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Journal Entry 00100 049 000 Embassy Tales Paramount Importance


Embassy Tales: Paramount Importance

Journal Entry 049 / 00100

Elenya, Nenim 24, 00100

March 02, 1984

"I don't get it," Ng'Reff said to Loit as she positioned the bulk of her
body into a seat made for one species and one species only. There were
two humans she could see, clearly medical cases not to be envied, who
were larger than she was, at least in width, and yet no attempt had been
made by the airport staff to accommodate what was apparently a common,
if she thought devastating, physical ailment. The Tindal did not reply
immediately as she removed the comm head-piece from her huge ears. Humans
were congregating, staring, pointing. She envied Mamood, the one Human
on their team; he could even go to the bathroom without attracting eyes.
"There's something wrong about this. A... a creakiness."

"I see it too," Loit agreed. "It's their compromise. They have reached
a point that is comfortable enough for them between safety and speed,
and between physical comfort and the cost of delivering that comfort. On
Pendor, we can afford to be more patient. We live much longer and have
so much more to work with. I have to wonder if it is more to guard." She
glanced to her left and smiled. "You have someone's attention."

Reff turned to her right and saw a small boy standing there, staring
at her with something between awe and laughter stuck on his face. She
grinned without showing teeth and said, "Do you want to talk to me?"

He shook his head in the almost universal symbol of 'no.' "Well then,"
Reff said, "Do you want something else?" He nodded. "What?"

"Can I touch you? Are you really from outer space?"

She nodded her head and reached out one hand. He reached out his own and
extended it to touch her palm, then her fingers. He laughed, a short,
shocked laugh, and then said, "Cool."

"Jimmy!" Apparently the objecting voice belonged to the boy's mother because he jumped back away from the Pendorians. "You come away from
that-- them right now! Your bothering them."

"No bother," Loit said, turning around in his chair. "You've got a great
story to tell your friends now, don't you, Jimmy? When you go back to
school you can tell them all that you touched an alien from outer space."

Jimmy nodded even as he ran back to his mother's side. "Ring," Reff said,
returning to Quen, the Pendorian common tongue. "You're so much better
at this than I am, Loit. Why aren't you in charge?"

The Tindal shrugged. "Athena made her decisions for her own reasons and
Dam went along with them for his. Why don't you ask them?"

Reff nodded. It didn't make her feel any better.

"Excuse me?" Reff turned around to see a human female standing behind her.
The woman wore blue jeans and a comfortable shirt of cream silk, covered
with a light brown leather vest. She wore a dangling earring in one ear,
a feather. Tall and thin, she had red hair and freckles, and Reff judged
her to be quite pretty. "I couldn't help but overhear you. I realize
this might not be the best time to tell you but, memet hanya le."

Reff smiled. "Ka ista," she replied. "We expected there to be some
who would."

"You knew?" the woman asked. "Cool. Karen nai."

"Ng'Reff. This is Loit. Our other two companions are off somewhere."

"Can I sit with you?" Karen asked. "I don't normally ask strangers out
of the blue like this, but, you guys are different."

"I actually hoped someone would come and sit with us," Reff said. "Part
of our job is to just meet people."

"Let me get my bag." Karen returned a moment later with a soft, grey
pack and dropped in the chair next to Reff's. "So," she said, "How was
the trip from Pendor?"

"Boring," Reff said. "The ship spins, the days go by. I spent my time
studying the language and your customs. I am still baffled by much of
what your people do."

"So am I," Karen replied. "If we wanted, we could do so much with this
world. What are you?"

The question did not catch Reff off guard. She was used to it. "I am
an Uncia. I'm female. I know that's hard for you to tell. Loit here is
a Tindal." Loit waved a mitten in the air. "I guess the best title for
me is trade representative." Reff felt a little bewildered. Was Karen an
intelligence agent of some sort? She wasn't at all what she had been told
to expect. Karen had started talking as if they were just people. Even
if she accepted that the Pendorians were fellow creatures like herself
in outlook, surely their origins were of some interest to her. She asked
Athena about it; the AI assured her that she would look into the matter.

"Where you guys come from," Karen was saying to Loit, "you don't have
any money?" Reff must have missed part of the conversation.

"Not like you do here," Loit said. "Think of it as a, a karma economy. You
base who you do business with on the intersection of your needs with the
wellbeing of the community. People on Pendor want to do what they like
to do and do well. Some people write good programs and others make good
shoes. We decide who to do those things for because we expect that our
goodwill at doing them will ripple out into the community, making other
people want to return the favor."

"But don't some take advantage of the system? I mean, take what isn't
rightly theirs?"

"Well, that depends. It's hard to steal someone's labor when his payment
is up front in the form of communal respect. And as for taking things
from the stores, well, we don't mind. We consider that looking after
our mentally ill."

"Most of us here on Earth work our whole lives doing things we might
not like just so that someday we don't have to work."

Loit grinned. "It's not our fault if your whole planet's crazy."

"Yeah, I guess it is crazy. The economy's just one form of it, though."

"Yes, it is," Reff replied.

An announcement came over the speakers overhead. "Passengers on flight
414, we apologize for the delay but we have some special guests on
this flight. We have empty seats next to each of the Pendorians flying
Delta this morning and we need to shuffle some people around. Is there
anyone here not allergic to dander who would be willing to sit next to
a Pendorian?"

Reff raised her hand. "I would like her to sit next to me." She pointed
at Karen.

The redheaded weakly protested, "You didn't even give me a chance to

"Would you like to sit next to me on the flight?"

"Yes, but..."

"There may have been a rush," Reff replied. "I wanted to make sure. She's
calling for you. You had better go up and get your chair assigned to you."

The boarding began before Karen had a chance to return, but after Reff had
gotten her seat the redheaded woman came up the aisle and took the window
seat next to her. "I admit, it's an unfair way to get a first class seat."

"That was your plan all along?" Reff asked, wondering if she'd been used.

Karen shook her head. "I didn't know you were sitting in first class,
although I guess it should have been obvious that only these seats would
be big enough to hold you. I just wanted to sit next to you."

"Why?" Reff asked.

"Well," Karen began, "All sorts of reasons. I like cats. I'm a big fan
of science fiction and here you are, aliens in the fur and all. And you
looked like you were looking for someone to talk to. I decided that I
could break the ice. Be the first monkey to touch the monolith. You know."

"'Touch the monolith?'"

"Yeah. Wait. You probably haven't seen 2001 yet, have you?"

"I don't know what it is," Reff said.

"It's a movie. I have it at home on laserdisk. It's one of my favorites. I
would invite you over to watch it, but you're probably too busy."

"I would love to visit your home and watch your movie," Reff said
honestly. "I can find some time with my companions. We have a schedule,
but at the end we have some time. They were going to go to Disneyland,
but your invitation sounds a lot more interesting to me."

"Great!" Karen said.

They talked the entire flight over. Karen spoke of her long education
and her career as a geological oceanographer; Reff found herself liking
this young woman who had come to her and spoken in Quen. As they spoke,
the attendant brought them a dinner that Reff found not exactly inedible
but certainly not a cuisine of choice. The thick sauce layered on top
of her steak reminded her of the kinds of things astronauts ate while
in zero-G. There was no excuse for food this bad other than sheer
laziness, she thought.

She dozed. She was awakened only once, by Karen climbing past her to get
to the walkway and, presumably, the restroom, before she felt someone
shaking her gently and whispering her name. She came to wakefulness
slowly; she had not been having a restful sleep in a seat designed for
another species. She looked to her right to see that Karen had fared
little better, although she still seemed cheerful. "Welcome back to
the living."

"Thank you," Reff said, wondering if there was a sarcastic way of saying
it. "Thanks", with a tone of irony, Athena whispered. "Thanks."

Karen grinned. "You're welcome. I assume you had bags checked?" Reff
nodded. "I'll join you. My life is in here," she said, patting her bag,
"but I'd like to hang around with you and your people if you're not
uptight about that."

Reff understood the meaning, if not the exact words. "We're going to the
hotel after here. We have some important meetings tomorrow morning and we
will all be wanting our sleep before then," Reff explained, hoping that
the explanation wouldn't sound too much like she was trying to dodge
Karen. She honestly wanted to see Karen after this; but for now she
feared that a Terran hanging around was just going to be an impediment.

"And you wouldn't all fit in my car," Karen observed, giving Reff a
looking over. Reff thought for the first time that Karen had a sweet
voice, melodious and beautiful in its own right. "What?"

"I'm just tired." That was it, she was tired. That would explain the
sudden rush of desire wrapped in the loneliness of being so far from home.
"Do you have a home access--, I mean, phone number?"

Karen grinned eagerly as she dug into her bag and pulled out a little
card. She handed it to Reff, who gasped when she saw it. "It's in Quen!"

"Turn it over," Karen said, her smile widening if that were possible.
"It's in English on the other side. I just had to show that to you. I
couldn't believe I didn't remember that until you asked. I've had those
for years."

"Can I keep this?"

"Sure! That's my home, call me anytime," she said emphatically. "You
said you'd have some free time after your meetings and I would love to
give you a tour of the town and my favorite restaurants and, oh! show
you that movie."

"I will call," Reff said. Athena, don't you dare let me forget!

I won't let you forget.

They ambled out of the airplane to the shock of onlookers, some of whom
immediately began following them as they headed for baggage claim. "Think
they that I would be one of you," Karen said, her Quen just good enough
for Reff to puzzle out her meaning. It was clearly not a question despite
her syntax.

"They might. Does that bother you?"


They headed down to the terminal and collected their bags. Reff hailed a
van again, and Karen said, "I think this is where I say goodbye. Call me."

"I will," Reff said, holding out one hand in the gesture she had learned
was the one used for greeting and parting. Karen opened her arms in
a more universal gesture and Reff recognized it instantly. She pulled
Karen into a hug briefly, struck by how small and thin the woman was
before they parted. Karen gave one brief look over her shoulder and Reff
thought she saw a wink before that wonderful human walked out of sight.

"Hey, boss." Mamood was tugging at her sleeve. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Reff said, with a grin and a sudden lightness of heart. "I'm okay.
Let's go."


Four days later her mood was significantly different. She sat in her
hotel room and fumed at the walls, growling. "I don't get it. Don't they
understand what we're offering here?"

"No, I don't think we understand them, either, though."

Reff nodded. The trip had been a bust. None of the holding studios had
appreciated the offers of exchanges, vast information resources for access
to space and the technology that they had to offer. It was so important to
Reff, and Pendor, that they get access to those records. But the people
who had that access were balking at the terms; Pendor didn't have much
in the way of intellectual property law because there was no sense of
value beyond one's reputation, and that was as infinitely reproducible as
the property itself. The whole idea of limits to one's personal value,
the accumulation of power beyond what one could even hope to harness
for the good of others, was completely alien to her.

Alien. The word resounded in her head. She reached for the small leather
bag she had been carrying her personal stuff in for the past four days,
dug into one zippered pocket and came up with the card. She dialed
the number on the primitive telephone. The head-piece didn't sit well
against her head but she managed to hold it where she could hear and be
understood. "Hello?"

"Mellon! Reff naii. Omen nalmet?"

The voice on the other end nearly exploded. "Reff! Nailmet! Nailmet!

"I have your address."

"Can you call a cab? Or do you want me to pick you up?"

"I have enough money for almost anything. My companions are going to
Disney Land tomorrow, so I am free."

"Then come. I'll feed you pizza and we can watch that movie. Unless you
can't do cheese, then we'll find you something else to eat."

Reff grinned. "I can eat almost anything, too."

"Then meet me here."

"I will. Goodbye."


Reff looked up from the telephone. "Loit, I'm going out. Athena will
know where I am. I might be back tonight but I don't know. If not,
go to the park without me."

Loit looked concerned, her face puzzling. "Are you sure? You're going
to be visiting that human, Karen?"

Reff nodded. "I will be fine, Loit. What can the Terrans do to me?"

"I don't like to think about it. They have some very violent movies."

Reff nodded. "Athena will know. They cannot keep the security forces
away if it comes to that, and if we have to, we can retreat to the
Hiding Place."

Loit stuck out her tongue. "Cryo."

"Just hope it doesn't come to that."

"I always hope it doesn't come to that," the Tindal said softly, stroking
back an ear. She apparently found that soothing. "We've never broken up
like that. Always in pairs."

"I will be okay," Reff said.

Loit looked startled for a second, then relaxed. "Okay, if Athena
says so."

"Good," Reff said. She picked out some clothing for the evening, some
loose-fitting black satin, and packed a more functional cotton outfit
into her bag for tomorrow along with all the usual things that went into
an overnight bag. "You have the group, Loit."

She grinned. "Take care, Reff."

"Sometimes. Nemet polda."


Getting a cab was a relatively easy operation; guided by Athena she asked
the concierge to acquire her one, and the cabbie, with all the jade of
someone who had lived in Los Angeles his entire life, acted as if she
were just one more fare. It wasn't until they reached their destination,
a quiet apartment complex set back from a wide road, that he asked,
"Are you sure this is where you're going?"

"Is this the address I gave you?" she asked.

"That's what it says. But you, like, you're new. You don't have friends
in town. Do ya?"

Reff grinned. "I think I do now."

"Okay." He rattled off the fare and she paid it, already used to the
process of tipping. She gave him a few percentage points more than
recommended. "Thanks for not asking too many questions."

"Hey, my pleasure." He drove off, leaving her there in the parking lot,
wondering what to do next. The apartments were all two-story affairs
evidencing sufficient upkeep. Water splashed promiscuously in a fountain
in the center of the great asphalt automobile storage lot. The buildings
had a look of outdoor stucco painted, inappropriately, brick red. She
scanned the numbers and found the one she was looking for, walked
up wooden stairs to the second floor, and waited. You have to knock,
Athena said. They don't have AIs. Reff had become so used to doormen,
receptionists, and the ubiquitous Pendorian AI that she had forgotten
common custom. Abashed, she knocked on the door quietly.

"Hello?" came a voice from the other side that made her heart feel glad.

"Karen? Reff nai."

The door flew open and the smiling woman on the other side greeted her
with a ferocious hug. "I was so worried you wouldn't call!"

"I made a promise," Reff said. "And after this week I had to get away
from there." She gave Karen a solid hug in return and wondered, not for
the first time, what was going to happen next. "You said you wanted to
feed me and show me a vid. That was a better offer than Disneyland."

"For both of us!" Karen agreed. "Come in, sit down. The futon will take
your weight, I think. How much do you weigh?"

"Nearly 210 kilograms." Reff glanced around the neatly appointed
apartment. A multipurpose couch that would not have been out of place
anywhere on Pendor occupied one wall facing a media center. The media
center had a television, an overly complicated audio system, and something
that identified itself as a 'laserdisk'. A stuffed toy animal peered
out from one of the speakers high on a heavily burdened bookshelf. A
kitchen, small by Reff's standards, occupied about a quarter of the
room's available space, sectioned off by an open bar through which she
could see Karen moving.

"That's over four hundred pounds," Karen said, surprising Reff with
her quick grasp of the math. "Maybe you'd better just sit on the
floor. Pull that blanket off the futon. We'll camp out." Karen picked
up the telephone. "Meat or veggies?"

"Excuse me?" Reff asked.

"Pizza... What am I thinking? Pizza is food, you can put whatever you want
on it. Do you want it meat-heavy or vegetable heavy? Or with everything?"

"I don't know what my choices are," Reff said. "Give me something with
a little bit of meat on it."

Karen nodded and dialed the phone. "It'll be here in about thirty
minutes," she said, sitting down with Reff. "So."

"So?" Reff said, feeling tension mounting in the air.

"What do we do?"

"You said you had a video you wanted to show me?"

"Yeah, but..." She suddenly burst out laughing. Reff, knowing exactly
how she felt, joined her with a raucous, deep laugh of her own. That
just sent Karen into louder peals of laughter. The feedback loop went
on for minutes as each tried to recover their wits only to see the other
still laughing and each would just lose control once more. The laughter
infected them, but when it was over Reff felt so much better. Drained.

"Oh, my god," Karen gasped. "I haven't felt like that in ages. It's just
so strange. I have an alien from outer space on my living room floor
and I can't think of anything else to do with her but show her movies?"

Reff wiped a tear from her eye. "So? Show me movies. Take me out to your
favorite places tomorrow. I like you, Karen."

That stopped Karen. "You do?"

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't."

"Oh." Karen seemed suddenly puzzled.

"Something wrong?"

"I thought... I... You... Damn. I can't get my thoughts together." She
proceeded slowly. "I figured you were just taking advantage of someone
who was willing to show you around and who spoke the language. I never
thought you would really... like me. I mean, not in...

"At first, I was-- I just thought it was so cool that I could talk to
you and get your attention. I wondered if we could be friends, but I
didn't imagine it would really happen. I almost died when I heard your
voice on the phone."

Reff felt oddly humbled by Karen's honesty. She had spoken with R'Dam
about his own experiences with the curious vulnerabilities among humans.
She had known that it could happen to her in talking with someone but she
hadn't envisioned it coming like this. "Friends." "I don't know either,
Karen. But thank you for telling me."

"Reff, why do you like me?"

"Because you make Terra less scary. On Pendor, there's an etiquette
about talking to people, but it can be done. You can usually walk up to
a perfect stranger and talk to them. Here, the only people who would
do that are children. Until you." She looked up into Karen's eyes and
suddenly realized they were green, a rare color in humans. "You came
up and talked to me. You... you spoke my language." She tried to smile,
but there was a feeling in her chest like sadness but not exactly. "I'm
six hundred million million kilometers from my home and the only people
who I knew who spoke Quen were the fifty or so who came with me. I've
never known anything but Pendor and, we're really a very homogeneous
society. There aren't any countries, there are only seven languages and
everybody speaks Quen anyway, we don't have nearly the kind of art, and
architecture, and television, and all that, that you do. We've never had
a war; I'm not sure what we'd go to war over, or who with. I feel like
I'm drowning in the waves of, of beauty and violence that is Terra. And
to meet a complete stranger who... who spoke my language... made me feel
like it wasn't quite so bad. I could stand this."

"I have an idea," Karen said. Before she could tell Reff her idea, a
knock on the door distracted her. "That would be the pizza." She rose and
retrieved a large cardboard box from the delivery person. She rejoined
Reff on the floor, opening the box.

The smell of meat and cheese and other things wafted over her nostrils. It
was a heavy, cloying smell that made her suddenly very hungry. "You want
something to drink with that?" Karen asked.

"Water. I don't assume you have a glass in my size?"

Karen grinned and departed again for the kitchen, returning with a mug
that was truly fitted for a Centaur. "Humans drink from these things?"

"When they want their fizzy caffeine portable, yep." She grinned. "Water
for you, Coke for me." She pulled out a one-liter bottle of something
brown and vile-smelling and drank from it directly. "Now, lean back
against the couch. I'll put in the flick. The pieces with round things
are yours. They're pepperoni, a kind of dried sausage. I think."

The pizza was delightful after all, Reff admitted. thick but satisfying,
she wondered why there was nothing like it on Pendor. There soon would be.

"So, what was this idea of yours?"

"Some friends of mine meet every Saturday to play a game. I'd like for
you to show up and talk to them. They're the kind of people who would
get along with you, I think."

Reff smiled. "I'd like that."

"Then... why don't we watch the movie?" Karen turned on a rather small
television set and the screen cleared. "It's better with the stereo on,"
she said. There was a slight hiss from the speakers; Reff had become
used to the dearth of digital perfection among Terran works and she
recognized it for what it was. Karen turned down the lights and lit a
pair of candles.

She watched the movie with fascination. Set only seventeen years in
the future, humans had clearly had an agenda for reaching the moon much
more ambitious than she would have thought possible given the current
warlike agenda being practiced among the superpowers. "When was this
made?" she asked.

"About fifteen years ago," Karen whispered.

Reff recognized it for what it was, then. A hopeful movie, even as the
ending seemed to career towards a message she wasn't sure she understood.
Still, there had been something about the style of the film, the skill
with which it was shot, that she recognized as immediately worthwhile.
Unlike the storytelling of Star Wars or the moral tales of Star Trek,
which she had been required to watch early on as an idea of what the
Terrans were expecting, this film had a theme of human proportions. The
more she thought about it, the more she realized she wanted to see it
again. Karen stretched as the movie ended. "It's gotten late. Do you
have to go back to your hotel?"

Reff shook her head. "No, but I should call Loit and tell her I'm okay."
She reached into her bag and pulled out the communicator. She opened.
"Loit, please, Athena. Loit? Yes. I'm fine. I'll be spending the evening
here. Tomorrow I'll be... Where will I be?"

"Here to begin with. Tell her we'll be..." She paused, then rattled off
an address. "And other places, maybe."

"You got that? Good." She put the communicator away after folding it
in half.

"That's a cellular phone?" Karen asked.

"More or less. It doesn't use your system, though. But it doesn't break
your laws, either."

Karen nodded. "Makes sense." She looked at Reff with apparent interest.
"The futon is comfortable for a bed."

"I thought you didn't think it would hold my weight."

"That was just as a seat. As a bed, your weight will be better
distributed. I think it'll hold."

Reff nodded and helped Karen pull it out into the flat position reserved
for sleeping. The mattress was a plain, dark blue. As Karen supplied
pillows and blankets, Reff noticed small, reddish hairs on the bed. "You
have an animal?"

"A cat," Karen confirmed. "She's probably hiding. She doesn't do well
with strangers and, well, you're definitely that." She sat on the bed
while Reff sat on the floor. Karen touched Reff on the arm gently. "Just
blow out the candles when you're ready."

Reff tried to smile. It was hard to smile. A Pendorian would know that
teeth didn't automatically mean a threat, but the a Terran wouldn't and
she was always terrified of scaring one of them. Karen, she definitely
didn't mean to scare. "Thank you."

Karen looked at her with a smile of her own. Reff felt a curious tension
that she couldn't be sure really existed, or if it was just in her fervid
imagination. "I'll see you in the morning."


Dawn cracked through the glass panes of a sliding door that faced a small
quadrangle of grass. Reff turned over, her feet dangling over the side
of a bed that was more than just a little too short for her; her calves
had been hanging over the edge most of the night. She stretched for a
moment, then rose. Karen did not yet seem awake, but her apartment had
a generous supply of actual books that attracted Reff's curiosity. She
examined the collection with interest; many seemed to be historical
fiction or outlandish fantasy. A few were of a futuristic sort, but not
many. There was also a collection of nonfiction; some of it basic science,
sociology, essays by people Reff did not recognize.

She took down a book called Archaeological Pseudo-science, curious as to
what that could mean. It became apparent rather quickly that the Terrans
had a problem opposite that of the Pendorians. The Terrans did not believe
they had evolved. There were Pendorians, a few, who did not believe
that they had been engineered. She wondered if this was this really a
sufficiently virulent problem that it was worth pulping trees over.

She had gotten no more than fifty pages into the work, at once fascinated
and horrified to discover that she was sharing air with people who held
to the most pernicious superstitious nonsense, when she heard the door
to Karen's room open. She turned to see her host walk stark naked into
the kitchen and open the refrigerator. "Good morning," Reff said.

"Huh?" Karen said. "Oh! You startled me. I didn't realize you were awake.
I should get some clothes on."

"Why? I'm not dressed. Is there some Terran custom about getting dressed
first thing in the morning?"

Karen grinned and shut the door to the refrigerator. "There is, but if
you're not uncomfortable with it--"

"I am not."

"Then I won't bother unless I get cold. Milk?" She held up a rectangular

"Please," Reff said, pleased that what was considered a luxury item on
Pendor could be gotten so readily here on Terra.

Karen stepped out from behind the bar and Reff got a good look at her
hostess. Karen was to Reff's eyes a shape of perfection and the color of
confusion. Her body was covered in freckles, although they thinned across
her beautifully smooth belly and thighs. She had very small breasts,
and her reddish hair curled down her back in gentle, flowing waves. Her
arms had solid definition, and her legs were, to Reff's knowledge,
the sort mels had trouble looking away from.

Karen sat down next to her and handed Reff the same oversize mug she
had used last night. "Sleep well?"

"I am becoming used to beds that do not fit me," Reff admitted. "But yes,
thank you. I did sleep quite comfortably."

"Good." There it was again, Reff thought, that peculiar tension that
she had felt in Karen last night. "I wonder if Space is gonna hate me
or love me for disrupting his game this afternoon."


"A friend. Runs the game every Saturday. He'll probably be mad at me for
all of five seconds when he realizes what kind of opportunity he's got
with you around." She grinned and touched Reff's arm again. "You have
such soft fur."

Reff felt a warm glow spread from where Karen touched her. She asked,
"A boyfriend?"

"No, I don't have a boyfriend right now." Her hand kept stroking on
Reff's arm.

"Why not?" Reff asked.

"I don't..." Karen sighed. Reff sensed that she was reluctant to say more.
Her hand was still stroking Reff's fur. She suddenly pulled her hand away.
"Sorry. I just... I..."

"You were enjoying the way I feel."

Karen blushed; for a brief moment more than just her freckles were red.
"Yeah. Sorry."

"Why are you sorry?" Reff asked. "It was... nice."

Karen stretched her hand out again. "I cannot believe I'm doing this.
You're an alien, from another planet so far away..." She touched Reff's
arm. "But you feel so comfortable."

Reff grinned. "Can I ask you for a favor, Karen?"

Karen watched her hand, tracing it's movement from Reff's elbow to her
wrist. "Ask away."

"Can I touch you?" Karen looked up. "I've never been this close to a
Terran before."

"Go ahead," Karen replied. "Fair is fair."

Reff reached out and touched Karen's shoulder, tracing a line along one
arm to freckled wrist. The skin beneath her fingertips was as smooth
as she thought it would be, and just as lovely. "I didn't expect to be
making friends this fast," Reff said, "Or in this way."

"I'm not even sure what I'm doing," Karen said.

"'Seeking out new life and new civilizations'."

Karen burst out laughing. "I can't believe you said that! It's so...

"They made us watch it, so that we would know what you might expect
of us."

"But not 2001? What kind of... who dreamt up that plan?" Reff shrugged.
"Hey," Karen continued, "Would you like to take a shower?"

"With you or without you?"

"If we're going to get this friendly, then how about 'with.'"

"Is your shower large enough?"

"That's one of the reasons I took this apartment. They actually have
large bathtubs. You might have to sit, but there'll be room for two."

It was a large, oval tub, but she did indeed have to sit down; the ceiling
was lower than in the living room. She was gratified to see that Karen
had a shower head on a hose. That made washing all the more easy. Karen
tied her hair on top of her head with a clip of sorts and joined her. "I
brought my own soap," Reff said, holding up a large plastic bottle. "It's
for my fur and it won't use up your shampoo."

Karen held out a translucent bar of what Terrans apparently used for soap.
"I can't believe I'm saying this, but, Reff, would you wash me?"

Reff grinned. She took the hose and dialed it until Karen told her it was
adequate, then applied the bar of soap gently to Karen's back. Her hands
swept Karen's skin, back and forth, the bubbles from the soap leaving
gentle trails as gravity pulled them over the taut skin of her buttocks.
Reff had never experienced this kind of happiness with her own species
but somehow Karen was drawing it out of her like there was nothing to
it. She suspected the human girl knew what she was doing. Reff fought to
keep the tremble from becoming too obvious as she worked her way across
Karen's small and lovely butt, and the fight became all the harder as she
worked her way down Karen's legs. She made it all the way down to Karen's
small and shapely feet without giving away too much, or so she thought.

"Turn around?" Karen asked.

"What? Oh, yes." Sitting as she was, she was eye-level with the other
fem's breasts. Small as they were, they were also indescribably lovely.
She applied more soap to Karen's shoulders, and tried to keep herself
completely self-contained even as she lathered Karen's chest and belly.
She finally put her hands down at her sides before going any further.
"Karen, I, I'm having trouble, um, I, this is not as straightforward as
I thought it would be."

"Is something wrong?"

The words came out in faltering stutters of indecision. "I don't want
to keep sharing this bath with you if... because I might get tempted. To
do something. Inappropriate."

"You aren't saying you'd want to hurt me, are you?"

Reff shook her head. "No! No, just the opposite. But you Terrans always
seem to be so confused about that subject that I'm confused bringing it
up with you."

Karen laughed aloud. "Intimacy? Yeah, I guess we are, aren't we?" She
was quiet for a moment, and Reff couldn't see her eyes clearly. Their
difference in height was too great for that.

"Reff," Karen asked, "where's your soap?"

Reff proffered the requested bottle. Karen pulled the showerhead off
the wall. "Close your eyes, Reff."

Reff was bathed in the warm spray of the showerhead. She heard Karen
giggle. "All the cats I know hate water."

"All the cats you know are uncivilized," Reff replied through the water
dripping off her nose. Karen switched the shower from a straight spray
to a kind of pulsing action and Reff found herself the target of a
delightfully random sort of massage. Karen directed the water down her
back and over her legs, stopping only occasionally to make sure she got
the fur completely soaked through.

The water returned to spray, and then she felt Karen's hands on her
shoulders. "Wow," Karen said. "There's a lot of you."

"We were talking about how much bigger I was last night."

"Yeah," Karen said. Reff felt Karen's hand followed a similar course
through her fur that her paws had taken going over Karen's skin. Karen,
however, was not reticent about getting her hands between Reff's thighs,
although she had had to actually step out of the tub to get from Reff's
front to back. "Do you want to do this part?" she asked.

"It's a part," Reff said. "You can if you like."

Karen looked up at her. "Reff..."

Reff put one soapy arm on Karen's shoulder. "I like you, Karen. Besides,
this is just washing me. Right?" She tried to give her new friend her
best smile.

Karen smiled back, then slipped her hand between Reff's legs and applied
soap to the larger fem's vulva. Reff held her breath as waves of desire
rolled through her. "Now for the rinse," Karen said. The massage returned,
coursing over the back of Reff's neck, down her back, across her front to
her legs, and down each leg to her feet. It felt wonderful on the soles of
her feet-- ticklish, too. "Must rinse well," Karen said in a voice barely
above a whisper. Her foot pressed against Reff's inner thigh suggestively.
Reff took the hint and spread her lags a little further apart. "Good." The
massage became gentler even as Karen directed it down across Reff's
pubic mons. Reff leaned back against the back wall of the tub and gave
Karen the opening she wanted. Karen directed the gentle pulses against
Reff's swelling lips. "How similarly are you built to us?" she whispered.

"Close enough," Reff murmured back. "The same." She didn't open her eyes
even as the rhythm of the shower matched the pulsations of pleasure that
had begun to surge through her. Her whole body had become a puddle of
satisfaction waiting to happen, waiting only for Karen to actually aim
the massager directly at the core of her desire. "More."

The pressure increased even as Reff spread her legs wider. She opened
her eyes just long enough to see that Karen was looking directly at
her target, aiming with all the deliberation deserved of a lover. She
surrendered herself completely to Karen's attention, as the pulses of
water grew in strength until her need was too strong. She clenched her
fists as she came, rolling her head back and forth against the tiled
wall, moaning in the rush of heat and bliss. Even as her orgasm subsided,
Karen shifted the shower from massage to stream again.

Reff looked up at Karen, who was looking at her with her mouth wide open,
her own breath coming in ragged gasps, her eyes as wide as searchbeams. "I
don't believe it!" she said.

"What?" Reff asked between breaths.

"I... I made you come. I made an Uncia, an alien, come." She started
shaking, trembling almost uncontrollably. "I can't figure out how that
happened." She sat on the floor of the tub. "I don't know how we got
here." She looked up at Reff. "How did this happen?"

Reff saw that full realization was hitting Karen harder that either one
of them had anticipated and she wasn't handling it too well. She reached
out and pulled Karen into her lap, holding the much smaller woman in a
bear of a hug. "We just went with it."

"I know, I know. It's... Oh my God. It's so cool!" She started laughing
uncontrollably, and Reff joined right in with her. As they settled down,
Karen snuggled against Reff's warm body. "We're running out of hot water."

"Does that happen often?" Reff asked. She noticed the loss of temperature
in the spray as well.

"All the time," Karen said. "Let's get out. We have a long day ahead of
us." She rose from the tub and turned off the water. Reff joined her.

Reff discovered that she could just fit in Karen's car, a Ford Taurus,
if she sat in the rear seat behind Karen in a slouch position and extended
her legs feet into the forward passenger area.

Karen had worn jeans and a bright blue silken shirt over which she wore
a leather jacket of light brown decorated with tassels. The feather
earring had returned. Her boots were similar in color to the jacket and
just as decorated. She looked in the mirror mounted overhead and said,

"I've been in worse," Reff said.

"It's a short drive."

It was indeed a short drive and Karen seemed to be an careful driver. Reff
had long marveled at the number of people on Terra who appeared to be
proficient at what must have been a very difficult and time-consuming
task to acquire. She was no pilot herself and tended to use Sdisks to
get everywhere.

Karen pulled into the driveway of a small, unassuming residence on a
quiet street. "If we're careful, I might be able to get you into the patio
without anyone else spotting you. Yes, the street's pretty clear." She got
out of the car and walked around to the other side. "Let me help you out."
Reff took the offered hand and struggled to get out of narrow passage. The
sun outside was brighter than she remembered, and a closer look at the
house revealed nothing out of the ordinary. It was sadly run-down and
poorly maintained; the grass grew wild in what passed for a front lawn, a
hose lay scattered thoughtlessly on the driveway, and birds had stained a
once-white roof into modern art. She followed Karen up to the front door.
"Stay to one side first. And watch your head."

She opened the door. "Knock knock!"

"Hey, Karen! You're late!"

"Sorry, Space. I had a guest over last night and we were up late. I
brought her over for you guys to meet. Reff?"

Karen stepped into the door frame, giving Reff room to poke her head in.
Six people stared with hands and mouths in different stages of greeting,
all of which froze completely as they got a good look at her. "Oh, my,
God." That was from a woman seated on the couch opposite the door.

"You brought-- your friend is a Pendorian?" asked the one across the room.
"How did you manage that?"

Reff squeezed her way past the door and into the room. "Whose house
is this?" Three hands went up. "Do any of you mind if I take a seat on
the floor?"

"Please, go right ahead," said a taller man who had raised his hand,
gesticulating wildly towards a large open spot. He grabbed the table
that occupied much of the floor and pulled it to one side, giving her
more room than she needed.

She sat down and crossed her legs. "Hi."

Nervous laughter filled the room. "Hi," said one. "I'm Joan." "Robert."
"Space." "Matt." "Joe." "Deborah."

There was a brief silence. Karen broke it by apologizing to Space. "Sorry
I ruined your game, but I figured this might be interesting."

"That's... okay," Space muttered. "I was running out of ideas anyway.
They'd made it to the city, but the vampire thread was over too fast."

"So, what do we do now?" asked a short, zaftig woman with more freckles
than Karen. She had earlier identified herself as Joan.

"Talk?" Reff asked, grinning but also slightly frustrated. "I mean,
I came because I wanted to meet some of Karen's friends. If I'm being
disruptive I can always go and get a cab or something."

"That's okay," responded Robert. "It's just that, we always wanted
to talk to aliens, but we never imagined we'd ever get to meet one in
our lifetimes, even after you guys landed. How... how did you get to
meet Karen?"

"Quen i lamber Pendoreva," Karen said.

"You're joking!" Robert said.

"Nele," Reff replied.

"Wow," Robert replied. He turned back to Karen. "And since you speak it
too, you just walked up to her and started talking?"

"Something like that," Reff laughed.

Each wanted to touch her, to know that she was real. Each got their turn,
and she blushed at the compliments they gave her on the silkiness of
her fur. She, in turn, gave the credit to chemists on Pendor who made
her shampoo.

Robert gave her a brief tour-- three bedrooms, one of which had been
turned into a computer room, a comfortable kitchen, and out in the
back a swimming pool. The house had no environmental control, however;
that made the swimming pool all the more understandable and far more
tempting. The house saddened Reff in the way much of Terra did; too
many people, not enough resources, too much repetition of duty and too
little automation led to cramped living conditions and poorly maintained
streets. She could barely fit through the bathroom door, although she
could use it once inside.

Their conversation ranged all over. She answered their questions on
politics, religion, art, everything. Hours passed.

Reff's stomach growled. "Am I the only who is hungry?" she asked,
noticing that most of the people at the table had snacks.

"It's a little early, but we could do dinner," Matt said.

"I'd like to avoid going out in public," Reff sighed. "Even in Washington,
I'm mobbed every time I leave the Embassy."

"We could go get take-out and bring it back to Mos Eisley," Robert

"'Mos Eisley?'" Reff asked. The name was familiar to her but she couldn't
say why.

"Yeah," Robert said. "Here. Our house. Where-- " All six voices chimed in
at once, "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy!"
In deep and serious tones, Joe finished, "We must be cautious."

Reff, for an innumerable time that day, found herself liking these
gently self-mocking humans in ways she couldn't begin to express clearly.
"Chinese good?" Karen asked her.

"Wonderful," Reff said. "A double order of Peking duck, if they have it."

"I take it you've had that before," Karen said. Reff nodded. "Okay,
then, China Gardens take out it is."

Matt and Joan did the run and returned shortly thereafter with the
take-out orders. "I guess this food isn't what you're used to on Pendor,
is it?" Joan asked. She was the quietest of the group, although she could
be quick and needlessly cruel when she wanted to be; sarcasm tinged
with anger, although she had thus far not aimed any of that anger in
Reff's direction.

"That depends on what you mean. Pendorian cooking is very simple. We have
all the fruits and vegetables and meats you have here, as well as some
you've probably never heard of, but we don't have an awareness of spices
the way you do here. And some of the combinations are simply unheard of."
She dug at something in her second box of take out and came up with a
mushroom. "Fungus. I would never have thought to eat fungus, for example."

Joseph said, "Let me be direct. Why are you here?"

"On Earth?"

"I was thinking more about California."

Reff grinned. "It's simple. Remember that Pendor is a Terran colony and
that we're only about a century old?" The room nodded. Reff wondered if
they would ever forget. When she had described that, each had reacted
in their own way, but each reaction had surely been shock. "We have no
cookbooks, no architecture, nothing like that. Think about it this way;
I walk outside and I see a hundred different makes of car. We have only a
few, and their differences are based mostly on what they do, not personal
preference. Terrans have had centuries, and billions of people, to put
to the task of diversifying. We want some that. Badly." She took a bite,
swallowed. "California is just one of those media-producing centers that
we want to tap."

"Culture mining." That was from Joan.

"I hope not," Reff said. "Not in the way that America seems to strip-mine
everyone else."

"Aren't you a carnivore?" Robert asked.

"All Pendorians are omnivores, like Terrans. Our genetic makeup is
close to yours, actually; the appearance is part of an alteration from
an improved Human base. We're deliberately designed to integrate as a
culture. A common example is that even though my species averages twice
the mass of the smallest species, the Tindals, our genitalia are designed
along very similar lines. Although coloration and keep might be different,
the layout and size are about the same for everyone. Only the Centaurs
are different."

She noticed there were some quiet looks. "Did I say something wrong? I
know I'm not supposed to bring this up in most Terran groups, but you
seem so... different."

"I think it depends on you who you are," Karen said. "We're adults,
we can take it. But the announcement that you're designed to have sex
with humans is, well, let's just say the boys are probably trying to
come up with ways to get you into bed."

Reff barely avoided asking Karen what was on her mind. She had wanted
to talk about it with Karen, but the other woman didn't seem ready to
discuss it in front of her friends, and Reff understood that; Terrans
were regularly reticent about their sex lives. She shrugged instead. "I
make my own decisions."

"Good," Karen said. Reff tried to read not too much into her apparent

Robert let out a deep sigh. "It's hot."

"What do you expect?" Joan asked. "We live in Southern California without
air conditioning. If you're hot, why not go for a swim? We pay rent on
the pool, too."

"And miss the company?" Robert asked, indicating Reff.

"I could enjoy a swim as well," Reff said. "I haven't been able to go
swimming for several weeks. It's still cold in Washington and I haven't
found an indoor pool that will take me as a member yet, although Athena
is working on it."

"Athena?" Joan asked.

"Our chief of staff. And that's all she is. She makes sure we all
stay sane."

"Sounds like a challenging job."

"I would guess it is," Reff agreed. "Now, that swim?"

"We don't all have bathing suits," Karen pointed out.

"Reff? Would it bother you if we went skinny dipping?" Robert asked.

Reff took a second to ask Athena what that meant. When she got her answer,
she grinned. "You mean, swim without those absurd modesty suits that
cover absolutely nothing?"

"That's a good enough answer."

Karen surprised her by being reluctant about getting into the water. She
was the only one who didn't, although she wasn't put off by the rest
stripping down and jumping in. Reff slipped into the water and took a deep
breath, going completely under and sinking to the bottom. The cool water
enveloped her in a silence that was just barely broken by the sounds of
the humans splashing. She let herself stay under as long as she could
stand it, finally coming up for air to see a circle of concerned faces.
"How long can you stay down?" asked Deborah.

"Seven or eight minutes, I think," Reff replied.

"That's a lot longer than any of us can manage," she said. "You must
have some great lungs."

Reff grinned. "I guess so."

The questions resumed, but at a slower pace now, more thoughtful. After
this afternoon's session, filled with more descriptions than anything
else, she was ready for something a little slower. She enjoyed the cooling
effect of the water and appreciated that the Terrans seemed to be able
to play in the water without having to interact with her. Even as her
internal clock crawled towards midnight they seemed to have warmed to
her presence among them, one of many friends they had.

She was sitting next to the steps in the shallow end when a body slid
in beside hers and said, "You're quiet."

"Resting," she replied before realizing that the voice was Karen's. "You
got in."

"I'm not completely against skinny dipping. I was just not sure how to
deal with you. I don't think I want them to know yet. Although they're
probably wondering." She was whispering.

"Arin ahavya?"

"Havya? I don't know what that word means."

"About or concerning."

"Oh. Um, yeah. Arin ahavya."

"I'll be discreet."

"I'd appreciate it."

"Are you hogging the alien again, Karen?" Robert asked, clearly tinging
his voice with humor and amusement.

"She is, and she's being silly about it." Reff lifted Karen out of the
water and, taking a chance to admire the view, tossed her into the deep
end of the pool.

"Oh, yeah?" Karen said, sputtering as she came up for air. She gathered
an armful of water and splashed it in Reff's direction.

"Splashfight!" someone shouted, and for the next minute the pool was a
churning mass of bodies throwing water in every direction. Karen dove
beneath the water to get out of it and found herself pressed up against
Reff. Both of them whirled to look at one another, and with a sudden
impulse the two of them were tangled in a kiss, mouth and muzzle pressed
together almost bruisingly hard.

They broke apart and headed for the surface, only to emerge in the
continuing battle. It soon slowed down to half-hearted splashes. Karen
avoided Reff's eyes. Nobody else seemed to notice.

Reff heard Athena whispering to her. Reff, your plane leaves at 5 pm
tomorrow. Reff took the hint. It also gave her a chance to start talking
to Karen again. "Karen? I hate to say this but my plane to Washington
leaves tomorrow, and I really should get some sleep."

The hint and its notions of sleep propagated easily through the crowd. In
short time, they were toweling, saying goodbyes, giving her cards and
scraps of paper with phone numbers on them, and trying to convince her
to stay it touch, but over all they thanked her profusely for the private
time together. Each made her feel, as nobody else yet had, that her mere
presence was a pleasure which they respected. Karen, especially.

She crammed herself into Karen's tiny car again and again they were on
the road. She wondered how to resume talking to Karen. What had transpired
there, in the pool? "Karen?"

"Yes, Reff?"

"I would be honored if you would have me as your guest for another night."

There was a long pause from the front. "Karen?"

"I didn't dare ask, I didn't know what to make of that... under the
water there. You're so welcome to stay at my place I can't think of how
to say it. Yes, yes. What time does your plane leave?"

"Five tomorrow. And my people can take care of my bags."

Reff asked Karen for one other small favor, and they ended up at the
supermarket. Reff and Karen walked in together. There were screams,
shouts, fingers pointed. A law enforcement officer followed them around. A
camera flashed. Reff ignored it as she paid for the gallon of milk she
had picked up.

They were soon on the streets. Karen dodged a corner, then another, her
driving suddenly seeming more erratic. "Losing a tail," she said. Reff
understood. Karen pulled into her complex and the two of them snuck
upstairs quickly. "That was not entirely smart." Then she laughed. "What
the Hell. People took pictures of us together at the airport. It's
not like there's not already questions about the mystery redhead. I'll
probably show up on the cover of the Star soon with a headline, Woman
Gives Birth To First Interplanetary Baby!'"

"Even if we were different sexes, we would not be compatible. I don't
imagine these tabloids understand that."

"Oh, they do. They just know that their audience doesn't. Or doesn't

She walked into her bedroom, emerging minutes later, a voluminous robe
enveloping her form. She helped Reff with the futon.

"We are being awkward," Reff said, deciding that the tension needed

"We're not used to talking about it," Karen replied. "But, yeah, we are.
What happened this morning? In the pool?"

Reff grinned and pulled Karen down into her lap. "Friendship happened."

"Is that all?"

"Do you want more, or less?"

"Good question," Karen said. "If I say less, I can say it was just
curiosity, mischief, me being a troublemaker. If I say more, it's like
I'm asking for something. What do you want, Reff?"

"I don't know. I want to satisfy my curiosity. I want to get to know
you better, but not if it means trouble for you. I would like to give
you pleasure, too."

"You've already done that! Just calling me two days ago and asking if
you can come over is something I'll never forget."

"That's good." Her arms tightened around Karen's body. "I like you. If
you want, we can just go to our respective rooms and not worry about it."

"But..." Karen squirmed free of Reff's grip to sit on the futon. "I feel
like I'd be missing something."

"You would," Reff said. "And so would I. But that's not as important as
your comfort, Karen. It really is not."

"There will never be an opportunity like this again...." Karen sighed.
Then, she surprised Reff by taking her shirt off over her head, tossing it
aside, and starting to work on her pants. "Take off your clothes, Reff."

Instead, Reff per her massive paw on Karen's shoulder. "Are you sure?"

"You're not going to eat me, right? I mean..."

Reff tossed her head back and laughed. "No, Karen, I'm not going to hurt you at all. I'm not going to leave any marks on your body, if that's what
you mean. But I worry more about what you might think in the morning."

"I'll be alone again by Monday, Reff. I can't let this go by. I just
can't. My curiosity will kill me. Too many times I have let a day go by
without doing what my curiosity wanted and I've always hated myself for
it. This time, I want to do it."

Reff struggled out of her nondescript clothing, dropping the lot into
a heap.

Karen was looking at her, looking her body up and down. "You look so..."

"You saw me this morning."

"I know, but we were busy then." She touched Reff's knee, then stroked
her hands down the length of Reff's thigh. "Can I... Can I just touch
you for a while?"

Reff lay down on the futon. "Yes."

Karen's hands explored her, starting at the legs. Her touch started out
tentatively, but soon she was pressing hard against the furred tension of
Reff's thighs. It was almost as if she were trying to give Reff a massage,
although her hands seem to be doing more examining than stroking. Her
hands lightened as she eased down the length of Reff's legs to her feet.
"Your feet are more humanoid than I expected."

"A real translation wasn't ergonomic," Reff said, understanding what
Karen meant.

"This isn't really sexy," Karen said, suddenly giggling.

"You wanted to explore. Curiosity is good. Go ahead. I am enjoying your
touch, Karen."

The redhead blushed hard. "Thanks. That means a lot to me."

"I reserve the right to return the favor."

"Hmm." Karen moved up to Reff's hips, her hands exploring Reff's belly,
feeling the solid pack of muscles there before easing up to Reff's chest.
"You have nipples."

"Of course I do," Reff said. "There's just nothing for them to do. I
never can understand why some species walk around with prominent breasts all the time. They'd just get in the way. Funny, though, I like yours. I
understand that males like them on all females."

"That's an evolution thing," Karen said, her fingertips tracing the line
of Reff's collarbone, reaching one shoulder. "You don't have much fur
on the insides of your elbows."

Reff chuckled. "I never noticed that before. It's there."

"Oh, it's there. It's just thin. Like, it's supposed to make it easy to
do an IV or something. Maybe that's it."

"I doubt it. I've never had an IV. I don't see why I would be engineered
to make it easy. And we don't know what other Uncia have. Although I
could ask around."

Karen giggled. "This isn't a science experiment."

"But that's exactly what it is, Karen. A strange science experiment.
You're trying to figure me out, and I'm trying to figure you out."

"But is that science?" Karen said. Her hands were now on Reff's jaw. She
worked her way up to Reff's ears, tickling them gently, making Reff
squirm. "Stop that!"

"Sorry," Karen said.

"Would you like me to turn over so you can explore the other side?"

"No. Your turn."

Reff rose up as Karen lay down. She looked the human girl over completely.
The same smooth skin as this morning, very pale on her belly and thighs
and everywhere else, but on her arms and calves that paleness competed
for space with small, red freckles. Karen's pubic hair bloomed in a
tangle of a red so bright it was almost pink.

Reff placed her fingers on Karen's leg, starting just above the ankle,
touching and feeling her way along the woman's body. Karen at first
seemed as detached as she had been during her examination of Reff, but
now her body sagged against the solid futon and her red lips parted. Her
eyes were closed as Reff's fingers moved up the length of her calf,
over her thigh. She was much slower that Karen was, but then there was
significantly less of Karen for her to go over, so she had more time.

"Your fingers are soft, Reff. Where are your claws?"

Reff tensed muscles in her hands and popped out her claws a little bit.

"Oh!" Karen said, tensing. "Woah. I didn't expect that. You tickled me."

"Sorry." She relaxed, letting the claws sink back into her fingertips
and the skin fold over them. "You asked."

"I did," Karen said. Her words came with a deep throatiness.

Reff realized that Karen was letting herself go. "You're trusting me,"
she said.

Karen didn't open her eyes but she did smile. "I slept alone last night
with a perfect stranger in my living room, and you didn't hurt me. Once
I realized that I had been even more vulnerable then than now, I supposed
I could give everything up and just... let it happen."

Reff nodded. "That's logical." Her fingers caressed Karen's nipples,
which had become very solid in the past few seconds. She was no longer
exploring. This was her turn to do for Karen what Karen had done for
her that morning.

She reached down with one hand and pulled Karen's knee to one side,
parting the young woman's legs. The aroma of Karen's arousal reached
her nostrils. Even the scent of her felt hot. "You're excited."

"Should I not be?"

Reff positioned herself between Karen's legs. "I don't know. I'm not
human. I probably smell wrong or something."

"How do I smell to you?"

"Like a paradise," Reff responded. "And you look like one too." She
let her tongue touch Karen's swollen outer lips softly. Although
her own vulva might be standardized to a common size on Pendor, her
tongue was not, and she knew that going down on a smaller female was
often a difficult trick for Uncia. But Karen moaned all the same. Reff
delighted at how wonderfully the red-furred human girl tasted. It was a
sweet taste, almost sugary, like nothing she had ever experienced from
a Pendorian. Then again, she had known so few Pendorian fems she could
count them on one paw.

She reached around Karen's thighs and placed her hands on the woman's
sides. Karen rested her legs against Reff's shoulders as Reff slid her
thick tongue deeper into Karen's sex, tasting the fluids that dribbled
from her opening, finding the solid point of the clit with her tongue.
Karen's body actually twisted to one side as Reff caressed that little
nub meant only for pleasure. "More," Karen gasped. "Just a little more."

Reff gave Karen what she asked for. Karen's body drew so tense that Reff
was concerned she might hurt something. Karen almost seemed to be raising
her body off the futon by sheer will, then she collapsed back onto the
bed with a silent gasp and a shuddering that wracked her from her toes
to an uncontrollable toss of her head. "Oh, God, Reff, thank you."

Reff grinned. "I was just repaying you for this morning."

"And you did," Karen sighed. "You did."

Reff still couldn't keep her hands off Karen's body. She found herself
wanting to touch Karen more and more. To her pleasure, Karen's hands
were stroking her fur much as they had been in the morning. They lay
together, coming down from their high together. Reff breathed in the
scent of Karen's hair, and Karen snuggled up close to her friend. "Sleep
with me tonight?" Karen asked.

"Is your bed bigger than the futon?"

"No. I was going to ask if I could stay here tonight."

"It's your house."

"You're the guest. It's your call."

"Of course you can sleep here," Reff replied. "But I steal covers."

"It's hot. I won't care."


When Reff awoke, Karen was already up. The smell of coffee wafted
through the room. That must have been what awakened her. Karen was still
deliciously naked as she worked in the kitchen. "Good morning."

Karen smiled and walked over. "Coffee?"

"Causes nausea in felines," Reff said. "Do you have decaf?"

"It's not as good."

"I'll still take it."

Karen made Reff some decaffeinated coffee. Reff poured it into the huge
mug Karen had given her two nights ago and filled it the rest of the way
with milk, then drained the entire thing in one sustained swallow. "Wow,"
Karen said as she watched Reff refill the mug with milk.

"I guess I was thirsty."

"I'll say."

They spent the morning lazing around. Karen told Reff more about her
growing up, and Reff returned the favor. Reff felt that she would be
telling this story many times, to many people, but it would never be
quite as interesting again.

They also watched another movie. This time it was Close Encounters,
which Reff found interesting for its assumptions as well. "Too bad the
universe isn't like that," she said finally.

"Are you sure? I mean, how many worlds have you been to?" Karen chided
her. "As I recall, the total is two. Yours and mine."

Reff smiled. "You're right. We don't know. I'm sure we'll find out
someday, though. This isn't the last one we intended on visting. Just
the first one."

"I'm glad you visited."

"I am too." Reff, prompted by a whisper, glanced down at her watch. "My
plane leaves in two hours and my companions have already assembled to
leave for the airport. I should probably meet them there."

"I'll drive you. If you're not sick of my car."

Reff kissed Karen's cheek. "I'm not sick of your car."

Karen touched her cheek. "You hadn't done that yet. Kiss me."

Reff kissed Karen's mouth softly. Karen returned the gesture. When they
parted Karen gasped, "Wow. Every time I think I've got a handle on you,
you remind me of just how big you are!"

Together, they assembled Reff's bag and stowed the futon in its couch
configuration. Karen drove them to the airport. The drive took longer
than anticipated because of an accident on the freeway. They arrived
with only a short time to spare.

Inside, Athena directed Reff and Karen to the other three Pendorians'
location. They were waiting at the terminal even though the plane wasn't
scheduled to leave for another hour. All of them greeted both Reff and
Karen with equal pleasure, as if she'd always been a member of their team.
Loit, the Tindal, was especially friendly, giving Karen a sisterly hug.
"So you're the Terran my team leader has been spending her weekend with."

"So," Reff said, "Did you enjoy Disneyland?"

"I suspect we did not as much as you enjoyed your weekend," Loit said.

"I found it depressing," Mamood said. "It was too regimented. That
some people find it entertaining-- I suppose I would have appreciated
a looser format."

"I suppose you would, too," Karen said. "There's a reason locals don't
go to tourist traps. And that's it in a nutshell."

A boarding call went out over the speakers. "That's you guys."

Reff hugged Karen tightly. "I won't forget you."

"I'll practice my Quen until it's perfect. And you'll call me?"

"I'll call you," Reff promised. She looked at Karen and for the first
time saw a fragility that hadn't been there the nights before. Reff
decided it was a fair thing for her to promise. "See you soon, Karen."

"See you, too. Goodbye, Reff."


The Journal Entries of Kennet R'yal Shardik, et. al., and Related Tales
are Copyright (c) 1989-2000 Elf Mathieu Sternberg. Distribution limited
to electronic media not-for-profit use only. All other rights are reserved
to the author.


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