Buck Who? Chapter 13

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 13: Party Proposal

April 28th, 2668  the Community.

Sweat poured off Declan’s face in rivulets as he forced out the last of two-hundred push-ups. His muscles burned with Lactic Acid and his entire body trembled with the effort required. He had been eating five or six full meals a day for the past several days and the banites had been working overtime.

“Doc, I’m so proud of you!” Babs cheered as he finally got to his feet.

“Thanks, Babs,” he puffed out. His white skin was slick with sweat and his hair was matted against his scalp. He was naked from the waste up and wore only a pair of shorts one of the local men had donated to him.

The day was overcast, the first time since he had arrived in the community he had not seen the sun. It was still pleasantly warm and a slight breeze caressed his torso, drying the sweat and cooling his feverishly-hot flesh.

“I ran a quick diagnostic and you’re back to eighty-five percent efficiency,” Babs informed him. She was standing a few meters in front of him, wearing a pair of shorts and an exercise bra. Her Avatar was likewise coated in sweat and she was breathing heavily. She did not need to exercise, but she felt if her avatar worked alongside him, it would help with his recovery.

He shook his head and smiled. “Babs, put something on a little more appropriate, would you?”

She placed her hands on her hips and bounced up and down. It was one of the things he liked about his best friend. She was, at least in some ways, a realist. Her body was very shapely but she had small, compact breasts, the kind of breasts an athletic woman would possess. “Forget it, Doc. After watching Ra’naa and some of the other women train, I think I like this better.” She ran her hands down her pink and white-furred sides, from below her breasts to her hips.

Declan grabbed a towel and a large mug. He threw the towel over his shoulder and drained the mug in one long pull. “Kind of weird,” he mused and grinned. “They like to exercise naked, even in front of the men.”

It was true. The pool also served as an exercise area, although many of the cabins had their own yards for that. Only two days ago he had gone in to take a swim and was stopped cold in his tracks. Everyone, men, women, children, even the oldsters, were naked. The women, led by Ra’naa, were likewise naked but were hard at work, doing calisthenics and stretching. He had to leave a moment later, as it was nearly beyond erotic to him.

Thankfully Tara had been there every night, using him and testing the limits of his stamina and endurance. For the first time since arriving in the community, he wore her out and when she had left, she was walking funny. 

“It really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise you know,” Babs said as she walked over to him. “Taboos and practices change from year to year, and it has been there hundred years…”

Declan nodded and began to butterfly breathe. He had been exercising hard for nearly two hours and he had finally reached his limits. He was still using a room in the community’s infirmary, but now he was nearly recovered. It was time he started to think about where he was going to stay. “You know,” he puffed out, still trying to catch his breath. “I am going to miss this place.”

Babs laughed and sat on the ground in a traditional lotus position. Declan had to blink and turn away as her seated position gave him a full, unrestricted view of her anatomy. She might be wearing shorts, but that was it. Babs’ avatar was still painfully feminine. “You’re going to miss Katie and the free food, isn’t that what you mean?” She had a wicked, knowing grin on her face.

“The food, for sure,” he confessed with a grin of his own, although there was something about the Exotic with the big, bushy tail. He still could not get over the sheer number of Exotics who called the community home. And the fact that not a single one of them could be called even remotely homely. “And I really like this private yard for exercise.”

“Doc…” she said slowly. “I know you too well. You’re bored.”
            “I am,” he closed his eyes and ran the towel over his forehead and neck, wiping the worst of the sweat away. He looked up into the overcast sky and frowned as his belly let out a grumble of protest. “I can’t say I’ll miss eating constantly though, it has been a serious pain in the ass.”

“Excuse me, Declan?”

He jumped slightly and turned, feeling his face flush. Standing about five meters from him was the Exotic Kate. She was wearing a simple white dress and was barefoot and had several flowers braded into her thick, brown hair.

“What is it, Kate? He allowed his eyes to rove up and down her body and could see the darker patches of her nipples. Declan realized how sheer the dress was.

She looked at the ground, shyly. “I just wanted to know if you needed more water.”

He looked at the empty mug and then picked it up. He crossed the yard and held it out to her. “Yes, please.”

She took it from his hand and their eyes met for a second. She really did have lovely eyes, big and brown and full of intelligence. “Are you hungry?”

He laughed. “Yes. I still have a way to go before I’m fully recovered.”

“Do you want me to bring your meal here, or to your room?”

There was something in her eyes, a strange look. It was a look he had seen many times in the past, in bars and the various night-clubs he used to frequent when he was off duty. She wanted him.

“Um, you can bring it up to my room. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

She nodded and entered the clinic.

“Doc…” Babs started.

“What is it?” He said, a little testily.

“You’re fucking Tara,” she reminded him.

“So?”

“Well… do you think it’s wise?”

He shrugged. “We’re not dating, she’s using me, and I’m using her.”

“You’re funeral.”

He decided to ignore her and he went up to his room. He entered it and closed the curtains over the window, but did not close the window itself. The breeze blowing in from the outside was pleasant enough and it helped dry the sweat on his body.

Declan walked over to the door and stood there, waiting patiently. In only a handful of minutes there was a light tapping on the door and he opened it. Kate was there, a mug of water and a tray of food. “May I come in?”

“Of course. Just put the food on the table.”

She entered and he closed the door behind her. Kate crossed the small room and put the plate of food on the table, with Declan only a step behind. When she turned, he was right there. She gasped slightly but did not flinch or turn away. He placed his hands on her shoulders and hooked his thumb beneath the strap of her dress. Slowly, he slid it off her shoulders and when she did not protest, he pulled it off her. She was naked underneath, as he already expected. She was not even wearing a bra or panties.

“Doc, don’t do this,” Babs practically pleaded. “Think of Tara.”

He ignored her as he took Kates hands in his own and slid them down the front of his shorts. Her eyes widened and her mouth curled into an anticipatory smile as she felt what was waiting for her.

In moments, his garment joined hers on the floor and she moaned as he slid into her hot, sopping sweetness.  

***

Is that the last of the weapons?

Ra’naa finished applying the last dab of oil to the mechanism of the automatic rifle Otres had repaired. She looked at the racks of firearms, all recently field-stripped and cleaned, standing at the rear of her cabin. “Yup, that’s all of them.”

The little Uplift chittered happily, although she could hear the exhaustion. They had been working hard the entire week, repairing and preparing the weapons they found. Otres nearly worked himself into pure exhaustion every day, using his unique ability. All in all, they managed to repair all nineteen of the weapons, which had been discovered the previous week.

Her father, Max surprised them both when he revealed that he had recently spoken to a group of traders. The traders had been encountered on the ancient highway by several of the community members who had been fishing. They had traded for thirty more old and heavily damaged hunting rifles. The traders had been more than happy to unload the useless weapons for freshly baked goods and plenty of dried meat.

“Come here,” she said to Otres.

What?

She knelt and held out her arms. “I said, come here!”

He obeyed and she embraced him, holding his furry body next to hers. “You need a break, Otres. Let’s go to the pool, and then afterwards we will get something to eat and join the party.”

He closed his eyes and nuzzled her neck. Their friendship had grown rapidly into mutual respect and love, but more like that of siblings. He found he no longer wanted to go and live at the pool, although he still enjoyed going there every day after they were finished working. The swimming and frolicking helped ease his exhaustion. He was more than content to stay with Ra’naa and share her home and bed, although the latter strictly in a platonic fashion.

After nearly a minute she released him and gave him a quick peck on the nose. “Are you sure you’re up for that? I can see it in your eyes how tired you are.”

Nothing a swim and then some food can’t fix, Otres said, his little face splitting into a sharp-toothed grin. And what’s this about a party?

Ra’naa stood and brushed off her knees. She was wearing a leather vest and pants, with a black belt secured around her waist. Her pistol was in its holster, riding low on her thigh. She had her hair tied up in a single pony-tail, and as usual, she had flowers braided into the strand. Ra’naa had taken the time to twine two budding vines along her horns. “Every Friday nearly all in the community gather to relax and celebrate the end of the work-week.”

Sounds interesting, he said, hesitantly.

“What’s bothering you?” She asked, concerned. She crossed her arms under her breasts and forced her tail from swishing side to side. It was a habit she had whenever she was feeling strong emotions.

You said most of the community will be there?

Ra’naa nodded.

I’m okay with a few people, especially those I know, but that many? I don’t know if I can handle being around so many people at one time.

She sighed and smiled. “Fair enough. If you find it is too much for you to handle, we can come home and get some sleep.”

I’ll try to deal with it, just for you. He squeaked and bobbed up and down, still wearing the sharp-toothed smile.

They stored the firearms inside the cabin and Ra’naa grabbed a couple of freshly laundered towels. When they stepped outside, a light drizzle began to fall from the overcast sky.

About time, Otres thought. It’s been so sunny the past several days I was afraid we’d never see the rain again!

Ra’naa laughed and a few minutes later they arrived at the pool. Considering how close it was to the end of the day, several people had already arrived.  Her and Otres parted ways and she entered the female changing room. Four other women were already there, in various stages of undress and they exchanged pleasantries. Ra’naa stripped out of her clothing and carefully folded it before putting it on one of the empty shelves.

Naked, she followed the other four women into the pool. About twenty people were there, some swimming and enjoying the water. Others sitting together in the various side-pools and were deep in conversation.

A squeal of delight reached her ears and she turned just in time to see Otres race out from the men’s room. He was moving faster than she had seen in several days and he launched his sleek body like a fur-covered torpedo. He hit the steaming water with barely a splash, eliciting laughs and cheers of delight from the other patrons.

Ra’naa shook her head, although she could not keep the smile from her face. She tested the water with her toe before she too, slid into its inviting warmth. Instantly, she was up to her neck in the heated water and she began to breast-stroke towards the deeper end of the pool. Although she had been simply repairing and cleaning weapons, it could be tedious. She felt the tension of the past several days leave her body as the heat penetrated each and every pore.

For the next two hours she watched as Otres cavorted and played in the water. The little Uplift was totally in his element and it showed. When several of the younger children saw him, he led them on a merry chase, teasing and daring them to try and catch him. Ra’naa had to smile as she watched him and visited with her friends and other acquaintances. He was a natural. She knew Otres would make a wonderful father someday.

The thought he did not have a mate saddened her. She totally understood his reluctance to go and sate his needs on the un-mutated river Otters. There were plenty which could be found all along the coast and the various rivers. He was right – it would be like asking her to have sex with a monkey or a lizard.

Eventually the children tired of the game and Otres turned on his back and floated in the heated water, his eyes half-closed in pleasure. She swam up to him and likewise floated on her back.

“Hey, Ra’naa!”

She looked out towards the edge of the pool and grinned. Tara stood there, hands on her hips. She was likewise naked, except for her fine coat of fur.

“Hi, yourself, Tara.” She greeted back. Ra’naa had barely seen her friend since she had returned from the successful rescue of the child. She was still feeling a little angry towards her friend for having not joined her on the venture. Feeling angry was childish, and she understood the Tiger-woman better than anyone else. “Come and join us!”

Tara gleefully did a cannonball into the water, sending a wave and eliciting curses and laughs from the nearby swimmers. She joined them a few seconds later, likewise turning to float on her back. Tara closed her eyes and moaned in pure delight. “God above, this feels good!”

Hi, Tara, nice to see you.

Her eyes still closed, Tara smiled and lazily waved her arms back and forth, giving her just enough motion to remain floating. “Hi, Otres. Have you settled in yet?”

I have. I’m staying with Ra’naa.

The Tiger-woman’s eyes opened and she stared at her friend and the little Uplift. “You are? Why not here?”

Those around had ceased their conversations and were now listening. Tara glared at the nearest, who quickly paddled off and the others resumed their private talks. Otres continued to float on his back, his eyes half closed in the moist heat. Because I like staying with Ra’naa. She’s sweet and she accepted me into her home. I’m also very tired of being alone, and sharing her bed helps.

The last statement caused Tara to lose her rhythm and her head slid under. She came up sputtering and spitting, practically hissing. Ra’naa burst out laughing and it turned out to be contagious. Otres’ high-pitched squeaks were echoing off the walls.

I’m not having sex with her! He laughed in her mind. We share her bed and that is it. After all, you two are exotics, and I’m an Uplift. We’re not the same species!

Tara’s eyes narrowed and she felt slightly angry. Otres had pulled a fast one on her, knowing how open and promiscuous she was. It took effort, but she was able to push the negative feelings aside and she allowed a feral grin to play across her features. Her whiskers twitched and she bared her sharp teeth as she smiled. “Maybe you two should have sex.”

Ra’naa righted her body in the water and remained stationary, treading slowly. The smile disappeared but instead of looking angry, she looked curious. “And why would you say something like that?”

“Maybe you wouldn’t be so uptight all the time if you had an orgasm once in a while!”

Once again all conversation around them ceased and you could hear the proverbial pin drop. The only sound came from the splashing of the water against the artificial banks and the movements of the other swimmers.

Was that really called for? Otres protested. He was still flat on his back, but now he was staring at the other woman, his eyes narrowed and his teeth slightly bared.

“Tara, stop,” Ra’naa asked gently. “What has gotten into you?  I know you can be a bitch sometimes but ever since we brought Declan here, you’ve not been yourself, not at all. I could blame some of it on your needs, but Declan is fulfilling those quite nicely.”

The Tiger-woman paused in her treading and she opened her eyes in surprise. A look of profound realization appeared and she suddenly looked very shameful. “Really?” She asked and then sighed and swam closer to her friend. “Ra’naa, I’m sorry, that was a joke. I was just teasing.”

Tara, would you consider it a joke if I suggested you go and mate with one of the mutant mountain lions?

The Tiger woman considered that for a moment. “That would be some of the wildest sex I would ever have had,” she grinned. “You’re right though, I guess I would have gotten mad too.”

Seeing the situation was not about to turn ugly, the rest of the bathers and swimmers resumed their conversations, although they spread out from the small group. The pool was very large and it gave them some privacy.

“Tara, look – put a little thought into what you’re going to say or do, alright? I love you, and you’re my sister, but sometimes you’re too much to handle.” Ra’naa told her, the words honest and straight from her heart.

The Tiger-woman reached out and took her friends hand and they embraced. A slight purr rumbled out of Tara’s throat and she nuzzled Ra’naa’s neck affectionately. Ra’naa laughed and pushed her away. “Alright you’re forgiven, but please do as I ask!”

“I promise,” Tara held up one hand and placed the other over her left breast, just over her heart. “I’ll stop being such a bitch.”

 Besides, Otres squeaked and gave them both a furry grin. I thought bitches were female dogs. You’re a tiger!

Tara lashed out and dunked the little Uplift beneath the water. He disappeared with a splash and a flick of his tail, only to reappear about a half-dozen meters away, chittering and squeaking his laughter.

The three friends continued to talk and enjoy the heated water of the pool. As the evening wore on, more and more people showed up to enjoy a nice, relaxing swim and soak. Eventually Ra’naa climbed out of the water. She shook herself and then padded across the soft grass towards one of the numerous benches, strategically placed around the pool.

She lay on her right side, and allowed her tail to hang loosely while the air began to dry off her body. Tara and Otres came over and joined her, enjoying the relaxation and one another’s company.

“Are you going to sing tonight?” Tara asked as she used her fingers to untangle her long, white hair.”

Ra’naa shrugged. “If dad and the others want me to.”

“You’ve got the best voice in the entire community,” Tara said and winced. There was a particularly large knot and it was proving to be as stubborn as she was.

I listen to you every day and I love to hear you sing, Otres encouraged.

“Have you considered asking Declan to stay with you once he’s recovered fully?” Ra’naa asked out of the blue. She was starting to feel a little uncomfortable with the conversation and decided to change it.

Tara looked up, her eyes wide. “What do you mean?”

“Well you are fucking him multiple times a night. I figured you might want to do it in the privacy of your own home,” Ra’naa said casually. “And he doesn’t have a place to stay, at least not yet. I’m sure dad could give him one of the un-used cabins though.”

“I never really considered it,” Tara looked thoughtful as she finally got the knot untangled. “I don’t really know him, so I don’t know.”

“You don’t know him? By the gods above,” Ra’naa laughed. “He’s been inside you! What else do you want?”

“Maybe I should get to know him more as a man, instead of a sex toy,” Tara said. Her long tail was slowly moving back and forth behind her and her nose was twitching slightly. “Maybe after I’m done with him tonight.”

Have you considered what might happen once you are pregnant?

Tara blinked. She had been using him for several reasons. First he was something new. He was one of the ancients come to life. Second, her biological urges were demanding that she have sex. It happened monthly, but every so often it went into over-drive, as it had this month. Usually a few romps with a willing partner were all she needed to scratch that particular itch. This time it was different and, simply put, she could not get enough of him. Tara thought the very idea of becoming pregnant would be repugnant, but instead it seemed to fill her with a pleasant warmth. It started in her belly and spread to encompass her breasts, and then her arms and legs. It was followed by a strange, tingling sensation.

“Come on, Tara, seriously. What if you get pregnant?”

She shrugged. “I want to become pregnant,” she confessed, finally admitting to herself. “And for some reason, he seemed to be the perfect match for me.”

Now it was Ra’naa’s turn to look shocked. “Are you serious?”

Tara nodded. “I’ll ask him if he wants to share my cabin and my bed with me. We can try it out for a few weeks or so. Who knows, maybe I’ll grow to like him, maybe even I’ll come to love him.”

“How do you think Jas’nar will react?”

Tara waved her hand breezily. “He’ll get over it. Besides, I think he and Kate or Anita are an item.”

I am having a really hard time understanding you, Otres confessed. You’re an Exotic, but sometimes you act more like an Uplift – you seem to allow your body dictate to you what you need.

Tara was not offended by his statement and she shrugged. “My mother hinted that there might be actual true tiger blood in my veins,” she laughed a little. “We all know that is not possible, right? Exotics can only make babies with Pure humans or other Exotics of the same species.”

“I think dad would know more about that, but as far as I know, yeah, that’s the extent of it,” agreed Ra’naa. Still, they had all heard rumors that Exotics could, in fact, successfully produce children with human-appearing mutants, especially those who possessed psionics. There have also been rumors of Exotics successfully mating with animals of their own genetic makeup. Such as a male Wolf Exotic mating with an actual pure wolf and impregnating her, producing a human-like hybrid.

“Speaking of, what’s up with that kid you two rescued?”

She’s been staying with Momma Rathbourne. The girl seemed to hit it off with the older woman and the MacLean’s have agreed to breast-feed her until she is capable of eating solid food,” Ra’naa said.

She continued and explained the child is in fact, an Uplift, but the most human-looking anyone has ever seen. She was only about twenty-four hours old when they rescued her and, despite her physical appearance, is only an infant.

“My ears are burning,” Momma Rathbourne laughed gently as she approached the trio. She was likewise naked and was holding the little girl’s hand in hers. The girl, cleaned and well fed, looked like a normal child of about three years.

 Ra’naa stood and embraced the old mutant before kneeling to face the child. “Hello sweetheart,” she reached out and gently stroked the girl’s hair.

The child recognized her and smiled. A sense of calm and contentment was coming off her and it made Ra’naa smile. She looked up at Momma Rathbourne as Tara likewise embraced the old woman.

“We were just talking about the girl,” Ra’naa confessed.

“I know, I heard the tail-end of the conversation.” She sat on the recently vacated bench and pulled the girl up beside her. “I figured it was about time we introduced her to the community.”

Does she have a name yet? Otres asked as he scampered over and hopped up on the bench, right next to the girl. She laughed and clapped her hands together and then reached out, far quicker than anyone expected, and grabbed Otres. He squeaked in protest until she hugged him tightly and continued to giggle.

“I see she remembers you as well,” Momma Rathbourne said gently, her voice filled with approval. “I’m calling her Nita.”

“That’s a pretty name,” Tara grinned. And strangely appropriate, for some reason.”

Ra’naa stood and stretched, then gave her head a good shake. “I’ll see you at the party?” She asked.

“We will be there,” Momma Rathbourne replied.  She stood, taking the girl’s hand and with a wave, walked over to introduce the child to the others.

With that, Ra’naa and Otres left and went to the changing room. Tara remained behind, wishing to luxuriate in the heated water a little longer before leaving to join them at the party.

***

Although not as rambunctious as Tara, Kate turned out to be a willing and eager lover. Where Tara liked to scratch and bite, and be ridden quite roughly, Kate was the direct opposite. She was slow and gentle and preferred to kiss and fondle.

Declan did not mind, to her, she was just another conquest in a long, long line. He was more than willing to do what she wanted though, and he had to admit to himself she was quite pleasant.

They did not bother with the bed. She was content to make love to him on the floor. Hers was not as drawn-out as Tara, and Declan would have considered it to be more of a quickie than anything. Still, she rode him for nearly an hour before she finally shuddered in climax. Once she was done, she kissed him on the mouth, shimmied into her dress and left.

For once, Babs was silent. Typically when he mounted Tara, she was there, encouraging him and even offering suggestions. He found her constant presence to be rather annoying, but this time her absence was noticed. “Babs?”

She did not reply. She did not even appear anywhere in his vision as her usual avatar form. He shook his head. It was strange for his AI to give him the silent treatment, but he could live with that.

He used the basin of water to wash off his member and then he dressed. He heard about the party figured he was well enough to participate. It would be interesting to see how the locals relaxed after a long week of hard, often gruelling labor.

He left the room and closed the door behind him. When he entered the lobby, Anita was seated at the desk. He should have figured it out earlier Kate was off duty when she offered her body to him. Anita was still not his biggest fan, but she gave him a curt nod as he entered. “Where are you going?” She asked. Her voice was smooth and calm, and held no trace of hostility.

“I’m going to check out the party I’ve heard everyone talk about.”

Anita actually smiled. She was a lot prettier when she did so. “You know where it is held then?”

He nodded. “Tara showed me a few days ago.”

She returned the nod. “Alright then. I guess I will see you much later.”

Declan stopped and thought about it. “I’m still not fully recovered, but I promise if it turns out to be too much for me to handle, I will come back early.”

“You’ll be in good hands,” Anita said. “Enjoy your night.”

He smiled and gave her a friendly wave as he left the clinic and entered the streets. The sun was just starting to slide below the tree-line, although with the sky being overcast it was difficult to tell. Already off to the East the sky was quite dark and with the light rain coming down, he knew it soon would be difficult to see. That mattered little, as he did not have far to travel.

He could hear the sounds of people laughing and having a good time, and the area where they held their weekly gathering was well lit. He passed a patrol of three armed men, all of them human by the looks. They gave him courteous nods but did not otherwise engage in conversation.

Declan reached the open party-grounds a few minutes later. There had to be well over a hundred men, women and children gathered there. He had seen quite a few of the communities inhabitants, but the sheer number and variety still caused him to stop in his tracks. Exotics were clearly the majority, followed by humans and those mutants who could pass as human. There were plenty of obvious mutants however.

As he approached the gathered people, those nearest stopped what they were doing and openly stared. Despite having almost a full week to get used to the knowledge they had an ancient among them, he was still a novelty. The people nodded politely and parted so he could make his way to the covered tables.

The scent of freshly cooked meat and alcohol was pure pleasure to his senses. It instantly brought back memories of the parties he had attended the few times he had been dirtside. There had been lots of booze, drugs and loose women. From what he could see, booze and women were not going to be an issue.

 A large number of crude picnic tables were scattered around the food-laden tables. The smell caused his stomach to growl audibly and he placed his hand on it, giving the nearest people a smile. “Smells great!”

One of the people, a human-looking man in his mid-twenties, grinned back. He had short, brown hair and grey, almond-shaped eyes. His complexion was a lot darker than several of the other humans around him, which hinted of an Asian heritage.  He was average height but had huge shoulders and thick arms – the build of a man who was used to hard physical labor. “Starrett, right?”

Declan nodded and shoved his hand towards the man. “Call me Declan or Shard.”

The man took the offered hand. His grip was strong but gentle, not the bone-crushing grip Declan had been expecting. He gave Declan’s hand four quick pumps. “Name’s Jas’nar.”

“Nice to meet you, Jas’nar.” Declan grinned. “So, where can a man get a bottle of beer and a good thick steak?”

Jas’nar grinned hugely. “Well, my friend, you came to the right place.” He clapped one hand on Declan’s shoulder and steered him towards the tables. “You sure you want a beer, after all, I heard all about how you got here. Hell of a story!”

Declan laughed. He closed his eyes as he shook his head. “If that’s the case, then you know I don’t just want a beer, I need a beer, something fierce!”

The tables were set up buffet style, with a variety of plates, mugs and cutlery stacked at the end of each. There was all manner of food, some of which Declan could not even begin to recognize.  At the foot of each table were large metal tubs filled with brown and clear bottles. Jas’nar grabbed a bottle and handed it to Declan, who graciously accepted it.

“Grab a plate and fill it up. Everyone chips in for the Friday feast. The only time it’s not outside is if we’re dealing with one hell of a storm or some sort of attack.”

The last part of the man’s statement caught him by surprise, but he took it in stride. He found he was beginning to like this man. Sure, several of the townsfolk had tried to talk to him, although Tara had scared them off. He was the only one who did not seemed to be mystified by his being one of the ‘ancients’ as they were called. All thoughts of that were dismissed as he finally stood in line and grabbed a plate.

The spread was magnificent. There was far more food than he figured the gathering would need. He could smell and see the usual fare, such as beef and chicken, and he even recognized some of the fish. Many of the dishes were prepared in ways he had never seen before, and there were dishes of unidentifiable meat and other food. He had one simple rule, something he had learned well before he had become a pilot. He never, ever asked what he was eating. He would try anything once, but he never asked.

From the looks of the food set out before him, he would not be asking very much. It proved to be a bit of a chore, having to put down the bottle in order to scoop food onto his plate, but by the time he was finished, it was almost too much to carry. Declan was a little self-conscious when it came to the amount of food he was taking. That is until he noticed most of the men were filling their plates up with as much, if not more.

You ever see a spread like this before? He mentally asked.

Nothing but silence was the response. He shook his head and frowned.

“Hey, something wrong?” The man named Jas’nar asked.

Declan quickly recovered. “No! I am just worried people might think I’m a pig!” Internally he grimaced, starting to get annoyed by Bab’s silent treatment. He would have to deal with her later, but not now.

“Nah, just shows you have a hearty appetite. If we did not have the food to share, we wouldn’t have such a spread like this.”

Declan nodded and he looked around. The number of people had grown dramatically and there had to be nearly two hundred souls now. That had to encompass almost the entire community, from what he understood. The only people not attending the party were those on guard duty, and some nursing families. He scanned the crowd, trying to locate the few faces he recognized. After a few seconds, he gave up and followed Jas’nar to the nearest vacant table.

Placing his plate on the table, he sat down across from Jas’nar and began to dig in. The first bite was excellent. He had been enjoying good food from the moment he had awakened, but this was exquisite!  He said as much between bites.

Jas’nar held a chunk of meat at the end of his fork and examined what Declan was eating. “Glad you like it,” he grinned. “That’s some of the Elk we brought down earlier this week. We let it season for several days. We typically like to allow it to rot for at least two full weeks, but, what the hell.”

It was good, and so was the rest of the food. Some tasted unlike anything he had tried in the past, and some of the textures were just downright odd, but he did not complain. Even the food he did not care for, he finished. He was just determined to avoid it in the future.

“There you are!”

Both Jas’nar and Declan looked up to see a very familiar figure. Declan felt his heart skip a beat as Kate, still dressed in the sheer, white dress, came up and threw her arms around Jas’nar’s neck. She kissed him hard and pressed her body up against his. He wrapped his arms around the slightly smaller woman and held her tightly.

When they finally came up for air, Kate looked over and smiled at Declan. “Hello, Declan. I’m glad to see you came.”

“Inside you, if I remember correctly,” Babs said waspishly.

Oh now you decide to break your silence, Declan thought but he managed to smile. “Hi, Kate.”

“Oh, right, you two would know each other,” Jas’nar said with a grin. “How’s my beautiful fox been treating you?”

“Like a fuck toy,” Babs commented.

Declan was damn glad no one else could hear her comments. He was positive there would be a fight if Jas’nar caught wind he had fucked his woman. He gave his head a shake as he considered the odds of her deciding today of all days to offer her body to him. And what were the odds the one person who he would meet and talk to was her boyfriend?

“She’s been great,” he said with a sincere smile. “Always made sure I had plenty of food and water and constantly checked my condition.”

Jas’nar smiled and kissed her on the cheek. He sat down and then pulled her into his lap. She wiggled slightly and got comfortable, then wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned in. All the while her eyes never left Declan. He was sure he could almost see her defiance, her outright challenge to tell him what he had done to her. What the hell is up with the women around here? He mentally shouted.

“I dare you to say something Doc. I double-dog dare you!”

Babs, I think I liked you better when you were giving me the silent treatment.

Much to his relief, they began to ask him questions about what it was like before the final wars all but destroyed civilization. At first Declan was reluctant to talk about it, but he found once he started, it was difficult to stop. As the minutes passed, more and more people began to crowd around him and were listening in. He never even noticed how time passed until he was on his sixth bottle of beer.

“And here I thought you were avoiding me.”

Declan blinked and looked up. He saw the Rattle-snake Exotic woman standing a few meters away. She was smiling and like the rest of the women, she was wearing a sheer white dress, but she was not festooned with flowers. She lacked the hair most of the other women possessed. Still, her scales shone in the fire-flight and she had an strangely appealing beauty about her, one mixed with just a hint of danger.

“Hi, uh…” Declan searched his mind for her name.

She looked slightly sheepish as she approached. The Exotic reached out and offered her hand. “Sorry, I know your name, but I never told you mine. I’m Mamushi.”

He took her hand and found it to be invitingly warm, despite the smooth scales. It felt strange, but he liked it. “It’s nice to meet you, Mamushi.” He looked around and saw the grin on Jas’nar’s face. “That Japanese?”

She shrugged, not relinquishing his grip. If anything, she held on tighter and stepped in closer. He noticed she had a very odd scent. Decidedly feminine, and the combination of firelight and moisture from the drizzle caused her dress to cling to her body. Her oh so feminine body. The scent was vaguely familiar and then with a start, he realized where he recognized it from. Years before his deployment to space, he had visited a reptile house, one which was home to hundreds of endangered reptiles. The air had been thick with the same scent as he could smell coming from the woman.

Mamushi shrugged. “Could be, I really don’t know. Could be Chinese or something else. My father was a pureblood human though, and he named me.”

“Doc, seriously, you fucked Kate, don’t bed this one.”

Shut it, Babs, he growled in his thoughts. If she wants me, who am I to say no?

“A grown man, that’s who. Stop thinking with your cock!”

He decided to ignore her. “So, you’re the teacher then?”

At last she let go of his hand, but it was with reluctance. He let the tips of her fingers run across his palm as she let go. It was strangely erotic and it sent a shiver through his body. “One of the teachers,” she confirmed. “I enjoy working with the children here, and someone has to help pass on knowledge, so we don’t revert to barbarism.”

He nodded. “A noble cause.”

That pleased her. “I promised to spend time with some of my friends,” she said as she glanced over her shoulder, scanning the crowd. “I would love to hear more of your history.”

            Declan could already guess what that would entail. Would she be on top? Would she like to dominate? He felt his mouth go dry in anticipation. “Glad to.”

“After all, you lived what we call history. Maybe you could clarify some for me, possibly correct some mistakes.”

“Anytime.”

“Maybe I will see you later then?” She asked, stepping in even closer. She was well into his personal space and his eyes widened as she allowed her eyes to slide up and down his body.

To Declan, it felt strange, yet so right, being on the receiving end of appraisal. He was the one who had almost always been on the hunt, and now the role had reversed. “I promise but we will see. If not I’ll see you around, fair enough?”

She hissed slightly with pleasure or anticipation. “Fair enough,” with that, she turned and disappeared into the crowd.

“Damn, you move fast!” Jas’nar laughed. “I think she likes you!”

Declan grinned. His grin faltered only slightly when he saw the look on Kate’s face. Was that jealousy? Disapproval? He mentally shrugged. She had him, and she was with Jas’nar, so what did he care?

It was at that time saw Ra’naa climb the stage, set up about ten meters or so from the now-empty tables. He was shocked to see that during the time he had been talking to the members of the community, the food had been cleared.

Ra’naa moved with the grace and elegance of a dancer. It had to be part of the community culture, as she was wearing a white dress, which did little to hide her body – quite the contrary, it accentuated her womanly curves.  Declan looked around and studied the crowd. Indeed, every single woman he saw was wearing a white dress and those who had hair also wore flowers.

Returning his gaze to Ra’naa, he noted the many colorful flowers were woven into her hair and around her horns. Even her long, spiked tail was bedecked with even more vines and flowers. He felt his heart jump. The woman was gorgeous. She had a sweet, innocent air about her which he found irresistible. She cleared her throat and then without preamble, began to sing.  Her contralto was low and even, and she hit every note perfectly. Then she went through the entire four ranges of the singing voice.

As she sang, musicians joined her on the stage and began to play. There was the usual mixture of guitar, drums, and wind instruments, and they were all excellent performers. In minutes he was enraptured. She had one of the most beautiful voices he had ever heard. The songs were not familiar to him, although that did not surprise him at all.

“Now, for the very first time, don't you pay no mind? Set me free again - you keep alive a moment at a time, but still inside a whisper to a riot. To sacrifice but knowing to survive, the first decline another state of mind. I'm on my knees, I'm praying for a sign - Forever, whenever. I never wanna die, I never wanna die, I never wanna die. I'm on my knees - I never wanna die. I'm dancing on my grav, I'm running through the fire - Forever, whatever. I never wanna die, I never wanna leave, I'll never say goodbye, - Forever, whatever Forever, whatever.

She held the last note for almost a full minute before she lowered her head to continue. “I'm learning to walk again, I believe I've waited long enough, where do I begin? I'm learning to talk again - can't you see I've waited long enough? Where do I begin?

Many of the people in the crowd began to either sing or dance along to her words - men, women, children; everyone was getting into the atmosphere. Even Babs, who had been nagging and teasing him, fell under the spell of her song. When a pair of soft, fur covered arms wrapped around his neck, he barely noticed.

“Declan, I’m glad you made it. Nice to be out of the clinic, isn’t it?”

He did not have to turn to realize it was Tara. Her scent and the feel of her arms and fur against his neck was all too familiar. “Hi,Tara. I was kind of wondering where you were.”

The Tiger-woman purred low in her throat as she sidled up next to him, pushing her hips against his and putting an arm around his waist. She leaned in and gently nipped his ear-lobe, causing him to jump slightly. She giggled and then suddenly the sound died in her throat and a low growl began to burble up.

Declan pulled his eyes away from the stage and Ra’naa and gave Tara his full, undivided attention. “What is it?”

“You fucked her, didn’t you?” She growled and pulled away from him. She was off the bench and instantly on her feet. It was then he noticed she was wearing only a simple wrap around her waist and was otherwise naked. Her fur was more than enough to keep her warm and comfortable in the cool, drizzling night air.

“Oh you are so fucked right now, and not in the good way!” Babs cackled gleefully. “I told you not to do it!”

He ignored her, even though he could feel the blood drain from his face. “Tara, what the hell are you talking about?”

Those closest to them were now staring in wonder and concern, Ra’naa and the musicians performance all but forgotten. Even Jas’nar and Kate were staring, although Kate was having a hard time looking at either of them.

“I can smell her all over you!” Tara snarled, showing her very, very sharp teeth.

“What the hell are you babbling about,” Declan snarled right back. He decided he did not want to play along with the game and would deny everything.

“You should have listened to me,” Babs finally appeared in her avatar form. She was standing right next to the incensed Tara. She decided to play along with the other woman and was likewise just wearing a wrap around her shapely hips, leaving her pink and white-furred beasts uncovered.

“Smell who? What are you talking about?” Declan demanded, his own voice raised now.

“Kate! You fucked her, didn’t you?”

Now Jas’nar stood. He looked at the still-seated Exotic woman and then at Declan. A dark cloud crossed the man’s features as he took in what was being said. “Is this true?” He suddenly demanded, not looking at the woman still seated.

“Of course not!” Declan shot back, throwing his arms out wide.

Tara stalked, actually stalked forward, her arms out to her side and the tips of her claws just starting to protrude from the sheaths. “Then why can I smell her on you?”

Thinking fast, Declan stood and changed his entire demeanor. “Because she helped me when I was working out. I pushed myself a little too hard and fell.”

At this point, the woman Kate stood and took Jas’nar’s hand in hers. When he went to pull away, she held on tightly. “It’s true. He was outside doing lots of exercise and I warned him to take it easy. He was not yet fully recovered and I told him he was pushing himself too hard. When he fell after doing several lunges, I helped him stand and took him over to one of the benches!”

Tara looked back and forth between Declan and Kate. As if someone turned a switch, she stood and the claws disappeared. “Oh, that’s it then.”

Kate stared at the Tiger-woman. “Look, just because Jas’nar did not want you, doesn’t mean your man wants everyone else!”

“Whatever,” she waved dismissively. She came back over and sidled up next to Declan, pressing her anger-heated body against his. “You’re off the hook.”

“And you got off too damned easy!” Babs practically shrieked. “I can’t believe what just happened!”

“Yeah,” Jas’nar blew his cheeks out and ran a hand through his damp hair. “And on that note, I think we’re going to leave now,” He nodded once at Declan. “Hey, was nice getting to know you.”

Declan felt his own racing heart begin to slow and he nodded right back. “Yeah, likewise. Guess we’ll talk later?”

“Count on it!” Jas’nar nodded and grinned. He turned and began to pull Kate with him.

The Exotic’s eyes met his own for only an instant and he could read the message telegraphed in her bright orbs. It was a one-time encounter, and that was all it would ever be. That suited him just fine. He had plenty of one-night stands and he was sure he would have more.

The potential disaster diverted, everyone returned to their conversations or the music and Ra’naa. He sat down and grabbed his still half-full bottle and was about to take a drink when Tara took it from him. She finished it and climbed into his lap and rested her head against his. The purr had returned.

“I want to ask you something,” she said as she watched Ra’naa finish another song.

He was not sure how to react. He also realized with a start just how feline-like the woman really was. “What is that?”

“How about you stay with me?”

He blinked and stared down at her. “Excuse me?”

She laughed slightly. “You’re all but recovered, we all know that, so instead of you taking one of the empty cabins, why don’t you come and stay with me? Share my home and my bed?”

“Next thing you know she’ll be asking you to marry her, Doc.” Babs warned. Any trace of humor was gone, but when he caught sight of his AI’s avatar, he could see approval on her furry face.

“Look, Tara, you don’t even know me. Asking me to have sex with you is one thing, but inviting me to live with you? That’s one hell of a huge step, considering we have known one another for a not even a full week.”

“I know enough about you to know I like you,” she said. She wiggled her rump and he felt her tail wrap around his back. She placed one hand on his chest, right over his heart and held it there.

“I don’t know…” he said with an audible gulp.

“Don’t be such a baby!” She laughed lightly. “Share my home and my bed. You will like it more than that little cot you have in the clinic.” She pushed herself away from him so they could see eye-to-eye. “If you decide you don’t like the arrangements, then you can take one of the other cabins.”

 “Oh for fuck sake, Doc. Just say yes.” Babs encouraged. “You know you want to.”

Deep down, Declan realized that yes, he did.

“Okay, but if I decide to get one of the cabins, no hard feelings?”

Instead of answering, she kissed him softly and a lot more tenderly than she had ever done before. 

After the party came to an end, instead of going back to the clinic like he had planned, he joined Tara. Her home was fairly spacious and he found it quite homey. And as it turned out, he did like her bed far more than the cot he had at the clinic.