakast.  If we don't share our burdens and our dreams they will suffocate us."

"I don't want to be alone now, Visklaveltar.  But I can't just talk.  From moment to moment I want to fight, or to run, or to make mad passionate love, or something.  But wasting my time sitting here, talking and waiting to be caught just doesn't make it."


"You, a man of action?  This is new."

"Do you have any idea of the passion Ambre can create at the snap of a finger?  How helpless she can make a male feel?  How empty one feels when he is torn from her?  And how useless I feel now, cowering and waiting for the Inquisitors to snuff out my life?


"Don't shout," she murmured.  "You will find your time.  But this is our time now."


My nostrils flared for a moment.  "You are not in heat tonight," I replied.[1]   Her eyes locked onto mine, though, and we both embraced in velka.


[Dearest Shara'Lynn, you may not know of our practice of yelakasta.  With our females only able to receive men one week of four, but we males always ready, our society would have exploded.  Our greatest leader, Tied-Nazulpat-Dyela, He-Who-Leads-To-Reason, conceived yelakasta, the practice of satisfying together without intercourse.  Now, of course, it is of historical interest only.  Velka was one of our traditional opening positions.  I will try to describe it for you.]


Her folds were now against my root as we embraced and began the ritual.  Slowly, slowly I breathed from my belly and Visklaveltar gently, rhythmically matched her breathing to mine.  Our hands moved behind our ears, stroking in unison, matching our breathing rhythm, probing fur, meeting skin.  In tandem, first I, then she, advanced our hands downward, caressing necks, cupping nipples, teasing our bellies.  I began to grow, feeling myself throb in harmony with our rhythm.  Soon I felt her belly pulsing, not quite in tune with me, but closer, closer.  Our breathing accelerated, my veins ran hot, her hands radiating even more heat into me.  Our secret parts swelled and burned.  It was time to rise.


I tensed for a moment, almost losing our precious rhythm, and locked my eyes onto hers.  This was the moment - and she fixed me with her own gaze.  We would rise together.  Now our bodies would link even closer as our caresses became more urgent, more knowing, closer to our center.  I drew her face to mine and our lips merged.  Our tongues gently met, swirling together, then falling into the driving beat of our breathing.  For a moment, our touches stopped, we wrapped our arms gently around us, and focused on our heartbeats.  Yes, yes, they were merging.  Two Rakip were about to become one mind.


Now we were one body, our heartbeats, breathing and senses synchronized.  I drew my face away from hers for a moment, my eyes still locked on hers, and then we soared into the world of sensation.  I felt her body everywhere on mine, and I was sensing everything she did.  Just as Tied had promised, our senses were so linked that what she perceived transmitted through her body and eyes into mine, and I did the same for her.  I felt my hard throbbing between us and yet my belly pulsed with her urgent need.


This feeling of calm only lasted a few seconds.  Then the powerful surges of lust hit us both, our arms contracted, our tongues reunited, our bodies remained glued to each other, as we rolled and screamed out our pleasure.  My hands flew to her nipples and hers to mine, and we gripped ourself in pain transforming to pleasure.  I threw my hips into hers and she received them, only to throw herself back at me just as hard.  My center was milked between us and her center contracted and pulsed in unison.  We snarled, bit necks, pulled and threw ourselves at each other without limit.  As we approached our peak, even our claws, those primitive relics, appeared and raked through our fur.  At last, the final surge hit, white flame consumed our mind, and we both climaxed.


As the climax ebbed, our unity broke.  We were not granted the ultimate yelakasta, multiple peaks.  But this was enough.  Each of us gasped, no longer in unison, we trembled, we sighed.  I grabbed for a towel and roughly cleaned our fur, provoking a cry from Visklaveltar as I brushed her sore parts.  There was no need for words.  With a sigh, she released me and we settled on the floor to sleep.



30 Daxxanis 3462  0130


As it happens, neither I nor Randerarz had to hurry last night.  Although there weren't any Kintzi on Geava, a shuttle craft was hovering not too far away over Blorneol with defective cloaking shields.  Her Holiness had an easy victory and no suspicion attached to us - the Inquisitors had no reason to look into this one.  So instead of hiding with Sochajon and enduring yet another empty belly, I strolled into the Chancellery, picked up a quick biscuit and went down into the hole to see Irplatkitskal yet again.  I hoped it would be a quick meeting so I could make it to the Palace for lunch.


Wrong.  The meeting started nicely enough, and he was fascinated by my description of my aborted seduction/conversion.  When I got to Visklaveltar's alarm, and asked him straight out who had ordered her to get me out, he growled, "You were getting in over your head again, Kaltlakast.  Lucky I dragged you out before that witch turned you.  Maybe one of these days you'll learn to watch your rear."


"I'll be more careful," I said, "who'd think our Goddess would be an occupational hazard?"

Irplatkitskal grinned.  I should have run the moment I saw his face light up.  "Don't worry about Her Holy Hypnosis, you're out of the Palace.  Report to Annumbberis at the Institute for Humanity.  You're now the Managing Director for Research."

"The Institute," I sputtered.  "That collection of senile hacks and crabby clerks?  What could I possibly do there?"

"As little as possible - your real job's in Chuvadam.  Congratulations, you're now the second-shift civil defense warden, 1500 to 2300."


I almost choked.  "Stars in heaven, what about my life!"  When am I ever going to have one?  And - my - you - they  . . . ."  I was speechless.  That manipulative bastard knew that all the wardens had been certified as unfit for any military duty.  I was 30, in good health.  Every one in Chuvadam - hell, Perthy - would treat me as pleblalk.[2]  I might as well march into an Arion siege cannon's path.  Was that what he wanted me to do?


Before I could begin a string of curses, Irplatkitskal went on in his most patronizing voice:  "You should be able to handle the Institute.  And anyone who's fit and lucky enough to be in Perthy in a non-job should do something else to defend us.  You have three weeks to find out what that Shara'Lynn character is doing here - without getting mindwiped by her.  If you don't, you'll really have regrets."


Well, I pleaded, I reasoned, I begged.  I even volunteered for Vobrownot duty.  But it seems that Sochajon, having washed out in Irp's eyes, was being consigned to the subbasement to play nanny for the unspeakable Dr. Vobrownot.  All I got out of him was a concession that I could go over to the Palace occasionally to check in with Visklaveltar and the rest.  As usual, Irplatkitskal threw me out of his office, with the warning, "And remember what I said about watching your rear."  That's right, and watch out for your boss, in particular.


When I got to the Palace, I was informed at the guard post that my pass had been revoked and that the contents of my office were being sent to the Institute.  No more lunches.  I just went home, but when I got there, a package was on the front steps - my civil defense warden's uniform and a note ordering me to report to the civil defense offices at 1500.  Now I'm starting to think that Irplatkitskal is the alien in hiding.  No Rakip could be this efficient.


Civil defense is run by two or three aged males out of the Rescue Service [3] who try very hard but are overwhelmed and about 50 older females who don't seem like they can be fazed by anything, but who aren't going to hurry either.  I was lucky enough to fall into one of their hands.  She briefed me in short order and gave me great advice:  "All the young ones try to stoke peoples' enthusiasm and get them motivated, and it all works for a few weeks.  And then everyone loses steam and it all falls off to nothing.  It's a long war.  Take your first couple of weeks to talk to everyone, find out who really has influence and who is just tagging along, and prepare, prepare, prepare.  When the crisis comes, they will follow you, and you will be delivering more than pep talks."


And that also gave me the way to approach my target, without having everybody wondering why I wasn't organizing scrap drives or morale rallies.  I suspect Irplatkitskal had set it up just so.


As the saying goes, there's no way to start except by starting, so after a quick snack, I was off to Chuvadam.  The evening was warm and I introduced myself to several dozen people as I headed up Chuvapalam Road.  They were mostly talking about the Helper.  Jamie'Lee was still fighting and destroying Arion space cruisers in sort of a running one-female war, and there had been another TV documentary on it last night.  She might be the most immoral female they'd seen, but with two Protectors on the job, people were feeling more confident of survival than they had for a long time. 


Near the nature reserve, I saw the golden woman standing quietly, looking at the red-purple sunset over Malandab Ridge.  She wore light leathers on her body, legs and arms, but the shapes of her body were still obvious.  It was as if she were covered and unclothed at the same time.  She was standing next to a fundar tree and the inevitable was about to happen.  I ran forward to warn her, and just then the zubast leaped from the tree, ready to dive-bomb her.  Fortunately, she turned toward me and the pest missed.  However, just at that moment an earth-car driven by a teenager lurched by and through a mud hole, splashing us both.  I reached into my official sidebag for a cloth.  It turned out to be a towel, which I handed to her.  She chuckled and said in a lilting Por'kip, "Lucky for me there was a hitchhiker nearby.  Why is that bird circling us?"


"I'm no hitchhiker, and that's no bird.  It's the planet's most obnoxious mammal, not counting a couple of my colleagues."

"I didn't think the civil defense wardens were so intense," she replied, dabbing at her clothing.

"This is my first day, and all I've seen are a couple of old dragons at headquarters.  I was talking about my real - er, last job."   And we went on from there.  It was amazing how easily we talked.  She was young, but very self-confident, and eager to meet "the natives."  After a few minutes, though, we started to draw some onlookers and it was time for business.  I shook my finger at her and warned her of the approaching curfew and the lack of blackout curtains on her windows.  Shara'Lynn (she had yet to tell me her name, and I had to keep restraining myself from using it) just gave me a small, hardly noticeable smile, not the tooth-baring grimace we so often see from humans.  Then she said she hoped to see me again soon, and entered her cottage. Soon!.


To keep up my cover, I spoke with the onlookers for a few minutes and chided them about blackout curtains.  Not too many people were using them, it seems.  By the time I got back home, on the next to last tram, it was 0015, and I'm due for work at 0900.  This had better not be a long-term project.



2 Terranis 3462.


Randerarz gets up earlier than I do now, and hurries to be the first Rakip at the flight simulators daily.  He has a mission.  So do I - Shara'Lynn.  I bolted from the Institute of Humanity at noon for an impromptu visit to her when I found myself reading a proposal from someone who clearly has spent too much quality time thinking about Ambre.  In honor of our Goddess, we should drop everything and build a gigantic spacecraft to carry selected Rakip to Velor, where they will plead to be transformed into humanoids.  He wants 400,000 marks to begin studies.


That might last him a couple of weeks.  Despite the rationing of just about everything now, prices are starting to soar.  If you want fresh fruit, you pay under the table, and the price has almost doubled in 10 days.  It's bad enough that most of our factories and services are now staffed by the old, the lame and the injured, but you can hardly find anyone in during the mornings - they are all racing to the shops with ration stamps to get something before the shops run out.  Of course, at the Institute, there's almost no loss if Rakip don't show up, but it make us look even more like a privileged bunch of hacks.


On the Chuvadam tram, everyone was passing on rumors that an Arion battle fleet was moving on the planet.  Some thought it was a desperation move, some thought it was a ruse, some thought it was headed for Perthy.  One optimistic fellow was arguing with another as to how many ships our Protectors would destroy.  However, since nobody knew how many were coming and from where, it was pretty pointless.


I got to Chuvapalam Road by 1345 and walked straight up to her house.  Firm knock, no scratching, and the next moment I heard a muffled shout:  "Just a minute, Kaltlakast, I'll be right with you."  Now how could she know that without tachyon vision?  Algonquina, indeed.


"I thought you didn't start patrolling until 1500," she said as she opened the door.


Got me.  "Special assignment," I sallied.  "We're checking up on the alien population.  Is there anything in particular that you would need in an emergency?  Special food, medicals, immune problems?"


"No," she said, "I should be able to take care of myself.  We were trained to handle ourselves in difficult situations."


Well, time to get something for Irplatkitskal.  "But you are so young to be in the middle of a war zone.  Isn't there anyone here for us to contact or to help you?"


"I'm very used to going it alone, Kaltlakast.  You'd be surprised how self-sufficient I can be."


"Even that is a concern.  Being alone in conditions of great stress leads to sadness and anger.  Surely there is someone for you to contact."


"That doesn't sound like your special assignment to me," Shara'Lynn frowned.  "My life here is my business, so long as I don't interfere with yours."  She turned to grasp the door handle.


Fine, I was blowing Espionage 101 again.  At that moment it came to me:  I could do things Irplatkitskal's way, or mine.  I blurted out, "That would be a terrible waste.  I would like to be that friend for you, while you are on Rakip."


She halted.  "Why?  Why should a man deep in a war for survival care about my happiness - when I'm not even of your species?"


"Because if I spend every thought on the mud and blood down here, I will lose sight of the future.  You are different, a sign of what we may join after this war.  I am only a man of the here and now.  But I can offer you some understanding of our ways and some insight into the burdens you bear.  It's a fair trade."


"You are a poet and a romantic in a steel helmet, Kaltlakast," she smiled.  Come in, let's talk for a bit."  She waved me into her front room, sparsely furnished with a small table, a few wooden chairs, and surprisingly, four dugbalmaten [4] on the walls.  They were mismatched, but still reassuring.  She pulled off the light cotton cloak that covered her upper body, revealing those golden arms and thin, graceful neck, so unlike ours.  But like a Rakip, the arms had round, firm muscles, showing so clearly through the bare skin.  That skin - it captured my eyes, I hardly realized she was speaking to me.


She was asking me about the war and how we felt about fighting the Arions.  I mumbled something in reply.  I was still gazing at her, resting across from me on a small wooden chair, leaning forward to listen, yet seeming utterly relaxed, as if she were putting no weight on the chair.


"Kaltlakast," she chided.  "If you don't wake up I'll have to put my cloak back on."  I decided I had to look at something besides skin and focused on her eyes.  Trapped again.  What a marvelous blue, deeper than the sky yet sparking from within.  How different from the warm golden brown or occasional lush green of our own.


"And tell me about Ambre," she urged.  "What is it like to have her as your goddess?"


"It's a mixture of awe and sadness," I replied.  "Aside from defending us from the Arions, she is showing us possibilities we had never imagined:  space flight, genetics, medicine, physics.  I just don't know what we will have to leave behind."


"And what about Jaime'Lee?  Are you offended by her?"


"Jaime'Lee, the Helper, is like an earth-moving machine without a driver.  She just pushes ahead, stronger than any of us, and leaves our beliefs, our modesty in the dust."


We talked along those lines for a few more minutes.  How different this one is.  She listens, she smiles when I explain something, she seems to believe we are worth something on our own.  There is a current of youthful verve and curiosity in her that is missing in both Ambre and Jamie'Lee, who are so sure of themselves.


I left with a smile on my face and a feeling of hope and excitement, even if I had no idea what I was getting into or how Irplatkitskal would react.


For once I got back home by 2330 and may have a few extra moments of sleep.


3 Terranis 3462


It's 0600 and I am awake, back in my room and writing this by candlelight.  About 0100 a bright, dead-white flash of light from the southeast awoke us [5].  In my sleepy daze, all I could understand was that something very wrong must have happened.  I stumbled toward the light switch, turned it on, and a moment later my lights and every other light in Swanbella went out.  Maybe it was only the electric plant, I mumbled.  About five minutes later, there was a rumble like a hundred thunderstorms from the southeast, and a few moments later, it was if the air itself had become solid and decided to strike me with one sharp blow.  I stumbled and hit the floor.  Fortunately, my candle was extinguished.  I crawled to the door and down the stairs to our basement shelter.  The emergency radio is working - it seems we experienced a nuclear blast at long range - light first, then sound, then shockwave.  Initial reports are that Banaly, that lovely town on the shore, has been wiped out.  It's only 60 miles from here to what must be total devastation.  Too much to do now.


7 Terranis 3462


This evening I finally returned home and had a few minutes to catch up.  Electric power returned yesterday, but on a rotating basis.  The smell of rotting food and unpumped sewage fills Perthy.  But at least we now have televisor programs part of the day.


We were called to our civil defense posts a few hours after the attack and we've hardly had rest since.  Besides calming down the population, allowing emergency violations of the 24 hour curfew that was clamped on Perthy, and inventorying supplies, we spent most of our time surveying every house and hovel, every garage and shed, to see how many refugees they could hold.  By midmorning on the 4th they were straggling in - a few in earth-cars (the electromagnetic effects of the blast fried most electrical devices), a few in animal-drawn carts or carts pulled by the few who could do so, and many, many limping in, dragging in, even crawling in to Perthy.  We gave up soon on triage.  Almost every one had horrible thermal burns, radiation scarring, or broken limbs from the shock wave.  Thousands were deafened or blinded.  Most could hardly breathe or drink from the effects of the scorching gases caused by the blast or radiation poisoning.  Children separated from or deprived of their parents howled, mothers weeped or screamed, fathers looked on dumbly or turned their heads to cry.  Almost no food, hardly any clean water, no medical supplies for all these victims.  Arions!


We waved refugees into lines of staggering Rakip, pointed them to houses, or storefronts, or garages, or whatever, escorted them into their hosts' quarters, and begged the residents of Perthy to care for their brothers and sisters.  They did so with hardly a complaint or hesitation.  Old grandmothers bandaged grisly wounds with their own cloths, children ran to the river and back for water, women divided their meager rations into eighths and then went hungry themselves.


The worst was having to leave Rakip to take care of all these things while we went to organize "ambulances" - really hearses - to take the dying and the dead away before they overwhelmed us all.  The best was finding Rakip who volunteered as porters to bring food in before we all starved.


What was inexplicable was that during these five days we never even saw Shara'Lynn, not even through a window, and she never appeared to offer the slightest help or even sympathy.6[6]  In a way, though, this benefitted her.  With three rooms and an underground storage area, Shara'Lynn's cottage should have had at least five families assigned to it.  With her gone, but with her things in the cottage when I broke in the door to survey it, I had the wit to pull out my radiation detector.  When I thumbed the controls just right, it would shriek.  I declared her cottage a radiation zone, put up a few placards, and everybody stayed out.


I came home to find seven families and Randerarz encamped in my apartment.  While cleaning up and arranging things for my new guests, I watched a televisor documentary about the Arions' nuclear attack on Banaly.  Jaime'Lee was shown, right after the blast, flying from ground zero and pursuing the Arion scoutship that had launched the bomb.  Her golden body was glowing white from the heat of the nuclear bomb, but somehow she appeared to be unharmed. Even Am'bre was shown chasing the Arions again, but at the price of a broken leg that made Her flight, even in a propaganda documentary, slow and erratic.  How can that be?  As for Banaly, we were shown dozens of pictures of a huge, gray glass lined crater where the city had been.  An entire city turned to slag, with 10,000 or more Rakip dead and perhaps 60,000 severely injured and unmoveable.  Thank heaven and Ambre that the weather is still warm and dry.


15 Terranis 3462


Another week of 14-hour days in Chuvadam, cleaning up, housing survivors, burying the dead.  But there's no relief when I return home.  I'm sharing my bedroom with Chelamar and Chelthamlen, father and son survivors of Banaly.  Chelamar is clearly dying from radiation. Although he only had minor scratches from flying glass, he can't even keep gruel down, his eyes are sunken and his balls are an odd red color.  Chelthamlen has a broken leg, broken ribs and a scorched back.  He too has radiation poisoning.  Apparently he shielded his father from the physical effects of the bomb but could not save him from the radiation.  I've offered them the bed and I'm sleeping on the floor.  With six other families in the apartment, there's little opportunity to sleep, let alone write.  Their stories are similar and their fates are likely to be the same.  Perhaps one or two of the teenagers will survive.


Today was ration day, and they were reduced again.  We are expected to stretch rations for two families to feed eight.  Transportation is breaking down, and civil defense is supposed to encourage as many Rakip as possible to leave Perthy and try to harvest what's left in the fields before winter.  With Kintzi out there and Arions on the wing, few want to leave Perthy, even with the hunger.


Randerarz was commissioned three days ago and vanished from the apartment, leaving only a one line note behind.  Forty fighters were shot down today, but Ambre and Jaime'Lynn destroyed 64 Arion ships and the Arion fleet withdrew beyond our star system.


In all this, the Third Section still functions, and Irplatkitskal has been showing up unexpectedly to chide me about not reporting on our hidden Velorian.  He didn't press me too hard.  He originally wanted me to requisition her cottage and move myself and a few other agents in to allow 24-hour surveillance when she returns.  I pointed out that she would probably just leave and hole up somewhere with her cubes.  I had to put the word around that her house is really a secret communications site, the radiation had come from a top secret source and that she was a decoy.  Even a child reading that in a picture book would doubt that story.  Fortunately, everyone is too exhausted to make an issue of it.


19 Terranis 3462


Back to the Institute for Humanity today.  Somehow, during the two worst weeks of this war, my colleagues managed to keep on writing memoranda on things as critical as the possible common origins of Rakip and humans, alternative methods of hair dyeing, and budget allocations for introducing something called potatoes as a new staple food.  But I think I found a way to sidetrack the most annoying author, an unemployed sociology professor.  I said I would happily fund a full scale investigation - outside Perthy.  I suggested Blorneol for a start, as soon as the Kintzi leave.


Visklaveltar called me from the Palace and invited me over for lunch - lunch!  I couldn't tell if I was more anxious to see her or the cafeteria.  I keep forgetting how attractive a Rakip she is.  Anyway, the current gossip is that Jaime'Lee is now showing off skin almost constantly and is beginning to eye some of the male acolytes.  It occurred to me that this would be the perfect job for Blegdaral, if we could get him out of the workout rooms.  Visklaveltar seemed a bit different - a bit more aggressive, a bit more sexual than before.  She seemed disappointed when I told her about my evening civil defense duties in Chuvadam, and even went so far as to ask me how my surveillance of the mystery Velorian woman was going.  I resorted to the old standby - an enigmatic shrug.  She seemed peeved.


By 1500 I was back in Chuvadam with a little free time to look around.  Naturally, I found myself at Shara'Lynn's cottage, and knocked on the front door.  I'm getting good at not scratching.


"Kaltlakast, there you are," she exclaimed.  "Why is my house posted as a radiation zone?  Everybody was looking at me today as if I were some kind of ghost."


"I'm not surprised," I replied.  "We haven't seen you around here in two weeks, ever since the attack on Banaly."


"With all the chaos that was going on, I thought I should just get out of all of your ways and let you get things done.  And now I see my door kicked in, muddy footprints all around, and signs talking about restricted areas and gamma radiation.  There's nothing like that here."


"Yes, we missed you.  We missed your presence, the possible helping hand you might have lent us, the extra space in your home here that might have sheltered refugees from the rain and wind.  The footprints are mine.  I broke in to inventory the house."


"You broke into my house?" she cried.  "You snooped through my drawers?  What kind of friend are you?  Who says you have the right to take care of me or my things?  And then you decide to do me a favor by saying I'm some sort of radioactive alien?"  Her blue eyes began to sparkle, as if she intended to burn my fur off with her glare.


"You're right," I snapped back.  "I should have just had your things thrown in the cellar or out of the mud, moved our injured and sick in here like we did in everyone else's house, and let you find your own place to stay whenever you gathered your courage and came back - if you ever did."


"Don't do me any favors, Kaltlakast.  And don't make assumptions about someone you hardly know.  Just get out."


"Fine.  You just sit here in this clean, empty house, all by yourself, and play your little game, whatever it is.  We'll manage without you."  And I turned and left.  She slammed the door behind me and I heard a crunching sound.  I didn't look back.


20 Terranis 3462


The Arion fleet is still out of system and Her Holiness, Ambre, has decided that it's time to declare a victory and lift our spirits.  Next Embleday, the 28th, is to be a day of rest, rejoicing and thanks to humanity, and Ambre herself will hold a huge reception at the palace.  If the electricity is still working and the Arions don't interfere, it will be broadcast planetwide.


At our meeting this morning, Irplatkitskal had a new hypothesis - Shara'Lynn must be an agent of a competing or rogue faction of Velorians who were working against Ambre's faction.  "We have to bring her out into the open," he growled.

"She doesn't have a hostile bone in her body," Sochajon replied.  "If she is an agent, it must be for a group of pacifists."


That only set Irplatkitskal off on a tirade, but I saw my chance.  "Let's bring them together and see what happens," I ventured.  "Why don't I take her to the Palace celebration? We can observe how she and the other Velorians react to each other."  So now I have an invitation to the inner circle festivities - with food, I'm sure.  Now all I have to do is persuade Shara'Lynn that I didn't mean anything I said yesterday.  Peg, where are you when I need you?


I spent much of the afternoon trying out different lines with which to approach Shara'Lynn.  I just couldn't get myself to walk down Chuvapalam Road, though.  I have the nagging feeling that I have thrown away an opportunity to change my life, and I won't go back there until I know that I have a chance to get it back.  Or maybe I should just look up Visklaveltar for an evening.


21 Terranis 3462


I probably wouldn't have walked down Chuvapalam Road for at least a day or two more.  Sochajon changed all that early this afternoon when he grabbed my arm in Chuvadam Square.


"Irplatkitskal's getting worried about you," he uttered in a low voice.  It seemed that as always Irplatkitskal had a hidden plan. Sochajon would invite Shara'Lynn to the Palace celebration.  Since Sochajon owed me a favor (and probably because the thought of getting close to a Velorian paralyzed him with awe), he tipped me off.


I could have just let Sochajon go on, but I found myself pacing down Chuvapalam again.  Maybe it was pride, maybe it was fear of being sent to the front, maybe it was curiosity, and just maybe it was the idea that I could have more than a friendship with this Velorian if I tried, but I couldn't let her go.  I certainly couldn't let Sochajon take her.


There was a large vertical crack in the wall by one doorpost and the post itself had some splinters poking outward. Something violent must have happened. [7]  She answered her door with the hint of an embarrassed smile.  "Kaltlakast, I didn't expect you."  I looked down a trifle, past the golden strands of hair, into those blue, blue eyes, and lost my nerve.


"Sh-Sh-Shara'Lynn.  How n-n-nice to see you,"  I stammered.  My eyes had fallen away from hers and I was now looking directly at the doorsill.  "I hope you-you didn't take what I said yesterday too-too-too seriously.  I'm sure-sure you ha-ha-had good reason-sons for what you said."


"It's all right, Kaltlakast," she murmured.  "I'm surprised you and the other Rakip haven't become irritated with me long before."


"No, no," I responded.  "I was insulting to a guest.  I must apologize."  And we went on like that for a few moments.  I then looked briefly up at her face, saw an expression of concern, and decided to go for it.


"I have been in-invited to the Palace on Embleday for the grand cel-cel-cel - party.  I was thinking that, perhaps, maybe, if you aren't too angry at me, you might . . . ."  And then words failed me.  I kept looking at the ground while my mind raced for any way to pick up this thread before I completely failed.  Then I felt her hand on my shoulder.


"Kaltlakast, were you going to ask me as your guest?" she said softly.  I raised my head, finally, and whispered, "If, if you could for-forgive me . . . . "


"Maybe you're the one who needs a friend," she lilted at me.  "I'll come with you.  Just don't think that this means anything else."


I looked at her face now, and broke into a smile.  "That's more than I hoped for."  We chatted for a few more minutes about dress and timing and whatever, and then I made an excuse about security duties and withdrew before I made any more mistakes.  The remaining hours in Chuvadam were a mixture of relief, exultation, worry and planning.  I felt as if I were back in the academy at 16, asking out Malpagurla on our first date. 


26 Terranis 3462


Shara'Lynn ran into me in Chuvadam Square this afternoon and wanted to know what to wear for the celebration.  Because His Serene Eminence will be in peril of a stroke because of Jaime'Lee (Visklaveltar says she is primed to show off), I suggested Mulvaniell in Swanbella.  Because the store's right next to Cousin Kaltribelger's offices, it's still intact.


Sochajon passed on the latest news from the Chancellery sub-basement, where Dr. Vobrownot has made some sort of mathematical breakthrough.  It seems the good doctor had been concentrating so hard on his work that he dressed with his undergarments over his outergarments.  Even in the bathroom, he didn't notice, and Fancandon and Oblobmow are too in awe of him to interrupt him.  Apparently one of his bed-playmates finally put him right - four days later.



29 Terranis 3462 0300


Some broadcasting commentator had been predicting that with all the destruction and sorrow, yesterday was going to be a restrained holiday.  By 0800 I was seeing Rakip swinging from the lampposts and hearing them singing in the parks.  There wasn't a lot of food around, but somehow everybody had home-made brashletta.  By noon the entire city was one inebriated mob - but it was a happy mob, singing, dancing spontaneously in the squares, kissing women but not molesting them, swinging children high overhead.


I spent most of the afternoon at Kaltribelgar's, visiting with family.  Aunt Kalventaba pulled me aside for a while.   It seems that Visklaveltar was expecting me to invite her to the family party, or at least Ambre's celebration.  When I didn't, the old biddies' network went into alert.  Kalventaba was pretty direct about it.  "In normal times, of course, it would be a bit of a misalliance.  Her clan doesn't quite have our heritage.  But with this war, all of us are lowering our standards a bit.  My stars, they even show that Helper with her skin hanging out on the televisor.  Disrespectful.  And Kaltlakast, Visklaveltar is such a darling girl - friendly, modest, even if she is a bit clever.  Not like that Pegartha woman."  And on, and on.  Of course, when Kalventaba finds out who I actually took to the Palace . . . .


I eventually detached myself from my relatives, stopped by home to freshen up, and strolled over to Chuvadam after sunset.  Shara'Lynn had enveloped herself in a pure white fur gown that even my great-grandmother would find modest.  Her golden hair was obscured, except for the strands bracketing her face.  We took the long way around the lake, and I babbled about the trees and the plants and whatnot.  Shara'Lynn seemed calm and interested, as if we were old friends.  We arrived at the Palace just late enough to be inconspicuous.


The event began with a series of brief speeches by the great and the good, praising our Protector and Helper, celebrating our indomitable resistance and expressing windy hopes for the future.  I listened at the buffet table.  Shara'Lynn nibbled on some fruit but, like Ambre, didn't seem to need food.


While this was going on, a number of my friends and colleagues made it a point to stroll by.  Some openly stared.  Fortunately, the music began and Shara'Lynn gave my arms an enthusiastic tug toward the floor.


The few Scalantrans and other humanoids I've seen before were slow and clumsy on the dance floor, so I started out with a simple box step and a few spins.  About a minute into this, she spun toward me on her own, gave me a gentle hug, and asked why we weren't dancing like the rest of the crowd.  When I explained, she stepped back, placed her hands on her hips, and said "Try me."  I grasped her forearms, and began the intertwining steps of a guetta.  She stumbled along for only one cycle, then aped my steps, and suddenly we were in harmony, pulsing and gliding together.  Not only was she a fast learner, but she was lighter on her feet than any woman I'd seen.  It was as if we were dancers in a film, with everything aligning perfectly.


It was clear Velorians had the bodies to dance and to enjoy it, although neither Ambre nor Jamie'Lee ever had been seen dancing.  Tonight, Ambre presided from a silver throne on an elevated dais at the end of the ballroom, with dignitaries attending her throughout the night.  Swanomins made sure he was in every photo he could.


With all the dancing, I was developing a thirst, and the Chamberlain's office was working just as efficiently as when I was there - the brashletta was excellent.  By midnight, the ball was wearing down and I had to resort to the W.C.  When I returned, Shara'Lynn was not on the dance floor and I went searching.  As I saw a familiar white robe on an outdoor balcony, I saw another familiar figure.  Jamie'Lee stood to the side, not quite dressed in a gray wrap on her shoulders, a tiny copper-colored cloth covering what should be her sex, and showing enough skin to inspire the entire teenage male population of Perthy to constant self-stimulation.  Thank the stars she was not inside.  As I approached, I heard Jaime utter a few words that would send Irplatkitskal into endless speculations:  "But damn, girlfriend, it is good to see you again." 


Shara'Lynn seemed to be hanging on every word, almost ready, it seemed, to embrace Jaime'Lee and run away with her.  My ape blood rose in my veins.  Here was this junior Protector, this arrogant girl who acted as if we were mud beneath her feet, luring my friend - my date - as if I weren't here.  Without realizing it, I growled softly.  Both of them turned at the sound and I looked from one to the other.  Jaime'Lee had a more symmetrical face, more spectacular hair, and a more voluptuous body, but these two women were clearly from a single origin - Velor.  And I was not ready to give one of them up to the other. 


My voice shook as my brashletta courage pushed me with closed fists toward Jaime'Lee.  "You are not dressed to be among us," I rumbled.  Both Shara'Lynn and the Protector reacted:  Shara'Lynn stepped in front of me and Jamie'Lee showed unexpected diplomatic talents by apologizing and yet reminding me that she was protecting us.  I noticed, though, that she took the opportunity to give Shara'Lynn an arm hug around the waist.  My eyes wouldn't leave her bare arm or her golden body. 


Shara'Lynn broke the spell by giving me her own hug and introducing me to Jaime'Lee as her friend and date.  Jaime'Lee must have known me from the Palace, but she held her tongue and instead extended her hand to me.  I grasped it as I had seen Ambre do many times, and then bowed and kissed her hand in our fashion.  To my shock, she then wrapped her arms around my neck, bare.  I almost trembled again, and then decided to make the most of it, giving her a full hug as I would my wife.  As she was shorter than we Rakip, this lifted her off the floor as her scent entered my nostrils.  I let go.  Another second and I'd be very obvious. 


Jaime'Lee then confirmed her new diplomatic skills by embracing Shara'Lynn in the same way - with a lot more passion.  It was becoming clear that Velorian women were very much like our own and probably also preferred their own sex when not in heat.  A moment later, Jaime'Lee made an excuse about some Arions in the north and shot into the sky.  I waved farewell and placed my arm on my date's shoulders.  Shara'Lynn turned to follow her flight, watching her track long after she had faded from my sight.  I felt her legs surge and her body begin to grow light.  It was time for me now to break a spell. 


"You like her. She must be your friend," I said.  Shara'Lynn was still looking up into the black sky, and responded, "We went to school together. I've known her since primary school."


Finally, an admission.  I could stop pretending.  I could find out what really attracted me to this alien woman.  But I couldn't find it in myself to be harsh.  I merely nodded and responded, "I thought as much.  You are Velorian as she is. But why do you hide among us and not fight for our planet's survival?"


She shuddered for a moment.  She was too young, too young for this.  And here I was playing secret agent again.  Enough.  All I wanted to do was recapture the joy of this evening.  I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and hugged her without restraint, as if she were Rakip.  She squirmed gently and cooed for a second.  The war and Jamie'Lee and all the rest left our minds for a moment.


We had little to say after that.  We took our leave, began the walk back - no reason to fear anyone with a Velorian on my arm - and got to the lake.  It must have been the proximity of the park and its wild foliage, but suddenly my mind returned to Jaime'Lee and that golden skin.  I couldn't help myself, as I stopped by a streetlamp.  I had only seen her neck and arms in Chuvadam.  I had to know if she shared the rest of Jaime'Lee's golden body under all those skins.


She demurred, calling herself ordinary.  But she also went on, "Jaime's a Protector. I'm just a lowly Scribe."


Whatever that was.  I should have asked, but I just went on in a fog of lust:  "You are also as mighty as her. Your fur is just as golden. Are you also hairless except for your mane? "


Shara'Lynn either had decided to humor me or had concluded I was very drunk.  All she did in response to as shoching a challenge as I had made was to punch me gently in the shoulder and make a tart reply:


"That is a very improper question to ask a girl. Am I hairless. Indeed! If your mother heard you ask that she'd . . . ."


I flushed a little, either from the brashletta or the encounter, and went for broke "You are very beautiful, Shara'Lynn Best. Someday, I'd like to see if you really are as unattractive beneath those skins as you claim you are."


She grasped my arm, called me a flatterer, and began walking. As we arrived at her cottage, she smiled at me and reminded me that this was a first date.  More significant, she reminded me that she preferred women as partners.   She didn't know herself as well as she thought, and I ended  "You can't lie to a Rakip, Shara'Lynn. I know better."  She waved goodbye and I returned to my crowded apartment.





[1]   Rakipian females, unlike their Velorian [and Terran! SLB] analogues, had estrus periods.  The female was only able to receive the male during an eight-day period every 32 days.  The remaining time, Rakipians relied on yelakasta, but the level of female arousal was normally low.  [JAH] Which made most Rakipian females bi- three weeks of the month and hetero for the other.  [SLB]


[2]    Genetically impaired.  Rakipians placed extreme value on good breeding, both figuratively and literally.  Not having advanced genetic technology, their culture prohibited mating with any one having an obvious genetic defect in his or her family.  If a defect surfaced, the parents had to pay the in-laws' family a high penalty.  If Kaltlakast were seen as "pleblalk," he would become a sexual and social outcast.  [SLB]


[3]   A Red Cross-like organization.  Rakip had rarely had wars or clan conflicts and armed forces were minimal before the Arion attacks.  [SLB]


[4]   Ornamental quilts that often were cherished items of folk art, made by the women of a clan.  Each clan had its own patterns and protocols for hanging them.  [JAH]


[5]   It awoke me also.  [SLB]


[6]  As a new Scribe, I was bound by the Prime Directive and my oath not to involve myself in the war.  My inexperience, fear of the Institute and teenage squeamishness caused me to shut myself off from this horror and to fly out of Perthy in the initial confusion.  I returned a day later in disguise and stayed out of Chuvadam so as not to be spotted.  I saw everything that Kaltlakast describes, and worse.  I knew there were compelling reasons behind the Prime Directive and the Scribes' oath of non-involvement, and I didn't have the maturity to challenge them.  But, it was in those days that I began to realize that I could not live the life of a passive Scribe in the face of oppression and disaster.  [SLB]


[7] Slamming the door after Kaltlakast, of course.  He managed to get past soap and steel training.  [SLB]



Part III


30 Daxxanis 3462  0130


So many questions.  With no regard for the effects of brashletta, Irplatkitskal summoned us to his windowless, airless domain in the Chancellery at 0730 yesterday morning.  I'd seen Visklaveltar serving Ambre' at the grand ball, and noticed Blegdaral shadowing Swanomins, but I completely missed Sochajon disguised as a drinks waiter.  And two of Relamil's [1] admirers were our people.  (She did make it a point to be on the opposite side of the room from our Protectors at all times and to have the biggest entourage she could muster.) 


Irplatkitskal had not only had us tailed, but he had also kept a long-range microphone tuned on us for most of the evening.  Apparently the Scalantrans had brought other things to sell besides Dr. Vobrownot.  We thus began the equivalent of a graduate students' seminar (complete with lack of sleep and hangovers) in interpreting Shara'Lynn's indiscretions in Velorian and Rakip.  I now heard the entire exchange between Shara'Lynn and Jaime'Lee.  (Not to mention a fair amount of sarcasm about my own indiscretions.)  If our translators were correct, Shara'Lynn was some sort of failed Protector who had become an author (a "scribe?").  Her connection with Jaime'Lee was some sort of childhood friendship or competition.  As best we could hash out, Shara'Lynn was on Rakip to chronicle our life-and-death struggle in order to write some sort of Velorian best-seller or cinema script.   Or, as Irplatkitskal continued to believe, she was the deepest of deep cover agents for somebody else. 


Shara'Lynn's passivity and failure to join Jaime'Lee certainly tied to these hypotheses.  But if she was a hack writer looking for blood and thunder, why was she hiding out in a suburb and hardly ever asking about the war, let alone going to it?  (Sochajon mumbled something about "writer's block" under his breath, which gave our leader an opening for a 5 minute panegyric on the virtues of the punishment battalions)  If Irplatkitskal was right, why waste an obvious superhumanoid on a deep cover mission, and why use such an inexperienced agent for such a delicate task? 


I was sent back to the Institute and spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon ransacking the files on Velorians.  It only fired my anxiety and lust.  Last night I was dancing with a celestial being of strength, grace, symmetry and light.  My heart beat faster, my mind was sharper, my emotions were more intense, my reactions quicker.  I see her sunny hair and bright red lips, her golden skin dappled with tiny pores and infinite softness, the soft curves underneath the white furs, the tiny feet in darling shoes, and the world comes to a stop and recedes away. 


It was both a relief and torture when 1430 came around and I had to head to Chuvadam to play civil defense warden.  Relief that I was doing something to get closer to her and pain that I might not meet Shara'Lynn, or worse spoil the moment.  I crept up her walk, waving a radiation sensor in front of me, to keep up the restricted area pretense.  As it happened, the cottage was empty and no one on Chuvapalam Road had seen her. I felt as if my insides had become hollow.  I gave it all up for the day and went home.


After getting off the tram, I saw a long, cheerful line of Rakip outside Wallen's grocers.  A large sign on the sidewalk explained why:


The Goddess Ambre' has felt the deprivation of Her people for months and has sorrowed with them.  Now, thanks to Her glorious victories, She and her Helper are empowered to relieve their distress.  This morning, the fruit trucks stranded on the roads were lifted into the sky and brought to the markets, where, through Her kindness, we have been gifted with


Stars in heaven, they had BANANAS!  BANANAS![2]  Long, curved, golden BANANAS!  We haven't seen them, except a few over-ripe and rotten at the price of gold, in months.  And at the store's door, a table with the scent of those lovely fruit - two Acolytes of Ambre' were handing out free pieces of banana!  All they asked was that we thank the Goddess for her bounty.  All of us did.  And then I bought a bunch for the apartment.  I strolled home in a daze of happiness. 


When I got home, there was Randerarz back from the war on leave.  Although he's flown many missions, he has yet to even damage an Arion craft.  He regaled us all with a series of hilarious stories about a kerpok player at the base who always seemed to have the right leaf when he raised and about our temperamental Tolani fighter craft.  He swore his ship was Rakip-born, because she would only fly one week out of four.  I brought out my last few bottles of strong brashletta and we talked and sang and argued until 0100.  Fortunately, with only eight guests in the apartment, it was relatively easy to find a sleeping place for him.



30 Daxxanis 3264 


Randerarz pooled his rations with ours this morning and the ten of us in my apartment all enjoyed an civilized breakfast of bananas, cereal and milk.  When I left to go over to Chuvadam, the rest were still chatting away.  Randerarz broke off though, and caught me in the street.  His news was disturbing - the number of Arion reconnaissance patrols was increasing rapidly, he had in fact been given leave in anticipation of a major push soon, and the televisor and news reports of victory and hope may well be wishful thinking.  "Get your life in order soon," he said, as he turned to go back to the apartment.  It's likely he knows what's up, even if his pessimism may come from his inability to avenge his family.


I was also hoping that Shara'Lynn might have returned, but there was no sign of her near the cottage, and Irplatkitskal's newly assigned snoop was asleep under a tree.  As I turned to go back to the square, a grandmother temporarily housed next door waved me over.  After I mentally muted all the screeching about how ungrateful our guest was in having a house to herself and consorting with that awful Helper, I learned that Jaime'Lee had swooped down from the sky at dawn and had carried Shara'Lynn away. 


"What are you going to do about this?" she snapped.   Report to the police and try to have her found, I replied, which only made me the target.  Grandma and her family didn't want that vile Jaime'Lee around, or anything that drew her, or anything that even reminded them of her, and when was I going to move some Rakip into that lovely cottage?


After escaping, I approached a few of the other local busybodies (out at dawn and just happening to be glancing at the alien's house) who confirmed the story.  A telephone call to HQ quickly added the news that Jamie'Lee had arrived with a humanoid guest at the Palace about 15 minutes after dawn, using a secret tunnel entrance, and that everyone had been ordered out of her quarters.  Visklaveltar was trying to observe them. 


On the way to the Institute, I tried to enter the Palace grounds but was rebuffed, even when I flashed my ID and asked for Visklaveltar.  I even loitered around the gate for a half hour with the usual onlookers, hoping that something would change.  I eventually crossed the square to the Institute and sat down at my desk.  By noon I had made four more calls to the Palace and my colleagues and had heard nothing except a rumor that some sort of wrecking noises were coming from the grand courtyard.  Whatever was going on, it was clear that neither Shara'Lynn nor the Helper nor my colleagues had any interest in having me involved.


I was just warned that our dining room is once again out of any edible food but that the fishermen had some catches thanks to the relative peace we have had.  I think I'll take the tram to Fremnatle and try to have a seafood lunch.


31 Daxxanis 3264   


There was plenty of seafood by the docks in Fremnatle yesterday.  Unfortunately, there were also plenty of my civil defense colleagues with radiation detectors, embargoing the fish until they could determine which had not been contaminated by the Banaly nukes.  The atmosphere was getting a bit rank in the afternoon sun, but it didn't keep hundreds of Rakip from staring hungrily at the catch.  After a spare lunch on a side street, I telephoned yet again and was told that the floors of the Palace were shaking in time to the moans of Jaime'Lynn and her guest.  Visklaveltar had almost been brained by a falling bust of Ambre'.  For a moment I wondered how I could get the Arions to return and keep Jaime'Lee busy.  Shara'Lynn's face was still in my thoughts, but now surrounded by a red haze of jealousy.


With nothing urgent to do, I wandered around the port.  About 1600, near Fremnatle Square, I paused for a moment in the shade of a large, renovated building painted in white with silver decorations.  The Mission!  Pegartha's new gig!  I went in on the spot and asked for her. 


A young girl with shaved arms, neck and head, dressed in a flowing, white gown, escorted me up to a large, sunny office. While waiting at the door to be invited in, I saw Pegartha sitting at her desk, three-quarters turned away from me, looking out the window toward the distant Palace towers.  She turned slowly and gracefully to me at the door, and invited me in.   Peg had clearly been watching Ambre' closely.  In addition to the shaved arms and neck, the dyed mane, and the white robes I'd seen before, she now wore a small silver tiara and silver jewelry similar to Ambre's but smaller.  She rose from her seat to greet me, and, after some small talk, showed me around the Mission.  Everyone deferred to her as if she were some sort of mini-Ambre'.


Then, to my surprise, she invited me to dinner upstairs in her quarters.  A few minutes later, we were seated at her table, with two of the younger acolytes bringing us a small dish of fresh fruit and a casserole, which contained some white starchy lumps with a slight aftertaste that didn't quite taste like tubers.  These, explained Pegartha, were the potatoes that were such a staple of human diet.  In fact, she explained, these lumps were the food that had inspired great human writing, poetry and song from a particularly blessed Terran island called Fireland [3], because of the brilliance of its culture. Those Terrans must have been creating as an escape from thinking about their meals.  


Pegartha continued, explaining that the next step to humanity had to be eating like the original humans.  So we were confronted by the mechanics of a Terran meal, complete with skewers she called "chopsticks" and oddly shaped utensils called forks.  The spoons and knives, at least, were somewhat familiar and I didn't spill much as long as I stuck to them.  That took up most of the dinner conversation, and afterwards, the acolytes cleaned up and left. 


She led me to a long couch in her sitting room and sat down next to me.  "Kaltlakast," she murmured, "Let's put behind all the problems we've had.  I'm a different person now.  I walk in the Goddess's light.  I'm better than I was, and I want to make things up to you." 


"I'm glad you feel that way, Pegartha," I replied cautiously, "I've missed our friendship." 


"You don't have to be so careful, Kaltlakast.  This war is almost over.  After it's through and Ambre' finishes saving our planet from the Arions, we all will learn to become human."  She went on to explain that Jaime'Lee will go on to some other post and Ambre' will stay with us.  Ambre' has promised to use her genetic powers to begin enhancing Rakip into humans, as soon as they are worthy.  Pegartha was determined to be among the first.   


"When I prove to Ambre' that I can be as human in thought as she can be, she will transform me into an angel like her," intoned Pegartha.  "After all, humans like herself were once apes like us before they were brought into the enlightenment and grew beyond their fur. Humans are the ultimate expression of the Creator's will, and I will be human.  And when that happens, Kaltlakast, all the old rules that keep you and me apart won't matter.  We can do what we were meant to do." 


This all was far too much to comprehend, and I said so.  Pegartha interpreted that as curiosity on my part and gave me a long, impassioned discourse on genetic enhancement, human values, angels (apparently some sort of semi-divine being that flies), the new society, and Pegartha's hopes of becoming a high priestess of Ambre's religion. 


"And I can lead you, Kaltlakast, into the blessings of Ambre'," she concluded.  "We can be part of the leaders of her new, human society.  All you need to do is trust me, and our Goddess."  


There was a lot of truth in all of that.  We had learned only a few years ago of the many humanoid races dwelling in our galaxy, when the Scalantrans first came with their trading ships and news of the Arion advances.  Then the Arions began probing, and suddenly Ambre' appeared to defend us.  It was clear that we were not only technologically and biologically inferior, but also temperamentally ill-suited to exist in a universe of competitive, aggressive humans.  Ambre' and Pegartha were probably right, but I couldn't get myself to agree. 


After a few more minutes of her putting on the pressure and my temporizing, Pegartha stood up and theatrically threw off her white satin mantle.  "Kaltlakast," she chided, "I see you're not advanced enough to commit your soul to Ambre'.  Maybe you need a little encouragement."  She gracefully sat down on my lap and cradled my head in her hands.  "I've always wanted you, your strength, your intelligence, your self confidence.  You can appreciate a woman who wants to have her own life, her own successes, and who still is able to love and respect her man."  She was now stroking my face with those soft, strong hands, touching those sensitive places behind my ears, breathing gently on my lips, leaning forward to take a brief kiss.  "I'd love you without the money, and I'd sign every mark of it away if I knew I could have you."   I began to harden underneath her weight, and she sensed it, rolling her hips slightly.  Her scent now drifted into my nostrils.  She was in heat, and I was beginning to respond.


I gasped as I realized that this was one of those "moments that change your life," as they used to say in the cola commercials.  "Pegartha," I said, "This isn't the time.  You're a lovely, sexy woman and I admire you.  But I don't want to hurt you again.  I'm not ready to commit to anybody, even you.  Please understand."


She withdrew her hands and her back stiffened, as her eyes turned cold black and her lips curled into a snarl.  "Still not good enough for you, am I?  Well, you're still a stuck-up, rich twit who's too comfortable to realize the planet has changed around him.  You're still here in Perthy, and every time you foul up a job they give you a better one.  You couldn't hack the Palace job, so instead of fighting, you end up running the Humanity Institute.  And then you play around at civil defense and suck up to blonde humans that aren't really Velorian." 


"Pegartha, you don't know what I'm doing for the war.  I've been - "


"Playing spy for the Third Section, everybody knows that.  It's just a game for you.  Kaltlakast, it's time for you to commit to something that's more than a game.  That's what Ambre' really offers us, when this war is over.  A way to get past all these stifling clan rules and ancestry worship and conventionality.  A way for you to let that creativity out and to love, instead of holding back."  She began stroking the sides of my neck again, and her soft breath now brushed by my cheek. 


"Pegartha," I said again, but this time with a quaver in my voice.  "Stop, please." 


"What are you afraid of, Kaltlakast?  You've known me for years.  Why can't you accept me for what I am now, instead of trying to make me fit into our old lives?"


"Is that all, Pegartha?  Can I really become involved with you and not give myself up to Ambre'?"


"Of course.  You will accept Ambre' when you are ready.  No one is forced to accept her."  It sounded so right - but if Ambre' were so patient, why do we have the Inquisitors?  She went on:  "Just accept me, Kaltlakast, and I will be your angel."  Her delicate hands were now at my chest, stroking and pulling my fur, and I was getting very excited.  "Let me fly you to heaven, now."


It was that word, "fly," that ended her spell.  I had seen women fly, and they had real blonde manes and soft golden skin.  I had danced with such a golden woman only two nights before.  I looked again into Pegartha's brown eyes, and that bleached, gray fur, and knew that she was neither Rakip nor human, that she was only herself and for herself. I pushed her gently away, and her eyes widened in shock. 


"No, Pegartha.  This won't work.  Nothing really has changed with us.  I'm sorry."


"What do you mean, sorry?  Why do you always reject me?  Is it some male thing where unless you are hitting on me, I don't matter?


"Nothing like that.  It's just the situation, the vibrations.  Something just isn't right."


"Well, that's it.  You're not right.  You're just a weak sister, Kaltlakast.  You have no guts.  Well, we all know why you got the civil defense gig - you had to keep your deficiencies secret.  You're plebalk, Kaltlakast, and your family can no longer hide it.  I was willing to overlook it because I thought you could eventually learn Ambre's truth - but you're not even willing to try when I give you a chance on a silver platter.  Plebalk."


"You can't call me that," I roared.  "You of all people know better."


"That's what I let you think," she sneered back.  "You were always a weakling in bed, so nice and gentle.  You're plebalk, Kaltlakast, and now everybody thinks so."


I lost my temper and went back to my ancestors' ways, just as she must have expected.  "I'll show you plebalk," I growled.  "I'll show you a whole man, not the wimps you have in those white robes you all wear."  I seized Pegartha and forced my lips onto hers.  She resisted, turning her head back and forth, but not pulling back to scream.  As I hugged her as hard as I could with my left arm, I raised my right to the neckline of her robe and ripped it downward.  The fabric parted and fell to the white carpeted floor.  Her arms reached down to my center and pulled hard on me.  We broke the kiss, and with one last spark of self control I lifted my lips from hers and stared into those wide, brown eyes.  "You want this, don't you?  You want me to take you as the Rakip you really are." 


"Yes," she moaned, "prove it."  We stopped for a heartbeat, listening and gazing at each others' eyes, and then the fire surged through me and into her long, lean body, and we threw each other to the carpet. 


It was not a sensuous, romantic coupling.  We spent the first few minutes rolling around on the carpet, grasping at each other's robes with long arms and pulling and ripping them off.  Pegartha grabbed for my neck and forced my head to hers, nipping at my cheeks and earlobes, licking and sucking.  I found her teats and began mauling them.  They rose quickly into hard nubs, and as they did, I managed to lower my mouth to them and nipped them harder and harder.  Pegartha, not to be denied, went for my vestigial nipples as well, biting and pulling. 


The pain set us both off.  She was wet and her scent was strong, so I levered myself up and prepared to guide myself into her center.  She resisted, forcing her hips against mine to provoke me and then shifting them from side to side as I moved forward.  A roar rose in my throat and echoed through the room, as I sat back, shifted the squirming Pegartha with my right arm, and guided her to me as I aimed myself with my left.  As I came in contact with her slit, she howled, spread her legs, and I forced myself forward into her hot, wet, satiny passage.  The sensations were incredible, and as I rammed myself over and over into her, she screamed and began forcing herself back onto me in rhythm. 


For five hours we struggled with each other, bit each other, grabbed our torsos with all our strength and fucked.  At one point I even climbed to a chandelier with Peg in one arm and swung for several minutes while she was impaled on me, feeling her sliding down and back on my rod.  It was a classic Rakip coupling, ending only with our total exhaustion.  We ended up tangled together on her bed until late this morning. 


When we awoke, disheveled, sweaty, reeking of each other's secretions and sore, I looked at her.  I saw none of that, only a beautiful, satisfied woman with that ineffable relaxed smile that comes after a good coupling.  I stretched my arm out and began stroking the bleached hair on her head, rough and almost straw-like.  She awoke, smiled, and moaned.  I smiled back and, after some initial compliments, went on, "You know, it's funny.  You get religion for the first time in your life, and then you become a wild beast in bed.  I thought it was the other way around."


She smiled again.  "I didn't want to hold back this time.  Accepting Ambre' as my Goddess means I don't have to worry about all the things that got in the way with men - does he like it, is he taking advantage of me, is he going to lose it?"


Put that way, it made some sense.  If Ambre' could turn around a woman as determined and stubborn as Pegartha and improve her life, there might be something to all this.  And it was becoming clear that hardly any Rakip were openly resisting her call to set down our heritage and strive for humanity.  There would be little harm in my going along with them.  And for once Shara'Lynn was out of my thoughts.


After sharing the limited hot water for the Mission's showers, Pegartha and I went down stairs for a human-type breakfast (very similar to ours), holding hands and chatting briskly.  I left the Mission about 0900 in fine spirits, with a promise made to join her for breakfast again this week.


When I got home to change, there was an urgent note calling me to an address near the bank.  The building was deserted and damaged, but to my surprise, Kaltribelgar himself beckoned me into an office.  To my dismay, I found that the relative peace we were having was about to break our bank.  While the war was going on, many Rakip were willing to save their funds with us, given our reputation, and there were few things to spend money on, given the efficiency of rationing.  But now that the Arions are out of sight, everyone wants their money to rebuild with, and most of the bank's debtors are wiped out and can't pay.  To maintain confidence and keep the bank afloat, the entire family was being told to make large, obvious deposits today, preferably in gold.  The only solution was to get the council to make up the loan losses after the war ended - probably by printing marks.  The rendezvous in this burnt-out building was to keep the secret. 


Before this war and Ambre', it would have been a safe bet that the council would cover the war losses of our family's bank.  But now everything is changing.  The Goddess and her followers won't have a care for us, only our depositors.  And they will make the misfortune just one more reason to join the cult of Ambre'.


I told Kaltribelgar that I had almost no gold left, but some silver, and I ostentatiously showed up at the main office on the way to the Institute with a bag of silver and a few gold bits, letting everyone know I was putting my money in our bank.  It didn't seem to cause many people waiting in the long lines to change their minds, but every mark counts. 


By the time I got to the Institute I was frazzled and yawning.  Of course, that meant there was a priority message from Irplatkitskal to meet in his office for lunch right away. 


I was the last to stumble in and as a result got only half a minced seafood salad sandwich.  Ambre' only knew what fish or squirmy thing gave its life so that the mayonnaise would have that exotic flavor - or maybe the mayo was just rancid.  Sochajon was reporting on Dr. Vobrownot's latest pranks.  He is now attempting to recreate a Vendorian superweapon called a "Lysol-der-derd"[4] which disintegrates anything, including Arions, into pure energy and then makes the energy vanish.  Great weapon, but the current version also would vaporize the shooter and the gun on the first shot.  Oops.


Visklaveltar was chipper, despite the large number of scrapes and bandages on her fur and skin.  It seems Shara'Lynn and Jaime'Lee weren't in heat but decided to couple at full throttle.  The result was like a major earthquake centered in the Palace, which apparently is now listing about 10 degrees and has almost every floor and wall cracked.  Ambre' was clearly known to be out of town, so a cover story was being used.  An Arion straggler had penetrated the Palace, causing the titanic fight, and yelling his war cry throughout.  Yes, and if people believe that, Kaltribelgar should have no trouble getting more deposits. 


Blegdaral and Dagobertmal checked in, and then I came up.  Fortunately, Irplatkitskal's shadows hadn't found Shara'Lynn until late this morning, when she just popped up in her cottage, so there wasn't much I could add.  After the meeting Irplatkitskal held me back for a moment.  I was being taken off of civil defense duty immediately, for my own good and to allow me to continue courting Shara'Lynn.  He then grimaced for a moment, and then warned me about spending too much time in Fremnatle. 


Then, he insisted on giving me a hand-held particle weapon, as if I were some sort of gunslinger.  I exclaimed "Why?" at Irp. He growled back that things were likely to get hot in the next few days, and all of us were being issued weapons.  He then spat, "Take the rest of the day off - you need it.  Not many of our agents get to entertain half of Fremnatle with jungle sounds at night."


I plodded home, with thoughts battling for time in my head.  Randerarz, Kaltribelgar, Irplatkitskal - bad omens.  Shara'Lynn - what is she doing?  Is she committed to Jaime'Lee, or is there some way I can continue to see her?  The family.  And where am I going with Visklaveltar and Pegartha? 



1 Mateusin 3462  2030  Aboard Scalantran Trading Ship Eizelmana.


These will always be the worst 30 hours in my life.  But their story has to be recorded.


Yesterday afternoon I bolted early from the Institute and went to Chuvadam to hand over to a war veteran named Pleggrad.  It was a quick briefing for him, except when he asked about the top security installation with the Velorian inside.  I said a lot of nothing, whereupon he informed me that although he had been ordered to look the other way for now, if the war continued she'd have to go.  No surprise, the day before Irplatkitskal had mentioned the pressure on him to have Shara'Lynn moved.


The surprise was the return of that old crank Dlavadrig from the war, crowing about all the blood and destruction he'd seen. There was a small crowd around his newsstand, congratulating him and buying the special editions of magazines that had suddenly appeared, proclaiming victory and arguing about what the council should fund first.  I stayed quiet about his real assignment - assistant in a motor pool. 


I hung around for a few minutes catching up with the locals and taking some good-natured ribbing about having days off.  Then we heard a disturbance at the front of the stand, and I saw a glimpse of golden hair.  Shara'Lynn was back and was scandalizing the entire neighborhood.  Instead of her usual modest outfit of furs, she was wearing only a skin garment below her waist that covered none of her legs, and above it, a thin, skin-tight fabric that left all of her arms and neck naked.  I thought my heart had stopped.  Suddenly she was at the top of my thoughts and Pegartha was just a warm feeling, rapidly cooling like a cup of tea left out too long.


Two mothers were bending down, covering their sons' eyes and trying to bustle them out of the stand.  Several other women were cursing under their breath, and the men were alternating between stunned lust and ostentatious censure, depending on whom they were with.  She paid them and Dlavadrig no heed as she picked up a copy of practically everything with Ambre' on the cover (which was practically everything), threw a handful of large coins at Dlavadrig, and stalked out. 


I intercepted her outside the door and tried to help with the nearly four foot tall leaning tower of publications she held.  As inevitably as on a televisor comedy, the pile began toppling as I reached for them and most of them landed in my arms.  I now saw her firm, naked teats and sculpted upper body up close, and I focused on it for several seconds.  The fabric was marvelous, at that angle I could almost see through it.  This apparently offended her, and she spun on her heels and strode up Chuvapalam Road, with me tagging along behind, admiring her, under the gaze of dozens of Rakip.  I was completely hooked.  I would have followed her right into the maw of a volcano.  By the time I reached her cottage I was panting.  I just barged in with my pile of magazines. 


On the way up the little hill to the nature reserve, she had mentioned that Ambre' had summoned her to the Palace.  Unlike the hundreds of Rakip I had had to turn away from the Palace for even group audiences, she regarded Ambre' not as a Goddess but almost as some ancient, crochety grandmother who was inflicting herself on Shara'Lynn.  At the same time, she described the Goddess as a warrior who slaps behinds for a living.[5]  Trying to connect with Shara'Lynn, I began parroting Pegartha's arguments about the benefits Her Holiness was giving us. Yet instead of responding to my admiration of her kind, Shara'Lynn just became angrier and angrier.  Was she jealous because she had been relegated to being a writer?


Perhaps so, because she grabbed the pile of magazines, dumped them on the floor and began reading them for articles about Ambre'.  Reading was a poor word for what she was doing - flipping through them so fast they were a blur, and when she found an item of interest, glancing at the pages for an instant.  And she seemed to remember every word and even the page numbers.  After a few minutes, I volunteered to help and we passed the afternoon and early evening playing clipping service. 


For all of Shara'Lynn's insistence that Ambre' was not a goddess and that Rakip should not be induced to become more human, she shared Ambre's unspoken assumption that humans were better.  She found ordinary Rakip toe-tapping to be humorous, and for the rest of the evening she was trying to stifle her laughter every time she looked at me.  She even called me an "ape-man" (admittedly in a very endearing fashion) when I made a mild pass at her. 


Perhaps to make up for it, she showed off a little by somersaulting in mid-air, flying like Ambre'.  Whatever Pegartha thought, this was a Velorian.  I can't get the image out of my mind - her golden mane flipping in a circle, the long, golden arms tucked in, the longer, stronger golden legs also tucked but pulsing almost unnoticeably, as if they were some sort of idling engine.  It was amazingly erotic, the incarnation of those deep, unconscious fantasies of flying and sex.  Any remaining doubts I had about trying to earn her love vanished.  I was mesmerized. 


She settled down to sit on the floor, cross-legged, and I started asking questions like a little boy.  Are all Velorians so hairless? What do you think of me?  Am I cute? (For heaven's sake!)  Would you even consider coupling with me?  I must have been giddy.


The last question startled her or offended her so much that she lanced a warning beam of heat vision toward me and scorched my mane line in front.  At that point I would have allowed her to scorch me head to toe if only she would share herself.  She politely declined.  Well, the danger-spirit [6] was with me, and I persisted, even to the point of suggesting that she was afraid of her strength and was obsessed with Jaime'Lee's even greater strength.   That seemed to shock her enough to even consider my proposal. But instead of moving toward me, she lifted a cube of Vendorian steel by the door - only about 20 pounds.  And then, after warning me about her power, she made sure I'd never doubt it. 


She took that cube of Vendorian steel, placed it between her palms in front of her, and pushed.  She shook her mane in a casual way that almost made me jump her right then and there.  And suddenly, her body changed, muscles swelling, and the steel began a soft screech as it was stressed - six inches by 6 by 6, stressed only by her hands.  The arm muscles, flexed and flexed, expanded and expanded, and the sounds from the block intensified and rose to higher registers.  Then the chest and shoulder muscles swelled, and suddenly the thin fabric covering her torso began yielding, tearing as her body burst through it.  By now, I was convinced, but there was more.  As the noise shot higher, the entire top rent itself from neck to waist and her bare chest and part of those breasts, seemingly much larger now, were exposed.  I was witnessing miracles.


Now the steel started to glow and flow from the pressure and force, flowing past her fingers.  I could not even look at the hot metal, but she was unharmed.  I looked at her face instead.  I expected agony, determination, a struggle to show.  What I saw was the confidence of certain triumph and arousal as she gathered even more of her power.  The steel was so soft now she had to brace it against her upper chest to hold it, and now finally the last bit of crystalline structure yielded with yet another loud screech and the molten - molten! - steel dripped over her breasts.  What was left was a half-inch thick pancake.  Inconceivable.  According to one of Ambre's lessons, only Protectors were supposed to be able to do that..  I picked up the hot disk with a pair of leather gloves from my warden's kit.  It was the unmistakable color and texture of Vendorian steel, left over from the trader who had rented here before.  Even Shara'Lynn was surprised.


The steel coating her breasts was cold now, surprisingly soon, and she let me touch it.  I stroked gently, cupping the cold steel and trying to sense the warm skin underneath. It wasn't enough.  Before I realized, I had grasped the rough margins of the plate and pulled with most of my strength.  The steel popped off the points of her erect nipples.  I stared and let the plate clatter to the floor.  My hands instinctively rose to her naked breasts, but hers got there first.


That managed to penetrate my erotic haze and I began to return to civilization.  Not without, unfortunately, one more childish comment, complimenting her on her admirable strength but ending:  "I also think I am in *love* with your breasts."  She gently led me back into the clippings and we pretended nothing had happened, although she left herself uncovered.


We worked straight through.  Around midnight, I thought I heard a siren in the distance, but the lights were off in the cottage and we were still reading away.  Apparently Velorians have our night vision. Thus we were even more surprised than most Rakip when around 0100 this morning the white, blinding flash of the nuclear attack on Jeralladom met our wide open eyes.  The Arions were making sure we knew they were back.  Shara'Lynn leaped on top of me and threw me to the floor to protect me from the shock wave, which took a few minutes to arrive.  As a result, her body was directly on mine, as if we were about to couple.  However, with the fear of annihilation at hand, I did no more than lie there passively.  After the hot wind of the blast wave had passed, she again floated up the stairs to the sleeping room.  When I arrived, she was hovering near the north window, watching the continued glare from the disaster.  The disaster sirens were blaring, calling everyone to his post. 


I should have taken my leave and run to Pleggrad's quarters down the street.  But for some reason I stood there, gazing at Shara'Lynn.  As I did, the advance wave of the Arion fleet soared over Perthy, with scout ships equipped with loudspeakers blaring their propaganda that we would survive only if we surrendered and renounced Ambre'.' On and on they repeated their messages for 15 minutes until suddenly, there was a blessed silence. And then the rumble of our final destruction was heard in the distance.  Hundreds, probably thousands of dark-gray, hulking spacecraft flying low and slow in formation over the city.  They hadn't been defeated, they hadn't even regrouped - they just brought in the first team, and the second, and the third.  Shara'Lynn was staring through the ceiling, apparently scanning the invaders. 


At that moment, although I didn't realize it, I made my decision.  Neither noble resistance nor abject submission would save Rakip.  The Arions wanted it far more than we were able to resist, and our hopes rested on a crippled Protector now on the far side of the planet and one young Velorian girl - and where was Jaime'Lee?  I asked Shara'Lynn that question, but she seemed not to hear it.  Instead, she slowly turned her head from side to side and motioned to me to be quiet.  Minutes passed as her eyes sparkled and her forehead wrinkled in concentration.  Finally, I asked again, "Is Jaime'Lee out there?"  She turned to me and I saw her bite her lower lip.  Finally, she replied in a low, grieving voice, "With this size of a fleet, they probably sent in a few squads of Destroyers to occupy the Protectors."  She explained those were elite male soldiers trained to take on Velorians and keep them out of the fight, or even somehow to kill them.


Before I could ask the next, obvious question, she went on, her voice low and keening, "And there is nothing I can do.  If I participate in this battle, I violate my oath to only report what happens, and I will be executed.  And anyway, I have nowhere near the power or training to take on this many Arions. And if somehow I did, and saved her, then she would have a Kiraling obligation to me that would mortify her.  I never was told I would have this kind of pain, Kaltlakast.  My best friend, my lover, may be dying out there."  She began to sob gently.


I stepped forward and hugged her gently, like a father reassuring a small girl, and began cooing to her as my mother had when grief came to our family.  She sighed and sank into my arms, and we hugged tightly this time.  After a few minutes, when she had recovered, I asked, "But you are a Velorian as she is.  You cannot be hurt.  Why not try to find her, if she is in danger as you say?" 


"I'm not a coward, Kaltlakast."


"I didn't say you were.  What I sense is that you are very torn right now, and it is causing you grief.  There will be enough anguish tonight as it is.  Don't add to it."


"I was as strong, no, stronger, than Jamie'Lee only two years ago.  But she became a Protector and I was told I had to become a Scribe, a reporter of battles, not a warrior.  They showed us videos and simulations of Scribes going up against Arion Primes and Arion warships, and being maimed and killed.  Protectors came in just to tell us how entire cities had been destroyed because a Protector had tried to save a Scribe and been diverted.  There were jokes on the bathroom walls about how we were just not in the Protectors' league, that we were weaker.  And then, at the end, we were taken in, one by one, to the institute director to take our oaths of service.  She explained that we were swearing never to fight for a protected planet, not only to save our lives but also to save the lives of protectees and Protectors, and to give future Velorians the knowledge that only we could provide.  So there are all these good reasons for me to stay here with you.  But it doesn't keep me from loving Jaime'Lee, or hurting when I know she's in trouble."


"You have a good heart, Shara'.  You are also a woman of spirit and honor.  Come, let me hug you again, and maybe it will be easier to bear."  She did.


After a long time, I spoke, trying once again to make the case for surrender as our best hope, hoping that she would resist and thus make her sorrow more bearable.  She softly outlined a terrible future of slavery, exploitation and death.  At the end, hearing some determination in her voice, I decided I could now leave and do what I could for others.  But then another shock occurred.


"No, Kaltlakast.  I don't want to be alone tonight.  Stay with me."  She grasped my arms and pulled them around her bared waist. 


Resistance, helping my fellow Rakip, honor, love of the race, saving myself and my fortune all pulled on me to release her and head for the door.  Staying could only give me a few hours' pleasure and perhaps some small comfort for her, at the expense of all I held important and moral.  After a moment, I stayed.


We stood wrapped in each others' arms for a few minutes, then, without a word, I carried her over to her large bed and gently placed her under the coverlet.  I climbed in the other side, facing away from her, and awaited events.  In a moment, I felt her warm skin against my back and I began crooning softly again.  In moments, like my young nieces, she was asleep.  I wasn't sure I was going to get any rest, with my excited heartbeat and erect member, but the strong hold of her arms was so reassuring that I let go of my lustful thoughts for a moment, and I fell asleep too.  


It was not a peaceful sleep.  Images of dark whirlwinds, of ambulances filled with broken Rakip, of bursts of greenish light stripping flesh from bones and bark from trees filled my mind.  Then I felt myself soaring into the sky as a spirit torn from my body, searching for my mother and suckling at her breasts. Then spinning up into the clouds, and then down into a dark pit filled with smoke and fumes, with the sounds of moaning and climax all around me.  Horrible.


By 0600 the last Rakip sunrise I would see was shining in my eyes and awakened me.  The sounds of ambulance sirens, heavy trucks, and civil defense wardens' megaphones could be heard even up here by the nature preserve, and every few minutes the low rumble or roar of an Arion troop carrier or fighter heading for a landing point just east of the city.


Shara'Lynn stood by the window, set off against a royal blue sky, dressed in only a small blue halter for her teats and a matching blue brief around her pelvis.  They seemed smaller today, almost as if they were drained. 


"No trace of her, Kaltlakast.  Nothing on the radio, nothing in the sky, not a sound, not even a fake announcement from those dammed Arions.  I've been up all night.  She's not anywhere." 


"That would seem to be the best news of all.  If the Arions had her or Ambre', they surely would broadcast it, if only to demoralize us.  And if they are not attacking us Rakip, perhaps it's because they still fear our Protectors."


"Don't jive me, Kaltlakast.  If Jaime'Lee were all right, she'd be knocking holes in those Arion ships right now.  Something terrible is happening, damn it, and I'm stuck here."


Then her attention returned to the sky, but there was still no sign of Jaime'Lee.  The radio reported that Ambre' was engaging strong Arion forces in Verdanland, a hemisphere away.  That was the only good news.  Cities were being bombed from above, Arion ground troops were landing everywhere, and our armed forces were overwhelmed. 


A loud knocking and scratching came from the front door and I ran down to answer it.  It was Pleggrad with a demand:  evacuate the cottage immediately for use as a hospice.  "But you should know, Kaltlakast, that we won't have anything up here until about 0800.  That should give you and your friend an opportunity to clean up anything we shouldn't see.  By the way, Irplatkitskal wants to see you at 0900."  He handed me a small envelope.  I thanked him and bounded up the stairs to tell Shara'Lynn, who was already packing a few things in a shiny metal-fabric bag.  Of course, she was able to hear through walls too.  Her face was drawn and almost lifeless and she clearly was mourning for Jaime'Lee.  I stepped to her as she reached up to a shelf for some more of those cubes and embraced her.  Her breasts dug painfully into my chest, but I ignored it. 


"Do you really think that the Arions got Jaime'Lee?" I muttered.  "We need her so badly." 


"I don't know, Kaltlakast.  They shouldn't be able to hurt her, but if they got the drop on her, she may be a prisoner.  That's more than bad enough.  I just don't know and I can't find her, not without flying and making myself a target."  She leaned her head on my chest and I felt her hot tears.  I stroked her soft, golden hair with my palms and began crooning to her again.  She sobbed for a moment and then spoke.


"They didn't train me for having every distraught mother grabbing me begging for help, or seeing people stampede down a street and trample old women and children after an Arion fighter buzzes them.  No one told me that I'd have to fall in love with the girl I loved and hated at the same time in school, and then wait for her in fear that she will never return.  I'm 19, just 19."


We began talking about losing friends and leaving family behind, and I tried to understand what she was telling me about Velor and Protectors and Scribes.  It was more important anyway for me to let her talk and vent her tensions. 


"We have to leave soon," I reminded her.  "Where will you go? 


"If Jamie'Lee's still out of action, I'll use Ambre's invitation to get into the Palace.  There may be some records or information there that I should get.  And then, I'll probably sneak out with the Scalantrans, or try to avoid the Arions and fly to my wormhole to return to Velor or on to my next post.  Without her, I don't think there's much chance of a victory." 


"So this will be our goodbye, too."


"Probably.  I just wish I had known you when I arrived.  You've been the best of friends, even if it was only for a week or two."


"I've tried, dearest Shara'Lynn.  Trying to understand and support the people you encounter gives life most of its meaning.  It's been a humbling experience to be able to experience that with a Velorian like you, but worth it." 


"That's sweet, Kaltlakast.  You're like a warm fire on a cold, windy night.  You'll make a great father someday."  And then she tilted her head upwards, and my lips came down to meet hers.  At first, it was a warm, friendly kiss, the kind of thing two friends share.  But somehow my hands reached down to her ass, and I pulled her gently toward me.  Her eyes opened wide, and then her mouth, and then our tongues met.  No, I didn't feel some sort of electric shock, it was more like a surge of warmth radiating throughout our bodies.  And as that first surge passed, my senses reacted to an entirely new scent, a scent of honey and fieldflowers.  At first I thought we had spilled some perfume.  Then I realized that this must be the scent of a Velorian in heat, and then all rational thought left me.


With my senses all focused on that golden woman in front of me, I reeled for a moment and sank to my knees.  I extended my arms toward her, as if I were begging, and she stepped forward with her center only an inch or two from my face.  It took only a moment to pull down her lower garment and push my face into the source of that intoxicating scent.  I inhaled for a moment, and then began to kiss and lick the bare insides of her upper thighs, so soft, so velvety, and so full of scent.  I heard her moan softly, as if in the distance.  I continued down, away from that hot, moist center, determined that I was going to take in all of this remarkable young woman from the stars. I licked and sucked her smooth thighs, the sweat on the back of her knees (yes, a Velorian can be ticklish!), and the hard-as-Vendorian-steel cords of her calves.  She shivered when I did that!  Next the ankles, and a long, sensual nuzzling of each foot with my face.  I took a moment to look up, and saw her radiant, bare face now shining with a slight red flush, as if she was starting to glow from internal fires. 


Now, back up each leg, caressing it, licking more insistently as I approached the golden, curled fur around her core.  Her lean thighs shuddered as my tongue stroked them, and once again she moaned.  "More, Kaltlakast, more."  Now I slowly outlined her full, engorged outer folds with just the tip of my tongue, and was rewarded by a few clear drops of her dew, slightly salty but still bearing that honey-sweet scent.  After licking it all up, I again gazed upward toward those exotic, sparkling blue eyes.  She was gently biting her lower lip and slowly oscillating her head side to side. 


I lifted my hands to grasp her warm, round ass and kneaded slowly, insistently until she responded with a moan and dropped her hands to cup my head.  In a single motion, I rose from my knees, draping her over my right shoulder, and in a few strides brought her to the large bed.  I laid her down gently, reverently, and once again inhaled.  Now, in addition to the floral scents, my nose responded to a strong musk.  I leaned over the side of the bed and kissed her again, and she brought her hands again to my ears and pulled me to her hot lips and moist mouth.  Our tongues swirled around each other and she tasted her own excitement.  Now she pulled harder and I fell forward onto her outstretched body.  As I did so, I grasped her shoulders and we rolled together until she was on top, panting slightly.   Then she lifted herself for a moment, looking down on my aroused body and long, hard member, and she giggled.  "I can't believe we're doing this, Kaltlakast." 


I growled back a single word, "Yes," and grasped her shoulders again to draw her back to me.  Now she nuzzled my chest and nipped at my nipples, as I extended my long arms toward her hot center.  I began stroking the sides of her moist folds with my outstretched fingers, and she responded by pulsing her hips against mine.  Such a sensuous feeling to be rubbing against bare, soft skin rather than the coarse hair we have!   Emboldened by her response and the thick musk in the air, I extended my right hand just a little farther to stroke the short, hairless space between her opening and her rear hole.  She jerked in surprise for a second, and then turned her head to breath into my ear.  Now it was my turn to jerk as my root twitched and grew even harder.  It was only a moment later that her hot breath, though, turned into a cry of surprise as my hand found its goal, her rear hole.  I began rubbing the puckered rim, slowly.  It was clear Shara'Lynn had never experienced a gentle touch back there before, and she quivered, first in fear, then relaxing as she realized there were new sensations of pleasure to come. Now she moaned again and moved her head to my neck, breathing heavily and nuzzling.  My attention to her rear became stronger, and I began to move my thumb toward the center of that puckered ring, when she moaned, "No, Kalty, not in there."  I nonetheless pushed inwards, to begin the process of bringing her to a new height, but to no avail.  She chuckled softly, "Kalty, Kalty, no one gets into a Vel unless she wants them there."  Her hand gently, but firmly, pulled mine away.


We were in peril of losing the moment, and I could not sacrifice my chance of pleasure with this golden goddess from the stars.  I turned to her teats, and sucked the left one into my mouth with all my strength.  She let my hand go and raised her arms to hug me.  "More, lover, more," she moaned.  That set me off.  I bit down as hard as I could and rolled the hard flesh around my mouth as she began raking my back with her fingers.  In a frenzy, I shifted to the other breast, repeating, and we began rolling together on the bed, moving our bodies, pressing against each other as if we were about to merge.  Moments later, she reached down to my hard member and directed me toward her hot, velvety slit.  I resisted for a moment, rubbing myself up and down her almost bare mound, exciting myself even more, and then I slowly, lovingly pushed my throbbing hardness into her moist center.  The sensation was unique.  Where a Rakip woman, even at the height of her heat, is somewhat rough and folded, Shara'Lynn's interior was unimaginably soft and smooth.  And yet, at the same time, there was the unmistakable hint of enormous strength and power, coiled, almost ready to explode.  A titanic challenge. 


I hardly had time to appreciate all this, as her hips began to rock and, even more amazing, her sweet walls began to pulse and draw me inward.  Had I not been so hard, it would have been painful, but now it was only erotic.  That loosed the final bonds of civilization in me and I began to pound into her, slowly but with all the force I could muster.  She responded eagerly, pushing back on each outtake with twice the force, though that was only a fraction of her sexual power. 


We tossed, we turned, we pounded, we grasped at each other's body and snarled.  It was glorious, a complete surrender to passion, a call to drive every atom of our bodies together.  Soon she began to rise to her passion and I thanked our maker that my body was able, even in this ultimate coupling, to resist a quick ending.  As she rose, she began muttering in Velorian, and her cries rose in volume as her body's surges became more immediate.  Somehow, though, as she crested for the first time, she managed not to crush me, and as she descended that first slope, I was able to collect myself a little. 


After we had caught our breath, and with the room heavy with the scent of our musks, she bit my earlobe, not gently, and growled at me "You're coming with me this time, aren't you?"  Now it was my turn to chuckle. 


"What makes you think you can take me anywhere, darling Shara'Lynn?"  "This," she said, once again rippling her wet sheath against my straining hardness, and then she completely shocked me with an entirely new motion, almost as if she were rotating me inside her.  It was exquisite, and I surrendered with a loud growl as she took us back towards heaven.


Once again I snaked my long arms toward her rear hole and resumed the massaging that had shocked this visitor from the stars and shown her that we Rakip too have secrets worth sharing.  Soon she was bucking and moaning a second time as I continued my stroking of the hidden sensual triggers of her body, and we began rising together again in passion.  This time, however, she was less inhibited, less conscious of my presence, and she became rougher.  Her hips began to pound up against mine again, but this time each contact not only bounced me upward but actually hurt. Several times she almost knocked the breath from me, and I am sure that at least once she actually floated upwards from the bed, bearing me on top of her convulsing body.  I grabbed her in a tight hug and she returned it ten-fold.  I ached, I could not breathe, and I began to see black around the corners of my eyes.  I began pummeling her back with my fists in desperation, but Shara'Lynn only bucked more strongly as she came closer to her climax.  In desperation, I actually nipped at her nose, and in her surprise she relaxed just enough to let me breathe again.  But now her inner walls began gripping me again, this time completely in tune with her own rhythms, and much stronger.  In desperation I rammed forward as hard as I could, and got a moment's relief from that awful pressure.  Shara'Lynn, though, was only inflamed more by this, and began raking her fingers down my back harder and harder.  Some of my fur came out, and then my flesh.  I screamed loud enough to be heard in the square, but this only encouraged her to pull her hips away from me harder, stretching my member.  I suddenly realized that if her passion intensified, I might not survive.  My hands went of their own accord to the place where we were united, as if I could push myself out of my lover's grip.  Instead, though, they pushed against the top of her slit and the nub of pleasure there.  She once again screamed out her fulfillment, and came down more quickly, panting heavily now. 


I rolled aside, stroking my throbbing erection, holding back my body's pain, but Shara'Lynn now grasped me gently and pulled me back to her.  Her eyes were bright, her mouth open and I suddenly understood what our primitive ancestors must have felt when facing a jungle cat.  "You're very lucky, Kalty," she whispered.  "I almost lost control back there.  Are you all right?" 


Bravado got the best of me.  "I'll be fine," I whispered back. 


"Well, you still have me turned on, you know.  But we do it my way this time.  And, maybe this time you'll get off too, if you're good."  All I could do was nod consent.  One thing was for sure, I was never going to challenge her in bed again.  She rose on her knees, gently pushed me down on my back, and straddled me on her knees.  Then, with one hand, she grasped my wrists and held them to my chest, while with the other she began stroking my balls and prick, occasionally squeezing them.  I moaned and tried to buck into her stroking, but with a little pressure on my wrists, she took back control. 


Now I was hard and ready, but Shara'Lynn was not.  "Kalty," she purred, "you've been a good teacher.  Now watch how I take advantage of this."  Although she was not blessed with our long, flexible arms, she simply levered me upwards with her shoulder and reached her arm farther underneath me, to the space between my member and my rear hole.  She now began stroking, and soon her finger reached the rippled edges of my hole.  I was becoming frantic.  Thanks to Pegartha, I'm not unacquainted with the alternate ways to pleasure that so distress our moral guardians, but I had never had to lie there and take the stimulation, unable to release my excitement back onto my partner.  And now that Velorian scent was returning to my nostrils.  As I thought I was about to burst, Shara'Lynn withdrew her hand, grasped me again firmly, and guided me into herself once again.  I began whimpering in frustration, but she simply contracted herself against me, and I stifled myself. 


This began a long coupling, something like Yelakasta, except that I was forced to be completely passive.  Shara'Lynn rode me, moved up and down on my painfully erect member, and rubbed and stroked herself against me.  After a few moments, I closed my eyes.  Watching this golden dream and sensing my entire being inside her, and yet not being able to respond, would have been too painful alone.  Added to that were the bruises, gouges and strains inflicted on my over-confident body, and on one of her downstrokes, I almost fainted from pain and frustration.  I began withdrawing into myself and the sensation, almost as if I were becoming an object for her to pleasure herself.  She must have sensed that, because she released my arms (which I dared not move) and began stroking her breasts.  A few minutes later Shara'Lynn cried out for a moment, began to tighten around me, and then relaxed.  Now she bent over to kiss me, and murmured in my ear, "I'm ready for you now, lover," and let my arms go.  Surprised, I just lay there until she once again began drawing me into her.  I hesitated for a moment, and then began timid, half-hearted strokes into her.  She moaned, lowered her mouth to mine, and then nibbled at my neck.  I moaned now, but was unable to find the strength to respond.  Shara'Lynn grasped me with those amazing arms, turned lightly, and I found myself on my side, with her head near my navel.  Her arm was snaking toward my rear hole, which she once again massaged with a finger.  I was beginning to warm up, and then she pushed her finger into that rear hole!  With a roar, I let myself go, gripping her as hard as I could, and she responded.  Soon, with the very last of my strength, I was pushing with long, hard strokes into that wet, yet fiery channel, and we throbbed and rammed ourselves to a final, overwhelming climax. 


We lay there for many minutes, rejoicing in each other's closeness and the smell and taste of our satisfaction.  Too soon, though, the Arion loudspeaker ships returned with a new message:  Surrender by noon or Perthy, and every other center of population, would be destroyed.  With Jamie'Lee still missing and Ambre' occupied on the night side of the planet, it was a believable threat.  She rose from the bed, floated over me, and turned on the radio.  I am still amazed at how casually she did that.  


We had broken into a war bulletin.  Surprisingly, there was only a brief mention of Ambre', last seen a third of the way around the planet.  We soon found out why.  The radio announcer, in that hushed voice they use only when things are really out of control, announced that the war council would meet soon to discuss terms of surrender.  Shara'Lynn lifted her head, looked into my eyes, and blurted out, "Skietra, Kaltlakast, it's all falling apart so fast.  Why is the council giving up so soon?.  Don't they believe in us?"


Before I could answer, she continued, "This can't be right.  The Arions are lying and the radio is repeating those lies.  Two Protectors should be enough, even for this.  There has to be a way to find out."


"Darling Shara'Lynn, you've seen and heard those Arion ships.  If you need to see more, let's walk up to the lookout at the top of the path over there, in the reserve.  You can see the whole plain from there." 


"Fine, Kaltlakast, I'll do that.  Just stick around a sec."  And just like that, she picked up her pack and ran down the stairs.  The front door slammed impossibly quickly, and she was gone.  I considered going after her, but my entire body ached, and the smell of our coupling pervaded my fur.  I stepped into her shower, which fortunately still worked, and quickly cleaned myself.  Before I had finished drying, she had returned.  Once again, her face was long and her voice low and sad.  This time, the Arions were not lying.  They were preparing to storm Perthy from the east and north.  A battalion of infantry that had attempted to probe their positions had been burnt to cinders by laser cannon. 


After reporting that, she looked at me in resignation and said, "I'll have to leave soon.  Arions usually leave Scribes alone, but after a victory they don't respect anything, including our immunity.  And where are you going to go?


"I was going to help the civil defense, but Irplatkitskal's message makes it clear that I have to drop that and meet him at 0900.  I'll take care of that first, and then I'll either go to my apartment to see to my things or back here to help with the refugees - or the defense.  But darling, I can hardly think about those kinds of things now.  I've never had an experience like the last hour and a half."


"It was good, Kalty.  We could really take this a long way with each other.  It was nice that you were strong, but what made it special was the way you tried to care for my pleasure." 


"It was overwhelming for me, Shara.  It was like having my reality twisted and reshaped to the point where I can hardly conceive of continuing without you."


"I wish it were different, Kalty.  You're worth caring about.  But in a few hours there are going to be regiments of Arions mowing down anyone who moves and firing the houses right after they loot them and do heaven knows what to the women and children.  We have to go, dammit.  But take this, it's a homing device.  Press the button and I'll be able to find you if I'm around."


"Thank you," I said.  "Please leave with at least one sweet memory of Rakip."  We kissed again, and I gathered my things and left the cottage. 


I passed Pleggrad and his colleagues on the walk, carrying first aid supplies and stretchers to the house.  I stopped him and asked him to send the dugbalmaten and anything else of value from the cottage to my apartment.  I certainly wasn't in shape to carry anything - I felt as if I had run up Mt. Clochilusco and back.  But just my luck, the trams were either not running or had Rakip holding onto Rakip holding on to the side rails, so I had to plod my way to the Chancellery one last time, aching at every step, through crowds that ebbed and flowed down the streets, seemingly at random. 


There was no panic, yet, but everyone seemed to be on the edge.  Down the special entrance into the Vobrownot laboratories, where I once again saw Swanomins, Irplatkitskal, Sochajon, the Scalantrans and Dr. Vobrownot.  The new participants were Randerarz and another senior pilot.  At least we could sit down.


I wasn't given time for surprise or even small talk with my cousin.  The Scalantrans had decided to leave the planet today and wanted to be paid.  The treasury being a bit short on tangible assets, Swanomins had marched a squad over to our bank and a couple of others and had emptied the vaults, right down to the safe deposit boxes.  The contents were piled in boxes at the end of the large conference room.  My mother's necklace of precious stones glittered at the top of one pile. 


Swanomins tried to butter up the Scalantrans and wasted 15 precious minutes flattering them.  They complimented him by raising their price by 500,000 marks.  At that point Irplatkitskal stepped in and sealed the deal, accompanied by the muffled rumble of an Arion cruiser buzzing the Chancellery square.  Dr. Vobrownot was then asked to brief the pilots, who would take the only operational version of his weapon on a straight-into-the-Arion-fleet mission.  Apparently, although it still would incinerate its user at full power, it was capable of destroying an entire fleet at that setting, and could be used safely at the lowest setting.  Swanomins wanted to hear more.


"Ah, yes," the doctor intoned.  "Here once again I have developed an ultimate weapon, a marriage of higher mathematics and high-energy physics  You see, if you modulate a boson beam using triclinical waveguides at a resonant frequency . . . . " or it was something like that.  After a few moments, Randerarz broke in:  "Just tell us which buttons to push, and when, and we'll do the rest."  The doctor, amazingly, understood that request and explained that it was a point and shoot weapon.  Just hit a target anywhere and it and everything around it would be disintegrated into pure energy.  At that, Swanomins spoke two words, "We fight," and waved in a military transport team which began boxing the equipment, Dr. Vobrownot began dumping some of his notes into a military paper shredder, and the Scalantrans called in their porters to count and pack their booty.  "Better them than the Arions," muttered Irplatkitskal.  He went on, "Get your sidearms, and prepare to escort the Scalantrans, the payment and the doctor to Kalgoorleb Road Spaceport at 1030.  You have an hour to put your affairs in order."  Randerarz and his colleague were then dismissed, and I took the opportunity for a last conversation in the hallway. 


"It sounds like a suicide mission, Randerarz," I said. "Is avenging your family worth ending the last link they have on this planet?"


"It's over, Kaltlakast.  Even with the Protectors.  And even if we were to somehow have a victory, so much has changed, there will be so much destruction and want, that we and our society will be wrecked anyway.  The clans are scattered, our treasures have been destroyed or bartered away, our farms are bare and our friendships are mangled.  Living is not that important.  But honor and taking some payment for their cruelty is, for me.  Please, pray for me and my success." 


"I will, Randerarz.  That hasn't been our way as Rakip, but maybe it's not too late for us to learn from men like you.  May the stars guide you true."


We embraced, and then he ran up the hall after his buddy.  I also hurried up the hall a moment later.  Our assets in the bank were gone, but I had put away some cash and valuables for an emergency.  I crossed the square to the Institute and ran to my office.  Most of our staff were grabbing anything of value and running from the building, but a few were in the auditorium, listening to some acolytes of Ambre' assuring them of eventual salvation. 


I had just finished returning the hidden panel in my desk to its resting place when I heard Visklaveltar scratching at my door.  It was odd how we were all reverting to our childhood teachings.


"Kaltlakast, thank heaven you're here.  I've been looking - are you all right?


"Yes, I'm fine, just a bit disheveled."


She sniffed audibly.  "I don't have to guess why.  Well, this makes what I wanted to say harder, but there's no time to reconsider.  Kaltlakast, why won't you marry me?  I'm intelligent, well bred, and I care for you.  I know you are not plebalk.  You are caring, honest, and mostly responsible.  We respect each other, and last week showed that we can give each other pleasure.  I know this is completely improper, but that doesn't matter any more.  I love you, you are the right man for me, and I will make you happy in more ways than you can imagine.  Why aren't you willing to accept me?"


I just stared for a long moment.  How could I say that my heart was now the property of an alien without fur and who could never bring me children?


"It's her, that hidden Velorian. For someone who was so skeptical about Ambre' and so concerned about keeping our own culture, you've turned out to be just as brainwashed as all the others.  Hooked on skin.  Well, she's going to be gone very soon, and you'll have to settle for Arions - if they don't use you for target practice first.  Can't you see that that Shara'Lynn Best is just a fantasy that will leave you with nothing?  Don't you see that she doesn't love you, can't love you, won't love you?  Do I have to beg to get you to understand that I am the woman who can make you truly happy?"


"Visklaveltar, if only we had some time to talk, for me to think things through . . . . "


"Kaltlakast, of course there isn't time.  You have to take a chance, to do something without knowing how it will work out, to trust me.  Please, trust me.  We are right for each other."


Once again, another pivotal moment, and no cola in sight. 


"Visklaveltar, darling," I began.  She smiled. "Of course I think . . . ."  And then I stopped.  The next words out of my mouth surprised both me and her.  "I'm late.  I have to go to the spaceport with a weapon.  I'll find you after I get back."  I grabbed my pack, bustled by her, and ran out the door of my office.  My last glimpse of her was with her mouth open, gripping the edge of my desk, with tears welling in her eyes. 


I ran to the truck parked outside the Chancellery and jumped onto the open tailgate just as the caravan began moving.  Two Scalantrans prepared to protect their loot and push me off, but Sochajon pulled me in and closed the gate.  Without the military escort, we would never have got through the crowds in the streets, the stalled cars and the trucks blocking intersections.  Several times the squad had to lift cars out of the way, and once pushed through a milling crowd at bayonet point.  It still took most of an hour to get to the spaceport and the Scalantrans were getting very nervous. 


The negotiations and fussing at the spaceport don't require description.  While the boxes were being unloaded and the cash and assets recounted, I stepped behind a truck by an open hangar and pressed the button on the homing device.  

About a minute later, I felt the air shift behind me and I turned to see Shara'Lynn stepping out from the darkened hangar, dressed in a thin metallic top that left her arms and long, graceful neck exposed, barefoot, with a further metallic garment around her hips and the very top portion of her legs.

"I'm flattered that you came so quickly when I called," I said.  "I'm very grateful for a few more minutes with you."


"I was already here," she replied.  "I made a deal with the Scalantrans there to fly out with them.  And before you ask why I'm not flying out on my own, my job is to get out alive with the history.  The Scalantrans have paid off the Arion command and that ship will just sail through the blockade.  It beats hours of evasive flying and getting trailed with radar pings."


"So you see the end approaching also.  Well, that means I had better give this to you now."  I removed from my sidebag the small, heavy box I had taken from my desk compartment.  "Shara'Lynn, we have little time left.  Inside this box is my clan ring, in our family for at least fifteen hundred years.  My mother wore it.  The legend is that it was given to us by Tied-na-Dzulpa-Dyela himself, and that it will bring the owner understanding, wisdom and good fortune."  I opened the box to reveal the ring lying on red velvet - seven intertwined loops of pure gold, twisted on themselves so that none had an inside or outside. 


She trembled.  "Kaltlakast, I can't take that, you don't know . . . ."


"I read all about your fear of gold.  That's why I had this lead-lined box made.  You need not wear the ring.  But the legend says that when one does, great power will emerge.  It has not worked for me, but it will for you.  Use it when all hope is gone."  I closed the box and handed it to her. 


Before she could answer, we saw the electric streak of Jamie'Lee flying at full speed toward the enemy fleet and heard her triple sonic boom.  As it passed, I heard loud cheers from the direction of town.  The Helper still was in the fight and we still had a chance.  Shara'Lynn's eyes were wide and bright and her spirit had returned.  "She's back!  Oh, Kaltlakast, Jaime's back!"  She hugged me so hard my poor bruised ribs began to crack. 


"Unhh.  See, I told you the ring brought good luck.  Remember the legend."


"Yes.  But look at her, she looks like she's come back from Hell.  And there's Ambre'!  She made it back too!  Skietra, how worn out she looks."  We watched for several minutes as the two Velorians soared into the stratosphere to engage the ships.  All we Rakip could see were the occasional explosions or the evasive maneuvers of the largest ships, though Shara'Lynn seemed to see everything and gave me a running report.  Then she stopped for a moment and looked into my eyes.  "Kalty, I can get two berths on the ship.  Come with me - see the universe.  There will be nothing left for you here." 


I refused, harshly.  "And leave all the other unlucky Rakip for the Arions.  Instead of being an ape, I'd be a rat fleeing the ship.  That's not me, Shara'."


"No, you'd rather stay here and help preserve lives for the Arions to exterminate.  You've talked about your mother.  Wouldn't she want you to survive this war, instead of this ring?" 


"But why should I escape, and not someone else?"


"Because I want you to, dammit!  There's no one else I care about on this planet but you and Jaime'Lee, and I'm not going to lose either of you!"  She looked at me with such vehemence that I actually feared I might be burnt to ashes in a moment.  Then I got the eerie feeling that her finger was tracing again toward my rear hole.


"Put like that, Shara'Lynn, it would be dishonorable of me to refuse."


"Damn straight.  Now hand over anything you have to present to that little gabfest over there, and let's get over to the Scalantran ship.  We're going to Ursus Six."


I strolled over to the clerk standing by Swanomins, signed the receipt, and walked away.  Nobody noticed.  Shara'Lynn grasped my arm and led me toward the gangway to the ship.  Seeing her, the guards opened a path and we were allowed to reach the boarding area.  She stepped forward to speak to the ship's officer, and they had a brief but heated conversation.  She returned to explain that there was only one berth available, and that I was to have it, while she would escape the planet on her own.  I began the inevitable objections, but they were drowned out by the roar of a large Arion cruiser diving from the sky, heading for Perthy.  We watched Ambre' and Jaime'Lee, sooty and disheveled, throw themselves together at the approaching Arion cruiser.  At point-blank range the cruiser's siege weapon discharged against them and the flash and shockwave hit us.  I hit the ground back-first and thus was able to see them hurtling backwards towards the Palace bell tower.  In fact, they glanced off the bell itself, which began ringing crazily.  I muttered an unkind remark, [7] and Shara'Lynn, chuckling, raised me to my feet. 


"At least we now have something more powerful than that weapon," I grumbled.  Of course, she wanted to know and I explained that Dr. Vobrownot over there thought his weapon could destroy an entire fleet of Arion ships.  "What do you mean?" she demanded. 


"He calls it a 'lysol-der-derd.'  Something about converting the target into pure energy without harm to the surrounding environment."  Shara'Lynn froze for a moment, and then her blue eyes began to sparkle as she looked toward the crates and Randerarz's spacecraft.  About 10 seconds later, she took a sharp intake of breath and then, almost instantly, she grasped my arm, lifted me, and propelled me through the open hatch of the Scalantran ship before I could react.  A final, intense but brief kiss, and she let go of me.  As I fell to the floor of the airlock in surprise, she vanished, moving at some unperceivable speed straight into the air.


The ship's hatch slid closed a second or so later.  Two very agitated Scalantrans pointed at me, did something to their electronic tablets, and shoved me toward a third, who grabbed my arm and began dragging me down the narrow, dark corridor.  A few minutes later, he opened the door of a dingy stateroom about five feet wide and pushed me in.  Dr. Vobrownot was sitting on the lower berth, staring at a small, handheld electronic device.  I was pushed to the ladder and interpreted the Scalantran's urgent arm movements as a command to climb.  While I did that, he strapped Dr. Vobrownot into the berth, and then he climbed the ladder and motioned for me to do the same.  As soon as I did so, he opened a communication device, said a single word, and bolted from the cabin.  As he did so, the engines began spooling up to full power.  They were clearly in a big hurry.  


I turned my head and found that there was a viewscreen on the opposite wall showing the scene at the spaceport - hundreds of Rakip were pushing on the nearby fences, trying to storm the ships.  The ship's engines reached full force just as the first Rakip reached its side, the viewscreen blanked, and I felt an enormous acceleration, as if I now weighed many times my actual mass.  So that was spaceflight in a panic.  I could hardly breathe, and I blacked out. 


When I came to, we were still accelerating, but at a reasonable pace, and the viewscreen was oriented behind us, showing the blue and green of Rakip.  I loosened my straps.  The viewscreen display showed that we had been traveling for about 15 minutes and that our velocity was now over 70,000 miles per hour.  We must have been about 10,000 miles from Rakip.  Vobrownot was watching the display intently.  I saw a green spark near the terminator followed by a small, intensely white spherical flash, tending a little bit toward red.  "It works," muttered Vobrownot, "although not enough to destroy a large ship yet." 


I called down to him, asking whether it was his weapon and whether it could destroy the Arions.  "Not yet," he replied, and punched some more buttons on his computer.  We watched for a few minutes, the only sounds being the groans of the ship, the hiss of the ventilators and the ticking sound of Vobrownot's computations.  I saw two more tiny reddish-white flashes.  Randerarz, I hoped, was finally obtaining his revenge.  Then, he muttered again, "Ach, zo," set down his computer, and pulled a small black device from his pocket.  He flipped up a cover, revealing a red button, and then returned to his computing.  A moment later he picked up the intercom, and spoke in Scalantran to somebody.  He then entered some more numbers, stared for a moment, and then casually pushed the red button.  Nothing happened.  Then he fiddled with the viewscreen and increased the magnification.  I saw a horde of tiny black specks just at the edge of the white haze that marked the atmosphere of Rakip.  Every minute or so, there was one less, either because they were cloaking or because they were being picked off by the Protectors or Randerarz.


"Now, we will see how good a pilot your cousin is." Dr. Vobrownot almost smiled.  I looked once more toward the white clouds, the turquoise seas, the dark green forests, and then I saw a larger green spark appear right by the black Arion specks.  "Good, he did survive," said the doctor.  The glowing sphere appeared, this time redder.  "Acceleration shift,[8]" mumbled Vobrownot.  But this time it grew.  In a moment, it had grown to encompass the whole horde of ships, and they vanished in the glare, which was now becoming whiter on our side.  He had done it!  This madman had given Randerarz the victory! We were saved!


"Excellent," intoned Vobrownot.  We watched in fascination as the last fragments of the black specks evaporated from view.  The sphere seemed to stop growing for several moments.  But then it expanded again, and its leading edge seemed to touch the atmospheric haze.  The very air around our planet began to glow.  I began to feel a thousand years old, as if my own life force was being sucked into that glow.


Now the entire planet was ringed with a glowing sphere of light, and then, all at once, the planet itself burst into that slightly pink glow.  It flared so bright the viewscreen cut off, and we sat blinking in the dim light of the cabin.  "On the high side of the range of error," he pondered.  "Still, we should be far enough." 


"Far enough?  Far enough for what?"


At that moment the viewscreen returned and I saw the pink sphere again. It seemed to be very close to us, but not expanding, and now it became even redder.  We were outrunning it at the very least.  No features could be seen.  And now the sphere swirled and shrank rapidly, almost as if it were water going down an unseen drain.  A minute later, it was gone. 


"Vobrownot," I whimpered.  "How can you hide a planet like that?"


"Hide?  Oh, conceal.  No.  Gone."


Part V



Aboard Scalantran Trading Ship Eizelmana, at Eta Epsilon Draconis Four[9]


Galactic Standard Date:  2871:23876[10]  ()


Dearest Shara'Lynn,


I ended my journal with the end of Rakip.  Nothing more that happens to me is of any importance. 


Dr. Vobrownot and I are the only non-Scalantran passengers on this ship.  I would probably still be incapacitated with grief, but for the kindness of the captain, an exiled Vendorian.  He put me to work in the cargo hold, moving boxes and lifting containers, and the routine finally brought me back, a little bit.  I only see Vobrownot, if at all, for a few minutes before I sleep and a few as I awaken.  He seems utterly unaffected by the devastation of a planet.  He leaves today.


We are trading from planet to planet and should arrive at Ursus Six in about a thousand standard days, if all goes well.  I still have your homing device and I will use it at each stop.  The captain advanced me the cost of sending this letter and the excerpts from my journal by "Thurtaxis Galactic Post," which he assures me will reach you much sooner [11], wherever you may be.  My love goes with this.







[1]  A cinema starlet [JAH].  Renowned, until Ambre' and Jaime'Lee showed up, for her auburn-tinged fur [SLB].

[2]  Readers wishing to review the archivist's long note on the genetic and morphological differences between Rakip and other fruit can do so at the Archives on Daxxan.  Just tell them Sharon sent you. [SLB]

[3]  Something got mixed up in the translations.  [SLB]

[4]  A lysande-dd.  [JAH]  See the description on my web pages in "A Virago is Born."  [SLB]

[5]   The words I used were "She's a Protector, a Warrior. She kicks ass for a living."  Rakip reserve must have toned down Kaltlakast's memory.  [SLB]

[6]   The antagonist in a Rakip fairy tale who inspired reckless behavior. [JAH]

[7]  Even in disaster, Kaltlakast was irrepressible.  The remark was "The Vels from Hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling, but not for you or me."

[8] Doppler effect.  [JAH]


[9] Terran designation. [SLB]

[10] 34 days after the destruction of Rakip. [JAH]

[11]   Thurtaxis Galactic Post, whose network of wormholes is centered on Enfis, reaches the entire Milky Way galaxy and points beyond, if they are outside the Arion Empire.  Their "Absolutely, Positively, Delivery Guaranteed" service promises delivery and forwarding anywhere in the system, no matter how difficult, for only $6,942 (U.S.) per letter or small package.  For an additional $18,745 you get "Guaranteed Extermination" service, which promises that nobody and nothing will interfere with your delivery, backtrack it or tail it, or anyone responsible will be rubbed out.  [JAH]  Because of the Prime Directive, Terrans cannot use the Thurtaxis Galactic Post.  But it's quite handy for Scribes trying to lay low:  that's how I sent my mother her Saluzia's Day packages.  [SLB]