OUTPOST


Cover Illustration by Oouna: https://www.oouna.com/ https://www.furaffinity.net/user/oouna/

© 2019 Snekguy. All rights reserved.

This work was made possible by the generous support of my Patrons:

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Disclaimer: This work of erotic fiction is intended for adults only.

The story contains the following themes:

kissing, long tongues, light bondage, gentle femdom, size difference, large breasts, chubby, muscle, fur, orgasm denial, threesome, girl on girl, blowjob, vaginal.

Please note: this story has an alternate version featuring bisexual scenes which is available here: http://snekguy.com/stories/pinwheel/outpost/bisexual-edition/

CHAPTER 1: EXILE

Your transfer papers, Corporal Schaffer,” the Admiral chimed as he handed him a file with a condescending smirk. Schaffer took it, opening the document and glancing over its contents with a concerned expression. His concern turned to horror as he realized where exactly it was that the admiral was sending him.

This isn't legal, Rawling. You can't just make me disappear into thin air, people will notice.”

The Admiral straightened his spectacles, his smirk turning into a wide grin.

I can assure you, Mister Schaffer, you have already disappeared, and nobody has noticed.”

Schaffer rose to his feet and stood before the Admiral's mahogany desk, the varnished wood shining under the mellow office lighting. He balled his fists, anger overcoming him.

I could hop over this desk and beat the life out of you before security was even alerted,” he snarled.

You'd never get out of here alive, Corporal. You're on a Navy space station, where would you go?”

This assignment is a death sentence, and you know it, you miserable old bastard. You too yellow to do the job yourself?”

The Admiral rose from his seat behind his desk and leaned forward to look Schaffer in the eye, planting his gloved hands on the table, the white material contrasting with the dark wood. He was clad in an immaculate, white uniform, the standard attire of the UNN Admiralty who oversaw military operations in human-controlled space. The badges and medals that were displayed proudly on his breast identified him as one of the overseers of affairs on the Pinwheel, the most notorious of all the Naval stations in Coalition space. It was a prominent and esteemed position, and Rawling had not attained it without significant nepotism and corruption, at least one instance of which Schaffer had accidentally stumbled upon.

Listen here, you insubordinate worm,” Rawling sneered. He emphasized the last word as if Schaffer was a stain that he had just discovered on his lapel. “You stuck your nose where it didn't belong, you made problems for me. As your commanding officer, it is fully within the scope of my duties to reassign personnel who I have deemed...disruptive to the day to day operations of this station.”

I have friends, you think they won't notice that I'm missing?”

My dear fellow,” Rawling chuckled, “check your papers. You aren't missing.”

Schaffer scowled at the man, then turned his eyes down to the folder, scanning the text as Rawling waited with a knowing smile. It was all legal, there were no inconsistencies. The admiral outranked him, Schaffer couldn't refuse his orders. To be charged with insubordination or dereliction of duty in wartime was to risk a lengthy prison sentence or even execution. He could try to challenge the ruling, but it would be a kangaroo court, no doubt presided over by the bastard himself and a jury of his minions. In fact, he might be counting on that, it would add legitimacy to his plot.

I'll tell people. I'll tell everyone,” Scaffer blurted, panicking somewhat as he started to realize just how carefully Rawling had orchestrated his plan. It had all the subtlety of a mob hit.

You aren't telling anyone, Corporal Schaffer. You're actually quite late. In fact, you've not been on the station for several days.”

What are you talking about? You're insane.” Schaffer scanned the document, noticing the date on it. November the third, today was the fifth. According to the documents that he held in his hands, he had been transferred two days ago. He looked up at the admiral in disbelief. “Even you can't pull this many strings, Rawling. What about security camera footage? The testimonies of all the people that I've interacted with?” He waved his hand in the direction of the door behind him. “Your own damned security personnel who just escorted me in here?”

All taken care of, I assure you. I am a powerful man, Schaffer. You knew as much when you decided to challenge me. Your peers all had the good sense to take the bribe and shut their mouths, as did a few of your so-called friends.” Schaffer lowered his head at the revelation, staring at the carpeted floor. Who? Who had sold him out? “The rest have been shuffled around, they won't be in touch with each other, most have been reassigned off-station. The only narrative that could ever be constructed about your whereabouts is my own, and the official records reflect that.”

Schaffer seethed, he was out of ideas, completely outsmarted.

You won't-”

Get away with this?” Rawling interrupted with a chuckle. “I already have. As far as anyone knows, you are long gone. Just another brief acquaintance who was rotated out, one face among thousands.” The Admiral pressed a button on his desk, activating an intercom with a hiss of static. “Guards, please escort Corporal Schaffer to his next assignment.”

Two marines in black UNN combat armor entered the room, making a beeline towards him. He briefly considered struggling, but it would be pointless. If he was beaten to death on the carpet before the eyes of the admiral, he would only be playing into his hands. He wouldn't give him the satisfaction. The guards grabbed Schaffer firmly by his arms and twisted them behind his back, restraining him with a zip tie secured tightly around his wrists.

It's a fairly long trip to Borealis,” Rawling called after him as the guards dragged him through the automatic doors. “I hope you don't mind being in solitary confinement for a couple of weeks.”

***

The guards, obviously corrupt themselves, manhandled Scaffer through the cramped engineering tunnels of the station. They were careful to keep him out of view of the general population who lived and worked in the giant torus that ringed the central control hub, rotating on its axis to provide artificial gravity. That was where the space station got its nickname. The Pinwheel.

Schaffer didn't struggle, it was pointless. As far as anyone knew, he wasn't even on the station. If the marines were to dispose of him in these tunnels and drop him out of a convenient airlock, he would not be missed. He should be thanking his stars that Rawling had not done precisely that. The man was cruel, but his cruelty ensured that Schaffer had a chance to escape his fate, however small.

He knew where he was being sent, he had recognized the name in the documents that Rawling had handed to him. It was the Polar outpost. It had some official designation, a long string of numbers and letters that would only mean something to the button pushers and screen tappers who worked in logistics, but its reputation preceded it. It was a small, manned base in the northern polar region of Borealis. The planet was inhospitable, with crushing gravity, unpredictable weather and inhabitants who could at best be described as unfriendly.

Some kind of deal had been struck with the alien who ruled the area, its permission had been sought to build a listening post there, so that the UNN might spy on its allies in other territories of the planet. Word had circulated, as it often does, when the station had started to earn a bad reputation for driving its personnel crazy. It was said that even the aliens who lived in the region found the featureless wasteland that was the frozen tundra inhospitable, and had sought to escape it by any means. Those unlucky enough to be stationed there were confined to the tiny outpost. After a string of suicides and attempted desertions, the Admiralty had eventually reduced the staff to a handful, then to zero. The station was entirely automated now and was generally considered to have been abandoned.

Schaffer knew that he wouldn't be coming back from the Terminal, as it had been so aptly named, as it had been the final destination for many of the poor souls who had been stationed there.

The guards dragged him through the winding service tunnels, ducking under protruding pipes and bundles of exposed electronics. They must be taking him to one of the docking hangars that were spaced out at regular intervals along the torus. Perhaps he could call for help once there, and some crew member loading cargo would notice him and raise the alarm. Somehow he doubted that Rawling would have failed to account for that.

The admiral was certainly vindictive, but Schaffer had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Part of his job as a Corporal on the Pinwheel station was to take inventory of the cargo that came in and out of one of the hangars where the larger supply ships docked to unload their wares. He had noticed goods going missing, cargo being loaded onto ships that had not been inventoried, and money changing hands outside of official channels. He had investigated, and that investigation had led him to none other than Admiral Rawling. The man had been abusing his position of authority to run a black market under the very noses of the Admiralty, and on the largest military installation outside of Sol system no less. He was audacious, that was for sure, but what Schaffer had initially assumed to be a small smuggling operation had ended up extending to half of the damned station staff. They were all corrupt, taking bribes to keep quiet.

Wanting to be a hero, he had confronted one of the smugglers in the hangar, who had immediately reported him to Rawling. A short while later, he had found himself summoned before the corrupt admiral.

They arrived at their destination, one of the guards shoving him through a small service door and into one of the cavernous hangars, as he had suspected. The ceiling extended hundreds of feet above him, the walls lined with walkways and bridges, large enough to accommodate even frigates should they need refueling or repairs. A low-powered force field contained the air, strong enough to prevent the loss of atmosphere to space, but not so powerful as to impede the passage of ships and shuttles. It was common practice not to venture too close to the edge. A human pushing hard enough might slip through the barrier, such accidents were not unheard of. The same artificial gravity created by the spin of the station was present in the hangars, as they were located on the North and South faces of the torus.

The same guard gave him another rough shove, pushing him forward as they began to march across the bay. It was mostly deserted, what few personnel that Schaffer could see were little more than small specs in the distance. There was one shuttle parked on the deck, sitting idle as two men loaded crates onto it. It was a standard UNN dropship with a stunted nose, a cockpit placed high for visibility and stubby wings for atmospheric flight. The guard pointed at it over Schaffer's shoulder with a gloved hand, his voice coming through on speakers embedded in his full-faced helmet, crackling with static.

There's your shuttle, and out there,” he pointed to open space. Schaffer could just make out a tiny object floating in the distance, too small to make out the details. “That's the jump carrier that's gonna take you to Borealis.”

A jump carrier? Did the corruption extend so far? Jump carriers were the largest class of ships operated by the UNN, their very purpose being to use their massive superlight engines to tow smaller vessels into superlight in their wake. Perhaps the captain was not aware of the situation, but some of the ship's crew certainly were. With luck, he would have an opportunity to escape or to interact with someone who was not in on the conspiracy, but he doubted it. Admiral Rawling did not make such mistakes and his money greased the palms of anyone who might interfere with his plans.

One of the men loading the crates onto the shuttle stopped what he was doing, placing a box down on the loading ramp and wiping his brow as he appraised Schaffer.

This the guy the boss wants us to clip?”

Yeah,” the Marine replied, pushing Schaffer forward and keeping a firm grip on his arm. “This is a special job though, don't bump him off. He needs to get to the Terminal first. If they go looking, that's where they'll find him.”

The man loading cargo whistled, eyeing Schaffer up and down. He looked like an engineer, he was wearing yellow overalls that were stained with grease, along with a pair of thick work gloves.

Don't know what you did to piss the boss off, buddy, but that's a tough break.”

Schaffer kept quiet, antagonizing these people would do him no good right now. The guard continued, talking over his shoulder.

Fence this lot,” he said, gesturing to the boxes with his free hand. “The boss says you get an extra twenty percent of the cut for doing him this favor.”

I hear that, give him my regards.”

The Marine handed Schaffer off to the shuttle crew, turning to leave with his colleague.

In you go,” the man on the ramp said, taking him by the upper arm and angling him inside the craft. “You're riding in the back with the crates, don't give me and my pilot any trouble and we won't give you any. I'm here to get you to Borealis, that's all. It's not personal.”

Schaffer took a seat on one of the boxes inside the cargo bay. It was packed with crates, most of them probably contained contraband or stolen goods. After the engineer was done loading, the pilot raised the ramp, sealing him in darkness. There was a short delay, then he felt the craft rise off the deck, feeling the thud of the landing gear as it retracted into the belly of the shuttle reverberate through his feet. He tried to steady himself, his hands still tied behind his back, the inertia buffeting him around as the craft accelerated and made course corrections. It didn't take long for the shuttle to arrive at the jump carrier and begin to slow, angling itself towards what he knew was the landing bay of the larger craft.

Schaffer couldn’t see anything, the portholes were all blocked by crates, but he knew the appearance of the ships from memory.

Jump carriers were massive vessels, their hulls covered in recesses where gunships, fighter craft and shuttles full of Marines would anchor themselves like limpets in order to ride the superlight current that the behemoth generated. Larger ships with more mass could coast up alongside it in formation, ensuring that they were pulled in when the drive came online and tore a hole in space. The vessels had a vaguely bullet-shaped profile, their bulbous hulls broken up by the hangar bays situated on the port and starboard, open to space save for the shimmering force fields that kept in the atmosphere. They were painted in the traditional ocean-grey, as was most of the UNN fleet. Along their undersides were arrays of railguns mounted on flexible arms, torpedo tubes and point defense turrets mounted at intervals along their length. The enormous main engines at the ship's rear would be idle as it drifted in open space, but when in motion they spouted plumes of blue hydrogen flame.

The shuttle slowed to a crawl, then he felt the impact of the landing gear on the deck, the shock absorbers making the craft bounce briefly before coming to rest. Most ships in the UNN, including shuttles, had artificial gravity generators. It was trivial to generate an AG field on something as small as a dropship, but as the mass of the vessel increased, so too did the power requirements. Large space stations like the Pinwheel just couldn't feasibly meet those requirements, and so they were given a spin, using centrifugal force as a substitute.

Schaffer waited, his eyes unable to adjust to the pitch blackness. After a couple of minutes, the ramp descended, the glare of the hangar’s harsh lighting blinding him for a moment. The engineer climbed up into the cargo hold and draped a jacket over Schaffer's shoulders, concealing his tied hands.

No trouble now, and this will all go smoothly. If you try to make a scene, you'll regret it. The boss said you had to be alive when you got to Borealis, he didn't specify in what condition.”

I won't make a scene,” Scaffer muttered, following the man off the shuttle.

You unpack these crates,” the man called back to his pilot as he descended from the cockpit. “I'll deal with this guy.”

There was nobody else on the deck, a few other shuttles lay idle, powered down and waiting for their crews to return. A few cargo lifters with thick, tank-like treads were stowed near the walls, their long forks colored with yellow warning markings. Schaffer looked out into space, watching the Pinwheel hang in the velvet blackness, the arid planet that it orbited shining below it. It spun lazily, the fat torus ringed with glinting lights and the off-blue glow of force fields. This was probably the last time that he would ever see it. His train of thought was popped like a bubble as the engineer urged him forward.

Enough sightseeing, come on. Let's get this done, and we can both be on our way.”

They marched over to the rear of the hangar bay, entering the carrier proper through one of the automatic doors that led them into a cramped hallway. Schaffer had ridden alongside carriers, but he had never actually been inside one before. It was much like a battleship or a cruiser, the low ceilings and narrow passages were claustrophobic, and one had to duck to avoid protruding pipes and machinery. It was like being inside some kind of industrial factory. The air was stale, and it had that metallic, dry tinge to it that was so familiar to Naval personnel.

They proceeded down the corridor, turning corners in a maze of nondescript hallways until they came across a man who was waiting for them, leaning against a wall with his arms crossed. He was wearing blue overalls, standard attire for Naval personnel. He put out an e-cigarette, the only kind permitted on service vessels because of the air filtration systems, and greeted the engineer with a wave of his hand.

This the guy?”

The engineer nodded, reaching into his pocket and retrieving a wad of blue bills. He handed it to the man, who flipped through the stack, counting the notes. Schaffer recognized it as UN currency, the kind most often used in the colonies. Countries on Earth and Mars tended to retain their ancient currencies, but colony worlds and outposts preferred to deal in UN credits. Paper money was still preferred to digital transactions where shady dealings were concerned.

I counted it already, Patrick, you know I won't stiff you.”

Just making sure,” the stranger replied, his voice gruff and gravelly. “I got a storage compartment for your cargo. Two weeks, one-way trip. There's a toilet, and I'll bring him food once a day. Nobody will find him here.”

Rawling sends his regards.”

The engineer handed him off to Patrick and turned his back, walking away down the hall towards the hangar. Schaffer’s new ward took him roughly by the arm and tugged him forward, typing in a four-digit code on a panel beside a door. It opened with a whoosh of stale air, revealing a small room no larger than a prison cell. There was a sink and a toilet, along with a metal bed frame that had no mattress. This must have been a janitor's haunt not too long ago, somewhere to rest and freshen up without having to travel the entire length of the ship to return to the living quarters. Schaffer was shoved unceremoniously inside, then the man drew a short, retractable blade. Schaffer tensed, fearing the worst, but the man ran it over the zip tie and cut his hands free of their restrains.

You're in the engineering section, nobody comes here besides me. You can shout for help if you like, nobody will hear you. The door is locked from the outside, so you can't escape. I'll bring you rations once per day, that's all you get.” He brandished the knife, popping the blade free of the handle, the sharp metal glinting under the fluorescent lighting. “Don't try anything stupid, I'm not allowed to kill you but I can sure as hell make you regret it.”

Schaffer didn't reply, but Patrick seemed satisfied. He turned to leave, then hesitated for a moment, digging through his pockets.

Catch,” he said, tossing an object to Schaffer. He snatched it out of the air, examining it. It was a clear, plastic bit, of the kind used during superlight jumps. “Don't bite your tongue off during the jumps, or it'll be my neck on the line.”

Patrick left, sealing the door behind him. Schaffer was glad for the bit at least, although he had no crash couch and no restraints in this cell. He would have to make do.

The nervous system was unable to handle the strain of inter-dimensional travel. The neurological effects included uncontrollable muscle spasms, blackouts, and temporary insanity. The safest way to traverse the dimensional tears was to be safely strapped down, rendered immobile with a bit preventing you from biting off your own tongue and bleeding out.

He shivered as he realized how cold he was. There was moisture dripping from an exposed pipe that had been sealed with some kind of tape, and there were no heating elements visible. This must be one of the older vessels still in service, it certainly didn't seem up to spec. That was probably why it was hauling cargo to irrelevant allied worlds rather than serving on the front. What had Rawling said, it took two weeks to get to Borealis? Fuck…

***

He sat in silence for a long while, scanning the room with his eyes, taking in every detail and imperfection. There was nothing else to do. The least his captors could have done was give him a book to read to alleviate the boredom that would no doubt drive him half crazy, but maybe that was the idea.

He felt a subtle acceleration as the massive vessel began to maneuver, they were underway. There were no windows in his room, it must have been located somewhere towards the middle of the superstructure, but experience had honed his senses to detect the subtle movements of a ship in space. Jump carriers never went far under the power of their chemical rockets, it must be preparing for the first of several superlight jumps. Schaffer held the bit in his hand apprehensively, hoping that he would have time to insert it.

Suddenly the hairs on his arms stood on end, and he felt a strange tugging sensation in his sinuses. This was it, the carrier was preparing to expend the energy that it had accumulated in the superlight drive. When the drive had been charged with enough power from the several nuclear reactors that the carrier housed, it would release it, directing it towards the front of the ship and creating a tear in the fabric of space. Schaffer was no astrophysicist, he didn't understand the details of inter-dimensional travel and miniaturized black holes. He only knew that the ship would be sucked in, exiting reality and entering an alternate dimension of space where the laws of physics allowed it to exceed the speed of light. At the end of the process, it would be catapulted dozens of light years away, where it would be birthed into our reality again like some giant stellar infant.

He inserted the bit, biting down on it and wondering if it would be better to be seated or lying down, then his senses left him.

***

Like trying to crawl out of a tar pit, Schaffer slowly regained consciousness. He found himself on the floor beside the bed, his head pounding like a hammer. Had he hit it on something, or was it just a migraine from the jump? He couldn't tell. He spat out the plastic bit, wiping it on his clothes and stowing it in his pocket, then rose to his feet unsteadily as he braced himself against the metal bed frame for balance. His whole body was wracked by the slowly receding ache of cramping muscles, and he felt like someone had twisted a fork in his brain as if it were a bowl of pasta. He sat heavily on the bed, the rusty springs creaking beneath him, cradling his temples in his hands. This wasn’t his first rodeo, he knew that it would subside in a few minutes.

After a while, the pain and dizziness abated, and he was startled by the whoosh of the automatic door. It was his jailor, an MRE clutched in his arms, the same kind that soldiers used in the field. He was probably unable to smuggle food from the ship's mess, so this was yet more evidence of supplies and equipment being misappropriated. He stood in the doorway, not actually entering the room, and tossed the ration pack to the floor.

Still alive then? Good. Here's your twenty-four-hour ration, has everything you need. I'll be back again tomorrow.”

The door slid closed, and Schaffer struggled to his feet, walking across the small room and crouching to retrieve the package. The plastic pouch was marked Meal Ready to Eat, three-thousand calories. He tore it open with his fingers, exposing the cardboard boxes within. There were three compartments, one for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It also came with a transparent packet containing plastic cutlery, toilet paper, gum, a disposable toothbrush, and waterproof matches.

Interesting, the engineer had either not cared, or had forgotten to remove the matches. Perhaps he could light a fire? There was no mattress, however, and the smoke inhalation from anything that he managed to burn would probably suffocate him in the enclosed space before anyone could arrive to help him.

Fuck it, he was hungry. He broke open the box marked lunch and upended the contents onto the cold deck. It contained a packet of beans and rice for reheating, some dry crackers with a small cup of peanut butter, dehydrated hamburger helper and packets with powdered juice and coffee. There was a small tin stove that unfolded on hinges to support a pot, along with the flammable gel packets that were intended to be used to cook the contents.

He took the little metal pot over to the sink and filled it with water, then placed it on the miniature stove, lighting one of the gel packets beneath it. He sat forlornly on the bed as he waited for the water to boil. The food could be a lot worse, at least there was that. His biggest gripe right now the lack of a mattress.

***

The days crawled by, his maddening boredom dragging out every hour to lengths that felt unbearable. Every day Patrick brought him food, and every three or maybe four days the carrier would make another jump. The physiological effects were just noticeable enough to warn him a few seconds beforehand, giving him scant moments to insert the bit and brace himself against the bed or a wall. Borealis was around seventy light years from Earth if he recalled correctly, and the Pinwheel wasn’t far off that, situated near the borders of Coalition space. If his math was right, it should take about four jumps to get from one to the other.

This was confirmed when after the fourth jump, Patrick lingering for a few extra moments at the door after throwing Schaffer his MRE.

We're about a day out now. When the ship enters orbit, I'll come to collect you and take you to a shuttle.” He hesitated, making eye contact with Schaffer for the first time. “Just remember, I do what they pay me to do. It isn't my choice. If it was up to me, I'd flush you out of an airlock, and you'd be dead in seconds. But it's not a good idea to cross the boss. If I went against his orders, it might be me on the next shuttle down to the Terminal.”

Schaffer didn't reply, he had no sympathy. These people were all complicit, all working together to operate this vast network of black markets and corruption. He wasn't about to spare a thought for the feelings of this lackey, a man willing to take blood money.

Think about me when you're counting that fat wad of bank notes,” Schaffer sneered. “Hopefully being an accessory to murder won't tarnish the taste of your next drink.”

Patrick shook his head dismissively.

You don't know me, you don't know my situation. I don't agree with this, but it isn't my problem, and I need the cash. It’s your fault for sticking your nose in the boss' business, not mine.”

You're helping him murder me, don't act like you're uninvolved,” Schaffer shot back. “You're no middleman, you're a hitman.” His tone softened momentarily as he pleaded with his captor. “Listen, Patrick, you can still stop this. Go to the captain, tell him what happened. We can have Rawling in irons before the end of the day. They'll make a deal with you, give you immunity, protection.”

The man shook his head, reaching over to thumb the door panel.

Not everyone gets to be an officer on a fancy space station. That place is a fucking resort. Some of us are out here in the engine rooms, crawling through ducts to patch battle damage while the ship is under fire, cleaning up blood stains after a bulkhead collapses and crushes someone. My problems won't go away because I decided to be a good guy. Doing jobs for Rawling is my ticket out of this sardine can. I'll be back tomorrow.”

Patrick, wait-”

The door closed with a whoosh of stale air and Schaffer sank back down onto his cot. That was his only chance, if he had more time he might be able to reason with Patrick. The man didn't seem happy about the situation, but now it was too late. He lay back on the bed and closed his eyes, trying to fall asleep so that he didn't have to think about what was coming.

***

Patrick returned the next day with a zip tie, binding Schaffer's hands in front of him and draping a jacket over them to conceal his restraints. He led him out of the tiny room that had been his prison for the last two weeks and back down towards the carrier's hangar bay. There was more activity now, the previously idle cargo loaders were transporting large crates and pallets across the deck, loading them onto shuttles and larger cargo haulers. Patrick was careful to keep him out of earshot of the crews, pressing the point of his knife into Schaffer's lower back and skirting the edge of the bay, steering him towards a waiting dropship. He ushered him up the ramp and closed it behind him, then walked around to the cockpit, Schaffer hearing him tap on the pilot's window. The shuttle hummed to life, then lifted off the deck, its landing gear rumbling as it stowed in the shuttle's belly. It coasted past the hangar force field, Schaffer's stomach turning as he felt it drop, caught in the gravity of a planet. The carrier must be in low orbit around Borealis. Strange, were there no satellites? No danger of collision from orbiting stations or shipyards? This planet must be even less developed than its reputation as a backwater suggested.

He felt turbulence as the shuttle hit the atmosphere, bouncing in his seat as the winds buffeted the little craft. His captors hadn’t even seen fit to strap on his safety harness, and he couldn’t do it himself with his hands bound. Eventually, they leveled out, and Schaffer sensed that the shuttle was slowing as inertia tugged at him. They hovered as the landing gear descended, then made landfall with a thump. Schaffer shielded his eyes as the ramp lowered, blinding him with a white glare and chilling him to the bone as a freezing wind blew through the opening. He immediately began to shiver violently, the cold penetrating his clothes like they had been soaked in ice water.

There was nobody at the ramp controls, the pilot must have lowered it from the cockpit, unwilling to leave his heated chair perhaps. Schaffer got the message and inched forward, feeling his eyelashes begin to freeze as the frigid wind hit him with full force. His shoes left the ramp, crunching in crisp snow. The crushing gravity crippled him as soon as he left the AG field of the shuttle, and he doubled over, groaning in pain and surprise. Moisture soaked through to his socks as he tried to shield his face with his bound hands, looking around, trying to get his bearings. He was in a tundra, completely flat fields of white snow as far as the eye could see. The sky was a piercing, deep azure with no clouds, the glare from the planet's primary star as white and as harsh as a fluorescent lamp. Schaffer stumbled as the shuttle behind him began to rise, the blowback from the engines knocking him off balance as the craft's thrusters melted the snow beneath it. It rose and shot off over the horizon, Schaffer despairing as he watched it disappear, the tears of anger and frustration that fell from his eyes freezing into hard droplets as they rolled down his cheeks. He felt as if someone had dropped a donkey on his back, he could barely stand, scarcely able to breathe under such intense gravitational pressure.

He felt as if he might just keel over and succumb to the elements where he stood, but then he glimpsed something in the distance. Metal, reflecting the harsh light of the sun, barely seen through the rapid onset of snow-blindness. That must be the outpost, the Terminal. He had to reach it, had to try, at least. The cold stabbed at him like a thousand knives, his uniform providing no worthwhile insulation, his socks soaked through with moisture. He couldn't even wrap his arms around his body, the zip tie still restrained him. If he didn't move soon, he might start losing toes to frostbite.

He inched forward, marching against the wind as his knees threatened to give out. Each shaky step took enormous effort, his muscles and joints struggling to support his new weight. He waded through knee-high snow drifts, not even able feel his feet now. He had to keep moving, had to reach that base soon.

After what felt like an eternity his hands found metal, the handle of the door cold enough to burn his skin. Would it even open? Was the base powered? Was the door frozen shut? He turned the handle, nothing. He gripped it harder, feeling the skin on his palm sticking to its surface, and tugged. It was frozen, or perhaps blocked by the snow. He wailed in despair, his voice lost on the wind as he drove his shoulder against the door, slamming it with a newfound animal strength. It creaked under his weight as he gave it another desperate heave, his shoulder bruising against the hard, frigid surface. One last time before he expended the last of his energy, he turned the handle and threw his weight against the door. It creaked open, and he spilled through into the dark interior of the base, falling heavily to the floor.

He panted, his sweat freezing to his skin as he lay there, trying to catch his breath. Even his lungs were freezing, his lips starting to chap and crack in response to the cold air. He rose to his feet with great effort, his arms shaking as he tried to support himself. The massive gravity gave him an illusion of frailty, as if all of his muscles had wasted away, leaving him weak and sickly. He turned to push the door closed, and it fastened with a click, shutting out the sunlight.

It was barely warmer inside, but at least the wind no longer tore at him. He removed his boots, tugging off his wet socks and casting them aside. Was it better to go barefoot than to wear wet socks? The end result might be the same. The floor was tiled, oddly rubbery, and he stumbled deeper inside the structure. There were small windows placed high on the walls, but enough light penetrated the glass to illuminate the cramped rooms so that he could navigate.

The base was deserted, nobody had been here for a long time, that much was immediately obvious. He entered a dining area, a layer of glistening frost coating the table that occupied the center of the room. Icicles clung to the faucets over the kitchen sink and the cupboards and shelves that should have held food were bare save for a few solitary cans of food, their labels too covered in frost to make out. He found a knife on the counter and fumbled with it for a moment, his fingers almost too cold and stiff to function. He turned it around in his grip and sawed into the zip tie, freeing his hands.

He proceeded deeper, rubbing the red marks on his wrists, his violent shivering making his teeth chatter. There had to be some reprieve here. Some dry clothes, maybe some kind of heating element or something that he could burn, anything that might relieve him before he died of hypothermia. He passed a bathroom area and what looked like crew quarters, their doors ajar, revealing bunk beds and equipment lockers. There was even a rec room with a pool table and couches.

He knew that this outpost was still operational, even if it wasn't manned. The station’s computer would be running, sifting through planetary chatter and relaying relevant data to the UNN. It must have a power source, and where there was electricity, there would be heat.

Yes, there at the end of the hall, there was just enough light bleeding through the tiny windows to make out the yellow danger of death warning labels on the door that indicated live machinery. He struggled towards it, gripping the handle and trying to turn it. It was locked. He pounded on the door with his fist, frustrated, the sound reverberating through the metal. There was a keypad just beside the frame, he would need a combination to open it. Could he find the number somewhere else in the base?

He returned to the crew quarters, entering the first room to his right and almost falling as he crouched to open an equipment locker at the end of one of the beds. He couldn't keep this up for long. He was exhausted, becoming delirious, unable to think straight. He opened the box to find it empty. Cursing under his breath, he shuffled across the floor to an adjacent locker and flipped the lid. Electronics, nothing he recognized, nothing that he could wear or burn. He rose to his feet with great difficulty, leaving through the door and crossing the narrow hall to search another room. The next locker that he opened had clothing, finally some luck! He rifled through it, pulling out coats and hats, pants and gloves. It wasn't much, but it would help. He tried to pull on one of the jackets, but found that it was too small for him. Had it belonged to a woman maybe? He pulled a woolen hat over his head and wrapped a purple scarf around his neck, those at least were gender neutral. The gloves didn't fit him either, his hands were too large.

Encouraged by his minor success, he mustered the strength to keep going, and in a short while he had retrieved everything of use from the crew quarters. He had found an insulated coat with a furry hood that fit him well enough, work gloves, and several pairs of thick socks that he had layered one on top of the other. There was even a pair of boots that, while too large for him, stayed on well enough if he fastened the laces tightly. Blisters from ill-fitting footwear were the least of his problems right now.

There was nothing he could do about the gravity, but at least he was starting to warm now. It was still intolerably cold, but sheltered from the wind and with his own body heat starting to compound as the clothing trapped it, he was out of immediate danger. He should rest, he was close to collapse, but he felt compelled to gain access to that locked door. Behind that numeric lock could be a simple switch that would activate the building's heating system.

He shuffled through the hallway, checking every door that he came across. Was there some kind of administrator's office? Somewhere that the combination might be written down? Or had some long departed engineer committed it to memory, taking Schaffer's hopes for salvation with him when he had fled the base? He would have to turn this damned place upside down and inside out.

***

He rifled through the kitchen, the muscles in his thighs and calves burning under the strain of supporting his body under the planet’s brutal gravity. The fridge was powered off and empty, but he was able to collect a few cans from shelves and cupboards. Who knew what they contained, all of the labels were either so decayed as to be illegible, or frozen over. He piled them on the dining table, then tried to turn on the water. If he could find a heat source, then he could use it to melt snow and make clean water. But if the boiler was still operational, it would save him a step. He turned the handle on one of the faucets, and there was a great, echoing creaking. The pipes must be completely frozen. He decided to leave it running. Perhaps if the boiler was still able to heat the water, it would eventually melt its way up through the plumbing system.

What he needed were some of those damned MREs, the matches and flammable gel packets would be invaluable right about now, but he doubted that he would find any such equipment here. There must be a storeroom somewhere on-site, this kitchen couldn't possibly hold enough food to supply the base staff for more than a week. With any luck, there would be crates full of supplies and useful equipment. He should try to locate it.

But he was getting sidetracked, his tired mind wandering. Find the door combination first, that was the most pressing issue. Perhaps he could even call for help somehow if he were to gain access to the computer. The base was a massive transmitter, after all, its only purpose was to send data into space.

He left the kitchen and wandered the installation, it was fairly small as far as outposts went, yet its design was odd. A circular corridor ringed the whole facility, and it all seemed to be constructed around the central computer room. There must be a large transmitter dish protruding from the roof. He had barely been able to see anything outside, the glare of the snow was so blinding. There was just enough illumination to see by, the glass on the small windows packed with ice and grime. Wherever he went, glistening frost coated every surface and motes of dust hung in the shafts of light that penetrated the dirty portholes.

He circled the central room and found himself on the opposite side of the building, looking up at an office door. There was a name on it, though he couldn't read the text, the plaque was obscured beneath a layer of opaque ice. This must be some kind of administrative room, had to be. He tugged at the doorknob. Another locked room, God damn it. Why all the security? The base was in a wasteland, there were no natives here to go snooping through UNN secrets. This door was made of wood, however, not metal like the one protecting the computer room. He might be able to break it down.

He geared up to slam the door, taking a couple of steps back on aching legs. He made himself a promise that if he broke through this door, he might finally be able to sleep. He lunged forward, bringing up his boot to impact it near the brass knob. No effect. He tried again, slamming his foot against where he assumed the lock would be. This was draining his energy faster than he had anticipated, he was already beyond exhausted. He tried a third time, and then a fourth. On the fifth attempt, the wood around the knob splintered, and with one last kick the lock gave out. The door swung loose on its hinges, and he stumbled inside the room, gasping. There was a computer terminal on a desk in the middle of the space and what looked like filing cabinets lining the walls. He doubted that they would be full of paper documents, perhaps data storage devices or printed readouts of some kind.

He made a beeline for the computer terminal, remarking that it was not a self-contained unit, its cabling left the back of the screen's blocky shroud and disappeared into the floor. Hopefully, it would be hooked up to the main computer. He pushed away a chair and leaned down to tap the keyboard. Nothing. He searched the shroud for a power button and found one, thumbing the switch. He heard the whir of electronic motors as the cooling fans come to life. He feared that ice or moisture might have penetrated the circuits and caused shorts, but breathed a sigh of relief as a BIOS screen displayed, its white text illuminated against a black background. The station definitely had power, that was encouraging.

It cycled through a short diagnostic phase, then finding no apparent problems, displayed a login screen. Schaffer's heart sank. God damn it, was everything in this fucking base locked? He pulled open one of the desk drawers, rummaging through paperwork. These passwords were usually generated by a security algorithm, and if the owner of this terminal was anything like the people that Schaffer had worked alongside on the Pinwheel, then more often than not they would just write them down rather than attempt to commit the ever-changing codes to memory.

The cursor on the login screen blinked expectantly as he scattered paper and folders. There was a ballpoint pen, the ink frozen inside it. Bulldog clips, a data chip, what looked like a coffee filter. What on Earth was that doing in there? As he dug into the pile, a yellow slip caught his eye. It was a sticky memo with numbers and characters scrawled on it in fading ink. That had to be the password.

He had trouble typing in the code through his thick gloves, but he managed it eventually. The computer accepted the password, admitting him to the desktop. He pumped his fist in triumph, then gripped the mouse in his hand. There were only four icons. Documents, system, settings, and user. He clicked on settings and a window popped up showing innumerable values and sliders. He squinted, trying to understand what he was seeing through his fog of fatigue.

Some of these were coordinates, they must be for aiming the satellite dish, but those were greyed out. Did he not have full access to all of the systems from here? Others appeared to show locked doors. He unchecked all of those options. In theory, every lock in the facility should now be disabled. Next was perhaps water pressure, he didn't want to mess with that without knowing more about the system. As he scrolled down, he came across lighting options, it seemed as if this one terminal could remotely control at least some of the base's functions. There might not even be an interface inside the central computer room itself. He dragged one of the sliders experimentally. No reaction, perhaps this light was in a different room of the outpost. He decided to just turn on every light until something happened, and about halfway down the list, the bulb over his head turned on. It was fading and dull, but now he could see better. He switched on the rest of them, noting that the hall beyond the door was now illuminated too. Excellent.

Now if he could only find the central heating. There, a temperature gauge. He dragged his mouse cursor over the value, raising it to forty degrees centigrade. He heard a rumbling echo through the building. He wasn't sure what method they had used, but any pipes would be frozen, and ducts might be clogged. It might take a little while for the effects to be noticeable, if the heating system was operating at all...

It was as much as he could do right now, he would investigate any problems tomorrow when he had rested. Feeling vindicated, he made his way back towards the crew quarters, the outpost now illuminated by its light fixtures. A few had succumbed to the elements and were not functioning, but the majority were operational, casting a warm glow that reflected off the frozen walls. He collapsed onto one of the beds, sinking into the mattress, and within seconds he was asleep.

CHAPTER 2: TERMINAL

He awoke to frigid cold. His fingers were stiff, and his breath hung in the air, forming crystals that glittered in the waning light of the dirty bulbs. He wasn't sure how long he had slept, but the heating still had not come on. There was some kind of problem.

He tried to rise to a sitting position, noting with discomfort that his chapped lips were welded together, but the gravity gripped him like an angry fist and chained him to the bed. It felt as though an elephant was sitting on his chest. He groaned, electing instead to roll out of the bed sideways, his muscles still aching as if he had run a marathon. He rose to his feet unsteadily, still shivering. His coat was covered in frozen moisture, and the fur that lined the inside of his hood was matted with ice. It was a miracle that he had woken up at all. He had activated the heating system, why wasn't it working? Surely the pipes would have thawed by now, and any ice or snow that had clogged the ducts would have melted. He needed to get to the bottom of it, and quickly, he didn't know how long he could endure in these conditions.

His stomach rumbled, gurgling audibly under his layers of clothing. He had exerted himself so much, burned so many calories keeping warm, he needed to eat. He remembered the cans that he had found and piled on the dining table, making his way back to the kitchen. Frost still coated every surface, it hadn't thawed at all, no heat was getting through to the base.

He rifled through the cans, sending a couple of them rolling, his gut cramping uncomfortably as he searched for something with a legible label. Most were either so faded or so damaged by the moisture and ice that he couldn't read them. Ah, here was one that he could just about make out. He lifted the can, examining it under the dim lights. Kidney beans, perfect. He couldn't make out an expiration date, but he had no choice. He set the can to one side and walked over to the kitchen drawers, pulling them out and searching for cutlery or a can opener. Most of what was there was rusted beyond use, the blades of the knives and the prongs of the forks decaying into orange dust because of the pervasive damp. Eventually, he found a manual can opener that looked intact enough to use and brought it eagerly to the can of beans. He had never felt so hungry in all his life.

As he pierced the lid of the can, a fowl, nauseating smell spewed forth and he had to cover his nose with his sleeve to save from gagging. He moved away, batting at the air with his other hand. They were beyond rancid, not even recognizable as ever having been edible.

A twinge of panic shot through him, and he grabbed another can. He couldn't read the label, but he broke it open anyway. A fresh stench made him dry-heave, and he dropped the can onto the table. It was full of a gelatinous, black sludge. It was impossible to say what it had once been. No, fate could not be so cruel, were all of the food stores spoiled? How long had they been here?

One by one he opened the cans, and one by one they were proven unfit for consumption. After a few minutes, he had a pile of open cans, their combined stink permeating the room. There was nothing, not one scrap of edible food. He threw the can opener across the room in frustration, shouting his anger and despair at the icy walls of the outpost. No food, no heat, this base would be his frozen tomb and Rawling would get exactly what he wanted.

Wait, there was still one option open to him. The storeroom. He had succeeded in unlocking the doors of the base, even if the more advanced functions such as control of the satellite dish were off limits to whoever had owned that terminal. There had to be a storeroom somewhere on the base, he had not yet explored it in its entirety.

He would try to secure food first, without anything to eat, whether he survived the cold or not was of little consequence. Repairing the heating system would have to wait.

Schaffer took a moment to compose himself, then set off towards the area of the base that he had not explored yet. He passed what appeared to have been labs at some point, they must have been doing research of some kind. Anything valuable or useful seemed to have been stripped, leaving mostly bare counters and tiled floors with a few beakers and glass vials scattered here and there.

There was a second bathroom and a small storage closet with janitorial supplies, nothing Schaffer could make use of. He finally found it, the main storage room, its door ajar after the electronic locks had been deactivated. He swung it open all the way, stepping inside.

Most of the lights in here were broken or non-functional, but enough were still working to illuminate the space well enough that he could navigate it. There were crates and boxes all over the room, what looked like a rack of jumpsuits or maybe space suits, shelves with cans of food. It was everything that he had hoped for. He went straight for one of the shelves, grabbing cans and examining them. His face fell, these were in no better condition than the ones in the kitchen, rusted metal peeking out from beneath decaying paper labels. He didn't hold out much hope, but he would take as many as he could carry back to the dining table and see if any were still good.

He opened one of the boxes that littered the floor, finding that it was full of tools. Hammers, screwdrivers, drills with bloated batteries that he didn't dare to handle. These were definitely useful to have, they might help him in his endeavor to repair the heating system. He opened a few more boxes, finding nothing of use to him, then made his way over to the suits. There were six of them on a rack, UNN blue in color. Schaffer recognized them as environment suits, fully contained units with a battery backpack for use in space and extreme conditions. The base staff must have used these for excursions into the snow to make repairs or to unload cargo from supply shuttles.

Did they still have power? He pulled one of the suits down to examine it. This one was obviously too small for him, and the battery readout on the backpack was dark, indicating that it was out of charge. The faceplate was obscured by a layer of frost. He discarded it on the ground, then checked the rest of them. They were all unpowered besides for one, the flickering readout on the backpack read thirty-two percent. It even looked big enough to fit him. This suit would keep him alive and warm for at least a few hours, should he need to use it. As cold as he was, his life was not in immediate danger right now, he should save it for an emergency.

There was something else on the bottom of the rack, too, resting in a recess. He pulled it out, feeling cold metal through his glove. It was a revolver, a rotary powder weapon of archaic design. The UNN had only recently introduced a standardized handgun for their troops, so it was not uncommon for Marines to carry personal sidearms that varied quite dramatically in their designs. Though they lacked the range and stopping power of railguns or plasma casters, traditional bullets would still put down most enemies in close quarters.

He flipped open the cylinder to check if it was loaded, and it was, there were six rounds chambered. The base was deserted, and there were no natives for hundreds of miles in any direction. There couldn't be, it was a tundra out there. The weight of it was reassuring, however, so he slipped the gun into his coat pocket.

Okay. He had tools, he had food, he had an emergency environment suit. Time to get to work.

***

Schaffer heaved the heavy box of food cans onto the dining table with a loud crash. He had somewhat overestimated their weight, he still wasn't used to this damned gravity. These were all of the cans that he had retrieved from the storeroom that weren't visibly damaged or beyond salvaging. If at least some of these proved to be edible, then he might be able to ration the food out for a few days...maybe. Theoretically, he could starve for a week or even two before he actually died, but that wasn't something he wanted to try for himself. Water was a more pressing issue, despite the rumbling in the pipes, none had come from the faucet. Perhaps the plumbing was breached somewhere.

He could retrieve snow and melt it, but he would need a heat source for that. While he had electricity, most of the base's functions were not operational. He retrieved the can opener from where he had thrown it, cursing himself for his lack of composure, and started opening the tins.

A few minutes later the can opener was again discarded in anger. Not one of the cans was edible, there wasn't a morsel of food in this entire outpost that he could eat. His stomach gurgled in protest as he rested his hooded head in his hands, the reality of his desperate situation hitting him for the first time. He might really die here. Without food, the clock was ticking. His only hope now was to gain access to the central computer before he starved, and send a distress call.

He marched off to the central computer door that he had found the day before, it must be open now that he had disabled the locks. He found it, the yellow warning labels visible beneath the frost. He turned the handle, meeting resistance, and finding that was still locked. He slammed the door with his gloved fist as frustration overwhelmed him.

Why!? Why the fuck are you still locked!?”

His voice echoed through the corridor, petering out into silence. As if in response, one of the lightbulbs over his head flickered and died, casting him into deeper gloom. The computer room must not be accessible from the terminal, it must need its own key code, and he had seen nothing of the sort while rifling through the desk.

Fuck it, he'd have to deal with this later, the heating was a more pressing issue. He knew the base had power, or the lights and the terminal wouldn't be on. He knew that the heating system had at least some functionality, he had heard noises coming from the walls when he had turned up the thermostat. He didn't know the first thing about repairing plumbing or AC systems, but he had tools, and he was out of other options.

But where to start? Any such systems would be embedded behind the walls or under the floor. The base was mostly made of metal, so it stood to reason that there must be access panels somewhere that would allow repairs and maintenance to be performed without disassembling the habitat. What would those look like? He rubbed his belly, the hunger pangs distracting him from his thoughts.

The design of the base was very functional and practical, so he doubted that they would be too heavily concealed. He started to wander, examining the walls and floor for keyholes or handholds. It was difficult, as every surface was obscured by a veneer of frozen moisture. He tapped his feet on the floor as he went, checking for the reverberation of a hollow cavity beneath the rubbery linoleum.

He circled the central hub of the base but did not find anything, and so proceeded outwards. After perhaps a half hour of searching, it was hard to tell time with only the waning light that entered through the narrow windows to guide him, he came across what must be some kind of furnace in the storage room. It was a large, boxy object of similar size and shape to a large refrigerator that went from the floor to the ceiling, with what looked like air ducts connecting it to the roof. He hadn't even noticed it the first time that he had entered the room because of the low light. This had to be the heating system. He inspected it more closely, prying loose a panel on the front of the device and revealing its inner workings. It was obvious at a glance how it operated. An air duct open to the cold winds outside would draw in air, then a fan powered by a small motor with a belt would feed it up and into a furnace. He swung the door open and could clearly see the heating elements. From there, it would pass the heated air up and into the base's ventilation system, thus heating the building. It looked to be electrically powered, so why wasn't it operating?

He reached inside and turned the furnace fan, which was not stuck or damaged. The belt connecting it to the motor was not too worn or frayed. He tapped the air filter that covered the intake. Ah, here was at least one contributing factor, the filter was frozen solid. No air could pass through. He gave it a tug, and it loosened, shedding shards of ice as he removed it. He hit the filter against the wall a couple of times, the frost that coated it falling to the floor, then he reinserted it and checked the furnace. He didn't really know enough about how it operated to make a judgment, but it looked fine, there was no visible damage. The only part left now was the motor. He examined the device, then disconnected it from the power grid, trying to pull it free. It was secured with screws, so he retrieved a screwdriver from the box of tools he had discovered earlier and removed it. He turned the little metal object over in his hands, it was blackened, obviously burned out.

Fuck, where would he find a replacement? Hadn't he seen something resembling this in one of the boxes that he had opened? He rummaged through the crates again, discarding all manner of junk, before eventually finding one full of replacement parts. There were a dozen motors here along with fan belts and replacement filters, the base was well stocked.

He replaced the motor, screwing it firmly into place, then hooked up the belt to the fan. He was careful when he plugged the motor back into the station's power system, as far as he knew the system was still live. As he connected the cable, the fan spun to life, and the orange flames of the furnace blasted him in the face. He recoiled from the heat, slamming the furnace door, then began to laugh. He had never been so happy to have his eyebrows singed. He replaced the panel on the front of the device then stood back to admire his handiwork.

He had done it! The heating system was operational again. Before long the whole outpost would be as warm as a balmy summer's day. He wasn't out of the woods yet, but it was something at least. He could take off this damned coat, feel his fingers again, maybe think straight and figure out how to get into that damned room. The heat from the furnace was intense, already beginning to warm the storage room, he could see the frost on the outer casing of the heating system beginning to sweat already.

Suddenly, everything went dark, and he heard the furnace fan slow to a stop. All of the lights had gone out. A power outage? How? Why?

Cursing under his breath, he jogged over to the computer terminal in the office, seeing that it was off too. He thumbed the power button, waiting with bated breath, then thanked his stars as the machine booted.

Come on, come on,” he muttered as he watched the monitor flicker past the BIOS screen. This time, rather than taking him to the login screen he was met with a pulsing message in bold, red text.

***POWER DRAW EXCEEDS SPECIFICATIONS, SWITCHING TO AUXILIARY***

The message displayed for a few seconds, then the terminal powered off. How could that be? Frustrated, he jammed the power button, and again the system booted. He waited impatiently as it crawled sluggishly past the diagnostic readout.

***POWER DRAW EXCEEDS SPECIFICATIONS, SWITCHING TO AUXILIARY***

It switched off again, and he slapped the top of the case in anger. What specifications? What had happened? Everything had been working properly, the lights were on, the heating was finally working. What had gone wrong? It started to dawn on him as he watched his reflection in the screen, his eyes sunken and his skin pallid.

Power draw exceeds specifications. When the last of the personnel had left the base, they must have shut down all of the life support systems. With nobody manning the outpost, there was no need for heating, no need for lights or water. They had essentially set the base into a low-power state, conserving energy so that the computer might stay online for as long as possible. Nobody was supposed to be here, Schaffer least of all, and trying to run both the lights and heating at the same time must have tripped some kind of fail-safe. Switching to auxiliary...it must have shut off the main generator entirely, God damn it!

He had been so close, it was as if the station itself was trying to kill him, haunted perhaps by the ghosts of those that had met their end here. He slammed his fist on the desk, then picked up the keyboard, tearing it out of the terminal and throwing it against the wall. Keys scattered across the floor as he screamed curses directed at the UNN, Rawling, the outpost and himself.

***

Schaffer slumped on the kitchen table, it had been three days without food now. He had turned the station upside down, emptied every drawer and filing cabinet he could find, and he had not come across any codes that would open the locked computer room door. Without access to the central computer, he could not change the parameters in order to reactivate the generator. Nor had he been able to find the generator itself, it didn't appear to be inside the building, most likely buried beneath the floor and inaccessible to him.

His cracked lips bled constantly, his eyebrows and lashes were frozen. No matter how much he layered his clothing, he could not ward off the creeping cold. He was tired, hungry, exhausted by the crushing gravity and lack of nourishment. Lacking even the ability to make fire, he had eaten snow to obtain water and to sate his cramping hunger. It hadn't worked.

He eyed the revolver that rested on the table. Rawling wouldn't get what he wanted, he had sent Schaffer to this godforsaken place to freeze and starve, but the manner of his death was the only thing still under his control. How he died was his choice to make. He had accepted his death, he had no options left, no way to survive here now. It would be best to end it on his own terms.

He picked up the can opener, using the hooked blade to carve text into the table. It penetrated the frost and the varnish with some difficulty, leaving a legible scrawl that he hoped would survive and one day be read by somebody. Perhaps an engineer sent to check on the computer would come across it, or a team sent to wipe the data when the base was eventually decommissioned.

Corporal Schaffer was here, followed by his serial number. Admiral Rawling has murdered me. Check the Pinwheel cargo manifest.

He got up from his seat and wandered over to the storage room, tugging down the one remaining environment suit that still held a charge. He changed out of his clothes hastily, pulling on the tight-fitting, blue suit and fastened the seals. He flicked a switch on the belt, and the garment came to life. A small HUD display in his peripheral vision lit up the transparent visor, his breath misting the clear plastic. It showed that the battery was at thirty-two percent, then indicated with a flashing warning message that his body temperature was too low. He breathed a sigh of relief as it began to heat itself, warming his frigid body. It was like being wrapped in an electric blanket. For the first time in days, he stopped shivering, and he could feel his fingers again.

He was going to kill himself with the revolver, he had decided. Might as well be warm for a while before checking out. He returned to the kitchen, sitting back down in one of the ice-covered chairs. He couldn't feel the cold through the protective suit, and when he lifted the gun in his hands, the freezing metal did not even register. Good, he could almost pretend that he was somewhere else. Shame about the gravity, though.

He got up, holding the gun in his hand, and walked towards the exit. He opened the door towards him, and a wave of snow that had been resting against the other side spilled into the hall, burying his feet. He couldn't feel that either, but he shouldn't be surprised. These suits were rated for the almost absolute zero temperatures of open space. It was a shame that the other suits were all depleted and that he had no way to charge the batteries, the station would have been infinitely more tolerable during his brief stay.

He stepped out into the snow, and his visor darkened automatically, protecting his eyes from the white glare. He could see more now, and there was a solemn, lonely beauty to the desolate landscape. Were it not for the gravity, he might have been on a glacier somewhere, or in the Arctic on Earth. Snow drifts almost like sand dunes, blown by the harsh winds no doubt, stretched as far as he could see. The horizon was flat in every direction, no mountains or forests, just snow.

He started to walk, in no particular direction, it just felt good to be free of the confines of the base. When he had marched for a few hundred meters, he turned to examine the outpost. It did indeed have a massive satellite dish in the roof, hanging on the end of a flexible, metal arm that was obviously designed to pivot and angle the transmitter. He looked up at the fluorescent sun, and the visor darkened further, tinted almost black to protect his eyes. There were two stars. Now that the glare of the primary was lessened, he could see the second, a smaller yellow star that more closely resembled that of Earth.

His readout flashed, indicating that the battery was at twenty percent charge. It must be shot, it was draining far more rapidly than it should be. Oh well, he didn't need it for much longer anyway. He walked a little further, climbing a snow drift to get a good view of the tundra. It was oddly serene. This was as good a place as any.

He took a deep breath, his heart fluttering as he pressed the barrel of the revolver against his temple, cocking the hammer. He shut his eyes, wondering briefly if it would hurt, then squeezed the trigger. There was a loud click, then nothing. He squeezed again. Another click. Four more times he tried to fire the gun, and each time it failed.

He opened the cylinder in disbelief, tears of frustration stinging his eyes. He removed one of the bullets from its chamber, fumbling with it in his gloved fingers, pulling the casing away and tipping out the gunpowder into his cupped hand. It was damp. All of the bullets were damp.

He threw the gun as hard as he could, punctuated with a bellow of frustration and rage, then lost his balance. He fell, tumbling down the snow drift. When he came to a stop at the bottom, he lay on his back and stared at the deep blue, cloudless sky. The suit HUD read fifteen percent. No matter, he would just stay here, fall asleep while he was still warm. He wouldn't wake up again.

He closed his eyes, chuckling to himself, amused by the extent of his bad luck. He tried to pretend that he was back on the homeworld, sunbathing on a warm beach somewhere, imagining palm trees waving in the breeze above his head as the sun warmed his skin. Inside the climate-controlled suit, he could almost pretend that the snow was sand.

He lay there for a while, drifting in and out of troubled sleep. Eventually, the warning signal indicating that the suit battery was at one percent beeped in his ears. He waited for it to subside, the HUD display eventually growing dull, then dying out. Once the heating shut off, the cold crept up on him quickly, starting in his fingers and toes and then crawling up his limbs to his core. He tried to suppress the shivering, but after a while, he stopped feeling anything at all. His body was stiff and numb.

As his consciousness began to fade out, he saw shapes moving, shadows in his peripheral vision. He must be hallucinating. No, they were getting closer, becoming clearer. He tried to turn his head to get a better look, but he couldn't muster the strength to move. He heard muffled sounds, too alien to be speech. One of them loomed over him, a great, furry monster like some kind of abominable snowman. Its clawed hands reached down towards him, acceptance overriding his panic.

At last, this could all be over. He would end his days in the belly of some arctic scavenger. As it lifted him off the snow, his vision finally went dark.

CHAPTER 3: CHARITY

Schaffer dreamed that he was warm, no, hot. Growing hotter. Sweat coated his body, he felt as if he were on fire. Was he in hell? Was that what fate had decreed? His mind was muddled, unfocused. He reached out his hand, feeling downy fur and yielding fat. He opened his eyes with a start, this was not a dream. He was awake, out of the snow and out of his suit, too. It was too dark for him to see anything, and all around him, the same soft fur pressed against his naked skin. There was an odd, musky smell, and the heat was overpowering. He pushed against the mass with his foot, but it was too heavy to move. What the hell was this, where was he?

He began to panic, he had to get out of this fluffy prison. He thrashed and struggled, whatever had enclosed him was alive, shifting and moving as he kicked and gripped the fur in his attempts to pull himself free. He pushed his face through an opening, blinking to clear his vision. He was in some kind of hall, the tall ceiling suspended by wooden beams, illuminated by flickering fires. He freed an arm, gripping a handful of fur for leverage, and pulled his torso free. He turned his head to see what had trapped him, a yelp of surprise and terror escaping his lips. It was a pile of giant tigers, snow monsters, their white fur spotted with black and grey markings. His cry had roused some of them, and they stirred to life. Their massive, vaguely feline heads emerged from the amorphous mass, and they opened their blue eyes to stare at him. They swiveled their round, furry ears, wrinkling their pink noses as if trying to smell him. One of them yawned widely, exposing a mouth full of pointed, carnivore teeth. A hairy hand the size of a dinner plate reached for him, its sausage-like fingers tipped with curved claws, and Schaffer bolted.

Driven by adrenaline, he launched himself out of the pile and onto the dirt floor, stumbling as his toes sank into the cool soil. He took off at a sprint, the instinct to outrun predators overriding his hunger and fatigue. This seemed to alarm the creatures, and they tumbled over each other, attempting to untangle themselves and give chase. Schaffer sensed cool air and headed towards it. He wouldn't survive ten minutes out in the snow with no clothing, but it was preferable to being torn apart by hungry aliens.

He turned a corner, passing by a massive wooden support that looked as if it had been fashioned from a tree trunk, and slammed into a wall of warm fur and muscle. Dazed, he fell on his ass, then looked up to see what he had hit. It was a huge creature, at least nine feet tall, standing on two digitigrade legs that ended in feline paws. It was vaguely humanoid, with two arms and two legs, powerful muscles bulging from its shoulders and chest. Its belly protruded somewhat, giving it the appearance of a weightlifter. It had a long, fluffy tail that swayed as it examined him with its cold, blue eyes. Its ears tracked him, round and furry, like those of a lion or a bear. Its fur was as white as the snow itself, almost pure, with fewer markings than those who had been tangled in the pile and who were rapidly approaching from behind. The fur was thicker on its chest, and it had a kind of fluffy beard that descended from its jawline.

More of the creatures flooded in from behind it, blocking the exit. Some were obviously female, their exposed, feminine figures drawing his eyes. The others must be males. There were at least a dozen, probably more of them surrounding him now, watching him curiously.

One of the males who standing behind the large creature spoke, that's what it was doing, speaking. These creatures were sapient, this was their hall. Schaffer watched as the large alien replied in a low, rumbling baritone.

Were they deciding what to do with him? Whether to eat him or not? No, they would have done that already by now, he was beginning to get the impression that they had rescued him. To what end?

The large male strode forward suddenly, leaning down and closing its gigantic hand over his face. The silky fur of its palm tickled his nose as it muffled his protests, and that same musky scent filled his lungs. He struggled as it lifted him to his feet, the strong fingers enclosing his skull, its sharp claws pricking his skin. It released him, examining him as he stood before the creatures.

What are you? their questioning looks seemed to ask, and he was of a similar mind. What were these creatures? He had heard of Borealans, he had even seen some wandering the station. They were tall, muscular aliens who hailed from this backwater. But those were hairless, more humanoid than these ones. Were these some feral variant? Their thick, furry coats seemed to suggest that they might be native to this tundra, perhaps some genetic throwback to an earlier period of the planet's history.

Some of them were wearing clothes at least, though the ones who had been in the pile were nude, as much as a furred creature could be considered nude. The largest male, better just call him Snowball for convenience, was wearing thick shorts that covered his lower body. They were made from some kind of animal fur and tied with a leather belt. His cohorts were similarly dressed, although some wore leather slings over their shoulders, adorned with what almost looked like ammo pouches.

Where were Schaffer's clothes? He felt suddenly exposed and vulnerable with all of these creatures examining him so intimately. He must look equally strange to them, a tiny, frail creature with no fur standing in their hall. He crossed his arms over his chest in a futile attempt to cover himself.

Snowball watched him curiously, then pointed across the hall with his clawed finger. Schaffer followed it and saw his environment suit hanging on a wooden pole beside one of the fire pits that was embedded in the dirt floor, ringed by stones. They had removed it and were drying it beside the flickering flames. They were definitely intelligent, intuitive animals. Schaffer looked back to Snowball, almost as if he required permission. He didn't, but Snowball was just so imposing, and this was their home after all. The alien gestured towards it, waving his hand as if to say go on then.

Schaffer walked across the room and retrieved the suit, along with his underclothes, pulling them on as the whole room watched him. He fastened the environment suit most of the way, but left the flexible hood and faceplate hanging loose down his back. It was out of charge completely now, but the massive hall was pretty warm, he was in no danger. He unclipped the battery pack and onboard computer system, discarding it at his feet. There was no reason to lug it around now.

He craned his neck, examining the expansive room. It seemed to be made from wood, entire tree trunks were holding up the roof like Greco-Roman pillars, and the rafters were crossed with support beams. The whole structure must have been a hundred feet long, with several fire pits spaced at intervals down the middle. The dancing flames cast deep shadows into the corners of the room, illuminating what looked like cots and tables just enough to make them out in the gloom. It was some kind of archaic longhouse, did they live here? It was downright stone age.

Feeling more secure now that he had his suit, and now certain that the aliens weren't going to roast him alive over one of the fires, he wandered back over to the group. They were just watching him, waiting for something. Their ice-blue, reflective eyes tracked him with feline pupils, their ears swiveling and twitching. Should he try to communicate with them? Their language was almost unrecognizable as speech, maybe their vocal cords couldn't even pronounce English words.

Hello,” he said, waiting for some kind of response. “My name is Schaffer,” he added as he tapped his chest with a gloved finger. “Schaffer.”

The aliens looked puzzled, mumbling to each other in a tongue that sounded like a slow-motion cat fight. They dispersed, whatever they had wanted from him, they seemed to have gotten it. Evidence of his own sapience perhaps? He had to keep in mind that they had likely never seen anything like him before, he was just as alien to them as they were to him. He had to concede that on first regaining consciousness, he had reacted like a frightened animal.

They had been warming him, he realized. The aliens had piled on top of him, concentrating their body heat in order to save him from freezing. They had succeeded it seemed, he wasn't missing any appendages, there was no blackening on his fingers or toes that would indicate frostbite. The aliens had found him in the snow half dead and had rescued him, nursing him back to health in their own primitive way.

He owed them his life, he should somehow find a way to express his thanks.

His stomach gurgled audibly, and he doubled over, clutching at his belly with a gloved hand. That was right, he hadn't eaten for days. He had survived the cold, but the hunger was another matter entirely. What did these natives eat? Would their diet be edible to him? How could he communicate that he needed food?

Snowball seemed to have noticed and understood, placing a heavy palm on his shoulder to get his attention. The creature steered him with its hand, pushing him inexorably towards an adjacent fire pit. Schaffer could sense the strength coming off the creature, it was like a coiled spring, multiple factors more powerful than any human could hope to be. It was intimidating, these aliens could probably tear him in half like a Christmas cracker. Fortunately, they didn't seem to be hostile.

When they reached the edge of the fire, he noticed metal hooks on a low-hanging rafter. Dangling meat, or maybe skin from some slain animal was hanging from them. Were they smoking the meat over the flames? It was a grisly sight, like something from an abattoir, and Schaffer briefly imagined himself impaled on one of those hooks. They were a good twelve feet off the floor in relation to Schaffer, but Snowball reached up easily with his long arm and retrieved one, gripping the meat in his wicked claws and dropping the entire mass into the smaller human's waiting hands. Schaffer grunted under the strain, his knees almost buckling. The strip of meat was the size of a god damned picnic blanket and weighed far more.

Snowball waited, watching him as he held the offering, Schaffer sniffing it experimentally. Could he eat this? What if the life on this planet used entirely different amino acid chains, or their blood contained arsenic or something of the sort? Oh well, it didn't matter in the grand scheme of things. If he ate the meat and it poisoned him, he would die. If he didn't eat the meat and starved, he would die. Better to just bite the proverbial bullet.

He raised it to his mouth with some difficulty, it really was oppressively heavy, and bit into the meat. It tasted vaguely like jerked pork, it was fatty and chewy, dried by the flames and flavored by the smoke. It was pleasant, tasty even. He took another bite, his hunger rising from his belly and goading him on. Snowball watched him with a satisfied expression, arms crossed over his fluffy chest as Schaffer gorged himself.

He ate until he was full to bursting, then handed the rest of the meat back to Snowball, who had been waiting patiently for him to eat his fill. The alien returned it to its hook, a comically small section missing where Schaffer had chewed into it, then the human sat on the soil beside the fire and rubbed his belly. After a moment, Snowball joined him, sitting cross-legged. His jointed heels hooked under his legs at an odd angle, his enormous tail trailing on the ground behind him like a furry anaconda.

Schaffer patted his belly, then gave a thumbs up.

Good.”

The alien imitated the gesture, curling his furry fingers and extending his thumb, then grunted in a way that almost approximated the word good. Snowball seemed to want to communicate. He was attentive to Schaffer's gestures and speech, doing his best to imitate him like some kind of giant, fluffy parrot. Schaffer patted himself on the chest as Snowball watched him.

Schaffer,” he said.

The alien copied the gesture, slamming his massive fist against his chest.

Sleugh,” he slurred in his rumbling voice, trying to repeat the name. He didn't seem to understand what Schaffer was attempting to convey.

No, no,” Schaffer chided as he patted his chest again. “Schaffer,” he reiterated, careful to enunciate the name clearly. He pointed to Snowball, waiting for a reply. Snowball's eyes widened, and he seemed to grasp the concept.

Shoofa,” the alien said as he pointed at him. It was a fine attempt. Then he patted himself on the breast. “Zagza.”

He had said it quickly, but Schaffer repeated the name while pointing at the alien, and he seemed delighted. His name was Zagza then, it was a start at least. These creatures were not so alien after all. They understood gestures, they had similar language abilities, they were curious and intuitive. Schaffer dared to believe for a moment that perhaps his bad luck had finally turned. These aliens had been in the right place at the right time to come to his rescue, if he had decided to leave the outpost half an hour later, he might have missed them. Half an hour earlier and his body might have been buried in fresh snow. If even one of those bullets had been dry enough to fire, he would be dead right now...

He raised his hands, warming them against the flickering flames. He had heat now, shelter, food. He had no idea how he might get back to civilization, but at least for now, he was out of immediate danger. These natives seemed friendly enough, although their sheer size and obvious predatory leanings kept him wary of getting too comfortable around them.

After a few minutes of silence, Zagza got up and left, and Schaffer found himself sitting alone with a few of the cat-like aliens observing him from a distance. They started to close in slowly, emerging from the darkness like a pack of hungry wolves. It made him nervous, the hair on his arms standing on end as they crept towards him. Soon they were only a foot away, eight or nine of them, most of them females. Their fur was a little more off-color than the pure white of Zagza's coat, they had more numerous and prominent markings. Their sparse, or total lack of clothing made him somewhat uncomfortable. One approached from behind, looming over him and sniffing his hair with its pink nose. He didn't react, and emboldened, it patted his head with its fluffy fingers.

These aliens had an insatiable curiosity and apparently no concept of personal space. It caught a strand in its hooked claw and tugged a little painfully. Schaffer twisted around and gently batted its hand away. The alien, very conspicuously female, cocked her head at him.

She looked as if she were trying to figure him out, classify him. She gripped his hand in hers, comparing their digits. Schaffer's five, slender fingers contrasted greatly with her four. They were thick and tipped with shiny, black claws. She had pads on her fingertips, probably to grip objects through her soft fur. She was incredibly warm, her coat trapping her body heat below its surface with a fierce intensity.

These creatures were certainly native to this region. Their entire bodies were covered in velvet fur and insulating fat, giving them a pudgy, almost doughy appearance that belied their immense strength. More of them crowded around, pawing at his suit and sniffing the air around him. He felt like a dog encircled by grabby children. He was a little worried that their claws would tear his clothing, and so dodged to avoid their probing hands where he could. He had no way of telling them to stop, so he endured their attentions as they ran their fingers through his hair and turned his face in their grasp to get a better view of him.

One fumbled with the seal that ran down the front of his environment suit, perhaps curious as to what lay beneath. Another slipped its hand between his legs, brushing his groin as it roved. He jumped to his feet abruptly, his hands raised defensively.

Okay, that's enough cultural exchange for one day.”

The female who had been crouched behind him hooked her hands under his armpits and lifted him clear off the floor. He flailed his legs, his stomach turning as she hefted him, apparently testing how much he weighed. She brought him closer to her, leaning down to his neck, and he shivered as he felt her tongue graze his skin. It was long and rough, leaving a hot, wet smear of saliva.

He struggled more violently, and she placed him back on the ground, muttering something under her breath to a cohort. Schaffer wiped the back of his neck with his gloved hand, scowling at them.

What did these creatures want with him? Why had they saved him? They didn't seem hostile, but as long as communication was a problem, he could never be sure of their intentions.

He felt an intense wave of fatigue overcome him suddenly. After solving the problem of food, his body now craved rest. He had endured a very long day, or at least what felt like one, he wasn’t sure how long the days lasted on this planet. He needed time to recuperate and digest, to straighten out his thoughts. He looked around him, searching for signs of the cots that he had seen earlier. There were several lining one wall, massive, alien-sized beds covered in layers of blankets and pelts. They looked far more inviting than the frozen mattresses at the outpost.

He made his way over to the nearest bed, and the circle of aliens parted to let him pass, watching him as he hopped up onto one of the wooden frames. It was a little too tall for him, but he managed, burrowing into the furry blankets. It was all animal hide, incredibly soft and warm. The patterning and coloration were not their own, these must come from prey animals, likely the same ones that provided them with meat. The bed was incredibly long and wide, far bigger than just one of the creatures would require. They must sleep in piles, like when they had thawed him. He was reluctant to remove his suit, it gave him a sense of security, however superficial that might be. It would provide zero protection from those curved claws should one of the monsters decide that he looked more like food than a friend, but it made him feel less vulnerable, so he didn't remove it.

It was colder over here than it had been by the fire pit, but the fleecy blankets would soon take care of that. He heard heavy footsteps and rolled over to see that the aliens were leaving their place by the fire and approaching him. Oh for God's sake, couldn't they just leave him alone?

He shooed them as they made their way to the bed, waving his hands and gesturing for them to leave, but they ignored him. The aliens crawled onto the frame to join him as it sagged under their combined weight. They jostled each other and pressed together, forming a veritable wall of fluffy flesh around him. It was stifling, alarming. They were far too large and heavy to behave like lap dogs, and Schaffer was too fragile for this kind of treatment.

Fuck off, I just want to sleep,” he protested. He tried to shove one of the fat aliens off him, but his hands sunk into its soft flesh like some kind of massive, immovable beanbag. They smelled too. It wasn’t unpleasant, but their strong, animal musk that invaded his nose. He felt a furry arm snake around his chest, pulling him out from under the blankets and into the pile of aliens proper. It hugged him against its body like a child with a favorite doll, and sensing this, more of the creatures pressed closer to him.

He was completely enclosed, and the heat was mounting, he was starting to sweat inside his suit. He struggled against the arm that held him firmly in its grip, the alien practically spooning with him at the center of the pile, and he eventually succeeded in slipping away. He crawled out from beneath the mound of bodies, using their fur as leverage to pull himself free, sliding out from under them and falling off the bed.

They seemed puzzled by this behavior, their blue eyes peeking out at him from between the jumbled bodies, the odd head emerging from the heap to track him with its round ears. He brushed himself off, then made his way to an adjacent bed, making it abundantly clear that he did not wish to share.

He climbed up and buried himself in the sheets, hoping that the stubborn creatures would not simply disgorge from their pile and smother him again. They left him alone this time, seemingly content to stay where they were, and Schaffer eventually drifted off to sleep.

***

He awoke to a face full of fur, tickling his nose and sticking to his lips. He groaned with frustration, trying to find his way out of the furry prison. He managed to flop out of the pile, then tumbled to the floor, landing on his back. There were two piles now, one on the first bed, and a new one had formed on top of him sometime during the night on the second.

These looked like Zagza and the aliens that he had seen the day before, the ones who had been wearing the leather slings. He could see the massive male's abnormally huge tail hanging off the side of the bed, a cleaner white than the coats of the aliens that encircled it. They might be communal animals, but the phrase when in Rome, do as the Romans do did not apply to risking being crushed to death beneath half a dozen giant aliens.

He was sweaty and sticky, it felt gross inside the rubbery suit. He wished that he had worn the clothes that he had retrieved from the outpost over the tighter fitting garment, it wouldn't have hurt. He wanted to bathe, but besides from rolling around in the freezing snow, he didn't see how he could manage it.

He wandered the hall now that he was free of the ever-watchful aliens, examining its contents. There were massive dining tables pushed against the walls, it looked as if they had been frequently dragged to and from the center of the room, judging by the marks in the soil. They seemed to fit between the fire pits, and their wooden surfaces were stained with juices and what might be blood.

The fires still roared, they must keep them going all the time, practically bonfires in comparison to a human-sized campfire. It made sense, the space was enormous, it must be hard to heat. There were small openings way up in the straw roof where the smoke could escape.

There were massive cauldrons too, fashioned from some kind of heavy metal like iron, and they were full of what looked like fresh water. Schaffer dunked his cupped hands into one of the pots and withdrew them, taking a tentative sip. Must be melted snow. He didn't want to bathe in their drinking water, even though he certainly could have, the cauldron was large enough. Instead, he simply washed his face, letting the water fall to the dirt floor.

There was food everywhere, a huge stockpile that would easily feed a hundred humans for weeks. Smoked meat hung from hooks above every fire in massive, weighty hunks, and some of the tables had slabs of flesh and half-butchered carcasses on them. There was the ribcage and spine of a truly enormous creature, it must have been as large as a caribou in life. Now it was spread out on one of the wooden surfaces, surrounded by knives and implements. It had not been entirely stripped yet, but it seemed as though little had been wasted. It was a grisly sight, and proof that these creatures were not teddy bears. They were bloodthirsty, dangerous carnivores.

There were also stocks of what looked like tools, furs that were hanging on drying racks, piles of discarded bones. There was a weapon rack with long, ornate rifles that Schaffer didn't recognize, along with a few other objects and pieces of furniture that meant little to him. The aliens seemed to prefer stools to chairs, perhaps because of their tails, as there were plenty of those strewn about the hall. This was definitely their sole abode, they had accumulated everything required for their survival into this one building.

Schaffer a took seat beside one of the fire pits, examining the heavy stones that marked its boundaries as he pondered. He was out of immediate danger, but he couldn't stay here indefinitely. His first priority should be getting into that locked computer room inside the outpost and reactivating the generator, then sending a distress call. He didn't have any idea of how he would bypass the lock, but where there was a will, there would be a way. Perhaps he could enlist the help of these aliens somehow. First, he would have to learn to communicate well enough to request that they take him back to the base, but not before finding a way to survive the trip now that his suit was next to useless.

He didn't yet trust them, however. Their motivations were unclear. The desire to simply drape himself in furs and leave with one of the slabs of meat over his shoulder was strong. He decided that he would wait and see if he could figure these snow beasts out. He wouldn't even know which direction the outpost was in without their aid.

***

Before long, the rest of the aliens stirred to life, yawning and stretching as they uncoiled from their piles and set off to begin their daily chores. Some retrieved great armfuls of what looked like gelatin from a stockpile near the huge main entrance, sealed by two heavy wooden doors, and tended to the fire pits. The blubbery material burned hot when they tossed it into the roaring flames. Others began work on the animal carcass, carving off what meat they could glean from the pale bones and setting it to one side, while a small group of five or six donned leather straps that they draped over their shoulders and hefted rifles. They looked like they were setting out into the snow, probably going on a hunting expedition.

Zagza did not join them this time, Schaffer guessed that he had been returning from one such hunt the previous day when he had run into him. Instead, the great beast lumbered over to Schaffer, standing beside the fire next to him.

Shoofa,” he rumbled, struggling to pronounce the name. He followed with a string of hisses and growls that Schaffer couldn't understand.

Good morning to you too,” he replied sarcastically. Zagza nudged him with his heavy hand, then pointed to the meat that hung from the hooks. Breakfast? He wouldn't mind it. “Yes,” he replied with a nod, giving the creature a thumbs up. Zagza seemed to have grasped the meaning of the gesture, and smiled.

Yesh,” he repeated, slurring the S slightly. He stood and pulled down a morsel of meat. He seemed to have paid attention to how much Schaffer had eaten the last time, and why shouldn't he? Food management was probably central to their survival. He tore loose a strip with his claws this time, then handed it to Schaffer. It approximated the quantity he had eaten the night before. Zagza was perceptive, and oddly considerate.

Why did these things care about him? Why were they feeding him, rather than eating him? It didn't make sense for them to share their obviously limited resources with a complete stranger, an alien at that. Were they just fattening him up for future consumption? Either way, he needed to eat, and so he dug in. It was like a foot-long strip of fatty bacon, not half bad.

Zagza stayed by his side, and Schaffer started to feel as if he was being chaperoned. Were they worried that he might try to flee? Did that make him a prisoner? So many questions could be easily cleared up through some basic communication, but neither spoke the other’s language. Zagza seemed receptive to learning, but Schaffer could hardly be expected to teach him, he didn't know anything about language.

Well, they had to start somewhere.

Food,” Schaffer proclaimed, holding the half-eaten strip of meat above his head. Zagza looked at him with a puzzled expression, so he repeated the gesture, pointing to the smoked meat.

Fud,” Zagza repeated, and Schaffer shook his head.

Foooooood,” he emphasized, prolonging the vowel.

Zagza's second attempt was more accurate, and so Schaffer gave him the thumbs up, which Zagza returned. The alien pointed to the fire and loosed a string of undecipherable hisses and warbles. Schaffer wasn't even going to try, he doubted whether his vocal apparatus could even approximate those sounds, the creatures seemed to have a far wider range than he did.

Fire,” he stated, pointing to the dancing flames.

Fie-yur,” the alien attempted, receiving another thumbs up for his trouble. At least he understood that gesture well enough, and he seemed to be picking up on what a shaking head meant, so Schaffer had a means to communicate yes and no.

He entertained himself for a while, playing a game with the alien, getting him to repeat words like suit or stone or fur. He wasn’t sure if the alien was memorizing the terms or simply humoring him. After a while, the alien tired of play and rose to his feet, beckoning for Schaffer to follow him.

They ended up at the massive double door of the hall, a huge mass of solid wood that was secured with a long wooden beam resting in grooves. The alien removed it, hefting the huge log easily in his strong arms, and placed it upright against an adjacent support beam. The entrance was at a ninety-degree angle relative to the large room, perhaps so that wind or snow would not blow inside and put out the fires or lower the ambient temperature. Zagza pushed them open, and Schaffer was immediately assaulted by a wall of freezing air, penetrating his unheated suit like icy fingers. He crossed his arms over his chest, beginning to shiver almost immediately. Zagza watched him with concern for a moment, then closed the doors, replacing the log barricade.

The alien must want to know if he could survive outside, and now he had his answer. He left Schaffer standing there and walked over to where a small group of the aliens were sitting around a fire, gorging on hunks of the dried meat and apparently chatting. He spoke to a couple of them for a minute, two females, then they rose and returned with Zagza to where Schaffer was waiting.

The alien gestured to Schaffer with his clawed hand, and the two females examined him pensively. He couldn't even make out individual words in their language, besides his own mispronounced name, Shoofa. He noticed that the females were wearing jewelry made of what looked like ivory or maybe animal teeth. They had ornate necklaces decorated with beads and shells, strung together with wire or perhaps woven strands of hair. One of the women wore a copper bracelet, detailed with finely carved patterns. Their clothing was sparse, he assumed that the furry creatures did not require much more insulation than their coats naturally afforded them. Although they appeared to have some concept of modesty, the revealing garments seemed designed more to titillate than to protect. They wore flowing skirts or loincloths to cover their lower bodies, strings of beads, feathers and bone fragments dangling from their belts to draw attention to their hips and thighs. Their necklaces rested over their cleavage, drawing his eyes to their copious busts and making him feel rather uncomfortable. They were so like humans, and yet so different, it confused him.

They seemed to be sizing him up, and after a moment his suspicion was confirmed as they began to pluck at his suit, testing its texture and flexibility.

Hey! What gives?” Schaffer protested, trying to dodge as their sharp claws threatened to rip his clothes.

Shoofa,” Zagza said, trying to get his attention. His tone was reassuring as he gestured for the man to calm down. Never mind calm down, they were going to rip his suit to pieces. Schaffer started to back up, batting away the probing hands, then he was lifted off the ground and restrained by an exasperated Zagza. He hugged the smaller human against his body, arms wrapped around his chest, pinning Schaffer's arms at his sides. He struggled against the furry embrace, the alien's beard tickling the back of his neck.

Hey! Put me down! Damn it, you fleabag!”

He flailed his legs, kicking at the two women, but he was not strong enough to deter them. They worked out how his environment suit fastened, fumbling with the seals, their fingers too fat to operate them properly. Before long they had opened it, pulling the suit off him and leaving him dangling in Zagza's grip wearing only his underwear. The tall alien placed him back on the floor gingerly as the two women vanished to a corner of the hall with his clothing, examining it and chatting to each other as they turned it over in their hands.

Schaffer glared at Zagza, who looked apologetic. He said something that Schaffer couldn't decipher. Was he disappointed that the human didn't trust him? Either way, they had taken his clothes. Was this an attempt to prevent him from escaping? Zagza put a hand on his back, urging him forward and pointing to where the two women were hunched over a table.

Curious, he walked over to the gloomy corner. He stood on his toes to try and get a look at what they were doing, but he couldn't see past their bulk. Zagza must have noticed that he couldn't see, gripping him from behind and lifting him above his head. He was a good twelve feet off the ground. It was alarming, but the alien's grip was firm and his massive, fluffy hands were warm. Schaffer didn't feel as if he would be dropped.

As he looked down at the table, he saw that the women had needles and threads, they were sewing furs onto the environment suit. There was a pile of them at one end of the wooden table, animal pelts of varying shades of brown and grey, some patterned with spots or stripes. They looked soft and insulating, they were giving him an upgrade. They were breaching the integrity of the suit, likely not understanding that it was designed to be airtight, but it didn't really matter. The battery was dead anyway.

Zagza put him down, leaving him feeling a little ashamed for being so uncooperative after the fact, but how was he supposed to know what they intended to do? He felt cold now, standing on the dirt in his underclothes, and he gestured towards the nearest fire pit.

Fire,” he suggested to Zagza. The alien gave him a thumbs up, following him to the perimeter of the stone circle to sit down as Schaffer warmed himself.

***

Before long, the two females were finished with his clothes. What they returned to him more resembled a mass of mismatched pelts than an environment suit. They had covered the entire thing in a layer of insulating fur. He ran his fingers through it, it was incredibly soft and thick. What alien animal had these pelts come from? He donned the suit as they watched, sealing the clasps and stretching the limbs. They had left the hands and feet mostly exposed, but everything else was covered, even the hood. They had left the faceplate clear, however, very perceptive for aliens who had no concept of what a visor was.

He gave them a thumbs up, and they seemed pleased when Zagza explained the gesture to them.

Now that he was clothed, the alien gestured for him to follow, and they returned to the big door. Again Zagza removed the barricade and pushed the door open, stepping out into the snow, Schaffer following behind him gingerly. The furs did indeed protect him from the wind and insulate him against the cold to a certain extent, but it wasn't comparable to the heated environment suit. He estimated that he couldn't endure it for more than a half hour or so before he would need to seek shelter. He sunk up to his knees, wading through the powder as it stuck to his clothing, trailing after Zagza who waited patiently for him to catch up.

Why were they out here? Did the alien want to show him something? Zagza climbed one of the snow drifts, standing at the summit and looking out over the expanse of ice fields, his fur blowing in the wind. Schaffer struggled after him, stumbling as he marched through the deep snow. The alien became frustrated after a moment and hooked him with his dexterous, powerful tail, lifting him into the air and placing the human gently beside him.

Schaffer shielded his eyes from the sun, peering at the landscape, the dimming effect of his visor non-functional without the battery to power it. He couldn't make out too much through the snowflakes that were blown by the rushing wind, giving the impression that someone had upended a planet-sized bottle of baby powder over the continent. The landscape was subtly different from the one outside the outpost. This one had what looked like bleak, sickly patches of forest dotting the fields of snow like thinning hair, sparse and barely clinging to life. What manner of plant would grow under such harsh conditions? Where would they get their nutrients? That must be where all of the wood had come from. In that case, where was he? How far had the aliens taken him from the outpost? Would they even know the way back?

Zagza descended the drift, expecting the human to follow, and so he stumbled down the slope behind him. The alien seemed perfectly at home in the snow, his long, loping strides carrying him effortlessly over the drifts. Schaffer had to wade through it, making slow progress. He needed snowshoes or something, he wouldn't get far like this.

They eventually made their way to one of the sparse forests. The gnarled trees looked vaguely evergreen, although they didn't have many leaves. The trees seemed dead to Schaffer, but not knowing anything about the species, it was hard to be sure. Zagza scratched at the bark with his claws, was he checking for something?

The alien searched the ground, eventually finding a stick and picking it up, placing it in Schaffer’s hands. He gestured to the snow, where Schaffer saw many other such sticks that had fallen from the branches.

Oh, he wasn't showing him some great secret, he just wanted him to collect kindling. Food and board weren't free out here it seemed, he would have to earn his keep. He started to walk around picking up the sticks and broken branches as Zagza supervised him, but after a while, it became apparent that his clumsy movement in the snow and his small size made him a poor worker. He was also losing heat pretty rapidly, beginning to shiver as the cold finally penetrated his furry suit.

Zagza noticed his distress, walking over to meet him and pulling the bundle of sticks from his arms with a single giant hand. He lifted Schaffer with his other arm, cradling him like a child and pressing him into the soft fur of his chest. It was embarrassing, the alien was treating him like some kind of incompetent. He was a grown man, but from the perspective of this massive creature, he must have the stature of one of their young children. Despite his discomfort, he had to concede that Zagza was incredibly warm, his body radiating heat and shielding him from the wind. The alien turned and began to walk back towards the hall. Schaffer’s shivering soon abated, and after a while, the building came back into view. This was the first time that he had gotten a good look at it from the outside. It looked almost buried, piled with dirt and a layer of snow that covered the roof. From a distance, it would resemble a natural hill. Only the logs that lined the walls gave it away upon closer inspection, peeking out from beneath the mound.

They entered through the heavy doors, and Zagza deposited Schaffer on the dirt, who quickly shuffled over to the closest fire pit to warm himself. Zagza picked up one of the blocks of gelatin from beside the door, dropping it into the fire. It flared blue, giving off a smell like overcooked meat as the flames licked around it. It must be animal fat, perhaps blubber from one of the beasts that they hunted. God knows anything that lived in these conditions would need the insulation. Schaffer could feel the intense heat coming off it as it burned, he had to scoot back a little.

Zagza wandered off to talk to the two women that he had seen earlier, probably to tell them that the plan had failed, or perhaps that the skinny little monkey couldn't even pick up sticks and should be eaten. A new female trotted over to him, one he had not met before. This one was portly, even compared to the others, with exceptionally wide hips and large breasts that were barely supported by the leather sling that held them aloft. She sat heavily beside him, peering at him as he held his hands up to the flames. What the hell did this one want from him?

She spoke, and he didn't understand, so she pointed to the smoked meat that hung from the rafter with her clawed finger.

Fud,” she attempted to say. Schaffer was amazed, had Zagza been spreading around his extremely limited vocabulary? Was he teaching the other members of the group what he had learned? She gestured again, repeating the word.

No thanks, I'm good for food,” Schaffer replied.

Fud,” she insisted, rising to her feet and reaching up to retrieve a strip of the meat. She shoved it into his hands, the fur of his suit sticking to it. She sat beside him again, watching expectantly.

I really wish you'd leave me alone,” he complained, knowing that they didn't understand him. She just grinned at him, miming that he should eat. He took a reluctant bite, chewing the fat as she gave him a thumbs up. Oh lord, they were all doing it now. She made sure that he ate the whole portion, sitting beside him and nudging him when he slowed. She must think that he was too thin, perhaps sickly, which in a way was true. The aliens were all packed with insulating fat, while Schaffer liked to stay in shape. He was lean and trim, which would do him no favors in this arctic environment. He must appear starved to them.

When he was done, she hooked her clawed hand around his waist and dragged him closer to her, squeezing him up against her pudgy body. He struggled, buried in pliant flesh and downy fur that tickled his nose, but she was adamant. She must be trying to warm him in her own way, and he realized that he might have just been forcefully adopted. After a minute he ceased struggling, she was pushy, and he wasn't strong enough to fight her off.

Shoofa,” she said, tapping his belly with her claw. He watched her curiously as she patted her ample chest, making it wobble. “Osha.”

Your name is Osha?”

Another thumbs up. At least he had a name to go with the face of what was apparently now his overbearing alien mother. He had to admit that it was kind of comfortable, sitting in the embrace of his huge, fluffy creature by the fire. He had warmed up again, and the food had re-energized him.

She released him after a while, leaving to tend to some duty, most likely. He was starting to feel a little guilty that he couldn't help out. He was a super-advanced human that had traveled here across the stars, surely there was some way that he could contribute, he thought to himself as he watched the embers rise from the fire.

He heard a commotion behind him and turned to see a group of aliens entering through the main door. They were wearing those leather bandoleers, and they had long rifles holstered on their backs. It looked like a hunting party. Sure enough, they dragged a huge mass after them, so heavy that it took six of the powerful creatures to shift it. Schaffer stood to get a better look at it as they pulled it to the middle of the hall. Whatever it was, it was huge, at least the size of a hippo. It had grey, patterned fur that was camouflaged like dirty snow, and he realized that it matched some of the pelts that he was wearing. It had six limbs, now limp and trailing behind its rotund body. They ended in wide, splayed hooves, presumably to stop the heavy animal from sinking in the snow. It looked to him like some kind of a giant, mutated elk or moose. Its head was small in comparison to its bloated torso, with odd, insect-like mandibles instead of jaws.

The aliens set upon it immediately, crowding around it with knives and butchering the carcass. They tore it apart in short order, their white fur stained crimson by the animal's blood and viscera. It wasn't quite a frenzy, they were organized and precise, obviously practiced and efficient. But seeing them red in tooth and claw alarmed him all the same. They looked like polar bears eating a beached whale. They broke the huge thing up into parts, letting the excess blood drain into the dirt floor and carrying away what they could lift, like the head and limbs.

One of the hunters took charge of skinning it, preserving the pelt in one chunk and handing it off to one of the females, who hung it over a rack by a firepit to dry out. Others carried away the offal, drenched in dark arterial blood but seemingly cheerful and unperturbed by the grisly scene. Schaffer couldn't believe how rapidly they had disassembled the animal, they must have done this many times before.

When it was mostly broken up, three of the aliens carried what remained of the torso to a table where one began to butcher it, removing the meat from the bones and preparing it for either smoking or storage. A few of them moved over to the cauldrons full of melted snow and began to wash, splashing water on their fur and using their long, textured tongues to clean off the blood like cats.

Schaffer stayed by the fire, happy to keep his distance. All of his food came in vacuum packed portions, or on a metal mess tray, this was a little too...rustic for his tastes.

When the whole pack had performed their role in the preparing of the carcass, they roasted much of the meat over one of the fire pits, one of the aliens staying on hand to turn the spit and to monitor the progress of the cooking. The rest milled around, socializing and relaxing, their chores and duties apparently done for the day. Schaffer had chosen to sit away from the group, he was still somewhat wary of them. But the more that he observed them, the more they seemed to behave like a family to him, rather than a pack of feral beasts. They sat in groups and chatted, groomed each other using their claws as combs, sharing morsels of food. Life here must be deeply communal, they depended on each other to survive the harsh climate.

Shoofa!” Osha called to him, waving him over. He pretended not to notice, staring intently at the fire. She called him again, and he waved, miming not understanding. The aliens meant well, but they were very grabby and far too large to handle him in the way that they did. Osha rose to her feet, walking over to his fire pit. He was in for it now. Before he could protest, she lifted him one-handed, stowing him under her arm and marched him back over to where her group was sat. Her cohorts were watching the spit rotate, waiting for their dinner with hungry eyes. They were like dogs waiting for scraps to fall from a table. He didn't blame them, it must take an incredible amount of calories for them to maintain their weight, they probably lost most of it to the simple body heat that they had to generate.

She dumped him on the ground and sat down beside him, cushioned by her considerable rump. Before he could rise to his feet and escape, she wrapped him in her arms and pulled him onto her lap. She pressed him into her heavy bust, the fat spilling around his head in an avalanche of furry flesh, the giant female trapping the struggling human in a bear-hug.

Shoofa,” she crooned, her tone soothing as she waited for him to stop wriggling. After a moment, he relaxed, fuming as a couple of the other aliens leaned in to get a closer look at him. They were both females, but one of them was a runt in comparison to the rest of the aliens. At around seven feet, she was tiny by all but human standards. They mumbled to each other, perhaps discussing what Schaffer might be. Osha seemed entirely content to keep him trapped in her lap, was she worried that he might be too cold? She was warm and fuzzy, her thighs as soft as memory foam beneath his rear. The fur on her boundless chest pressed against the back of his head, her bosom overflowing over the inadequate leather sling that she used to contain it, its weight pressing down on his shoulders. Her arms were crossed over his chest, her grip on him strong, but not stifling. The slow rise and fall of her chest was rather relaxing.

The one who had been tending to the spit called out something, drawing their attention away, and the whole pack of around sixteen aliens crowded the fire pit. Zagza had first pick, towering a head over most of his pack and selecting a chunky cut of meat, lightly browned by the flames. There seemed to be a pecking order, with each pack member knowing when it was their turn to get up and take their share. For some reason, Schaffer had expected some level of squabbling, but it was quite civilized and orderly.

Osha stayed seated, reluctant to release Schaffer, the short female getting up to retrieve a portion of the meat in her stead. She took it eagerly, hooking her curved claws into it and chewing wetly over Schaffer's head. They certainly weren't elegant eaters, they handled the meat with their bare hands, the oils and juices staining their white fur. They used their dexterous, rough tongues to clean it away, pausing to lick their fingers between mouthfuls.

The whole pack was feasting, and although he wasn't especially hungry, Schaffer was starting to feel a little left out. Osha tore loose a human-sized portion of her own meal and passed it down to him, foisting the dripping flesh into his hands.

Shoofa fud.”

Yeah, Schaffer's food, if you say so...”

It was easier to just go along with what Osha wanted, it seemed to make her happy and resisting her was futile. Besides, she might actually know what she was doing. This was her environment, after all, he was the alien here. He took a tentative bite, always aware that anything he ate here might make him sick, but it tasted good. All this meat would eventually give him digestive problems, but for the time being, it should be fine. It tasted far better than the processed meat that they fed the staff on the station, and the texture was pleasant, the well-cooked food melting in his mouth as he chewed it. He could get used to this. At least it didn't inconvenience them to feed him, he ate like a mouse compared to these aliens.

By the time Schaffer was done eating, most had gorged themselves to the point that their bellies were visibly distended, lying around the floor in jumbled piles and falling asleep like a pride of fat lions.

Osha was leaning backwards, resting her hands on the ground behind her, apparently done with her larger portion. Now free of her grasp, Schaffer rose to his feet, intending to wash the leftover grease off his gloved hands at one of the cauldrons. He really didn't need to wear the suit inside the hall, but it was the only clothing that he had besides his underwear. Not that he expected the aliens to care either way, but being so exposed made him feel vulnerable.

Osha gripped his wrist in her giant fingers, preventing him from walking off.

Fud, Shoofa,” she proclaimed. He really had to teach them a larger vocabulary, context only went so far.

What do you want? I already ate.”

She tugged him closer, bringing his hand to her face.

Oh no, don't do that, come on now!”

She sucked his hand into her mouth, large enough to encompass it entirely. Schaffer gritted his teeth as he felt her rough, slimy tongue twist between his fingers, searching out the residue. She must think that he didn't know how to clean up after himself, maintaining her grip on his wrist as he tried to pull away from her.

Gross,” he muttered, turning his head away. Her saliva couldn't penetrate the glove, but he could still feel the heat and the texture, the way that her muscular tongue scoured the rubbery material and coated it in viscous slime. She finally released him with a wet pop, licking her pink lips.

Okay, I got it. Thanks for the demonstration,” he said, backing up so she couldn't start on the second. He placed a finger in his mouth, sucking off the juice, showing Osha that he had understood. She clapped her massive hands together, visibly delighted to have taught him something new, and he retreated quickly towards the cauldrons before she could snare him again. There was a fire under one of them, it was filled with a huge pile of fresh snow that was in the process of melting. At least they always had access to clean water. He plunged his hands into the pot that he had seen the other aliens washing in, it must be designated for bathing in some way. He was clean before long, managing to get all of the grease and oil off his gloves. They certainly liked their food wet.

Many of the aliens had moved to the cots now, piled up in groups of three or four. Apparently, nap time had been declared. He noticed that Osha was already securely buried under a trio of aliens, and he was glad to be free of the clingy creature for a while. She had more love to give than was appropriate for a human of his stature.

The only one who was still awake was Zagza. The tall creature was standing by one of the fire pits, stoking it with a long branch and tossing in a few more hunks of blubber, which flared brightly as they burned. Schaffer walked over to stand beside him.

Keeping that fire going, eh, big guy?”

Shoofa, fire,” he replied, quieting his voice to a low rumble so as not to disturb his sleeping packmates.

Yep, I can see that.”

Schaffer had been here for a couple of days now, it was high time that he attempted to communicate that he wanted to return to the outpost. He couldn't stay here forever. Where to begin?

Zagza seemed to understand that he wanted to talk about something and waited patiently for him to begin, prodding at the burning embers all the while. Schaffer thought for a moment, then gestured for Zagza to hand him the stick. The alien passed it to him, and Schaffer began to trace lines in the dirt, Zagza watching as he drew a shape that resembled the satellite dish on top of the outpost.

You've seen this, haven't you? You know where this is?” He tapped the drawing with the stick. Zagza seemed to understand, crouching to examine the picture. “I want to go there, can you take me?”

The alien looked at him, puzzled. It wasn't working, he'd have to try something else.

Schaffer,” he said as he tapped his chest, then he mimed walking with his fingers in the palm of his hand. “Want to go,” then he tapped the drawing with the stick. “Here.”

Shoofa want... go heya,” Zagza mimicked. He wasn't that certain the alien had understood his intent, but he gave him a thumbs up anyway.

Zagza...take Schaffer...here,” Schaffer repeated slowly, tapping the drawing. The alien's eyes brightened as he grasped the concept. He rose to full height again and scratched his furry beard, clearly trying to formulate a reply. After staring into the crackling embers for a few moments, he took the stick back from Schaffer and walked a fair distance away towards the cauldrons. He drew something on the floor, and Schaffer followed him to see what it was. It was a simple rectangle, and Zagza tapped it, then gestured to the ceiling. Okay, this was the hall, easy enough to understand. The alien scooped up a handful of unmelted snow from one of the pots and walked back towards the drawing of the outpost, sprinkling it on the ground as he went, leaving a line of rapidly dissipating powder between the two of them.

So it was far away, through the snow. Just how far had they carried his unconscious body? Zagza returned to him, waiting for confirmation that Schaffer understood. He gave another thumbs up, the alien seeming satisfied. If they had brought him here in the first place, then why couldn't they take him back?

He walked along the line, then back again, gesturing his question. Zagza gripped the fur of Schaffer's suit between his sausage-like fingers and tugged gently.

Shoofa no go heya,” he said, with some effort. “Fire.” The alien crossed his arms over his chest and mimed shivering. Zagza was smart, he was forming sentences on his own with the few words that Schaffer had taught him so far.

It's too cold for me? I can't go there without fire? Heat?”

It was too far for the fur suit to keep him warm, then. He could give it a try, but going it alone, he might pass out and die of exposure. On the other hand, if he took the aliens along with him, they wouldn't know how to operate the outpost computer in order to get the heating back online in the event that he was incapacitated. This was going to be a lot more difficult than simply walking there.

Deflated, he decided to abandon the idea for the time being, he would have plenty of time to come up with a more viable plan. He left Zagza to tend to his fire, searching for an empty cot upon which to sleep.

CHAPTER 4: EXCURSION

Once again, Schaffer awoke to a face full of fur. Sometime during the night, a pile of aliens had crept up on him, burying him at the bottom of another dogpile. They were so damned heavy, their oppressive weight squashing him down into the mattress. He was learning to identify the pack members by their unique markings now. Like a fingerprint, each alien had subtly different spots that patterned their coat. He recognized Osha lying beside him at the bottom of the mound, she had one long, fluffy arm draped across his torso. A few other pack members enclosed them in an impenetrable barrier of fluff. His face was pressing into the soft cushion of Osha’s bust, he had almost mistaken it for a feather pillow. His eyes lingered on them in the gloom for a moment. She wasn't wearing anything, the aliens rarely did when they slept. Even during their daily routine, clothing seemed to be optional. Her warm breath ruffled his hair, its smell surprisingly not unpleasant, her chest rising and falling gently as she slept. Her breasts were as large as his own torso, smothering his face in a landslide of squashy fat lined with silky, inviting fur. She smelled...good. Maybe he was just getting used to the aliens now, but there was something about her scent that tickled the back of his brain, it was confusing. They were aliens after all, completely distinct from humans, and yet similar in so many ways. Two of which were very obvious to him at that moment.

What if he just...touched them? She was asleep, and even then, the aliens had no concept of personal space. He doubted that she would have cared. He delved his hand into one of her boobs gingerly, feeling the flesh give way and spread around it. Osha shifted softly, her breathing still regular. He dug a little deeper, his fingers sinking almost up to the knuckle, the warmth of her body goading him on. It was like sticking his hand into putty, or maybe warm dough, fresh out of the oven.

He withdrew, noticing the heat that was rising in his face and loins. Damn it Schaffer, what are you, some kind of xenophile? A couple of months without shore leave and this is what you're reduced to? He banished the indecent thoughts from his mind, struggling to drag himself out of the pile. His thrashing woke Osha up, who tightened her hold on him in response, curling her arm around his torso and pressing him into her bust in earnest. The yielding globes encompassed his head completely, molding around his cheeks like melting wax. She blew warm air into his hair as he was buried in her cleavage, nuzzling the top of his head affectionately.

He grunted and complained, trying to slip out of her grasp and escape down her body towards where he assumed the foot of the bed to be, but she just hugged him tighter. Apparently, she had figured out that if she trapped him for long enough, he would eventually exhaust himself and stay still. She wasn't wrong, and after a minute he relented, letting her manhandle him.

Osha was annoying, he would have to teach her some boundaries at some point, and yet it was hard to be angry with her while buried in her sweater meat. She was warm, and it felt good to be held, her powerful heartbeat and rhythmic breathing had a hypnotic quality. Might as well go back to sleep. It can't be helped, he thought to himself as his eyelids began to droop.

***

The next time that he opened his eyes, most of the pile had begun their day, leaving him alone with just one alien. His head was resting on its soft belly like a pillow. He rose to a sitting position, yawning and stretching, then turned to see who it was. It was one of the males who he had seen around the hall. Schaffer felt a little weird about that. Sharing a bed with the females was one thing, but the cats didn't seem too preoccupied with gender lines, the males were just as happy to join the mound as the females were.

Why should that be weird, though? These were aliens. He wasn't attracted to them or anything, there was nothing sexual about this, right Schaffer? Right?

He slid out of bed and onto the dirt floor, his stomach growling, setting off in search of food. The meat hanging from the hooks above the fire pits was too high for him to reach, so he tracked down Zagza in order to enlist his help. The imposing alien was currently cleaning a rifle with a rag. It was long and ornate, it looked like an elephant rifle or something of the sort. It must be a very powerful, high caliber weapon suited to bringing down creatures like the one that he had seen them butcher the night before. It was decorated with intricate, finely carved patterns and figures along its length, depicting scenes of hunting and maybe war. The stock was wooden, but the barrel and the mechanical components were all made of pressed metal.

His curiosity became suspicion. Hang on, these aliens didn’t have the industrial capacity to make this kind of weapon, they didn't have forges or factories. Their clothing was made of leather and bone, their fuel source was animal fat, and they lived in an archaic wooden longhouse. Where had they obtained these guns?

Zagza noticed that he was staring at it, seeming disturbed, his expression darkening as he covered the gun with the cloth that he had been cleaning it with as if it were a dead body. Schaffer was puzzled, did Zagza think that he wanted to steal it and use it on his hosts? He hoped not, although Zagza lacked the language skills to understand any explanation that he might give for his innocent interest in the gun.

Odd that the alien had been happy, almost gleeful to show him the other elements of their lives and daily routines, but that the weapons were seemingly off-limits. He'd worry about it later, right now he wanted breakfast.

Zagza, food?”

The alien seemed relieved, exhaling and leading him back over to one of the fires. He reached up and sliced off a strip of smoked meat with his claws, passing it down to Schaffer.

Thanks, big guy,” he said as he dug in. Zagza returned to his cleaning, while Schaffer sat beside the fire, finishing off his meal. After a few minutes of staring into the crackling flames while he ate his breakfast, the runty alien that he had met the day before sidled up next to him and took a seat. She watched him for a while, until it became obvious that the creature was hungry.

What do you want? There's plenty of meat. Look,” he said, pointing at the flesh that dangled from the rafters. The runt looked at the meat longingly, then rose to her feet, demonstrating to Schaffer that she couldn't reach it. She was too small, all of the other pack members were a good foot taller than her, and the hall seemed to have been constructed with that in mind. Perhaps she was a child, not fully grown yet? Or maybe she had just lost the genetic lottery. Her fur was colored a little dirtier than many of the others, more grey than white, and she had tightly packed spots concentrated on her back and her limbs that almost made them appear black. Much like many of the larger females, she wore a loincloth and a leather sling that contained her far more modest chest. She was still over a foot taller than Schaffer, but she was noticeably slight when compared to Zagza or Osha. In fact, every other alien that Schaffer had seen were giant, hulking beasts of fur and muscle.

Why didn't she just fetch a larger pack member to help her? Schaffer looked around, the few aliens who weren't out foraging or hunting did seem to be pretty busy. He finished off his food, rising to his feet and brushing soil off his pants. This one didn't seem very talkative, and she needed a name, so Runt would do for now.

Alright, I have a plan.” Runt watched him curiously as he gestured. “Lift me up,” he said, moving towards the alien. Runt seemed perplexed as Schaffer hopped on the spot, gesturing to the meat. After a moment, she seemed to get the picture, hooking her hands under Schaffer's arms and lifting him into the air. Even though Runt was not dramatically larger than a human, there were basketball players as tall as she was, she was still exceptionally strong. She hefted Schaffer without difficulty, angling him towards the hooks, and he pulled a hunk of meat loose. Runt lowered him to the ground and Schaffer passed it to her, the relatively small alien beginning to chew into it happily.

Runt seemed preoccupied now, and so Schaffer wandered off to see what else there was to do. He wasn't used to being bored. The Pinwheel had a recreational facility with games and a bar, along with a lively social climate. Anywhere that he went on the station there was a touch screen or a computer monitor nearby, diversion only a few taps or clicks away. He had none of that now, and he didn't seem equipped or capable enough to help out with any of the chores, Zagza had abandoned that idea pretty rapidly after the kindling episode. There must be something that he could do to make himself useful and to pass the time.

Zagza was cleaning guns, Runt was feasting, he didn't see Osha or any of the males around. The two females who had made his fur suit were sitting at a table that had been pushed up against one of the walls. It would have been gloomy so far from the fire pits, but they had some kind of metal lamp in which a familiar, bright flame burned. It must be fueled by the same animal fat that they used for the pits. This was another item that Schaffer was certain they could not have made themselves, where would these simple people obtain the shaped glass that shielded the flame? They certainly had no glass blowing facilities in their hall. Glasswork, metallurgy, these techniques should be beyond them. They hadn't salvaged these from the outpost either, these were not human designs. They must be trading with someone, perhaps the more developed Borealans who he had occasionally seen in human space? Did the traders come to the hall, or did the pack travel somewhere to barter? Perhaps the traders might have a way to help him, but it was going to be a pain in the ass to communicate what he wanted to Zagza.

He peeked over the edge of the wooden table, which was almost at head height to him, startling one of the women who then nudged her friend and pointed to him. They were doing crafts, apparently. At least these two seemed to like being clothed. Their garments were finely decorated, and they wore necklaces, ornate belts and all manner of jewelry.

They were making more, fashioning shells, beads and animal teeth into necklaces and bracelets. They worked diligently to fill a woven basket with completed trinkets, resting to one side of the workspace. They used their sharp claws to carve patterns into the softer materials, perhaps they were runes with some cultural significance, he couldn't speculate. These were definitely not for their own use, there was enough jewelry here to deck out the pack three times over. These were intended for trade, had to be.

What are you fine ladies up to today?” he asked, knowing well that they couldn't understand him but wanting to be social all the same. The one nearest to him reached her long arm around the table, scruffing him by the neck of his furry suit like one would a kitten and lifting him off the ground.

Hey, what gives?”

She placed him on her lap, her fluffy thighs soft and squashy beneath him, her bosom pressing against his back like the headrest of a plush armchair. She wasn't as big as Osha, but her bust was still far larger than any human could have carried. Even though they were secured in her leather sling, the weight of them was still apparent as they pushed against him.

These damned aliens really had no respect for him, they threw him around as they pleased, like some kind of toy. He was sure they meant nothing by it, but he couldn't help feeling ridiculous, sitting in the lap of a creature twice his size and fuming impotently in his alien onesie.

She seemed to want to demonstrate her craft to him, directing his attention towards the bead necklace that she was in the process of assembling. She held the beads and shells in her claws, slipping them onto the string to create repeating patterns. Emboldened by his boredom, Schaffer leaned forward, taking a string of his own and a handful of assorted beads. He began to copy the sequence, the alien who was serving as his seat looking over his shoulder curiously. Her neighbor was delighted by this, beginning to laugh as she watched him work. Schaffer tried to do it as quickly as possible, his small fingers less clumsy than those of the larger aliens, and the women seemed surprised by how quickly he mastered the process.

Before long he had made his own pile, outpacing his work partners and dropping the finished necklaces into the woven basket. They seemed grateful, the alien whose lap he was sat on beginning to groom him, dragging her sharp claws through his hair. He flinched away, but she wrapped her other arm around his waist, keeping him seated as the curved talons pricked his head. He began to protest, then relaxed as the sensation became enjoyable. Her touch was light, gentle, not enough to break the skin but enough to send pleasant shivers up and down his spine. His eyelids fluttered as she massaged his scalp, combing his hair. He leaned into her, exhaling happily as she crooned in his ear.

Shoofa,” she whispered, followed by something unintelligible. Her low hisses and purrs were meaningless to him, but her voice was somehow soothing, low and deep yet distinctly feminine. He was starting to feel strange. The rhythmic sensation of her claws in his hair, her placating mumbling, the warmth and softness of her huge body as his hands found purchase in her downy thighs. He relaxed against her, her bust making a fine pillow, feeling as if he might fall asleep. As a combat engineer serving on a military space station, massages were not part of his daily routine.

The second female leaned in, rubbing her large head against his like an oversized housecat, pressing her pink nose into the nape of his neck. He felt her fluffy hand creep up on him, tracing his lips with the fleshy pad on her thumb, her fur tickling his cheek. He was zoning out, his mind becoming mushy and unfocused as his breathing grew heavier.

He felt heat on his neck, followed by the prick of sharp teeth pressing into his skin and the rough, wet texture of a tongue. He was jolted to his senses, pulling away from the alien's exploratory mouthing. He slipped under the arm and down between the legs of the first alien, sliding under the table to make his escape. He reemerged on the other side near the wall, wiping the thick, warm saliva from his neck with his furry sleeve and eyeing the two women warily. One was laughing, the other seemed puzzled by his reaction.

Schaffer is not food,” he insisted, wagging his finger at them. “Not food, no.”

His face was burning, he felt dazed, oddly aroused. These things just didn't care about...had no concept of...

Unable to formulate a coherent complaint and distracted by a guilty bulge in his suit, he made his way towards one of the fire pits, muttering to himself under his breath. You couldn't just lick people, touch people without consent. Surely even their primitive, stone-age society had some kind of rules and boundaries that dictated social interaction. Yet as he sat by the fire, his heart still beating rapidly and his blood flowing to places that it shouldn't, he looked back at the two females. They had left their seats at the table and were making their way towards the cots, shedding their clothing as they went.

Schaffer's face turned red again as he watched the pair tumble onto a cot, not much more than a mass of shadows in the gloom. Their limbs were entangled, their hands roving, flashes of pink tongue visible between their locked lips as their bodies entwined.

He looked away and stared intently into the flames, his eyes wide as beads of sweat began to roll down his face, unrelated to the heat of the fire.

What the fuck?” he muttered under his breath. What the hell was this? What were they doing? Were those two women a couple? A mated pair? Why would two females engage in that kind of behavior? Had they attempted to involve him as well? He couldn't think straight, unable to process what he had seen and was now hearing as their soft, sultry vocalizations floated across the hall.

Why was he so intimidated by this? They were just aliens, after all, animals from his perspective. If he saw two dogs going at it during a walk in a park on Earth or one of the more verdant colonies, he wouldn't look twice, and he wouldn't be offended. They were so like humans, however. He was naturally inclined to apply human standards of behavior to them, but that was illogical. They were not human, they had their own set of behavioral standards, their own culture that apparently had nothing to say about public sex.

The sooner he got out of here, the better.

***

Zagza and his cohorts returned not long after, this time bringing back what looked like large, white rabbits with too many legs. It wasn't quite the haul of the previous hunting trip, but they seemed content with it, and a few of the aliens set about skinning and preparing them. Schaffer was still a little on edge, unsure if what he had seen was normal behavior for the aliens or some kind of deviancy. Even if he had been able to ask about it, he probably would have been too embarrassed. His feelings were hard to justify, he had no right to apply his own standards to this alien culture, yet he couldn’t help himself. His own biases were so deeply ingrained, and his own sensibilities were set in stone.

He decided to occupy himself with trying to communicate with Zagza instead. He must formulate some kind of plan, a method to inquire about who the pack traded with and to explain that he wanted to meet them. He had a suspicion that this concept would be harder to convey than simply drawing shapes in the dirt and prodding them with sticks. Perhaps it was worth trying to teach Zagza more simple phrases, the giant alien seemed receptive to the idea. He also spread what he learned to the rest of the pack, which was incredibly convenient for Schaffer.

He approached the group of aliens, but he seemed to have caught them at a bad time. They were taking up seats around one of the fire pits, some of them dragging tables across the hall and placing them around the flames in a rough circle. The pack appeared to be gearing up for a feast. As if on cue, Osha and a handful of other females entered the hall through the main door, hefting the largest cuts of meat that Schaffer had yet seen. It was rigid, it looked frozen. This wasn't a fresh kill, they must have a store of some kind outside. He knew from experience that the chilling air would be cool enough to refrigerate the meat and stop it from spoiling.

Osha dropped a particularly large hunk of flesh onto one of the tables with a crash, then looked around the hall, as if searching for something. She spied Schaffer, making a beeline towards him. Oh God, not this again. She hooked him in her arms before he could scurry away, and lifted him, carrying him over to the tables and setting him down on a wooden stool that was far too high for him.

The first chunk of meat was already being turned on a spit over the fire. The other pack members took up seats around the circle, eyeing the dripping, glazed food expectantly. The whole pack seemed to be in attendance, about fifteen of them, not including the one who was manning the spit. The meat roasted as it turned, browning attractively over the flames that licked at it like hungry tongues. Osha was sat beside him on his left, and Zagza was to his right. He felt like a dwarf, sandwiched between the two furry giants. He wondered if the two largest aliens were a couple, but he hadn't seen any indication of that so far. There were more males than females around the table, although not by a large factor. Most seemed to be an average of eight-feet tall, with a few outliers like Osha and Zagza who were taller, and Runt who was shorter than any of them. The two females adorned in decorative jewelry were present, although they were sitting apart now, their previous romp apparently forgotten. There were two aliens with remarkably similar, no, identical patterning on their coats. Were they twins perhaps? They peered at him across the table, whispering to each other behind their hands.

There was chatter around the fire as they waited for their meal, none of which was discernible to Schaffer. He contented himself with trying to teach Zagza new words, although it was slow going. Eventually, the meat was declared ready, at least that's what Schaffer inferred from the enthusiastic burst of conversation as the pleasant smell of roasted meat wafted through the room. As usual, Zagza got first pick, followed by the other pack members in a sequence that seemed random to Schaffer but must have some social or hierarchical meaning. They all seemed to defer to Zagza, although Schaffer had never seen any blatant displays of dominance as one might expect from pack animals.

When Osha's turn came, she also sliced off a section for Schaffer with her claws. He might complain about the portly female, but he was grateful to be fed. There was no cutlery, and he would have had no other way to cut it. He had joked about her adopting him, but that might really be the case. The wayward human might appear as some orphaned child to her, malnourished and unable to properly feed himself, although he doubted that the great creature was so simple-minded.

This meat was thicker than the smoked meat and the flesh from the creature that they had dined on the previous night, chewier and more muscled. It was quite delicious, the aliens did not seem to care for sweet foods and used few seasonings, favoring fats and greases instead. It was a nice change to eat something lean, he certainly needed the protein. He had been getting used to the crushing gravity since the day he had landed, each subsequent day the weight would ease a little as his body adapted. He realized that he was building muscle in response, his legs already starting to gain definition that they hadn't had before. The Pinwheel had gyms, an Olympic swimming pool that was usually packed with Krell, and was itself large enough to do laps around without much difficulty. But that didn’t mean that Schaffer had any time to work out on his busy schedule, a life of taking inventory and examining shipping manifests had left him a little softer than his Marine counterparts.

The conversation seemed to have died down as the aliens feasted, their mouths now too occupied with their food for idle chatter. He couldn't believe the quantity that they ate, even for their size. The one who had been tasked with turning the spit was apparently the designated waiter for the others. He kept bringing more meat and cooking more food, passing around wooden slabs that served as trays, piled with new delicacies.

The rabbit-like creatures that they had caught earlier had been prepared, and there was meat left over from the giant animal that the aliens had hunted the day before. There was smoked meat from the hooks that Schaffer couldn't identify, sausage obviously made from offal, diced meat of uncertain origin and even bones which they broke and sucked on in order to extract the nutritious marrow.

Osha seemed eager to have Schaffer sample a little of everything, and to his surprise, he found that few dishes were not to his liking. He would have given two arms and a leg for some barbecue sauce in order to sweeten some of the more savory meats, but it was all quite palatable. The giant female was concerned that he was eating too little, indifferent to the fact that humans had completely different dietary requirements and metabolisms that did not permit them to consume their own weight in food each meal.

His hosts were messy eaters, the fur on their hands and faces stained with grease and oil, which they spent a great deal of time licking clean with their long tongues. He was worried that Osha might try to clean him up again, but so far she seemed preoccupied with foisting piles of meat before him, practically force feeding him.

This went on for a good hour at least, until Schaffer and all of the aliens were quite full. The pack members leaned on the table or lounged in their seats, lethargic and sluggish, their bellies distended by the sheer quantity of food they had consumed. Even Schaffer had attempted to eat more than he could usually stomach and now wanted nothing more than to sleep. He sucked the grease off his fingers under the watchful eye of Osha, ensuring that he got to it before she felt the need to intervene.

Apparently spent, the aliens began to leave the table and head towards the cots. Schaffer was all too happy to follow their lead. He had given up on trying to sleep alone, a better strategy was to attempt to lie on the outside of a pile and then roll away once the larger beasts were sound asleep.

The aliens split up into groups of three or four, and Schaffer waited for an opportunity to join a smaller pile once they got settled. Some of the piles did not seem to be settling, however. In one of the mounds of furry bodies in which Zagza and two females that Schaffer had not been introduced to were entangled, there was slow, rhythmic movement.

Schaffer's eyes widened as he realized that they were mating in a heap, their shifting forms barely illuminated by the wavering firelight. Questing hands and pink, agile tongues roamed, irrespective of gender and indifferent to his shocked gaze. He wanted to turn away, he should turn away, but he couldn't take his eyes off them. Their dexterous, fluffy tails coiled around each other like serpents, their clawed fingers sinking into yielding breasts and thighs as soft moans and guttural purrs escaped the mass of writhing bodies. Schaffer felt heat rising to his cheeks as a pair of reflective, blue eyes peeked out at him from the gloom, and a furry hand beckoned to him. They were inviting him to join them. A second pair of eyes watched him, these more familiar, Zagza's large silhouette surfacing from the roiling mass.

Shoofa, come,” he said. It was more of a suggestion than a demand, his baritone voice low and sultry. Schaffer's breathing became ragged as he turned away from the indecent display and headed towards the refuge of a fire pit, where he might be able to block his ears and pretend that the gloom beyond the reach of the firelight did not exist. What was with these aliens? They just went at it whenever the mood took them, no sense of modesty or shame, no need for privacy.

Schaffer wasn't religious, he didn't consider himself prudish either, but this crossed the line and just kept on going. It was a cultural gulf that he didn't think he was capable of bridging.

Zagza called to him again, his baritone voice echoing through the hall, but Schaffer did his best to ignore it. His tone sounded confused, had Schaffer not made it abundantly clear that he wanted no part in this? To his horror, Zagza had left the mound of writhing bodies and had walked over to Schaffer’s fire pit, crouching beside him and nudging him with his heavy hand.

Shoofa, come,” he repeated as he gestured to the cot where muddled shapes still stirred in the darkness. Flustered and desperate to be left alone, Schaffer shook his head, shooing the alien away with a dismissive wave of his hand. Zagza clearly did not understand why, but he accepted that Schaffer wanted him to leave, turning his broad back on the roaring flames and returning to his pile.

Too afraid to sleep on a cot for fear that he might wake up in the midst of an orgy, Schaffer lay down beside the fire, the pelts that were sewn into his suit providing enough cushioning to sleep.

***

Schaffer woke up sore and uncomfortable. The ground was hard and cold, and his back ached from the odd position that he had slept in. He rose to his feet with some difficulty, stiff and not well rested. Enough of this, it was time to get serious about escaping the planet. The sooner he contacted the traders, the sooner he'd be free of the antics of these damned aliens.

He looked around for Zagza, finding him talking with one of the bead women. He marched over, pausing by the crafts table on the way to retrieve a necklace from the wicker basket. He thrust it towards Zagza, who stopped his conversation to look down at Schaffer, his round ears twitching curiously.

This jewelry, who do you trade it with?”

The alien cocked his head, not understanding. Schaffer dragged his hand down his face in exasperation, turning back to collect a stray shell from the table, returning to shove it into Zagza's hand.

Trade,” he said slowly, enunciating the word clearly. He took the shell back, replacing it with the necklace. “Trade, where do you trade?” He repeated the action as the woman looked between the two, confused. Schaffer left again and returned holding the entire wicker basket, the jewelry inside clattering as he shook it.

Take me to where you trade!”

He waited as the two aliens talked for a minute, perhaps trying to decipher what the human wanted. After a moment, Zagza made his way over to one of the fires, stooping to pick up a sick that they used to stoke them. He began to draw on the ground as Schaffer trotted over to him. He drew a rectangle that Schaffer now knew was a symbol for the longhouse. The alien then walked a short distance away, drawing an odd shape that Schaffer couldn't interpret. Zagza took the basket of beads from Schaffer's hands and dropped it on the shape, gesturing with the stick.

Yes, there! I want to go there!” he said as he pointed to the basket.

Shoofa...no come...no fire.”

Zagza must think that it was too far away for him to travel there, but fuck it, he couldn't stay here for the rest of his life. Nothing seemed to be within walking distance of this place. He rested his hands on his hips, adamant.

Zagza, take me.”

The alien looked as if he wanted to argue, but he lacked the capacity. Schaffer knew that they would be returning to this place, and probably soon, judging by the amount of jewelry that they had produced. If they wanted him to stay behind in the hall, then they would have to physically restrain him. Zagza turned to the woman, and they talked for a while as Schaffer waited, probably wondering if there were more effective ways to insulate him from the cold. Eventually, she retrieved her basket and left to return it to the table, Zagza giving him a reluctant thumbs up. Great, it was decided then. The next time they journeyed to the trading post, Schaffer would join them.

***

The following day, the pack geared up for their trip. Most of them were coming along, with only a handful staying behind in the hall. Even the aliens, with their coats of thick, insulating fur were donning cloaks and vests. Either their destination was a great distance away, or they expected unusually harsh weather. A few of them donned their leather bandoleers and their long rifles, perhaps in case they encountered some hostile fauna along the way. Schaffer had been stacked with even more layers of insulation. On top of his furry suit, he also wore a cape made from the same material that wrapped around his shoulders, fastened at the front by an ornate clasp. He was wearing one of the leather vests and a pair of shorts that were ankle-length to him. It was almost too heavy to move in, but hopefully, the effort would contribute towards keeping him warm.

Most of them were also carrying heavy backpacks, laden with supplies that they intended to trade. It wasn't just jewelry, they had skins and meats wrapped in leather, one of them had what looked like four ivory tusks tied to his back.

They seemed ready to set out, and so with Zagza at their head, the column of aliens passed through the heavy wooden doors and out into the snow. As he crossed the threshold, Schaffer was scooped off his feet and into Osha's fluffy arms. She raised him to her bosom, cradling him like a child as she did her best to shield him from the wind and snow. So this was how they planned to get him there without freezing. He was annoyed, but at the same time relieved. Even through his layers of clothing, he could feel the warmth radiating from Osha's body, and he did a miserable job of wading through the snow at the best of times.

The pack jogged at a lively pace, making good time on their long, springy legs. Schaffer couldn't see much, pressed against Osha's chest and covered by the cloak that she had wrapped around them, but he doubted that there was anything to see in this featureless tundra. He bounced in Osha's arms, feeling her heartbeat and hearing her panting breath as they moved, going up and down the dune-like snow drifts and hopping over cracks in the ice. They could have walked, but it seemed that they didn’t want to prolong their exposure to the elements any longer than was necessary. Perhaps they wanted to get back home before night fell and the temperatures plummeted, or some nocturnal beasts awakened.

An hour or two must have passed by the time he really started to feel the cold biting at him, penetrating his clothing and pricking at his skin. Just as he began to wonder if they had passed some point of no return, they came to a stop. Osha lowered him into the snow, and he looked up at her furry face, giving her a thumbs up and a pat on the thigh in thanks. He turned around to see Zagza and the group standing before a cluster of buildings.

It was a ruin. At some point it had been a trading post, that much was obvious, but now it was in a sorry state. There were signs and banners in alien glyphs that now hung limply from their posts, swaying in the wind. Structures resembling market stalls had collapsed into the snow, the weight of the powder crushing them, leaving them trashed and half buried. There was a large central building constructed in much the same way as the pack's longhouse, but the roof had caved in, and one wall had collapsed into the snow. The heavy logs that served to brace it jutted out like the broken ribs of some long-dead animal.

This trading post had been deserted for a long while. He walked forward, struggling through the snow, passing the aliens as they appraised the derelict with solemn faces. He examined the stalls and peered inside the collapsed building. There wasn't much left, and there certainly hadn't been any activity here for a long time.

Why had the pack come back here? This couldn't be a surprise to them, they must have known that it was abandoned. Did they keep returning with their wares, hoping that those who had once manned it might have reappeared? How many times had they made this journey in vain?

Schaffer turned to look at the pack as they stood in the snow, clad in their cloaks and shawls. They looked dejected, worried, the snow beating down on them as they stared at the ruined trading post. Schaffer didn't need to learn their language to understand what they were thinking. They must have come to rely on many of the goods traded here, and now the traders were all gone, taking their supplies with them. The supplies that they bartered here surely weren't limited to simple guns and lamps, either.

Come, Shoofa,” Zagza said with an air of disappointment. He turned back the way that they had come, intending to lead the pack home. Schaffer returned to Osha, letting her lift him into her arms again. The cold bit at him like the teeth of a hungry wolf, but his mind was elsewhere as the giant alien carried him through the snow, pressing him into the depths of her furry bosom to warm him. These people had saved his life, they had plucked his frozen body from the snow and thawed him, feeding him from their own limited stores of food. Now they were in trouble, and he had the power to help them.

There was no choice to make, to leave them now would be to condemn them to a slow death. He must find a way to return to the Terminal and bring these aliens with him.

***

When they arrived back at the longhouse, the pack members who had stayed behind greeted them with hopeful expressions. Zagza shook his head solemnly, and their faces fell. They stowed their goods and protective clothing, gathering around one of the roaring fire pits to warm themselves after the long trek. They shook matted snow from their lower legs, mostly silent as they watched the flames dance. Schaffer retrieved a block of gelatin from the stockpile and dropped it into the fire, the fuel letting off a blue flare that drew the attention of the pack, casting deep shadows. They turned to look at him, their blue eyes reflecting the firelight in the gloom.

Zagza,” he said, gesturing confidently. “Schaffer go outpost. Zagza, Osha, all come.” He waved his arms to demonstrate that he was talking about the whole pack and they seemed to get the picture. He crouched and drew the outpost in the dirt with his finger as he had before, looking to Zagza as he tapped it. “Outpost. Come. Fire, food, trade.”

Would they understand what he was trying to convey? Zagza looked pensive, and the other pack members were waiting for him to reply, deferring to his judgement. Some were hopeful, others skeptical. Zagza walked his clawed fingers across the palm of his hand, imitating the gesture that Schaffer had used to indicate walking.

I know that it's far away, you fleabag. Can you even survive here without a trading post? Where will you get ammo for your guns, more metal tools, all the other shit that you need?”

The alien understood his insistent tone, even if he couldn't interpret the human's words. Could he really offer the pack the things that he promised though? Yes. If he could access the main computer and restore power to the building, then there would be near infinite heat, and with communications restored he could call for help. The base surely had fabricators too, 3D printing facilities that were commonly installed on remote stations and starships that could produce basic tools and gear on demand. It was their best chance.

Zagza seemed to be asking the opinions of the group, giving each a turn to speak. Schaffer couldn't follow the conversation and was still unsure of whether Zagza had properly understood him, but as the pack members spoke in turn, a consensus seemed to be forming. Zagza seemed decided, giving Schaffer the customary thumbs up. He couldn't communicate a timetable, but the gesture must mean that at some point they would try to return to the base.

CHAPTER 5: PERSONAL SPACE

When the pack had warmed up, they ate again, sitting around the fire pits in groups of three or four and sharing meat. This was more casual than the feast had been, less organized. Schaffer found himself in the company of the two identical males that he had seen at the table during the previous night's event. Their height, coloration, and markings were all exactly the same. Apparently, these aliens could produce twins like many animals on Earth. They seemed overly curious, borderline mischievous as they examined him up close for the first time. They sat on either side of him, plucking and prodding at his suit with their clawed fingers, perhaps testing if it was real fur or just clothing.

He tried to bat them away as he chewed on a hunk of smoked meat, but they were insistent, making a game of harassing him like a pair of little monkeys. Well, little by their standards, the two juveniles were still skirting eight feet. Schaffer wondered who their mother was, the pack was so promiscuous that it could be any of the adult females, or maybe none of them. Life was harsh out here, perhaps they had lost pack members to hostile fauna or the merciless elements.

Eventually, he grew tired of their play and decided to engage with them instead, in the hopes that it might entertain them. He patted his chest, and they stopped to watch him, heads cocked curiously.

Schaffer,” he said, their round ears tracking him like furry radar dishes. Then he pointed to one of the aliens. It grinned and batted its chest with a closed fist, enthusiastic.

Yuka,” he declared proudly. The second twin, apparently feeling left out, chimed in too.

Yura.”

Yuka and Yura,” Schaffer repeated, pointing to them in turn. They clapped their large hands together happily. One of them tackled the human to the ground suddenly, pouncing on him like a tiger. The alien dug its claws into his fur, chewing at the hide around his shoulders in a mock attack. The second twin joined in, rolling around and kicking with its feet like a kitten playfighting. They were strong and heavy, yet they were fairly gentle with him. He joined in, grabbing handfuls of their soft fur and pretending to scratch at them with his dull fingers. They eventually grew rougher, shifting their attention to each other. They rolled away across the floor, little more than a blur of claws, mock growling and alien laughter.

After a minute of this, Osha loped over to the fire pit and chased the two juveniles away, scolding them. Their laughter continued as they disappeared into the gloom, perhaps in search of more food or uninterrupted play. She sat heavily beside Schaffer, nudging him with her furry elbow.

Yeah they're a handful,” he confirmed, offering her a portion of his meal. She hesitated for a moment, then accepted, plucking it in her claws and dropping it into her mouth. She chewed as they gazed at the fire. It wasn't quite the Pinwheel's entertainment channel, but there was something mesmerizing about the flickering flames that never ceased to draw his attention. He liked Osha, he decided. He felt as if he had the most in common with her, and perhaps Runt. He didn't always understand what Zagza was thinking, his motivations were alien, but Osha's motherly desire to keep everyone fed and happy was immediately relatable. Besides, she was always nice to him.

She seemed to want to ask him something, but their lack of shared vocabulary was proving a hindrance. She nudged him again, struggling to find the words.

Shoofa...” They didn't come to her, and so she took him in her arms and pressed him against her warm, furry body. She muttered something that he couldn't understand, and frustration welled in him. He wanted to be social with the aliens, he was trying to be, but he just couldn't teach them enough English to carry a conversation. Perhaps he should try to learn some of their words, too. He had no hope of pronouncing most of them, but he could at least learn to recognize certain phrases.

What's up Osha? What are you trying to tell me?”

She gestured towards a cot, taking his hand in hers and pulling him to his feet. He followed her over to the bed, and she sat down on it, the mattress sagging under her weight as the bulk of her copious butt and thighs spread like a melting candle. They were far from the fires, cast in shadow, the cold beginning to prick at him. She patted the bed beside her, and he struggled up to sit next to her.

What is it that you want?”

She shuffled closer to him, wrapping her furry arm around his waist, her hand resting on his thigh. The side of her ample bust brushed against his cheek, spilling out of her sling as the garment struggled to contain it, sagging over his shoulder as she pushed closer to him. Even sat down, she was so large that her chest and shoulders were almost above his head. The air was cold over here, and so he naturally gravitated towards her warmth, letting her hug him against her massive body. Did she want to sleep? She usually just piled on top of him with little regard for his opinion on the matter, why was she being so gentle now?

Shoofa,” she crooned softly, her breath ruffling his hair. “Come.”

Her long, serpentine tail coiled around him as she delved her nose into his hair, nuzzling his scalp. She began to knead his thigh with her massive hand, applying a gentle pressure. It was warm, pleasant. He liked Osha, after all, she was kind to him. She moved her nose down to the nape of his neck, rubbing her gigantic face on the bare skin beneath his pelts and playing her claws through his hair, grooming him. Maybe she just wanted to be social, was she teaching him how to do it? Memories of chimps at a zoo came to mind, sitting in a line as they cleaned and groomed each other as a form of bonding. Perhaps this was similar, and he would be expected to participate in a communal brushing?

He breathed in her musky scent as her claws ran through his hair, her fluff tickling his nose, her breast weighing down on him. The damned aliens were so touchable. Their fur was thick and plush, as soft as velvet. It was like pushing his face into a bearskin rug. Their blubbery fat begged for questing fingers, wobbling enticingly with their every subtle movement, their breasts fuller and heavier than anything that he had seen before. Then there was the warmth that radiated from their bodies, penetrating him to the bone, inviting him to draw ever closer. He was starting to feel sleepy, Osha’s embrace relieving his aching muscles and her body heat slowing his mind. She was so strong and pushy, at this point he had learned that it was easier to let Osha have her way, the result was never too unpleasant.

He felt her hand brush his cheek, the fleshy pads on her thick fingers cool against his skin, and he realized that his face was flushed red. The hand on his thigh had moved down, grazing his growing bulge through his layered clothing. His heartbeat had quickened, his breathing growing ragged now as the creature gazed down at him from her considerable height with her icy, blue eyes.

What are you...doing?”

She didn't understand, nor could she reply, but his tone of voice and his dazed expression must have conveyed something to her. His heart fluttered, a gasp escaping his lips as her grip on his hair tightened. She pressed her puffy lips against his shoulder, hooking the fabric of his clothing in her claw and pulling it aside. The brief sensation of cold air was replaced by heat and wetness as her long, bumpy tongue left her mouth to trace the line of his clavicle, leaving a slimy trail of warm saliva. It was the length of his damned forearm. Stars danced before his eyes and his erection flared, meeting her waiting hand. She gripped it softly, her touch exploratory. Her other hand rested on his chest, her splayed fingers almost large enough to cover it, the alien pushing him down onto the mattress to lie prone. Osha loomed over him in the near darkness, her white fur bleached orange by the flickering firelight. Her eyes glowed in the dark shadows, leering at him hungrily.

He had never felt like this before. His mind was foggy, butterflies swarmed in his belly, and he felt pleasant shivers dance up and down his spine as Osha explored his neck with her roving organ. She mouthed and kissed with her soft lips, tasting him, mapping his alien body. She fumbled with the seals on his suit, trying to open it. If he were to let her continue, where else might that long, slippery tongue find itself? He bit his lip at the thought, but something nagged at him. This was...wrong. Osha was an alien, an animal. An intelligent, sapient animal with remarkably human features, but never the less...

Did this make him some kind of xenophile? A deviant? What would someone say if they saw him now, lying on this bed and letting an alien creature ravish him? Conflict roiled in his brain. Nobody would ever find out, but he would know. His lack of self-control, of basic decency, might haunt him if he allowed this encounter to progress any further.

It felt so good, though. His body responded to her as if it had a mind of its own, his thighs rubbing together, his spine arching off the mattress as her hot breath tickled his skin. She nibbled his ear in her pointed teeth, the wet, obscene sounds filling his head.

If she kissed him with that serpentine tongue, as he had seen the aliens do to each other when they retired to the gloom for their indecent activities, it would be over. That had always been his weakness in his youth, before he had joined the Navy and alone time with women became more sparse and difficult to achieve. A good kiss would always weaken his knees, sap his will. If he was going to stop this, if he was going to obey his conscience, then he had to do it now. Before it was too late...

Osha...stop,” he muttered, but she didn't respond. He lifted his arms, pressing his hands against her furry body and trying to push her away. She seemed confused, relenting and cocking her head at him.

Shoofa?”

His face burning and erection still conspicuous, even beneath the furry pelts, he rolled out from underneath her. This was the second time that the aliens had tried to involve him in their sex lives. Was sex in itself a social act to them? Part of their everyday interactions with other members of the pack? Zagza had seemed confused too when Schaffer had refused his invitation, maybe he assumed that Schaffer didn't understand what sex was or how to do it, and had charged Osha with showing him? He sat on the edge of the bed, catching his breath, trying to banish the seething arousal that yet threatened to take hold of him. The giant alien sat beside him, perplexed but obviously concerned.

It's okay, Osha,” he said in an attempt to reassure her. He stood and gave her a thumbs up. “Humans just...we don't do that.” He returned to the safety of the nearest fire pit, leaving Osha scratching her head. He might have offended her, but he had to draw the line somewhere. If he didn’t establish boundaries, then who knew what might happen?

***

After some time had passed and Schaffer had composed himself, Osha slunk back over to sit with him by the fire. She seemed worried that she had done something wrong, her round ears drooping slightly and her tail limp, but he climbed into her lap voluntarily for the first time and handed her a morsel of meat in reconciliation. She took it, seeming relieved, and they relaxed for a while as they watched the flames lick at the stones that marked their border.

Schaffer felt oddly guilty. They had done so much for him, and participating in their...activities was the only thing they had asked of him thus far, the one request that they had made of him. Perhaps it made him appear ungrateful or antisocial, but he just couldn't bring himself to do it. Hopefully, these aliens were advanced enough to understand that different cultures existed, with different morals and values. His own lack of self-control bothered him too, he had nearly gone off the rails in the cot with Osha. What would have happened if he had let her continue?

Better to not think about it. He should focus his energy on what mattered, getting back to the outpost.

***

The next day, Schaffer awoke without a pile of cats sitting on his face. He was confused at first, rubbing his bleary eyes as he rose to look around, then realized that they must have finally gotten the message that he wanted to be left alone. He was pleased, but also a little concerned that he might have given them the wrong impression. The language barrier was driving him nuts, it would be a simple matter to explain to the aliens that he liked them and he enjoyed their company, but that sex crossed the line. As it stood, he had to hope that their interpretation of his refusal to participate wasn't too negative. He felt a little cold now, lonely...

Come on Schaffer get it together.

He dropped down from the tall cot, surveying the room to see what everyone was up to. A few of the chubby aliens were clustered around one of the fires, eating breakfast. Yuka and Yura were playing with Runt, and it looked as if a group was gearing up for a hunt.

He trotted over to them enthusiastically. He wasn't going to spend another day cooped up in the longhouse, he wanted to get outside, stretch his legs. The group watched him curiously as they dressed, wrapping long fur cloaks around their necks and draping bandoleers over their shoulders. Some loaded massive brass bullets into pockets on the slings, only half a dozen per hunter. They must really need to make them count now that their stock was limited. Others were cleaning their long rifles with furry rods that they forced into the barrels. The weapons were fairly primitive by UNN standards, and Schaffer was certain that the freezing weather was not too kind to them. With a pang of shame, he remembered how all of the bullets in the revolver that he had found had all been damp, failing to fire.

Zagza walked over to meet him, leaning his own massive rifle against a wooden support pillar, pulling Schaffer aside with a heavy hand on his shoulder. The alien seemed oddly concerned, almost as if Schaffer had walked in on something that he shouldn't have seen.

Zagza, let me come with you. Schaffer come,” he said, gesturing to the group. Zagza looked back at them, then turned to Schaffer again, his expression dour.

No, Shoofa,” he said. He had expanded his vocabulary recently, he was happy to learn, and Schaffer was eager to pass the time in any way that he could. They had spent many hours by the fireside together, attempting to push through the language barrier.

Shoofa no come, Shoofa...” He struggled to find a word, seeming unhappy, conflicted. What the hell was he trying to say? Was he concerned that Schaffer would be offended if Zagza told him that he would be a liability? It kind of went without saying, he couldn't shoulder one of those rifles and he couldn't go more than an hour or so without needing to be carried around. What was the problem?

Then the alien did something that froze Schaffer's heart.

He lifted his hand to his head, mimicking a pistol with his fingers and pressing them against his temple. He knew. He had seen Schaffer attempt to kill himself from a distance. He had seen the gun, he had understood what it was and what Schaffer had been trying to do. That was why he behaved so strangely around the rifles. Zagza thought that Schaffer was suicidal, that he might try to commit suicide again if he got his hands on one.

How could he even begin to explain the situation that he had found himself in, the reason that he had been sent to the base, the intricacies of the computer that had locked him out? How could Schaffer convey how he had felt in that moment, certain that he was going to die and wanting to bypass the slow agony of starvation?

A flare of anger joined the shame that was twisting a knot in his belly. He felt as if his privacy had been violated, that he had been spied on in his private moment of weakness. The aliens had saved his life as a result, and he wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them, but his roiling emotions were not bound by cold logic.

Was this savage judging him? By what standards?

You don't know me, you great fleabag,” he snapped. Zagza had no idea what he was saying, but his tone and expression conveyed the venom in his voice. “Who are you to judge me? You don't know what I've been through, why I'm here.”

Zagza seemed taken aback, not knowing how to respond. Schaffer's outrage faded rapidly as he saw Zagza's hurt expression. The hunting group was watching him with concern, their furry ears fixed on the exchange.

I didn't...I didn't mean to...”

Zagza turned away, walking back over to the group. He hadn't returned an insult, he hadn't tried to put Schaffer in his place, he just left him standing there feeling small and ashamed. He didn't deserve Schaffer's misplaced anger, he was just trying to protect him. All the alien had done up to now was protect him.

Zagza lurched as Schaffer grabbed him from behind, wrapping his arms around the alien's thick waist as best he could. He hugged the creature, burying his face in the small of his back. He was furry and warm, though a little more lean than Osha had been. The paunch of his belly was mostly muscle. His tail flicked, perhaps indicating surprise or indecision, bumping against Schaffer's chest.

Sorry, big guy. I was just...going through some stuff.”

Zagza pried Schaffer's arms away, then turned to run his claws through his hair. It seemed to be a common show of affection for the aliens. His sharp talons tickled Schaffer's scalp, making him shiver happily. Apology accepted, then.

Come, Shoofa,” Zagza rumbled, gesturing to the group of hunters.

I can come with you?”

The alien gave him a thumbs up. He didn’t understand the words, but the inquiry was obvious enough. Schaffer followed Zagza back to the rack where they kept their cloaks, raising his arms to let the alien outfit him for the cold tundra.

***

Schaffer had no trouble keeping pace with the aliens this time. They were moving slowly, tracking an animal. They crouched low to the ground, their furry, paw-like feet silent in the snow. Schaffer did his best to stay quiet, his furry boots did a fair job of it. They were in a forest, or at least what had once been a forest. There was less snow on the ground here, and he was able to walk without sinking. The trees looked gnarled and dead to him, their bare branches creating a tightly knit canopy above their heads like a mesh of bony fingers.

There were six hunters, not including Zagza who headed the pack, four males and two females. He had seen them before during his wanderings in the longhouse, or during their communal feasts, all besides for one. She was tall and lean, with less fat than the other members of the pack. It was there, distributed attractively to her hips, butt, and chest. But she was lithe and agile in comparison to her fellows. She had a wicked scar almost down the center of her face, running from her forehead to her chin, deep and long. It seemed to have killed the fur around it, damaging the hair follicles so that they couldn't grow anymore, leaving her with a pink trail of knitted flesh. He wondered if it was some alien beast that had given her that scar, or perhaps someone from a rival tribe. It wasn't her only scar, he realized. Upon closer inspection, she had a few of them scattered around her body, though none were so obvious and disfiguring as the one on her face. She wasn't ugly, however. He thought that it made her look tough. She reminded him of the security chief back on the Pinwheel, a gnarled, gruff man with robotic limbs who looked as if he had been through a garbage disposal and come out swinging.

Her coat was grey, with fairly substantial markings, but she wore a beautiful cloak made from the snow-white pelt of some animal that served to better camouflage her. She walked a short distance away from the rest of the pack, conspicuously doing her own thing. She didn't look too talkative, Scarface would be a suitable name for the time being.

Zagza raised his fist, indicating for the group to stop as Scarface crept forward to run her claws down the trunk of a tree. One of them was broken, he noticed, snapped off about halfway down its length. She seemed to be examining the bark, and he realized that there were markings on the trunk. Something had pulled away the layers of bark, exposing the smooth wood beneath. That must be what they were tracking, something that obtained its sustenance from the bark. It made sense, there wasn't much else to eat out here.

Zagza waited for her response, his sapphire eyes fixed on her. Despite being the leader of the group, he obviously deferred to Scarface where hunting was concerned. She waved them forward after a moment, and he lowered his fist, resuming the hunt. A few of them began to unholster their rifles, they must be close to their target.

Schaffer had been a combat engineer, so he wasn't a stranger to gunfights, but he had never been hunting before. The excitement was getting his blood flowing. It was funny, he had only been living with these aliens for about a week, and he was already thinking about his life in the UNN in the past tense.

As the pack crept over a snow drift and lay prone, shouldering their rifles, Schaffer peeked his head over the lip and spied their quarry. There were a dozen creatures loitering in a loose herd, the same gigantic, six-legged animals that he had seen the Borealans butcher earlier. They were as large and as rotund as hippos, with six muscular, bovine-like legs keeping them aloft. Their faces ended in insectoid mandibles that worked with ceaseless activity, sifting through snow, presumably searching for plants or food that might lie beneath. Their white coats made them almost invisible against the snowy backdrop, perhaps Scarface’s cloak was made from their pelts. Schaffer had to wonder how such large animals sustained themselves in this environment. Surely tree bark wouldn't feed a whole herd of these things?

The pack was fixated, their eyes wide and their feline pupils dilated, their ears swiveling to track the animals. Schaffer waited with bated breath, not daring to so much as blink lest he ruin this opportunity for them.

A shot rang out as Scarface fired her rifle, the massive kick knocking her shoulder back and spraying snow from where she had braced the weapon on the drift. One of the great creatures lurched, trying to run but finding that its legs would not obey it. It crashed to the ground in a tangle of limbs, loosing a low, bellowing groan that made Schaffer's hair stand on end. The others bolted, remarkably fast despite their size and weight. Two more hunters fired and brought down another. They could have massacred the entire herd easily, but dragging them back to the longhouse was another matter entirely, and their ammo was scarce. They seemed to want to fire only when necessary. Unlike a spear or an arrow, a bullet could not be retrieved and reused.

The aliens descended the slope of the drift to retrieve their kills, whooping and yowling victory cries. They holstered their rifles and split into two groups of three as Zagza stood by Schaffer, watching them work. They each took a leg and began to drag the carcasses back the way they had come. It would be slow going, even the super-powered felines had a hard time shifting the bulky animals. Zagza joined one group, and so Schaffer joined the other, his paltry contribution making Scarface chuckle as he struggled along.

***

It took them a while to get back to the longhouse, but the hard labor kept Schaffer warm as they marched. When they pushed through the wooden doors, they were greeted with excited aliens and hungry glances. Yuka and Yura paraded around the kill that Schaffer was helping to drag, throwing their arms in the air in an exaggerated display of praise. They were making fun of him, having obviously not been the one to down the animal. He couldn’t be too angry with them, they were amusing, and it made Scarface laugh. Osha chased them away into the darkness as they cackled at him.

The pack closed in to start work on the carcasses, skinning them, breaking them apart and carting away limbs and organs for processing. Schaffer stood aside to watch the activity. He had grown used to it by now, the grisly sight of deep, black arterial blood draining into the floor and the bundles of entrails that the aliens carted off to make sausage. So much of their lives revolved around food. Catching it, preparing it, eating it. He wondered how they would fare with packaged goods. It was a shame that all of the cans at the outpost were spoiled, he would have liked to see their reaction.

He was tired and sore now, and that was good. He had been longing for some good exercise, it was remarkable how life in the confines of a space station was less sedentary than his life in the longhouse. He sat by one of the fire pits, watching the bustling activity. What he wouldn't give for a human-sized chair with a backrest.

The only member of the pack not cutting meat or hanging skins to dry was Scarface, who was over by the gun rack, still wearing her white cape. He never saw her interacting with anyone, and she didn’t seem to participate in the feasts. What was her deal? He wanted to wander over and talk to her, she had seemed amused by him, but her fearsome appearance made him reconsider. She looked like she could choke out a bear. She seemed content to work on her gun, polishing the metal with a rag and cleaning the barrel. When she got to the rear sight, a piece of protruding metal that looked oddly like the sight for a grenade launcher, she wiggled it with her fingers. It looked like it was loose. She seemed frustrated with it, did they lack the tools or knowledge to repair such a basic problem? Schaffer was a combat engineer, repairing things was his specialty.

He rose to his feet and walked over to her, careful to remain in her field of view to avoid startling her, she seemed a bit jumpy. She eyed him curiously as he came to stand beside her, Schaffer gesturing to the gun.

Let me see, I might be able to fix it.”

She understood that he wanted the gun, passing it to him hesitantly. It was heavy, really heavy. It seemed to be made of solid metal and thick wood, rather than the polymers that he was accustomed to. It wasn’t a muzzle-loader, it looked like a single-shot breech-loader. The breech was empty, they must not keep these loaded. The aliens were stingy with their bullets, and a misfire could cost them dearly. He hefted it with some difficulty as she watched, bracing it under his arm so that he could check the sight. The three screws that anchored it to the receiver were loose, it looked as if they had never been tightened. After each firing, the vibrations must have shaken them, eventually loosening the screws so that the sight was no longer firmly affixed.

The screws weren't any design that he was familiar with, they were heavy and thick, with a wide hole that would fit a very large screwdriver. They must be of Borealan origin. He passed the rifle back to Scarface and went in search of a tool that he could use to tighten them. He retrieved a metal knife from one of the tables where Runt was preparing meat, and headed back to the waiting huntress.

She placed the rifle on a nearby table, at chest height to Schaffer, and he awkwardly used the blade to turn the screws. After a couple of minutes, the sight was tightly secured again. Scarface lifted the gun, testing it out.

She seemed pleased, giving him a sly, sideways glance and a pat on the head that Schaffer had come to associate with approval or gratitude. She donned her cloak again, wrapping the white fur around her shoulders and holstering the gun, heading off towards the doors. Did she spend most of her time outside, hunting and tracking? Did she prefer to be alone, or was it because of some anxiety over the food situation? They had enough to eat and a fresh kill every few days, at least while Schaffer had been living with them, but that might be entirely due to her efforts. She certainly seemed preoccupied while the other aliens feasted and relaxed.

He decided to follow her, wrapping himself in one of the pelt shawls, and she turned her head to watch him. She didn't object, but she didn't slow for him either, Schaffer jogging to keep pace as she strode out into the snow. She climbed up onto the roof of the longhouse, scaling the mound of dirt and snow that created an artificial hill, smoke from the fires rising from small chimneys made from stacked rocks. Schaffer clambered after her, slipping and struggling.

Scarface drew something from a leather pouch on a belt around her hips, which also served to hold up her loincloth. She had no beads and shells around her neck or on her wrists, but she did have a necklace that seemed to be decorated with claws and teeth. She unfolded the cylindrical object, and Schaffer realized that it was a primitive telescope. Yet another tool that they lacked the ability to produce and must have bartered for at the now-defunct trading post.

She scanned the horizon with it, the glass lens glinting in the harsh sunlight. She must be searching for prey, or maybe enemies from her perch. Up here on the roof, they could certainly see a great distance over the mostly flat, barren terrain. Schaffer shielded his eyes against the glare, wishing that he still had access to the tinting properties of his visor. Alas, it was useless without a power source.

The huntress was wearing all manner of pouches and slings on belts and bandoleers, some were undoubtedly full of bullets, others he couldn't speculate. She had a large knife on her hip too, sheathed in a leather holster. That was unusual, these aliens seemed to favor their claws for cutting purposes. Perhaps this was a weapon. It was the size of a machete in comparison to the smaller human, it looked like it could gut a whale.

He sat by her feet as she continued to scan the horizon. The wind was strong up here, buffeting him and chilling the areas of his body that weren't protected by his shawl. She nudged him with her tail and cocked her head, gesturing for him to follow her. It seemed as if she had found whatever she had been looking for. He followed her down the slant of the roof as she hopped away lithely, stumbling and trying not to skid in the snow. If only he had some damned snowshoes, he wouldn't look so clumsy and inept. She slowed for him this time, looking back over her shoulder and waiting for him to catch up.

***

Scarface led Schaffer through the snow drifts and past patches of gnarled forest, trekking a good distance away from the longhouse. He started to become a little worried that he might not be able to get back in time in order to beat the cold.

She slowed, crouching low and shuffling forward, she must have picked up the scent of something. Schaffer lagged back, letting her do her thing as she crept over a snowy dune. She hesitated for a minute, her ears swiveling like radar dishes as she tracked some sound that Schaffer's dull, human ears could not pick up.

Suddenly Scarface bounded forward, letting loose a high pitched cry like a pissed off tiger that startled Schaffer and almost made him fall over. She charged down the drift at a sprint, shrieking and waving her arms like a madwoman. Schaffer followed, peering over the lip of the drift to see something that looked like an enormous seal flopping away from her in the snow. It motored its three pairs of flippers, skidding along the ground and barking in fright. It was colored grey, with a streamlined, aquatic body and far too many appendages. It shuffled towards a hole in the snow, and its bulk disappeared into it with a splash. A splash? Were they standing atop a frozen lake?

Scarface pursued the animal to the hole, then crouched to examine the opening. She wasn't interested in the seal then, or she would have shot it. Were they not good to eat? Schaffer deemed it safe to join her, making his way over to stand next to her, leaning in to see what she was looking at. There was a layer of ice below the snow, at least half a meter thick, and below it was dark water. Had the seal-like creature made this hole, or just discovered it? Perhaps the reason she had not shot the beast, which had clearly been wrapped in a layer of flammable blubber, was because it might find or create other such holes in the ice?

The huntress sat cross-legged by the edge of the hole, opening one of the many leather pouches on her belt and unraveled a ball of thin wire. There was a small serrated hook on the end, it looked almost like a grappling hook. She opened a clasp on a pouch by her hip and picked out a small morsel of meat, baiting the hook with it. She dropped it into the water, letting the ball of wire unwind. The hook actually seemed to be quite heavy, it must be made of iron or steel.

Schaffer's heart skipped as he watched the ball grow thinner, the hook sinking deeper and deeper into the water. How deep was this lake? Was the ice this thick over its whole surface, or might he fall through at random and sink into endless, freezing darkness? He grimaced at the thought. He sat beside the alien and watched her work, she seemed content, and he wondered what other gadgets and oddities she might be hiding in her utility belt. The other members of the pack could hunt, but he was starting to understand why Zagza deferred to her. She certainly seemed to be the authority when it came to living off the land.

They sat in silence for a while, simply enjoying the quiet. Eventually, Schaffer started to shiver, the lack of activity making him too cold. Scarface noticed this and wrapped her arm around his waist, pulling him closer to her and draping him in her white cloak. Schaffer had taken her for a loner, but she seemed quite happy to be around him.

She never tried to communicate with him, seemingly satisfied with gestures and hand signals. In fact, he had not seen her speak at all so far, even to the other aliens.

So...the strong, silent type,” he muttered. He was just probing for a reaction, his teeth chattering as he shivered. She just sat with her fishing line in her hand, not responding. Maybe she thought that attempting to communicate verbally with him was a waste of time, or that gestures were sufficient to convey what she needed. She did tug him closer, however, ensuring that the cape was snug around him. She was soft and warm, her body heat quickly filling the little pocket that her cloak created around them. Scarface’s body wasn’t as soft as Osha's pillow-like fat, he could feel her steely muscles beneath her layer of insulating blubber, but it was still pleasant.

***

They huddled together on the ice for a while, waiting for a bite. It wasn’t long before it came, the alien rising to her feet, gripping the wire in her hands as it darted and tugged. Something had taken the bait, something large enough to give the massive native trouble. She struggled with it, winding the line around her wrist and digging her clawed feet into the snow in order to gain more traction, Schaffer stepped away to give her room. She marched slowly backwards, dragging the wire as she went. It was pulled taut, it looked about ready to snap, but it held. With a great heave and a grunt of effort, the feline hauled a fish from the water.

To call it a fish was a gross generalization. While it was aquatic and had fins, it looked like some kind of archaic evolutionary throwback. It was about four feet long, armored from head to tail with bony, overlapping plates of armor that brought to mind images of medieval knights. It had six flippers, thick and muscled, more like those of a seal than a fish. It powered them, twisting and flopping in the snow, trying to crawl its way back to the hole in the ice. It blinked black, soulless eyes and gnashed its jaws, a single plate of bone like the teeth of a cartoon character. It looked as if it could bite through a steel beam with those teeth.

It writhed its muscular tail, but Scarface dragged it further back. Its ardent struggling became death throes as it tried to draw water into its gills that was no longer there, slowly suffocating. Scarface kept her distance until it had stopped moving completely, and Schaffer wondered how many of the aliens had lost fingers to this prey. When she was certain that it was dead, she moved in and drew her knife from its leather sheath, beginning to pry off the armored plates that ran down the top of its scaly body. She hooked the tip of the blade between the plates and tore them loose, discarding them in the snow. Apparently, they weren't useful for anything. When she was done, the spine of the fish was exposed, surrounded by pink meat that reminded him of salmon. The vertebrae looked like solid bone rather than keratin or cartilage. Scarface lifted it in her hooked claws, draping it over her shoulder.

She motioned for Schaffer to follow her, setting off back in the direction of the longhouse.

***

The now de-armored fish roasted over one of the fire pits as Schaffer chewed at the meat happily. It was a welcome change from the red, fatty meats that seemed to be the staple diet for these aliens. The fish meat was pink and dry, somewhat rubbery, but with a distinctive ocean taste that made him think of sea salt and bearded trawler captains. Scarface was nowhere to be found, she had taken her share of the fish and had returned to the snow, presumably to continue her never-ending hunt to secure food sources for the pack.

Yuka and Yura dined with him, along with a male and a female that he hadn't met before. Zagza seemed to have convened some kind of meeting around a distant fire pit, conversing with some of the aliens that Schaffer recognized as hunters, and the two women who made jewelry and clothing. The pack's leader was deep in thought, scratching his furry, bearded chin with his hooked claws as he heard out one of the hunters who gesticulated as he spoke. Even if he had been close enough to hear what was being said, Schaffer would not have understood, and so he turned his mind back to the fish. Osha usually supervised his meal times like some kind of overbearing mother with a picky toddler, but she wasn't anywhere to be seen.

Runt wandered over to sit by Schaffer, clawing at the fish and pulling off a morsel of the browning flesh as the flames baked it. She seemed to get on well with the antagonistic twins, perhaps they were of a similar age. Runt had taken a liking to Schaffer too, although why, he couldn't say. Perhaps being by far the smallest of the pack, she identified with the minuscule human. She lay down with her head on Schaffer's lap like a dog, letting the human comb the silky hair on her head with his blunt fingers. It seemed that grooming was integral to their social bonding, and Schaffer found it pleasant. He enjoyed the sensation of their claws on his scalp, it gave him an odd tingling feeling down his spine. When he had the opportunity to return the favor, he found the texture of their fur to be inviting and oddly soothing to stroke. The creatures would have been adorable if they weren't eight feet tall, hundreds of pounds, and made of murder. Schaffer imagined a kitten of this species must be precious, though he hadn't seen any so far.

The aliens fucked constantly, seemingly for purely recreational purposes, yet he never saw any pregnant females or young children. That said, the paunchy bellies that many of them sported might easily hide that fact. He wondered if they had some primitive form of contraception, or if they were perhaps only fertile during certain seasons. Perhaps that went further to explaining the rampant bisexuality that he had witnessed, you couldn't get a member of the same sex pregnant, after all.

His face reddened as he recalled the scenes from memory. Mounds of furry bodies half-glimpsed in flickering firelight, questing hands and probing tongues, along with their hushed invitations for him to join them. If he stayed here long enough, would they break his resolve? Would months without the sight of a human woman wear him down to the point that he might throw himself into one of the piles? The thought both disgusted and excited him in a base, what if? kind of way. He couldn't deny that he was starting to become frustrated, he couldn't even jack off in peace in this communal environment without curious eyes peering at him through the darkness. He might be in danger of going jailhouse xenophile.

He snapped back to reality, noticing that an erection had grown beneath his suit. Runt had sensed it too. The alien looked up at him with expectant eyes, but Schaffer shook his head.

Nothing to do with you, buddy.”

The alien understood the gesture and the negative tone, seeming disappointed, laying her head back on Schaffer's lap. Grooming was as much as she was going to get from the prudish human.

Schaffer noticed Zagza walking over to him, apparently done with his meeting. From a sitting position his head barely reached the alien's knees, he looked like a giant.

Shoofa, all come outpost,” he said as he gestured with his furry hands. So they had decided to undertake the trip then? Excellent. Schaffer rose to his feet, gently pushing Runt off his lap, but Zagza waved for him to stay put and held up two of his fingers. They weren't leaving right now then, did that mean two hours? Two days? Most likely days, he had never seen any clocks on the walls of the longhouse, and he doubted that the pack had any means to measure time beyond the sun. He gave Zagza a thumbs up, indicating that he understood. It mattered little, it wasn't as if he had any belongings to pack. The aliens would come and fetch him when it was time.

Just two days, then. With any luck, he could get the base back online, assuming he even survived the journey without dying of hypothermia.

CHAPTER 6: ENCOURAGEMENT

The aliens were at it again. Schaffer was woken by the obscene sounds of their coupling on the cot adjacent to his. He blinked his itchy eyes to see a mass of writhing creatures, illuminated by the orange glow of the fire pits. They were a pile of shifting forms, their white fur and roving appendages blending into a chimera of pleasure and indecency. Trying to get them to stop would be pointless, they'd be at it for hours and would deprive him of sleep in the process.

He rolled out of his cot groggily, scanning the gloom beyond the firelight for a spot where the alien orgy might be out of sight and sound, and where he could sleep in peace. After a moment he spied just such a spot, a small nook behind one of the large support beams that lined the walls. There was a human-sized hole in the primitive, probably hastily assembled structure. He pulled a couple of the pillows from the bed and made his way over, crouching to duck into the opening. It seemed that at some point, the wall had been near collapse. As a result, repairs had been made by bracing the section with logs. Between the log brace and the wall was a spot in seclusion, where nobody would be able to see him, and he wouldn't be able to see them. This might even be a solution for preventing the morning cat piles that he so often found himself in.

It was already occupied.

Runt was lurking at the far end, almost invisible in the darkness save for a pinpoint of light that centered over her eye. She was peeking at the mating ball that was happening on the cot, one of her hands moving conspicuously beneath her loincloth.

Schaffer hesitated at the entrance to the cubby, and Runt noticed him, visibly startled. She made no attempt to conceal her activities, it was not the shame of being caught peeking, apparently. Perhaps no such shame existed in their culture and Schaffer had simply surprised her.

He considered chasing the alien away, but decided against it. Let her have her fun, he thought, piling his pillows at the other end of the hole. At least the little voyeur was quiet. He lay down on his pillows, crossing his arms and turning away from Runt, closing his eyes and trying to get back to sleep. After a few minutes of trying, he sat up again. He was angry, tired and now sporting his own bulge beneath his suit. It was as if his ears were attuned to the sound of the aliens going at it like giant, horny rabbits, he couldn't block it out. Every low moan or cry of glee jolted him awake, jarring him just as he started to drift out of consciousness. He looked over at Runt, rubbing his eyes.

Why was the alien hiding here? Half of the damned pack was in that pile, and they had seemed eager to get Schaffer involved whenever he had happened upon such a congregation. Why was Runt merely watching from a distance? Had they excluded her for some reason? It was impossible to tell with these aliens, but Schaffer thought it unlikely. They were promiscuous to a fault, it didn't make sense for them to bar Runt from the proceedings.

If there was anyone that Schaffer identified with in the pack, it was the relatively small Runt, and he was curious to find out what was going on. It was entirely possible that the alien just preferred it this way, it was not uncommon among humans, after all. But something about her demeanor seemed agitated, unhappy. Her gaze through the opening was not covetous or lecherous, but longing. Was she too shy to join in? Unsure of herself perhaps? Schaffer doubted that an inexperienced female would be unwelcome among the pack's males, but maybe something about being the smallest and likely lowest ranked in the social order held her back.

He crawled closer towards the alien in the confined space, and upon closer inspection Runt looked downright miserable. She wasn't even getting herself off anymore, she was just staring at the ongoing activities.

What's up, buddy?”

Runt turned to him, a sad expression on her face.

Too shy to get in on the action?”

He had to admit, he felt for the alien. Schaffer had his own conflicts where the sexuality of the pack was concerned, and his own mounting frustration likely mirrored Runt's. It wasn't easy to live in such a sexually tense environment and not be able to participate, either through choice in Schaffer's case, or inability in Runt's. It brought to mind memories of his own fears as a teenager, the shyness, the dread of trying to approach women without really having any prior knowledge of sex or relationships. Runt certainly looked to be of age, even if it was hard to tell with these aliens.

This should be a simple proposition for Runt, however. There was no courting required, she just had to get out there and leap into the pile of bodies. The other pack members would take care of the rest. Schaffer nudged her from behind, gesturing in the direction of the cots.

Go on, get in there!”

Runt mumbled something indecipherable, but her tone of voice and the way that her ears and tail drooped told Schaffer that she was unsure of herself, afraid. Schaffer gave her a more earnest shove towards the entrance of the hole this time, pointing towards it. He patted the alien on the back, trying to be encouraging without actually being able to explain his reasoning. He tried to make his voice sound soothing, reassuring, but he wasn't sure it was working.

Runt shuffled forward begrudgingly, turning every few steps to look to Schaffer for support. He gave her a thumbs up and waved her on, until the alien had exited the cubby and was on her way towards the cots. Schaffer took up her place, peering through the hole in the wood at the roiling mass of aliens. Runt approached slowly, hesitantly, seeming to grow more afraid as her proximity to her packmates increased. Schaffer's heart was pounding, why was he so invested in this? Maybe it was a throwback to his days in the UNN, where if word got out that one of the Marines was a virgin, the whole regiment would make it their personal mission to get the poor sod laid.

Come on Runt, you can do this! The alien crept closer and closer to the cot as Schaffer watched with bated breath. He wanted to call out encouragement, but he might throw her off, and the alien wouldn't have understood him anyway. He blushed as he imagined himself in Runt's place, a mere meter away from untold pleasures that he dared not reach out and take. Runt was held back by her own apprehensions, Schaffer by his petty human morality. That was the way it must stay, however. While Runt could overcome this, Schaffer must remain stalwart. If everything went according to plan, he might be off this godforsaken planet in a few more days, and all without the dark stain of xenophilia on his conscience. Maybe he was making too big a deal of it. Hell, he had heard rumors about certain personnel on the Pinwheel station who had supposedly bedded Borealans. They were mostly praised as badasses for taking on the challenge, and then surviving it...

No, the only place his cock was going was inside other humans.

He heard Runt speak, a small, mousy noise that was barely audible above the grunting and shuffling that emanated from the bed. The alien looked towards where she knew Schaffer to be hiding, her expression desperate. Schaffer could not provide any reassurance, frustration welling in him as he watched the alien struggle. She looked about ready to bolt.

Come on, don't flake,” Schaffer muttered to himself. Runt turned back to the pile and let out a louder call. This one was heard, and the mound of alien bodies abruptly stopped moving. Their heads emerged to see what was going on, their round ears swiveling to track the increasingly frightened creature. Zagza's massive torso rose from the pile, the veritable wall of fur and muscle eyeing the far smaller alien with his reflective, sapphire pupils.

Runt lost her resolve and turned to escape the intense glare of his pack leader, but in a flash, Zagza had left the pile and had closed the distance between the two. Schaffer's stomach lurched. Had he encouraged Runt to do something bad that merited punishment? Runt tripped and fell to the dirt as Zagza's massive, fluffy tail coiled around her leg, easily the circumference of the smaller alien's thigh. As if he had hooked a fish, Zagza dragged Runt across the floor towards him, eventually lifting her off the ground and draping her over his shoulder as easily as if the seven-foot Runt was a mere toy.

Schaffer's adrenaline surge abated as Zagza walked back to the bed, where a pile of pack members waited eagerly for his return, practically licking their chops as they gazed at his prize. As Runt's face came into view, Schaffer saw that her expression was a mixture of fear and delight. It didn't look as if the alien was in need of rescue. Zagza stopped at the foot of the bed, dropping Runt unceremoniously into the pile where she landed amidst fur and fat. It was hard to make out details through the peephole, but Schaffer spied ample bosoms and thick, heavy bodies as they coiled around the newcomer. Arms rose from the mass to wrap around Runt, a dozen hands questing up and down her torso as they submerged her in the pile, burying her in yielding flesh.

Zagza was sporting a conspicuous, alien erection. Schaffer couldn't help but look. It was not dramatically larger than a human's, but it protruded from his fur, red and shiny like that of a dog or a cat. It was lined with small bumps, perhaps some kind of vestigial penile spines, they were felines after all. He returned to his place in the heap, Runt letting out a cry of surprise that turned into a low, sultry moan as the pile began to move again.

With that, Schaffer returned to his pillows. His cock throbbed and ached after witnessing the scene. He was proud of Runt, and he was glad that he had been able to goad the little alien into overcoming her fears, but it left Schaffer more frustrated than ever and oddly jealous.

You could do it too, nagged a voice in the back of his mind. You could walk over there and bury yourself in that pile, enjoy the pleasures of whatever it was that was making Runt cry out like that.

Schaffer banished the intrusive thoughts, shifting his position on the ground and trying to get comfortable. But as the sounds of passion assaulted his ears, he doubted that sleep would come easily.

***

Schaffer achieved some level of sleep, the kind where you don't quite fall into a deep, satisfying slumber but rather skirt the edges of unconsciousness. The noises did eventually abate, but his frustration was overcoming him. At least he was alone now, out of view of the curious aliens. Perhaps he might finally have an opportunity to relieve himself without being observed or interrupted.

He undid the clasps on his suit in order access his loins, slipping his hand beneath his underwear and trying to think of something more wholesome than what he had been subjected to over the past week. Damn it, his hand was like a block of ice, the ground was hard and uncomfortable beneath him. Come on Schaffer, it's just a biological need, get it over with.

It was slow going, but he worked up a rhythm, getting into the mood as he tried to conjure up memories of his last shore leave. Just as he felt as if he might have a chance, he was interrupted by a large, crouched shape entering the cubby.

Damn it,” he muttered under his breath, fumbling to stow his erection as the enthusiastic alien shuffled closer to sit in front of him. Runt was talking and waving her hands, too fast for Schaffer to make anything out, even if he were able to speak the language. She seemed to be attempting to relay to Schaffer her exploits, perhaps thanking him for his encouragement. Runt slowed as she glimpsed the erection that Schaffer was trying to slip back into his pants, staring at what was to her an unfamiliar, alien organ. Couldn't she have waited just another couple of minutes before barging in on him? A fresh wave of frustration overcame Schaffer as he tried to fasten the seals on his suit.

Runt plunged her hand into Schaffer's crotch without warning, her soft, silky fur tickling the head of his cock. Schaffer yelped as a wave of unwelcome pleasure washed over him, his member bouncing up to meet the grasping fingers. Schaffer pushed the alien away, a little more violently than he had intended, preparing to scold her. Their culture might be different, but unsolicited groping was over the line.

But when he looked at Runt, she wasn't lecherous or excited, nor was she ashamed or embarrassed. There was concern in her eyes, almost begging to be allowed to help. She recognized Schaffer's frustration. Maybe it was obvious, maybe the alien could smell his pheromones, but it made Schaffer regret pushing Runt away.

The sensation of her velvet palm on Schaffer's glans had felt amazing, electrifying, and he was already halfway there when the alien had disturbed him. His member pulsed and ached as it protruded from his suit, the cold air blowing across it. Arousal muddled his thoughts. This was all they wanted from him, all that they had asked of him. To give in and become one with their pack, to give himself over to them and allow them to bond with him in their base, primal way. He realized that he was breathing heavily, his heart was pounding in his chest, and his legs were trembling.

God, he needed this, he needed it so badly. What if he just did it this one time? Nobody would see them here, nobody would know. At that moment, Schaffer wasn't thinking about how he might feel the next morning, just that he craved release.

Runt seemed to sense his compliance, leaning forward and wrapping her hand around the human's member like a mink glove. She was careful to keep his claws away from the shaft, stroking gently, letting her silky fur tickle the human's skin. Schaffer reeled, already sensitive from his fruitless masturbation. This new touch sent pangs of pleasure shooting up his spine, ringing his brain like a bell. He relaxed back onto the pillows, his mind seething with protests and guilt, but overridden by his arousal.

Runt leaned in closer, examining his strange organ. Those of the aliens were pink and tapered, covered in dull barbs like those of a cat. Schaffer’s shaft was smooth, covered in skin with a shiny, blunt head. It must have looked bizarre in comparison.

The curious alien ran her fluffy fingers up and down Schaffer’s length, the delicate strands of fur setting his senses aflame. Her coat was so impossibly downy and velvety, to have it stroking him in this way was maddening. His impromptu partner paused at the tip, pulling back his foreskin experimentally, her feline eyes widening as she exposed Schaffer’s glans to the cool air. A shiver passed through his body as Runt pressed one of her fleshy, spongy pads against the tender flesh, wetting it with a bead of his leaking pre and making slow circles. This rosy, smooth material was at least similar to that of the aliens.

Without giving him an opportunity to protest, Runt pressed her smooth lips against the tip of Schaffer's penis, her breath warming it. Schaffer covered his mouth with his hand to suppress a moan as she slid her lips over the glans, taking it into her mouth. It was hot and slimy, the alien’s silken cheeks pressing around him as she sucked gently, made slick with her saliva.

Schaffer felt his will to resist drain from his body, his muscles relaxing as the sudden rush of unexpected sensation sapped his strength. He sank deeper into his nest of pillows, meeting Runt’s gaze for a solitary moment as she peered up at him, those blue eyes flashing in the gloom. She was so eager to please, Schaffer’s heart skipping in his chest for a moment, his cheeks burning hotter as he averted his eyes and stared intently at the ceiling above them.

He shuddered as he felt Runt’s long, winding tongue coil around him, as dexterous and as gentle as a hand. He had secretly admired their obscenely long, tapered organs from a distance, to have one of them winding around his length and lapping at his tender head made his knees go weak. It had the texture of satin that had been soaked in slime, its somewhat rough surface brushing against the sensitive underside of his glans, teasing him. He delved his fingers into the alien's hair, gripping it as Runt explored his anatomy with her tongue, slipping the tip beneath his foreskin and sending jolts of tingling electricity through Schaffer's nervous system. He twitched and gasped, holding onto Runt as if for dear life.

He felt like he was losing his mind. The alien was a natural, the raw, dizzying pleasure contrasted by her doting and gentle demeanor. Every stroke of that wet, hot flesh against Schaffer’s skin conveyed Runt’s yearning to see him satisfied. No human partner had ever been so devoted, was this just gratitude for giving her the push that she had needed, or was it something else?

Stars danced before his eyes, and his hips began to squirm, desperate for more stimulation as Runt slowly crawled her smooth lips down to the base of Schaffer's cock. She kissed the human's belly, her squirming tongue wrapping around the entire length of his member like a constricting snake. Schaffer grunted as if he had been punched in the gut, straining to avoid releasing into the alien's mouth too early. The thought shocked him, but he wanted this to last longer, he wanted to enjoy it. He had come this far, why not let the situation play out to its conclusion? Would he be any more ashamed of himself in the morning if he let his adoring, generous partner bring him to completion?

Runt's throat milked him, her muscles squeezing and contracting rhythmically around his tender glans as she gulped around it, swallowing the warm drool that was pooling in her mouth. It was as if the alien was goading him into pumping his emission directly into her waiting throat. His member jumped and throbbed in Runt’s mouth, as hard as it had ever been, the caress of her gullet and the teasing of her agile tongue making Schaffer’s toes curl.

His eyes rolled back into his head, and he arched his spine as Runt withdrew, pursing her lips around the shaft and dragging them back up. She paused to paint the tip with her textured tongue, her bubbling saliva leaking down the human’s twitching length in globs. It was almost unbearable, the dull, feline barbs scraping against him. But the alien’s artful licking and her viscous slaver transformed what might have been painful under different circumstances, into throbs of harsh pleasure.

His legs were trembling, and his face was beet red, his breathing coming in staggered gasps as Runt began to bob her head on Schaffer's cock. She pressed down, taking the human deep into her spasming throat, her worm-like tongue coiling and teasing as she reached the base. The alien paused there for a moment, batting her long lashes at Schaffer when he chanced a glance down at her. God, she was cute. Unable to resist, Schaffer reached down and took one of the alien’s fuzzy, round ears in his hand. He ran the membrane between his thumb and forefinger, stroking as Runt shivered contentedly. She began to purr like a cat, the vibrations making her throat tremble around Schaffer’s buried member, creating a new dimension of pleasure.

The eager alien sucked hard, pulling back up again, her soft cheeks clinging to Schaffer’s skin like latex. As her pace increased, the obscene, wet sounds of her sucking filled the little cubby and Schaffer began to feel his orgasm welling. He tried to push the alien back, to slow her relentless blowjob, but Runt kept up the tempo. She gripped Schaffer’s hips in her fluffy hands, perhaps sensing that the human was close, his cock throbbing against her tongue.

Schaffer clawed at his own face with his fingers, trying to stave off the impending climax, but one last hard thrust from Runt drove him over the edge. The alien held him there as he writhed, surprisingly strong despite how gentle she was being, forcing Schaffer's member deep into the reaches of her throat. Her muscles closed around it, swallowing rhythmically as the thick ropes of ejaculate hit the back of her gullet, drinking down Schaffer's orgasm as it came. Schaffer felt as if he was being wrung like a dishcloth. Every shuddering pulse of pleasure as he poured his emission into Runt’s eager mouth was followed by another massaging ripple of hot, wet muscle, the alien drinking greedily.

Again and again the waves of pleasure drowned him, a sweet ache permeating him to the core as the ecstasy began to recede, replaced by a haze of euphoria. His muscles were cramping with the strain of coming so hard, his arms crossed over his face in a futile attempt to block out the stimulation as his partner sucked and licked. He could feel Runt’s eyes on him, he could hear her purring as she lapped affectionately at his leaking tip, so intent on relieving him.

Finally, the spasms that wracked his body slowed, and he opened his eyes to see Runt sitting cross-legged beside him. The alien was beaming, apparently pleased with herself.

Schaffer couldn't recall ever having climaxed that hard. Maybe it was the frustration that had been building over so many days, the odd encounter, his suppressed desire for the aliens. Ah, fuck it...

It was what it was, and it had felt amazing. It was done, no point feeling guilty about it now. Besides, negative thoughts seemed almost impossible through the blissful afterglow that fogged his mind. Runt lay down beside him, shuffling into Schaffer’s arms, rubbing the top of her head on the human’s stubbly chin. She was just as warm and as soft as the more imposing aliens, her downy fur tickling Schaffer’s nose. He was too drunk on his lingering glow to object. Instead, he sank his hands into the alien’s fur, stroking her like a pet. He had been cold anyway, the heat that radiated from Runt’s body was more than welcome.

Schaffer basked in his afterglow for a while, letting Runt nestle her furry face in the nape of his neck as they spooned together. The warmth of Runt’s furry body and the lingering pleasure of his orgasm quickly eased him into sleep, the slow rise and fall of the alien’s chest hypnotic. He was still conflicted, his thoughts roiling in his head. He had let an alien blow him, he had shot his seed directly into Runt’s waiting throat, and now he was cuddling with the creature. What did that mean? What did that make of him?

Runt nuzzled at his neck as if sensing that he was troubled. Her wet, feline nose brushed his skin, her warm lips crawling towards his stubbly jawline. A jolt of residual pleasure tickled him, and his doubts seemed to melt away. Oh, what did it matter? He’d deal with the moral ramifications later...

***

Schaffer was awoken by what felt like feathers brushing against his erection. He wondered for a moment if it was a part of the pleasant dream that he had been having, but when he blinked his eyes and looked down, he saw a pair of sapphire irises peering back at him. Runt had slid down his body and was once again stroking his member, his glans visible for brief moments before it vanished into her furry fist. It seemed as if the alien wanted a second round, and in his groggy state, Schaffer didn’t have the faculties to refuse her.

Once again he lurched as he felt the young female’s lips encompass the head of his cock, Schaffer returned to full mast. Runt released him to bob in the air, drooling over his member as it bounced and jumped in time with the beating of his heart.

Shoofa...”

Her voice was low and sultry, dripping with desire, that alone enough to make Schaffer blush. Did she expect the human to return her prior affections? He had been conflicted enough about letting the alien service him, he wasn’t about to go down on whatever she had under that loincloth.

Runt...go back to sleep,” he mumbled.

Shoofa,” the alien whispered, nudging his thigh with her hand and pouting at him. She crawled a little higher, straddling Schaffer. Once again he remarked how large the alien was. She might be a runt in comparison to the other members of the pack, but she was a head taller than Schaffer and surprisingly heavy. She seemed to have figured out how the seals on Schaffer’s suit functioned while he had been asleep, popping them open one by one to expose more of his belly and chest beneath the furred environment suit. Just how long had Runt been playing with him while he had been out of it?

Schaffer writhed as the alien stroked his exposed skin with her fluffy fingers, his member rising to bump against her furry thigh. It was padded with the same insulating blubber that was present on the other pack members, the weight packed onto her rump, her thighs and her chest to give her a full and voluptuous figure. She had nothing on Osha, but her build was a little more familiar to Schaffer, less jarring. It was the first time that Schaffer had looked at her in this way…

Runt leaned down, doubling over so that their faces were level. From so close, Schaffer could see the way that the sapphire blue of her irises lightened towards her pupils, now round and dark as she gazed expectantly at her new friend. She pressed a little nearer, hesitant, seemingly unsure of herself. With a start, Schaffer realized that she was trying to kiss him.

He should have turned his head away, he should have refused, but something about the alien’s insecurity made her impossible to resist. He glanced down at her lips for a moment, so full and pouty, their pink color standing out against her white fur. Runt closed the distance between them, their lips meeting, the alien wasting no time as she locked Schaffer in a bawdy embrace. She didn’t seem to know what to do, exactly, mouthing awkwardly. She might even have had her first kiss in the pile only a short while ago.

She pushed her tongue into Schaffer’s mouth, exploring him, their mismatched organs wrestling. There was so much of it, piling into his head, the muscle now feeling larger and thicker than it had first appeared. It was a little rough along the top, where it was lined with the barbs that they used to clean their fur, but the underside was as smooth and as soft as satin. Her clumsy kissing had the desired effect, however, Schaffer’s member beginning to ache with renewed desire as Runt painted his cheeks with her metallic saliva. After a few moments, she pulled back, sitting atop Schaffer again as he caught his breath.

Only a small loincloth made of leather and a sling across her chest preserved Runt’s modesty. He watched, transfixed as one of her hands roamed up her soft midsection, crawling slowly towards her bust. She hooked her claws around the leather sling and pulled it away, her bosom spilling out from within its confines as she cast it aside.

She must have thought herself flat in comparison to the other females, but by human standards, she was incredibly well endowed. Two perfect, teardrop-shaped mounds of flesh bounced enticingly as they settled, full and pert despite the high gravity that they were subjected to. Each one was as large as Schaffer’s head, two pink, erect nipples protruding from beneath her silky fur. They looked so heavy, he couldn’t take his eyes off them, watching them wobble and sway as she reached down between her legs.

She pulled her loincloth aside, exposing her pink, swollen lips. Schaffer had wondered what the females might have under there, and he was relieved to see that their equipment wasn’t so alien as to be unrecognizable. He could make out a sliver of pink flesh that glinted in the low light, the fur that surrounded it already matted with her juices.

Runt took his member in her hand, guiding it towards her loins, a clear strand of her anticipation dangling free. What she wanted was obvious enough. Schaffer snapped out of his trance for a second, swallowing the saliva that had been pooling in his mouth. Was he really considering this? Going all the way with an alien? His earlier lapse could have been written off as an accident, a moment of weakness, but this? Runt was poised over him, meeting his gaze as she tried to gauge what the human was thinking without having the capacity to ask for his permission.

Schaffer’s mouth opened, his lips parted...but no refusal came.

Runt seemed delighted, beaming as she lowered herself down. This was Schaffer’s last chance to abort, to stop what was about to happen before he lost his senses. Instead, he lay quiet, feeling his exposed glans brush against the exposed flesh of her vulva. She slid him between her rosy labia for a moment, coating his head in her slime as she tried to get into position. She didn’t seem to be very experienced at this either.

Runt shuddered as she finally pressed him up against her opening. She applied more pressure, and with a pop, Schaffer broke through. He was immediately beset by a fresh surge of pleasure, Runt’s passage gripping him tightly, seeming to seal around him like a sucking mouth. The thick sheen of her fluids made him glide against her smooth walls despite how her muscles were contracting. It was tighter and warmer than even her throat had been. Like molten plastic filling a mold, Runt’s insides conformed to every vein and contour of his manhood, gripping him with all the strength of a fist. The alien seemed afraid to move for a moment, her tail ceasing its wagging to stand up as straight as a board.

Schaffer let out a gasp as Runt dropped lower, the feline baring her sharp teeth as she took the human deeper. Beyond those silken, slimy walls, her muscles massaged Schaffer’s length in waves. Every twitch from his cock, every swell or throb made Runt clench, squeezing him with a pressure that made him wince.

There was more resistance as Runt reached the halfway point, Schaffer’s human penis flaring slightly in the middle, even such a subtle increase in girth giving the tight alien pause for thought. Schaffer didn’t want to hurt her, but before he could say anything, Runt dropped down on him. She let the weight of his body do the work, her plump, padded butt coming down on Schaffer’s thighs. Every soft part of her body wobbled with the impact, the alien turning her face to the ceiling as she quivered, her long tongue lolling from her open mouth in a silent wail.

Schaffer doubled over, rising to sink his fingers into the meat of Runt’s hips as he loosed a groan through gritted teeth. In one motion, the alien had taken him to the hilt, his entire length surrounded by damp flesh. Runt began to move almost immediately, rocking her hips back and forth, grinding Schaffer’s member against her deepest reaches like she was trying to scratch an itch.

Schaffer was at just the right height that her bountiful breasts knocked against his face, and he delved into her cleavage, her silky fur brushing against his cheeks as he breathed in her scent. He reached up a hand and cupped one of her boobs in his palm, weighing it, sinking his fingers up to the second joint in her yielding fat. She was so touchable, it was impossible to keep his hands off her, the nubile girl’s spine arching as she thrust her bosom towards him.

It was an invitation that no red-blooded man would have been able to refuse, and he squeezed harder, feeling her supple meat spill between his fingers like wet clay.

Whatever doubts Schaffer had once had were no longer relevant, all that he could focus on now was the soft, inviting body that was gyrating atop him. With his free hand, he clawed at her plush thighs and took generous handfuls of her ass, combing her velvet fur. The alien shivered and crooned with his every touch, her eyelids fluttering as Schaffer’s member burned inside of her.

Runt switched up the pace, resting her hands on Schaffer’s exposed chest as she began to rise and fall on his shaft, her claws pricking the human’s skin. The suction was incredible, Runt’s luxurious flesh clinging to him on the way up, only the slimy fluids that coated his length making their coupling possible. At her apex, Runt paused for a moment, then let gravity carry her back down. She took Schaffer’s cock all the way to the base, quivering as she impaled herself, the look on her face that of a hopeless drunk as she swayed subtly. To say that she was enjoying herself was an understatement.

They found a rhythm, the sparks of ecstasy making them gasp and whine in unison as the alien fucked him deeper and deeper into the nest of pillows. Beads of sweat welled on Schaffer’s skin despite the cold, Runt’s insides feverishly hot as they swallowed his member, her breasts bouncing in time with her rutting.

They reached a crescendo, Runt’s movements becoming erratic and desperate. Her silken passage seized around Schaffer’s surging erection, imprisoning it in a cage of damp flesh. Schaffer couldn’t help but grip her pudgy thighs for leverage, thrusting up into her, their bodies clapping together as they pushed each other higher and higher towards an inevitable conclusion.

Runt yelped suddenly, halting her fervent rocking and going as stiff as a statue. Schaffer felt her cushiony reaches clamp down on him with enough strength that it made him double over again, his abdominal muscles tensing as he rose to a sitting position, taking handfuls of his partner’s feathery fur. Runt shuddered as her orgasm took her by surprise, her thighs closing around his hips like a bear trap snapping shut, her loins squeezing ruthlessly with every wave of pleasure that crashed over her.

Schaffer should have been conflicted about what was happening, but the throes of Runt’s pleasure were making her pillowy insides wring him like a farmer milking a cow, the muscles beyond her delicate walls drawing out his emission as they stroked him from the base to the tip.

He gritted his teeth as his climax wracked him, Runt mewling as she felt the heat of it bubble up inside her. She was so tight that not a drop escaped, the only way for it to go was deeper. Schaffer wrapped his arms around the alien’s waist and buried his face in her furry cleavage as he filled her with his seed, thick ropes of it splashing against her most intimate depths. It just kept coming, every new wave of euphoria dizzying him as he fucked the mess deeper, his partner shuddering and whining as Schaffer’s erection flexed inside of her.

After what felt like an eternity, Schaffer was spent, releasing his tight hold around Runt’s doughy midsection and collapsing back into the pile of pillows. He was drenched in sweat, panting like he had run a marathon. Fucking in one point three Gs was no laughing matter.

Runt was still trembling like a leaf as she straddled him, her eyelids drooping as she endured the last few pulses of her climax. She let Schaffer’s cock slide out of her, along with a sagging web of their combined fluids, falling onto her side and wrapping an arm around her reluctant lover. She cooed contentedly, pushing her face into Schaffer’s neck and purring, the fluffy flesh of her bosom engulfing his upper arm and shoulder. Even the alien’s fluffy tail coiled around one of his legs possessively, her warm breath tickling Schaffer’s skin.

They lay together in a wet, steamy heap, Schaffer not sure what to feel. He couldn’t tell whether the heat that he felt in his face was from shame, arousal, or exertion. He was satisfied, at least, mercifully free of the frustration that had been building during his stay in the longhouse. He glanced down at Runt, seeing that she was already asleep, her eyes closed and her round ears twitching. Schaffer wouldn’t be able to wriggle free without disturbing her, the unassuming female had an iron grip on him, she was surprisingly strong.

Wondering what their encounter meant, if anything, Schaffer finally let his fatigue overcome him.

CHAPTER 7: GOING NATIVE

Schaffer donned his cloak as the pack geared up for their trip. He still wasn't sure just how far it was, but the aliens were gearing up for a long journey. They were bringing supplies of food and fuel, all of their weapons, and plenty of tools. Each one carried a heavy pack laden with goods, and they were wrapped in layers of protective clothing. Shorts and vests, cloaks and shawls, some even wore long hoods to protect their ears. This was going to be a serious ordeal, Schaffer realized. He would have to trust the aliens to keep him alive.

What had they even been doing so far out when they had found him in the snow? Was the food situation so desperate that they had to range so far away from their longhouse in search of prey? He hadn't seen any real indication of that while he had been staying with them, food had been plentiful.

Zagza ordered everyone into a column, leading the way as they left through the main doors. Scarface was already outside with her spyglass, scouting ahead in search of danger or opportunities. Osha walked up behind Schaffer, scooping him off his feet and into her warm embrace. She cradled him, wrapping him in her fur cloak, and he gripped her like a baby monkey. It still made him feel comically useless, but he just couldn't keep pace with the aliens in the deep snow, and Osha certainly wasn't inconvenienced by him. She must be strong enough to lift ten Schaffers. Perhaps if he were to sit in her backpack with his torso poking out, it might feel more dignified. But by carrying him in her arms, she also shielded him from the wind and bathed him in her body heat.

It was the only way that he'd ever make it to the outpost as anything other than a frozen corpse.

***

They marched for what must have been hours, the giant aliens never tiring and never faltering as they made their way through the snow. Schaffer's vision was obscured by the cape that was wrapped over him protectively, his only indication of movement being Osha's loping strides and heavy breathing. He could feel the wind and snow tearing at the cape, blowing and tugging at it, the freezing cold penetrating its surface. It was frigid, the very air itself almost hurt to breathe, fingers of ice tearing at his throat and lungs. Even in Osha's arms, there was ice matting the fur of his suit, his breath turning to crystals as he exhaled. His limbs were stiff, and he couldn't feel his fingers or toes.

Perhaps this was folly, and it would have been better to take Zagza's advice and stay at the longhouse. Life there was surely preferable to death in the snow, but he had to try for the outpost. Not only for his sake, but for the aliens who had rescued him.

He was shivering violently, and Osha had noticed, her pace slowing and her muffled voice calling out to her comrades. He felt her free hand slip beneath the cape to probe at him, taking his hand in hers to test his temperature. It must have felt like a block of ice to her, because her finger moved up to his nose to check that he was still breathing.

I'm still here,” he said through chattering teeth. The cape was pulled away, exposing him to the wind and the blinding glare of the fluorescent sun reflecting on the snow. He blinked his eyes as they adjusted, realizing that his lashes and eyebrows were caked with ice. A few members of the pack crowded around him, concern etched on their expressions. Zagza barked something, and they pushed closer.

Schaffer realized they were encircling him, forming a shield of warm bodies that would block out the snow and cold, like a colony of emperor penguins. Another female pressed against Osha from the front, it was hard to tell who was who with all the hoods and shawls, and he found himself sandwiched between the two women. He was surrounded by warm fat and soft fur, almost engulfed by their bosoms. Their combined body heat was intense, and although it did not immediately drive off the cold, he felt the warmth beginning to seep through his clothing.

He looked around him, his head barely protruding from the combined cleavage as the women locked arms in an embrace. It looked as if the whole pack was piled into a group hug, and he could feel the mass of aliens shift as they tried to press closer, concentrating their body heat with Schaffer at the center.

He was moved. These people, who had known him for little more than a week, really cared about him. They wanted to protect him. They must consider him to be a member of their pack now, part of their family. They were built for this environment, but they were obviously cold too. Even they had piled on layers of extra protection for this trip, yet they suffered the winds and snow for his benefit. He fought back a stray tear, lest it freeze in his eye. What compelled them to such feats of selflessness for the sake of some alien who couldn't even speak well enough to thank them?

***

They stayed that way for at least half an hour. Schaffer felt his arms and legs limber up, the feeling returning to his extremities. It was downright sweltering now, the aliens could produce an incredible amount of body heat when they were together. This was the same technique that they had used to thaw him when they had found his frozen body, he realized. Osha and the other female cradled him in their arms still, their fat, heavy breasts wrapping him like a hot dog in a bun.

When he felt ready to continue, he gave them his customary thumbs up. Zagza called out, and they returned to their column, Schaffer wrapped safely in Osha's arms again as the pack marched over the snow drifts.

***

Zagza called out something in their native tongue that Schaffer did not understand. Schaffer felt Osha stop, then lower him into the snow. He ducked under her cloak to see the outpost a short distance away. It was surrounded by snow drifts and covered in hanging icicles, the massive satellite dish protruding from the roof through the constant blizzard of airborne powder that was blown by the winds. It looked like some kind of steel monument in this desolate, windswept wasteland.

The pack seemed unsure, waiting for Schaffer to lead them to an entrance. What must this place look like to their alien eyes? He stepped forward, the cold immediately beginning to tug at his suit the moment that he left Osha's shadow, and marched towards where he knew the door to be. The pack followed him, craning their necks to look at the dish as it loomed over them. Schaffer had not locked the door when he had left on that fateful day, intending to end his own life. There had been no reason to. Now he found the heavy metal door ajar, a pile of snow penetrating the interior. No matter, it would be no less frozen. He shoved his shoulder against the door, and it creaked open on its hinges, Schaffer stepping into the gloomy interior. The aliens followed cautiously, crouching in order to pass through the human-sized opening. Once inside, most were able to stand almost erect, as the ceiling was fairly high to accommodate all of the electronics and ventilation systems that ran through the building. Only Zagza and a couple of the aliens who were over eight feet tall had to stoop.

Some seemed curious, their eyes wide and bright, their ears swiveling to track the unfamiliar sounds of wind on metal. Others were afraid of the alien structure, sticking close together lest some unknown threat emerge from one of the corridors to attack them. Schaffer had but one objective in mind, get through the main computer access door. If he could gain access to those controls then he could reactivate the generator, and with it, the heating and lights. That was the most important part, he wouldn't survive here unaided for long if he couldn't get the furnace going.

He made a beeline for the central hub, where the door was located, gesturing for Zagza to follow him. Fuck codes and fuck locks, he had a plan to get inside that room. Zagza was going to rip it off its hinges or dent it in. They reached the door, Schaffer glaring at it like an old adversary. He looked to Zagza, then demonstrated that he needed access by tugging at the handle. The tall alien leaned down and gripped the handle in his massive hand, tearing it right off the door with a primal grunt. Schaffer stood wide-eyed as the alien handed it to him. Well, that wasn't really what he had meant. Now they had no other choice than to kick the door in. Oh well...

Schaffer gave it a kick, then slammed it with his shoulder to no avail, trying to show Zagza what to do. The alien got the gist of it and raised his clawed, paw-like foot, slamming it down on the door with enough force to ring the metal like a church bell. The sound reverberated through the corridors as Zagza prepared for a second blow, his spring-like muscles storing enough energy that he could probably have kicked a truck onto its side. The second blow visibly dented the door, leaving deep scratches in the metal where Zagza's claws had scoured it. Schaffer took a few steps back, worried that the forces at play might somehow hurt him. He didn't fancy taking an airborne lug nut to the face or something similar.

Zagza hit it again with a grunt, the door buckling without quite breaking away from the hinges and locking mechanism. The damned thing was reinforced, probably to prevent tampering, but Zagza's kicks had the power of a pneumatic battering ram. The engineers couldn't have accounted for this. One final kick did the job, knocking the door backwards as the hinges gave out, breaking away from the door frame. The lock remained intact, slipping out of its mechanism in the wall, a long, thick rod of steel. The heavy door clattered to the floor, and Schaffer stepped over it triumphantly, surveying the computer room. There was a pylon in the center extending from floor to ceiling, the mechanisms that controlled the dish must be contained within. Built around it was a console bank, covered in innumerable buttons and switches, with display monitors that were currently dark. There was power to the computer, however. The status lights on the console were blinking, which meant that the auxiliary power source was online. That was a relief. If the computer had switched from the main generator to the backup, and the backup had been somehow damaged, they would have been screwed.

Zagza seemed hesitant to enter, waiting outside as Schaffer walked over to the console, examining it. Most of these functions likely controlled the satellite dish and communications equipment, which was not his priority right now. All he had to do was access the central computer and change the power state of the building. The computer was powered up, but it wasn't in user mode, all of the displays were dark.

After a moment of searching, he found a switch that was labeled set user mode and flicked it. The monitors came to life, displaying a brief diagnostic screen before booting into a user interface. Schaffer located a trackball and a keyboard embedded beneath the largest monitor and began to explore the menus. Before long, he had located the power settings for the base, and it appeared that he did not need an access code or a password as he had feared. The designers of this system must have assumed that whoever gained access to the room would have the necessary clearance, judging by the elaborate and heavy duty locking mechanism on the thick door.

He changed the settings so that the outpost's systems would draw power from the main generator, grinning as the lights flared to life and the rumble of the heating system echoed through the walls. Almost immediately, a warm breeze began to emanate from vents in the roof, ruffling the fur of the aliens. The ventilation system must not have had time to freeze over again in the week or so that he had been absent. Schaffer smiled, running his fingers along the wall as he left the room. The layer of ice that coated the metal was already beginning to melt.

He shuffled past the line of aliens who were waiting in the corridor. While the ceiling was high enough for most of them to stand comfortably, they were almost all too wide for the narrow hallways, making two aliens passing each other practically impossible. He pushed the main entrance door closed, struggling against the wind and snow, trying to prevent the heat from escaping. It shut with a click, and he turned to look at the aliens. They were standing around, clearly enjoying the warmth that had begun to radiate through the building, but unsure of what to do next. Better show them around, he didn't know how long they would be staying here.

***

He showed them the various rooms of the building, giving them the guided tour. There were the crew quarters with cots where they could sleep, the food preparation area, the storage room where they could pile the substantial gear and the supplies that they had brought with them. It was a shame the pipes still weren't working, perhaps they would thaw as the building heated up. That said, the aliens were no strangers to melting snow for water. Although the outpost was cramped compared to what they were used to, the aliens enjoyed the warmth, and they seemed to find the miniature human furnishings and tools to be entertaining. Yuka and Yura stormed through the base, examining every curiosity that they could get their hands on. Runt trailed after Schaffer, seemingly unsure of herself in this new environment. Zagza explored the base from top to bottom as if he wanted to create a mental map of it, ensuring that there were no dangers here that could harm his pack.

Schaffer was a little worried about the food situation. The aliens had brought a substantial supply of meat with them, but knowing their appetites, it might not last for more than a few days. He didn't see Scarface anywhere, she must be out scouting for food sources.

Oh well, he was sure that the aliens would be fine. The next priority was learning how to used the damned satellite dish and the communications equipment in order to send a message to the Admiralty, or the nearest UNN fleet, or anyone who might listen. It must be operational, the base was still trawling local communications for sensitive data and transmitting it to the UNN. He might not even need to re-aim the dish in order to get his distress call out, just find a way to alter the outgoing packets.

The problem was, it was all custom, non-standard equipment with no user manuals anywhere in sight. If Schaffer was going to learn how to operate the system, he would have to do it on his own.

***

He spent the entire day poring over the controls and menus, trying to create some kind of cohesive map of the system. Despite being an engineer, it was slow going. Whoever was intended to operate this machine would have had training in advance, and the system was not designed to be user-friendly in the least. Despite being too small for the aliens to pile up in the way that they liked to, everyone seemed to have chosen sleeping arrangements in the crew quarters, and Schaffer was happy to select an empty bed with no fear of waking up to an alien's furry rump perched on his face. The rooms were evenly heated now, positively balmy. In contrast to humans, it was the heat that seemed to make these aliens sluggish and lethargic, rather than the cold. They lounged and lazed like a pride of lions, this was the first time that he had ever seen them so exhausted and sleepy, but they seemed quite content. He saw no reason to think that they might overheat, this building was not warmer than being in close proximity to a fire pit, it was just a lot more consistent.

It seemed that some of the aliens had elected to remove the mattresses from the bed frames, which were far too small for their exaggerated height and weight. They had lined them up on the floor side by side to create a soft carpet to sleep on. The pack was spread between the several crew quarters, with maybe four aliens to a room. They weren't large enough to accommodate many more.

Schaffer wandered between the rooms as he searched for somewhere to sleep, ideally with an intact bed, but it seemed as if the aliens had cannibalized every last one. With a sigh of resignation, he selected the room that contained Osha and at least two other lumps of fur that he couldn't identify. They had formed a pile in the center of the room, lying down on their carpet of mattresses a short distance away. It was hot enough that he felt no need to huddle for warmth. He might even be able to remove this damned suit if he could find some human clothing, but one thing at a time. For now, he was tired and wanted to rest. He'd need to be alert and sharp if he was going to unravel the secrets of the satellite console.

As he started to fall asleep, he felt something brush his leg, jolting him awake. One of the aliens was flicking their tail around, probably dreaming. He began to doze off again, then a second time the tail bumped him. He grew annoyed and rolled over to see what was going on, only to be met with the sight of Osha engaged in a deep, obscene kiss with one of her bunkmates while the second watched with longing eyes. Osha was leaning over the smaller female, one of the bead women, plunging her long tongue into her mouth. The woman's breath came in staggering bursts as Osha ravished her, one furry hand gripping her chin to keep her from turning her head away, flashes of pink tongue and lurid sounds escaping from their locked lips. The woman was positively writhing under the assault, her eyes closed and her voluptuous body twisting and jerking as she rubbed her thick, meaty thighs together. Osha was dominant, predatory, clearly having fun with her victim. She drove her knee between the woman's thighs, pressing it into her groin and eliciting a squeal of delight that made Schaffer's member pulse and ache as he watched in stunned silence. They were a mere meter away, he could reach out and delve his hands into their soft, supple flesh. He could join the pile if he were so inclined.

But no, he had already had one embarrassing lapse, just another day or two and he might be out of here. He tried to pull his eyes away from the scene, but they were drawn to Osha's slippery, serpentine tongue as it slid out of the bead woman's mouth like a pink snake. It was even larger than Runt’s had been. How was it so long and agile? If she were to kiss him with that organ, she might choke him. He watched, his face beginning to burn and his erection fighting against its constraints as her tongue slithered back into her partner’s mouth, linked to her lips by a drooping strand of saliva. Osha moved her mouth downwards, sinking her teeth into the woman's neck, biting and mouthing through the soft fur as if the woman was her prey and she was delivering a killing blow. The woman arched her back and struggled, but Osha held her locked in an embrace, her thigh grinding against her groin and her hand gripping her face. The woman struggled against her assailant as if trying to fight her off, but her low moans and soft gasps betrayed her. This was all part of the chase, part of the game, and she was loving it.

The second bead woman shuffled up behind Osha, wrapping her arms around her buxom body. Even to another alien, Osha was uncommonly large, the span of the woman’s arms only just meeting around her paunchy belly. She delved her hand into the tire of fat, taking handfuls of her flesh, roaming up towards her monstrous breasts. When contained in her leather sling they were imposing enough, but now they hung free, swaying like a pair of furry wrecking balls. One of them could probably have filled the average car seat. The bead woman cupped one of them in her palm, lifting it, its weight and softness making it swallow her hand up to the wrist and spill around it like an oversized water balloon.

Schaffer felt as if he were going insane, he couldn't take his eyes off them. He remembered Runt, how the alien had been dragged into the pile of mating aliens by Zagza, the low cries and muffled groans of ecstasy that had emanated from within. What had happened to her in that roiling mass of aliens? What would happen to Schaffer if he followed Runt's example? That long tongue would break him...

He realized that he was trembling, his hand subconsciously moving towards his groin. Osha had tried to include him before, but he had turned her down, Runt had only needed to ask, and they had gleefully included her in their sordid proceedings. He felt the request rise to his lips but stifled it quickly. What was he thinking? These were aliens. Yet the pressure was building up inside him, a violent desire that refused to be contained.

Osha, Schaffer wants...to come...”

The aliens stopped their writhing, three heads rising from the pile to stare at him, their blue eyes reflecting what light there was in the semi-darkness. He immediately recoiled, regretting his outburst and hoping that they hadn't understood.

Shoofa...” Osha crooned, her voice low and sultry. A wide smirk spread across her face, and he felt her sinuous tail coil around his ankle, his heart pounding in his chest as she dragged him across the mattresses with the fluffy appendage. The two bead women had abandoned their prior activities and were waiting for Schaffer to be pulled close enough to grab, like tigers waiting to be fed at a zoo. Schaffer resigned himself to his fate, a fresh excitement growing in his chest, butterflies swarming in his stomach. He couldn’t endure the constant temptation, the background radiation of carnality that was always hanging over him like a dark cloud. After what he had allowed Runt to do to him...no, what he had done with Runt, what did it matter if he surrendered to the pleasure?

Three giant pairs of hands grasped at him as he came into range, Osha taking the lead as she bundled him up into her arms and pressed his face deep into her furry cleavage. Her muscles bulged, even through the fat and fur, her embrace was like iron. Her heavy boobs engulfed him, heaving around his head and over his shoulders in a cascade of quivering flesh. It was like having a fully loaded military rucksack perched on each shoulder, weighing him down, the delicate strands of her insulating coat tickling his skin. She turned him around so that he was facing her two companions, Osha’s oppressive bust acting as a kind of meaty travel pillow as he watched then approach.

The two women shuffled closer on the mattresses, eager to get a look at him, and they began to fumble with the clasps on his suit. They knew how it worked better than Osha did, as they had modified it with the pelts, and soon his bare chest was exposed. One dragged her claws down from his clavicle to his navel, not applying enough pressure to cut, but just enough to leave red trails in his skin. They had probably never seen a naked animal like this before, his smooth, pink hide must be a novelty to them. He gasped and squirmed, the welts stinging slightly, heightening his senses.

Osha's warm breath blew his hair from above as she watched, breathing heavily, her massive chest rising and falling on his shoulders. He couldn't move his arms, she had trapped them at his sides, which at once made him feel vulnerable and oddly aroused. This was their party now, they were making it clear that he would have no say in it, Osha having long since discovered his penchant for becoming compliant when held for long enough.

A pleasant shiver rolled through him as he felt Osha's long tongue worm its way down to explore his ear, the hot, slimy organ teasing his earlobe and circling the opening. She sucked the tip into her mouth, chewing it softly with her sharp teeth. Schaffer struggled and writhed in her grip, it was almost too much for him to tolerate, but she did not release him. Her body was so warm against his back, he felt as if he was melting into her.

The two women struggled with his underwear, eventually releasing his throbbing member to bounce in the air. They looked at it with curious eyes. It was so alien to those that they were used to, shaped differently, clad in smooth skin. One gripped his shaft in her hand, her fluffy fur teasing him as she stroked it, pulling back the foreskin and seeming to understand how it worked. She rubbed one of her fleshy pads on the exposed tip, making Schaffer jerk and wriggle in Osha's arms. The larger alien laughed at him, pushing her nose into his hair and nuzzling.

Shoofa...”

He craned his neck to look up at her, his eyes bleary and unfocused. She caught his chin in her thumb and forefinger, holding his head, then leaned down to deliver an upside-down kiss. His body jerked as her tongue pushed past his lips, his gasp of surprise and delight muffled by the thick, muscled organ. It just kept coming and coming, her huge tongue bulging his cheeks, coiling and twisting. It was even longer and thicker than Runt’s had been, roiling with such strength, Osha clearly more practiced than her less experienced counterpart. It reached the back of his throat, its tapered tip exploring his esophagus, painting tingling shapes. He clenched his fists, fighting back a gag as tears welled in his eyes. She withdrew slightly, sensing him tense up. She contented herself with wrapping his tongue in a prison of slippery muscle, her large, puffy lips closing around his.

He had never been kissed like this before, so impossibly deep, so impossibly ravenous. His mind clouded, and his body went limp, his brain unable to do anything more than process these overpowering sensations without overloading. He felt Osha's second hand close around his neck, gentle, yet firm as she asserted her complete control over their coupling. All he could do now was let her have her way, he couldn't have fought her off if he had wanted to, and he didn't. His brain fizzed and popped as she locked him in her lurid kiss, parting her thick lips occasionally to let him breathe. Her lung capacity must be immense, he felt as if she could keep this up for hours. She tasted of metal, her viscous saliva mingling with his own, dripping down his chin in globs.

He shuddered in Osha's embrace as he felt a new sensation, slippery, wet heat encircling his member. He shook his hips, gripping the fur of Osha's enormous thighs in his hands and attempting to loose a muffled Oh God that was stifled by Osha's roiling tongue. One of the women had wrapped their tongue around his cock, slipping the tip beneath his foreskin and coating it with her saliva. It was rough, the textured surface covered in tiny bumps and papillae, but coated in lubrication it felt almost intolerably good. She took more of him into her mouth, closing her lips firmly around the tip and crawling them slowly down his shaft. Her tongue wound around him tightly, tracing the lines of his bulging veins and scouring the sensitive underside of his glans.

He started to become lightheaded as Osha's relentless kiss continued, grunting as he felt the woman's lips press against the base of his member. She had taken him all the way into her warm mouth, her tongue squeezing and stroking with all the agility and dexterity of a fist as her throat struggled against him, twitching and milking as she swallowed him deeper.

The second woman joined in now, running her fluffy fingers over his exposed chest as she explored him, pricking him with her hooked claws to draw out gasps and shudders that seemed to entertain her. Her mouth found his neck and Osha released her grip on his throat to allow the woman access. He tensed as he felt her carnivore teeth press against his jugular, her tongue sneaking out to drag across his skin, leaving trails of slick drool. She alternated between biting and mouthing, covering his neck and shoulders in soft bites and lingering, sucking kisses. The first woman continued her maddening blowjob, beginning to slide her pursed lips up and down his length. She paused when she reached the glans to suck and lick, before pushing down again, taking Schaffer into the tight depths of her gullet.

Schaffer loosed a sound he had never heard himself make before, which made Osha draw back for a moment to check that he wasn't in some kind of pain. He blushed redder and squirmed as she gazed at him with her blue eyes, her concerned expression morphing back into a salacious grin. She leaned in to chew his ear again, Schaffer like putty in her hands as the second bead woman ran her claws and velvet fur over his skin, the first closing her lips around the base of his cock.

He couldn't tolerate this for much longer, his entire body was aflame with pleasure. Every weak point, every vulnerable area and erogenous zone was being bitten and kissed, licked or teased. He felt as though he was being slowly eaten by the pack as they worked him over. The second woman grazed his shoulder with her teeth, being a little rough, but that only served to excite him further. He felt soft, slippery lips begin to slide up and down his shaft more ardently. The first woman was bobbing her large head fervently now, driving him closer to the edge. Her thick saliva escaped the corners of her mouth as she pressed down, lubricating his cock in a layer of warm drool, falling free and matting the fur of his suit.

Osha had stopped kissing him now, but her eyes were fixed intently on Schaffer, watching him shiver and gasp. It was almost as overpowering, and he felt his cheeks sear with fresh heat as she scrutinized him. Her gaze was sordid, greedy, her tongue escaping her mouth to wet her lips in anticipation. The second woman moved lower, roaming towards his hips, biting and licking his ribs on the way down. Osha pressed her cleavage around Schaffer's head in her absence, her musky, deeply sexual scent flooding his senses as her warm fat pressed against his cheeks. Her arms wrapped around him again, holding him against her body, perhaps anticipating his building orgasm.

The second woman reached his crotch, joining her sister. He yelped as he felt a second tongue slip beneath his shaft, seeking out his balls and cupping them, teasing the sensitive skin. His vocalizations were stifled as Osha pushed a thick finger into his mouth, careful to avoid cutting him with her pointed claw. It was fluffy, and it felt strange on his tongue, but he sucked obediently as Osha leered at him with drooping eyelids. He had a feeling that this was only foreplay to her. She couldn't blush, but her chest was heaving around his head, her powerful heart pumping. The wetness between her thighs was starting to leak onto the mattress, soaking into her fur.

He looked down, unable to even see his loins, they were obscured beneath the snow-white heads of the two bead women as they mouthed and licked. The first woman drew back for a moment, letting his member leave her mouth so that she might catch her breath. A mass off stringy, thick saliva fell free, hanging from her chin and sliding down Schaffer's shaft. The second woman nibbled at him, licking and spreading the goo around, keeping him warm and slippery while her counterpart wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. After a few moments, she slammed down again, even more vigorous now. The second lowered her head, sucking his testicles into her mouth and toying with them, the warmth and wetness making his head spin.

Osha just watched, but Schaffer got the feeling that she was the one setting the pace and calling the shots, as if his wracking pleasure was for her own amusement rather than for his benefit. She nuzzled, resting her chin on his head as she watched the two bead women work.

The pressure in his loins was becoming urgent and unbearable, he could feel his emission rising from inside his body, struggling to pass his muscles as he tried to stem the impending flow. The aliens seemed to sense his rising climax and increased their pace, one woman sucking his member deep into her spasming throat, her dexterous tongue coiling his shaft and wringing it rhythmically. The second watched eagerly, teasing his balls with the tip of her tongue and dragging its rough surface over his inner thighs. He was almost afraid to release, but he couldn't hold it back for more than few seconds longer as the textured tongues of the bead women drove tingling jolts of electricity through his nervous system. He closed his eyes in the hopes that not being able to see their glistening, pink tongues as they roiled around his shaft might help, but it was to no avail. He could still hear their obscene sucking and licking, even as Osha’s bosom muffled the sounds. All he could do was suck on Osha's finger and writhe, unable to even cry out in his maddening torment with her digit pressing down on his tongue. He would break, he would die, he couldn't handle this kind of stimulation. The admission only pushed him closer to the edge, morbid curiosity and overpowering lust mingling, demanding to find out what would happen to him.

He arched his back as if trying to snap his own spine as the first woman drove him deep into her gullet. Pillowy, slippery walls of muscle massaged him, rippling over his tender glans in waves of contractions as she choked and swallowed. It drove him over the edge, and he surprised even Osha with the power of his struggling, the buxom alien having to increase her grip on him to keep him from slipping out of her arms. He bit her finger, a little harder than he had intended as his senses left him, but she seemed to enjoy it. She watched him intently, whispering something in his ear that he didn't understand, but whose lurid tone translated well enough.

The woman held him there as he came, shuddering and twitching as he shot thick, heavy wads of his emission into her waiting mouth. She teased his glans with her tongue, swirling the mixture of saliva and warm ejaculate around, the contact of her rough organ on his hypersensitive tip loud and deafening in his mind. He couldn't think, couldn't see, all he could do was feel as every spasm of his beleaguered muscles forced another spurt of his stored up frustration into the alien's maw. He felt like a fruit being pressed for juice, his pelvic muscles aching with the effort.

She waited patiently for the last drop to leave his pulsing member, her lips sealed around his shaft. When he was spent, she pulled away, keeping the mess in her mouth and letting a string of who-knows-what hang from her chin. Schaffer panted, watching her through drooping eyelids as she leaned towards her friend. Osha's breathing was just as heavy as his, practically drooling as she watched the two aliens press their lips together, the profane concoction of his cloudy fluid and their thick saliva escaping their mouths as they embraced. Their tongues entwined like mating snakes, fighting for purchase against slippery flesh as they tasted one another, and him. They held each other's faces in their hands, the kiss becoming more passionate, more violent as strands of fluid and fat globs of his emission were traded, the embrace increasing in vulgarity as more of the mixture spilled from their lips to matt their pristine fur. He couldn't take his eyes off them, his member jumping as he watched their bawdy display.

Osha pulled her finger from his mouth, stroking his chest with her furry hand. It was almost like a loofah or some kind of luxury bath towel, so soft and fluffy as she traced the contours of his muscles. He sighed with contentment, enjoying his afterglow as he rested his head in the soft cushion of her breasts, sinking deeper into her yielding fat. She was like a living recliner, the overhang of her belly supporting him as her boobs sagged around his shoulders. He could have stayed like that forever, his consciousness fading in and out as the warmth and euphoria got the better of him.

He was jolted back to awareness sometime later as Osha hooked his chin in her fingers again, turning his face up to deliver another placating kiss that sent pleasant shivers down his spine. Her tongue cut through his afterglow like a hot knife, reigniting his senses. When she drew back to gaze down at him, he was erect again, his member pulsing gently as it stood in the air. She smirked, her expression becoming more sinister.

The two bead women had noticed, apparently done with their debauched activity. They looked hungry for more, but Osha flicked her tail at them, warding them off. One pouted, and the other shot her a questioning look, Osha rumbling an explanation in their native language as she held onto Schaffer possessively. They looked at each other, then seemed to shrug, falling upon one another instead. They wrestled and writhed, with one of them (it was hard to tell which) eventually winning the mock fight and taking position on top of her friend. She sat on her face and closed her thick thighs around her head, shivering as her partner's long, bumpy tongue penetrated her. She ground her hips for a moment, crooning, her eyelids fluttering as she enjoyed what must be extremely deep oral. Her friend patted her paunchy belly with her hand, and the one on top lay down, pushing her face between her partner’s parted thighs. The two aliens were now locked together, mouth to loins. They shuffled and writhed as they ate each other out, they looked quite occupied.

Did Osha want him all to herself now? He shivered with anticipation and mild apprehension as Osha lowered him to the mattress, crawling on top of him and straddling him, blocking the two writhing figures from view. She was incredibly heavy, but she did not rest all of her weight on him, instead perching over him on her powerful thighs. It looked as if his arms could barely encircle them, such was their thickness. Her breasts hung before his face, battling gravity as they swayed. The tuft of fur on her pubic mound drooled clear fluid, droplets of it falling to his throbbing shaft. She planted her hands to either side of his head, the springs in the woefully inadequate mattresses creaking as she put her weight on them, lowering her groin to meet his. He could feel the heat radiating from her matted fur as she neared his twitching member. He couldn't believe he was ready to go again so soon, but he wanted her, badly. He didn't care if this made him a xenophile, nobody had ever made him feel this good before, and he sensed that he was only scratching the surface of what these aliens could offer. He had been a fool to refuse them, to distance himself, to isolate himself from their family. This was what they had sought to share with him, this is how they intended to make him one with their pack.

Osha took his shaft in her hand, rubbing his sensitive glans in the downy fur of her mound, tickling it with delicate strands of sodden hair. It was such an odd sensation, her silky coat matted with her gooey excitement, the tufts of her fur like the tip of a wet paintbrush. He bucked, trying to push closer to her, Osha chuckling as she watched him struggle. He felt her thighs close around his hips, so padded with thick, insulating blubber that he could scarcely feel the steely muscle beneath as he sank into them. Her legs were so long that her knees reached his armpits, her velvety thighs engulfing his entire torso. He shivered as the head of his penis came into contact with her slippery, glistening flesh, like damp silk as it brushed against him. The alien smirked as he winced, dragging the tender organ up and down her sopping vulva, glazing it in her nectar. She was teasing him, he realized as she circled her fever-hot opening with his tip, her eyes fixed on him as she drank in his pained expressions.

She lowered herself onto him agonizingly slowly, Schaffer's eyes bulging as his still tender glans pushed through her opening. She was so incredibly tight, despite her enormous size her entrance closed around him like he was being vacuum-packed in hot, slimy silk. Was it not for the deluge of thick juices that lubricated her tunnel, he wasn’t sure if he would have been able to fit inside her. How on Earth did Zazga and the other large males manage it? Her powerful pelvic floor muscles squeezed and tugged at him, seeking to pull him deeper with every involuntary spasm.

They gasped in unison as Osha slid down on top of him, gripping him like a glove of slick, bumpy flesh. He felt her crushing weight rest on his hips as her cushioned thighs squeezed around him, beginning to move gently with his member lodged inside her. The tuft of silky fluff on her mound tickled his belly, and he arched his back as she rolled her wide hips on top of him, stirring him around in her loins. She was fever-hot, almost hot enough to burn his skin. Heavy, viscous blobs of her nectar were forced from her opening on every downward thrust, matting her thighs and his pubic hair.

She twisted and rolled, assaulting him from every angle, the encompassing walls of her vagina caressing and teasing his member with their textured surface. He pulsed and flexed inside her, his cock beating like a second heart, aching for her as she loomed over him. She seemed to be enjoying it as much as he was, his alien organ making her bite her pink lip as she ground her wide hips into him. Her pace increased, and she allowed more of her weight to fall on him, either on purpose or as a result of her mounting fugue. She slammed him into the mattresses beneath them, the metal springs squeaking in protest as they struggled to cushion the blows. She was so strong, so heavy, her breasts knocking together with alarming force and the paunch of her belly slapping against his own with every thrust. Schaffer's mind clouded as she fell upon him, faster and faster as her breathing grew ragged, he had never felt so thoroughly...fucked.

She seemed to come to her senses and notice that she was putting too much pressure on him, slowing a little and resting more of her weight on her powerful legs. She circled her hips in a more reserved, teasing motion, smirking as she watched him twitch and writhe under her in response.

Shoofa...”

Her voice was soft and sultry, the alien leaning down closer to him, practically doubling over to reach him due to her Amazonian stature. Her breasts spread across his chest as she neared, gravity making them spill over him as if they were more liquid than solid. She pushed her rough tongue past his lips, smiling as she felt his member throb inside her in response. The thick, slimy rope slithered into his mouth, writhing and curling as it wrestled with his own. It was easily the length of his forearm, he felt as if it might just keep coming forever, her taste filling his head. She coated the inside of his mouth with saliva that tasted of copper, not even making an attempt to stem the flow of her drool as it leaked down his chin, seeming to delight in the way that his body instinctively fought against the foreign invader. His heart fluttered, his member growing harder and thicker in her flexing tunnel. This wasn't a kiss, it was a lurid sex act, his eyes watering as she licked the back of his throat. He arched his spine, pushing deeper inside her as it dragged on. It made his head spin, both the lack of oxygen as she choked him with her serpentine tongue, and the intimacy of the embrace. She could have gagged him with that monstrous organ if she had wanted to. Instead, she drew slow, teasing shapes with the tapered tip on the roof of his mouth and on his inner cheeks.

She released him with a wet pop, drawing back to stare at his burning face, watching him gasp with a satisfied expression on her face. She sat up straight, letting her mammoth breasts hang from her chest, ripples spreading through her soft flesh as she started to move again. She went slowly at first, her tempo gradually rising, rocking back and forth as she drove his stiff erection against her fleshy walls. Slippery satin enclosing him, swirling and shifting, contracting and releasing like some torturous massage carried out by a thousand tiny fingers. She placed one of her massive hands on his torso to stabilize herself, her palm fluffy and warm on his skin. It was wide enough to cover his entire chest. She seemed surprised by the moisture on his body. A furry creature would not sweat, of course, she might never have seen perspiration before.

Her claws pricked his skin as she moved, rising so that only the head of his member remained trapped in her opening, then letting her weight fall to slam down on him, forcing him into her moist depths. Her eyes were closed, her head lolling back and forth as she maintained a steady rhythm, enjoying the sensation of his burning member scouring her insides and scraping the sensitive nerve endings in her spasming reaches.

Schaffer wanted to reach up and grope her, sink his hands into her inviting flesh and explore her massive body, but she had him pinned to the floor. It was kind of exciting, was she to let all of her weight fall on him she would probably injure him. But even as she drove her hips down on him, struggling to take him deeper inside her, she was gentle enough that she didn't hurt him. He didn't want to imagine how Osha and Zagza might go at it, their combined strength and weight could probably destroy the base if they got out of hand. It would be unfortunate if all of the heat escape because Zagza had fucked his mate through a wall.

His train of thought was interrupted by a particularly hard slam that drove his member into the depths of her sex, meeting resistance and making stars dance before his eyes. She purred happily, a low rumbling sound that he felt in his teeth as she closed around him like a vice, her excitement escaping her tunnel and dripping onto the mattress below. She did it again, numbing his hips with the force of her thrust. With a blend of apprehension and anticipation, he realized that this might be their pace from now on. She began to bounce on top of him, crushing his pelvis under her weight as she fucked him, the cushioning springs in the mattress below him the only thing saving him from a fractured hip bone. He didn't protest, however. It felt too damned good, too raw, too primal.

She seemed to realize that her powerful blows were winding him, and so she relented, slowing her pace and watching his red face as he caught his breath. He noticed a mischievous glint in her eye, and before he could wonder why she was grinning, there was a flurry of movement. She rolled onto her back, carrying him with her like some kind of wrestling move. He found himself resting on top of her, his member still lodged inside her and his body perched on top of her paunchy belly. He delved his hands into her flesh as he struggled to find purchase, gripping handfuls of her delicate meat as she wriggled and laughed. She must be ticklish. Her massive breasts were at head height relative to him, gravity spreading them out, spilling them down her sides. She noticed his fixation and squashed the heavy globes together with her upper arms, her biceps bulging, struggling to corral them as they wobbled like two mounds of jello. Unable to resist, he buried his face between them. Her musky, fragrant scent overpowered him as the walls of supple meat parted around his face, her silken fur teasing his skin. The heat was intense, her fur and fat did such a good job of trapping heat. He brought his hands up to grope and claw at them, Osha rolling her wide hips in appreciation.

He felt her claws on his ass, kneading his cheeks and pulling him towards her, a clear invitation to resume their activities. He obliged, feeling a new aggression welling inside him. He thrust into Osha's tunnel with as much force as he could muster, the impact making waves pass through her chubby body like ripples on the surface of a lake. It was probably laughable compared to the weight and strength of a male Borealan, but she seemed to enjoy it, her free hand finding his hair and massaging his scalp in the way that she knew he liked. He breathed in her feminine musk, his face still lodged between her fat globes, her flesh rocking around his head as they moved together.

She closed her padded thighs around him again, hooking her legs behind him and using her springy muscles to control his speed. She slammed him deeper and harder than he could have mustered under his own power, scouring her walls as they enclosed him. The subtle bumps and fleshy papillae of her tunnel dug into his tender glans with an almost unbearable intensity. It gave a whole new meaning to the term power bottom, and he groaned into her cleavage as her thrusts grew in strength. Her furry tail coiled around his leg and her hands roved up and down his back, drawing red lines in his skin.

He ran his digits all over her voluptuous body, groping and stroking whatever he could reach. She was bountiful, her exuberant flesh was almost as soft and malleable as warm butter, the insulating fat coating her womanly figure in a layer of cushion that was impossible for him to keep his hands off. Wherever his fingers roamed, they met supple paunch. The subtle protrusion of her chubby belly, her unreasonably wide hips that quivered with each thrust, her thick thighs. Even her back was lined with fat, creasing in folds where she arched it in a way that inspired a violent passion in him. He sank his hands into her ass, each cheek probably weighing almost as much as he did. As he dug hungrily for the iron muscle that her flesh concealed, he felt it flex beneath his fingertips.

Her fur was so delicate and silky, Schaffer combing it with his fingers, enjoying the sensation as it flowed over his skin. He did his best to collect one of her breasts in his hands, gripping the pliant flesh and struggling to heft it. It kept slipping through his fingers, he couldn't believe that she could even carry two of these things around. She laughed as he struggled, he must look ridiculous. It was like trying to handle a giant balloon full of sand. He finally succeeded, and her laughs turned to more sultry moans of appreciation as he trapped one of her hard, pink nipples between his lips and sucked it into his mouth. He ran his tongue around it, chewing gently with his teeth, tweaking it as she shivered and rumbled in response. The aliens probably couldn't do this, their teeth were too sharp, Osha reveling in this newly discovered sensation as the human teased her.

She contracted around his member, her powerful muscles clenching and sucking him ever deeper into her burning passage. Her juices spilled around him, forced from her opening by the ferocity of their coupling. He was starting to become light-headed, feeling a pressure deep in his loins that threatened to well up and overcome him. Osha noticed, her expression turning sly, wrapping her arms around Schaffer and hugging him against her plush body. He was enveloped in warm, furry flesh, unable to break free as she trapped him in her tight embrace. Even her vagina seemed to tense up, as if it were holding on to him to prevent his escape. Her thighs pressed him deep inside her one last time, their cries of lust mingling as she forced his climax from his body as if she were squeezing a tube of toothpaste.

Tremors wracked him, still sensitive from the previous orgasm, muscles clenching as he poured his emission into Osha's twitching hole. Her muscles massaged the length of his shaft, undulating in milking motions that drew out every last drop of his warm come, flooding her reaches with more fluid than Schaffer would have imagined that his body could produce. This one was somehow more powerful than the first, leaving him unable to do much more than shudder in her warm embrace, his eyes closed tightly as she watched him struggle.

After what felt like minutes, but couldn't have been more than a few seconds, his spasms subsided and he loosed a long sigh of satisfaction. Osha seemed happy too, combing his hair with her black, shiny claws and purring like an engine. The alien sound was oddly soothing, her rumbling making her body vibrate as he lay splayed out on her torso like she was a novelty pool float. He withdrew from her with a wet sucking noise, and an obscene mixture of their juices spilled forth, matting the fur of her inner thighs and dripping from his still throbbing erection in thick ropes. He panted on top of her, unwilling to leave what was by far the most comfortable bed that he had ever lain on. His head was resting on her fat, pillow-like breasts and his body was draped over her paunchy belly. She continued her stroking, the sensation of her claws on his skin amplified a thousandfold by his lingering afterglow.

CHAPTER 8: HUNTRESS

Schaffer slammed his hand down on the console, frustration overcoming him. He picked up the sheet of paper that he had been recording his findings on, checking his crude drawing of the control panel, what buttons he had been able to discern the functions of labeled in blue ink. Fortunately, the pens had thawed from their frozen state along with the rest of the building. Apparently, they still worked, and there had been plenty of paper sealed in airtight boxes in the storage room for him to write on.

The console was a mystery, however. Without proper documentation, he was beginning to doubt that he would ever gain control of the transmitter. He had found one new function, at least. As he had theorized upon first entering the outpost, there were AG field generators installed beneath the floor, the same gravity manipulators that were used on spaceships. He had managed to activate them and return the gravity within the confines of the base to Earth norm, one standard gravity, much to the confusion and amusement of the aliens. Runt had refused to step inside the building until Schaffer had taken her hand and led her inside, like a child refusing to sleep until its parent had checked under the bed for monsters. Zagza had propelled himself into the ceiling with one of his bounding steps, smashing one of the panels and covering himself in dust. It took them a while to adjust, they had no idea what gravity was after all, and he had no way to explain it to them. The relief on Schaffer’s aching joints and sore muscles was immediate, he had felt as if a fifty-pound rucksack had been removed from his shoulders. Finally, he would be able to concentrate on the task at hand without that distraction, once Yuka and Yura had stopped bouncing off the walls and shrieking with child-like glee of course.

The computer eluded him. Every time he felt that he was close to unraveling the mysteries of the strange console and its purpose-built operating system, something threw him off, sending him right back to square one again. There were labyrinthian menus and sub-menus full of commands that would control the innumerable servos and gyroscopes that made up the complex machinery of the satellite dish, along with a graphical interface that displayed base functions and status, but he couldn't find any commands that would allow him to alter the data that the dish was sending. It was still operational and active, that much was sure. He had been able to locate animated graphs that tracked the incoming and outgoing bandwidth, along with the power draw of the transmitter, yet nothing to indicate what that data was or how to modify it. This was a spy station that had been erected with the express purpose of trawling Borealan networks for sensitive data, that much was known to him, so was it possible that even the personnel who had access to the computer itself might not have the necessary UNN clearance to view the data it transmitted?

It was a real head-scratcher, and he couldn't shake the feeling that he was running out of time. The aliens had a limited stock of food, they couldn't hang around forever. If he didn't succeed in sending a distress signal soon, they might be forced to return to the longhouse. They could always come back later, but the journey seemed difficult even for them, and he didn't have the language skills to explain why coming here was so important. They may not be willing to make a second attempt.

Shoofa, food!”

Osha was calling him for dinner, and he blushed, remembering the previous night's activities. She called again, her voice echoing through the halls of the base. He thought it best to abandon his venture for now and get a hot meal. He could use a break, and he was pretty hungry. He made his way to the kitchen, sulking somewhat due to his lack of progress. All of the ice in the base had melted now, the heating system was running at full capacity and keeping the interior at a constant, balmy temperature. The aliens seemed to love it, would they even want to return to their primitive longhouse after discovering the magic of central heating? Food was the more significant factor, however. They might not be able to hunt here, and if they didn't hunt, they didn't eat. Schaffer hadn't seen Scarface for several days now. He wondered if she was roaming the tundra somewhere nearby, scouring the land for sources of nourishment.

The aliens couldn’t sit around the kitchen table, as it was far too small for them both in terms of surface area and height, so they contented themselves with preparing their meat on it and then retreating to other areas of the base to eat. They were rationing the food it seemed, holding off on their usual feasting for the duration of their stay in the base. Not that it mattered to Schaffer, as their portions were still copious by human standards. He took his share of the meat from Osha, placing it on a plate from one of the cupboards and starting to cut it into more sizable chunks with cutlery. This still fascinated the aliens, as their sharp, hooked claws meant that they had no use for eating utensils. All of the aliens had been warmer towards him since his...encounter the previous night. Perhaps word had traveled that their human guest had finally taken part in their sordid rituals, or maybe they could smell the pheromones of their kin on his skin. Either way, even the members of the pack that he had not been formally introduced to were keen to get their hands on him now.

He didn't mind it so much now, it felt...good, welcome. As if sex had been some kind of initiation, they now seemed to consider him a true pack member and apparently fair game for unsolicited petting. He had decided to take the stick out of his ass and just go with it. He would surely be visited again tonight, and he felt a guilty excitement welling in his belly at the prospect as he chewed the oily meat. Did he really want to give up his newfound sense of belonging and easy access to what could only be described as mind-blowing sex in order to return to his mundane and frankly unfulfilling job on the Pinwheel?

He swallowed, banishing the thought from his mind. Worry about that later, right now just focus on getting access to the dish's data stream. There would be time for hard choices and introspection when he actually had options available to him. He finished his meal quickly, eager to return to the computer console and resume his work, but paused for a moment on his way out to allow Osha to scratch his scalp.

***

He worked late into the night, making little progress. All of the aliens had retired to their respective piles by the time his eyes became itchy, and fatigue began to scratch at the back of his brain like a neglected dog begging to be let in. He stretched, yawning, and turned to make his way to the crew quarters. He was interrupted by a metallic clang of metal on metal and a draft of chill wind that blew through the corridor. Someone had opened the main door.

Curious, he changed direction, finding a bedraggled Scarface pushing the main door closed behind her as she waded through a drift of rapidly melting snow that had followed her in. She was wrapped in her white cloak, a shadow cast by the long hood obscuring her face. She started when she saw him, then relaxed.

She pulled back her cowl, appreciating the new heat of the base, and Schaffer saw that her fur was matted with ice. He beckoned for her to follow him, and after a moment of hesitation, she complied. She stumbled, clearly confused by the low gravity, taking a moment to get her footing. Schaffer knew where to find towels, gesturing for the alien to sit on a metal coffee table in the lounge area so that he could rub her down while she thawed. He set a kettle on the stove in the kitchen, they were electric and worked without a need for fuel, intending to heat some water enough for her to drink. He had no coffee or tea, although he was unsure if the alien would have appreciated such things anyway.

It didn't take long for the water to warm, and he poured it into a cup, testing it with his finger before bringing it back to her. She sniffed it experimentally, it probably smelled of metal due to the likely rusty kettle and the poorly maintained piping, but she seemed happy to drink it. He took her cloak, placing it on a nearby chair, running the fluffy towel down her back and across her shoulders as she sat and sipped her beverage. The ice and snow that stuck to her fur in clumps was melting rapidly, but the liberal application of towels was preventing the cold water from soaking into her coat.

Scarface was leaner than the other aliens, there wasn't much fat on her back and shoulders, the sinewy muscles that he felt under his hands as he dragged the towel across her body further illustrating that. Her fat deposits were mostly confined to her hips, butt, and breasts, which gave her a kind of pear-shaped figure. Where her insulation was thin, her musculature rose to the surface, lurking just beneath her white fluff. She was wearing a leather sling to cover her chest, along with the customary loincloth, tied around her waist like some kind of giant string bikini. She was peppered with scars, pink trails where the hair follicles had been damaged and could no longer grow. Her back was practically a tapestry of struggle and battle. Schaffer lacked the shared vocabulary to ask her where she had gotten them.

Her tail waved back and forth, trailing off the edge of the coffee table as Schaffer rubbed her down. She seemed to be enjoying the sensation, her eyes closed as she sagged forwards, remarkably relaxed for someone who always seemed to be on guard. He dried her hair, which unlike that of Osha and many of the other females who kept theirs long, had been tied up in a neat ponytail. He skirted her ears, remembering how Runt had reacted when he had stroked them, wondering if they might be considered an erogenous zone. He dried her arms, then moved down to her ribs and hips, a little apprehensive about skirting her chest and rear. Scarface wasn't like the other aliens, she was far less social. He had never seen her join one of the piles before, not to sleep and not for any other reason. He didn't know how she might react if his hands roamed beyond the acceptable boundaries, he might end up with his own scars, the alien equivalent of a slap to deter an overly friendly suitor. She intrigued him, however. She was mysterious, strong, and perpetually silent. Something about her just drew his attention. He remembered how they had fished together, the alien wrapping him under her long cloak and pulling him against her warm body, the first time that he had seen her express any kind of affection for anyone.

She broke his train of thought, tugging at the sleeve of his suit and looking back at him. Oh, she wanted him to dry her front, fair enough. He walked around to stand in front of her and started to dry her belly with the towel, the alien leaning back slightly to make it easier for him. It was equally peppered with scars, one especially large one that ran across her stomach looked as if it had very nearly disemboweled her. He could feel her abs flexing as he moved, responding to his touch, twin rows of hard muscle that protruded through her soft fat layer. They weren't outwardly visible due to her fur, but they were powerful, honed by a lifetime of hunting and foraging in the high gravity.

She seemed confused by his avoidance of her breasts, gripping his wrist in her hand and moving the towel up to her chest. She had him dry her cleavage, the area that was not concealed by the sling. While there was nothing inherently sexual about the act, he couldn't help but blush as her flesh gave way under his touch. She was not as excessively endowed as Osha had been, but her bust would have been the admiration of any human woman. She pushed out her boobs so that he might reach them more easily, and every time that he dabbed at them, they wobbled in their support. The aliens had not invented sports bras, after all, they had to make do with what they had. She breathed more heavily as he ran the towel over them, drying the tuft of fur on her chest, and he felt her eyes lingering on his warm cheeks as he tried to avoid her gaze. He moved down to her thighs, Scarface writhing slowly as he dried their sensitive inner surface. Was she enjoying this?

He looked up at her, daring to meet her gaze, finding her expression sultry and inviting. She opened her legs further as the table beneath her creaked under her weight, lowering a thumb and forefinger to pull loose the leather strings that held up her loincloth. Schaffer swallowed hard as it fell away, revealing a mound covered in delicate, white fluff. Her pink, puffy labia peeked out from beneath the fur, drawing his eyes. She lowered her fingers, parting them to be sure that Schaffer could see, a drip of clear moisture leaking free to pool on the surface of the table.

Damn it, he was still sore from the previous night, but the allure of her invitation was too much for him to refuse. He had a good idea of what she expected of him, and it was confirmed when he lowered his head towards her loins, gripping a handful of his hair in her fist and tugging him closer. She was rougher than Osha had been, less considerate, and it was exciting. He kneeled, resting his hands on her silken thighs, and she looked down at him with a lecherous expression. She tugged, pulling his hair, and he leaned closer to her.

She was so warm. The heat from her sex radiated outwards, he could feel it on his red cheeks. He sank his fingers into her inner thighs, her cushiony fat giving way to hard muscle, firm and taut. She loosed a drawn-out sigh, one of the few vocalizations that Schaffer had ever heard her make, then tugged at his hair again as if to urge him on. It hurt a little, but it tickled his scalp in a way that he liked. He felt oddly compliant, rubbing his cheek against her leg, breathing hot air on her swollen loins as they dripped strands of glistening fluid. Her fur was like velvet on his skin, and as he drew closer, the sweet smell of her musk filled his nose. Her womanly scent was stronger than that of Osha or Runt, with a hint of exertion and the aroma of fresh snow. Perhaps it was because of her semi-nomadic lifestyle or because she had just returned from the hunt, but the scent was deeply sexual, almost like honey with an underlying hint of salt. It drew him closer, like a bee to a flower, and before he knew what was happening his tongue was parting her lips.

Her grip on his hair grew stronger, as if she was afraid that he might escape from her grasp. She seethed with arousal as he explored her vulva, tracing the creases and folds of her organ with the tip of his tongue. He could feel her powerful muscles flexing beneath her fat as she squirmed, rolling her hips, grinding against his face as if seeking to drive him deeper. She was slippery, glistening, the sight of her exposed loins sending a familiar throb of excitement through Schaffer's now aching erection. His member strained against his suit, struggling to break free as her excitement slid down his chin. She was sopping, her juices dampening the fluff around her crotch. It tasted salty and sour, oddly metallic, but he was too turned on to care. He mouthed and kissed, dragging the surface of his tongue across her flesh, making her twitch and buck. Her thighs quivered around his head as he flicked it across her protruding clitoris.

She was reacting more strongly than his skill level would suggest, he wasn't exactly practiced. Was it something about his anatomy? The aliens had far longer and more powerful tongues than humans, they could probably reach deep inside their partners, but their course texture might make them less suited to such delicate work. Human tongues might be shorter, but they were smoother, too. Emboldened, Schaffer pressed her firm nub of flesh between his lips and sucked it into his mouth, teasing it with quick flurries. Both of her hands found purchase in his hair, her steely thighs crushing his head between them, Schaffer hoping that she retained enough self-control to avoid popping it like a ripe cherry. Scarface arched her spine, opening her mouth in a silent wail as her tail coiled around one of the table legs and Schaffer's mouth was flooded with a fresh stream of her essence. It startled him, she was so wet, so slippery. It dripped from her loins in strings, clinging to her fur and linking his lips to hers in a sagging web.

He lingered there for a few more moments, drawing her clitoris out from beneath its hood of protective skin and painting it with his saliva, then moved down to circle her twitching opening. She tugged at his hair as he pushed his tongue inside her, the sting sending an appreciative shiver down his spine. She was even tighter than Runt, the powerful muscles of her walls clinging to him violently and undulating, trying to drag him deeper. He wanted so desperately to unfasten his suit and plunge his throbbing member into the Huntress, but she would not release her grip on his hair. She kept him between her legs, her sticky nectar making the fine hairs that lined her thighs stick to his cheeks.

He slipped a finger into her, near frictionless due to her excitement, and her tunnel clamped down on it with an almost painful intensity. It felt as if she could have crushed a damned soda can in there. He dug around with his finger as he licked, mapping the bumpy, fleshy interior. She was burning up, it might have been alarming had he not already been familiar with the heat that their furnace-like bodies put out. He remembered how being inside Osha and Runt had felt. The aliens were equipped with unbearable bumps and soft barbs that cruelly raked anything that had the fortune, or the misfortune, of being thrust inside. They had the added effect of drawing back his foreskin, exposing his tender glans and allowing the textured tunnel to scour it. Was he drooling, or was his mouth just full of her emission? He wanted her, badly.

She thrust against his face, seeking out further stimulation and glazing him with her leaking juices, rolling her hips as if she were attempting to fuck his finger. Whenever he tried to pull away, she would tighten her grip in his hair, sending a jolt of confused pleasure coursing down his spine. She seemed almost desperate, perhaps she was more antisocial than he had thought and had not participated in the pack's sordid activities for some time, if at all.

Her breathing became more ragged as he shifted his attention back to her clitoris, her chest heaving, making her boobs bounce attractively in their leather sling as he peered up at her over her damp mound. She was biting her lower lip, one sharp tooth protruding to press into the pink flesh as she watched him with her blue eyes.

She jerked suddenly, and he felt her tunnel narrow around his finger, the hot, slippery flesh crushing his digit. It actually hurt a little, but he fought the impulse to withdraw it, curling it against her quivering walls in order to further stimulate her instead. He sucked her swollen clitoris into his mouth, trapping it between his lips and flicking his tongue across its polished surface. He felt her fleshy insides ripple with contractions, the iron muscles of her thick thighs squeezing his head, trembling around his cheeks.

He did his best to hang on, drawing out every last spasm as she rode the waves of her climax. Her lips were tightly pursed, even as she came, she didn’t utter so much as a sound beyond her strained and halting breaths. Schaffer slowed his pace as the pangs of her pleasure gradually receded, licking gently as if he were soothing a wound. As her senses returned to her, the hard grip in his hair released, becoming a placating stroking that tickled his scalp. He wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve as she unclenched her thighs and allowed him to withdraw from between them. A thick rope of her emission linked his lips to her sopping loins, hanging there for a moment before breaking and dropping to the floor. Scarface eyed the conspicuous bulge in Schaffer's pants, and he understood that this was only foreplay. She wanted him, he could see it in her covetous gaze.

She rose to her feet, looming over him, her legs a little shaky as she recovered from her orgasm. She reached down and gripped his upper arm, pulling him along behind her as she marched over to one of the faux-leather couches in the lounge area. There were several, along with coffee tables for drinks and games, and monitors for entertainment that were currently dark with no signal to display. There was even a soda machine that looked as if it had seen better days. Most of the drinks inside had burst over time due to the cold, coating the interior glass with a dull, brown sheen.

Her wide hips rolled as she walked and his eyes were drawn to her ample ass, almost at chest-height relative to him. Her cheeks were larger than his head, toned muscle overlaid with cushy fat that begged for questing fingers as it shifted and wobbled with her gait. She flung him forward, casting him unceremoniously onto the couch to land facing her. He struggled into a sitting position, the statement about who was calling the shots here made abundantly clear. Oh well, this wasn't his first rodeo. He could handle Scarface, she was smaller and lighter than Osha, after all.

He considered for a moment that he might have just uttered his last words as the alien mounted the couch, straddling the smaller human with one massive thigh to either side of him. Her clawed hand reached down do close gently around his throat, not hard enough to choke him, but enough to make it abundantly clear that he would be following her lead. He felt her claws prick the back of his neck as they enclosed it, and she angled his face up toward hers. She leaned down and pressed her lips against his, her weight sinking him into the couch. If she tasted herself on his breath, it only served to further arouse her, a kiss that had started off gentle and exploratory suddenly becoming more violent. She caught his lower lip in her teeth, tugging gently, her reflective eyes locked to his as she drank in his reaction. She was smirking, clearly enjoying the power that she had over him, and he gasped as she released him from her teeth. She forced her tongue into his mouth now, long and slippery, like some kind of deep sea eel. Should he have wanted to stop it, he would not have been able, the muscle was far too strong. He accepted it willingly, eagerly, letting her fill his comparatively small mouth. He could feel its textured surface as it flexed and twisted, encircling his own tongue and subduing it like a prey animal. Their kisses were divine, intoxicating. As she tightened her steely grip on his throat and closed her free hand around one of his wrists, pinning it to the headrest of the couch, he felt as if he might pass out right there.

She held him like that for a minute, her tongue more resembling a tentacle as it probed the reaches of his throat, leaking her metallic saliva into his mouth as it coiled and undulated like an angry viper. He couldn't help but thrust his hips, fucking the air in futility, unable to press his erection against her loins due to their difference in height. Even now, they dripped her viscous fluids onto his suit in clinging strands that matted the pelts.

She withdrew her tongue slowly, as if she were sucking up a giant strand of spaghetti, wanting him to appreciate every inch. They parted lips with a wet smack, Scarface poised over Schaffer, watching him pant and shiver. Damn it, he thought to himself, if word spread about his weakness to their deep kisses then he would always end up at the bottom of the pile.

Scarface looked down and began to open the seals on his suit, struggling with the clasps that were too small for her sausage-like fingers. She kept her grip on his neck the entire time, as if to say you aren't going anywhere, little human.

She finally succeeded, pushing her hand beneath his underclothes to pull out his erection. He giggled and writhed as her fur tickled his groin, then his vocalizations trailed off into a low, sultry moan as she squeezed his cock in her massive hand.

He hoped that she might slide down his body and wrap her lips around the head, putting that serpentine tongue to good use, but she seemed to want only one thing. She was a selfish lover, greedy, but that kind of turned him on. She had the scars, all she needed now was a leather jacket and a cigarette, then the bad girl look would be complete.

She reached between her matted thighs, catching some of her leaking nectar in her hand and wiping it along the length of his pulsating shaft. She coated him in her juices, the sensation of her wet fur on his skin making his hips jerk and shift. Her furry fingers glided, lubricated by her slime. She wasted no time, angling his member towards her opening and lowering herself down on him, eager to get started. She was tighter than Osha had been, smaller and leaner than her giant packmate, giving even Runt a run for her money. Schaffer covered his face with his hands as she dropped, slamming him up to the base in one smooth motion. She exhaled slowly, shifting her hips from side to side as she grew accustomed to the feeling of having him throbbing inside her.

He peeked through his fingers as she began to move, her velutinous muscles gripping his member like a noose, almost strong enough to hurt. It was raw and harsh, a delicious ache traveling up through his body as her tunnel fought against his pulsing organ, clinging to it like a second skin. His legs turned to jelly, every slight motion or contraction driving a bolt of pleasure up his spine that made his head spin and his eyes snap shut of their own accord. She pulled his hands away from his face, pinning them against the leather of the couch on either side of his head as she pressed him deep into the cushions. Its wooden frame creaked and protested, he could feel the metal springs beneath the seat cushions compressing under their combined weight.

She circled her hips, stirring him around inside her, and he felt her grip on his wrists tighten as he struggled and bucked against the intolerable stimulation. She was treating him like prey, ever the wily Huntress as she kept him under control, wetting her pink lips with her tongue as she watched his face contort. Still she did not speak, she seemed to want only to watch him, to subject him to these maddening pleasures and to feed on his reaction.

She began to bounce on top of him, fucking him more ardently, splaying her massive thighs so that she could lower herself down far enough to get him all the way inside her. These aliens seemed to like it hard and deep, perhaps accustomed to sex far more athletic or passionate than a frail human would be able to provide. On every downward thrust, she took him to the hilt, driving his member as deep as she could take it. Was it not for the quantity and viscosity of the fluid that escaped from her loins, she might have been too tight to allow for such a violent pace. Schaffer could feel every bump, every crease of her vagina. Her organ fit him like a glove, clinging to every inch of his skin and scouring it with damp satin. He couldn't do much more than try to regulate his breathing and hang for dear life.

His forceful lover reached back and unfastened the tie on her ponytail, letting her mop of unkempt hair fall over them like a curtain, the silky strands tickling him. She quickly returned her hand to his wrist, keeping him pinned down as she rode him. The alien's scarred face was obscured beneath her mane of bouncing, slate-grey hair, but he occasionally glimpsed a reflective eye peering out at him. She panted like a beast, her breath blowing her fringe.

Schaffer got into the rhythm, pushing up to meet her downward blows, their hips colliding with enough force to bruise. She seemed to enjoy that, he could feel her hands trembling around his wrists, her grip becoming inconsistent.

She released him, sinking her sharp claws into the lining of the couch where his hands had been, tearing at the fabric and stabbing into the foam cushioning beneath. With her new purchase, she increased the force of her lovemaking even further, crushing the hapless human beneath her hips. The ache grew into a more urgent burning, a need to seek out more stimulation, more friction. He sank his fingers into her doughy hips, pulling himself towards her as she slammed him into the couch.

He felt his orgasm nearing, the numbness of his battered pelvis giving way to a familiar tightness and a surging, undeniable pleasure. She leaned down, breathing hot air into his hair as she gyrated and pumped, the contractions of her slippery walls betraying her own mounting climax.

Oh fuck,” he exclaimed through gritted teeth, squirming as her pace increased yet again. She was intent on driving them both towards their inevitable peak, giving no quarter. She was coming down on him almost hard enough to drive the breath from his lungs, and through the haze of mingling pleasure, he felt something give beneath his seat.

They fell, still locked together as the couch gave out. Its frame crumpled under the weight of the pair's violent coupling, whatever surplus wood the thing was built from snapping and caving in on itself. There was a crash as the furniture crumbled, the springs making angry, metallic noises as they uncoiled and the wood splintering. Scarface did not relent, unconcerned by the death throes of the shoddy furniture. The Huntress continued to pound Schaffer into the cushions and headrest that remained, heaped on the ground in a pile.

The Huntress suddenly threw her head back, her long hair falling down her spine as she closed her legs around him and shuddered violently. The shifting of her exquisite flesh around his buried member grew more intense, the cruel contractions of her toned muscles coming harder and faster, her taut abs flexing beneath her fur as she started to climax. Her lower body jerked and twitched, her hair falling over her face once more as she doubled over, hiding her pained expression. Schaffer soon joined her in her rapturous pleasure, covering his mouth with his hand in an attempt to stifle the wail that escaped his lips. Scarface loosed a bestial growl as she felt his seed flood her reaches, hot and thick against her pulsing flesh. They didn’t slow their pace even for a second, rutting like wild animals, a blend of her fluids and the milky ropes of his ejaculate forced out of her spasming passage to seep down her furry thighs. They fed into each other's orgasm, spiraling higher and higher until they reached a crescendo that made Schaffer feel as if someone had hooked the pleasure center of his brain up to a car battery. He had never felt anything so raw, so primal. They might be totally different species, but his body sought to impregnate her as his sore muscles wrung him of every last drop of his emission.

They remained locked together, questing hands roaming across flesh and fur, every twitch and contraction in one partner provoking a fresh wave of pleasure in the other. Their tempo had slowed to that of shivers and gentle thrusts, the two lovers adrift in an ocean of bliss. Finally, they started to come down together. Their breathing became more regular, stark, raw pleasure giving way to the euphoria and afterglow that followed good sex. Schaffer looked around, seeing the mess that they had made of the couch as if for the first time. The wooden frame was trashed, pointy springs protruding through some of the foam cushions. The headrest had been shredded by Scarface's wicked claws, it looked as though a giant housecat had been using it as a scratching post.

He laughed to himself, looking back up at Scarface. Her eyelids drooped as she basked in her lingering haze, her myriad of blemishes failing to lessen her womanly glow.

She did not stay for long, rising after a few minutes and leaving in the direction the storage room in search of food no doubt, without so much as a second glance at Schaffer. He rested for a while, sore and bruised, yet more satisfied than he could recall ever being as he lay amongst the remains of the ruined couch.

CHAPTER 9: EUREKA

There had to be some way to modify the outgoing signal, or to inject his own data into the stream. Schaffer slammed the console with his fist in frustration. He had mapped every function that he could find and was now reduced to trawling the maze of menus and submenus contained within the operating system. Half of the functions required commands that he did not know, the system was entirely custom, though loosely based on a kind of UNN security system management software that he was somewhat familiar with. Whoever was tasked with operating this system would have had prior training, they would have been supplied with reference material detailing all of the console commands and their functions, they would have had in-depth schematics detailing the machine itself. Without any of that, the central computer would remain mostly a mystery to Schaffer. There had to be some kind of communications system. It would be absurd to build a second antenna for the sole purpose of sending messages when the outpost itself was constructed around a massive transmitter. He knew that encoded and non-encoded data could be sent at the same time through the same stream, if he could just find a way to piggyback a ten-kilobyte text message on the back of the signal, then he would be home free.

He had already mapped the functions on the console that would orient the dish, he could aim it wherever he pleased, even if he couldn’t send a message. Right now, it was tracking a satellite in orbit around the planet, one of the quantum-entangled variety that could transmit data instantaneously over interstellar distances without having to rely on radio or laser methods that could take decades to reach their destination.

An interruption to the data stream might alert UNN intelligence and prompt them to visit the outpost to make repairs, perhaps simply screwing with the alignment would suffice. Then again, he couldn't count on that. He had seen firsthand how repair requests piled up.

He would be able to point it in the vicinity of an orbiting spacecraft and then blast them with a high-powered transmission. It would be impossible to ignore, but the encrypted data would just be gibberish to them. He also had no way to locate them from the ground, he needed coordinates in order to reorient the dish.

Fuck it, this wasn't getting him anywhere. He leaned back in his chair as the display lights and buttons on the console bank flickered and glowed. He had to think about this from a fresh perspective.

A spark of inspiration hit him like a lightning bolt.

He typed frantically on the embedded keyboard, bringing up the dish programming menu. The dish had to be programmed to track the target receiver, and Schaffer had access to those functions. What if he intentionally interrupted the signal in order to transmit a message via morse code? That would draw far more attention than simply cutting the stream, which would be attributed to a mechanical or software malfunction. He knew basic morse code, everyone in the UNN did. If the power generator on a vessel was taken out, leaving the ship dead in space, flashing an S.O.S at rescue ships might be the only way to indicate that there was anyone alive in what to sensors would just be a dark wreck.

He could program the dish to only aim at the satellite long enough to transmit a burst of data, then swivel to point at empty space. With any luck, the person on the other end would have their head out of their ass and would notice the telltale fluctuations.

He entered the commands in sequence, three short bursts of data, then three long bursts followed by another three short bursts. S.O.S, the most standard and widely recognized plea for aid in human space. It might take hours to receive a reply, who knew how long it would take to get noticed. Now he just had to wait.

***

Schaffer sat at the console for the entire day, waving away the aliens who came in search of him to find out what he was doing. He wished that he had some coffee to keep him alert, but all of the sachets that he had found during his frantic search for food all those days ago were spoiled and unfit for consumption. He awaited a reply, hoping against hope that somebody would see his signal in a bandwidth graph or notice the size of the fragmented data packets and work out that it was a message. He felt like an ancient sailor casting a note into the ocean in a glass bottle, an almost futile gesture.

Night eventually came, and he found himself dozing off in his seat, rubbing his itchy eyes as he waited for a message that might never come. Perhaps he was kidding himself, and his plan was ridiculous. What if there were no humans manning the receiver and it was all handled by an automated system? The base itself was unmanned after all. His plan assumed that there was some UNN office worker sitting at a desk when there might very well not be.

Just as he was beginning to lose hope, deciding to turn in and try again the following day, a window appeared on the main monitor. There was an icon indicating an incoming message. He scrambled awake, spinning the trackball to mouse over the symbol. He clicked the icon, and a simple text message displayed.

-WHO IS THIS?-

Simple and to the point, fair enough. Now that this unknown function had been activated, he was able to reply by simply clicking the option beneath the original message. How insultingly basic after all the time that he had spent trawling the operating system searching for just such a function. He typed out his reply and hit send.

-I AM CORPORAL SCHAFFER, SERIAL #374627834, I AM STRANDED AND REQUIRE IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE. I HAVE INFORMATION PERTAINING TO A TRAITOR IN THE ADMIRALTY.-

That should raise some eyebrows. He was elated, his plan had worked. He was in contact with the UNN, and he might soon be off this godforsaken rock. He should get some rest now, by the time he woke up, he might have received a new message. He rose from his seat, leaving the message window open, afraid that he wouldn't be able to open it again if he closed it. As happy as he was, something nagged at him. There was an itch in the back of his brain, a kind of apprehension that he wasn't quite able to place.

As he made his way to one of the crew quarters and crawled into a pile of sleeping felines, he realized that he would miss these aliens. This pack had become his family while he had stayed here, they cared more about him than any of the so-called friends who had sold him out to Rawling, or failed to go looking for him when they had been shuffled around and reassigned.

Was this life better than what he had to look forward to back in human space? Had his job taking inventory of cargo and repairing broken vending machines been fulfilling? He had signed up to be a combat engineer, trained for battle, but he had eventually ended up on that damned station where the most pressing work available to an engineer was routine maintenance.

He might never be safe from Rawling's goons, either. Even if the man was sent to a military penitentiary, there were always ways for the more influential and resourceful prisoners to get messages out. If he had tried to kill Schaffer for threatening to expose his black market operation, then Rawling would surely be far more motivated if Schaffer succeeded in ruining the corrupt Admiral's life. There was no way to arrest everyone involved and to uncover every smuggling network, Schaffer would be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life.

He would sleep on it, he decided, enjoying the sensation of a warm, furry arm enclosing him. It would certainly be jarring to go back to the bachelor's life after the last few days, that much was sure.

***

Over the next few days, Schaffer communicated with the UNN via the message system at a snail’s pace. They were initially very skeptical, asking probing questions about his deployment history and personnel record to ensure that it was indeed a UNN Corporal who had gained access to the central computer and the satellite dish, rather than some especially handy native. They inquired as to how he had survived for so long without supplies, and he had told them about the pack. They confirmed his suspicions, the aliens were Polar Borealans, a furred cousin of the Borealans commonly seen in UNN-controlled space. They were quite surprised to hear that there were still Polars who remained on the planet, as they were under the impression that the entire population had been relocated to a colony in Siberia on Earth some time ago.

This pack had been left behind, forgotten, which explained the business with the trading post. It was heartbreaking for him to think about, these Polars were primitives, they couldn't possibly have known about the mass exodus without anyone there to tell them. Their entire race had abandoned them. Whoever had manned the trading post had been their only lifeline with the more civilized world, and they had either forgotten or neglected to inform them. The pack had been damned to a slow death, or at least a total reversion to their animal state without tools or supplies. They likely still had no idea as to where their people had gone, or why they had left them so abruptly. Schaffer could help them though, he could secure all the supplies that they might need.

Borealis was a Coalition planet, that meant that they were allied with the UNN, and so Schaffer became irate when the person on the other end declared that they would not contact the Borealan authorities in order to evacuate him as soon as possible. They cited fears that their most likely illegal listening post would be discovered and that it would cause a diplomatic incident. There were UNN ships in orbit around Borealis, and a shuttle would be dispatched to evacuate him in a couple of days.

They peppered him with questions about the corruption that he had hinted at, but it was his trump card, and he refused to speak about it over the air regardless of how well encrypted the signal was. He didn't know who was listening in, who among the staff at whatever facility operated the receiver might be on Rawling's payroll, how far his reach extended throughout the UNN. They agreed to put an MP on the shuttle and that Schaffer would give him the information in person when it arrived.

***

The supplies of food were thinning. Schaffer had succeeded in explaining to Zagza that something would happen in two days, but not what. The Polar, Schaffer might as well start referring to the aliens by their proper name, seemed to trust him. Scarface had some success hunting, she had brought back a few fish and some of the rabbit-like fauna. Although not enough to keep the whole pack fed, it had raised spirits. She had saved one fish for Schaffer, thrusting it into his hands with a sultry smile. Was he being bribed for more sex? She certainly seemed to have warmed up to him since their encounter, which for Scarface, was saying something. She rarely even interacted with Zagza besides to present her catches to him.

As usual, Osha ensured that he got his share of the meat as the pack crowded the kitchen table, Runt sidling up for a head-pat and the twins bouncing on the spot as they awaited their meal. The pack surrounded him on all sides, warm and friendly, under the watchful eye of Zagza as he picked a fish bone from his teeth with a hooked claw.

Damn it, he couldn't bring himself to leave these people, this was his family now. He couldn’t abandon them to their fate in this wasteland, he couldn’t let them wander back out into the snow to be forgotten again. They had saved his life, did he not owe each one of them at least that much? He was going to stay and repay his debt to them a hundredfold.

***

The pack stood grouped together warily as the shuttle roared overhead, Zagza at their front, his long arms splayed to keep the Polars behind him. Osha gripped Runt protectively, who covered her ears in alarm as the vessel came to a hover, slowly lowering itself to the snow and deploying its landing gear. It touched down in a cloud of powder and melted slush, Schaffer jogged over to the descending landing ramp, waving to the crew as they stepped down. The pack was afraid, they had never seen or heard anything like this before, but Schaffer had reassured Zagza that there was no danger. Yuka and Yura peered from under Zagza's arms, more curious than frightened, their blue eyes fixed on the humans that disgorged from the ship.

There were two Marines clad in black combat armor that contrasted against the snow, hefting XMR rifles, and an MP in a white helmet that was stamped with his rank. An MP was a military police officer, internal security forces who dealt with things like crime and corruption among the ranks of the UNN. He was unlikely to be on Rawling's payroll, not that Schaffer had much choice now, he could hardly tell them to leave.

The humans seemed afraid of the Polars too, and Schaffer sensed that there was somewhat of a standoff brewing. He had to diffuse it.

They're quite tame, they won't hurt you,” he called over the noise of the engines as they wound down. The MP waited for silence before replying.

Corporal Schaffer, is it? You've caused us quite a lot of trouble by refusing to follow orders and protocol, but here I am. You've made some outlandish claims, let's see if they measure up. My name is Detective Masters, I'm with Internal Investigations. You refused to divulge information over the air, so why don't you start from the top and tell me what you're doing at this classified outpost...and what the hell you're wearing.”

Masters looked Schaffer up and down, appraising his environment suit along with its adornment of alien pelts. Even though the power in the base had been turned back on and he could have easily switched suits or charged a fresh battery, the thought had never crossed his mind to remove it.

Why don't you come in out of the cold, Detective?” he asked as he gestured back to the outpost. Masters looked to the Polar pack apprehensively.

I would prefer if you came into the shuttle, Corporal.”

This wasn't going the way that Schaffer had wanted, and he took a few steps back, moving closer to the Borealans as the two Marines exchanged glances.

I'm sorry Detective, but I'm a wanted man, there's no doubt a price on my head. I can't have you closing that ramp and taking off with me.” Masters looked like he wanted to argue, but must have deemed it expedient to do as Schaffer asked, gesturing for the two Marines to follow him. “Please don't point those guns at my furry friends, I'm the only human that they've met so far, but they know what weapons are. You're my only lifeline to the UNN, and I'm running out of food. It isn't in my interest to harm you or your men.”

Masters and the two Marines followed Schaffer into the base, they weren't wearing environment suits themselves and seemed relieved to be in an air-conditioned building. Masters was shivering, his eyebrows frozen over from nothing more than the hundred-meter walk between the shuttle and the outpost. The Marines bristled as the Polars crowded into the hall, but the aliens were wary and kept their distance. Schaffer waved the men into the lounge area, and they took a seat on one of the intact couches.

I was informed that the base was in low power mode and that all of the life support systems were deactivated,” Masters said as he eyed Schaffer suspiciously. “You were able to gain access to the central computer and bring it all back online? How?”

I am an engineer, solving problems is what we do. Once I had gained access to the room that contained the computer, I was able to figure it out.”

They told me that the room was secured by a steel blast door with a numeric keypad, for which you couldn't possibly have a working code,” the MP continued.

Well, I had some help from the Borealans on that one.”

You bust it down? Great, I'm going to have to write up a report and get a team out here to repair it.” The Detective's tone suddenly became harsh and accusing. “Now do you want to tell me what the hell you're doing here, and why you've refused every order you've been given? It had better be good, or your rescue ship will be taking you straight to a brig.”

***

Schaffer went over the events of the last couple of weeks, how he had uncovered the smuggling ring on the Pinwheel station and had linked Admiral Rawling to the operation, how the corrupt Admiral had smuggled him off-station on a jump freighter and had then abandoned him to die on Borealis. He told him the story of how he had met the Polar pack, choosing to omit the part where he had run out of options and had tried to kill himself, substituting a story about how he had set out into the snow in search of civilization instead. Nobody would be any the wiser, it wasn't as if the Polars could communicate their own version of events. The Detective's expressions ranged from skepticism to surprise as Schaffer told him about how the pack had nursed him back to health, fed him, clothed him and eventually helped him get back to the outpost.

When he was done, the man leaned back into the couch, scratching his chin pensively.

If your story is true, Corporal, and I don't doubt that it is. How could you come to be here by any other means? Then we have a serious corruption problem on the Pinwheel. To think that a member of our own Admiralty is running a black market out of the largest military base in human space...” He leaned forward to look Schaffer in the eye. “You must vow never to reveal this information to anyone else. We can handle this internally, this doesn't need to get out into the public domain. If news of this reached the civilian population, then it could seriously harm morale and put the war effort in jeopardy. Please tell me that you understand the importance of absolute secrecy in this matter.”

About that,” Schaffer began, but the Detective interrupted him angrily.

I can assure you, Corporal Schaffer, that if you attempt to further leverage this situation to your advantage, then you will not find me willing to negotiate. Your options are to cooperate or to be taken into custody.”

He faltered a little on that last sentence, noticing Zagza blocking the door with his massive frame, no doubt attracted by the sound of raised voices. He watched the humans with a stern expression, the Marines clutching at their rifles nervously.

Hear me out, Detective,” Schaffer continued. “I have a proposition. I want to remain here and man the outpost for the foreseeable future.”

You...what?” Masters asked, confused. “Did I hear you correctly? You want to stay here?”

You heard right. Even if you take down Rawling, I'll never be safe. You could put me in witness protection, ship me off to the other side of the galaxy, but I'll be looking over my shoulder waiting for that knife in my back for the rest of my life.”

You don't trust us to keep you safe?”

Schaffer chuckled, and Masters looked perplexed by his reaction.

I think that you can understand why I might have developed trust issues lately, Detective.”

But what will you do here?”

I was assigned here, right? All perfectly legal and proper, Rawling saw to that,” he added with a touch of bitterness. “You guys could use someone to man the base, and I'm a qualified engineer. My safety, and more importantly for you my silence, would be guaranteed.” Masters paused for a moment, considering the offer as Schaffer continued. “All I ask is that you provide me with periodic shipments of food and supplies, enough to feed me and my Borealan friends. That shouldn't be a problem, right? Such supply lines were already in operation until relatively recently as I understand it.”

I can't make this decision myself,” the Detective replied, “I lack the authority. However, I do believe your offer to be reasonable and potentially attractive. Hell, you already have access to the dish and have no doubt plundered the classified files by now, we won't reveal anything new by granting you clearance after the fact.” Masters stood, Schaffer following suit. “I believe I have all of the information I need, thank you, Corporal. I will have the security chief on the Pinwheel take Admiral Rawling into custody until we can clear this matter up. If what you have told me is true, then there will no doubt be further incriminating evidence in his personal files. I can obtain a warrant to search them.”

I'll need supplies fairly soon, assuming that my proposition is accepted.”

Yes, I'll see to that.” Masters extended his hand and Schaffer took it, shaking it briskly. “I'm very sorry that you were caught up in all of this, Corporal. Personally, I don't doubt your story, and I will make it my mission to bring Rawling to justice. I'm going to send word ahead to the Pinwheel immediately. If Rawling has half of the connections that you think he does, then we need to lock that station down before he slips away and disappears to one of the outlying colonies. I'll be in touch again via the dish very soon.”

Schaffer followed the men out of the base to see them off, shielding his eyes against the glare of the snow as the shuttle rose into the sky, its engines flaring as it climbed back towards space. Zagza sidled up beside him, watching the vessel as it became a spec, then vanished into the azure haze.

I think we're gonna be okay, big guy.”

Zagza eyed him curiously, not understanding, and Schaffer gave him two thumbs up.

CHAPTER 10: IRON FIST

The stars rolled by the office window lazily as the Pinwheel’s torus spun. Chief of Security Moralez looked up at the readout that was scrolling past on his monitor, yawning as he nursed a styrofoam cup full of dark coffee. It was gritty, and it tasted like shit, but it was all that was left in the pot. His shift was almost over, and he was eager to get back home to his girlfriend. He gave the readout another glance, then set down his coffee on his console with one of his prosthetic hands, almost spilling it as he leaned closer to make sure that he had read it correctly.

A warrant for the immediate detention of Admiral Rawling and the seizure of his assets, with an authorization of use of force. What the fuck was this? The message had come directly from an MP at Internal Investigations, it must be serious. He opened the file that listed the charges, his eyes widening as he read through it. Corruption, smuggling, murder. This was unheard of. He double-checked the source, making sure that there had been no mistakes, but all of the security codes checked out. Well, time to earn his paycheck.

Moralez rose to his feet. He was a gruff man, scars peppered his tanned skin, and three of his four limbs were robotic prosthetics. The originals had been lost in battle. He marched over to a communicator screen embedded in the wall and dialed in a number sequence. The monitor came to life, displaying the image of a smooth-skinned Borealan with orange hair who looked irritated to be woken up so late, rubbing her eyes as she yawned widely.

What is it, Moralez? You need somethin'?”

Raz, wake Stanley up. I need to borrow some of your recruits and some of your boyfriend's guns.”

We being boarded again?”

No, there's some kind of situation with Internal Investigations. Use of force has been authorized, and I want the best force available.”

She grinned, baring her sharp teeth.

You got it, Robocop.”

***

Attach short barrels,” Moralez barked, standing at the head of a group of six Borealans. They were wearing customary black UNN combat armor, each wielding a custom XMR rifle tailored to their exaggerated size. Their orange, tiger-striped tails and ears protruded from the Kevlar and ceramic body armor, flicking and twitching in anticipation.

If there's fighting, it will be in close quarters. Nobody fires until I say so. If there’s resistance, you have my permission to use any means necessary to subdue the enemy. Don't make too much of a mess though. Remember, you have to live with those janitors.”

The aliens chuckled under their full-faced combat visors, green HUDs flaring to life through the dark glass as they activated their onboard computers. Moralez drew his XMH handgun from its leather hip holster, twirling it in his polymer fingers. It was considerably heavier than any model that an unaugmented human would be able to wield, it fired a tungsten slug that would knock a Krell on its ass at close range.

Alright, form up. You're my wingman Korza,” he said, tapping one of the aliens on the arm with his fist. The male recruit nodded, affixing a bayonet the size of a Bowie knife to the end of his XMR. “Alright Mad Cats, let's get this done.”

They made their way through the open torus of the Pinwheel, a painted sky with puffy clouds patterning the high ceiling above them. The station was clogged with throngs of people, the occasional Borealan or lumbering, reptilian Krell standing head and shoulders above the Navy personnel and civilian visitors. The crowds parted to let them pass, nobody wanted to get in the way of a security team that meant business.

Moralez led them to one of the entrances to the central control hub, connected to the donut via tube-like spokes that acted as walkways. Only personnel with sufficient clearance were admitted into the hub, which was where the resident Admirals lived, along with all of the systems that ran the massive Naval base.

He flashed his security badge at the two guards who stood to either side of the massive security door, clad in their usual black armor and Navy blue uniforms. They knew who he was, of course. He was their boss, and he had a face that was hard to forget, but protocol had to be followed. They nodded their helmeted heads, moving to either side of the pressure door and scanning their key cards in a pair of readers. There was a hydraulic hiss as the two interlocking halves of the door parted, a red warning light flashing. On the other side was a long hallway, the same white color as the station's hull material save for the blue carpet on the deck.

The group entered, their XMRs stowed in a ready position on their chests as they made their way towards the hub proper. Before them was a ninety-degree bend in the floor, curving up into what looked like a sheer wall from their perspective. The hub was directly above them relative to the torus, the spokes of the wheel from which the station got its nickname extending from the North and South faces of the ring. Because the torus simulated gravity through its spin, and the hub generated its gravity through and AG field of the kind generally used on starships, there was a point in the spoke where the two overlapped. Walking up the bend was a bit of a mindfuck, it went against your every natural instinct and you never really got used to it.

Moralez steeled himself, clenching his polymer fingers as he marched towards the bend. There was an odd sensation as the gravity changed, making his stomach drop like he had just stepped off a ledge, and then it leveled out again. The Borealans followed after him, perhaps more at ease with their stabilizing tails.

They soon reached the far end of the carpeted walkway and entered into the control hub through a similar pressure door. It was far more spartan than the often elaborately decorated torus, which was designed for extended deployments with no shore leave, featuring decorations like planters and a painted ceiling to simulate a terrestrial environment. This area looked more like a maze in the style of an office block, featureless save for the numbered doors and few token potted plants.

Another guard wearing an opaque face plate accosted them, gesturing for them to stop, his hand wandering to his hip.

Oh. It's you, Chief,” the guard said as he relaxed. “What brings you to the control hub?” He leaned to look past him, appraising the squad of bristling Borealans.

MP business, I need to find Admiral Rawling. Can you point me in the right direction, Charlie?”

Yeah, it's just down that hall there, and to the-”

Moralez' stomach turned like he had been flipped upside down, and he found himself floating off the floor. Charlie and the Borealans were scrambling for purchase, the artificial gravity had been deactivated.

What the fuck!?” Charlie exclaimed, finding an emergency handhold on the ceiling. “The AG field has gone down!”

God damn it, it's Rawling!” Moralez snarled.He knows we're coming for him, he must have had one of his goons tamper with the generator.” He turned his head, watching the squad of Borealans as they hooked their dexterous tails around nearby objects or dug their claws into the padded walls. “Looks like this is a combat situation now. You've got your orders, subdue anyone who resists, bring Rawling in alive and relatively unharmed if possible.” He turned to Charlie, gesturing for him to take cover. “This might get hairy Charlie, we can handle this.”

Moralez unholstered his oversized handgun, turning on its battery with an electrical whir, and heard the pack of Borealans ready their weapons in turn.

Remember, Rawling is believed to have bought out at least a few Marines and security personnel. If someone raises a weapon against you, take them down. If someone fires at you first, return fire with impunity.”

The aliens echoed a chorus of affirmations, then bounded forward on their powerful legs, gliding in the microgravity environment. They were more agile than humans in low G, using their long tails to stabilize themselves and to find purchase like monkeys. Moralez followed, pushing off the walls with his powerful prosthetic leg.

As they neared the Admiral's office where Charlie had directed them, he heard the chatter of automatic gunfire. The Borealans leapt out of the way, taking cover behind the corner and blind-firing into the corridor. There were guards crouched behind a metal planter that was bolted to the floor, wearing UNN security armor not dissimilar from the standard variant, using it as cover to lay down suppressing fire from their XMRs. Hypersonic slugs slammed the wall behind the Borealans, puffs of insulating material exploding from the surface in a shower of foam padding. Moralez pushed off the floor to get out of the way, closing his visor as he drifted towards a nearby wall. The traitors were firing randomly, concerned only with locking down the corridor. This was dangerously close range.

Mad Cats! Tell Rawling we need help!” Moralez heard one of them shout over the gunfire. It was deafening in these confined quarters, echoing through the cramped hallways. “They brought Mad Cats!”

These guys were wearing UNN armor, which meant that they had protection against flash or concussion bombs, and their visors would see through smoke grenades. Moralez couldn't use frags here without blowing open a hole in the hull and blasting them all into space, never mind the collateral damage. He had an idea though, raising a polymer finger to the side of his helmet and activating the closed comms channel. Static buzzed, then leveled out as he gave the order to his team.

Switch your visors to IR, then get ready to charge. I got a plan.”

Borealans were loyal to a fault, the pack doing as he asked without question, tapping the touch controls on the sides of their helmets to switch their mode to infrared.

Covering fire!” Moralez shouted, pushing off the floor and into the open corridor. The Borealans unloaded in unison, hammering the far end of the hallway with a hail of automatic fire, the corrupt Marines lowering their heads in panic. Moralez exhaled, willing himself to calm down as he raised his inhumanly steady and accurate prosthetic arm. He loosed three shots in the space of a second, his limb compensating for the recoil as if there was none at all. The three light fixtures that were embedded in the ceiling exploded in a flash of glass and electricity, plunging the corridor into near pitch blackness. The Borealans charged forward like angry tigers, reacting far quicker to the change than the Marines were able to. The aliens were upon them before they could get their bearings in the gloom. One of them was speared by a bayonet, his weapon floating away from him along with tiny spheres of airborne blood as he loosed a cry of pain. A second was set upon by two of the Borealans as they rounded the planter, knocking him off-balance with their weight and tearing into the hapless Marine with their hooked claws, his Kevlar providing little more protection than paper against the powerful creatures. There was the telltale gurgle of a severed jugular and a spray of arterial blood that splattered against the white walls. The third Marine raised his XMR to fire on his assailants, but Moralez saw an opening between the shifting figures and put a round straight through his visor, snapping his head back and leaving his lifeless body floating slowly away as momentum carried it along. One of the Borealans rounded a second corner and loosed two bursts from his XMR, followed by a muffled yell of surprise that was abruptly silenced by a third burst.

Moralez counted five, there couldn't be too many more. He took point, bounding around the corner and using the far wall to slow himself, his weapon still readied. Two more dispatched Marines floated in the hall, their bodies limp and lifeless. They looked like they were underwater, it was an oddly eerie sight. He waved the Borealans forward, locating a door with Admiral Rawling's plaque, gaudy gold with indented letters.

We breach, take positions.”

They lined up on either side of the door as best they could in the microgravity and Moralez retrieved a shaped charge from the belt of one of his cats. He had anticipated locked doors. He was surprised that the Admiral had not managed to engage the fire doors yet, maybe there had been a struggle in engineering when the gravity had been shut off.

He placed the charge on the door and set the countdown on an embedded numerical keypad, stepping back out of range. The Borealans flattened their ears against their helmets, bracing for the explosion. The door blew inward, the shaped charge concentrating the blast into the room, spraying the interior with debris and shrapnel. It wouldn't be lethal unless they got especially unlucky, but the Admiral should be stunned and downed by the shockwave.

Go go go!”

They filed into the room, checking the corners and finding it empty. Rawling emerged from behind his mahogany desk, now scarred by hot metal from the explosive charge. He steadied himself, trying to get his bearings in the low gravity, and raised a revolver in a shaking hand. It was a custom job, a forty-four magnum, an ivory grip visible beneath his gloved hand. There were splotches of red blood staining his otherwise immaculate Admiral's dress uniform, nothing life-threatening, but he must have caught some of the debris.

Put that gun down!” Moralez shouted, training his weapon on him. “I'm taking you in, Rawling.” A forty-four round wouldn't penetrate the ceramic armor that they were wearing, but he might get lucky and hit the Kevlar, it wouldn't reliably shield them at this range.

I...am...a fucking...Admiral!” Rawling bellowed as he tried to catch his breath and steady his hand, obviously still stunned. He looked crazed, his eyes were bloodshot and bulging, spittle flying from his lips as he ranted. “You will stand down, or so help me, I'll have you fed to the Krell!”

Not anymore you're not, you're under arrest. We know all about your little black market enterprise. I have orders to take you in and to confiscate your private files. Surrender, right now, or I swear I'll put a slug through your goddamned heart.”

Rawling was clearly panicking, his eyes darting around the room, searching for some means of escape. The Borealans kept their weapons trained on him, unflinching.

Listen to me very carefully,” the Admiral began. “I am a very powerful man, I have connections. Even if you put me away, I can make your life very difficult. They won't execute me, I'm too high ranked, think about how it would look! They'll disappear me, lock me away in some asteroid prison colony where I'll be out of the public eye. Is that what you want? I can ruin you. Even from behind bars, I can order hits on everyone that you love.”

Moralez bared his teeth, his finger inching closer to his trigger.

Wait, wait! I can make it worth your while,” Rawling pleaded.My resources are limitless! How would you like to retire early? Be transferred to a tropical colony planet? I could fill your bank account with credits, I could give you crates full of paper currency, untraceable! A private yacht, promotions, money, women. Anything you want!”

There's only one thing I want Rawling, your fucking surrender.”

The Admiral's brow furrowed, he was not acquainted with integrity it seemed. Moralez could see the sweat pooling on his face in the zero-gravity, forming blobs that clung to his skin. He could practically see the cogs turning in the man's head as he weighed his options.

Finally, he lowered the revolver, letting it float away from him and raising his hands. Moralez glided over to him, holstering his handgun and pulling a zip tie from his belt. He gripped Rawling's wrists in his metal hands, dragging him over the desk and turning him to secure his arms behind his back. Pulling him along in zero-G was a pain in the ass, but Moralez gripped him by his upper arm and tugged him as he pushed off the floor.

Suddenly they fell, surprised as the AG field was brought back online unexpectedly. Moralez heard thumps as the Borealans and the floating corpses landed, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rawling move. He had a letter opener concealed up his sleeve, using it to cut the zip tie that held his wrists bound. He put Moralez between him and the Borealans, pulling the XMH from Moralez' hip holster and pressing it against his helmet. At point-blank range, it would provide him with no protection. The bastard was fast for an older man.

Call off your pets, Marine, tell them not to fire. They won't listen to me.” He shook Moralez and repeated the command, his trembling finger pressing against the trigger. Moralez had no choice and ordered the Borealans to stand down. They stood nervously, looking to each other for support, unsure of how to proceed. The aliens were poor decision makers when the chain of command was broken.

Good, good,” the Admiral breathed as his panting breath misted the back of Moralez' reflective helmet. “Now I'm getting out of here, and nobody is following me.”

Alarms will be blaring all over the station, Rawling. Where are you going to go?” Moralez asked, his tone mocking.

Shut the fuck up,” he spat, his cap almost falling off his head. “I have ways in and out of this station that not even the engineers know about. You're coming with me, you self-righteous prick, I need insurance.”

Moralez moved his right arm, faster than would be possible for an organic human. He gripped the handgun that was pressed against his temple, the Admiral's fingers cracking like toothpicks under the pressure of his robotic hand. He pulled it forward with a sharp tug, dislocating Rawling's arm over his shoulder and tearing the ligaments and muscles as if they were made of wet paper.

The Admiral screamed in shock and agony, staring at his broken, ruined limb in disbelief. His hand was destroyed, and his arm was warped grotesquely at the elbow, white bone protruding through welling blood. Moralez brought his left arm around, his prosthetic elbow slamming into Rawling's face, crushing his nose in a spray of blood that spread over his white dress uniform in a flared pattern. He stumbled backwards, almost knocked off his feet by the blow and blinded. Moralez released his tattered fingers, spinning to hook his arm around Rawling's neck. He slipped his shoulder under the Admiral’s armpit, using the leverage to lift him clear off the ground.

Rawling seemed to hang in the air for a brief moment before Moralez brought him down with a whir of servos and motors, slamming him into his mahogany desk with enough force to snap the thick wooden slab in two. There was a terrible crunch of breaking bones, and Moralez released his hold, stepping back from the ruined desk. Rawling lay motionless, twisted and broken, blood pooling on the Persian rug beneath him.

Well...this is gonna be a pile of paperwork,” the Chief muttered.

***

Schaffer watched as the cargo shuttle descended, blowing up a cloud of white snow as its landing gear absorbed the impact. The UNN had agreed to his terms. They would be allowing him to stay at the Terminal, his job now was to man the outpost and to maintain the equipment. Once Zagza had understood that the vessels were bringing them food and supplies, he had been overjoyed, lifting Schaffer off his feet to embrace him in a tight hug that squeezed the air from his lungs. The pack seemed entirely happy to stay here with him, the base was warmer than their longhouse had been, and now they could have food and supplies delivered directly to their doorstep. The UNN had dealt extensively with Borealans and knew how to feed them. Zagza and a couple of the other Polars carried large slabs of frozen meat from the shuttle's cargo bay, taking it back to the outpost for storage. The pack would never go cold or hungry again, and Schaffer now had the full support of the UNN. They would be sending a team of engineers soon to fix some of the remaining problems in the base, such as the broken plumbing.

He had even heard that Rawling had resisted arrest, with violent consequences. Though not dead, he had been put into an induced coma in the Pinwheel's medical facility and was not expected to recover. Using the confiscated files, Internal Investigations was unraveling the tangled ball of yarn that was the smuggling ring. Fortunately, the Admiral had kept excellent records of his dealings in the hopes of using it to blackmail his associates should they ever threaten to turn him in. It appeared that the spooks had kept everything under wraps. Besides for a short firefight in the Pinwheel's control hub, everything had gone smoothly.

Overall, things could not have worked out much better. Everyone had gotten what they wanted, besides Rawling of course. Schaffer heard Osha calling him. Apparently, she was already preparing some of the food that had been delivered. He wandered back towards the outpost, his environment suit warming him with its fresh battery, and noticed Scarface sitting on the roof. She was watching the activity around the shuttle through her spyglass, and Schaffer waved to her. She raised her hand in greeting, then returned to her telescope. Yuka and Yura bustled past him, skipping over the snow and play fighting as they made their way back home.

That's what the outpost was now, his home, and the pack was his family.

-THE END-

 
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2 thoughts on “OUTPOST

  1. Well, you are really an outstanding writer.
    I mean, consider that i completely skip the sex scenes because i’m not into big hips/busts, so i’m judging only the plot of your storyes.
    The way you describe your Universe, centered on this world Borealis and the Borelans race is exquisite. You are able to engage the reader, making us desire to read more and discover more of your characters and your races.
    Amongst your many Tales, so far my favourite are this one and Fineprints.
    Fineprints is a must read, because it basically explain to the reader all we need to know about Borealis and the Borelan race. It’s a long story, and i appreciate that. Lots to read and i love reading.

    Outpost is by far my favourite one. The way you described the culture of these Polar Borelans is great. There is much more i would like to say but sadly my english is limited. I can only tell you that you’ve gained a faithful reader, and i hope you will write more long Tales (the longer, the better) about Borealis and about the Borelans.

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