Fineprint


 

© 2019 Snekguy. All rights reserved.

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Disclaimer: This work of erotic fiction is intended for adults only. The story contains the following themes: femdom, gentle femdom, dubcon, maledom, light bondage, girl on girl, size difference, muscle, sweat, fur, rough sex, biting, scratching, group sex, long tongues.

CHAPTER 1: PLANETFALL

Dennis adjusted his tie and breathed on the shiny UN badge that was pinned to his lapel, polishing it with his sleeve as he looked out through the shuttle’s viewport. Below the tiny craft, Borealis hung in space like a monstrous Christmas ornament. Smears of pale clouds streaked across the moonless planet's surface like the paintbrush strokes of a lazy deity, the arid world's twin suns blazing in the distance, the yellow secondary almost obscured by the bright glare of the white primary.

Long years of law school and unpaid internships had finally led him to this, deployed to Borealis by the United Nations to serve as the first ambassador to Earth. They had seemed eager to ship him off, he must be needed urgently, and he had swelled with pride as his diplomatic papers had been handed to him. There were no senior diplomats available for the position, they had all mysteriously vanished when the post had been announced, but Dennis had not hesitated to take on his first real assignment. He didn't know much about the planet and its people, but he knew that it had only recently been inducted into the Coalition and that many Borealans had never met a human before.

He would be building bridges and smoothing relations between Earth and Borealis, and more importantly, meeting new people with alien cultures and strange practices. His heart fluttered with excitement. He would not be pushing papers here, this would be an adventure!

Ambassador Carlisle, would you please take a seat and strap in? We'll be landing shortly,” the pilot said, turning his helmeted head to look back into the shuttle compartment. Dennis nodded and sat down in one of the seats that lined the walls, fumbling with the clasp on his harness. This was a troop transport, hardly luxurious, but in order to make the seventy-five light year journey from Earth to Borealis, he had to hitch a ride on a Navy jump carrier. The massive ships were among the few classes of vessel capable of using superlight drives to cover the vast interstellar distances, and they weren't cruise liners by any means. He was glad to be out of the cramped ship with its spartan furnishings, and he looked forward to touring the new embassy building that he was told had been built in his honor. He might be a glorified clerk back on Earth, but these aliens seemed to think that he was of immense importance and high standing. He saw no reason to correct them.

He gripped the armrests on his seat as turbulence began to rock the little craft, and he looked forward to the pilot's cockpit to glimpse the planet close up. As they descended through the atmosphere and the nose of the shuttle glowed orange, flames licking up the glass, the planet's features became more developed. Enormous lakes broke up the deserts like gigantic Oases, glittering as they reflected the harsh sunlight, so large in scale that they made the Great Lakes of North America look unimpressive in comparison. They were ringed by bands of lush greenery, thick, dense jungles over which spirals of wispy clouds hovered like continent-sized patches of mist. He couldn't make out any cities or spaceports, but Borealis was not very developed. They had only recently been introduced to superlight technology, and so they only possessed a small fleet made up mostly of ships that they had purchased from other species. He had seen no space stations or elevators in orbit either, the ships must have to make planetfall, which was extremely fuel inefficient.

The shuttle cut through cloud layers, emerging beneath an azure sky, the white glare of the primary star like sitting under a fluorescent lamp. The quality of the light had an odd tint to it, everything looked too white, or perhaps Sol made everything too yellow? The air resistance slowed the ship as it glided on its stubby wings, cruising towards its target at a more leisurely pace.

We're about fifteen minutes off, Ambassador. I'm supposed to give you this.”

The pilot rummaged inside a bag, then produced a small paperback booklet. Dennis unbuckled, getting up from his seat and moving gingerly towards the cockpit to retrieve it, keeping a tight grip on the handholds along the ceiling.

Just some basic info on dealing with the natives,” the pilot explained.

The cover featured a cartoon of one of the aliens, tall with feline ears and a long tail, leaning down to shake hands with a little human. It was titled Borealis Tourism Guide.

Dennis thumbed through it, noting the somewhat ironic nature of the title. There had been no tourism to Borealis since contact had been established and they had been inducted into the Coalition, only now was an embassy being established. Had the producers of the guide expected an interest in the planet that never manifested? Tourism was not a big industry on an interstellar level due to the expense of traveling great distances, but the rich and powerful tended to travel when it was possible.

The first section was called Borealan culture and social conventions, that seemed like a good place to start.

Due to the hierarchical pack structure of society on Borealis, you are advised to keep in mind the following instructions:

Do not maintain eye contact with a Borealan, this may be misconstrued as a challenge.

Do not joke with, tease, talk back, or otherwise provoke a Borealan, even in a manner that may seem friendly or affectionate to a human.

Do not make unsolicited physical contact with a Borealan such as tapping them to get their attention, bumping into them by accident, or attempting to touch their ears or tail.

Do not attempt to argue with or assert yourself over a Borealan. If there is a disagreement, bypass them by talking to a superior.

Should a Borealan show aggression towards you, attempt to make yourself appear as weak and as non-threatening as possible then seek immediate medical attention for bites and/or lacerations.

He looked up to the pilot, his blood running cold.

Bites and lacerations!?”

The pilot chuckled to himself, his expression impossible to discern through his opaque visor.

Did you not research the planet that you were going to be stationed on beforehand, Ambassador?”

Well, I glanced over the basics! I thought that it would be better to get to know the locals and build a more personal relationship with them through being immersed in their culture.”

The pilot steered the shuttle through a pocket of turbulence and Dennis grabbed a handhold in the roof of the craft as it shook.

Then this is going to be a very enlightening visit for you, sir,” the pilot replied as the shuttle leveled out again.

What does that mean? Why is it so funny?”

You ever heard the nickname that the Marines give the Borealans?”

No...”

They call them Mad Cats. I've been told that they fight like lions and that they're a pain in the ass to be around. They get sent to a special Navy facility for training before they're even allowed to be in a room alone with a human.”

Dennis swallowed hard, looking through a nearby porthole at the arid desert racing past below them and fiddling with his tie nervously.

I'm not trying to scare you, Ambassador, but did they not tell you this when you took the job?”

No...and I was the only one who applied...”

The pilot whistled, his tone sympathetic.

Take a good read of that booklet then, and er...”

What is it?”

Don't go anywhere without an escort.”

***

The ship glided into view of their destination, one of the massive lakes growing even larger in the viewport as they sped towards it. Its surface reflected the light of the sun like a giant mirror, the glare making it hard to look at directly for very long. Hundreds of miles of desert surrounded it, but in a wide band around the water source grew a plethora of exotic plants and trees. There was a whole forest, or maybe calling it a rainforest would be more apt. Tall, straight trees that resembled firs jutted from the canopy, alarmingly high even at this distance. Dennis was used to seeing trees like these in cold climates, and they looked oddly out of place next to the desert sands. He couldn't make out much else as the treetops flew by them, the ship descending towards the water.

They cleared the wall of greenery, and Dennis' eyes widened as a Borealan city revealed itself before them. It was immediately clear to him that Borealans built out, not up. There were no structures more than three or four stories tall, most buildings were long and squat with impressive stone arches and domed roofs that brought to mind imagery of Arabian or maybe Roman architecture. It was austere, but there was a unique artistry to it.

The city, small by human standards, was nestled between the band of green forest and the shore of the lake. The ground was overlaid with stone to mark the boundary between the city and the forest, Dennis guessing that it must have been cleared in the distant past and then paved over to prevent the trees from encroaching on the living space. With a start, he realized that the water sources he had seen from orbit might be the only habitable zones on the planet. Life clustered around them almost desperately, carving out what territory it could glean from the desert.

The pilot circled the craft around, giving Dennis time to take in the view.

This is the capital city of Elysia. Each lake is a territory, each territory is ruled by a tribe, each tribe is further subdivided into packs and family units. The Elysiedde family is currently the most powerful political entity on the planet, most of your dealings will be with them. They're currently the only territory that can afford spacecraft, and Patriarch Elysiedde has been very eager to make alliances with Coalition planets. His own daughter is currently training new Borealan troops for the war effort on a UNN starbase.”

So these guys are a bit more...friendly?” Dennis asked, a twinge of apprehension in his voice.

They're about as friendly as a Borealan is ever going to get, yeah, but don't expect much.”

I don't suppose it's too late to ask for a ride home?” Dennis asked, half-jokingly.

Afraid not Ambassador, but in the future, please read the assignments that you agree to more thoroughly.”

***

The ship banked, flying towards the center of the squat city. Buildings made from what looked like sandstone in shades ranging from deep brown to off-white lined the narrow streets, the ever prevalent decorative arches passing overhead. Every other building had a domed roof, even the smaller dwellings had one. Their curved surfaces were wide and decorative, patterned with indents and ribs. Before them an impressive structure loomed, casting a dark shadow over the structures below it. It was only five or six stories tall, but it towered over the surrounding buildings. A great spire reached into the air, supported by stacked layers of massive, decorative columns. It looked like several Greek Parthenons stacked one on top of another. It was paler than the stone around it, almost pearl white, and it reflected the sunlight of the primary star like a beacon. There was construction happening beside it, a much smaller, square building with a domed roof was in the final processes of being erected. Blocks of stone and unrecognizable machinery blocked the streets in its vicinity.

As the shuttle circled the spire, Dennis spied a platform jutting from the side of the structure. It was a flat slab of rock, landing lights blinking at the edges. The pilot zoned in, carefully maneuvering the shuttle as he set it down on the improvised landing pad, the engines kicking up a torrent of dust and sand. As the roar of the engines slowly subsided, Dennis walked towards the exit ramp, apprehension knotting his stomach.

Watch your step,” the pilot commented, and the ramp began to lower with a pneumatic hiss.

Dennis recoiled, hit by a wall of sweltering, dry heat that seared his lungs. It was like opening an oven door, the hot wind washing over him as though someone was pointing a blow dryer at his face. He stepped forward, immediately beginning to sweat inside his two-piece suit. As he walked off the ramp and outside the range of the shuttle's artificial gravity field, he heaved as if the wind had been knocked out of him, his knees bent as he doubled over.

Argh, what the hell..?”

High gravity!” the pilot called out, “1.3Gs I believe.”

You couldn't have warned me?” Dennis choked. It felt like someone had dropped a small horse onto his back.

You were gonna find out eventually. Have fun Ambassador, I'll be back to pick you up in six months.”

Six months!?”

Yeah, any damage to your joints after that will be permanent.”

The engines of the shuttle flared, and Dennis hobbled off the landing pad to escape the gale. He made his way down a flight of stone steps that led the spire, afraid that he might fall in the high gravity.

A large wooden door opened at the bottom of the steps, and a towering creature stepped out of the building. The alien was about eight feet tall, obviously female judging by her flared hips and her impressive bust. She wore a revealing robe made of light, blue fabric that accentuated her impressive figure and showed off the smooth skin on her shoulders and thighs, a fitting garment for such stifling heat. She was heavily muscled compared to the average human, likely due to the high gravity, with stout thighs and the outline of her abdominal muscles visible beneath the gossamer fabric. A pair of round ears that reminded Dennis of a lion or a tiger protruded from her shaggy, orange hair, swiveling to track him like a pair of fuzzy little radar dishes. She had striking eyes, amber in color with the vertical pupils of a feline, reflecting the sunlight to make them appear to glow as she scrutinized him. Her face was strange, but not so much as to be too alien or off-putting, with a pink nose like that of a cat and a flat brow. Her body too was familiar in some ways and alien in others. Her forearms and hands were coated in thin, orange fur that matched her hair, her fingers ending in curved claws. Below her smooth-skinned thighs her legs were digitigrade like those of a dog, more orange fur beginning at her knees to give the impression that she was wearing knee socks. Rather than humanoid feet, she had a pair of large paws, each toe tipped with another black claw. Her long, furry tail waved idly behind her, emerging from a slot in her garment. The strange creature called to him in rolling English, her accent sounding oddly Russian to his ears.

Ambassador Carlisle! We have awaited your arrival most impatiently!”

He was hunched over, taking in ragged breaths of the dry air, and he was sweating as if he had just run a triathlon. He wanted to stand up straight and shake hands, make a good first impression, but it was impossible under these circumstances.

He stumbled down the last couple of steps, limping over to her, cursing himself for accepting the assignment. This was not a promotion, it was an exile! He had been the only one young and naive enough to think of adventure and prestige before his own neck. It was a lesson learned far too late, however.

Ah! My apologies Ambassador, I...how do you say...”

Her English was good, but not perfect, she seemed to have some odd grammatical quirks.

The gravity here, it is too much for a human, yes? You will adapt in time.”

She grasped him gently under the arm, alleviating some of the crushing weight, and guided him into the building. They descended another long flight of stairs, the steps slightly too large for his human legs. If this alien had not been there to support him, he might have taken a dangerous fall.

When they reached the bottom, they emerged from another wooden door and into the street, turning towards the construction site that Dennis had seen from the shuttle.

I am sorry, I failed to introduce myself," the alien said. "I am called Xhe Fortaz, you may call me Xhe. I have been trained specially to assist you while you visit us.”

Dennis nodded, not wanting to waste any energy speaking, large beads of sweat dripping down his pale face.

Do not worry, we will get you seated in a chair, it will help.”

They walked past heavy stone blocks and large, rugged machinery of indecipherable purpose, entering the new building through a large pair of heavy doors. They were flanked by two large pillars, and Dennis might have stopped to admire the masonry under more favorable circumstances. There was a long hall running down the center of the structure, the floor made from shiny marble that squeaked under his shoes. Borealans seemed to have a love for stonework, but perhaps in this high gravity environment, it was the only material that would stay standing. Even if the style was borne from a limitation, it was no less aesthetically pleasing.

This is the embassy that we have built for you, as is customary for your people," Xhe explained as she guided him along. "We hope that it will please you.”

I-It's very nice.” Dennis wheezed. His knees and ankles felt like they were going to give out any second.

Xhe steered him into a side room, past an ornamental door and into an open space with a wooden desk that resembled an office or a study. Everything was brand new and varnished to a fine sheen, the furniture must have been carved from local wood. She lowered him gingerly into a chair behind the elaborate desk. It was cushioned, and a little too high for him. The measurements must not have been perfect, but as he relaxed into the seat, the pressure on his legs was relieved.

Oh lord, thank you Miss Fortaz,” he gasped.

Please, call me Xhe.”

Of course, Xhe. You'll forgive my ignorance, I was not made aware of the...local conditions when I was assigned to Borealis. I was unprepared for such heat and high gravity.”

She gave him a sympathetic nod as if she had seen his condition before.

I understand, I have trained with humans on your Pinwheel under Miss Elysiedde.”

Pinwheel?” Dennis asked, wiping the sweat from his brow with his sleeve.

A space station where Borealans and other aliens are sent to learn human customs so that they might serve in the military, or in my case assist the Ambassador.”

Ah, yes, my shuttle pilot mentioned some such station.”

The alien was oddly reverential, she said Ambassador as if she were addressing royalty, not a politician. She had said that embassies were a custom of his people, implying that hers did not use them. Perhaps the concept of an ambassador was new to them, and they assigned the position far more importance than it really deserved. No matter.

Xhe, may I bother you for a glass of water?”

A drink? Of course, please wait here.”

She scurried out of the room, almost sprinting. He had never had his own secretary before, but he sensed that he would get along well with this one.

He looked around the room, or his office, as seemed to be its purpose. There were no paintings on the walls as one might find in a human-designed office, instead odd tapestries and curtains hung from the walls, made from fine fabrics. He noted that there were no windows, and in fact, he had seen no windows on any of the buildings so far.

One especially large tapestry seemed to depict a battle scene. It was crude, and the perspective was poor. It looked like something from the middle ages, but he could recognize what was being shown. A large, muscular Borealan with a flowing mane commanded an army, assaulting a squat castle whose denizens aimed at them with what looked like maybe muskets or rifles. The embroidery was intricate, fine craftsmanship despite the relatively crude art.

He examined the desk, it looked like mahogany, but it was surely some native species of tree. The deep brown, varnished sheen was inlaid with carved heads. They looked like cats, not Borealans, something else. Perhaps some local animal. Because there were no windows the only light in the office came from a bulb on the ceiling, putting out a less harsh, more yellow light than their sun. The cats had done their research.

If only they had installed artificial gravity generators, even if it was just in one room. His legs ached, and his back was beginning to get sore. He believed them when they told him he would adapt to the new gravity, but how long would that take?

His feet dangled from the tall chair, it made him feel like a child sitting at a dinner table in a booster seat. Fortunately, the front of the desk had an obscuring panel, and so anyone standing on the other side would not be able to see that. The floor was carpeted with a deep, royal red, and even the shelves on the walls were works of art in their own right. Overall the room looked like the office of a tasteless statesman, or maybe a politician who fancied himself a big player. Dennis loved it.

After a couple of minutes, Xhe hurried back into the room holding a wooden mug comparable in size to a thermos. She placed it on the table, waiting eagerly, and Dennis hefted it awkwardly to take a tentative sip.

Thank you Xhe, that hits the spot," he said as he felt the rasping in his scoured throat receding. “You've done an excellent job on the embassy, by the way, my compliments to the architects.”

Xhe beamed, her fuzzy tail flicking backwards and forwards, almost like a dog wagging. Dennis remarked the faded tiger stripes that decorated it, the same were present on the furred areas of her limbs too.

I'm glad that it pleases you, Ambassador. We attempted to imitate human styles.”

This tapestry," he said, gesturing to the larger battle scene that dominated one wall as he took another drink from the cup “What does it depict?”

Xhe turned to examine it.

That is the battle of Elysia. It depicts the ancestor of Patriarch Elysiedde capturing this territory after laying siege to its citadel. Shortly after, he would found the capital city.”

A Patriarch is your leader then? Like a King or a President?”

Yes, more like a King, though the title is not usually hereditary. It can be taken by force, but the breeding of great families is impeccable, and that rarely happens.”

Eugenics, then? Interesting, this species had no moral qualms about the practice.

Does it have to be a male? Have you had any female leaders?”

No, it can be a Matriarch, there is less...” Xhe struggle with a word. “Dimorf...”

Sexual dimorphism?” Dennis offered.

Yes, there is less sexual dimorphism among Borealans than among humans.”

Dennis had imagined male Borealans to be even larger and more imposing, but that might not be the case. He was somewhat relieved. It was hard enough craning his neck to speak with this female, as oddly attractive as she was.

Will I be introduced to the current Patriarch?”

Oh, yes, very soon in fact. He is aware of the difficulties experienced by humans in the early stages of their visit and will be coming here in person. An honor that I am sure you can appreciate.”

Dennis' mood soured somewhat, he would not make a good impression on the leader of this planet in his current state. He would have preferred to have a straight back and a firm handshake when introducing himself, rather than being slumped in a chair with his face coated in sweat. Perhaps such an early visit was a strategic attempt to make the Patriarch's presence more overpowering? Had the political maneuvering already begun?

Excellent," he replied, putting on his best smile. He had been told that Borealans were nightmarish and ill-tempered, but Xhe was lovely, very helpful too. He still had the booklet with him, he should examine it more closely and read the rest of its entries in private.

Do you know if my luggage has arrived Xhe? I sent it ahead of me.”

Yes, we received several containers. They have been stored in your bedroom as requested.”

Perfect, thank you.”

He wasn't sure what to do now. He didn't feel like unpacking, he just wanted to sit down. It felt as if a giant boulder was compressing his chest. Perhaps he should make small talk, get to know his new aide.

So, Xhe, tell me about yourself. How did you learn English?”

She looked flustered, had he overstepped some social boundary or was it just uncommon to show interest in the lives of employees here? She answered anyway.

All soldiers and diplomats must learn your language, we have a school in Elysia that teaches it, then to learn human culture and social conventions we must travel to the Pinwheel and undergo integration training.”

I keep hearing about this station, what does this integration training consist of exactly?”

Well, human and Borealan society is very different. Interacting with humans can be...trying for us. We must undergo intensive training to learn to suppress our pack instincts in order to live and work alongside humans.”

It may surprise you, but I didn't really know much about your people or your culture before coming here. I intended to learn through immersion, but I did come across some information that...worried me.”

Xhe was visibly surprised, and her flat brow furrowed.

Oh, I assumed that you would have completed immersion training. Your superiors did not order such schooling?”

No, you're the first Borealan I've met.”

Xhe looked concerned, touching her clawed fingers to her chin pensively.

That complicates things. They sent you here with no training and no knowledge of our society?”

Is that a problem?” Dennis asked, starting to get very worried.

I will have to teach you, please do not leave this building without me, Ambassador.”

Lord, what had he gotten himself into here? He winced, his back was starting to hurt in this chair, the gravity was intolerable.

Xhe, I assume there's a bed in this bedroom that you mentioned?”

Yes.”

Could you help me up? I'd like very much to lie down for a while.”

She moved behind the desk and lifted him under the arm, the pressure returning to his legs as she eased him out of the chair and he hobbled out of the office. There was no second floor in the building, the bedroom was at the end of the marble hallway behind another wooden door.

She opened it into another ornately decorated, stately room. The Borealans had spared no expense, and their attempts to impress him had succeeded with flying colors. The question that he kept asking himself, however, was just what the Borealans thought an Ambassador was?

The bed was gigantic, the headboard was hewn from an intricately carved block of wood and must have weighed half a ton on its own. Upon it were masterfully crafted reliefs depicting more battle scenes and what looked like a hunting party of Borealans chasing down a large animal in the jungle.

Xhe lifted him onto the mattress, and he sank into the soft material, his pain immediately relieved.

How long do I have until the Patriarch arrives, Xhe?”

One moment," she said as she retrieved a tablet computer and tapped at its screen. “In your time, three quarter hours.”

Thank you.” He relaxed, sighing as the stress on his muscles and joints was alleviated.

***

Xhe closed the door on the human, intending to give him some privacy. It was odd being subservient to such a small, frail creature. He was barely able to survive on Borealis itself, let alone challenge one of her people. It gave her a creeping sensation of wrongness, but this was what she had trained for.

Months on the Pinwheel with the Patriarch's vaunted daughter had prepared her for this line of work. The girl was now a Matriarch in her own right, albeit ruling over the microcosm of the station rather than a territory. She was expected to succeed her father in time, and she was the foremost expert on humans. Along with her human companion, she had taught Xhe what was expected of a secretary, one who serves the Ambassador. Xhe would never have been selected for such a task were it not for her extraordinary temperament, but even with that advantage, it had taken her months to meet the standards that Raz Elysiedde had set for her.

Xhe could be in the company of humans indefinitely now, and what few impulses to assert herself over them still rose to the surface could be kept under control. She had even learned to defer to the aliens, to take commands and to accept their leadership. Were an inferior of her own kind to make such outrageous challenges to her status, she would claw them viciously and teach them their place. But she had come to learn the way of these humans, their bizarre, contradictory social system and their obtuse culture.

Besides, this Carlisle might be physically inferior but his status was very high, he represented the UN and all of their colonies. He must be an individual of great and noble exploits to have earned such an honorable position. She should show him respect, surely after his period of adjustment to the planet's crushing gravity, his valorous character would shine through.

***

Dennis splashed water on his face from a tall marble basin in his en-suite bathroom. He scrutinized his reflection in the mirror, straightening his tie and polishing his UN badge with his sleeve. The Patriarch, or Elysiedde as he was known, would be arriving soon. He must look his best and make a good first impression. The gravity still tugged at him, threatening to pull him to ground and crush his joints into bone dust, but he would have to endure it as best he could. His legs felt as if he had climbed a mountain with a rucksack full of breeze blocks.

Xhe knocked on his door, and he hesitated before answering, marveling at her knowledge of human social conventions.

Is it time, Xhe?”

Ambassador, my Lord Patriarch Elysiedde will see you now.”

Dennis composed himself and put on his best diplomatic smile, striding confidently into the hallway.

He was confronted with nine feet of male Borealan. The specimen was almost as wide as a human was tall, his massive shoulders supporting a head the size of a lion's with a flowing mane of orange hair to match. He was wearing an outfit made from light, billowy fabric not dissimilar from Xhe's clothing, suitable attire for this kind of heat. His tunic was sewn from flowing material in a shade of deep crimson that was secured about his waist with a leather belt. Its golden buckle glinted in the light, and beneath it, he wore a pair of shorts that ended at his knees. The fabric of the tunic was embroidered with scenes similar to those of the tapestries in the office, hunters tracking unidentifiable animals and warriors aiming long rifles, depicted with intricately woven threads in a shade of regal gold.

Draped across his chest was a large sash, studs and badges that might be the Elysian equivalent of medals embellishing it in shining gold and silver. What honors and achievements they might boast Dennis could not say. Even his claws were adorned with gold, each one sheathed in an ornate thimble that was linked to a ring on one of his thick fingers via a delicate chain. A flowing cape trailed on the ground behind him, made from the soft, downy hide of some alien creature. The layered fur shifted in hue as it caught the light, iridescent like a soap bubble or the shell of a colorful beetle. It was beautiful, mesmerizing. Dennis tried to contain his awe, hoping that it did not show on his face.

The Borealan spoke, his rumbling voice reverberating in the enclosed space, making Dennis' bones shake. It was such a deep baritone, it sounded like someone was messing with the pitch in audio editing software. His English was very good, with the same hint of a Russian accent that Xhe exhibited.

Ambassador Carlisle, we meet at last. I hope you will excuse the unfinished state of your embassy.”

Dennis fidgeted with his tie as he replied, doing his best to keep his voice from wavering.

Not at all, Patriarch, the embassy you have built is grand and tastefully decorated. I find myself impressed by your knowledge of human culture and the subtle Borealan touches that you elected to include.”

Oh God, had he addressed him correctly? Should he call him Patriarch or was it Elysiedde, or maybe Lord? Should he dumb down his grammar so that the alien might better understand him or would that be seen as an insult to his intelligence?

Yes, I displayed some tapestries from my own private collection in your office. I am pleased that you can appreciate them. How are you finding our quaint little planet, Ambassador? Do her claws still grip you?”

He had to think for a moment, the Patriarch must mean the gravity.

Yes, she has quite a grip! Given enough time I will adapt, however, and I see no reason that I won’t be able to fulfill all of my diplomatic duties.”

Elysiedde liked Dennis' response, laughing heartily, the low baritone echoing through the hall.

Good, good. I am aware of the fragility of our human visitors. You should be on your feet, touring the capital within a few rotations. I will not take up too much of your time, it is better that you rest for now. But when you have recovered, I expect you to attend one of my banquets. I would like to show off my alien guest to the leaders of the other territories.”

Of course, Patriarch. It was an honor to meet you. I observed the impressive architecture of your city on the way down, I'm eager to explore it and meet the people who live here.”

Elysiedde nodded, then turned to leave, his shining cloak flowing behind him. He strode down the marble hall towards the entrance, his claws clicking on the hard surface. When he reached the large, wooden door, he turned around again.

Oh, and Ambassador. Xhe is not only your aide, but a member of your pack now. She will obey any command that you give her without hesitation. Please don't be hesitant to make any and all use of her during your stay, she has been specially trained for this task.”

With that, he left, and Dennis looked to Xhe. She had been almost cowering in a corner during the Patriarch's visit, was she afraid of him, or was this one of their alien social rituals?

What did he mean by that, Xhe?”

Her tail was flicking back and forth seemingly in irritation, and there was a flush of pink in her cheeks. She looked flustered, a little angry maybe.

How much do you know about Borealan social structures, Ambassador?”

Not a lot," he admitted. "I know you live in packs, but that's about it.”

Borealans don't really have friends in the way that humans do, we form packs, and each pack has anywhere between one and a dozen members. The leader of the pack is the one who physically overcomes the others, usually through violence. They are the Alpha of that pack, they command unwavering loyalty and deference from the others. During my training, I learned how to suppress the instincts that govern such behavior in order to work alongside and take instructions from a human, who would under normal circumstances be my inferior.”

Dennis swallowed as he looked her up and down. Xhe had two feet over him, she must weigh about half a ton, and she had claws like meat hooks. If she had wanted to overpower him through violence, the fight would be an exceedingly short one.

My position as your secretary puts me in a subservient position to you. In Borealan culture, this makes you my Alpha. I must obey any order given.”

Xhe, you know I'm not a Borealan. Humans employ each other and form power structures unrelated to their social status all the time, you don't have to be my slave in order to work for me.”

She raised a hand, gesturing for him to stop.

Trust me, it is better this way. The training that I underwent was intensive. I suggest you pay it no mind and focus on your duties, do not concern yourself with me. I will work around you.”

I'm not going to ask you to do anything that a human secretary wouldn't do,” he clarified. Just what exactly was she expecting?

She nodded, was she a little relieved? The Patriarch's comment had been strange, but no matter, he was here to do a job. Better to make the best of the situation.

Sounds like I have some free time before my diplomatic duties begin, I guess I'll get unpacked!”

He returned to his room on shaky legs, and Xhe trailed behind him.

***

Dennis unpacked his clothes, his toiletries, and a few personal items. Among them was a slab of Kobe beef that had been given to him by the Ambassador to Japan. It was contained within a stasis unit to preserve it, a sizable square box with transparent windows and a blob of nondescript machinery on one end that contained the technology required to slow time in the contained space. The container was not of human origin, it was a device of Broker design, one of the more enigmatic member species of the Coalition to which humanity belonged. They were reluctant to share their advanced technology and so this alien artifact was quite the rare prize. It might be the most expensive gift ever delivered but it would keep the meat fresh, and it was the best that Earth could produce.

It would make an excellent gift for the Patriarch, Dennis would present it to him at one of the banquets that he had mentioned.

What do you think, Xhe?” he asked. He hefted the container so that she could see inside it and her eyes widened, lingering on the marbled meat.

What is it?”

This is Kobe beef, the most expensive luxury meat that Earth produces. The livestock are fed a special diet and massaged daily to improve the flavor. I'm going to give it to the Patriarch as a gift, do you think he'll like it?”

She nodded enthusiastically, her round ears flopping with the motion.

You might not know a lot about my people, Ambassador, but whoever gave you that gift certainly did their research.”

Satisfied, he set the container down and got back to work.

Among the possessions that been shipped ahead was a large trunk, doubly heavy in this intolerable gravity. He tasked Xhe with dragging it to the center of the room. Pushing a button on the side made it open up like the petals of a flower, revealing a sophisticated communications and computing station. It would allow him to do any work that required a computer and to communicate with the UN and Navy High Command. The receiver was powerful enough to send and receive data to orbiting satellites.

Xhe seemed fascinated by the device, walking around it and examining the powerful transmitters. He turned it on, its self-contained power source whirring to life. The monitors flared, displaying data on the status of the computer and its peripherals.

It's a computer," he explained, showing her the keyboard and the trackball mouse. Xhe reached out and rolled the trackball experimentally, watching it spin.

We have computers, of course, but this is advanced compared to ours. No doubt the Patriarch will want one if he sees it...”

I had heard that he enjoys buying foreign technology, especially ships," Dennis said as he started a diagnostic scan. He had to make sure that no components had been damaged during transport.

Yes," she replied, "Elysia is the only territory that can afford to buy starships right now. My Lord Patriarch has made it a matter of inter-territorial grandstanding.”

You don't approve?”

Xhe lowered her head as if she had done something wrong. The Patriarch was not in earshot, did Borealan subservience to those of higher social status run so deep?

It is not my place to question the Patriarch, but I do wonder if the money could not be better spent elsewhere. Our pacts with the Coalition guarantee the protection of the planet from space, in exchange for our best warriors serving on the front. Our soldiers are just happy to be occupied. There has not been war on Borealis for a generation, the Elysiedde family line has dominated, and Elysia is the most powerful territory. She commands respect above all others.”

So even your international politics reflect the pack structure?”

They do, yes. There was a great war which Elysia won under the leadership of Tark Elysiedde, the first Patriarch of Elysia. He led his tribe in the conquest of this territory and defeated three other tribes in the process. One was exiled into the desert, the others were inducted. The scene of the final battle is depicted on the tapestry in your office, which dates from that period.”

Incredible, he had the equivalent of the Bayeux Tapestry on his office wall. That explained the relative crudeness of the art.

The ships that he bought serve no purpose," Xhe continued. "They are used only for boasting, to demonstrate the wealth and modernity of Elysia to the other territories, although they pose her no threat.”

Dennis nodded, he had read about many dictators of Earth's past who had done similar things. Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il, Idi Amin. That was not to say that the Patriarch was a dictator, but it was a worrying correlation. Could such an underdeveloped planet even afford to fuel the ships, or have the training to staff them? He doubted it.

The computer had finished its diagnostic, all systems were operable. The only anomaly was higher than optimal system temperature, but that couldn't be helped.

I think I'll take the Patriarch's advice,” Dennis said. “You are dismissed Xhe, please return tomorrow morning at your earliest convenience. I'm going to rest for a while.”

I live in the embassy now," she said, "I have my own room down the hall.”

Oh, fair enough. I'll see you tomorrow then?”

She nodded and left the room, closing the door behind her. It was unusual, on Earth being a secretary was just a job like any other, but it seemed that Xhe had been groomed for the role and had undergone extensive training. It had become her life, and he didn't know how he felt about that.

***

The next day was rather uneventful. Dennis got as much rest as he could and then attempted to train himself by walking up and down the marble hall under the crushing gravity. Once he got tired of that, he communicated with his superiors via the console, telling them of his progress and the difficulties he had encountered thus far. When he questioned their forthcoming in telling him about the details of the assignment, they simply didn't respond.

He examined the Borealis Tourist Guide, trying to familiarize himself with the culture and customs as best as he was able. He felt uncomfortable asking Xhe about it, and he was unable to retrieve data from the console due to the great distance between UNN space and Borealis. Although the satellites were capable of FTL communication, the size of the packets that they could send and receive was limited to small communiques akin to the telegrams of yore. The little booklet that the pilot had given him was the best source of information available right now.

It had sections on Borealan culture, society, history, the environment, and even local food culture.

After a trying jog up and down the hall, he leafed through the section experimentally as he sat in one of the chairs and panted like an exhausted dog. There was a crude cartoon of a Borealan shoving a T-bone steak into its mouth.

There was a lot of information here compared to some of the other sections. It seemed the Borealans were very enthusiastic about their culinary arts and enjoyed sharing them, perhaps a throwback to their pack animal ancestors sharing a fresh kill like a pride of lions.

Borealans have a rich food culture that is a significant component of their social experience. Their diet consists of varied meats, fish, grains, and gourds. They are sensitive to the oils and fats in cooked meats, preferring cooking methods that enhance these flavors, and texture is of great concern when preparing meals. Borealans have almost no perception of sweet flavors and so human visitors with a sweet tooth may wish to bring condiments and sauces with them when dining. This will not be seen as an insult to the chef, as many Borealans commonly carry small spray bottles or vials containing their preferred oil, which may be processed from meat, fish or vegetables depending on the tastes of the individual. The rendering of fats is an important aspect of Borealan cooking, producing lard or schmalz for use in soups and stews.

Much care is taken when feeding livestock to ensure that the fat of the animal retains a certain flavor, and meats from the same species may not always have a similar taste due to the diet of the animal before slaughter. Many of these subtle flavors would not be perceptible to a human, but it is a very important aspect of Borealan dining and should be taken into account. The excess skin of many animals is fried and served as an entrée or a snack.

Interesting, the text was giving him ideas of how his gift should be cooked. Xhe had been right, the Japanese Ambassador had done his research, the Patriarch would be pleased. He continued to read.

Borealan civilization is based around the great lakes of Borealis, which are home to rich aquatic life. Fish and other kinds of seafood are a staple of the Borealan diet. Being strong swimmers and enjoying bathing as a recreational activity, bare-handed fishing is a popular competitive sport. Locals will compete to see who can catch the largest or the greatest quantity of fish with their hooked claws. Commercial fishermen use conventional nets and trawlers.

Borealans prefer oily fish similar to mackerel which are commonly smoked. The lower social classes eat many species of bottom-feeding crustaceans analogous to lobsters and crabs which are considered to be at best rustic and at worst unsanitary.

The cultivation of a grain not unlike the corn plant found in South America led Borealans to the discovery of agriculture, animal husbandry, and later civilization. It is a source of fiber and grows easily in the jungles that ring the water sources. It is prepared in a wide variety of ways, from cereals to complimentary dishes.

Dennis wondered absent-mindedly what a Borealan cereal might taste like, did they serve it with milk? They were cats, after all. Captain Crunch took on a whole new meaning in a 1.3G environment.

Borealans also enjoy gourds, more for their texture than their flavor, cultivating parasitic vines that grow on trees and produce fruit not unlike the pumpkin. These are often eaten raw or cooked into pies.

Dennis lay the booklet down on a bedside table and decided to order his first Borealan meal. He had not eaten since arriving on the planet, and he had brought no food with him besides the Kobe in the stasis container. It seemed that anything a Borealan could eat, a human could eat too. He called for Xhe, and she arrived quickly, standing obediently at the edge of the bed with her furry hands clasped demurely in front of her flowing dress.

Xhe, I would like some food.”

Of course Ambassador, I am familiar with many human dishes that I can-”

No, no. I want to try a local dish,” Dennis said as he retrieved the booklet and leafed through to the culinary section. “I would like some smoked fish. I'm not sure what kind you have, but use your best judgment.”

Very well, Ambassador.”

***

After some time Xhe reappeared with a huge dish balanced in her hands. It was a Borealan-sized dinner plate, comically large, and on it were two whole fish. They were about the size of trout, brown and crispy with odd armor plating along the dorsal area and too many fins. They had the same streamlined appearance as an Earth fish, a result of convergent evolution no doubt, there must be an optimal shape for swimming. He looked to Xhe expectantly, waiting for cutlery, but none came.

Borealans use their claws to eat,” she explained, noticing that he hadn't started yet.

Dennis picked a fish up gingerly and took a bite. It tasted surprisingly good. The scales were fine, and he stayed away from the armor plating, focusing his attention on the soft underbelly. It was well cooked, smoked over a wood fire he surmised from the flavor.

It's good!” he mumbled through a mouthful of the pink meat. He would have preferred a knife and a fork. His fingers were greasy, and the fine scales were sticking to his mouth, but the dish was a success. He afforded himself a moment of pride for having tried something new, he was eating an alien! Probably the first human to ever eat this particular species.

Xhe observed him as he ate clumsily, he had noticed that she always tried to keep a neutral expression, but now she seemed amused. He would have to find a solution to this problem before he was invited to one of the Patriarch's banquets.

***

The next few days passed quickly. Every meal he sampled new Borealan dishes, meats, seafood, and grains as described in his guide, leaving their preparation at the discretion of his aide. He trained, doing his best to adapt to the harsh gravity, every jog up and down the marble hallway becoming slightly easier than the last. After five days he was mobile and growing impatient with his sedentary life in the embassy. He wanted to see the city, to experience the culture as he had intended, and no aggressive aliens or stifling heat would stop him from doing that.

Xhe, I would like to tour the city.”

Are you able to walk that far?” Xhe asked hesitantly, eyeing him as he stood in the hall.

Well, far enough, yes. I'm dying of boredom, I need to get outside and do something.”

She looked distressed, it was obvious that she wanted to refuse his request. But because of the strange Borealan social caste system, she was unable to defy him, and that suited Dennis just fine.

I...will make the necessary arrangements. But you must understand, Ambassador, the Borealans that are allowed to interact with humans have undergone extensive training and conditioning. Those in the city have not. They are, at least by human standards, wild. They have never interacted with a human before, most have never seen an alien. Humans are small and comparatively weak, which means that you will be treated as an inferior. If you do not know how to make yourself appear non-threatening and submissive, then you may expose yourself to violence.”

He felt a tremor of fear in his belly, she was deadly serious, but he put on a strong face. He had not traveled seventy-five light years in a cramped jump carrier to cower inside an embassy when there was a whole alien city out there to explore.

So teach me! Give me the Borealan crash course.”

She shifted her weight from foot to foot uncomfortably, her long, furry tail flicking back and forth restlessly.

That may not be a good idea...”

If you aren't qualified to teach me, Xhe, then who is?”

She considered for a moment, then nodded.

Very well, Ambassador. As you wish.”

***

Xhe did her best to teach the human, but she knew that it would not be enough. He had no idea of the massive cultural gulf that separated their species and the only way that he would truly understand would be to learn the hard way. Perhaps, in this case, it was better to just let him trip and fall so that he might learn to pick himself up.

He understood the basics, not to make prolonged eye contact, to avoid physical interactions. Don't argue, don't talk back, don't joke or pal around as the humans liked to call it. Almost every human social interaction was deeply provocative to a Borealan, and although he seemed to understand on a superficial level, she was certain that he would slip up. It was their nature, after all, she could not undo a lifetime of learned behavior in a single afternoon.

She taught him how to be submissive, how to stay low and keep his eyes down, how to respond should someone address him and how to avoid confrontations and back out of arguments. Seeing the small, frail creature take on his natural role nagged at her, tickled the back of her mind. The old instincts threatened to rise and undo her conditioning. He was like a ripe fruit begging to be picked from the branch. She longed to assert herself over him, to take her rightful place as his Alpha, but she suppressed the desires using the techniques that Miss Elysiedde had taught her. As unnatural and as infuriating as it may be, the Ambassador was her Alpha by special appointment, and she might be one of only a handful of Borealans on the planet who could tolerate such an arrangement. This was a service to her Lord Patriarch, and she would see it through.

CHAPTER 2: LOCAL FLAVOR

Dennis left the embassy, breathing in a lungful of hot, dry air. The white sun blazed above him, bleaching the sandstone buildings and casting dark shadows. He could tolerate the heat and the gravity, though he acted a lot more brazen than he really felt.

Stay close to me and do not leave my sight," Xhe warned as he trotted along beside her, the alien outpacing him with her long strides. There weren't any pedestrians in this part of the city. The Patriarch's spire protruded above the skyline, its white glare setting it apart from the more yellow and brown landscape.

These squat stone buildings were made to last, that much was obvious. There were fine details and engravings on the pillars and blocks that held them up, murals and reliefs carved into the stone, who could guess how long ago. These dwellings were the creations of artisans, people who took great pride in their work and who expected it to be on display for a long time. He realized that all of the arches that decorated the streets along with the domed roofs of the houses were self-supporting, made from interlocking blocks that exploited the very gravity that tried to tear them down in order to stay upright. It was a deceptively simple yet elegant solution.

The ground beneath his feet was paved with stone slabs and in some places cobbles. The jungle would not reclaim this land through such thick rock, weeds could not prevail in the cracks and creepers would find no purchase here. Dennis had no sense of time or of scale, how old was the city? Was he looking at modern building techniques or those of the distant past? Had these stone slabs been placed here to ward off the encroaching jungle a hundred years ago or a thousand? He wanted to ask Xhe, but their timescales did not seem to translate well. He elected to follow her in silence rather than bother her with confusing calculations.

She seemed tense, was she embarrassed to be seen in his company? Perhaps, Borealan society was strictly regimented, but he got the impression she was worried for his safety more than anything. It didn't bother him, no society could exist in the way that everyone wanted to imply, violence could not be the result of every minor confrontation or disagreement. The whole social system would collapse. He would heed her dire warnings, but he suspected that much of it was exaggeration. Things were never as bad as they seemed.

***

Even after walking down the narrow streets for a while it still seemed as if the city was deserted, Dennis hadn't seen a single Borealan. Just when his feet were starting to hurt, they crossed into a larger street lined with colorful signs and stalls. A market? Some kind of bazaar?

Towering Borealans of all shapes and colors crowded the street, not one of them was under seven feet tall. They wore robes and clothing in all manner of styles, a rainbow of finely woven cloth and patterned, flowing garments. They had such varied skin tones, from porcelain to ebony and everything in-between. Their hair came in diverse patterns and colors too, he could see blondes and redheads, silvery and raven-haired examples, faded tiger stripes and leopard spots decorating their furred forelimbs. They weaved around him, some pausing to stare intently at the odd little alien. It was a little overstimulating after having been cooped up in the embassy for the better part of a week.

Xhe steered him through the crowd, a firm hand gripping his shoulder. He felt like a child lost in a mall. These aliens were not only tall, but impressively muscled. A combination of their high protein, mostly meat diet, and the crippling gravity no doubt. He could feel his own body changing gradually, his muscle mass increasing under the stress of having to carry around an extra thirty percent of his body weight. It was more effective than any gym membership that money could buy.

He knew not to stare, it could be taken as a challenge that must be met with violence by the offended party, but he couldn't take his eyes off them. It was a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns. An eight-footer walked past him, pausing to glance down with her emerald green eyes. Her skin was tanned a shade of light brown, her exposed fur patterned with spots like a cheetah. She had a mane of blonde hair that fell down her back, sporting the same spots that were present on her fur. Dennis didn't think that they were decorative, they looked almost vestigial, a throwback to their evolutionary past perhaps. She wore a floaty, green sari in an almost Indian style, the delicate garment was wrapped around her body and fastened with an ornate belt around the waist.

Clearly, clothing was as much, if not moreso a means of self-expression on Borealis than it was on Earth. No two Borealans were alike, he could have sat and watched them all day. He felt drab in his black suit. To think that he had considered his shiny, red necktie a daring fashion statement.

Another Borealan paused to meet his gaze, this one was male, about the same height. This one had light skin with dark hair that was cropped short, his eyes a shade of gold, the fur on his forearms and legs the same velvet black. He wore a pair of baggy pants made from a blue, breezy material, perhaps something analogous to cotton. His chest was bare, save for a decorative, crimson sash with golden embroidery that hung across his shoulder.

Xhe hurried Dennis along, increasing the pace.

Do not stare, I told you this!”

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, they're just so...colorful!”

She steered him past vendors and stalls, their occupants shielded from the harsh glare of the twin suns by colorful awnings. Dennis snapped his head back and forth in an attempt to take in every sight and sound, every strange smell that wafted on the air. There were slabs of dripping meat hanging from iron hooks, the scents of street food rising to his nose, strange and enticing. Someone was roasting a six-legged animal over a roaring fire, its charred body too burned to make out much detail. Colorful items of clothing were on display, decorative jewelry and beads catching the sunlight. One of the stalls was selling alien fish that ranged from the size of a trout to something that looked like an armored shark with too many fins, what must be a fishmonger cutting his produce into sections with a large machete.

Dennis wanted to see everything, to peruse every stall and examine every alien artifact, but Xhe's only concern was getting him off the street. They turned into a building marked with an illegible sign, the Borealan script resembling claw marks. It was dingy inside, and it smelled strange. There was a haze in the air, like smoke, and a handful of aliens were sitting around a table. One raised its head to look at him, then nudged another, and soon he was the focal point of the whole room.

What kind of place is this?” he whispered to Xhe.

A tavern, there won't be many people here at this time of day, better to get you inside. I told you not to stare at people, did you not understand?”

I'm sorry, there was so much to see!”

He heard a chair scrape on the wooden floor. One of the Borealans who had been sat at the table got up and walking over to inspect them. It was a female, slightly larger than Xhe. She was smoking something that resembled a pipe, trailing grey smoke behind her. She stood a short distance away, taking the pipe in her hand as she spoke.

A human, on Borealis?”

She spoke English? Dennis noticed that she was wearing some kind of form-fitting jumpsuit, different from the decorative clothing of the Borealans he had seen in the market. It was Coalition blue.

Remember what I taught you, Dennis,” Xhe whispered ominously.

The stranger cackled heartily, taking a draw from her long pipe and blowing a cloud of smoke into the air. It smelled like tobacco.

Don't worry, caretaker of the human, I'm Coalition.” She tapped her clawed fingers on a metal badge on her breast.

Xhe exhaled and stood a little straighter, relieved, but still on guard.

Pinwheel?” she asked. The stranger nodded, and Xhe turned to Dennis, crouching down to his level. “It should be safe.”

Join us, human," the stranger said as she beckoned to Dennis with a clawed finger. "I'm curious to know what you're doing here, of all places.”

Dennis perked up. This was what he had wanted, to interact with the locals, to learn their culture and customs so that he might better serve as the ambassador. It was his job to understand the aliens and to work alongside them.

He trotted over to the table where four other Borealans were smoking similar pipes and nursing large, wooden mugs containing an unidentifiable liquid. It's a goddamn bar, he thought to himself, an alien bar. The stranger gestured for him to sit on a vacant stool, and he struggled up onto it, his feet dangling like a toddler in a highchair. The others eyed him curiously as the larger stranger returned to her seat, puffing acrid smoke and examining him. She was laid back and confident, clearly the Alpha of this small group.

My name is Chaka, I'm a Lieutenant Colonel with the Coalition. I'm on shore leave for a few months while my carrier, the UNN Samar, is in dry dock.” She took a long draw from her pipe, blowing a cloud of smoke in Dennis' direction as he did his best to suppress a cough. Xhe hovered nearby, watching them carefully. “So tell me, what is a human doing on Borealis? In this tavern of all places?”

My name is Carlisle," he replied, "I'm the newly appointed ambassador to Borealis.”

Ambassador!” Chaka crooned, a wry smile on her lips. “And what does that job entail?”

I represent Earth and her colonies in political matters concerning Borealis.”

Impressive, that's an important job. So what are you doing in this tavern?”

I wanted to see the city!" he said excitedly. "I've been cooped up the in the embassy for a week while I adapted to the gravity. Now that I can walk around, I want to learn about your people and culture so that I can better perform my duties.”

The other aliens sitting around the table had not spoken so far, he suspected because Chaka was clearly the Alpha. Based on what he knew about Borealan packs, to speak out of turn could be taken the wrong way. Not that it mattered, this Chaka seemed to do enough talking for all of them. Besides, they might not even speak English. He had to remember that he was on foreign soil, the vast majority of people that he encountered would not be able to understand him. He would have to rely on Xhe to be his interpreter in most cases. Meeting a Coalition soldier by chance was certainly fortuitous.

Chaka eyed him, her yellow pupils reflecting what little light was available in the dingy, smoke-filled room. She had leopard patterns in her bushy, auburn hair. He assumed that the patterning extended to her fur as it had on the other Borealans that he had seen so far, but it was obscured beneath her suit, unusually modest compared to the local fashions.

I have just the cultural experience for you, Ambassador,” she said with a toothy grin. She rose from her seat and walking across the room to another table that was stacked with containers and bottles. After a moment she selected one, a tall bottle containing a pink liquid, and brought it back to their table. She slammed it down and unsealed it, pouring a cloudy concoction into a wooden mug.

She slid it across the table towards him, and he hefted the large cup, sniffing the contents experimentally. Xhe looked concerned but did not rush to stop him. Chaka's cohorts watching him curiously, perhaps wondering what he made of the beverage.

What is it?” he asked.

This is a Borealan delicacy," Chaka replied as she took a drink from her own mug. "Roughly translated it is called raises the hair. It is a traditional spirit made from fermented berries and milk.”

Doesn't sound like anything I can't stomach.”

The Borealans around the tabled nudged each other and watched expectantly as Dennis brought it to his lips. He took a taste, then a long draw, lowering the cup and wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve.

Tastes like strawberry milk!”

Chaka stared at him for a moment, then slammed her fists on the table, making his mug jump.

Not so much as a cough!”

Was that supposed to be strong?” Dennis scoffed. “I've had ciders with more of a kick than that.”

She poured him another cup and filled the mug of an adjacent Borealan with the pink spirit. This one looked reluctant but complied, taking a drink and then lowering the cup, sputtering and hacking. Chaka laughed, slamming the table again with her clenched fist.

You see? That was the reaction I expected! Don't tell me you little monkeys can drink a Borealan under the table.”

Is that a challenge?” he asked. Chaka seemed taken aback for a moment, but then her lips curled into a smile, and she picked up her wooden mug in her clawed hand.

Yes, yes it is.” She lifted the mug to her lips and took a long draw. Her brow furrowed as she held it in her mouth, then she swallowed heavily, hissing like an angry cat. Her cheeks began to redden immediately, and she poured another round. The other aliens looked on in silence, either smoking or sipping their own, more mild beverages.

What are you waiting for, Ambassador?” Chaka asked as she gestured to his mug. “It would be rude to issue a challenge only to back down.” She sucked her pipe then blew smoke in his direction, Dennis waving away the cloud as he picked up his mug again. Xhe had taken a seat a short distance away on some kind of padded couch that protruded from the wall, watching him like a hawk.

Dennis had noted that there didn't seem to be a bartender. Did Chaka own this hole in the wall, or were Borealans trusted to take only their share and then leave appropriate compensation? Perhaps service members had special privileges in this culture so concerned with status and strength? Very strange.

He drank deeply, the liquid was smooth and milky. It was the first sweet-tasting product he had come across so far. He suspected that it was a side effect of the berries used primarily for their alcohol content, but he liked it. If this was supposed to be a strong spirit then Borealans had a very low tolerance for alcohol, a good vodka would probably poison them. Out-drinking this warrior might earn him some sorely needed street cred.

He finished off his mug and pushed it over to Chaka, the alien laughing as she refilled it.

***

Xhe was becoming concerned. Like all humans, the Ambassador thought that he was being friendly when from the perspective of a Borealan he was being provocative. This warrior had undergone training on the Pinwheel, and so she would have a modicum of tolerance for human behavior, but she was becoming rapidly drunk after he had foolishly challenged her to a drinking contest in front of her pack. She would drink until she dropped, or risk losing face. As his handler, Xhe wanted to call it off, but she would let it go on a little longer. The Ambassador must be allowed to make mistakes, or he wouldn't learn anything. She would pull rank if she had to. She was here on special appointment, in direct service to the Patriarch. No Borealan would question her authority. But for now, let him have his fun. Chaka's body language was becoming more and more suggestive, and knowing that she would lose the drinking contest, she would certainly try to gain the upper hand through other means. Xhe would have to be vigilant.

***

Dennis was hardly feeling the effects of the drink, but his opponent was clearly drunk. Her face practically glowed red, and her eyelids drooped as she slouched across the table, her mug clutched in her furry hand. She took another swig of pink liquid, which they had decided should be called hair raiser between them. She hiccuped, a comical sound coming from such a fearsome creature, then glared at her pack. She snarled something in the course Borealan dialect, giving them a command that Dennis couldn't understand. Reluctantly, they slid their stools out and got up, filing out of the tavern. They marched past the ever patient Xhe and into the street, the heavy wooden door closing behind them.

Packs are so boring...” Chaka slurred, taking another loud gulp of her beverage. The bottle was almost empty now, and she picked it up, swirling the alcohol around as she watched it through the glass. “They do whatever you tell them, which does have its...benefits. But humans are more fun, always surprising you.” She squinted at Xhe, pointing to her with a curved claw. “She's your handler, I suppose?”

Xhe is my secretary," Dennis replied with a nod. "She helps me in my work and acts as a liaison to the Borealan government.”

Well well, you're higher ranked than I had guessed. Tell me, is she your subordinate?”

Yes, insofar as a Borealan can be subordinate to a human.” He glanced over at Xhe, she did not seem pleased. Was it some kind of insult that he wasn't aware of? He was only stating facts. Chaka put her hand over her mouth, suppressing a giggle.

My, how salacious.”

Salacious? Why is that?” Dennis asked, taken aback. Chaka leered at Xhe, a lurid grin on her lips, exposing her sharp feline teeth.

I suspect that your secretary has not been volunteering information on the rights and privileges of Alphas in Borealan society.”

Here it was again, the Patriarch had alluded to something similar. Dennis wasn't dense, he had picked up on the sexual overtones of the conversation, but whatever rites or customs Chaka was referring too would not apply to him. He was an alien, after all, a foreigner.

I'm not sure what you mean,” he lied, taking another drink.

You humans, always playing coy.” Dennis jumped as he felt her prehensile, furry tail snake up his leg under the table. He coughed into his mug, choking on the liquid. “Is the alcohol finally starting to get to you, Ambassador?” she asked sarcastically. “Why don't you dismiss your secretary and we can have a little...cultural exchange?”

Dennis swallowed hard and looked back at Xhe. She was glaring at them, he could see don't you dare etched in her expression. She wasn't his boss, she couldn't tell him what he could and couldn't do, but he did value her counsel. Fooling around with a drunk alien who was twice his weight didn't seem like a sensible course of action.

He got up abruptly, hopping off the stool. Chaka's round ears swiveled to track him.

Is there a restroom I could use?”

Chaka pointed her claw at a door to the far end of the room, and he marched off, adjusting his tie nervously.

***

He relieved himself in a stall, not unlike one might find on any human world. It appeared that the Borealans preferred a simple hole in the ground, similar to ones favored by some human cultures. As he washed his hands in a large basin that he had to stand on his toes to reach, Chaka pushed open the door and entered the room, swaggering over to him drunkenly.

She spun him around, pinning him against the tiled wall and pressing her thigh into his groin. He gasped at the sudden stimulation, trying to pull away, but she was too strong.

I want to lodge a complaint with the UNN,” she slurred. “The Ambassador doesn't want to fuck me.”

He opened his mouth to protest, but she blew acrid smoke in his face. He coughed, trying to dispel the lingering cloud, and she brought her face down close to his. Chaka surprised him with a kiss, her pipe clattering to the floor as she discarded it.

Her rough, feline tongue parted his lips and invaded his mouth, roving wantonly as he struggled against her. She tasted of copper and ash. Her long tongue grazed his throat, and he felt his knees weakening under her relentless assault. She held him there for what felt like minutes, locked in a deep, shameless kiss. Just as he felt as though he might suffocate, she released him, her soft lips leaving his with an audible pop. Her oversized tongue snaked back into her mouth, trailing a strand of saliva.

He panted as he caught his breath, realizing that his face was burning. He was a goddamned paper pusher, he wasn't qualified for this! The tax man wasn't sexy, the Marines were the ones who had to fight off the girls on shore leave, not Dennis. He didn't know what to do in a situation like this.

Chaka snickered at his expression and moved her mouth to the side, pulling aside the white collar of his dress shirt with a hooked claw and planting a wet kiss on his neck. He shuddered at the sensation, her warm breath tickling his skin, her lips puffy and smooth. She pressed her thick thigh deeper into his growing erection and kissed him again, this time sucking as she pulled away to leave a red welt on his shoulder.

I wanted to do this back on the station. Every day those little bastards tormented me, but they had me sharing a room with a Krell. What sour luck, never did get one of you apes alone for a one on one session.”

She bit his neck gently, pressing her sharp fangs into his flesh. The pricking sensation sent a chill down his spine, yet despite the danger his erection only grew, becoming sore and hot. She groped his bulge with her free hand, and he winced as her fingers brushed against him through the fabric.

There was this one trainee, about your size, figured he'd made me his friend or something. Made up a nickname for me that I hated, kept fucking with me all the time. Every day he'd greet me like we were equals, he showed me no respect. He'd try to eat at the same table, he'd grab my tail to get my attention, and he always followed me around, getting under my feet.”

She moved up, sucking his ear into her mouth and chewing it, the lurid sounds filling his head. His heart was racing, he didn't know what to do. Should he call for Xhe? Demand that she stop? Some part of him wanted to let her continue, to see where this would go.

What I wouldn't give for ten minutes alone in a locked room with that kid,” she seethed, pushing her nose into his collar and breathing in. Was she smelling him?

You can't just give humans a good swipe with your claws, they're too fragile. They'd bleed out, and then you'd be on the next jump freighter home. It defies all logic, drives you crazy, until you realize that you can fuck 'em...”

She dragged her hot tongue across his throat, leaving a trail of wet saliva. Dennis gasped, and she squeezed him again, her warm hand cupping his bulge. He could feel her pointed claws catching on the fabric, but her palm was furry and warm, inviting.

Heard stories about that too late, didn't get the chance to break in that little trainee the way that he deserved. But what do you say? Want to help me make up for lost time?”

The door slammed open, and Xhe strode into the bathroom, her teeth bared in a snarl and her fists balled. She barked something at Chaka in the Borealan tongue, all hissing and spitting. Dennis couldn't understand the words, but her tone transcended language barriers. Whatever she had said, it sounded harsh. Chaka hesitated, then obediently backed away, letting Dennis loose. He stumbled forward towards Xhe, crouching slightly in a futile attempt to hide his erection.

Did I not tell you never to leave my sight?” she scolded. “Maybe now you will heed my warnings.” She turned to glare at Chaka. “And you! You're lucky I don't report this. When has such deviant behavior been so commonplace amongst our troops?”

Report me for what?” Chaka slurred. “He never told me to stop, look at him, he can barely stand.” Xhe spat something in Borealan and Chaka lowered her head, not quite submissive in her drunken state, but knowing that she couldn't argue. Xhe took Dennis by the arm and led him out of the bathroom, he felt like he was being chastised by an overprotective mother.

That's enough culture for one day, let's go back to the embassy.”

***

When they arrived back at the embassy, the suns were already going down, painting the sky in beautiful shades of red and orange. Xhe never let go of his arm the entire walk back, not until he was safely in the marble hallway and the great wooden door was firmly closed behind them. She released him, glaring down at him.

Why must you make my job harder than it already is, Ambassador?”

It's not my fault, she seemed perfectly friendly. How was I to know she would...do that?”

It is not your place to know, it is your place to follow my instructions. I told you not to stare at people, I told you not to get friendly, and I told you never to leave my sight. Did you think I was joking?”

Dennis rubbed the red welt on his neck and stared at the marble floor. Why was she chewing him out? She was under his employ, not the other way around. Maybe he should have taken her warnings more seriously, these aliens were unpredictable, volatile. He understood that now that he had seen it first hand, and he was grateful to her for pulling his ass out of the proverbial fire, of course.

Okay, I'm sorry. I guess I needed to see it for myself. I'll follow your instructions next time.”

Xhe nodded her approval, seeming to cool off a little.

It is partly my fault. I wanted to get you off the street before you started a confrontation, I should have paid more attention to where I was taking you.”

Well, you did get me out of there, so I guess we're square.”

Xhe began to pace in the hall, seeming distracted. Her round ears twitched, and her tail flicked back and forth erratically as her claws clicked on the polished surface.

You should get some sleep Ambassador," she said tersely. "We will try again tomorrow, maybe somewhere less populated. Do you require food?”

No, no. I'll be fine, thank you Xhe.”

He turned and walked to his bedroom, swinging the wooden door open and collapsing into his soft bed, the crushing weight of the gravity relieved. He massaged his aching thighs. It was getting easier, but he was still sore. Xhe was right, better to rest. Besides, she seemed agitated, and his close encounter had given him a new respect for the large creatures.

His mind wandered to Chaka and her unsolicited advances. Had they been unsolicited though? According to Xhe, his friendliness was provocative to a Borealan. Simply being amicable broadcast the wrong signals, signals that to a Borealan meant challenges or invitations. This was more than just learning a new culture or a new language, this meant re-learning his entire concept of social interaction. It must be done if he intended to succeed in his assignment on Borealis.

He lay back, trying to ignore the confusing fluttering in his heart and the surge of guilty arousal as memories of Chaka's rough tongue dragging across his skin roiled in his mind. What would have happened if Xhe had not come to his rescue? Did Borealans sleep with humans? Chaka has suggested as much, and in her drunken state, it seemed as if she had been willing to take things that far. Perhaps she would have hurt him, then again she might have rocked his world. He'd never find out now.

He rolled over to stare at the wall, aroused and a little resentful. He didn't know what he wanted.

***

Xhe struggled to control herself, she paced in the hall, clenching and unclenching her fists. The Ambassador had claimed to understand, but he didn't, he said one thing and did another. More human quirks, more contradictions. She longed to bury her claws in his supple flesh and punish him for his disobedience, but...

She stopped herself and performed a breathing exercise to slow her racing heart. She was not Alpha here. Although it was unnatural, although it defied her instincts, she must defer to Carlisle. The Patriarch had ordered it. To defy the Ambassador was to defy the Patriarch, she must see this through, she must remember her training.

Perhaps the collaboration between Borealans and humans was doomed to fail from the start, how could such fundamental differences be overcome? Was it foolish to even attempt to coexist? It didn't matter, it was not her place to decide such things. She had been given orders and the training required to carry out those orders, she would reign in this unruly human through means other than domination.

The Ambassador would surely want to travel somewhere new tomorrow, she would arrange it very carefully and maintain full control. They would travel by shuttle, and she would choose an area with a low population, a fishing village perhaps. Maybe the Patriarch would loan her some of his elite guards for a day, they would be safe around him, they would obey unquestioningly.

She strode into the Ambassador's office and activated the communicator, dialing a code into the display.

I'm sorry to disturb you so late in the evening, but I must speak with the Patriarch.”

CHAPTER 3: CRIMSON GUARD

Ambassador, you must get up, we have much to do.”

Dennis sat up, rubbing his eyes. It must be morning, though it was impossible to tell because of the lack of windows. It played havoc with his internal clock.

Yes, I'm on my way Xhe, give me a moment...”

He hopped out of bed, the familiar pressure of the harsh gravity clamping down on him. Just pulling on his pants was a workout. His suits might be bland compared to local fashions, but damn it, they were his. He couldn't represent Earth and her colonies in a Hawaiian shirt, as much as he would have liked to wear one in this crippling heat.

After a few minutes, he stumbled out of his bedroom and into the hallway, buttoning up his jacket as he pushed the door closed behind him. Xhe was waiting in the hall. She was clad in a revealing, blue dress made from a light, almost transparent material that clung to her figure. She looked good. Standing beside her were two towering Borealans, one male and one female. They wore what looked like suits of medieval armor, albeit somewhat lighter and better suited to the hot weather, the style of the metal plates archaic and impractical. UNN troops wore their body armor in tactical black, but these were cherry red, patterned with golden accents on the ceramic plates and golden embroidery in the fabric that they wore beneath. There were reliefs of the chest pieces depicting more heroic scenes of battle and hunting, giving Dennis the impression that these outfits were more for ceremonial purposes than for combat. They wore iridescent fur capes about their shoulders that were attached to their pauldrons with golden badges, somewhat smaller and less impressive than the flowing garment worn by the Patriarch. This was the first time that Dennis had seen a Borealan wear a full-faced helmet. They peered at him through the hollow visors that allowed them to see, their eyes seeming to glow as they reflected the light. Amusingly, their furry ears protruded from slots in the top of the helmets.

Do we have company today, Xhe?” he asked.

These are two of the Patriarch's Royal Guards, they will be accompanying us to a lakeside fishing village where I am hoping you will be able to explore Borealan culture...unmolested.”

Is it dangerous?” he asked warily, eyeing the imposing guards. Their ears pivoted and tracked him, he had no idea whether they even spoke English.

Not unduly, but after yesterday's incident, I contacted my Lord Patriarch and requested some security. This way, even if you should leave my sight, you will not leave theirs.”

Dennis was uncomfortable, that sounded more like a threat than a reassurance. But on the other hand, he was excited to see more of the planet, and he was eager to get underway.

Well, let's go!” he exclaimed as he strode past the guards and made for the door. The Borealans turned to follow him, their armor clanking as they moved.

***

Xhe led them back through the towering, white spire and onto the stone landing pad that Dennis had first arrived on. A shuttle was waiting for them there, it looked like an old model. This must be one of the Patriarch's maligned purchases. They piled in, Dennis noting that there was a Borealan pilot behind the controls wearing something analogous to a flight suit. He had no pilot's helmet, however, and thus no HUD. He must be flying by eye. Dennis fastened his seatbelt extra tightly as the shuttle's engines sputtered into life and lifted off in a cloud of dust.

They soared over the sandstone city, its ever impressive architecture wavering in the heat, the white glare of the spire dwindling into the distance as they crossed over the lake. The blue, shimmering surface stretched as far as the eye could see, more of an ocean than a lake by his measure. It was these precious oases that life clung to in the desert that the ancient tribes of Borealis had fought so hard over. Dennis could imagine the wandering desert tribes who had been driven to battle over the lush, welcoming forests and jungles, nomads warring for their right to stake their claim on the fertile land. He wondered if all of the Borealans now lived in the territories that the Patriarch had described or if some still wandered the wastes, outcast and unwilling to integrate into the larger societies.

He noticed that the guards were armed now, they sported the long-barreled, bayoneted XMR variants that had become popular among Borealan service members. The modular rifles were produced by the UNN and could be modified for use by any humanoid species regardless of their size. He had heard stories of Borealan soldiers using these weapons as spears as much as they actually fired them.

He leaned over to Xhe who was sat next to him, whispering, unsure if the guards were fluent in English.

So how does this arrangement work? Will they obey your orders? Are you their Alpha?”

You needn't whisper," she replied. "They are under orders to be here, they do not care what you think.”

He glanced at the guards, their expressions hidden behind their helmets. They fiddled with their weapons, cleaning and loading mechanically. Seeing that he wasn't satisfied with her answer, Xhe elaborated.

You must have realized it by now, but we must use parallel social structures in order for a complex society to function. If we didn't, Borealis would still be tribal, with the most powerful making all of the decisions regardless of their qualifications. The Patriarch might rule us, but he doesn't do so alone. He appoints trusted advisors to help him govern. He still makes the final decision, but he will take into account the educated opinions of his council in matters of economy, war or politics. Borealan society is governed from the top down, two individuals who might otherwise fight for dominance will cooperate when the order comes from a higher ranked member of the social structure. In this manner, a more dominant individual can even be ordered to follow the instructions of a less dominant subordinate, as long as the order to do so came from his superior.”

Dennis nodded, it made sense. He hadn't thought about it before now, but it was the only way that such a rigid society would be able to get anything done without descending into infighting.

So these guards will obey you because the Patriarch told them to?”

Yes. Even though the Patriarch is not here, he gave them orders to defer to me. Thus, I carry the authority of the Patriarch until I relieve them of their duties, or they are given new orders.”

How does that work in a professional setting?” Dennis asked. “Let's say a large group of Borealans is building a dam or a bridge, how do they organize?”

Xhe thought for a moment, her clawed finger tapping her chin.

In that case, an overseer would be appointed either by the Patriarch or the minister in charge of that infrastructure. The overseer would carry that authority until the completion of the project.”

It sounds needlessly complicated,” Dennis scoffed.

To you, perhaps. But from our perspective human society is incredibly chaotic and inconsistent. This way everyone knows their role, everyone has a place.”

Dennis looked out of the window thoughtfully as the lake raced past beneath them, he could see the far shore coming into view. It seemed that the Elysian population ringed the entire lake, making use of all available space. Some areas were more populated than others, although they were not officially distinct cities. The whole area was simply known as Elysia.

The shuttle began to descend, and Dennis saw their destination on the far bank of the lake, a small cluster of wooden buildings with piers extending a short distance into the water. A few had skiffs moored to them, bobbing gently in the water.

The craft circled as the pilot searched for a suitable landing site, then came down a short distance away from the small village in a clearing near the jungle. This area was not paved with stone, it seemed that the Borealans who lived here had to manually cut back the encroaching plants. Dennis could make out stumps and pruned bushes at the edge of the treeline. He felt the landing gear absorb the impact as they hit the ground, the Borealan pilot bringing her down a little harder than Dennis was used to, dust and dirt blowing up in a cloud around the shuttle. Locals crowded the border of the village, craning their necks curiously to get a look at the newcomers. Some of them might never have seen a shuttle before, and they would certainly have never seen a human. He felt a twinge of apprehension, but the presence of the Royal Guards reassured him.

The landing ramp descended, and the guards unfastened themselves from their seats, hefting their XMRs and waiting for Xhe's signal. She waved them forward, and they thundered down the ramp, taking up position to the left and right of the shuttle. Upon seeing the crimson-clad soldiers, the rapidly growing crowd appeared to mutter amongst themselves, perhaps recognizing their uniform. If he had been close enough to hear what they were saying, Dennis would not have understood them.

Xhe glided down the ramp, surprisingly elegant in her blue dress, Dennis trailing along behind her. Upon seeing him the crowd became more animated, jostling to get a look at the strange alien and his regal escort. Xhe marched towards them, and the guards followed her, Dennis struggling to keep up with her loping strides. As they neared the village, Dennis got a better look at the crowd. They were less elaborately dressed than the Borealans that he had seen in the city, their clothing was more spartan and functional, their jewelry was made from shells and beads rather than gold and gems. He noticed that almost all of these villagers had similar coloring and patterns, were they a distinct ethnic group? A tribe that Taka Elysiedde had assimilated?

For the first time he saw young Borealans, children, or rather kittens. They were the size of large toddlers, chubby little creatures with large paws and oversized eyes, their bodies covered in a layer of fluffy fur. Borealans must lose the majority of their fur as they matured as all of the adults that he had encountered thus far were furless besides for their forearms, their lower legs and their feet. Perhaps the young needed it for insulation? Did Borealis even have winters? Everything seemed so arid. The little kittens hid between the legs of their parents, peeking out at him warily.

Xhe came to a stop before the crowd and began to address them in the Borealan dialect, gesturing towards Dennis occasionally. He stood straight, trying to make a good impression without understanding what was being said.

Whatever they had been told seemed to satisfy them. Some dispersed, going back to their business, while others crowded closer to examine Dennis. Their round, furry ears tracked him like radar dishes, their feline pupils dilated into dark circles. He realized that he didn't even know how to say hello in Borealan, could he even pronounce the words? The language seemed to be all spitting and hissing.

An especially fat kitten stuck out its fluffy head from between two adults, staring at him with large, amber eyes. Its prehensile tail was curled around the leg of its parent for reassurance. He waved at it, and it inched forward, eyeing him warily. Nobody protested as it crept closer, sneaking a sniff of his pants leg. It tugged at the fabric with stubby, clawed fingers. Xhe reached down and gripped it by the scruff of the neck, lifting it off the floor and placing it a short distance away. It hesitated for a moment, then shook itself like a dog, waddling back over to the waiting arms of its caretaker. Like many young mammals, these did not seem to be fragile creatures.

What did you say to them?” he asked Xhe.

That you are the Ambassador to a Coalition ally, and that you are touring Elysia with the full authority of my Lord Patriarch.”

She made him sound so important. He had been here for a week now, and he hadn't really done anything yet besides eat, sleep and antagonize women in bars. He wondered when the Patriarch would request his presence and the political maneuvering would begin.

Can you translate something for me?” he asked, and Xhe nodded. “Tell them that I appreciate their hospitality and that I'm looking forward to learning about their culture and way of life.”

Xhe relayed the information, but the crowd did not have a strong reaction. They were more interested in his strange appearance than why he was here or what he wanted from them, and why shouldn't they be? This was the first time that any of them had ever seen an alien.

What interests you?” Xhe asked.

What do you mean?”

What aspect of their culture are you interested in learning about?”

Dennis thought for a moment, considering.

In my book, I read about bare-handed fishing. Do they do that here?”

Probably, this area is very...rustic.”

Maybe I'll just wander around a bit first, would that be okay?”

We have authority here," Xhe replied, "they will not protest.”

That wasn't really what he had asked her, but whatever. He wandered into the village proper, the guards hovering close to him as the small crowd parted to make way. The buildings here were distinct from the sturdy masonry of the capital, they were built from lumber, using the stout trunks of the gnarled trees to prop up the structures like pillars on a Greek temple. The almost wholly intact logs bore the load, while the spaces between were filled in with closely connected planks. No windows here either...

Xhe, why do none of your buildings have windows?”

Large windows would be a structural weakness," she said as she walked along beside him, her floaty dress blowing on the breeze that rolled in from the lake. "The high gravity here means that buildings must be low and strong. They would also interfere with insulation.”

Insulation? But it's so hot.”

Insulation prevents heat transfer, it keeps the heat out in the summer and keeps the heat inside in the winter.”

You have winters here, then?”

Xhe stopped and looked at him, an expression of surprise on her feline face.

Nobody told you about winters on Borealis?”

No...should they have?”

Twice per month for a period of about three days, Borealis is sent into the shadow of an eclipse as the secondary yellow star passes in front of the white primary. The temperature drops below freezing, as what heat the atmosphere can retain is lost to space. It becomes dark, the only source of light being the secondary, far dimmer star. The lakes freeze and most of the local fauna either hibernates or retreats underground. Our ancestors would huddle deep inside caves for warmth, but in the modern era, dwellings are designed to resist the weather. The people retreat inside and enter a state of reduced metabolic activity in response to the drop in temperature.”

That's...unusual!” Dennis replied. Yet another damned obstacle. This planet was a nightmare, Earth was a paradise in comparison, and he was beginning to miss it more and more. “That explains why your trees look so out of place, they must be evergreen, adapted to survive the cold.”

Correct, our flora is very hardy. Some plants die off, releasing spores as part of their life cycle in order to grow again when the sun returns, but the larger trees and shrubs endure the winter.”

And this all happens in the space of one month?”

From the sixteenth to the eighteenth day of Borealis' thirty-four day month, and from the thirty-third to the first of the following month, yes.”

How did life even evolve in such a harsh and variable environment?”

A tough planet will produce tough life. We have a saying here, roughly translated from Borealan it means the strict mother raises disciplined children. Traditionally, Borealans credit their strength and endurance to the planet. It has often been worshiped as a mother deity in ancient religions.”

So when is the next cold period?” Dennis asked, not really wanting to know the answer.

Soon, a few days.” She noticed his concerned expression and waved her furry hand dismissively. “Don't worry, you'll be perfectly safe. Our buildings are very well insulated. Don't expect to be doing much during those days though. As I said, in response to extreme cold Borealans go into a low metabolic state.”

You'll have to show me an orbital model of what that looks like some time Xhe, it's hard to picture.”

We are used to it. For us this is normal.”

They walked along a dirt path towards the center of the village as Dennis digested this new information. Perhaps the chaos of the environment that the Borealans lived in contributed to their desire to form strict social hierarchies. After all, prolonged arguments and bickering pretty much anywhere on the planet might result in you dying of exposure in the desert or freezing in an eclipse. Coupled with the harsh gravity and the limited living space, no wonder Borealans were such renowned frontline troops. Life before the comforts of technology must have been harsh here. In a way, Xhe's adage about strict parenting was correct, this planet would have selected only the hardiest Borealans to survive and reproduce.

The village formed a rough crescent around the lakefront with the piers in the center, protruding out into the water. Wooden boats, their decks littered with nets and traps were moored here and fishing lines dangled unattended into the clear lake. Pebbles smoothed by the water crunched under Dennis' shoes as he neared the shore, peering out over the great expanse. Somewhere on the other side was the city, he didn't know how far away it was, but it was completely out of view.

He crouched, searching for a flat pebble. He found one that was suitable and picked it up, weighing it in his hand. He threw it, skipping it along the surface of the lake. It bounced four times then sank under the water.

He felt a tug at his pants leg, looking down to see the fat kitten peering up at him expectantly. He turned to Xhe, but she didn't come to retrieve the little creature this time. Dennis lowered his hand and scratched the juvenile Borealan's head, it was fluffy and soft. To think that this squat little creature was running around in 1.3Gs, totally carefree.

What's up little guy?” he asked. The kitten might not speak the local dialect yet, and it certainly didn't know any English, but it responded to his voice. It tugged again, its already sharp claws hooked into the fabric of his suit. “You like the stones?”

Dennis crouched, finding another smooth, flat pebble. He showed it to the kitten, who examined it with surprising care. Dennis then raised his arm and flung the pebble, flicking his wrist to put a spin on it. The rock bounced twice on the calm surface of the lake, then a third time, before finally sinking to the bottom. The little Borealan watched with wide eyes, then crouched, rummaging for another pebble and foisting it into Dennis' hands.

"You want me to do it again?" he laughed. "Alright, watch this."

***

Xhe watched as Dennis interacted with the little orange kitten. He was trying to teach it a game in which pebbles were thrown at an angle so that they might skip along the surface of the water. A simple game, unknown to her. Something about his futile attempts to play with the kitten, for it was far too young to perform any kind of complex actions, was endearing to her. She had come to resent him for the trouble that he caused her and for his inability to follow basic instructions. Yet seeing his genuine desire to explore the land and connect with its people, undiluted by any preconceptions of caste or social class, warmed her heart. Borealans went where they were ordered to go but this human went where he willed, he was as free as one could be on Borealis.

***

Eventually, the kitten became bored and toddled off into the village. Dennis walked along the shoreline, watching the moored boats bob on the water. He could hear the Royal Guards trailing a short distance behind him, their heavy paws crunching on the pebble beach. He made his way back up to the village and stopped before an especially large building, admiring its carved features. The logs that held it up were engraved with scenes of fishermen casting nets and hoisting large creatures that looked like sharks, similar to what he had seen being chopped up for sale in the market. There were whittled figureheads above the heavy wooden doors, busts of Borealans, perhaps people of importance or family members. Everything that these people built, they built to last. Who knows how long these structures had stood here, enduring the weather and the harsh winds blowing in from the lake.

It was hard to believe that these people, who still lived in wooden houses and fished for their livelihood, belonged to a race that now owned starships and participated in interstellar wars.

You may enter if you like.” Xhe surprised him, she was standing next to him, watching him admire the woodwork. “It is the Alpha's dwelling, but we rank higher.”

I wouldn't want to intrude,” Dennis replied.

It would not be an intrusion. You are too considerate, Ambassador. One rarely takes into account the feelings or opinions of a subordinate, they obey, or they are punished.”

Well, that might be how you do things, but not me.” He walked away from the building, examining the other structures. “I saw fish in the city market, how do they transport their goods?”

By boat.” Xhe replied. “They sail across the lake and sell their cargo to vendors at the port. There are many such villages in the less developed regions of Elysia. There are hunting villages inside the jungle also.”

Hunting villages?" Dennis asked, perking up at that. "What do they hunt?”

Various kinds of local fauna, the majority of species on Borealis live in the green bands. We hunt them for meat and furs.”

Dennis stared into space, remembering the pearlescent cape that the Patriarch had worn. He would like to see what animal that hide had come from.

Can we visit one?”

Xhe looked apprehensive, perhaps annoyed that he was creating more work for her.

Not today, no. Maybe another day, if I can arrange an escort. The jungles are not safe for a human.”

Well, what is there to see in this village? I want to experience the local culture. How about the fishing?”

Xhe called to the villagers who had been milling around, observing them from a safe distance. Were they perhaps afraid of the guards? A group of them walked towards Dennis and Xhe, and she addressed them for a minute in the local tongue. When she was done, they moved towards the beach, wading into the lake.

Did you just order them to demonstrate bare-handed fishing, Xhe?”

Yes, is there a problem?”

Dennis didn't reply, he felt bad watching them as the water reached their waists, they were being ordered around for his amusement as if they were jesters in some medieval court. But it was not his place to judge, this was the way of things here and upsetting the balance would do them no favors.

Surprisingly they took to the water ardently, floating and splashing, their simple clothing seemingly designed to be worn in the water as well as on land. They were powerful swimmers, their reflective eyes peeking out from beneath hoods of wet hair when they floated on the surface, disappearing beneath the water with powerful strokes of their legs and tails. Xhe commented as Dennis watched them frolic.

Borealans like water, most enjoy swimming and bathing. There are bathhouses and swimming pools in the city, but wherever you go on Borealis that is populated, a lake or a spring will be nearby. Life here revolves around water.”

One of the larger males surfaced explosively, gripping a struggling fish in his hooked claws. It was not dissimilar to the ones that Dennis had eaten, an armored carapace protected its back and head, and it had more flapping fins than he felt it should possess. It writhed its long, scaly body, trying to break free of the Borealan's grip.

This is how we fish, traditionally. Of course, in the modern era, commercial fishing must be done with nets and trawlers in order to capture a large enough quantity to sell. But this practice lives on, both as a sport and as a way for more remote communities such as this one to supplement their diet.”

Two more Borealans surfaced holding fish of varying sizes. One female struggled in the shallows, dragging something large onto the beach. It writhed and twisted, splashing and frothing in the water so as to obscure it from view. There was a touch of pink to the foam that indicated blood, and the woman heaved, her claws embedded in whatever it was that she had caught. The villagers crowded around, making vocalizations that sounded like cheering or yowling, but none stepped forward to help her. It seemed that she had to do this on her own.

She pulled the struggling beast from the water, it was one of the shark creatures from the market that Dennis had seen being prepared for sale, grey-skinned with half a dozen waving flippers. She beached it with one last grunt, unhooking her claws from its flesh, the deep wounds in its blubbery meat oozing crimson blood. It attempted to swim, its six-foot long body undulating and its wide, toothless mouth gasping rhythmically as its tail dug into the smooth pebbles.

That is a good catch.” Xhe said, appraising the creature as it wriggled. “Perhaps we should ask them to prepare it for you, would you like to eat it?”

Sure, if it wouldn't inconvenience them.”

Xhe waved dismissively as if to indicate that she didn't care, and neither should he.

The crowd cheered enthusiastically as the female who had dragged the beast ashore pounded a clenched fist against her prominent abdominal muscles, barking what might have been a victory cry. Dennis watched as more of the Borealans left the water, discarding their fish into a pile near the shark. There was no point asking Xhe what it was called, he wouldn't be able to pronounce it.

Xhe spoke to the fishermen, and they chatted amongst themselves, nodding and gesturing to their catch. After a moment, two of the males hefted the now limp and lifeless shark, carrying it back to the village while the smaller fish were piled into a large wicker basket.

"What did you say to them?" Dennis asked, watching as one of the aliens carried away the brimming basket of fish.

I told them that the Ambassador, honored guest of the Lord Patriarch, wishes them to prepare the fish in whatever way they deem appropriate so that he might sample the local flavors.”

Dennis nodded. Something about the way that Xhe treated these people rubbed him the wrong way. She wasn't being abusive, they seemed happy to obey her, but the way that she lorded over them and ordered them around gave him a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. These were simple fishermen who were obviously far below the means of those who lived in the city. Borealan society respected strength and achievement, but what of the lower rungs of society? What of the poor and the weak? If Xhe was to be believed, they had a place in the power structure, and they obeyed willingly. But to Dennis' human eyes, it didn't seem as if they had much of a choice in the matter. In such a harsh environment and on a planet that had only recently been contacted, perhaps issues of social mobility were not a priority.

***

Dennis watched the suns set as he sat on the beach, the pebbles cool beneath his hands. The giant shark had been skewered and was being slowly spit-roasted over a crackling fire by an older Borealan with greying hair. The rest of the villagers milled about nearby, the low murmur of unintelligible alien speech floating over the calm water. A handful of kittens prodded the fire with long sticks, mesmerized both by the dancing, orange flames and by the slowly turning shark. Xhe and the guards were standing some distance away, seemingly at ease. The cool air blowing in from the lake alleviated the heat somewhat and ruffled his hair, even the high gravity couldn't ruin the moment. He looked to the sky, bright pinpoints of light visible against the velvet darkness. The constellations were strange and alien, he didn't recognize any of them, and the lack of a moon stood out to him. One light was especially bright and occupied a space low on the horizon, it must be the secondary yellow star in the binary system.

He wondered what Xhe might say if she saw Earth's moon, massive and prominent in the night sky. The more he learned about the galaxy, the more he realized how unusual it was to have a satellite so large and close, craters and plains visible with the naked eye.

Xhe called to him, the food was ready. He rose to his feet, his stomach rumbling as the smell of the roasted fish wafted over to him. He made his way up the beach, the pebbles crunching under his shoes, and sidled up to Xhe. The old Borealan with the salt and pepper hair pulled a chunk of meat from the flank of the animal, now supple and pliant. The soft, white flesh pulled away from the cartilage, and he skewered it on a long, metal fork. He handed it to Dennis, who had to compensate as he took the metal prong, it was heavy than he had anticipated. He sank his teeth into the meat, it was surprisingly firm and chewy, more like a steak than a fish fillet. It had a pungent odor, but the taste was pleasant.

My compliments to the chef!” he mumbled through a mouthful of meat. Xhe relayed his praise to the old Borealan, and he clapped his massive hands together happily. “Will you not have some?” he asked Xhe, who stood beside him with her arms crossed.

No, this food is a little...rural for my tastes.”

Oh don't be such an elitist. Because you're of high rank, you can't enjoy good food?” She didn't reply, staring into the fire, the light reflecting in her eyes. “What if I ordered you to eat it? I'm higher ranked than you, right?” Xhe sighed, dragging her fingers down her face in a gesture of exasperation. “Xhe, as the Ambassador to Earth and the personal guest of the Lord Patriarch, I hereby order you to eat with me!”

Xhe looked like she wanted to punch him, but she chirped at the old Borealan, who handed her a piece of meat on a long fork. She bit into it with her long fangs, making eye contact with Dennis as if to imply that if he kept this up, she would replace the shark meat with his jugular.

How is it?”

It's good," she admitted with a roll of her eyes. "Now don't gloat.”

Dennis grinned and took another bite of his fish. The guards looked on, the female especially had her ears fixed on Dennis. Perhaps she spoke English or was just picking up on the body language between the two of them. He couldn't see her face behind the dark slot in her helmet.

Once Xhe and Dennis had taken their share, the villagers moved in, picking apart the carcass in short order. They were like a wolf pack, letting the higher ranked members eat first.

***

Dennis did his best to finish the Borealan-sized portion that he had been given, the amount of calories these aliens consumed in one sitting was astounding. He relaxed by the fire, the large iron fork discarded on the ground. The crackling flames drew dancing shadows on the beach as he lounged, the stars twinkling above his head. These villagers might not have access to the same technology and standard of living that the city dwellers had, but they had all the roasted shark that they could eat and complete autonomy it seemed. The capital was too far away to seriously interfere in their daily lives, besides dictating the price of their catch. Perhaps advanced civilization wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

He rose to his feet, intending to walk along the beach to settle his stomach.

Where are you going?” Xhe asked. She was slumped on a wooden bench alongside the male guard, the food had gotten to her too it seemed. He chuckled to himself, she had been so angry when he had made her join the village in their meal, and now she had eaten so much of it that she was almost falling asleep.

I want to go on a walk, just down the beach. It's a nice night.”

Very well, but take a guard with you.” He began to protest, but the female guard snapped to attention, her crimson armor illuminated by the firelight. “They're here to protect you. The order to ensure your safety comes from the Patriarch, you cannot countermand it.”

Oh fine, I shouldn't be long anyway. I just need to clear my head, digest,” he added as he patted his belly.

Xhe waved him away, closing her eyes as she leaned back in her seat. The Borealans were like a pride of lions, everyone who had eaten was practically passed out, some of them were literally sleeping in a pile. Only the two guards remained alert.

He glanced at the female guard. Her furry, round ears were tracking him, her eyes glinting behind her visor. He set off along the beach, and she loped behind him, staying fairly close. The guards never spoke, and they never showed their faces. Perhaps it was the same logic that the UNN special forces used. They hid their identity to avoid reprisals or unwanted publicity that might expose their clandestine operations.

He could feel the guard's eyes on the back of his head, even if he couldn't see her face. It was kind of spoiling the mood. This was the first time since arriving on the planet that he had been more than a couple of dozen feet away from a Borealan, he had wanted to enjoy some alone time.

Think you could er...hang back a little bit? Kind of ruining my vibe here.”

She didn't respond, probably didn't even speak English. Why would she? He was on Borealis. It wouldn't have surprised him if Xhe had specifically requested guards that didn't speak English so that he couldn't order them around or interfere in their chaperoning. He kept walking, the glow of the fire receded until he found himself in near darkness, the only light coming from the stars.

Not very talkative?” he asked. No response, not even an attempt to acknowledge him. “Well you're just a ray of sunshine aren't you, captain killjoy?”

Her paw-like feet crunched heavily on the beach, much like the other members of her species she had foregone any kind of footwear. He turned his head to glance back at her, noting how tall she was. At about eight feet she was of average height for a Borealan, but her stature was imposing none the less. Her apple-red armor clung to her impressive figure, accentuating her toned musculature as she walked, thick thighs and wide hips rolling in rhythm. Her painted breastplate obscured her chest, but it looked considerable. He dared not stare for too long, turning his eyes back to the beach ahead of him. Maybe it was just the gravity, but every woman that he saw seemed to be in great shape, at least compared to a human. Life here was rugged, it bred strong people. He wondered idly if what Chaka has said was true, that humans and Borealans...fraternized on that space station that everyone kept bringing up. He had trouble imagining the mechanics of it, the differences in size and weight were so great. His neck ached where Chaka had left a welt, and he rubbed it absent-mindedly.

In any case, now was not the time for such thoughts, he was trying to enjoy the night. He hadn't felt so cool since he had descended the ramp of the UNN shuttle and felt the wall of Borealan heat hit him like a train. The wind from the lake was a soothing balm.

It's a nice night don't you think?” he asked, not expecting an answer. The alien marched on, unresponsive. “The least you could do is make conversation if you're going to spoil my walk. Hell, you don't even speak English, do you? Xhe did this on purpose, I know it.” He kicked a pebble, and it bounced away into the darkness. “I get a brief moment of alone time after being stuck in that damned embassy for a week, and Xhe sends you after me like I'm some kind of incompetent child. I ask you, what could possibly happen to me on a deserted beach?”

No reply. Dennis rested his hands in his pockets and tried to make the best of it, but he was resentful.

I'll have to give you a name if you won't tell me what yours is, what about...” He scratched his chin pensively. “Cola, because your armor looks like one of those red aluminium cans. Get me some white paint, and I can draw the logo right across your chest.”

The guard was robotic, completely focused on her task it seemed. Perhaps she had been ordered to ignore him, and that was a thought that made him angry. Maybe he would try to learn this hissing, yowling language of theirs, and then Xhe would not be able to dictate who he could and couldn't talk to. Even if he couldn't pronounce the words, he could surely understand what was being said.

What do you think, Cola? Think I can learn your crazy language?” He paused to pick up a stone and threw it into the lake. He heard the splash as it hit the surface, but it was too dark to see how far it had gone. The guard paused next to him, her expressionless eyes tracking his movements beneath the shadow of her visor.

Well don't answer too quickly,” Dennis complained.

***

He walked for another fifteen minutes, skirting the shore of the lake and chatting with Cola occasionally. She never once replied but it was oddly therapeutic, everyone that he talked to under normal circumstances was so formal, it was nice to let off steam. He didn't really have any friends here, no one that he could confide in, and the lack of social interaction was beginning to gnaw at him. Cola never made a sound, but he could pretend that she was deeply interested in his directionless rambling.

Here the jungle protruded onto the beach, the roots of the gnarled trees reaching towards the water. Dennis stepped over them, walking into the foliage. Xhe probably wouldn't want him to explore this small island of greenery, but she wasn't here. In fact, if he were to enter, the village would be out of his line of sight.

You don't mind, right Cola? After me? How kind of you.”

He entered the brush, alien plants bending as he passed, their oddly shaped leaves catching on his clothing. He reached a small clearing and saw that the ground under his feet had become dirt, not pebbles. Now he felt as if he should turn back, getting lost in a forest was not on his itinerary for today, but he reveled in his brief moment of autonomy.

Well Cola, we'd best turn back, we can't keep Xhe waiti-”

Something slammed into his back painfully, knocking him to the ground with a thud that left him breathless. Stunned, he tried to pick himself up, brushing soil off his suit and rolling onto his back. Cola put her oddly shaped foot on his chest, pinning him to the ground. To his horror, he heard a distorted female voice emerge from the helmet, echoing from within the metal.

Idiot, Xhe never ordered me to guard you in our language. She spoke only English, and you didn't even pay enough attention to notice.”

The blood drained from Dennis' face. He had assumed from her lack of response that she didn't speak English, now he realized that he had been taunting a Borealan warrior for the better part of a half hour.

Why didn't you reply? I-”

Cola increased the pressure on his chest, cutting him off.

I have orders not to speak to you, you are at least that perceptive.”

He cursed himself for his stupidity, of all the times to let off steam, why had he chosen now? Why had he made assumptions? Again he had unwittingly provoked a Borealan, and now Xhe was not around to come to his rescue. Would this alien kill him?

I'm sorry,” he wheezed, “I didn't know. What's your real name? Maybe we can-”

She pressed down again, squeezing the air from his lungs.

Oh, you can call me Cola. I want you to.”

How about we just...cool off for a minute and then talk about this? That sound good?”

Cola dropped to her knees, straddling him, her considerable weight pressing down on his lower body.

I've heard enough talking from you.”

She dropped her XMR heavily on the ground beside him, the serrated bayonet bouncing an inch from his face. She rolled her heavy hips, pressing down into his groin, making him gasp and squirm as she locked her steely thighs around him. Dennis was trapped, he couldn't wriggle free.

She leaned over him, bringing the shadowy slot in her helmet down to his face. Was she examining him? He couldn't see her expression, he couldn't guess what she might be thinking, all that he could see were her reflective eyes. A shiver rolled down his spine as her echoing voice whispered to him.

You should know by now what happens next. Don't struggle, or I'll use my claws on you.” She brandished her shiny claws and Dennis watched them glint under the starlight, black and polished like onyx. She brought her claws up to his neck, dragging them lightly across his skin. She noticed the welt that Chaka had left there and crooned “Looks like someone already had a go at you, doesn't surprise me with a mouth like yours.” She pushed the fleshy pad on the end of her finger into the red mark, pressing down painfully. Dennis groaned and tried to pull away. Cola chuckled at his futile struggling, the sound somewhat muffled by her helmet. “You're not military, are you?”

Dennis shook his head, and she brought her hand to his face, caressing his cheek in mock affection.

Poor creature, this might be hard on you.”

She reached behind her back and popped some kind of catch, her heavy ceramic chest plate falling off. She caught it before it landed on Dennis' belly and he flinched away from it, the alien chuckling at his reaction. She discarded it on the floor beside her weapon, the thud that it made when it hit the dirt serving to illustrate its immense weight.

A zipper ran down the length of her skin-tight, red underclothes, from the collar to the crotch. She hooked her curved claw around it and dragged it down, exposing her wobbling cleavage, the twin globes of fat rippling like the surface of a lake with her every movement. They were pressed together so tightly within the confines of her suit, Dennis could have inserted his arm in there up to the elbow. She was of the tan variety, cream-colored fur standing out against her caramel skin. The zipper passed her breasts, and the tight clothing strained to contain them, the large metal teeth pulling apart under their considerable weight.

Dennis watched, mesmerized as the weighty breasts broke free of their restraints, spilling from the confines of her clothing. They bounced gently as they settled, still shapely and pert despite the considerable gravity that tugged at them. Her pink nipples were engorged and erect, beads of glistening sweat clinging to her smooth skin. To a Borealan they were of average size, but to a human they were enormous. To his shame, he felt a hardness growing in his pants, pressing awkwardly against her as her impressive mammaries swayed above him.

She continued to drag the zipper slowly down her body, teasing him, grinding gently into the erection that she could surely sense pressing against her loins. It passed her torso and reached her navel, the tight, red fabric parting to reveal a row of toned abdominal muscles protruding prominently from beneath her skin. It must be hot inside the restrictive suit, droplets of moisture rolled down her washboard abs, shining as they caught the starlight.

That's better,” she sighed through her stifling helmet. “These suits become intolerable after a while.”

She dragged the zipper down past her crotch, her smooth belly giving way to a small puff of soft, creamy fur on her pubic mound. As it passed between her legs, a string of viscous juice dripped from below, staining Dennis' pants.

It's been so long since I had my claws in a human. You little guys really are the best lay, you know that? You don't know when to quit, you keep fighting even when you've lost.”

Her thick thighs closed firmly around his waist, and she gripped his necktie in her hand, pulling him into a sitting position so that he was at eye level with her meaty breasts. He gagged as the tie tightened around his neck, choking him. She held him there, using his tie as a leash, and lowered her helmeted face down to his ear.

Call me Cola again, do it...”

He shook his head adamantly. If he complied it would just piss her off, and if he refused then she would be equally annoyed. He felt her shudder, the movement in her wide hips translating into his stiff member. She laughed again, the low rumbling echoing inside her metal helmet.

You look petrified, you shouldn't be. The last time I showed a human his place, he started off begging for it to end, but after I'd wrung him out a few times he begged for it to continue.” She tugged his tie roughly, and Dennis coughed, the fabric tightening around his neck. “I don't have all night, get to work. Use that smooth tongue you're so happy to wag.”

She pulled him into her chest, placing her other hand in his hair as she held on to his tie. Her skin was warm and smooth, slick with a layer of sweat. She pressed his face into one of her boobs, and he sank deep into her doughy flesh, her yielding fat spilling around his red cheeks. She took a fistful of his hair and gave it a rough tug, encouraging him. He complied, finding one of her hard nipples as he probed with his lips, sucking it into his mouth. Cola shivered as his lips closed around it, his tongue beginning to circle the bud of firm flesh.

Use your hands too," she prompted. But as he raised them towards her chest, he felt her furry, sinewy tail snake up between their bodies to coil around his wrists. She pulled it taught, tying his hands together and forcing them down to his lap. “On second thought, that XMR is pretty close, wouldn't want you doing anything stupid.” She gripped his hair, pulling his head up to gaze down at him, her face still hidden behind her helmet save for her yellow eyes. “Because then I'd have to punish you...”

Dennis' mind and body were out of sync, his knees were weak, and his heart was beating like a pneumatic pump. Butterflies tickled his belly and shivers ran up his spine in waves, dizzying him with their icy prickle. Despite that his erection was throbbing beneath the fabric of his pants, pressed up against her exposed labia, her sticky emissions soaking through to his skin and her heat radiating down through his clothes. He was terrified of her, and excited by her, fear and arousal mixing into a thick soup that addled his brain.

He didn't understand what he wanted, perhaps Cola would tell him?

She tugged again as he sucked ardently, running his tongue across her stiff nipple, tasting the salty sweat on her tanned skin.

Chew it a little, don't bite...”

He pressed her erect nipple between his teeth gently, squeezing it, lashing it with his tongue. Her breathing grew heavier, her breasts swaying slowly as her chest heaved up and down. He ran his tongue around her areola, sucking wetly, and he felt her grip on his hair grow tighter as she clenched. She sighed, the sound distorted by her helmet.

Now the other.”

She pulled his head back by his hair then forced his face into her second breast, the pliable flesh deforming as it pressed against his burning cheeks. He found the nipple with his lips, drawing it in and repeated the process. He caught the stiff protrusion between his tongue and his teeth, squeezing it rhythmically, then applied more suction to draw it into his mouth. Its length surprised him, and he circled his tongue around it. She shuddered, pressing her groin down against his erection, the heat that emanated from it almost hot enough to be uncomfortable through his clothing. After a minute she barked at him in her muffled voice.

Enough of that.”

She released his hair and her tail uncoiled from his wrists, but she kept one hand on his tie, crawling off him and moving a short distance away. She tugged him along with her as if he were a dog on a leash, and he rose to his feet awkwardly, stumbling after her. She leaned up against the gnarled trunk of a nearby tree, sitting with her legs splayed, and pulled him towards her.

I'm gonna put that big mouth of yours to better use, get down here.” She tugged his tie, and it tightened around his neck painfully. He brought his hands up and tried to loosen it, but she used her prehensile tail to pull one of them away.

Leave the necktie, it turns me on. You don't want me to tie your hands again, if you do a good job then I might let you touch yourself.” She tugged him down, and Dennis fell to his knees, the guard taking a firm grip on his hair and guiding it down between her long legs. “Don't just dive right in, kiss me, tease me a little.”

Dennis' anger overcame his fear momentarily, he wasn't a damn Borealan, he wouldn't follow orders from these pompous aliens as if they had some authority over him. He was independent, here to fulfill a diplomatic mission. He wasn't some spineless fisherman who could be ordered around like a slave.

No, fuck you,” he spat.

Cola giggled, it wasn't the reaction that he had expected.

Oh how cute, you think you have a choice.”

She tugged him closer so that his cheek was pressed up against her hard abs, her caramel skin lustrous with sweat, and slipped her hand down the back of his shirt. She dragged her fingers up his spine, raking her sharp claws over his skin. He yelped and flinched, she didn't apply enough pressure to cut him, but just enough to sting and burn. She wrapped her large hand around the back of his head as he groaned into her belly, stroking his hair in a mock gesture of concern.

Now be a good human and let me fuck your face.”

He relaxed, leaning against her, feeling the red lines she had drawn on his back burning. He pressed his lips against her firm abs, kissing them slowly, sometimes flicking his tongue across her salty skin as he mouthed.

Ah...that's right. Keep that up,” Cola groaned, her six-pack flexing and twisting as his questing lips tickled her skin. He moved down past her navel, sticking his tongue inside it as he passed. She squirmed and purred happily, all of her vocalizations and expressions taking on the same tinny quality through her helmet.

You're pretty smart, smarter than the Marine, anyway. He fought me for hours. Every time I forced him to come, he'd lean into me and hold me tightly as if I were his lover. Then he'd recover and become ashamed, trying to resist me again. Every time I broke him was sweeter than the last. Eventually, he became so exhausted that he just did whatever I told him to do.”

He felt one of her hands brush past him, sneaking down to rub her mound. A mixture of excitement and shame washed over Dennis as he lowered his head between her legs, the feminine scent of her sex filling his senses. They were so thick, packed with firm muscle beneath a layer of smooth fat, almost as wide around as his damned torso. He wrapped his arm around one, pressing his lips against her inner thigh, mouthing and licking her burnished skin. The soft fat gave way to steely muscle as he pressed his fingers deeper into her flesh, her thigh so stout that he couldn't get his arm all the way around it.

You've not really done anything like this before, have you?” she purred. “I can tell.”

She stopped rubbing and raised her right hand, the fur on her fingers matted with ropes of her excitement, keeping a tight hold on his tie with the left. Her sharp claws pricked his cheeks as she forced her finger past his lips and into his mouth. He avoided the hooked claw with his tongue, fearing it would cut him as her metallic, sour flavor played over it.

How do I taste?” she laughed as he glared at her yellow eyes through the slot in her helmet. “Now don't bite, little Ambassador. Not if you want to walk out of here tonight.”

She withdrew her long finger, a string of her juices and his saliva linking it to his lips. She used the red necktie to dab his mouth as if she were cleaning a messy child, Dennis fuming as her feminine flavor lingered on his tongue.

There's that look again, the one you little apes give me when you still think you can win. I love that look, so defiant, so angry. It never lasts. Even if you do everything that I tell you to do, I'm still going to make a mess of you, you smart-mouthed little fuck. Because you deserve it.”

She tugged the tie, forcing his head down towards her open, leaking lips. Between her puffy labia, he could already make out an enticing sliver of pink, her flesh soaked with her juices as they dripped to the soil below.

As the Royal Guard tasked with fucking the Ambassador to Earth, I hereby order you to eat me out.” She was mocking him, mimicking the order that he had given to Xhe back in the village. His cheeks burned red, and he felt her hand on the back of his head, gripping his hair again. Despite her threats, his erection bounced in his pants, throbbing in time with his heartbeat.

With a grunt that echoed in her helmet, she pushed his face into her loins, the soft tuft of fur her on her mound tickling his nose. It was nothing like the course, curly pubic hair of humans, it felt more like soft cat fur. His mouth met her glistening lips, glazed with her thick emission, her scent and her flavor making his head spin.

Stick your tongue as deep as it will go,” she demanded, pulling the necktie painfully tight when he didn't comply. He choked and did as he was told, pushing his tongue past her velvet folds and into her warm tunnel, playing it over the bumps and creases. She closed her meaty thighs around his head, holding him there as she clenched and her insides contracted.

Fuck...that's it...”

He wrapped his arms around her thighs for purchase, playing his fingers across her glass-smooth skin, sinking them into her inviting flesh. He felt her dexterous tail tugging at his waistband, then jumped as the furry appendage wrapped his member in a soft cocoon, the silky strands of her fur tickling him. She closed around his shaft tightly and began to pump slowly, running her soft coat up and down his length as she squeezed him like a fuzzy boa constrictor.

Ambassador! You're on fire down there, are you enjoying this? How indecent..." He gasped into her crotch as she squeezed him tightly, and she shivered happily as his tongue played across her vulva. “You're so much fun, I wish I could keep you...” She tugged his tie again when he slacked off, her tone switching from teasing to stern in the blink of an eye. “I didn't say stop.”

He resumed his licking and probing, her warm, silky flesh pressing against his lips. He felt her tail uncoil and reached a hand down, intending to finish the job. Instead, he felt the flexible appendage wrap his wrist and pull it back.

No, I lied.”

He mumbled a curse into her loins, and she shuddered at the sensation, chuckling cruelly from behind her helmet. She let out a low moan as he pressed his tongue against her textured walls. Her insides flexed, trying to pull him deeper.

Fuck...I'm getting close. Don't you dare stop now, or I'll make you wish that your mother had been sterilized.” She reached a hand down and exposed her engorged clitoris, tugging his head up with a fistful of hair so that his lips closed around it. He sucked the firm, inflamed nub of flesh into his mouth obediently and ran his tongue over its sensitive surface. She shivered and bucked, pushing his face into her soft pubic hair, her musky scent filling his nose.

Get your fingers in there, fuck! Don't you know how to give head?”

She grabbed his hand roughly and forced his fingers deep into her slippery opening. The walls of her vagina felt like damp satin as they enveloped his digits, contracting in waves and trying to crush them. He alternated between applying suction and chewing gently, dragging the smooth surface of his tongue over her tender protrusion. She arched her back, grinding her massive hips against his face and squeezing his head between her thighs as he probed with his fingers, wriggling them and pushing them deeper.

Unf, faster!” she exclaimed. Dennis increased his pace, trying to compensate as she banged her pubic bone into him in a desperate bucking motion and crushed his head between her powerful legs. She brought both of her hands down into his hair and gripped it in handfuls that stung his scalp.

She let out a low rumble that made her helmet vibrate, a primal, animal roar that shook Dennis' bones. She came hard, her limbs trembling as she sucked in a desperate gasp of air. Waves of pleasure rolled over her, causing her muscles to flex and bulge and her juices to flow into his mouth, making him gag and sputter. Unrelenting, she held him there as her climax rocked her, compressing his fingers inside her painfully as the intense contractions rippled through her sopping passage. Again and again, her taut body was wracked by intense aftershocks, almost suffocating Dennis in her fugue. She held him prisoner between her moist thighs for what felt like an age, before finally releasing him. He sat back on the soil, trying to wipe her thick, sticky excitement from his face. It had the consistency of honey, viscous strands of it hanging from his chin.

She kneaded one of her breasts with one hand and rubbed her mound with the other, jumping and twitching occasionally as if she were hooked up to an electrical outlet. They both breathed heavily, Cola from the intensity of her orgasm and Dennis from his lack of oxygen.

Fuck," she moaned as she leaned back against the tree. “Did you enjoy that, human? How does a real woman measure up to your spindly little females?”

He wiped his mouth on his sleeve, glaring at her. She chuckled, her dark breasts bouncing enticingly as she laughed at him. She rose to her hands and knees and crawled towards him, mimicking a predator. He began to shuffle away from her, but she closed fast, grabbing his tie in her hand again.

I'm not done with you, that was just the appetizer. I thought you wanted to sample the local flavors?”

He opened his mouth to protest, but she stopped suddenly as a crackling, hissing sound pierced the silence of the clearing. She rummaged in the pocket of her partially removed underclothes, withdrawing a blocky device that looked like an old-fashioned portable radio. Dennis heard a distorted Borealan voice as Cola held it up to her ear, then she replied to it in the native dialect. After a short conversation, she returned it to her pocket, standing and pulling up the zipper on her tight suit.

Xhe wants to know why we're taking so long, I told her that you wanted to explore. She has ordered us back to the village. Breathe a word of this to her, and next time we meet I'll ventilate you. Remember, I know where you live.”

He rose to his feet on shaky legs, and she chuckled at him as he stood unsteadily.

You'll have to walk that off. And wash your face in the lake, my cum is all over you.” She finished zipping up her suit, struggling to push her large breasts back inside its confines. She noticed that he was eyeing her chest, smiling wryly at his expression.

Sorry Ambassador, we'll have to finish this another time. You'll just have to remember my taste and finish yourself off later.” She knelt to pick up her breastplate and clipped it back on, then retrieved her XMR from where she had discarded it on the ground.

Get moving, she wants us back ASAP.”

She shoved Dennis back the way they had come, and he stumbled out of the clearing, his still raging erection rubbing uncomfortably against the fabric of his underwear.

***

You were gone a long time.” Xhe chided. “What were you doing?”

Exploring...” Dennis replied sheepishly.

Why is your clothing wet?”

Gravity got the better of me, I fell into the lake.”

Xhe looked skeptical and glanced at Cola, who was standing to attention in silence.

No matter, it is late, we must leave now anyway.”

He walked back through the village, following Xhe to the shuttle. Cola and the second masked guard trailed a short distance behind them. It seemed that after the feast on the beach all of the villagers had retired to their dwellings. When they reached the shuttle, they ascended the ramp and sat down on the seats that lined the interior. The pilot had stayed in the shuttle the entire time they were away, and he looked as if he had just woken up. He yawned sleepily, hitting switches and powering up the engines. Dennis was sat across from Cola, and as the shuttle lifted off, he tried to avoid looking at her. Although he had washed her juices off his face in the lake and he had done his best to straighten his clothes, he was self-conscious and worried that Xhe might notice somehow.

Dennis felt oddly wistful. He would never admit that he had enjoyed his encounter with Cola, not even to himself, but the unwelcome arousal and the longing for release that had never come lingered in his mind. He realized Cola was watching him from behind her visor, he could feel her eyes on him. He stared at the floor intently, trying to ignore her.

Should he ask for her number? Was that done on Borealis? His heart leapt at the thought, an opportunity to continue their encounter, but was that what he wanted? Did he enjoy the callous, cruel way that she had toyed with him? A tension rose inside him, he didn't know, he didn't understand what he wanted. He couldn't rationalize the way that she had made him feel. His face was reddening, he had to take his mind off it, and so he distracted himself by peering out at the landscape through one of the small windows in the hull.

***

The flight was uneventful, and the shuttle put down outside the towering, white spire. The Royal Guards escorted them to the door of the embassy, and then Xhe dismissed them in the Borealan tongue. As she turned to enter the building and the second guard turned to leave, Dennis felt Cola's heavy hand on his shoulder. She leaned in and whispered into his ear, her voice echoing in her metal helmet.

See you around.”

His face flushed red, and she turned, walking off into the night. Xhe yawned, opening her wide jaws to bare her sharp teeth, then turned her head to see where Dennis was.

What are you doing? Come inside.” He entered, closing the heavy wooden door behind him. “Is something wrong? Your face is red, Ambassador. You smell...strange.”

She could smell him? Did Borealans have a keener sense of smell than humans? What could she smell on him?

I'm fine, just tired. The gravity...”

Very well, get some rest. Tomorrow I will organize more activities if you feel up to it.”

Dennis nodded and made a beeline to his bedroom. He collapsed into the soft sheets, his mind roiling. First Chaka, now Cola. These Borealans were a nightmare, although he had never felt so...wanted. His history with women was not very impressive, at least not on Earth, but these aliens were insatiable. His very existence seemed to anger or arouse them. Should he take advantage of it? Did he enjoy their aggressive advances?

Perhaps his frustration was clouding his mind. Twice now he had been turned on, then interrupted before he could get any kind of release. Yes, that must be it. It wasn't that he enjoyed it, he was just frustrated. He pulled the sheets over him, and his hand wandered below his belt, not because Cola had told him to but because it might relieve him of this confusion.

CHAPTER 4: RAINBOW SPIDER

The next morning Dennis was awoken by Xhe knocking on his door.

Ambassador, I managed to arrange a hunting trip. I also brought you breakfast. We will be departing in one hour.”

A hunting trip? He had told her that he wanted to see the jungle, but he hadn't expected her to organize a trip so quickly. He hopped out of bed, pulling on a pair of pants, then went to open the wooden door. Xhe was wearing a green dress today in a similar style of light, almost transparent fabric as her previous one. She held a silver tray, upon which were two large smoked fish. Dennis eyed them hungrily.

Eat as much as you are able, there will be a lot of walking today with few opportunities for rest.”

He took the tray from her hands and set it on a table, picking up a fish with his fingers and biting into it, savoring the smokey flavor.

How are we doing with the cutlery situation?” he mumbled through a mouthful of fish.

I have put out a territory-wide request asking for cutlery, should any be available. The Patriarch buys all manner of things, often on a whim. It is possible that some silverware or leftover dining equipment from a ship that he purchased is still sitting in a warehouse somewhere. If I can't find any, I will commission a set from a metallurgist. I assure you that a set will be available before you attend one of the Patriarch's banquets.”

Dennis nodded appreciatively as he sucked the grease from his fingers. He doubted the Patriarch would care either way, but it made him feel self-conscious to eat with his fingers. He wanted to be at his best for the politically delicate banquet.

***

When he had finished eating, he joined Xhe outside the embassy, and they made their way up the steps of the ivory tower to the landing pad. The same pilot from the previous day was waiting for them in his shuttle, it really might be one of the only operable ones in service on the planet, and that thought amazed Dennis. The skies of Earth were clogged with the damned things.

No guards this time?” he asked. Xhe shook her head.

We will meet with Rangers at the landing site, they will take us through the jungle.”

He looked at her flowing dress and considered asking her if it was appropriate attire for a romp through the jungle, but thought better of it. They loaded into the shuttle, and it lifted off in a cloud of dust, angling its nose out across the lake. The landing site must be on the opposite shore.

As the craft jetted over the reflective water, Dennis questioned Xhe about the trip.

So who are these Rangers we're going to meet?”

They are professional hunters," she explained. "They are most often raised in villages deep within the green bands. They have a reputation for being antisocial, but if you asked them, they would tell you that they enjoy the seclusion of the jungle. They are valued for their intimate knowledge of the local flora and fauna, and their hunting prowess garners them much respect in Borealan society even if they choose to distance themselves from it.”

I've seen lots of hunting scenes on the tapestries, and on the armor worn by the Patriarch and his Royal Guards. Were those the Rangers?”

For the most part, yes. Hunting is a favorite pastime of the Patriarch, though he rarely has time for it these days. Connecting Borealis with the rest of the galaxy is hectic work.”

I can imagine, I'll be helping him do it soon.”

And I along with you, Ambassador,” Xhe replied. She sounded somewhat exasperated. Dennis put his hand on her shoulder, intending to reassure her, but she flinched away from him and bared her teeth reflexively. He remembered the tourist guide, where it had told him not to touch Borealans without their express permission, and withdrew his hand quickly.

Sorry, I just...I wanted to tell you that I appreciate the work you do for me. I know I can be kind of a handful, I'm still learning how things work on this planet. That you're able to run around organizing everything, getting me all the things I need. Food, transport, information, and translation. You make it all look so easy. It kind of blows my mind. If every Borealan secretary is as efficient and as helpful as you are, you guys could make big money back on Earth. Hell, we have a hard enough time getting ours to make appointments and brew coffee.”

Xhe's expression softened.

I admit, sometimes I feel like I have a giant kitten running around the embassy getting into trouble," she replied. "But I know that you're trying. You are genuinely interested in our culture and our society, I can see it in your face every time you come across some new artifact or practice. You certainly didn't know what you were signing up for when you accepted this job, but at least from my perspective, you seem perfectly suited to the role. The UN could send a highly trained diplomat who never made a bad decision, but if he didn't care about Borealis and her people, it would be pointless.”

Dennis grinned, it was high praise coming from the stoic Xhe.

The shuttle banked, shedding speed and altitude as their destination came into view. They passed over the shoreline of the lake and headed out over the jungle canopy, an ocean of green leaves passing beneath the belly of the craft. In the distance lay a large clearing and as they drew closer, he could make out buildings in it.

The ship came to a stop, hovering gingerly as the pilot maneuvered the craft down into an open area, a little too close to some wooden dwellings for comfort. They were not dissimilar to the ones from the fishing village, made from sturdy logs and decorated with elaborate reliefs and carvings. The landing gear bounced as they impacted the ground, and as the cloud of dust settled Xhe and Dennis descended the ramp.

A small group was waiting for them. Tall, lean Borealans clad in leather that barely covered them stood to attention, their clothing decorated with beads and large feathers. Dennis had noticed that the air was oddly humid in the jungle despite its proximity to the planet-spanning desert, it made sense to dress...sparingly. His eyes lingered on one of the females, an impressive specimen even by Borealan standards. She wore a skirt made of animal hide, held up with a decorative belt from which strings of colorful beads and what looked like teeth or claws dangled. Her breasts were covered with a leather sling that barely contained them, and there were a dozen necklaces hanging from around her neck. Feathers and beads, animal teeth, what looked like arrowheads. She had it all. Her hair was a rusty orange that complimented her pale skin, the fur on her forearms and legs patterned with dark stripes. Her cropped hair was stuffed with innumerable bird feathers, they jutted out at odd angles and dazzled him with their bright colors. A large male stepped forward to greet them, he was similarly dressed besides for his long, flowing cape of the same variety that the Patriarch had worn. It refracted the light, drawing Dennis' eye as the Borealan walked towards them.

He greeted Xhe in the native dialect, and she replied in kind, gesturing to Dennis as they talked. He waited patiently, trying not to fidget in his two-piece suit as the humidity nagged at him. After a moment Xhe translated for him.

This is the Alpha of the local Ranger band, he welcomes you to his village.”

Tell him that I appreciate his hospitality.”

Xhe translated as the Alpha examined Dennis, looking him up and down, seemingly not impressed. He gestured to Dennis and said something to Xhe.

He asks if you are fit to enter the jungle.”

I don't know, am I?”

Xhe considered for a moment as the Alpha watched them curiously.

Probably.”

Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Dennis complained.

It is dangerous, but you will be well protected. These are the best Rangers known to us. If you are unsure, I can call it off.”

And make me look like a flake? No way, I want to see this jungle for myself.”

The corners of Xhe's mouth turned up, a rare smile, and she turned back to the Alpha to relay their conversation to him. He laughed and pounded his chest with a clenched fist the size of a bowling ball.

The Alpha is pleased,” Xhe commented.

Yeah, I got that impression.”

The Alpha talked with Xhe for a moment in their unintelligible language as Dennis waited, loosening his collar. The heat and humidity were unbearable, his shoes were filling with sweat. The Borealans were no better off, the female that he had noticed before was glistening with a sheen of perspiration, but they seemed to be used to it. They were certainly dressed for their environment, or rather not dressed.

The Rangers have been tracking a powerful native animal over the last few days, the timing of your visit is opportune. If you would to see it, they must leave immediately.”

A powerful animal? What is it?” Dennis asked, intrigued and a little apprehensive. Anything that the Borealans considered powerful or dangerous must be monstrous indeed.

You couldn't pronounce the name, but roughly translated it is called furry shining tree destroyer. Its coat is highly valued and is used as a material for tailoring fine clothing.”

What an absurd name, but he was sure it sounded better in the original Borealan.

Is what these capes that I keep seeing are made from?”

Yes.”

Dennis' eyes lit up, this was exactly what he wanted to see.

Let's waste no time then! Onward!” he exclaimed, pointing towards the treeline beyond the small settlement. His gesture needed no translation and the group of hunters holstered their weapons on slings over their shoulders and began to move. They weren't carrying XMRs, but some kind of native rifle design. They had long, ornate barrels and what looked like a straight pull bolt. They must be some kind of high powered, single shot weapons, likely using a chemical propellant. They were antiques by today's standards but their sheer size was intimidating, they looked like they could throw massive slugs.

There were five Rangers in all, each carrying a rifle and clad in similarly revealing, almost tribal garb. Xhe and Dennis followed behind them as they fanned out into a line formation, crunching fallen twigs and leaves underfoot. The Alpha said something to Xhe, and she translated for Dennis.

He says to stay close to Yuta, she is their best shot. She will protect you.”

Which one is Yuta?” he asked. Xhe pointed to the orange-haired female that he had seen earlier, the layer of sweat on her skin reflecting the sunlight as she weaved through the trees and leapt over exposed roots. Dennis hurried over to take up position behind her, keeping his eyes on the jungle and trying to avoid looking at her shapely posterior as she marched ahead of him.

***

Dennis pushed through the undergrowth clumsily, trying to keep pace with Xhe and Yuta. Despite wearing what looked like a goddamned ball gown Xhe was striding through the jungle, hopping deftly over roots and plants with her slender legs. Yuta moved as silently as a stalking tiger, she hadn't said a single word since they had entered the treeline. Dennis tripped and stumbled, his dress shoes were woefully unsuited to the task of trekking through thick jungles. He did own a pair of hiking boots, but they were sitting in a wardrobe in his apartment back on Earth. He had expected the most trying situation that he would find himself in to be a board meeting. The roots rose out of the ground, requiring him to clamber over them, and the plants came in all kinds of odd shapes and colors. He didn't know if any were poisonous, and what might poison a Borealan wouldn't necessarily poison a human. He was starting to regret this latest escapade. None of the other rangers were in view, they had spread out to cover as much ground as possible as they stalked this bizarrely named animal.

Dennis slapped at a fat insect that had landed on his arm, the damned things were everywhere. To his surprise the stocky, hard-shelled creature merely flitted away on its set of six wings, unfazed by his strike. Even the bugs here were tough. Yuta turned to shush him, putting a clawed finger to her lips. They had been traipsing through this humid hell for at least half an hour, where was this target that was supposedly so close? He peered up at the canopy, the massive trees towering above them. Shafts of harsh light penetrated between the leaves here and there, but it was gloomy and a little cooler than being in direct sunlight, that was a plus. The humidity was killing him, however, he felt like he was being steamed alive. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his orange tie. He had been forced to throw the red one away because...well, let's just say that Cola did not wash out easily.

Something that resembled a snake dropped down from the branches above, landing about his shoulders like a scaly rope.

He yelped and froze up, Xhe and Yuta turning to look at him and seeing the reptile draped around his neck like a scarf. Yuta rushed over to him, laying down her weapon gingerly and reaching her clawed hands out to pick up the creature. It was long and sapphire blue, its winding body coiling around his neck protectively as she approached. It wasn't a snake, not quite, it had dozens of stubby legs like a centipede. She hefted it in her hands, and it hung between them, scrabbling its tiny limbs in the air. It didn't seem to have a head.

Yuta placed it gently on the ground, and it shot away faster than Dennis' eyes could track it, vanishing beneath the rotting leaves that covered the ground. He adjusted his tie nervously, his hand shaking and a shiver running down his spine. The Ranger hissed something in Borealan and walked away from him, resuming her tracking.

It is harmless.” Xhe translated, her tone slightly mocking.

Well how was I to know that?" Dennis asked, indignant. "Looks like a goddamned snake to me.” He trotted to catch up to Xhe, straightening his jacket and trying to regain his composure.

What is a snake?” she asked him as she took his hand and helped him over a root.

A long, brightly colored reptile from Earth, very venomous.”

That animal was a...blue as the sky many legs. I'm sorry, very little can be directly translated from Borealan to English.”

Dennis chuckled, his fear of the creature evaporating. Who could be afraid of something with such a stupid name?

I get the impression that Yuta doesn't think much of me.”

Why would you care?” Xhe asked, eyeing him curiously.

No reason,” he replied with a shrug.

As I told you in the shuttle, many Borealans consider Rangers to be antisocial. They spend their whole lives in the jungles, only emerging to trade furs and exotic meats. Above all, they value self-sufficiency and hardiness.”

Well that rules me out,” Dennis muttered.

Ambassador, why do you value the opinions of those of lower social standing? Must everyone approve of you in order for you to be satisfied? What does it matter if Yuta does not respect you? She will obey, or she will be punished.”

Maybe it's just a human thing,” Dennis said, as he pushed awkwardly through a patch of thick ferns. “On Earth, we have this thing called democracy, it's a political system but also kind of an ideology where the opinion of each individual matters and is taken into account. Doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, weak or powerful, every person gets their say. We tend to care what people think, their opinion of us. It's kind of jarring to me, the way that you dismiss people offhand.”

You sound like you don't approve,” Xhe replied, an accusatory tone in her voice.

I wouldn't presume to know what's best for Borealans, but do you really just see Yuta and anyone below your rank as...somehow of less value?”

You misunderstand the concept of a pack, Ambassador. If I am the hand, then the pack are my fingers. I do not care to hear the opinion of a finger, the finger must work alongside the others in order to accomplish the task, but what is a hand without fingers? Impotent, useless. Every Borealan has value in our society, everyone had a place.”

There was a loud crash in the jungle ahead, and Yuta put her hand up, waving for them to stay back. She unholstered her weapon, reaching into the leather bandoleer that was strapped across her ample chest and pulling out a brass cartridge, sliding it into the chamber and locking the bolt with a click. Dennis and Xhe crouched behind the cover of a nearby root, listening intently, Yuta's round ears swiveling and twisting in every direction as she scanned the forest.

Another crash. Crowds of frightened birds erupted from the treetops, screeching angrily as they dispersed into the air. There was a loud call, a battle cry like the roar of a lion that echoed through the trees. It was answered by three other voices, then by Yuta, who snarled her reply. Were they positioning each other?

There was another tremendous crash, this one sounded closer. Dennis saw the canopy shake above him, leaves and twigs raining down on his head. Yuta braced herself against a tree, raising the rifle in her muscular arms and aiming it into the dense trees. Dennis couldn't see more than ten feet in any direction, it was like being snowblind.

It is coming this way,” Xhe whispered, and Dennis felt a twinge of fear in his belly. What was it, some horrific alien monster that would haunt his nightmares? He should never have asked to see the jungle, what an idiot he had been.

A huge, dark mass snapped the trees a short distance ahead of them like twigs. Splinters flew through the air like shrapnel as the great trees fell, their shattered trunks cracking like gunfire. They crashed through the branches of their neighbors, thudding to the ground and bouncing as it rained debris. Xhe covered Dennis with her body as a torrent of twigs and leaves rained down on them. He felt her grip on his arm as she pulled him to his feet, hauling him backwards as the sound of rifle shots pierced his ears. Before them a monstrous beast tore through the foliage, as big as an elephant, maybe larger. It had a segmented body like a spider, its comparatively small head perched on the end of a giant abdomen that was covered in beautiful, pearlescent fur that shifted hues as it moved. Its face was adorned with terrible, hooked mandibles that dripped strings of saliva. Dozens of beady, insectoid eyes peered at him, dull and expressionless. It motored its many legs, as stout as the trees that it was knocking down, trashing the plants around it and sending up torrents of soil in a furious rampage.

It was as if someone had taken a tarantula and blown it up to terrifying proportions. How could anyone hunt such a monster?

As if to answer his question, Yuta pulled back the bolt on her massive rifle, chambering another round. The creature turned towards her, its jagged mandibles flexing menacingly, strands of what might be slaver or venom dangling from the pointed shears. It lunged, powering through the jungle like a freight train. Nothing could impede it, it smashed through trees and tore up roots as if they were little more than matchsticks. Yuta stood firm and aimed her rifle, the great beast was going to squash her!

A shot rang out through the jungle, and the monster was felled. It dropped as if someone had pulled out a rug from under it, skidding to a halt on its face, its long legs twitching grotesquely as they curled towards its hairy body. Running on pure adrenaline, Dennis broke free of Xhe's grip and jogged over to Yuta, the barrel of her gun trailing a wisp of smoke. She let out another call that was answered by the rest of the pack, much closer now, they must be running towards her position.

Dennis gazed at the dead creature, it was even more enormous up close. Its whole body was covered in the soft, downy fur that he had so admired on the Patriarch's cape. Even its segmented legs, which still twitched reflexively, were coated in the fur. He felt no urge to check its pulse, its head had been destroyed by a well-placed round from Yuta's rifle. Vomit-colored goop oozed from a wound that looked like a small explosion had gone off, blowing away one side of its face.

His heart was pounding like a drum, he was afraid but also excited, he had never seen anything like this before. He was not an outdoorsy person, he wasn't even good at fishing. To see such a monster dispatched up close was incredible, invigorating.

You're amazing!” he exclaimed to Yuta. The Ranger recoiled at his outburst, confused by his alien speech. “Xhe! Did you see that!? Right in the fucking head!”

I saw,” she replied nonchalantly, walking over to them.

Dennis reached out a hand and touched its head cautiously. It was still warm, the downy fur felt like cat hair, soft and fine. The eyes were black and glassy like those of a spider, the thick, powerful mandibles tipped with blade-like fangs. As he stroked the fur, the shifting hues mesmerized him, the colors refracting the shafts of light that penetrated the canopy.

It needs an English name,” Dennis decided. “Rainbow spider!”

Do you like this animal?” Xhe asked him. He turned to her, his eyes wide.

This is the most incredible creature I've ever seen! I can't believe you hunt animals like this. It looks big enough to eat an elephant.”

I will have you a cape commissioned from its fur. You are small, it would not require much material.”

Dennis thought for a moment, standing over the felled creature with his arms crossed.

I have a better idea. If I gave you a necktie, could you reproduce it with rainbow spider fur?”

Most likely.”

Dennis grinned. That would impress the Patriarch and his brood at the upcoming banquet.

***

They traipsed back through the jungle, the pervasive humidity hardly bothered Dennis now. He was electrified, he felt alive. Maybe he had a thing for hunting, it was the most fun he had had in years. He hopped deftly over roots and shrubs, trailing after Yuta and Xhe. Now that the hunt was over, the other Borealans in the pack had made their way back to the village on their own. If he had to guess, the rainbow spider had a large territory just like many apex predators on Earth. There shouldn't be any danger of running into other critters.

How will they get the carcass back to the village?” Dennis asked.

They will cut it into segments. The head and legs can be detached at the joints and carried back, but the abdomen must be skinned here, it is too large to move.”

They cleared the jungle, emerging past the ancient, gnarled trunks and into the harsh light. The heat hit him like a physical barrier, it really was cooler under the canopy. Yuta called out to the village, perhaps indicating a successful hunt, the villagers shouting back their indecipherable responses. The group moved into what looked like a large longhouse built from wood in the same style as the fishing village. Monstrous skulls and bones decorated its awnings, and there were two huge femurs that lay upright on either side of the entrance like pillars. They looked to Dennis like replicas of dinosaur fossils, but they must have come from a real, living animal.

Yuta entered, and Xhe ushered him inside after her, closing the door behind her. There was a long wooden table that ran down the center of the building that looked as if it may have been hewn from the trunk of a single, gigantic tree. Chandeliers with candles hung from the roof, illuminating the gloomy interior in a yellow, flickering glow. Dennis guessed that they did not have access to electricity out in the jungle, but could they not improvise using solar panels or even a portable generator? Was it a conscious choice on the part of the Rangers to reject modern technology? Xhe had suggested that they chose to distance themselves from the larger Borealan civilization, perhaps they were the Borealan equivalent of homesteaders or survivalists?

Dozens of Rangers were seated at the table, all clad in similar attire, tanned leather and decorative flair in the form of beads and feathers. Xhe and Yuta sat, Dennis hopping up onto a stool between them.

What's happening now?” he whispered to Xhe.

They are feasting in honor of the successful hunt. The...rainbow spider, is revered in ancient Borealan culture as an avatar of power and strength. When one is killed, it is tradition to consume the meat in order to gain its power. Of course, nobody truly believes that in the modern era, but traditions are hardy and live on.”

At the head of the table was the Alpha who had greeted Xhe when they had first arrived. He was seated in a veritable throne, its wooden frame decorated with ribs, feathers, and skulls. The door was flung open, and two Borealans dragged a giant, hairy leg through the entrance. They heaved it up onto the table, slamming it down on the polished surface. It still twitched reflexively, its dead nerves firing, and it leaked viscous goo from the tear where it had been cut from the body of the spider.

The color drained from Dennis' face at the grotesque sight. One of the Borealans who had dragged it inside unsheathed a curved knife from his waistband, leaning over to cut a piece of wet, oozing meat from the limb with the crescent blade. It looked vile, it oozed orange-green ichor, its spongy flesh raw and moist. The Borealan walked up the length of the table and handed the chunk of meat to the Alpha, bowing in reverence. The leader stood, lifting the meat to his lips and taking a huge, wet bite with his sharp teeth. He chewed, making a point of savoring the flavor, then swallowed heavily. He declared something to the room, and they cheered, reaching towards the center of the table to pull away pieces of flesh. Yuta lunged and dug her curved claws into the meat to pull it away in handfuls, while Xhe was a little more dainty, picking away two more modest pieces. One for her and one for Dennis.

She dropped the morsel of pale flesh on the table in front of him, and it splashed his suit with fluid, jiggling like jello as it settled.

Humans can't digest raw meat!” Dennis hissed. Xhe shrugged, chewing the spider meat as orange liquid dripped from her lips.

If you care so much what people think of you,” she mumbled through a mouthful of flesh, “then eat it. If you don't care what they think of you, then don't. They can't force you to do anything that you don't want to.”

Dennis considered, eyeing the unappetizing hunk of meat warily. What if it made him ill? Despite the fact that it was raw, he knew very well that the diet of the average Borealan was not inedible to a human thanks to his tourist guide. It lacked the nutritional value required for humans to be healthy in the long term, but they didn't eat or drink anything that was poisonous to him. At least that he knew of.

Oh well, he wouldn't get anywhere on Borealis by shying away from new experiences.

He lifted the chunk of meat in his hands and sank his teeth into it, Yuta looking on approvingly and Xhe letting slip a smirk. The fowl juice filled his mouth, the flesh rubbery and wet, not at all palatable to a human. He chewed, trying to keep the greasy meat down as the Borealans around him dug in. Dennis gave up halfway through the chunk, but he had tasted it, and that was enough. The Borealans had almost stripped the limb clean before long, it had an internal skeleton unlike any of the arachnids or insects from Earth that it resembled, the jointed bone lying on the table in a pool of congealing fluid. After a while, the Alpha called in more Borealans from a back room that was sectioned off from the main hall. It must have been a kitchen or some other food preparation area, because they brought out trays laden with assorted meats and gourds. It seemed that the spider leg was only the appetizer, or a ritual that must be completed before the feast could begin in earnest.

The waiters, because that's what they obviously were, placed the trays along the middle of the table. The Borealans waited until every dish was in sight before beginning their meal. It was a free for all, they grabbed slabs of meat and bloated gourds in a frenzy, yet there was enough for everyone. Despite the speed at which they claimed their food, not one Borealan took more than their share. There was a complex social hierarchy here that was way over Dennis' head. He allowed Xhe to pick out food for him, worrying that he might upset this careful balance, and she placed meat before him that she thought he might like. This meat was cooked, thankfully, and it looked good. He picked up something that resembled a shank of ham, but the meat was darker and juicier, glazed in some kind of sauce that made him think of honey mustard. His bit into it, pulling away a mouthful in his teeth and chewed. Human cooked meat would be sweeter than this, perhaps flavored with barbecue sauce, this was salty and oily as his guide had described. It was excellent all the same. The texture of the meat was exemplary, it was tender and soft, practically falling off the bone.

Again he was amazed by the size of the portions that the Borealans ate, their calorific intake must be four or five times that of a human, growing exponentially with their size and muscle mass. This one shank alone would be a meal for him, yet they were piling up stacks of meat, tearing into it with a hunger and ferocity that reminded him vaguely of Cola's attitude towards sex. Get as much as you can, while you can...

The food was basic but well cooked, and he leaned on the table after finishing his share, his belly full and heavy. Yuta had eaten several kilograms of meat in one sitting, and she looked about ready to pass out, as did everyone else. Xhe had not gorged herself and was still relatively alert.

One by one the Rangers left the table to sleep on fur rugs towards the walls of the longhouse, lying down either alone or in piles. Xhe stood, stretching her long body, her muscles flexing beneath her revealing dress.

It would be polite to leave now. Are you satisfied with your jungle outing?”

Yes, thank you Xhe. Today was the most fun I've had in a while.”

She nodded and began to walk back to the door. Dennis trailed after her, careful not to step on a sleeping Borealan's tail. They made their way out of the ornate longhouse, and back over to where the shuttle was sitting. Again, the pilot had remained with it during the entire day. Dennis was starting to feel bad for him, but it must be part of his job. Shuttles were still a rarity on this planet, after all. As the craft rose and banked over the village, Dennis reflected on what he had learned of the Borealan culture. Despite the race to modernize in the crowded cities, there was still a significant number, perhaps even the majority of the population who were still living rustic and quasi-tribal lifestyles. If the Patriarch did not take steps to include them in his projects, then they would run the risk of being left behind. Buying starships was all well and good, but bringing electricity and plumbing to remote villages was more important for the long-term development of the planet. Perhaps he would bring it up with him someday, the Patriarch seemed very open to new ideas, especially when they came from the aliens that he strived to emulate.

The day had taken its toll on Dennis, his muscles and joints ached from romping around in the high gravity. But despite his fatigue, he felt strangely fulfilled, and it wasn't just the shank talking. The hunting trip had been exciting, he had solved the mystery of the iridescent capes, and he had overcome a challenge by eating the disgusting spider meat. When his new tie was ready, he would wear it with pride. He imagined the faces of his colleagues back on Earth when they learned that the fur had come from a giant spider monster that had been dispatched before his very eyes. He relaxed into the seat, closing his eyes as the shuttle drifted lazily over the lake.

CHAPTER 5: BANQUET

Dennis adjusted his new tie, the downy, shining fur standing out brilliantly against his black suit. It was the focal point of the outfit, a uniquely Borealan touch to a human style that conveyed status as much as sophistication. The rainbow spider fur was worn only by those of high standing in Borealan culture. His participation in the hunt, however passive it had been, and his position as ambassador to Earth qualified him to wear it. He turned to Xhe, who was standing behind him as he preened in front of the mirror.

How do I look?”

It is appropriate,” she replied, appraising his tie. “I do believe that you are the first human to wear this fur.”

Dennis beamed and polished the UN badge on his lapel. The Patriarch had finally requested his presence at a great banquet to be held in the ivory spire, one day before the eclipse came and the planet fell into winter. Xhe would be attending as his aide and translator. Although the Patriarch spoke good English, many of the regents and Alphas who would be dining with them did not. Xhe was dressed in her usual flowing, gossamer gown. Dennis got the impression that there were no situations in which she did not want to look her best, be it attending a banquet with the Patriarch or trekking through a muddy jungle.

I have one more thing for you,” Xhe said, reaching into a small bag that sat on the dresser. She withdrew something wrapped in a mauve cloth. She handed it to Dennis, and he peeled the fabric back to reveal a set of shining silverware. A fork, a knife and two sizes of spoon, their handles elaborately decorated. His eyes lit up.

Where on Earth did you find these? Er, sorry, it's an expression. I mean where did you get them?”

As I had suspected, some of the cargo offloaded from an old UNN ship that my Lord Patriarch had purchased some time ago included these items, they had been languishing in storage. Borealans have no need of cutlery, nobody who saw them knew what their purpose was, and so they were confined to a warehouse. Fortunately, after I put out the request, one of the warehouse managers came forward and informed me that he had seen tools matching the description. It was a simple matter to locate and procure them.”

Xhe if I could reach, I'd hug you.”

Dennis had everything that he needed to represent humanity. A snappy suit, a fine tie, appropriate silverware and topics of conversation. He was ready. He retrieved the stasis unit containing the Kobe beef from his belongings and tucked it under his arm, following Xhe out of the door.

***

The pair were admitted to the ivory tower by Royal Guards clad in red armor, and they ascended the winding staircase up into the structure. On Earth, Dennis had worked on the eighty-second floor of a skyscraper. Even under the crushing gravity, a six-floor climb was not a big deal, but he was concerned about losing his footing on the oversized steps and falling. He stuck close to Xhe, knowing that she had the cat-like reflexes required to catch him should he slip. They reached the top floor and were admitted to a grand dining hall through two giant doors made from dark, varnished wood.

It appeared to be a gigantic, open balcony that looked out over the city. The expansive room was open to the air, Dennis could see heavy wooden shutters that had been raised between the marble pillars that supported the roof, it looked as if they could be closed in the winter to insulate the room. The view was incredible, towering above the cityscape, the domed rooftops and arches extended in every direction as far as the eye could see. In the middle of the room was a great table, clearly carved from a single towering tree, similar to the one from the Ranger longhouse. This one, however, was larger and more elaborately carved. Each leg that held it up had been carefully sculpted into the pawed leg of a Borealan, complete with textured fur and pointed claws. The surface was patterned with the natural rings of the original tree, polished as smooth as glass. The stools that seated the Patriarch's guests were no less elaborate. Borealans seemed to dislike chairs, perhaps because they constrained their tails?

The walls were decorated with curtains made from fine cloth and beautifully embroidered tapestries displaying the customary scenes of war and hunting, some of which looked extremely old. Dennis smiled as he noticed a depiction of a rainbow spider woven in silver thread, perhaps from the very fur of the animal itself. It was surrounded by small figures brandishing spears, or maybe glaives as they challenged it. Ornate chandeliers hung from the ceiling along the length of the table, colorful gems hanging from their arms on the ends of delicate chains. Unlike the ones from the Ranger longhouse, these were electric. There was a large banner placed behind the throne at the head of the table, adorned with the strange Borealan script. The writing was curved and halting, like claw marks in sand, which may very well have been how it had originated in their ancient past. He couldn't guess at what it meant, but the significance of its placement was obvious. The Patriarch sat in his throne, a wooden base with a tall, baroque headboard that extended far into the air above his head. It was gilded with rare metals, jewels and the bones of fell beasts. It made a clear statement. This was the seat of the Patriarch, at the head of the table as he was at the head of Elysia, and perhaps the whole planet.

Along the length of the great table were seated two dozen dignitaries, Alphas and regents, who knew what else. Each one was more elaborately dressed than the last. Their clothing and finery blended with their diverse patterns and pigments to dazzle Dennis. All eyes were on him as he waited patiently to be seated.

Ah, our Ambassador has arrived at last, along with his beautiful aide. Please, take a seat at the table.” The Patriarch's baritone reverberated through the room as Dennis pulled up a stool at the far end of the table and hopped up awkwardly, Xhe seating herself beside him.

I will translate anything that is said. Please rely on me,” she whispered into his ear, and Dennis nodded.

The Patriarch continued to speak, his loud voice echoing throughout the room. It had the acoustic qualities of a cathedral. Xhe translated for his benefit, leaning down to whisper to him. The Patriarch gestured towards Dennis with his claws, the golden thimbles that adorned them catching the light from the ornate chandeliers.

May I introduce you all to Ambassador Carlisle, our envoy from the Earth territory. He is lubricating the gears of the relationship between Earth and Elysia, so to speak. He has been touring our territory and immersing himself in our culture for the last several days.”

Dennis noted that he had said Elysia and not Borealis. That meant that there were representatives from the other territories here today, and that the Patriarch was using him as a status symbol to flaunt his influence with the Coalition. He should play along. Earth's business was with Elysiedde, not these other, less influential rulers.

And what a territory it is!” Dennis interjected. The Patriarch smiled and gestured for him to continue with a wave of his massive hand. “I have been very impressed with what I have seen so far. The city is modern and cosmopolitan, the lakeside villages are picturesque, and the jungles are a brimming with natural wealth. The Elysian people are of noble character, I have been well treated wherever I have found myself.”

Xhe translated for the benefit of the other Borealans and the Patriarch puffed out his chest with pride.

A valid assessment, if I say so myself.” He pointed a golden-tipped claw at Dennis, his eyes dropping below his face to his collar. “Is that what it looks like, Ambassador? Have you been hunting with our Rangers?”

Dennis lifted his tie, the iridescent fur refracting light into shades of blues and greens as he held it aloft for the Patriarch to see. There was mumbling amongst the other guests. As Dennis had hoped, they were impressed. The Borealans were a tribal people, earning their respect as an individual meant earning respect for his tribe, which in this case meant the UN. With some careful political maneuvering, he could raise Earth's standing and importance in the eyes of these aliens, which might result in more favorable defensive pacts and trade contracts. This was where Dennis excelled, he was in his element.

I can't take credit for bringing the beast down, but it was killed mere feet from me as it charged our position. I've never seen a creature so large, it snapped trees like they were toothpicks.”

Did you...partake of the meat?” one of the unnamed guests asked, struggling to pronounce the English words. He looked older, his red hair was greying, and he was leaning his weight on the varnished table.

I did.”

More muttering, all according to his plan.

Well!” the Patriarch exclaimed, “I now see that when you spoke of experiencing our culture you were sincere. Venturing into the jungle and taking part in a hunt is no half measure.”

The Elysian Rangers are unparalleled hunters, I've never seen anything of the like.”

The Patriarch nodded appreciatively, he was clearly enjoying himself. He expected Dennis to extol the virtues of Elysian society and that is what he intended to do.

I must say, Ambassador," the Patriarch continued. "You wear the fur well. I had thought human fashions dull and simplistic, but you used the blandness of the surrounding clothing to draw attention to the fur and create a focal point. It is an alien style, but an attractive one.”

Dennis had not anticipated that fashion would be discussed at a diplomatic gathering, but judging by the elaborate and ornate clothing that the Borealans were wearing it had a cultural significance that transcended simply looking presentable.

Thank you, Patriarch.”

Where are my manners?” the enormous Borealan said as he waved a gilded hand to his right. “Down this side of the table are seated the rulers of the other eight Borealan territories, and to my left are some notable Alphas and public figures. The main reason that I convene these banquets is so that we might strengthen ties and share news on what is happening in our respective spheres of influence.”

Dennis noted that none of the other territorial leaders were as finely dressed as the Patriarch, nor were they afforded the same level of respect. He had not even introduced them individually. Based on the knowledge of Borealan society that Dennis had gleaned from his travels, he concluded that they were not on equal terms. The Patriarch had declared himself as the strongest among them with seemingly no opposition. Earth had chosen her ally wisely, and if the Patriarch was given access to more ships and technology, then he would surely remain safely ahead of the other regions. Dennis would make sure to relay his observations to the UN.

***

The Borealans chatted about regional issues, and inter-territorial disputes as Dennis sat with one ear to Xhe, his companion translating anything that she thought was of significance. He resolved to gain at least a passing understanding of the language for future meetings lest Xhe miss important details that would stand out to a more seasoned politician or otherwise choose to withhold sensitive information.

As the casual conversations went on, the Patriarch called for the food, and the table quietened as an army of waiters brought out innumerable platters of meats and fish. Dennis had never seen so much food in one place before. There were entire roasted carcasses of animals that he was not familiar with, stacks of choice cuts along with shredded and pulled meats, fish of all shapes and sizes. The smell was mouth-watering. He suddenly remembered the stasis unit that he had placed on the floor beside his chair and cleared his throat to get the attention of the Patriarch.

My Lord Patriarch, I have brought with me a gift from Earth.” He rose from his seat and retrieved the glass box, walking down the length of the table in order to present it to the seated monarch. The Borealan picked it up in his massive hands and examined it, his gold-plated claws clicking against the glass.

What is it?” he asked curiously, cocking his shaggy head.

This is the rarest and most prized of all the meat that Earth produces. It is known as Kobe, and it comes from the Japanese territory. The livestock are massaged every day to keep their meat tender, and they are fed a special diet in order to influence their flavor. If you would like to eat it today, I have some ideas on how the meat should be prepared so as to maximize its flavor for the Borealan palate. The glass box is a stasis unit, the meat is suspended in a particle field that slows time almost to a stop so that the contents will stay fresh on long journeys.”

As Dennis had hoped, the Patriarch was as impressed by the technology as by the meat, his eyes glazing over in wonder as he turned the box over in his hands.

No need to return the stasis unit,” Dennis added, sensing that the Patriarch would like to make the artifact part of his collection.

A fine gift!” the Patriarch boomed. “You please me, Ambassador. By all means, deliver your instructions to the cooks, and I will sample this Japanese Kobe today.”

Dennis bowed and returned to his seat, then he explained the cooking process to Xhe.

It should be grilled over a wood fire, and the meat should be rare, that means red and moist on the inside. Understand?”

Xhe nodded and left her seat, heading to the kitchen. Dennis knew to wait for the Patriarch to choose the first cut, watching as the imposing alien hovered over a platter, examining the slabs of juicy meat. He hooked a large chunk of what looked like steak in his claw and brought it to his mouth, severing a large chunk with his sharp teeth. He chewed contentedly, savoring its flavor as the juices escaped his lips.

At this signal, the rest of the Borealans dug in. They piled mounds of fish, meat, and gourds onto their wide plates. Dennis retrieved his cutlery from his pocket and used the fork to select choice cuts of meat and fish. The Borealans watched him curiously as he used the knife to cut the meat into edible strips. Although Borealan food lacked much of the sweetness that humans craved, he was able to pick up on some of the more subtle savory flavors, salts and oils seasoning the expertly cooked meat. He found himself more drawn to the fish than the meat, especially the shark-like creature he had so enjoyed on the pebble beach by the fishing village. He wondered idly if it had come from that same settlement or some other village that bordered the lake.

He noticed that a few of the Borealans seated at the table were using small, unlabeled spray bottles and corked vials to coat the meat with oils, just as his guide had described. Dennis would kill for some barbecue sauce right now, but alas he had not thought to bring any with him on his interstellar expedition. Xhe returned from the kitchen and sat beside him, informing him that the Kobe beef was being prepared as he had instructed. She retrieved some meat for herself, a far larger amount than she had eaten in the longhouse. As she began to dig in, she noticed that Dennis was staring at the massive portion.

Tomorrow is the start of the eclipse," she explained. "These banquets are traditionally held on the day before the winter comes. As you may recall, Borealans enter a state of low metabolic activity during the cold periods. Most prefer to eat heartily before the winter so that they might sleep until the primary star returns.”

What can you tell me about her?” Dennis asked, pointing towards one of the Borealans who was seated with the territorial leaders. Her appearance was odd. At first he had assumed that she had been wearing some kind of fluffy animal hide, but as his eyes kept being drawn back to her, he had noticed that she was actually covered in a layer of downy fur that covered her whole body. All of the Borealans that he had seen so far were naked besides for their heads and their extremities, but this one had silky fur on its face and body too. It was snow white, complete with black patterning like a leopard that somewhat resembled the rings left by coffee cups. She was clad in clothing of a notably different style from the others, very light and airy, the colors almost monochrome.

That is the Regent of the Polar territory,” Xhe replied. “In our evolutionary past, all Borealans had fur, like her. As we began to take shelter in caves and later dwellings during the winter period, we lost the fur that insulated us. It was more beneficial to Borealans living in the deserts to shed heat during the hot period that accounts for most of the month than to retain it during the shorter cold periods. That wasn't the case for those who lived in the polar regions of the planet, however. They retained their fur coats into the modern era, for obvious evolutionary reasons. They rarely leave the polar territory because they cannot tolerate the heat at the equator, they only venture beyond its borders when the eclipse comes.”

So they're a sub-species of Borealan?”

Not really, we have a common ancestor. Think of them as our evolutionary cousins.”

Dennis eyed the furry alien curiously, wondering what life was like in the polar territory. Maybe he should request a tour some-time.

His thought was interrupted by the Kobe being brought into the dining hall on a small platter. The Patriarch clapped his massive hands in anticipation as the waiter brought it over to him, placing the meat on the table before him. It was a little small compared to what the Borealans commonly ate, but Dennis hoped that the Patriarch would appreciate it as a delicacy.

The Patriarch grinned across the long table at Dennis, then hooked the meat gently in his golden claws, examining it closely. He sniffed it, then his yellow eyes widened, his textured tongue reaching out to graze the surface. He followed with a small bite, rolling the meat around in his mouth, savoring the flavor and texture. Dennis could see that it had been cooked to perfection, Xhe and the kitchen staff had done an admirable job. Stripes of red, rare flesh lined the inside, and it dripped juice onto the platter.

Marvellous! I must eat it slowly, I don't want this to be over too quickly!” he chuckled. He took dainty bites, clearly enjoying the morsel. It didn't take him long to down the whole cut, and when he was done he licked his lips, picking his sharp teeth with a gilded claw. “That was a treat, Ambassador. You may tell your Japanese territory that they have a new client.”

I'm sure that they will be honored to provide you with their finest cuts, Patriarch,” Dennis said with a bow of his head.

More and more I am glad to have made the decision to ally Borealis with the Coalition. Don't you agree that this was the correct course of action, Regent Tarsas?”

He directed the question towards a stout male Borealan with black hair and fine clothing, who lowered his eyes, clearly repressing the desire to disagree.

Of course, my Lord Patriarch,” he hissed in his native tongue. Xhe translated for Dennis, but the Regent's body language conveyed what his words could not. He was being deferential, but there was a tension to his mannerisms that wasn't present in the other Borealans that Dennis had encountered. His subservience to the Elysian monarch was clearly not voluntary.

Tarsas over here,” the Patriarch continued in English, “didn't believe that the Borealans should ally ourselves with the Coalition. He wanted the planet to remain isolationist. Now Elysia has a starship fleet, modern weapons and armor, and we have opened up trade between half a dozen member species. Elysia is booming like never before. Our soldiers are recognized by everyone as the best in the Galaxy and are specially requested for all manner of tasks, my own daughter has told me as much herself. She is the Matriarch of the Pinwheel space station, in charge of all Borealans who pass through their training programs.”

The Regent did not respond as the Patriarch scoffed at him, holding his tongue. Dennis got the impression that the same advances had not come to Tarsas' territory and that the Patriarch was gloating about that fact.

Indeed Patriarch," Dennis replied. "I have heard rumors and stories about the exploits of Miss Elysiedde, it appears that she is becoming quite famous.”

The Patriarch looked a little concerned, his face falling.

Rumors, you say?”

All positive I assure you, Patriarch.”

Of course, of course,” he laughed as he returned to his jovial state. “Any Borealan that interacts with humans was likely trained by my daughter. She has a wonderful temperament you know, ever since she was a child. Not unlike Secretary Xhe over here,” he added as he waved his hand in her direction. “Incredible patience, I can't understand it myself.”

I serve my Lord Patriarch in all matters,” Xhe said as she bowed her head respectfully.

Indeed you do, and don't think that I don't appreciate your service, running our little Ambassador all over the territory. I will see to it that you are rewarded appropriately.”

One of the Borealans seated to the left spoke up, his auburn hair an incredible display of feathers and jewels. This one looked more tribal, similar to the Rangers that Dennis had met at the jungle outpost. He spoke in Borealan as Xhe translated.

Perhaps you could confirm something for me, Ambassador? I have heard rumors that despite being of smaller stature and strength, humans do not in fact confine themselves to their starships, but serve in military engagements alongside Borealan troops. Is this correct?”

Indeed," he replied, with Xhe acting as his intermediary. “Human soldiers are quite competent, the use of advanced weaponry and armor makes up for our lack of physical prowess. Our soldiers make excellent marksmen and work well in small units.”

Remarkable. I would never have imagined,” the Borealan replied, returning to his meal.

Of course, the UNN is incorporating more and more Krell and Borealans into their mixed units," Dennis continued. "Their battlefield prowess is unmatched, so I am told.”

The Borealans nodded appreciatively and muttered affirmations, that seemed to have pleased them.

I met a Krell once,” the older Borealan with the greying hair added. “It was as large as a Borealan, but they stoop you see, so they don't look very tall. Once you get near one, however, you realize that from head to tail they're quite massive. Heavy too, they wouldn't fare well on Borealis, that's for sure. Agreeable beasts though, I never saw one so much as argue with its comrades.”

***

And so the conversation continued long into the night. The Borealans feasted and quizzed Dennis on many aspects of human civilian and military life, what he thought about their planet and how he saw the political relationship between the UN and Borealis evolving. He did his best to answer them, the concept that he was himself a civilian was hard for them to understand since all of the humans that they had ever interacted with before him had been UNN personnel, Navy pilots or Marines. His descriptions of towering skyscrapers in the relatively low gravity of Earth and the domed cities of Mars enthralled them. The Patriarch was especially interested to hear about the classes and capabilities of modern UNN ships, his knowledge was impressive, and Dennis enjoyed indulging him. He was no expert himself, but he had access to more recent news reports and information than the aliens could get their hands on all the way out here.

Eventually, the hour grew late and the Patriarch rose to dismiss his guests as they sipped the same alcoholic beverage that Dennis had so enjoyed with Chaka in the tavern. The guests all wished to say their goodbyes, it seemed as though they had enjoyed his company, all besides Regent Tarsas who was surly and unfriendly. He left first without properly excusing himself. It was clear to Dennis that this was an alliance that Tarsas did not approve of, and he might even be a xenophobe.

The Borealans laughed, shaking his hand one by one in the Earth tradition as he had described it to them, until he reached the Regent of the polar territory. She took his small hand in her giant, furry grip and shook it. Her fur was soft and fleecy, oddly inviting to the touch.

I have enjoyed your company, Ambassador,” she said in rather good English. “I hope that we will meet again soon.”

And I too, Regent. I'm very curious about your territory, I may attempt to arrange a visit.”

You would be welcome. Until next we meet....” Her hand left his, and she strode out of the room, her white coat shining under the electric lights and her puffy tail trailing behind her.

An exemplary performance, Ambassador,” the Patriarch commented as he lumbered over to stand before him. Dennis had to look almost directly up to see his face. “You were the life of the banquet, I knew that it would go down well with the Regents.”

Well, you have interesting friends, Patriarch. I have enjoyed myself, I want to thank you again for including me.” Dennis was only half sincere, he had indeed had a great time, but he knew that the real reason for the invitation was so that the Patriarch could score points with the rulers of rival territories. They did seem subservient to him, their title of Regent rather than Patriarch or Matriarch implied that they were merely governing the territory in his stead, rather than ruling as his equals. Tarsas had seemed especially resentful of the demeaning title, but such was life for Borealans. He certainly didn't seem ready or willing to challenge the ruler.

I hope that you are prepared for the eclipse, Ambassador. I trust that Xhe will help you stock food and ensure that you have warm clothing. Much of the city will shut down over the next few days, many services will not be available.”

I keep hearing about this eclipse, I'm eager to see it. Our planet has eclipses too, but very rarely. It happens when our moon covers our star, their size and distance are such that the moon can cover it almost perfectly. It only lasts for a few minutes, however, not nearly long enough to plunge us into a winter.”

Now that is remarkable," the Patriarch said, laughing heartily. He seemed a little tipsy from the raises the hair. “There are some strange things out there in the galaxy.”

Xhe and Dennis said a respectful goodbye to the Patriarch, then descended the stairs past the crimson guards, eventually finding themselves at the door to the embassy.

A successful evening, I imagine,” Xhe commented as she looked down at Dennis.

Yes, that went about as well as it could have. This is my job, Xhe, this is what I was trained for. It's what I'm good at.”

It shows, Ambassador.”

They entered the building and went to their respective rooms, both eager to sleep off their meal.

CHAPTER 6: ICE QUEEN

Dennis was awoken by Xhe tapping on his door.

Ambassador? I'm sorry to wake you early, but the Polar Regent is here to see you.”

He stumbled out of bed, bleary-eyed.

The Polar Regent? What does she want?”

She has not said, and I lack the authority to ask her.”

Very well, give me a moment to get dressed.”

Dennis flung on a clean suit and his now signature fur tie, then stepped out of his bedroom. The Polar Regent was waiting for him in the marble hallway, her long, fluffy tail waving back and forth idly. She was wearing an even more revealing outfit than was customary for the Elysians, likely due to the heat, little more than an insubstantial top that struggled to contain her impressive bust and a skirt that was tied about her wide hips. The floaty, near transparent fabric was tinted a shade of pink and adorned with decorative pieces of shaped metal that served to conceal her more intimate features.

She had two guards flanking her. They were of the same Polar race, both female, the patterning and coloration of their fur mirroring hers. Unlike the Royal Guards who protected the Patriarch, they wore no combat armor, and they were armed with intimidating, ornate glaives rather than XMRs. It hit Dennis that this planet was not unified like Earth, each region might have a totally different culture and level of technology to the others. Elysia was only a small fragment of a greater whole.

Is there something I can help you with, Regent?”

The eclipse will be occurring soon," she replied. "The Equatorial Borealans will be entering a state of lethargy. To the Polars, the cold is mild and not unlike that of our home territory. We will remain active during this period. I am told that your species does not experience reduced metabolic activity as a response to cold and so you would most likely be confined to the embassy during the winter.”

Dennis nodded, there was nothing to disagree with.

I have enjoyed your company, Ambassador, and I appreciate your curiosity. With the permission of your handler, I would request that you join me and my entourage for the period of the eclipse. I will return you to the embassy when the primary shines again.”

Dennis glanced at Xhe, she seemed confused, surprised.

Do you think it's ok?” he asked.

Ambassador, you do not require my permission.”

That's not what I asked,” he replied.

She thought for a moment, but Xhe seemed to do poorly when put on the spot, she was all about planning and organization.

While I see no harm in it, this is...unorthodox. It is true that you would most likely be bored here during the eclipse, but I would be unable to accompany you. I must consult with the Patriarch, please excuse me for a moment.” Xhe walked past the Regent and her guards and entered the office, intending to use the communications device. After a couple of minutes of Dennis smiling meekly at the Regent as she waited patiently, Xhe returned. “You have his permission, should you wish to go.”

Xhe's attitude was odd, she seemed to be suggesting that he shouldn't go. Was she being protective of him? He had learned to value her judgment, but being stuck inside the embassy for three days with nothing to do sounded close to torture.

I do,” he replied finally, and Xhe nodded.

Excellent.” The Regent clapped her hands together, the sound muffled by her fur. “I think you will find it enlightening, Ambassador.”

***

Xhe paced, agitated. If there was one person on this entire planet that she didn't trust, it was the Polar Regent. Well, Tarsas was as xenophobic and uncooperative as they come, but he was overt in his dislike of the Patriarch and his human allies. The Polar Regent was crafty. Unlike the Equatorial Borealans, the people of the pole were cool-headed and slow to act, their anger built over time rather than flaring and being done with. They plotted and schemed, and this visit must be part of some greater plot that wasn't yet obvious to Xhe. She had not been able to warn Dennis in front of the Regent and her guards, and by visiting the embassy in person rather than calling ahead, the Regent had ensured that Xhe would not express her concerns. To do so before someone of such high rank would be a challenge that would see her viciously attacked. She had made the Patriarch aware of the situation, but he did not seem concerned, was he growing complacent? There was something afoot, and winter was about to arrive. This was the worst time for something like this to happen and the Polar Regent knew it.

***

Dennis jogged a little to keep up with the Polar Regent as her guards flanked them. They marched through the sandstone city, under the arches and past carved pillars and windowless structures. The secondary star was bright in the sky, obscured by the far more luminous primary, but just about visible to the naked eye. He appraised the Regent, admiring her beauty. He had found the fur jarring at first, but now he appreciated its sheen. It was as white as fresh snow, barring the black leopard spots that patterned it. He longed to stroke it, it looked soft, but he knew that it wasn't remotely appropriate. She was tall too, larger than the average Borealan, approaching the exaggerated height of the Patriarch. It must be a sign of the eugenic breeding practices that high status in Borealan society always implied. The way that Borealans mated, the dominant genes were quickly propelled to the top of the pyramid. The Polar Regent was well bred, that much was immediately obvious, and she had an odd calmness about her that set Dennis at ease. Something about her body language or her temperament made him less wary of her than the other Borealans, he felt as if she was somebody he could trust.

Tell me, Ambassador,” the Polar Regent crooned. Her voice was deep and husky, but feminine. She was softly spoken, and her English language skills rivaled those of Xhe. “Do you have winters on Earth?”

We do indeed, Regent. Our winters last for one quarter of our year and some regions on our planet remain cold all year round, some inhospitably so.”

That sounds pleasant. On Borealis, my people are confined to the northern pole for the majority of the year. We can only venture into the equatorial territories when the eclipse comes. The heat is almost intolerable to us, you see.”

I can imagine, you have an impressive coat. It resembles many of our arctic species back on Earth.”

Oh?” The Regent stopped walking and turned to him, crouching down to eye level. She inadvertently gave him a perfect view down her top, the weight of her heavy breasts straining against the gossamer fabric as it fought to contain them. The twin mounds of quivering flesh were sheathed in a layer of fluffy fur, making them look like a pair of giant throw pillows, Dennis struggling to keep his eyes on her face. She reached out a hand, palm up. There were pads protruding from beneath her white fur, like one might find on a cat or a dog, he assumed so they could grip objects through their insulating coat.

Do you like my fur?" she asked, smiling warmly. "You can touch it if you want to.”

Dennis reddened, and after a moment of hesitation he reached out a hand and brushed her palm tentatively. She didn't react, she continued to hold her arm out as if trying to entice a wild animal to draw closer. He touched her palm again, this time delving his fingers deeper into the fur. The fine hair was as soft as velvet, and as his fingertips met the skin beneath, a surprising heat radiated up through his hand. She wasn't joking, she was roasting under that fur, it trapped a layer of heat below the surface similar to how polar bear fur worked.

Wow, yeah," he muttered. "Exactly like our arctic species...”

You needn't contain your curiosity, Ambassador," she chuckled as she stood at full height again. "I respect that quality, I find it is sorely lacking among many of our own people. Exploration is part of your assignment here, after all.”

Dennis nodded, following behind her as she began to walk again.

So, where are we going...Regent?” He had almost let slip your majesty, and that was the impression that she gave him. She was so regal and refined in comparison to many of the more brutish Borealans that he had met thus far, radiating an air of sophistication and poise that befitted her station. He reminded himself that she was, in fact, the Matriarch of the polar region. She was a queen if ever there was one, but the title of Regent given to her by the Patriarch was indicative of Elysia's mastery over the other territories.

I'm taking you somewhere we can watch the eclipse. You've never seen one before, I would imagine.”

No, I haven't.”

There is an observatory in Elysia. It is ancient, useless for actual astronomy in the modern era, but its builders designed it to watch the eclipse in perfect conditions. They believed that the conjunction could tell fortunes or predict crop failures, amongst other such primitive and quaint delusions.”

The city was mostly deserted now as the population steeled itself for winter, barricading themselves inside their dwellings. Every so often a stray Borealan would pass them, stopping for a moment to stare at the odd sight of a foreigner and an alien wandering the streets. The long walk took them outside the boundaries of the city and towards an expanse of empty land covered with some species of native grass, a little more blue in color than anything from Earth. Dennis stopped as he saw a hulking creature in the distance, it seemed to be grazing. It was getting darker as the smaller star passed in front of its primary and the creature's silhouette stood out menacingly, like a giant cow with wicked, curved horns.

Don't be afraid," the Regent said, her tone soothing as if she was talking to a small child. “These are livestock, docile and tame, they won't hurt you. The observatory is on the other side of the grassland, see?” She pointed a clawed finger, and Dennis saw the domed building in the distance.

Why is it all the way out here, and not in the city?" he asked.

Light pollution. Even in the period that the observatory was constructed, it was a problem. Out here there is no artificial light to obscure the eclipse.”

They walked across the field, Dennis skirting the grazing livestock warily. Despite the Regent's promise that they were tame, they were still very large animals. Even a dairy cow could accidentally trample a human under the right conditions. He stuck close to the Regent as they neared the ancient structure.

It had looked small from far away, but up close it was proven to be very large. The observatory was a wide, squat building with a dome in the roof, built from the same sandstone as the structures in the city. They skirted the edge of the building, circling it to find the entrance. They came across the aged wooden door, and one of the guards stepped forward, pushing it open on its rusted hinges with a piercing creak. She held it open as the group stepped inside.

I'm amazed that this structure has stood for so long," the Regent commented, placing her hands on her wide hips and staring around the room. “The masons of old were truly artists.”

The room was a completely open space, ringed by rows of seats carved from the stone like an auditorium or a Roman amphitheater. In the center was a single wooden chair, perched on some kind of rusted gear system. In the curved roof of the dome was a rectangular slot that had been chiseled out of the stonework, covered with a panel of tinted glass through which a beam of starlight penetrated, illuminating the seat in a dull glow like a spotlight.

Dennis walked over to the seat, running his finger along the armrest. It was coated in a layer of fine dust, its once smooth finish now splintered and rough. He crouched to examine the gears beneath it. They extended into the floor, rusted metal teeth interlocking for some purpose that he couldn't discern.

What does it do?” he asked, turning back to the Regent. “Does it still work?”

Here, I'll show you,” she said as she walked over to join him in the middle of the room. She circled around the far side of the chair and climbed into it, leaning back against the wooden headrest as the assembly creaked ominously. It was angled slightly up, positioned directly below the rectangular slot in the dome. The Regent patted her furry thigh with her hand, watching him expectantly.

Come Ambassador, sit with me. It only seats one so you'll have to share.”

He walked around to the front of the chair, and she gripped him under the armpits, lifting him into the air and placing him gently on her lap. She was soft, chubby too. There was muscle underneath, as with all Borealans, but the Polar variety were padded with what must be insulating fat. He didn't know where to put his hands, and so he gripped the armrests on either side of the chair.

Hold on,” the Regent whispered, pulling a long lever on the far side of the chair. It tilted back and raised them further off the ground, the ancient gears clanking and crunching as the chair shuddered beneath them. When it came to a stop, it was almost horizontal, and Dennis was having a hard time leaning away from the Regent's ample chest. “You won't be able to see from there, come here..."

She wrapped her huge arms around him, pulling him backwards and pressing him against her breasts. Their soft, pliable surface molded around his head and neck as he sank into her cleavage, her chest pressing against his back as though it was a furry beanbag chair. His face reddened, and he tried to focus on the slot, struggling to ignore the mammoth breasts to either side of his head, and the arms crossed across his chest. Her delicate fur tickled the back of his neck and brushed against his cheeks, the white mounds of her bosom filling his peripheral vision.

The hole in the roof is positioned in just such a way that at this stage of the eclipse, the stars are visible through it," she said as she pointed up at the window. "Once a day the stars will align with this hole, the fortune tellers of old would check their progress to see what they could discern. The ancients plotted the movement of the stars and the eclipse was an important religious event to them, as it progresses it will move along the length of the slot.” Dennis looked on in wonder as the secondary skirted the edge of the primary, decreasing its luminosity, the tinted glass protecting his eyes from the glare. “As you can see, the secondary star is passing between Borealis and the primary. Its luminosity is much lower, we will experience at least two days of snow, and the surfaces of the lakes will freeze over.”

The evergreen jungles, the fish, the spider. Everything here has evolved to endure the cold,” Dennis mused. “The strict mother raises disciplined children.”

Good! You picked that old adage up?” Dennis nodded, and the Regent held him closer, pressing him into her warm, soft body. Her breath tickled his ear as she whispered to him. “I think we're going to get along well, you and I...”

Dennis stayed in her comfortable embrace as they sat and watched the first stage of the eclipse. The Regent's breathing was hypnotic, and her body was like a living bed, her downy fur and squishy fat layer relaxing him and making his eyes heavy. He fell asleep at some point, nestled in her warm cleavage.

***

Dennis awoke to the Regent chuckling and gently shaking him.

Wake up little human, we must leave now. You've been asleep for a while. I didn't want to wake you, you looked so peaceful.” She pushed the lever, and the seat rumbled, returning to its original position. It was remarkable that the rusted machinery still worked. Dennis hopped off her lap on to the floor, stumbling a little under the high gravity. He was embarrassed that he had fallen asleep on the Regent, it was hardly becoming of a dignitary.

Your face is red,” she chuckled, her bosom shaking with the motion. “I don't think you're angry, it must be embarrassment.”

I-I didn't mean to fall asleep on you,” Dennis stammered. “You're just very...”

Comfortable?” the Regent suggested, her radiant smile turning sly as Dennis' cheeks burned. “Come now Ambassador, we must get back to the city before the cold starts to set in. If you find me so comfortable, you may hold my hand if you wish.” She extended her arm towards him in invitation, but after a moment of hesitation, he marched towards the door alone.

We'd best get going then!”

The Regent's eyes lingered on him, the gears in her head turning.

***

Dennis, the Regent, and her guards made their way back to the city across the grassland. The temperature had not started to drop in earnest yet, but it was getting darker. The livestock had begun to huddle in response to the low light, they didn't seem to need shelter and simply clumped in a pile like emperor penguins. Dennis could sense it in the air, the environment was changing. Everything was shutting down, switching off, going to sleep. Even Dennis was affected by the change in luminosity, sending signals to his brain that night had fallen and that he should feel tired. The Regent walked beside him, her long, white tail waving back and forth as she rolled her hips.

So is it always dark and cold at the pole?” Dennis asked.

All year round, yes. Not this dark, but we do get less light than the equatorial territories.”

Is life there hard?”

The Regent seemed taken aback by his question, and she had to think for a moment, glancing at him with her ice-blue eyes.

I suppose so. We're used to it. Here the food sources are abundant. Fish laze in the lakes, grazing beasts roam free, and food grows in the jungles at random. At the poles the fauna is larger and more aggressive due to the cold, few edible plants grow there and the fish hide beneath the ice, perfectly adapted to the darkness and freezing temperatures. Hunting is more dangerous, fishing and growing grain requires ingenuity and careful forethought.”

She spat ingenuity as if it were an insult, was she implying that the Equatorial Borealans had it easy? What icy hell must her people live in if the heat of Elysia was desirable in comparison?

If you don't mind my asking, Regent, why do you remain there?”

My people have lived in the Polar territory for a very long time, long enough to diverge into a distinct race. We are adapted to the cold, we can no longer live comfortably in the deserts. Our insulating fur and blubber would cook us alive. Perhaps if we had starships like Elysia, we could relocate somewhere more hospitable. Alas, we lack the means of the Patriarch.”

They arrived back at the city limits, and their feet met the slabs of hard stone that lined its streets, Borealan claws clicking on the rock as they walked.

Where are we going now, back to the embassy?” Dennis asked. They had already seen the eclipse, was there somewhere else in the city that she wanted to take him?

No, you will sleep at my residence for the duration of the eclipse.” It sounded more like a command than a suggestion, but Dennis didn't mind. Anything to get out of the embassy for a while.

Your residence? Do you own property here?”

Yes, as the Regent of the Polar territory I have a few privileges, one of which is the right to own property in Elysia. I stay here during the eclipse when I am able to travel.”

They walked a while longer, Dennis was becoming tired, and his joints were starting to ache from the strain of so much hiking in the high gravity. He hoped that the six months before permanent damage calculation took into account this much walking. The Regent stopped before a large structure, made from the same sandstone as the surrounding buildings. She pushed open the door, and as he entered behind her, Dennis noticed that much of the roof was open to the air. Some sections of the building were contained, but the small courtyard in the center had no roof or dome. Pillars of white marble ringed the space, helping to support the roof on the insulated sections and giving everything a very Greco-Roman vibe. The floor was littered with flowering plants and long, padded couches that resembled chaise longues. Of course, a Polar Borealan would not fear the winter, it might even be downright balmy compared to what they were used to back home. The whole scene looked like the palace of some Arabian prince, all it was missing were wandering peacocks and elaborate fountains.

Impressive," he muttered, gazing at the shining marble and the fine fabric that decorated the walls in the familiar Borealan style.

My home away from home. You look tired, Ambassador. Come, sit with me.”

She sat on one of the long couches, padded with blue satin or maybe silk cushions. He walked over to her, and she helped him up, taking his hand and guiding him into the seat beside her. He sat next to her in silence for a while as the guards hovered by the entrance. The stars in the sky had moved a little closer together, but he wasn't feeling the chill yet, it must be too early. The Regent shuffled backwards, leaning upright against the cushioned headrest of the long couch.

The Regent surprised him, sneaking a hand around his midsection and dragging him closer to her. He pressed up against her padded thigh, her flesh spilling around him with the consistency of wet clay. Her entire body was sheathed in that inviting layer of insulating fat, filling out her feminine figure in ways that seemed almost designed to draw the male gaze. The considerable weight of her breast leaned on him through the flimsy fabric of her top, cascading over his shoulder and pressing against his cheek. The delicate fur tickled his nose as he breathed in her scent. She smelled like perfume or shampoo, the flowery fragrance masking a deeper and more musky aroma that he found oddly enticing. She was so warm and soft, whenever he was near her, he just wanted to let himself sink into her and fall asleep.

I hope you don't mind, Ambassador. I have studied human culture, I have read that you find physical contact reassuring and intimate. I do want us to have an intimate relationship.”

Not at all, Regent. I...don't mind. Might I ask where you learned English? You don't look military.”

She smiled at him, her blue eyes reflecting the glow of the eclipse. He felt her arm move, the soft fur sliding against his body and her large, padded hand coming to rest near his thigh.

I'll let you in on a secret, Ambassador,” she whispered to him. Her lips were close enough to his ear that he could feel the warmth of her breath on his skin. “I have more than a passing interest in humans and their affairs. Ever since the Coalition made contact with Borealis and the Patriarch began to trade with your kind, I have pondered the implications. What it means for Borealis, what it means for my people. The Patriarch has been able to acquire technology that puts him at, what some would say, is an unfair and unnatural advantage. He has used his great influence and considerable wealth to build a relationship with Earth while excluding the other territories. The technology has not spread beyond Elysia, he is like a selfish kitten, he won't share his toys.”

Dennis felt her long, fluffy tail slide across his legs, resting in his lap like a furry snake. Unlike the thin tails of the Elysians, this one was covered in puffy fur to give it the appearance of a gigantic feather duster.

And so I studied human culture, human language. I took a great interest in learning all that I could about these short, industrious aliens so that one day I might meet one, and offer him a deal that he couldn't refuse.”

Dennis turned his head and looked up at her, confused.

What are you implying, Regent?”

Just think of it, the Patriarch's growing fleet languishes in orbit, fully functional spacecraft that the Equatorial simpletons have no idea how to properly maintain or even pilot. They rot in space when even one such ship could offer my people a new beginning, a chance to leave this brutal planet and find somewhere better to live. Our overspecialization is our prison, we are confined to the pole where we must live out our lives in the bleak tundras. When I put in a request to lease one of the ships, the Patriarch did not even respond. When I confronted him about purchasing one of the vessels, even at an extortionate interest rate, he would not agree. He sees the Coalition and thinks that the secret to power is fleets, he seeks to keep that power from us for fear that we will use it to overthrow him. But all we want is the freedom to choose our home. There are hundreds of planets and moons out there, thousands, millions. Surely one of them could serve as a more suitable home for my people?”

Regent...your argument is fair," Dennis replied. "If I could help you, I would, but this is beyond me. I don't have the authority or the influence to get you ships, the Patriarch is buying from independent traders, and he's paying well. Those same traders would sell to you too if you could afford their prices.”

Her grip on him tightened, her soft fur pressing into his face as she held him, almost in a headlock now.

Why would the UN send you if you had no authority? How would you gain such a powerful position without connections?” She glared at him, her icy eyes piercing through him. Her expression softened abruptly, and a warm smile returned to her lips. Dennis was wary now and was beginning to regret ignoring Xhe's obvious apprehension.

Little Ambassador...I do believe that your loyalties lie with the Patriarch and with Elysia. But what can he offer you that I cannot? Perhaps I should give you a taste of how I reward those loyal to me.”

Her gentle grip suddenly became as hard as iron. She closed her large paws around him, lifting him and placing him between her long legs, his back resting against her belly and her cleavage cushioning his head. She barked an order to her guards and the two females lay down their glaives, trotting over to kneel beside the couch, one to either side of him. With her left hand the Regent trapped his arms at his sides, and with the right she caressed his face, running her dull claws lightly over his cheek. The warmth of her soft body permeated him, and he felt his resistance waning as her hot breath blew through his hair. She was so damned comfortable, it was like being hugged by a giant teddy bear. He eyed the two guards warily and tried to remain calm. This wasn't his first rodeo with a Borealan.

What did that miserly fool offer you? All the meat you desire? Your own embassy? The company of that plain secretary? You will find that the people of the frozen pole are the warmest of all the Borealans, the most welcoming.” She leaned her head down, her furry cheek pressing against his own, and used her free hand to angle his face towards her. “Defect, Ambassador. Come back to the Polar territory with me, and you will have anything you desire. Let me show you...”

Her puffy lips parted, and she pressed them against his, holding his face steady in her silky hand. Her embrace was warm and gentle, the tapered tip of her smooth organ working its way past his lips to tease him with slow and placating strokes. He melted into her embrace as her tongue drew shapes on his inner cheeks, tickling his palate, painting inside his head with all the practiced skill of an artist's brush. The perfume that he had smelled earlier now filled his nose, an underlying, heady musk setting his senses ablaze. She moaned softly as she kissed him, the sounds driving his growing erection to full height, making it throb painfully as it battled against the fabric of his pants. This was different from the way that Chaka had kissed him, she had been aggressive and wanton, selfish and uncaring. This kiss was slow and considerate, so tender. He felt like he was being kissed by a lover, his heart thawing like the ice that carpeted her frozen home.

She released him and smiled with satisfaction as he relaxed into her fur, his eyelids drooping. Nobody had ever kissed him like that before, it was...intoxicating. It numbed his mind.

Shame on the Patriarch, only giving you a single servant. His lack of hospitality embarrasses us all.” She hissed something in her native tongue, and the two guards reached towards Dennis, attempting to pull his pants down. He became alarmed and started to struggle, but the Regent held him firmly in her grip. “They won't hurt you, we aren't brutish and violent like our southern cousins. We are a more refined, a more civilized people.”

The two guards succeeded in removing his clothing and his erection bounced free, almost hitting one of them in the face. The Regent chuckled, the low sound echoing in the courtyard, and lowered her hand towards his member. She reached out her index finger and tentatively pressed her spongy pad against the tip of his penis, wetting it with the bead of excitement that was already welling and making a slow circle. Dennis gasped, turning his face away and into one of her breasts, as if not being able to see it would somehow lessen the sensation.

She gripped the shaft, her downy, fuzzy fur creating an odd texture against his skin. It felt like someone wearing a furry glove. She pumped up and down lazily, letting her velvety coat tease him. Dennis groaned, trying to buck his hips, but she held him still in her one-armed embrace. He felt her lips brush his ear and she whispered to him softly, her tone low and suggestive.

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to have a dozen Borealans wash you with their tongues? To have them taste every inch of your skin? I can make that fantasy a reality, just pledge your allegiance to me.” She slid her warm, rough tongue into his ear and tickled him. He didn't reply, and so she gave another order to her guards, spitting and hissing in the native tongue. She drew back her hand and gripped his face, angling his head so that he had to watch.

The guard on the left moved her head in, pressing her soft lips gently against the head of his penis. Her pink tongue snaked out of her mouth to lick the underside of his glans, the bumps on its surface teasing him maddeningly, lubricated by her thick saliva. The second leaned down, mouthing his shaft wetly, her smooth lips gliding up and down his length as the tip of her tongue traced his pulsing veins. Dennis winced at the sensation, his body turning to jello. The Regent laughed as she felt his trembling, and he looked up to see her leering over him, her expression triumphant.

Are they not beautiful? They are my own concubines, sensuous, skilled in the art of lovemaking. I have twenty more like them, of any gender that takes your fancy, selected for the sheen of their coats and the finesse of their tongues. I'll share them with you...” She sucked his ear into her warm mouth, chewing it softly with her pointed teeth. “We could enjoy them together if that is what you desire. You need only to ask.”

Dennis' body was betraying him, and his mind was becoming clouded. This was heaven, he felt like he was floating on a puffy, white cloud. Almost literally he realized, as the Regent pressed her weighty breasts around his head with her upper arms.

The guard to his right now took the head of his member in her mouth, her lips closing around it. The warm, wet pressure sent a shiver up his spine, and the Regent felt it too, chuckling at his reaction. The left guard moved down to his leg, kissing his inner thigh as the right began to slowly bob her head up and down, sucking as she went. She coiled her meaty tongue around him like a fleshy snake as she moved, sucking his cock into the back of her mouth, the tip pressing into her throat. Thick strands of her bubbling saliva escaped her mouth to dribble down his shaft, the alien making eye contact and batting her long lashes as she slid her puffy lips up and down his aching member.

Dennis gasped and jumped as the other guard found his balls, dragging her wet tongue across the sensitive skin.

Oh my, is that part of your anatomy especially sensitive?”

The Regent hissed again and the second guard returned, kissing and mouthing his balls, sucking them delicately into her hot mouth and lapping at them with her agile tongue. The Regent pressed her lips against his neck, placing slow, warm kisses that made him shudder.

Have you ever lain with a Queen and her concubines, Ambassador? The Patriarch insults me with his title of Regent, as if the Polar territory belongs to him and I am merely its caretaker, some provincial governor with no real authority. I am the Queen, the Matriarch of my territory and its people. My genes are of the noblest stock, my coat is exquisite and my skills as a lover unparalleled. Will you not partake, Ambassador? Do you not desire me?”

She used her free hand to push aside the thin fabric that held her breasts aloft, and they fell onto his shoulders in all their glory, pressing down on him with their immense weight. It was like having two massive bags of sand abruptly dropped onto his back, her flesh spilling around him like melting wax. Dennis groaned as the rightmost guard pushed him into her mouth, her lips touching his belly and his member being forced all the way down her throat, massaging him as she tried to swallow. She held him there for longer than her lung capacity should have allowed, before sliding his pulsing, aching member out of her mouth along with a sagging web of warm drool. Her eyes watered as she pulled back, but before Dennis had time to recover, the second guard took over. She used the clinging sheen of saliva as lubrication, slamming her head down on him without warning, his glans hammering the back of her throat. The right guard wiped her mouth and stroked his thigh gently with her furry hand, watching her counterpart as she began her sordid work.

This is only a fraction of what I can offer you, Ambassador," the Regent whispered. "Will you not consider?”

She gripped his face in her furry hand, her claws pricking his cheeks, and turned his head up for another passionate kiss. God, she was so good at kissing. Her rough tongue moved so gracefully in his mouth, coiling around his own and teasing his throat, its slippery texture making it glide. She broke away with a wet pop, her soft lips lingering for a moment as she withdrew.

Come back with me Ambassador, help my people.”

Y-You don't...understand,” Dennis stammered, wincing and twitching as the guard worked him. The lining of her warm mouth felt like slippery silk around his sensitive member, his spine arching as she pushed his glans into her cheek. “I don't have any authority...I can't give you what you ask...”

The Regent bared her sharp fangs and pressed them gently into his neck, just lightly enough that they didn't break the skin. She dragged her textured tongue over the pinpricks and Dennis whimpered despite himself, then lurched as one of the guards kissed the base of his cock. It was becoming too much for him, he was in a haze of mingling pleasures that threatened to unhinge him.

Why would they send you,” the Regent hissed into his ear, “if you have no authority?”

I'm...I'm just a liaison, the job of an ambassador isn't to make deals, it-it's just...” He trailed off, exhaling a long sigh as the second guard returned, sliding her tongue up his shaft and meeting her counterpart at the head. They pressed their lips together, kissing wetly around his tender glans, their long tongues fighting for space as they lashed at his cock. He recovered, as if climbing out of thick mud as his consciousness came streaming back.

An ambassador doesn't really...do anything. My duties are to attend banquets, socialize, report back my findings to the UN. I-I didn't even know what the job entailed when I accepted the position. The only reason I'm here is because all of the other lawyers did their research and didn't want to be stationed on Borealis...”

The Regent seemed taken aback, hesitating as she processed the information.

You're lying to me, Ambassador. The Patriarch speaks of you as if you have the ear of Earth, as if your presence in Elysia is proof of his influence and favor with the aliens. Why would your government send someone seventy-five light years away to represent their planet if they had no power?”

Her frown turned into a sultry smile, and she gazed down at him with her reflective, sapphire eyes. She raised her large hand, brandishing her claws as Dennis recoiled, scared that she would use them to cut him. Instead, she ran her fingers through his hair, Dennis shivering and sighing as he felt the dull claws tickle his scalp.

You are lucky that I am an advocate of positive reinforcement rather than punishment, Ambassador," she said as she stroked him lovingly. “Fear will force those weaker than you to obey, but adoration...adoration will unite a people in service to their beloved leader. I believe that I can still make you love me, and then we shall see the true extent of your authority.”

I can't accept your offer, Regent-”

She cut him off, pulling his ear with her pointed teeth.

I am no Regent, Ambassador. Use my proper title, Queen.”

My Queen...” Dennis stammered. His use of the title made his face burn, as if it was an admission of her power over him. “I can't accept your offer, however generous it may be, because I don't have the authority to deliver you ships or technology. The most that I could do is maybe contact a merchant company and see if they will give you a special deal on a ship. But even the ones that the Patriarch is buying are junkers by our standards. If you can't afford those, then you won't find anything cheaper.”

He bucked as the two guards swapped his member between their waiting mouths, kissing and sucking in ways that set his head spinning. The thick glaze of their combined saliva rolled down his shaft in globs, their lurid make-out sessions interrupted as one of them gripped his aching, throbbing member in her hand and gently stroked it. Her fur was matted with their drool, and it created an odd sensation that made him twitch and writhe. The second held his glans between her lips, circling it gently with her warm tongue. Dennis pressed his head back into the Regent's welcoming breasts, their warm, fat embrace enveloping him. She still had his arms trapped, and she hugged him close to her, pressing him deep into her furry paunch. It filled him with warmth and an odd satisfaction that made his heart flutter.

Was the Regent right? Her soft touch was intoxicating, her flowery musk invaded his senses like the tendrils of some wicked vine. Her kisses sent his brain into a tailspin, dizzying him with their nuance and intimacy. Perhaps she could enchant him, was he really in danger of being stolen away by this woman? The longer he spent in her warm grasp with her skilled concubines nursing at his member, the less the idea scared him. That in itself was reason enough to worry.

My Queen, this has to stop, I can't...”

She turned his head again in her grip, her slippery, thick tongue pushing past his lips. She trapped him in an impossibly deep, loving kiss that made his eyes water and his heart jump in his chest. The coils of her impossibly long organ piled into his mouth, twisting and flexing, bulging his cheeks and glancing the back of his throat. She had such fine control over it that he felt as though it could have been used to pick a lock, her licking and stroking leaving him panting and writhing in her grasp.

I wager that I could make you come just by kissing you,” she chuckled. “Would you like that, Ambassador? Should we find out?”

His pained look seemed to encourage her, and she waved away her guards with her furry hand. Their tongues left his member, and he whined, disappointed.

Oh, don't be upset. I think you'll like this.” She took his burning cheek in her hand and her ice-blue eyes locked onto his, his heart fluttering under her piercing gaze. He felt as if she could see right through him, as if she somehow knew what he wanted before he did. She was captivating. She moved in slowly, cradling his head in her hand, even her palm as soft and as inviting as a pillow. He felt her warm breath on his waiting lips as she poised there, teasing him with the promise of another kiss. Her pace was cruel, making him pine for her as she hovered over him, watching his reaction with those blue eyes. She finally deigned to release him from his torment, pressing her full, smooth lips against his. They interlocked despite their difference in size, her copper taste tickling his tongue as she roved with wanton abandon, the sudden change in her style sending jolts of electricity down his spine like questing fingers. His cock throbbed and jumped in the air, lonely and deprived as the guards looked on.

It went on for what felt like forever, she never let up for a second, leaving him just enough room to breathe as she ravished him mercilessly. Gone was the gentleness, replaced with naked carnality, her formerly measured embrace taking on a deeply sexual and provocative quality. Her powerful tongue explored every inch of his head shamelessly, as if she owned him. Perhaps she did, perhaps he wanted her to...

Dennis' mind was full of fog, he couldn't think, couldn't reason. All he could do was feel as the Regent's agile tongue brought him to the edge and stars began to dance before his eyes. He gripped handfuls of her soft fur, his arms still held against his sides in her strong grip, and an unbecoming moan escaped into her mouth. She released him, her slippery tongue coiling back between her puffy lips, and she pressed his head into her chest with a gentle hand in his hair.

Come for your Queen, Ambassador,” she whispered. Through the haze that had come over him, he heard her hiss something in Borealan. As Dennis' member bounced in the air, one of the guards closed her lips around it, pushing it to the back of her throat with a lewd slurp. The burst of pleasure was too much for him to resist, and he came directly into her beckoning gullet. She swallowed, drawing out his emission with the rhythmic massage of her wet walls, her tongue teasing the sensitive spot on the underside of his glans. He tried to raise his hips into the air in a desperate, instinctive reflex, but the Regent hugged him against her. The frustration of being held still as he struggled only added to the shuddering orgasm that wracked his body. It was almost too good, the ecstasy bordering on pain. He lost all perception of time as the exquisite moment dragged out, waves of pleasure crashing over his shivering body, indifferent to his suffering. Every tiny twitch of the guard's tongue or compression of her throat sent another shockwave of draining bliss through him, like he was the conduit for some powerful, ethereal energy. The Regent held him in her furry embrace, cradling him as if she were attempting to soothe him as he writhed and gasped.

I'm sorry, I cheated,” she chuckled. “Couldn't have you coming on my fur, it's so hard to wash out.” He wheezed as the guard cleaned him with her tongue, exploring every contour of his anatomy and sucking out what little fluid remained, every motion amplified tenfold by his seething afterglow. When she was done, she drew back, pursing her lips around his shaft and sliding up it to leave him as dry as a bone. The Regent released him, turning him over so that he lay by her side on the padded couch.

She smirked, knowing that he wouldn't try to escape now, and he delved his hands into her fur obediently. He grasped handfuls of her soft flesh, clinging to her as if he might float away on his high. She stroked his head tenderly, and he pressed his face into her body, breathing in her scent.

Little by little he pulled back from the precipice as he lay with her, fragments of his conscious mind falling back together like the scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They spooned in silence for a long while, occasionally he would raise his eyes to the sky and watch the secondary star as it obscured the primary, the flowers and fine curtains around the courtyard blowing gently in the breeze.

***

Have you come to a decision, Ambassador?”

Dennis stirred from his peace, her voice popping his daydreams like a bubble.

I wasn't lying, my Queen. I cannot help you in the way that you ask.” She began to speak again, but he interrupted her. “But I think I may be able to help you in another way."

I'm listening...”

There is a right that my civilization affords all sapient beings, it's called asylum. The idea is that a person or a group of people who are deemed to be in danger or under threat of persecution may request to be relocated and placed under the protection of our government. There are regions on Earth, entire continents that are too cold for humans to inhabit, and that are almost completely unpopulated. Greenland, Siberia, the Arctic, areas of Canada and Alaska.” He was rambling, and seeing her expression he cleared his throat. “What I'm suggesting is, if I can make the case that your people are in danger or that you can contribute something valuable to Earth, the UN may grant you asylum.”

What would this mean for us?” she asked, her tone becoming more hopeful.

Well, depending on how many of you there are, they could relocate some or all of you to a territory on Earth.”

She looked wary now, tapping one of her black claws against her chin as she considered.

Tell me truthfully Ambassador, would I be trading one tyrant for another?”

The government of Earth is fragmented, power is spread out between multiple states and colonies. There is no leader in the sense that a Borealan would understand it. Were you to establish an independent territory, you would even have a say in the proceedings, a seat on the UN council. That's the governing body that presides over the different territories and colonies.”

It sounds complex, but you say that we would have some level of autonomy?”

I can't promise you anything, I can't even say if they'll accept your application, but it's all that I can do.”

The Regent stared at the sky, her blue eyes reflecting the light of the eclipse as she weighed the fate of her race. She was strong, stronger than Dennis had realized. She was monarch leading her people, not a mere Regent as the Patriarch suggested. Finally, she looked down at him, resolute.

I accept your offer, Ambassador. It is not what I had hoped to achieve today, but I will take whatever I can get if it means a brighter future for my people.” She covered her mouth and suppressed a chuckle, Dennis looking at her quizzically. “I don't mean to offend you Ambassador, but you really don't have any authority, do you? What you said was entirely true.”

So now you believe me?” Dennis laughed.

No man could have refused my offer, I am confident of that. Why does the Patriarch believe that you're a direct line to Earth? Have you not told him the truth?”

Well, I've never lied...but I've not corrected anybody either. I was kind of a nobody back on Earth. I wasn't important, nobody ever gave me the time of day, nobody cared what I had to say. I was a low-level employee in a law firm. When I saw that there was a job opening to become an ambassador on an alien planet, I jumped at the chance. I was so eager for adventure and status that I didn't even stop to think about what I was doing, or where I was going. My application was the only one submitted.”

And did you get what you wanted?”

Dennis thought about the rainbow spider hunt, the banquet, and his encounters and interactions with the strange people of Borealis.

I guess I did, yeah. I got exactly what I wanted. We have an adage on Earth, be careful what you wish for.”

I like that...” The Regent stroked his hair again, surprising Dennis. She had already achieved her goal, what did she want now? “You know, Ambassador. If what you say is true and our goal of escaping the Polar territory is achieved through your efforts, you will have done more for my people than anyone in our long history. Perhaps even more than the founder of our territory and my bloodline.”

Well, it's the least I can do. It sounds like you guys really do need help and this kind of thing is part of my job after all.”

She wrapped her furry arm around his shoulder and held him close against her body, his face pressed against one of her large breasts, still hanging free of their support. His face began to burn again as he looked up at her over the fluffy mountains of her bosom.

I still have you for two days, Ambassador. As much as I am eager for you to return to the embassy and contact your government, would you like to stay here with me for the duration of the eclipse? As I have said, I reward loyalty, and my gratitude is boundless...”

Dennis considered, biting his thumb as his face reddened at the prospect of spending two more days with the Regent. Xhe would be worried about him, and he should really get back to his console so that he could send the asylum request as a priority message, but...

Didn't he deserve some relief, some R&R? The Regent made him feel so...odd. All of the frustration and stress of the previous days melted away when he was around her. The calming quality of her husky voice, her downy fur and her plump body, her considerate and gentle kissing...

He felt butterflies in his belly. He wanted to say yes, but he hesitated, as if he didn't deserve it or it might somehow be snatched from his grasp if he dared to reach out and take it. The Regent looked disappointed and began to get up.

In that case, Ambassador, I will arrange to have one of my guards escort you back to the embassy.”

No, wait!” Denis stammered. There was an urgency to his request that he had not intended, and it surprised the both of them. “I...I want to stay with you.” The Regent smiled down warmly at him as his face began to burn again. “...for the eclipse,” Dennis added, his embarrassment overcoming him. She lay back on the couch and pulled him close, wrapping him in her long arms and squeezing him against her furry body.

You needn't be embarrassed, Ambassador. This is my gift to you. Besides, I've enjoyed your company. I find you somehow...” She struggled to find the words, pausing for a moment. “...entertaining.” She stroked his hair again, sending pleasant shivers down his spine as his face sank deep into the yielding meat of her bosom. “Is there anything that you would ask of me?”

Dennis thought for a moment, then lay an arm across her paunchy belly, sinking his fingers into her downy coat.

Let's stay like this...for a while.”

The Regent nodded, and Dennis closed his eyes, breathing in her scent and resting his head on the cushion of her breasts. After a few minutes, he fell asleep.

***

Dennis awoke to a chill, finding himself lying alone on the couch beneath the stars. He looked up into the sky and saw that the secondary had moved most of the way across the face of the primary, now a bright crescent obscured by a duller, more yellow glow. In the absence of the white glare, Dennis could now see other stars in the distance, cold pinpoints of light against the black sky. He wondered idly if one of those distant points was Sol. The ambient temperature had dropped quite a bit, and so he rose to his feet, retrieving his pants and heading to the edge of the courtyard.

He walked along the wall of the windowless building until he came across a large, wooden door. He pushed it open with a creak and wandered in. It was not dramatically warmer on the inside, the Polar Borealans liked it cold after all. The interior was of the usual Borealan design with no windows and a tall ceiling. There were drapes and hanging tapestries, busts of Borealans and strange wooden carvings that stood on pedestals along the walls, seats and benches that would accommodate the large aliens. He walked through the building, searching for the Regent or her guards.

Ambassador!” He heard the Regent call him and he wandered in the direction of her voice. He opened the door to a side room to find her lying on a couch before a roaring wood fire that was contained in an ornate, marble hearth. This couch was different from the ones in the courtyard, it was larger and looked softer, similar in design to human furniture. The Regent was facing away from him, her snow-white ears swiveling to track him as he entered the room. It was just as elaborately decorated, the Borealans seemed to loathe the idea of bare masonry.

Did you sleep well?”

Yes, thank you.”

She raised a hand and beckoned to him without turning to look at him. He walked around the side of the couch and stood before her sheepishly. She was lying down, her tall body stretched out lazily as she sipped pink liquid from a crystal mug, completely nude. The orange flicker of the firelight illuminated her imposing figure and cast the room into shadow. She patted the leather surface by her midsection, and Dennis complied, turning to sit on the edge of the cushioned couch. He hopped up onto the cushions, his short legs dangling off the edge. He kept his distance as a sign of respect, but she hooked her free arm around him and pulled him backwards, nestling him in her silky fur.

Do you partake?” she asked, offering him the mug. He sniffed it curiously.

Is that raises the hair?”

Why yes, it is," the Regent chuckled. "How did you come to know that?”

He took the mug in his hands and sipped it, the sweet liquid warming his belly as she held him.

The first time I left the embassy to explore the city, I somehow ended up in a tavern. I drank with a Coalition soldier who spoke English, and she gave me this drink, expecting it to floor me. Turns out humans have a far greater tolerance of alcohol than Borealans, and I beat her in a drinking contest.”

I bet she didn't take too kindly to that.”

A little too kindly, actually. Xhe had to pull her off me.”

Oh, I see, so it was like that...” She took the mug back from him and drank deeply, her arm resting idly around his waist. “Humans can be so docile and passive, it must have been jarring for you to have someone attempt to take you like that.”

It was shocking, but...I don't know...”

The Regent grinned as he trailed off, setting the mug down on a small table by the armrest. She sat upright and pulled Dennis between her legs, wrapping her furry arms around him, his head pressed between her ample breasts.

Go on...”

Dennis' faced burned as hot as the flames that danced in the hearth. That odd feeling of relaxation that he felt in her presence returned, dulling his senses. She smelled so good, a flowery perfume with a hint of something that reminded him of daffodils rising to his nose. Beneath it he could pick up a deeply sexual, primal musk that infiltrated his brain, a smell that he had already come to associate with the taste of her lips.

Humans court very differently to Borealans. I had no reason to expect that when I arrived here,” he explained.

Do you like it?” she crooned, her warm breath tickling his ear.

I...” Dennis hesitated, squirming. The Regent increased her grip on him, holding him tightly against her inviting body. “It's...different. Nobody had ever given me that kind of attention before, I didn't know how to react. I froze up, and my brain just shut down. To have someone force themselves on you like that...needless to say it's not common where I come from, it could even be seen as a crime.”

To take or be taken, that is the Borealan way, even among my people. Though our approach may be a little more...cerebral than that of our brutish cousins. I think, Ambassador, that you may be absorbing more of our culture than you realize.” She purred, the low rumbling reverberating through his body. “Why does it embarrass you so? Could it be some kind of taboo in human culture?”

In a way," he admitted. "Borealis seems to have no gender roles and very little sexual dimorphism. On Earth, the sexes are clearly divided, with socially acceptable roles and behaviors. Were a male to be seen allowing himself to be...taken...in such a manner, he would be viewed as less masculine, maybe weak.”

The Regent chuckled and pressed one of her large hands against his cheek, caressing him slowly.

Your face is so hot. Now I see why the soldiers have so much fun with your kind, the rumors have reached as far as my territory. Fragile, sensitive, yet unwilling to submit. The very act of courtship is embarrassing to you.”

I'm not so fragile...” Dennis complained, a little indignant. The Regent laughed, squeezing his body in her fluffy arms.

Forgive me, Ambassador. I'm sure that you're very brave for a human.”

You can call me Dennis,” he replied.

Dennis...” She experimented with the word, rolling the letters over her tongue. “Does it have some special meaning?”

In Earth's distant past it denoted the followers of the deity of wine and theater, Dionysus.”

How fortuitous,” the Regent said, planting a soft kiss on his neck. Dennis sighed and leaned back against her. “For I have become quite drunk. Tell me, Dennis, would you like to make me very happy?” He waited for her to elaborate, his breathing becoming heavy in anticipation of her request as she loomed over him. “As a result of toying with you earlier and my inebriated state, I find myself in need of relief, and my concubines are...mysteriously absent. I could call them of course and have them tend to my needs in their own learned way, but I've heard things about humans that I would like to substantiate.”

And...what is it that you've heard?” Dennis asked.

Playing coy, Dennis?” She leaned back, pulling him with her so that he lay against her torso. She slipped a hand up his shirt, dragging her dull claws lightly down his chest. He squirmed, burying himself deeper into her fur, and she brought her lips to his ear to whisper to him softly. “Your tongue, Dennis. I'm told that human tongues are agile and smooth. I wish to see this for myself. You know what to do, a Queen should not need to explain herself to her subjects.”

Y-Yes,” Dennis stammered, his head swimming at the prospect and his legs turning to jelly. He slid down her body, turning over as he went. She opened her thick thighs wider for him, and before he knew it, his red face was level with her groin. Her regal, paper-white fur gave way to delicate, pink lips that were already engorged and glistening with her anticipation. Her musk was stronger here, thick and dizzying, blended with the familiar metallic smell of Borealan excitement. She looked down at him with her blue eyes, reflecting the flames as they licked at the metal grill that contained them. The heat emanating from her loins rivaled that of the fireplace behind him.

He reached out a trembling hand and splayed her flushed lips, exposing the pink flesh within. Everything about her was flawless, impeccable. She was bred to be royalty, and she knew it, her smug expression as she watched him told him as much.

He pressed his lips against her vulva and felt an appreciative shiver roll up through her body, culminating in a low sigh. He explored her folds and creases with the tip of his tongue, lapping at her, the delicate fur on her mound and thighs already matted with her juices. He extended his tongue and pushed it deep inside her twitching entrance, the fleshy walls of her organ closing around it and drawing it in. Her viscous fluids dripped down his chin, but he didn't care, he was captivated by her smell and her taste. His desire to please her was becoming a desperate need.

He raised his eyes over her fluffy mound to see her watching him, her gaze sultry as she lounged and sipped her beverage. She was as aloof as someone who was having their damned shoes shined. He searched for her clitoris with his tongue, and when he found the swollen protrusion, he played his muscle lightly over it. She flinched, almost spilling her drink. He chuckled into her, and she squirmed as the vibrations tickled her sensitive flesh.

Not so timid I see...”

He pressed his lips around the stiff nub of flesh and applied suction, drawing it out from under its hood and into his mouth. He felt her furry thighs close around his head as she groaned, drawing patterns on its shiny surface with the tip of his tongue. She reached down and placed her large hand on his head, her fingers delving into his hair and her black claws pricking his scalp. She pulled his head closer, deeper, and rolled her wide hips, grinding her mound on his face. The pressure of her padded thighs clenched around his head became uncomfortable, but he persevered, slipping a finger into her hole as he dragged the surface of his tongue over her sensitive button.

She bucked, but he wrapped his free arm around her fluffy thigh, holding on as she moved. He curled his index finger in her oozing tunnel, digging it into the smooth flesh, trying to find her weak point. He felt her grip on his hair tighten as she jumped, almost as if she had been electrocuted. There it was. He inserted a second finger, pumping rhythmically and sucking harder as she writhed and gasped, her overflowing juices staining the leather couch and wetting the fur on her inner thighs. He continued, merciless, straining to hang on and stay in position as she attempted to fuck his face.

Dennis jammed her clitoris between his lip and his tongue, pushing his fingers into her weak spot as she arched her spine high into the air, growling like an angry tiger. Her walls closed on his fingers like a trap, crushing them painfully as her loins contracted and pulsed with the strength of her orgasm, her long tail curling into a spiral as it hung off the edge of the sofa. She raised her free hand to her heavy breast and squeezed, pinching the protruding nipple between her fingers and letting out a long, pained gasp.

Dennis did his best to stay locked to her, stroking her insides more slowly and gently now. He mouthed and kissed her sopping mound as she came down from her high in staggered, ragged breaths.

He licked obediently as she recovered enough to glance down at him, dazed, her eyes not focusing properly.

They weren't exaggerating." she groaned, releasing him from the prison of her silky thighs. She hooked her hand under his chin and held his face in her palm, then retrieved a silken cloth from the table, dabbing at his face gently. When she was confident that he was clean enough, she lifted him off the ground and placed him beside her on the couch, relaxing and enjoying her post-coital bliss. She handed him what was left of her drink, and he sipped at it, washing her taste from his tongue with the sweet beverage. The heat of the fire warmed him as he lay with the Regent, leaning into her soft coat and listening to her hypnotic breathing. She slumped, her heavy chest rising and falling methodically, she had fallen asleep.

What am I doing here?” he mumbled to himself. He had wanted to become important, to be a diplomat, yet here he was performing sexual favors for an alien monarch. He should be happy that he was being paid to attend banquets and get laid, but it nagged at him. He was forgetting his ambition, he hadn't earned this position, nobody else had wanted it. If he had done the research into what he was agreeing to he probably wouldn't have either. He had longed for adventure, to leave his soul-crushing office job and explore alien planets and cultures, and he had gotten what he wanted. Not as he had envisioned it, but things rarely played out the way he planned.

Was all the booze and sex the planet could supply worth his self-respect? He knew that his position was a joke, he didn't have any of the authority or power that these aliens assumed he did. Nobody in the UN cared about him, he hadn't even sent them a single update yet, and so far he had received no communications or requests concerning his status. Ambassador Carlisle was the physical embodiment of lip service, a stooge sent to placate the Patriarch and keep the troops flowing by making him feel more important than he really was. Besides, most of the sex wasn't exactly consensual, and he still didn't really know how he felt about that. He enjoyed the attention, he knew no girl on Earth would ever come on as strong as these Borealans, but it was for all the wrong reasons. Still, the feeling of them overcoming him, being wanted so strongly and so violently. The sensation of being restrained as they inflicting their selfish pleasures upon him as he struggled, it was intoxicating, addictive. Could he ever leave that behind now?

He watched the Regent sleep, her furry ears twitching slightly. Perhaps she was dreaming. At least if he could help these people. If he could follow through and get them asylum on Earth, then his coming here would not have been for nothing. She had said it herself, he would be changing their lives for the better, and he would have done it of his own volition. If that wasn't the true work of a diplomat, then what was? Who among the ranks of the pompous, preening politicians back home could say that they had saved a race of people, or positively influenced the lives of anyone at all? This wasn't a matter of taxes and treaties, but of life, and the freedom to determine one's own destiny.

He dropped off the sofa slowly, leaving the warmth of the Regent and her fire to wander back into the courtyard. He lay back on one of the couches and watched the sky, the eclipse progressing slowly as the cool wind blew the leaves and delicate, embroidered fabrics that decorated the space.

He decided that he liked Borealis. When you looked past the crushing gravity, the deadly fauna and the unpredictable weather, it had a certain charm to it. Perhaps he had grown to respect the hardy natives and their stalwart attitude towards life on the planet. Or maybe it was the simple natural beauty of his surroundings, untouched by the same industrial plague that had befallen Earth. No shuttles clouding the sky, no skyscrapers breaking up the horizon like broken teeth jutting from the jaw of some long dead animal. The air was fresh and the water clear, and what artificial structures there were, were the products of artisans who cared about their craft. Not the soulless work of union laborers or company architects, cutting so many corners that it was a miracle the buildings they erected didn't end up rolling away.

Regardless of how he felt, his time here was limited, and maybe that was for the best. After six months he would be forced to return to Earth or risk suffering permanent damage from the gravity.

Can't have too much of a good thing," he muttered to nobody in particular.

CHAPTER 7: HOT SPRING

Is there anything else you'd like to see?” the Regent asked, lifting a steaming beverage from a tray that one of her guards was holding as she lounged in the courtyard. It was morning but, Dennis wouldn't have known that without a clock on hand. Besides for the almost imperceptible, yellow glow of the secondary star, the electric lamps that circled the building were the only illumination.

Not that I can think of. I've already had Xhe take me to the places that came to mind. The city, a fishing village, a ranger outpost. As a native, surely you have some suggestions?”

I can think of a few things," she replied, raising the mug to her mouth and blowing on it tentatively. Ice had begun to form on the roof of the building, and a layer of frost coated the leaves of the plants. It was getting cold, but Dennis had realized that his ideal temperature was much closer to that of the Regent than the Equatorial Borealans. It wasn't all that cold, not enough to be uncomfortable to him, having grown up in the North of Europe.

Then I defer to you, your majesty,” he said with an exaggerated bow. She chuckled into her drink, giving him a sideways glance.

I have to say, Dennis, when coming from you the honorific sounds somewhat sarcastic.”

Wouldn't dream of it.”

She waved her guard away and drank deeply from the mug, closing her eyes as the warm liquid heated her from the inside. Dennis wasn't sure what it was, something akin to coffee or hot chocolate maybe.

You don't seem too cold, Dennis. That is encouraging. Is this temperature not unusual for Earth?”

Not really," he replied as he lay back on the low couch with his hands behind his head. "This is an average winter for a lot of places and the usual temperature for others. Earth has a lot of different climates and seasons, far more than Borealis. In the places you might end up going, this is relatively warm.”

Good, I do so enjoy visiting Elysia during the eclipse. The Patriarch most often holds his banquets the day before, which gives me a good excuse to come down and stay for a few days. That reminds me, would you like breakfast, Dennis? I can have my guards prepare anything you wish.”

He thought for a moment, missing Xhe's expert ability to determine the best meal for any occasion, then settled on smoked fish. The Regent called to her guards and hissed instructions, then they disappeared into the building.

Oh, I have an idea. Tell me, Dennis, do you have geothermal springs on Earth? I have to assume that you do.”

Yes, we do. Though I've never visited one personally. My position back home never really allowed me much leisure time.”

Would you like to see ours? They are cool enough to bathe in but hot enough to drive away the cold. You might enjoy them. I could introduce you to Borealan bathing culture.”

Yeah, that sounds good,” Dennis replied.

They are some distance away. Because of the Patriarch's refusal to share any of his technology I do not have my own shuttle. When I come down from the pole, I have to use an atmospheric craft, it is many multiples slower. Perhaps I can arrange the use of the shuttle on this occasion if his favorite ambassador requires transport and nobody else is making use of it because of the cold.”

I'm sure he'll agree if he's even awake." Dennis sat up straight as one of the guards returned with his meal, taking the tray as she handed it to him. Steam rose from two fat, armored fish in the cool air, their smokey smell making his stomach rumble. He inhaled happily and pulled his cutlery from his pocket, unwrapping them from their protective fabric. He had elected to take them everywhere with him now, it was an odd feeling having to carry one's own cutlery around on his person, but the Borealans simply had no concept of dining utensils. The Regent watched him curiously as he carved into the fish with his silver knife, forking the small pieces into his mouth.

How odd," she commented, her eyes following his fork as it pierced a steaming chunk of fish and brought it up to his lips. “You lack claws, and so must use tools to eat. I hadn't even noticed at the banquet. Of course, how else would you cut the meat?”

We can eat with our hands and cut with our teeth, but it becomes messy, and we generally don't like to. There's a perception on Earth that it's...uncivilized to eat with one's hands.”

I see,” the Regent replied. “Perhaps I should learn. Such minor cultural details can heavily influence people's perceptions.”

That's very astute," Dennis said as he chewed a mouthful of fish. "I could teach you, it isn't hard. Hell, I'm a diplomat, it's my job to know things like this. If you have the time, I can teach you all kinds of human customs and cultural quirks.”

She lay back in her couch, pensive as she watched him eat.

If it is my fate to lead my people to Earth, then I must learn your culture with the same open-mindedness and vigor that you have learned ours.” She leaned forward and rose to her feet suddenly, her snow-white tail flicking from side to side as she stretched, raising her hands into the air. She was incredibly large, she must be skirting nine feet. Size seemed to be a reliable indicator of status on Borealis. “But enough of that for now, I need to make a call and see if the Patriarch won't share his toy with me for a day.”

Dennis wasn't sure whether she was talking about the ship, or him...

***

The Regent was able to charter the shuttle, and when Dennis had finished his meal, he headed off to the ivory tower along with the Regent and her guards. It was the only landing pad in the ancient Elysian city. Dennis wondered if modernization would see the Borealans knock down some of their long-standing, finely masoned structures in order to build more of them, he hoped not. The streets were deserted now as frost and ice clung to the stonework, making the ground slippery. The Regent and her guards paid it no mind, their sharp claws and padded feet gripping the cold surface easily. He wondered how long it had taken for the races to diverge so dramatically, science might even consider them a subspecies at this point. He had never gotten a good impression of the age of anything on Borealis. The cities and their buildings, the age of the territories themselves and the length of time that the current civilization had existed, or even the lifespans of the alien inhabitants. Perhaps he should ask about it, but right now didn't seem like the best time to bring it up.

It's so strange to see the city empty of people,” he commented. “When I first came here this market was packed shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye could see.”

Yes, Elysia does have a problem with overcrowding. Fortunately, I rarely have to deal with it due to the timing of my visits.”

Is the Polar territory less populated then?” he asked, jogging a little to keep up with the Regent's graceful strides.

Most Borealans cannot tolerate the cold, and my people breed slowly, placing immense value in the raising of our offspring. People in Elysia can have litters by the dozen, they will never run out of food or space, and there are few dangers to befall a curious kitten in such a temperate climate. They will never lose their child down a crevasse, or have them fall through the ice of a frozen lake.”

How sobering, she sounded indignant. Was the situation in the Polar territory really so bad?

If it's so dangerous to live there, how have you even survived this long?” Dennis asked a little hesitantly.

I remind you of the adage, the strict mother raises disciplined children. Adapt or die, that is the driving force of evolution. We cannot simply leave, not anymore. Although modern technology would allow us to travel anywhere on the planet, it came too late for us, our own bodies have become our prison.”

Humanity has races too, though nothing so dramatic. Anyone can live anywhere, basically. I suppose the high altitude adaptation that Tibetans have is the closest example I can think of. They're mountain people who live at high altitudes, and as a result, they have adapted to a lower oxygen environment.”

No great variation then?” she asked.

No. In fact, there's still a debate raging over where the lines between the races are drawn, or even if they have any biological basis at all. It must have taken a great deal of time in order for your people to diverge as much as they did.”

It is not known exactly when our ancient ancestors migrated North, nor is it known why they did so. Perhaps they were escaping persecution, or they were driven there by some great cataclysm. It was long before Borealans began to make claw marks on rocks to record the passage of months and years. We developed in almost total isolation, as none of the other races dared venture into the tundras save a few ambitious explorers. Nobody fought us for the territory, because nobody wanted it. There was no movement of people between our territory and others.”

It must have been a long time then, thousands of years at least, perhaps tens of thousands. Having no common point of reference, he wouldn't understand an answer that she gave on specific dates or timescales. Maybe he would ask Xhe when he got back to the embassy, she might know.

They arrived at the ivory spire, the great edifice jutting into the sky, its usually white color stained a dull yellow in the secondary's light. They mounted the winding steps and arrived on the landing pad where the shuttle was waiting for them, its engines already warm. The pilot greeted them, it was the same one who had flown Dennis and Xhe previously, clearly roused against his wishes and forced into the cockpit by the orders of some higher ranked Borealan. The Regent and her guards loaded in as the pilot flipped switches and grasped the flight stick, angling the nose higher as it banked over the city. Dennis watched the empty streets dwindle into the distance as the shuttle headed North over the lake.

***

The jungles turned to desert and then the deserts turned to snow, they were flying very far North where the temperature was even lower than in the city. Dennis began to worry, he hoped that the Regent had not overestimated his tolerance of the cold. They passed over a mountainous region, and Dennis's stomach lurched as they began to descend towards the craggy, snow-covered peaks. The pilot circled, clearly searching for a suitable landing site, and after a few passes it felt as if they might have to turn around and head back. He finally spotted a good place to land and lowered the shuttle down in VTOL mode, the landing gear crunching in the crisp, white snow.

As the landing ramp opened a chill wind blasted through the ship, Dennis immediately bracing against it, crossing his arms and shivering in his suit. The pilot grunted in disapproval from his seat, eager to have them off his craft so that he could close the ramp.

Be brave Dennis,” the Regent crooned, her tone somewhat mocking. “It is only a short walk to the hot springs, come.”

She reached out and took his hand, her fluffy fur warming him like a glove. She pulled him out of his seat and led him down the ramp into the snow. He sunk ankle-deep, the freezing chunks penetrating his socks. He considered asking her to carry him for a moment, but no, he still had some dignity left. He trudged behind her as she strode over the snow and he heard the landing ramp close with a pneumatic hiss as the pilot sealed the shuttle against the freezing winds. They descended down some rocky crags that looked out over a pretty severe drop. It was actually quite dangerous, the combination of height, poor footing and ice making Dennis wary. He held onto the Regent's hand like a child at the mall, she could certainly catch him if he fell. Even in the low light, Dennis could see for miles. The sharp peaks pushed into the sky, making the Patriarch's tower look impotent in comparison. They were slap bang in the middle of a sizable mountain range, surrounded by rock and snow. Even in the harsh cold, Dennis could appreciate the natural beauty and serenity of the location.

As they descended, their destination came into view. On a sort of flattened plateau protruding from the side of the mountain were several steaming pools of water, the snow around them melted away by their heat to expose naked rock. Geothermal springs, produced when groundwater was heated by the interior of the planet, rising up and out through cracks and faults. It took them a few more minutes to climb down, this plateau seemed entirely natural, there were no stairs carved into the stone or barriers erected to protect from falls.

How do you even know about such a remote location? How would you get here without a shuttle?” Dennis asked.

Do your people not scale mountains?”

Well, yes, but...”

She had a point he supposed, but it felt so remote, and there was no sign of civilization here. Had this been a location on Earth there would be stairs and barriers, warning signs, someone would probably be charging for their use. Holidaymakers would be splashing, and their children would be causing a ruckus. Here there was no sign of anyone else. It struck him again how underdeveloped Borealis was, or perhaps how overdeveloped Earth was.

As they reached even ground the Regent released his hand and he marched over to the edge of one of the pools, having to raise his legs higher than usual in an odd, awkward stride in order to walk through the deep snow. He knelt by the edge where the snow had been melted away and dipped a finger into the water gingerly. On Earth some hot springs were lethal, either hot enough to boil a person alive or acidic, having picked up toxic minerals in their ascent to the surface. It was extremely hot, but not dangerously so, and so far his finger had not been eaten down to the bone by acid.

The Regent arrived next to him, watching him curiously.

It is quite safe, Dennis.”

He turned to reply but faltered as he saw that her clothes were already discarded. Her weighty breasts hung tantalizingly before him, swaying slightly like a pair of furry wrecking balls. She rested her hands on her wide hips and cocked her head at him quizzically, her long tail waving back and forth as she held it above the snow. Noticing his expression, she put her hand to her mouth and suppressed a chuckle, striding forward to pull him against her. Dennis's head was thrust deep into her boundless cleavage as she wrapped her arms around his back, hugging him tightly. His face pushed into the silky fur of her chest, her breasts spilling around his red cheeks and pouring over his shoulders like plaster filling a mold. They were as soft as marshmallows, the warmth of her luxurious coat hypnotizing him. He closed his arms around her waist, sinking his hands beneath her silky fur. The cold of the mountain air was staved off as her heat radiated through him, warming him to the core. Her sweet, enticing scent overcame him, and suddenly all he wanted out of life was to be nestled in her comfortable embrace. As she stepped away from him, he felt as if he had just left a heated building and wandered into a blizzard. They really did trap an incredible amount of heat between their fur and their chubby fat layer.

Why are you suddenly embarrassed, Dennis? I thought that I had made my feelings about our relationship obvious already. Now take your clothes off.”

He considered replying, but thought better of it and began to remove his clothing as she watched him, a salacious glint in her blue eyes. They wandered down his body as he pulled off his pants and dropped them on the dry ground by the nearest pool, shivering as he made a futile attempt to shield himself from the cold. She approached him, and he extended his arms, expecting her to warm him again. Instead, she placed her large hand on his chest and shoved him backwards.

He fell into the nearest hot spring with a splash, the hot water searing his skin. It was quite shallow, only chest high to a Borealan, Dennis standing with his head breaking the surface and his wet hair falling over his crimson face.

Argh! What the fuck!?” he exclaimed, the sudden temperature change prickling the skin all over his body. The Regent laughed from her gut, almost like a bark.

Forgive me, Dennis, I could not resist. It's better to just jump in and get it over with.” He scurried out of the way as she leapt into the spring, the massive splash showering him with more hot water and the displacement pushing him away as the wave that she had created lapped at the side of the pool. She rose to chest height, her mammoth breasts bobbing in the steaming water like a pair of beach balls. She shivered, her eyes wide.

Hot!” she proclaimed as her waterlogged fur clung to her curvy body, only accentuating her impressive figure.

I could have told you that!” Dennis complained. He was adjusting to the temperature now, and the heat was permeating his bones in a pleasant, creeping way that drove off the lingering cold and relaxed his taut muscles.

She waded over to him, her eyes low and sultry, her abundant chest swaying in the water as she moved. Dennis pulled back a little, finding himself at the edge of the pool, and the Regent pressed herself up against him. Her soaking wet bosom pushed against his face again, spilling down his chest. The wet fur felt odd on his skin, but pleasant. He gasped in surprise as he felt her thick, muscular thigh press into his groin and lift him slightly, the strands of her floating pelt tickling his nethers and sending a shiver up his body.

My poor Ambassador, let me make it up to you.”

Her warm tongue escaped her lips to stroke his ear, Dennis sinking deeper into her fluffy cleavage as he rested more of his weight on her. They were so springy, he could practically bounce on them. She whispered to him, the heat of her breath even more evident in the cold air, pausing to chew his earlobe playfully.

Do you want me?”

He nodded, but she wasn't satisfied with that, curling her fingers under his chin and lifting his face so that she could watch him squirm with her icy blue eyes.

I want to hear you say it,” she crooned.

I...I want you,” Dennis stammered, and her lips curled into a knowing smile.

Then, you shall have me.”

She lowered her head and pushed her long tongue past his lips, subjecting him to another one of her delicate, expert kisses. Her familiar metallic taste set his neurons firing as she teased him, coiling her tongue around his own, teasing him with measured flurries. She kissed the way that she walked, the way that she spoke, refined and sophisticated. She somehow knew just where to strike in order to deliver the most draining, debilitating blow, leaving him bleary-eyed and wanting.

She mounted him suddenly and aggressively, squeezing her thick thighs around his hips and pushing his now throbbing erection against the heat of her vulva. He squeezed his eyes shut as the sensitive head of his penis dragged against her soft flesh and her fur tickled him, letting out a pained sigh. The Regent chuckled and cradled his head in one of her large hands, sinking her fingers into his hair and pricking his scalp with her dull claws. Dennis felt like he was overheating. The boiling water, his burning cheeks, the incredible warmth radiating from her body. He was awash in a sea of feverish sensations. He flinched as he felt her fluffy tail snake between his thighs and wrap around one of his legs, the Regent bringing her soft lips down to his neck, pressing them gently against his wet skin and sending a jolt of electricity shooting down his spine. She rubbed her loins up and down his shaft, teasing him as she rolled her hips, appraising his reaction with her reflective eyes as his face contorted and she forced involuntary sounds from his lips with her cruel dance.

The Patriarch never shares his toys," she breathed into his ear, her wet fur rubbing against his red cheek. “Maybe I'll steal one from him, his prized ambassador. Tell me, Dennis, will you become my toy?”

He was in no fit state to answer her. Overcome by her teasing, he lowered his head into her cleavage, burying his face in her damp fur as if trying to escape the stimulation she was inflicting upon him.

She had plainly stated her intentions to make him love her. She was intoxicating, insidious, worming her way into his brain with every gentle kiss and every soft whisper. But was she doing it because she liked him, or just as some roundabout way to get back at the Patriarch? He realized that he didn't care. The thought of her manipulating him, of the Regent wrapping him around her little finger as she pleased, only engorged his erection and set his heart pounding faster in his chest. He couldn't say why.

These Borealans had awakened a dark craving within him, a new desire that he didn't want to consciously acknowledge, a burning need that nibbled at the back of his brain like a parasite. This silver-tongued, majestic creature had her hooked claws buried deep in his heart, and she wasn't about to let go. He didn't want her to.

Sensing his turmoil, she ran her fingers through his hair as he panted into her cleavage, stroking his head. Her touch was at once soothing and tormenting, placating and provocative. He felt the spongy pads on her fingertips grip his throbbing, aching member delicately, guiding him towards her opening beneath the hot water. He moaned into the white fur of her chest as he felt his exposed glans graze the tight entrance of her opening. Now it was her turn to sigh, and he felt her grip on his hair tighten as she slowly pushed him inside her. The textured folds of her velvet passage grazed his glans, lubricated by the hot water and the Regent's own copious contribution. He grunted into her furry cleavage as she lowered herself onto him, impaling herself on his rigid member and pushing him deeper inside her until he met resistance in her depths. The heat was dizzying, he felt as if his erection was an iron in a forge, glowing orange and dripping molten metal as she melted him with her burning loins.

He almost wanted to beg her to stop. He felt as though once she started to move it would be over for him and he'd be completely under her spell, but some deeper part of him wanted that, craved it even.

The Regent rose on his shaft, the delicate folds of her insides clinging to his shaft as they sucked at his wet skin, gripping him possessively. She purred, the low rumbling vibrating his bones through the water, and she bit her lower lip with her pointed fangs. It was an oddly human gesture coming from such an alien creature.

You're so warm, I can feel you pulsing inside of me," she muttered. She slammed down on him, harder this time, forcing his aching member all the way to the base. Her slippery tunnel gripped him like a fist gloved in damp silk, and she began to pump ruthlessly. Dennis had been with women before but this was different, the Regent's loins were sublime, heavenly. She was of the highest genetic stock, refined over generations of selective breeding aimed at producing the most regal and resplendent example of her kind, and her obvious pride only added to her overpowering charm. Every powerful thrust of her wide hips felt like it drove him deeper inside her, the enormous creature grinding against him, measured and gentle considering that she could easily have shattered his bones. Bright points of light flashed before his eyes, and his muscles spasmed, waves of pleasure rolling up his spine as she maintained her fervent pace, her eyes closed as she lost herself in the rhythm.

Dennis felt a sudden surge of aggression well up inside him. He wanted this, he wanted her, more than he had ever wanted anything in his life. He raised his hands to her plump breasts, sinking his fingers into the ample fat and probing for the firm tissue beneath. She gasped, and he felt her insides close around him in a surprised contraction, sucking him further in. He mauled her breasts, taking generous handfuls of her doughy flesh, feeling it fill his palms and spill between his fingers like putty. He sucked one of her protruding nipples into his mouth, trapping it between his lips and scouring its tender surface with his tongue. She growled in response, tightening her grip on his hair until it became painful, but he didn't relent.

Humans...full of surprises,” she grunted through clenched teeth. He pinched her nipple in his teeth, and she bucked, forcing his stiff member up against the roof of her tunnel. She let out a long, low moan as her eyelids fluttered, lowering her head to press her teeth into his neck.

It was a fight now, and Dennis was fueled by a newfound determination to win it.

Arcs of electricity danced in his brain as she pricked his vulnerable skin with her pointed fangs. The familiar sensation warned him to submit, washing over him in dizzying waves, but he fought it. He applied more suction to her engorged nipple, painting it with his saliva and gently biting her areola, clawing at her soft breasts and sinking his fingers up to the knuckle in her yielding fat. She pressed him up against the rock, trapping him beneath a mountain of fur and flesh, her seething passage massaging him in cruel waves with its relentless squeezing and sucking.

She chuckled as he gasped into her bosom, her hot breath tickling his skin, mouthing and kissing his jugular as he strained against her. He felt as though someone was pouring carbonated water over his brain. It popped and fizzled, his eyes becoming unfocused as she pressed her sharp teeth into his throat, sending a shudder rolling down through his body. The mock attack was finished with a warm, wet kiss that made Dennis' loins throb with desire as she withdrew her teeth and pressed her puffy lips against his moist skin.

He began to thrust more violently now, the stimulation getting the better of him. He needed more, he could feel a new urgency rising up inside of him, his orgasm welling. The Regent closed her legs around him, locking him inside her so that he couldn't move, and brought her hands to his cheeks. She held his head steady as she watched him struggle, stroking his red cheek with her fluffy thumbs.

Go slow...savor me,” she crooned, grinning as his face flared crimson in response to her words. “Imagine I'm a succulent piece of meat, do you want to eat me in one bite, or relish every mouthful?”

He opened his mouth to reply, but as his lips parted, she brought her head down and met them with a paralyzing kiss. The tip of her long tongue taunted him as it tickled his throat, their tongues intertwining in a painfully slow waltz that set his head spinning. He wanted desperately to thrust into her, to feel the sublime contours of her tunnel wring him dry. But she would not allow it, holding him still, his cock twitching and soaking in her viscous excitement as she ravished him with her skilled embrace.

The kiss dragged on for minutes, Dennis' heart throbbing as if it were trying to break free of his chest in order to offer itself to her. He tried to tell her to stop for fear that her roving tongue would make him come again, but she tangled it around his own, cutting off his plea as his member pulsed and bounced inside her. He felt like we was floating, flashes of white light flaring in his brain as if his spine had been replaced with an optical cable.

She finally released him, breaking away with a wet pop. Her meaty tongue slid out of his mouth obscenely, trailing a mixture of their saliva. Dennis was beside himself, overcome. His body refused to respond to his commands, and his brain sizzled as if the heat was boiling it in his skull. He cried out as she unlocked her thighs and started to roll her hips again, the sudden stimulation making him jump and buck. She closed her arms around him in a bear hug, holding him against her silky body as she dictated the pace of their coupling. He delved his hands into her chubby love handles, marveling at the width of her massive body. Were he to hug her, his hands would not even come close to meeting on the other side. He gripped her waist and pulling her closer, leveraging her insulating fat to thrust harder and deeper as they moved together. She was so touchable, so inviting, the soft paunch of her belly protruding slightly over her groin. He slid a hand down to her ass, then paused, lost for a moment. Her body was so plush and large that he had to shuffle a little closer to her in order to reach. When his fingers found her plentiful buttock, he began to knead her flesh like he was shaping dough, weighing her heavy cheeks as they floated in the water. Her swaying breasts begged for his attention as they bumped against his face, quivering like a plate of jello, somehow keeping their wonderful teardrop shape despite the gravity that tugged at them. Her elegant coat of silken fur encapsulated it all, white and pure like the snow that surrounded them.

Harder...slower,” she moaned as she wrapped her sinewy tail around his waist to guide him. She slowed his pace but pulled him into her with greater force, slamming down on him with almost enough strength to bruise. Every thrust burned into his brain like a solar flare and numbed his lower body, his legs becoming limp and useless. She kept up the torturous pace, her insides roiling around him and sticking to his cock, as though a thousand tongues were sliding up and down his shaft. Her voluptuous body fought to draw him back inside her oozing depths whenever she pulled back, before crashing down on him again with a primal grunt, eliciting an anguished yelp or a low moan despite his efforts to contain them. The fact that the two guards were watching from their post a short distance away, their eyes lingering on him as the Regent fucked him mercilessly, only added to his arousal and embarrassment. She was sapping his will to fight, he was losing, and he liked it.

In one last ditch effort to gain the advantage he pushed his hand down between her legs, sifting through her soft pubic tuft and finding her clitoris, the heat from her splayed lips guiding his fingers. He pinched the hard nub between his thumb and forefinger, and she let out a primal wail, her voice breaking and becoming hoarse as he rubbed it, slick and wet under the water. She bit him in mock anger, closing her jaws around his neck and trailing her textured tongue across his skin. A shiver wracked his aching body as she mouthed and he yelped as he felt her shiny, black claws drag down his spine to leave red welts that burned in the water.

I'm gonna...come, and you're...gonna kiss me,” she panted, her chest rising and falling heavily. Her breath was ragged, and her speech was coming in uneven spurts.

He nodded vigorously, dangerously close to the edge himself. At that the Regent increased her pace, rocking him with her powerful hips, fucking him in earnest. The games were over, now they had a single shared objective. Her claws dug into his back, but the dull pain only added to his pleasure as they rose to a crescendo together, their breathing coming in strained bursts as they reached their shared climax.

She forced her mouth against his, her kiss desperate and aggressive, the Polar monarch throwing her grace and moderation to the wayside. A completely new sensation made Dennis moan into her mouth as he felt the powerful muscles in the farthest reaches of her body begin to contract around his surging member, massaging it as if they shared her will. Her tongue roved shamelessly inside his head, all pretense of delicacy and refinement forgotten. Her thick saliva dripped down his chin as their mismatched lips struggled to interlock and her slippery tongue ensnared his senses with its powerful, clumsy motions.

He came too, his attempt to cry out smothered by her feral kiss. She gripped his wrists roughly and clamped her muscular thighs around him, holding him still as his back arched and he bucked into her. The tingling pleasure between his thighs spread through his body like a fever and his swollen member erupted, flooding the Queen's most intimate reaches with his thick, warm emission. She groaned into his mouth, feeling his burning heat pour into her, satisfying her most base drive as a woman and sending powerful aftershocks through her massive body. Ropes of his semen splashed against her quivering walls, her every spasm wringing more of it from him, his ejaculate flooding her reaches as she shivered and crooned her appreciation.

They grasped at one another, questing hands sinking into fur and flesh, claws raking smooth skin. It was as though they were imprisoned in their shared orgasm, each lost to their primal instincts as they luxuriated in every last twitch and spasm that resonated through their nervous systems.

The little death, the French had nicknamed it, and now Dennis understood why.

***

They relaxed, letting the penetrating warmth of the hot spring soothe their aching muscles, basking in an afterglow that was as powerful as any opiate. Dennis rested, lying back on the Regent with his head and shoulders nestled comfortably between her breasts as they floated on the water, buoyant despite their immense size. Her soft fur brushed against his back, it was like lying on a living bed. Her arms were wrapped around his belly, and she planted slow kisses on his neck, seeming to savor the taste of his sweat. Every touch of her lips sent a satisfied shudder through his body.

My Queen,” he began, but she cut him off with a finger to his lips.

I think you've earned the right to call me by my given name, but only in private,” she added. He nodded his agreement, and she curled her arms around him again, holding him close to her. “It's Ursillik, it means child of winter in the Polar dialect.”

Ursi,” Dennis corrected, and she laughed.

If you wish. Ursi...I like how it sounds. Do humans always abbreviate their names?”

Most of the time, yes.” Dennis lay back, his head resting on her floating breasts as he enjoyed the quiet and the heat. The snow was falling above them, but it couldn't touch them here, the sparkling flakes melted away by the heat that rose from the spring. “Why is it that you like me, Ursi?”

Her ears twitched, and she pulled him a little closer to her.

I don't know exactly," she replied. "You're a curiosity, an anomaly. You're out of place and out of your depth. You're on a world where no human, especially not Dennis Carlisle, should have ended up. You are completely unqualified for your assignment, yet in a way that makes you the most qualified to make a real connection with the people here. You have no preconceptions and no biases. Maybe your spirit reminds me of a Borealan, adapting, struggling against the odds. And I like your tongue,” she added, whispering salaciously into his ear. “Oh, and I almost forgot.”

She hissed something to her guards who had stood patiently in the snow the whole time. Apparently, the cold didn't get to them, or they were just too disciplined to show it. They began to remove their clothing, stripping off the already sparse fabric that protected their modesty, besides for the leather belts around their wide hips from which small pouches hung. One placed a pack that she was carrying in the snow, perched against a protruding rock. They were somewhat smaller than Ursi and less impressive, but by human standards, their figures were still overtly feminine. He noted that their fur was less pristine, too. Where Ursi's black markings were sparse, leaving her coat as white as linen across most of her body, her guards had a larger abundance of them. They were better camouflaged for sure, but Dennis got the impression that Ursi's snowy fleece was a result of her noble heritage. They marched over obediently, stepping gingerly into the hot spring. The difference in temperature must have been extreme, and it took them a moment to wade in and reach chest height as they grew accustomed to the water.

I promised you a taste of Borealan bathing culture, did I not?” Ursi crooned. She gave more orders to the guards, and they approached. Ursi handed off Dennis to one of them as if he were a doll, and met the second, turning her back to the woman. Dennis watched as the guard retrieved some vials from the pouch that dangled from her leather belt as it bobbed gently in the water. The guard uncorked one of the little glass containers and poured it over Ursi's back, a thick, white fluid that oozed out in clumps sticking to her fine fur.

What is it?” Dennis asked.

Perfumes, shampoos and soaps, plant extracts and oils. It takes a lot of work to look this good, Dennis. A Queen must be presentable if she is to make a good impression.” She glanced back over her shoulder at the guard, who was now running her fingers gently through Ursi's perfect fur, creating a soapy lather. “Well, perhaps not my work, but you get the idea.”

She closed her eyes, in a state of bliss as the guard massaged her back, swaying slightly as her consort's hands moved down her spine and combed her fur. The guard stopped at her rump and then traveled back up to knead her shoulders, taking great care to keep her claws out of the way. It was restrained compared to what Dennis was accustomed to, there would be no deep tissue massages here, not without slicing the person into ribbons. He waited eagerly for his own massage to begin, but his guard didn't know what to do. After hesitating for a moment she spoke to Ursi in their harsh tongue, and the Queen replied in a tone of voice that sounded annoyed.

My concubine doesn't quite know what to do with you, Dennis. You don't even have as much fur as an Equatorial Borealan. What do you suggest?”

Humans do this too, but not communally, at least not often. My hair can be shampooed, and she can use soap on my skin, there's probably a very low chance I'd be allergic to any of it as I can eat your food.”

Ursi relayed the information to the guard, who popped open her little leather satchel. She selected a vial and poured the contents into his hair. Dennis closed his eyes to protect them, it was unlikely that the Borealans had developed no more tears technology. He winced a little as the gel seeped through to his scalp, still retaining some of the winter cold. The guard's large fingers delved into his fine hair, she was being especially gentle and careful, probably because of their dramatic difference in size. Before long the slow circling motions of her padded fingers started to send pleasant chills down his spine.

You could pay for a massage on Earth of course, but the busy schedule of a government lawyer didn't allow for such luxuries, not to mention the salary. Feeling a little braver now, Dennis leaned back against the guard, her chest still soft and ample even if it paled in comparison that of Ursi. She didn't seem to mind, and continued her rubbing, her claws glancing his scalp occasionally and making him jump. Having someone wash his hair was oddly intimate and enjoyable, the rhythmic rubbing was making him feel relaxed and sleepy. He opened his eyes a crack to see what Ursi was doing, reddening a little as he watched her twist and writhe. Her guard, or her concubine as she had referred to them, massaged her head and paid special attention to her ears. Was it an erogenous zone to Borealans? He would have to remember that.

It occurred to him that Ursi traveled with two female Borealans in order to see to her needs rather than two males, did that mean anything? The lack of clearly defined gender roles and sexual dimorphism among the aliens seemed to indicate that homosexuality was not looked down upon, or perhaps not even recognized as a distinct sexuality at all. Less of a concept of gay and straight, and more of a distinction between strong and weak. If someone was higher ranked than you, you tended to their desires or faced punishment, your own feelings did not factor into it. Perhaps that made their sexuality more fluid than that of humans, Ursi certainly seemed to be enjoying the company of her concubine just as much as she had enjoyed his.

The guard scooped up water in her large, cupped hands and poured it over Dennis' head, washing off the soapy froth. The hot water felt pleasant in his hair, and the shampoo smelled vaguely of berries or some kind of sweet fruit. When the guard was satisfied that his hair was clean, she moved her furry hands down to his shoulders. She rubbed his muscles a little harder than he might have requested, but it felt amazing. He buckled forward a little, doubling over towards the water as her expert hands worked deep into his flesh. She found knots of stress and bunched muscle, kneading him as if he were a blob of dough. It was almost painful, but the intensity of the sensation and the relief that he felt as she pressed her fingers into the base of his neck made up for it. As he had observed earlier, she couldn't get as deep as a human masseuse could, not with those claws of hers.

He had to stifle a yelp as she moved down his back and below the surface of the water, using her thumbs to probe deeply into the muscle that ran down his spine. Her massage was as much exploratory as therapeutic, but he must have a fairly similar musculature to a Borealan as she seemed to know exactly where his major muscle groups and pressure points were. She reached his lower back, digging her fingers into the flesh above his buttocks, and her touch sent a shuddering flare through his body, fading into tingling pins in his fingers and toes. It was too much for him, and he collapsed backwards into her body, his eyelids drooping lazily. He wished that they could communicate, he wanted to tell her where it felt good, where to push and where to stroke. He felt a little guilty as he realized that he was breathing heavily and that his member was rigid and pulsing again. Was this intended to be sexual? A glance at Ursi confirmed that it probably was.

She was locked in an embrace with her guard, one of her arms reaching back behind her head to grip her concubine's hair as their long, pink tongues intertwined like a pair of mating snakes. The guard's hands roved over her master's belly and breasts, spreading thick, white soap that made them slick and foamy. The guard grabbed handfuls of her soft flesh, squeezing her heavy boobs and her paunchy belly, slipping her furry arm below the water where Dennis couldn't see it. Judging by Ursi's gasps, the guard was washing her loins. His eyes lingered on the pair, his member bouncing sympathetically as Ursi noticed that he was watching them and curled her lips into a wry smile.

He was brought out of the moment as his guard began to rub a slippery goo on his naked skin, her damp fur serving as a rather effective hand towel. He squirmed under her touch as she spread the foam across his back and then his chest, the waterlogged fluff titillating him. She moved down his arms, tickling the palms of his hands with her spongy pads, then down to his lower back where she lingered on his buttocks. She moved her gentle palms to his inner thighs, and he brought his hands to his burning face, the stimulation becoming too much for him. As her teasing sapped his strength, he leaned back against her, letting a pair of breasts that were larger than his head sag over his shoulders like melting wax. His entire body felt tender and responsive, as if his very skin had become aroused and inflamed by her attentions. The warmth of the hot spring only added to the sensation, as he never became fully accustomed to it. He felt as though whenever he noticed it again, it became all the hotter, permeating him to the core with a sweltering heat that turned his muscles to mush.

Ursi seemed to have noticed his aroused state and purred an order to the guard, who lightly grasped Dennis' swollen shaft in her velvety hand. He raised a finger to his mouth and bit down on it as he twitched in her grip, a pleasant shiver passing through his body. He was sitting on her now, supported by her padded thighs as he floated in the water, and he leaned back into her cleavage as she began to stroke him. The massage had made him so sensitive, so receptive, the heat of the water prickling his glans as she exposed it with her slow pumping motions. Her grip was tight, but her pace was considerate, Dennis finding himself pushing into her palm reflexively. He felt her suck his ear into her mouth, tracing its contours with her textured tongue and filling his head with lewd, wet sounds.

He opened his heavy eyelids again to watch Ursi and her concubine. Ursi was lying back against the edge of the hot spring, and the concubine was running her fingers through the hair on her chest and belly, still washing her and combing her fur with her claws. She paused to tease her master's erect nipples with her rough tongue, mouthing dutifully as the Queen batted her long lashes. As Dennis followed them with jealous eyes, Ursi gripped the guard by her long hair and pulled her in for a long, obscene kiss. It was almost exhibitionist in its intensity and technique, as if she wanted him to see flashes of their meaty, pink tongues wrestling between their locked lips. Was it just for his benefit? No, he thought too highly of himself. These were the consorts of the Queen, after all, she had brought them for her own purposes. But there was an element of teasing that was undeniable as Ursi's blue eyes met his, her expression gleeful as the concubine buckled under her deft touch, moaning as she was overcome. She leaned into her master, grinding against her furry thigh in a desperate bid for relief.

He groaned as his guard squeezed his balls softly in her damp palm and added a twist to her relentless, methodical jerking. His vision was clouding, the pleasure too intense. Ursi's ostentatious display mimicked his most selfish and unrealistic fantasies as she pushed her concubine's head below the water line, holding her there as she ate her out.

Ursi's head lolled back, her eyes closing as she savored the sensation of the guard's long, rough tongue probing her insides. Bubbles floated to the surface, and Ursi smirked, apparently delighting in her power over the guard as she held her head under the water. Borealans had a larger lung capacity than humans due to their size, but Ursi was still holding her down there for a long time. Just as Dennis started to become concerned she released the concubine, who broke the surface with a splash, panting to catch her breath. Her breasts bounced with the rise and fall of her chest, Ursi running her fingers through the guard's waterlogged hair, reconciliatory in her fawning. Ursi brought the concubine's chin up with a gentle finger and kissed her, softly this time. The show of intimacy between the two impressive women made Dennis' raging member bounce in his guard's grip, throbbing painfully, almost as if it were trying to escape in order to join them.

Ursi took her concubine by the hand and led her over to where Dennis and his guard were entangled, wading through the chest-high water, a sardonic grin on her face.

As entertaining as I find it to tease you, Dennis, I think that you've had enough for one day.” She pushed her concubine forward, wrapping her furry arms around her waist and nuzzling her neck from behind, delving her long fingers into the soft fur and fat of her chest and belly. “I want it to be known, Ambassador, that if you succeed in your task of liberating my people, then this is only a taste of what I can offer you. A fraction of the gratitude that Queen Ursillik feels towards those who show her loyalty.”

She whispered something into the ear of the guard, almost a foot shorter than the more prominent Queen. Obeying the command that she had been given, she stepped forward towards Dennis. Ursi barked at the guard who was cradling him in her hands, and she let go. She moved her palms under his butt and lifted him so that his erection protruded from the water, the cool air on his tender glans making him flinch. As guard number one held him aloft, guard number two buried her head in his lap. She placed her soft, wet lips against his cock, kissing the head gently. He squirmed as he felt her tapered tongue escape to tease him, gliding beneath his foreskin in a way that made his toes curl. In one smooth, uninterrupted motion, she slammed her face down on his shaft. She forced his erection all the way to the base, her tongue worming out from below his shaft to slide over his balls, tickling them under the water. Guard number one mouthed at his neck, her soft lips and agile tongue occasionally giving way to pricks from her sharp teeth and placating bites that made him flinch and buck, thrusting his member into guard two's accommodating throat. This was clearly guard two's area of expertise, her time with Ursi seemed to have made breathing a long-forgotten luxury to her. She held her breath as her thick, bubbling drool rolled down Dennis' length in globs and floated in the hot water. He felt the muscles deep in her gullet clench and constrict as she suppressed a gag, swallowing to pull his member deeper to and clear her mouth of the pooling saliva.

Ursi glided over as guard two struggled and slurped obscenely, standing beside Dennis and leaning down towards the spectacle to get a closer look. She patted guard two on the head as if she were a faithful dog, then turned to smirk at him.

These two are my favorites. Males are fun, but they're bad at giving head. They're too careless with their tongues, I've never met one who knew just how to get me there. I like a good lay as much as the next girl, but females have an intimate knowledge of the subject, so to speak. Borealans have rough tongues, if you're going to give head then you have to be careful, apply too much pressure and a pleasurable lick can become agony. There's nothing like having your clitoris raked by an overly aggressive male to take you out of the mood.”

She snuck a hand below the water, getting herself off as she watched Dennis buck between the two guards. Guard number two released his member, pulling back and taking a few deep breaths, strings of her viscous saliva dangling from her moist lips and coating his skin in a glaze of warm spit. She circled her tongue around his tender glans, then pressed back down, the slick drool serving as a lubricant.

I'm growing quite fond of humans, however. Even your clumsiest attempts can't hurt me, your tongue is too smooth, too soft.” She bit her lip, watching guard two work his shaft, her blue eyes tracking her bobbing head. She seemed to change her mind, and pushed the guard off Dennis, his throbbing shaft sliding out of her throat with a sucking pop as she floated sideways. Ursi moved in front of him and gripped his hips in her furry hands.

I can be selfish sometimes, will you indulge me?”

Dennis was delirious, unable to formulate a coherent reply. She grinned at his pitiable state as she grabbed his member in her hand, pulling his waist below the water.

Don't come until I do, or I'll be very cross with you.”

She straddled him, closing her powerful thighs around his hips and urging his member into her twitching opening, the gooey saliva still clinging to its surface despite the water around them. Dennis was almost numb now, overstimulated, yet the kiss of her satin flesh on the tip of his member sent a fresh burst of tingling pleasure coursing through his body. The disgruntled guard paddled back over to them, sidling up behind Ursi and gripping her copious bosom in her hands. She squeezed and kneaded the supple globes, pinching Ursi's engorged nipples between her fingers as her breathing grew heavier and her eyelids fluttered. Guard number one cradled Dennis' head, just watching now, her role apparently complete.

Ursi lowered herself gingerly onto Dennis' pulsing shaft, its vascular surface dragging against her inner walls, eased along by an obscene soup of saliva and excitement. She was too tight, too hot, the exquisite folds of her vagina brought him rapidly to the edge. Sensing his impending climax, Ursi squeezed the base of his cock painfully in her strong grip, cutting off his burgeoning orgasm in its tracks. His eyes widened, and he gasped at the discomfort. Ursi wagged her finger at him, her tone chastising.

I said no.”

Damn it," he groaned, his member now even more throbbing and swollen than before. She released her grip and began to roll her hips slowly, stirring him around inside her. The guard that he was sitting on raised herself to support him as Ursi moved, and soon Dennis found himself sandwiched between the two massive Borealans at chest height, their breasts engulfing his head. Soft, damp fur and heaving flesh became his whole world, their weight and consistency reminding him of wet cement as they spilled down his torso. As Ursi's cleavage eclipsed his vision, the sensation of her sopping loins wrapped around his shaft like a glove became all the more powerful. The musky, soapy scent of the two creatures clouded his senses, and he buried his hands in Ursi's silky fur. It was even smoother and softer than it had been before.

He felt something wet drip on his head and roll down his face. He craned his neck to look up through the cushion of breast tissue, and his cock jumped inside Ursi as he watched her kiss the guard from below. They were practically battling over his head as their long, salmon-pink tongues wrestled and twisted between their lips, braiding together in a mass of slimy flesh. Another strand of their shared saliva fell down on him as they embraced wetly, Ursi's oral fixation getting the better of her, the air of sophistication that she liked to maintain slipping as her mounting lust overpowered it.

Ursi's movements became faster and more desperate, slamming into his hips, the fluffy belly and thighs of the guard behind him going some way to cushioning her blows. It was too much for Dennis, he couldn't hold on, the strain in his groin threatened to snap his tendons and tear his muscles as he poured all of his concentration into staving off his looming climax.

Please, Ursi...I can't take it," he begged as he buried his red face in her sodden chest.

Just a little longer," she growled through gritted teeth. She pumped relentlessly, driving him so deep that his cock kissed the reaches of her tunnel, her slippery walls compressing him he was being vacuum-packed. He felt her begin to tremble, the powerful muscles beyond the bounds of her satin walls beginning to twitch and spasm, wringing his inflamed member as if trying to suck out his life force. She hugged the guard to her and squeezed him between their plump bodies, Dennis sinking deep into their fluffy coats and yielding meat as she leveraged her hips, trying to grind his cock into her weak spot. He felt the convulsive orgasm wrack her body, the taut muscles beneath her husky fat flexing beneath his fingertips. She let out a primal grunt and sunk her teeth into the guard's furry neck, who seemed to become suddenly listless in response, like a scruffed cat. Her contractions drew out his own climax, and she jerked as he flooded her with his emission. Trapped between the two Borealans and unable to arch his back or buck his hips, he simply collapsed into Ursi as his balls emptied into her. He gave in to the overwhelming euphoria, his body going limp as his cock bounced and pulsed, driving his warm seed deep into the eager passage of his alien lover.

With nobody holding them up, all three of them fell into the water in a soggy pile, and Dennis glimpsed the other guard watching them with a hint of jealousy in her expression as he expelled the last of his discharge into Ursi's trembling loins.

***

When they recovered enough to break free of their shared embrace, the two guards cleaned Dennis and Ursi up, massaging their tired muscles and washing off any stray fluids with cleansing soaps from their seemingly endless supply of glass vials. Eventually, they climbed out of the hot spring, the harsh gravity gripping Dennis once more as he left the water. The freezing air bit into him like a knife, cutting short the slow throb of his afterglow as he immediately began to shiver violently. Ursi crept up behind him and wrapped her long arms around his body, hugging him tightly. Incredibly, her fur was still able to retain heat despite being damp and exposed to cold winds.

I'm sorry Dennis, it slipped my mind that you have no insulation.”

She called to the guards, and one of them walked over to the pack that she had propped against a rock before entering the hot spring. She retrieved an enormous towel, carrying it over and draping it about Dennis' shoulders. It was fluffy and soft, was it made from Polar Borealan fur? Would they do that? The texture felt similar. The Borealans seemed happy to stand in the wind in order to dry off, their capacity for insulation was truly remarkable. Dennis sat on a rock in order to free his feet from the crisp snow and looked to the sky, still shivering as he rubbed the downy towel on his skin. The eclipse was full now, a searing disk of white light encircling a much duller, yellow orb. They had been fooling around in the hot spring all day, the time had passed quickly.

When he was finished drying off, he retrieved his clothes and dressed, then took Ursi's outstretched hand as they made their way back up the side of the mountain to the shuttle. His shoes crunched in the snow as they climbed and he stumbled occasionally, slipping on the ice. With their long, stabilizing tails and their padded feet, the Borealans seemed quite at home on the dangerous crags and steep ledges. He felt clumsy and ridiculous in comparison as they hopped deftly over protruding rocks. His breath was starting to crystallize as they arrived at the landing site and the pilot begrudgingly lowered the ramp to let them inside. Dennis breathed a sigh of relief as he sat in one of the seats and buckled in, the shuttle had very effective heating, and the pilot had kept it cranked all the way up. Ursi barked some orders, and there was a short delay as the pilot angled the two VTOL thrusters on the wings towards the ground in order to thaw out the frozen landing gear. With a creak of breaking ice, the shuttle lifted off the ground and angled its nose towards Elysia, soaring over the snow-covered peaks and out over the desert.

CHAPTER 8: DELAYED REACTION

The vibrations of the engines traveled up through Dennis' seat as the pilot lowered the craft to the landing pad adjacent to the Patriarch's ivory tower. The landing gear crunched in the fresh layer of snow, and as the exit ramp opened a chill wind flooded the passenger bay, the brisk breeze ruffling the downy fur of the Polars. Dennis tried to avoid slipping in the slush that the thrusters had melted as he left the stone landing pad, navigating the oversized steps and watching for ice. Ursi and her guards followed behind him, the party making their way down the spiral staircase and emerging into the deserted street below. Dennis turned in the direction of the embassy, and Ursi placed a heavy hand on his shoulder.

Will you not be returning with me to my residence, Dennis?”

Go ahead without me, I'll catch up. I want to put the asylum request through. I might as well since we're here.”

Ursi withdrew her hand and nodded approvingly.

You'll be able to find it again on your own?”

Yeah, and the streets are empty, I should be perfectly safe.”

She turned down the opposite street, her guards trailing after her, and Dennis walked over to the embassy. He pushed open the heavy door, the slab of wood creaking on its massive hinges. It was dark inside, the dull, yellow light from the open doorway reflecting on the white marble floor. Was Xhe asleep? Hibernating? It was fairly warm inside the building, and he closed the door quickly so as not to let the cold creep in after him. His wet shoes squeaked on the polished floor as he made his way quietly towards his bedroom and the cumbersome computer console within.

He pushed the door open and moved over to the console, pulling up a chair and typing in the password on the jutting keyboard. The monitors flared to life, and cooling fans whirred as the device booted up, displaying lines of diagnostic information that illuminated the dark room in their white glow. He tapped into the orbiting FTL communications satellite and composed his message to the UN.

To:UNBorealisCommission

From:CarlisleDennisSR106478237

Subject:Borealis Mission Update

-BREAK-

Mission proceeding as planned, relations with Patriarch Elysiedde positive and improving.

-BREAK-

Have encountered indigenous sub-species of Borealan evolved for polar environment. Representative made official request for asylum on Earth. Recommend relocating small population to sparsely inhabited area with arctic climate. Siberia, Alaska, Greenland, etc.

-BREAK-

Supply of technology to Elysia causing political schisms among territories, consider ramifications of supplying Patriarch with weapons and ships on local balance of power.

-MESSAGE ENDS-

He hit send, and the short, four-kilobyte message was dispatched through the FTL relay. It would arrive at a paired receiver on Earth in short order. The satellites used quantum entangled particles in order to relay data, they were paired in carefully sterilized clean-rooms on Earth and then had to be physically transported to their destination on a jump freighter. When a change was made in one, it would be reflected instantly in its sister satellite, regardless of their distance from one another. Instant communication across interstellar distances was a marvel of theoretical physics, but the length of the messages that could be sent was severely limited. Using arrays of entangled particles whose state would change when exposed to an electrical charge, simple binary information and short text messages could be conveyed.

***

Xhe was roused from her slumber. She stirred, pushing aside the pillows and blankets of her warm nest, raising her ears to the cool air. They twitched and swiveled, tracking footsteps in the marble hallway passing by her bedroom. It smelled like Dennis, what was he doing back so early? Not just Dennis, something else...

Her delicate nose wrinkled, smelling the Polar Regent's perfume and her powerful, sexual musk creeping under the wooden door. Already annoyed at being woken, the scent assaulted her, aroused her. The Regent had marked Dennis as if he were her mate, coating him in her pungent scent. She must have been all over him for the last two days. Xhe was reminded of when Dennis had returned from his walk at the fishing village, standing before her cluelessly with the stink of that Royal Guard's scent all over him. Dennis was able to recognize the smell of smoked fish but was somehow oblivious to musk of females. Could his dull human nose not detect the pheromones, or was he intentionally taunting her with his sexual exploits?

Anger flared in her groggy brain, fueled by the challenge of another Borealan's scent. Xhe had been ordered not to touch the little bastard, not unless he requested it. At first she had dreaded the inevitable moment when he might make use of her as an Alpha, ordering her to lie back and open her legs so that he might probe her with his odd, alien organ. But rumors abounded as to the fun and relief that humans provided the soldiers on the Pinwheel when properly coaxed, reaffirmed by Chaka's clumsy advances in the tavern. That woman hadn't spared a moment when the opportunity to court a human arose. Just as Xhe had begun to grow curious, seriously entertaining the idea of lying with the little human, she had realized that he didn't know how to make such a request. He had no clue of the rights and privileges that accompanied the role of an Alpha, or else he was willfully ignorant, the idea of using a subordinate for sexual relief somehow distasteful to him.

He was happy to lie with others, however. She had seen his arousal as Chaka had molested him, smelled the Royal Guard's excitement staining his clothes at the fishing village, and now the Regent's musk was all over him. It was a declaration of ownership that stung Xhe's nose.

It wasn't fair. Why was it only Xhe who had to adhere to such strict rules and codes of conduct when these strangers approached him as they pleased without consequence? She was the one who was forced to tolerate him every day, to endure his constant provocations, his insults and his humiliations. Not them. Did it make her a xenophile? No, how could it be morally wrong when even Regents were doing it? Half of the Borealans on the Pinwheel had fraternized with humans, it was almost an inevitability when humans and Borealans were placed in the same dorm room. The Patriarch's own deviant daughter recommended it in private as an exercise for those who had the most trouble adapting to the demands of the integration program. Xhe remembered her humiliation at the hands of the Patriarch's daughter all too well, how she had tried to save face and redeem herself in the eyes of the woman who had once been her Alpha, studying under her and trying to learn her ways. She had learned how to interact with humans from the foremost expert, how to suppress her urges, but no more...

A sudden impulse overcame her, a devious, sly idea. Her own audacity made her pause for a moment as she considered the possibility of disobeying the Patriarch's orders. If he ever found out, he would give her a scar so deep and so ugly that it might never heal properly, but Dennis had not told Xhe about the Royal Guard who had disobeyed her orders not to interact with him. Coercion seemed to work, or perhaps the human was ashamed. While Xhe had drawn the Royal Guard's disobedient blood for daring to think that she could deceive her superiors, the Patriarch need never know unless Dennis told him, and she was confident that she could ensure his silence.

A new excitement welled up inside her. She was tired and angry, yet somehow energized, giddy. Her loins began to burn in anticipation of what she was about to do, her boldness surprising even herself. It wasn't that Dennis had broken her resolve, no, she was still in control. This was a calculated decision. She felt saliva pooling in her mouth, and she ran her rough tongue across her lips, wetting them. It simply did not make sense to follow the Patriarch's orders anymore, what harm could it do? Nobody would ever find out. Her desires, the instincts that screamed for her to overcome Dennis and to punish him for the distress that he had caused her would be satisfied in the process.

***

He should hear back from the UN within twenty-four hours, and then Ursi would have her answer. Dennis rose from his chair and shut down the console, then turned to the door.

He yelped, there was a tall figure standing in the doorway, silhouetted in the darkness. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he realized that it was just Xhe. She was blocking his bedroom door, rubbing her eyes sleepily. She was wrapped in what looked like a bathrobe, probably some kind of insulated sleepwear to keep her warm in the cold.

Oh, it's just you, Xhe. I'm sorry, did I wake you?”

She stepped over the threshold, pulling the wooden door shut behind her with a click. Her expression was odd. She seemed surly, almost angry, with an underlying tiredness as if she had been roused from a deep sleep. She took another step forward, her claws clicking on the floor, and Dennis felt a pang of worry churn his stomach.

Xhe, are you okay? It's me, Dennis.”

You smell like her," she grumbled.

What?” Dennis asked, becoming alarmed at her unusual behavior.

You stink of the Regent's perfume, and underneath that...her sex.”

Dennis took a step away from her and banged the back of his leg against the console.

I don't...what?”

The guard too, when I took you to the fishing village. You thought you could wash off her come and I wouldn't smell it on you? You think the stink doesn't permeate your clothing?”

He edged around the computer console slowly, keeping his eyes on Xhe and putting it between them. He raised his finger, trying to assert himself as it trembled.

Y-You're out of line, Xhe.”

No...I'm the only one in line,” she replied.

He reached the back wall and picked up a lamp from his bedside table, brandishing it in what he doubted was an intimidating display.

I'm warning you Xhe, keep your distance. What's gotten into you?”

Her lips curled into a mocking smile and her reflective, amber eyes locked onto him.

You're doing it right now, and you don't even realize it, do you? Provoking me, teasing me. You think you can come into my embassy, my house, stinking of other women? Do humans even have a sense of smell?” She took another step forward, boxing him into the corner. “Why must I keep my distance and bottle up my frustration when everyone else gets to have you? The damage is already done, what does it matter now?”

Xhe!” Dennis ordered, trying his best to sound commanding, “I order you to back off, I am your Alpha, and-”

She leapt up onto the bed, her long legs propelling her into the air like coiled springs. The mattress sank under her weight as she landed heavily, the metal bedsprings screeching their displeasure. She loomed over him and he backed up, against the wall, beads of cold sweat beginning to form and rolling down his forehead. His fists whitened around the lamp as he held it to his chest as if it might somehow protect him from her.

Why was she doing this? She had always been so calm, so tolerant. Was it because he had woken her up? Something to do with the eclipse? He didn't understand. Xhe leered at him, her pupils were dilated into large, dark circles that almost overpowered the gold of her eyes. Her unflinching gaze was predatory, Dennis shuddering instinctively. She bared her sharp teeth at him, and a string of thick saliva escaped her lips, she was practically foaming at the mouth.

She reached out a clawed hand as if to grasp at him, and he flailed the lamp to ward her off. He was too slow to make contact, and she withdrew her arm with an angry hiss, her long tail flicking back and forth impatiently. She tried again, and this time he swung the lamp into her wrist. The bulb shattered, and she flinched back, broken glass showering the floor between them.

She paused to examine her arm. A piece of jagged glass was embedded in her fur, and a trickle of crimson blood oozed from the wound, staining the white bedspread as it dripped. Dennis swallowed heavily, either the pain would snap her out of her strange trance, or he had just made everything a thousand times worse...

She gripped the shard in her thumb and forefinger, pulling it loose and discarding it on the floor. The wound did not look deep, but Dennis had surprised her. She dragged her tongue across the cut, sampling the blood. When her eyes once again met his, he knew that he was done for.

She swiped, lightning fast, and the lamp fell from Dennis' hands in pieces. She had cut the wooden stand with her claws as if it were made of butter. He felt her fist close on his collar and she lifted him clear off the ground by his dress shirt. She flipped him over, slamming him down on the bed. He bounced as he settled on the mattress, stunned, and Xhe crouched over him like a gargoyle. She flexed her fingers in anticipation, deciding where she ought to cut him, perhaps?

Dennis was confused, rattled. He didn't understand where her sudden aggression was coming from, he couldn't process what was happening to him. Like the classic story of the faithful dog that was bitten by a rabid animal and turned feral, Xhe seemed out of her mind and out of control.

Why are you doing this?” he wheezed as his breath returned to him.

You really don't know?” she hissed through clenched teeth. “All this time on Borealis and you've not figured it out yet?”

But he did know, he understood it now. Their strange culture and their strained interactions, the social hierarchy and the constant, unending struggle for dominance. Xhe had reached her limit, and based on the knowledge that he had gained over the week he had been on the planet, he was surprised she had lasted as long as she had. Their dynamic had been doomed from the start, no Borealan would tolerate being subordinate to someone like him for long, orders or otherwise. The knowledge was hard won and came at a price, there was no going back now.

But he wouldn't just give in and submit, not in the way she wanted. She couldn't seriously hurt him, it would be proof to the Patriarch that she had ignored his instructions. Yet he couldn't call for help. Xhe was supposed to be protecting him, there were no other guards, and his cries would not travel beyond the stone walls of the embassy. That left only one logical course of action, that Xhe would attempt to dominate him without injuring him. Based on his prior experience the best way to do that was through sex.

He should be afraid, yet to his surprise, he felt strangely calm now. This was all familiar to him, he knew what to expect, where this would lead. The now all too recognizable pang of arousal stirred his loins, and he realized that he wanted her to do it. It was fruitless to try to deny it now, the damned Mad Cats had given him a taste for this kind of treatment. The admission sent a surge of guilty excitement through his body, and he began to tremble as he felt Xhe's hot breath on his neck.

Xhe jammed her hand into his growing bulge, groping him through his pants. He gasped and squirmed, but she used her other hand to grip him by the neck, squeezing his windpipe shut with her powerful fingers as her curved claws pricked his skin. She chuckled and shot him a mocking look.

You're into this, aren't you? Don't tell me you've started to enjoy it...” She squeezed his neck, and he gagged, unable to reply as his face began to redden. “You stink of her, that furry bitch. I can barely smell you under her pheromones. She's marked you, she's saying that she owns you now. Did you know that? Did she tell you? Or did she just let you walk around giving off her stink?”

With her massive hand closed around his throat, he couldn't reply. He raised his hands to her wrist and began to tug at it, starting to panic a little as she strangled him.

I could choke you, Dennis. They made me your secretary, your underling, but you're completely inferior to me. I could choke the life out of you right here, right now, and what could you do about it? Nothing.”

Dennis growled through his closed throat, a primal sound that he had never heard himself make before. He found the cut from the lamp's bulb that he had broken on her wrist and jammed his thumb into the wound. Xhe yowled and withdrew her hand, clutching at her wrist as fresh blood soaked into the surrounding fur.

That's something I can do,” Dennis coughed, rubbing his neck where her hand had left a red indent in his skin. “You're my goddamned secretary, I'm not afraid of you. I'm not afraid of any of you anymore.”

Xhe growled at him like an angry tiger, a low rumbling that set Dennis' teeth on edge and raised the hairs on his arms. Millions of years of instincts were telling him to fear the dangerous animal, but he had Xhe figured out. He knew that she couldn't seriously hurt him, she was too afraid of the Patriarch.

It was the simple truth of these brutish aliens, as big and bad as they were, there was always someone bigger and badder who they feared.

I didn't rat out the guard, and I won't rat you out either," he said. "That's not the kind of guy I want to be, it's not how I want to solve my problems.” Xhe cocked her head as if waiting for Dennis to make the first move. He rose to his feet and stood defiantly on the large bed, meeting Xhe at eye level as she crouched aggressively, the fur on her long tail puffed up like an angry cat. “You're not going to get over this, I know that much now, so let's fucking do it. Give me your best shot.”

She eyed him warily, hesitating. Had he confused her? Was she expecting some kind of trick? After a moment her lust got the better of her, and she pounced on him, forcing him down onto the mattress under her considerable weight. He fought and thrashed, but she closed her furry hands around his wrists and pinned him down, locking her steely thighs around his waist. He groaned as he felt her mound press down against his firm erection, squashing it against his belly.

I'm gonna fuck you until I can't smell that sneaky Polar whore anymore. I knew she was planning something when she showed up at the embassy uninvited, they're always scheming...” The odd racial prejudice made Dennis chuckle, and Xhe watched him, confused by his reaction. “Are you not afraid of me?”

Nope.”

Xhe snarled and pressed her teeth against the vulnerable flesh of his neck, letting strands of her warm saliva dampen his ruined collar. He bit his lip, and Xhe jumped as she sensed his cock throb underneath her.

Not the reaction that you wanted, secretary?” he asked as he laughed at her quizzical expression.

Don't call me that!” she hissed angrily. “I'm bigger than you, stronger than you, you should...you should be afraid of me.”

Yeah, maybe if this was my first time. You're late to the party, Xhe.”

She seethed, not just angry but seemingly aroused beyond reason. Her face was flushed red with blood, and he felt the heat from her loins radiating through his layers of clothing, along with a conspicuous dampness that was soaking through his underwear. His resistance aroused her, that must be it. Borealans were so quick to submit, to accept their social position. Humans, on the other hand, prolonged the encounter beyond reason. They continued to fight even though they had lost. It was as Cola had explained to him during their encounter. Without the leverage of physical violence, either because of human fragility or in this case the fear of being discovered by a superior, the only course of action left was to fuck a human until they begged for it to stop...or for it to continue.

Xhe was shivering now, drooling, unsure of what to do to him. Her lust burned in her eyes as they played over his body. She came to a decision and began to pop the buttons off his shirt with her claws, exposing his naked chest as she moved down. Whatever, he thought, he had other shirts. She pulled his spider-fur tie up over his head and placed it on the bedside table, at least she was not so far gone as to forget its value. After all, it had been a gift from her in a way, much like his silverware. She had taken good care of him, and he regretted that it had come to this, that he had made her feel this way about him. It had taken him time to learn the customs and quirks of these aliens, it couldn't have played out any differently, but Xhe deserved better. Maybe he would tell her that when she had worked through her frustration, it was the least he could do to thank her.

She tore open his shirt and what few buttons remained were thrown loose, bouncing on the floor with a clatter as she ran her padded fingertips down his chest, her sharp claws leaving red trails. He gasped, feeling them sting his skin.

We'll see how sure of yourself you are when I've broken you, and then you'll be the one servicing me on demand, not the other way around.”

That implies that you can break me,” he replied confidently.

Xhe shuddered and squeezed him between her muscular legs, her eyes almost rolling back into her head as she fumed.

The skin on her thick thighs was as soft as silk and as smooth as the polished marble in the hallway, the outlines of her toned muscles catching the light. He traced their length with his eyes, up to the hem of her robe, hiked up in her sitting position and barely preserving her modesty. He could feel that she wasn't wearing any underwear as her groin pressed down on the tent in his pants. Keeping his wrists pinned with her long arms, her sinewy, dexterous tail snaked up from behind her to undo the catch that held her robe together. The fabric loosened and sloughed off her body slowly as she shrugged to help along, exposing her toned shoulders and biceps. It paused for a moment, hanging on her protruding breasts before falling in a pile around her hourglass waist. She hooked the robe with her tail and pulled it away, discarding it off the side of the bed and onto the floor, out of view. Her massive breasts hung heavily, swaying as she breathed, their smooth surface entirely different from Ursi's velvet fur. Xhe was less endowed than the Regent and her guards, but her breasts were pert and firm, still far larger than any borne by human women. But then again Ursi was a giant, even by Borealan standards.

Dennis felt butterflies in his belly as his gaze lingered on her toned abs, bunches of firm, taut muscle that flexed and bulged as she held him down. Beads of her sweat traced their contours, the moisture on her skin giving it a beautiful, reflective sheen. She was like a Greek goddess, a statue hewn from marble, her body would have been the envy of any Olympic athlete. Xhe was a powerful creature, unassuming in her usual elegant attire and her modest mannerisms, but no less another hardy daughter of Borealis once unchained. He winced as she leaned in and raked her rough tongue across his throat, her warm saliva leaving a cooling trail on his skin. He struggled, writhing and twisting in her grip, not through any real desire to escape but simply because he knew it would arouse her. Like a cat starved of the chase playing with a struggling mouse, she wanted to toy with him for a while before the killing bite. She pinched his earlobe in her sharp fangs and tugged it painfully, the sensation making him weak at the knees. She moved down his neck towards his shoulder, alternating between sucking kisses and forceful bites, just hard and deep enough to get a reaction from him.

She pressed her lips against the nape of his neck like a predator about to deliver the fatal blow, and when he didn't react in the way that she had wanted, she pushed her pointed teeth through his skin. He winced as he felt the forceful bite draw blood and gritted his teeth as he felt her rough, textured tongue drag across the punctures, sampling it.

Sweet, watery," she murmured. He felt her grip on his wrists tighten, and her thighs clench around him as she savored his taste, the flavor of a subdued challenger fueling her primal lust. The bite wound was sore, and the skin around it was rapidly reddening, but it wasn't deep enough to worry him.

Now that she had him, Xhe couldn't seem to decide what she wanted to do with him. She sat on top of him, her tail flicking back and forth indecisively as her hot, moist groin leaked through his pants. Perhaps she was having second thoughts about disobeying the Patriarch?

After a moment of hesitation, she slid off his throbbing bulge and crawled up his body, releasing one of his arms then quickly replaced her hand with her sinewy tail in order to keep him pinned to the bed. Her engorged, pink nethers dribbled a trail of her viscous juices along his belly and up his chest as she crawled slowly up his body. She came to a stop over his head, her cool, smooth thighs parked around his ears and her inflamed loins poised over his face. Her rosy, glistening folds dripped strands of her warm excitement on his cheeks, her opening twitching and winking above him. Her anticipation was palpable, her sumptuous breasts bounced above him as she panted, her sticky fluids clinging to the polished skin of her inner thighs in webs. She squeezed them around his head, threatening to pop his skull like a ripe cantaloupe, the smooth fat giving way to muscle as hard as iron. She lowered her pulsing groin down towards his face, parting the thick, puffy lips with her free hand to expose the sodden flesh within.

Dennis had anticipated this, these aliens were obsessed with the human tongue, its smoothness and agility apparently circulated as a legend among Borealan women. Thanks to his time with Cola and Ursi, he was confident that he could finish her off quickly. Maybe then she would calm down and come to her senses.

She lowered her mound onto his face, the soft tuft of her pubic fur tickling his nose. He pressed his lips against her sex in a lurid kiss, the heat that it emanated prickling his skin. She was positively drooling, thick strands of her excitement leaking onto his face and into his mouth. She tasted of salt and metal, sour, but it was a flavor that he so associated with pleasure now that its mere taste made him throb. She grabbed a fistful of his hair and tugged somewhat painfully, unable to stop herself from rolling her wide hips and grinding into his mouth, her thighs quivering around his head.

He dragged his tongue along the length of her vulva, teasing the sensitive flesh and sending a shudder through her body that translated back down through her legs. As he reached the peak, he tweaked the tip of her tender, protruding clitoris and she doubled over. Her rock-hard abdominal muscles flexed beneath her pale skin, her breasts shaking enticingly as she gasped in surprise. She did not have Ursi's experience, and she was not in control, he might be able to turn this situation around.

He took advantage of her surprise and twisted one arm free of her hand, gripping her hip for leverage as he delved deeper into her with his roving tongue. He explored her silky folds, sucking and tugging at her stiff nub with his lips. She gripped his hand but did not pull it away from her waist, instead uncoiling her tail from the second and allowing it to rise to her slippery hole. She jumped as his fingers pushed into her tight tunnel, her muscles striving to pull them deeper, massaging them as thick globs of her nectar rolled down his palm. She rocked her hips desperately, as if trying to scratch some terrible itch deep inside her, but Dennis hung on to her. He took handfuls of her springy rump as he kept up the pressure, Xhe shutting her eyes tightly and bringing her hands up to her reddening cheeks.

She was fucking his face in earnest now, rolling and grinding in a primal dance, smearing her juices on his skin and staining the white bedsheets. One of her hands left her red face to seek out a heavy breast, squeezing and kneading the soft flesh as Dennis peered up at her over her pubic mound. She afforded him a wondrous view of her chest from below, every subtle movement of her body sending a ripple through her bosom, her fat as supple as modeling clay in her grasp. Her long tongue flashed forth to lick her lips, she was lost in some instinctual trance.

Dennis probed where he knew her weak spot to be, beckoning with his fingers inside her tunnel as it clenched and flexed around him, her toned muscles crushing him violently as her body reacted to his attentions. He found it, and her eyes flew open, her mouth wide and gasping as he drove his fingers mercilessly into the delicate flesh. She doubled over, planting her hands on the mattress above his head, her claws scouring the fabric. She looked down at him with a blend of lust and confusion in her amber eyes, her face upside-down from his perspective as she kept her loins locked to his lips, her orange hair framing her head. He clung to her, digging his fingers into her smooth skin as he gripped her waist with one hand and continued to massage her with the other, sucking her engorged clitoris between his lips and playing his tongue over its surface.

She made a noise like she had been punched in the gut, a low oh fuck grunt that curled Dennis' lips into a smile, even as he used them to suck and probe her increasingly sensitive womanhood. She was so much taller than him, her head seemed so far away as her silky thighs shuddered and clenched rhythmically around his face in time with his cruel teasing. He fucked her harder with his fingers now, increasing the pace as he stimulated her with his tongue, trapping her inflamed button between his tongue and his teeth. She pushed down with her hips, beside herself as she sought out more stimulation. Harder, faster, deeper. Anything that might drive her closer to the edge. His face was entirely buried in her crotch now, and he could no longer see her pained expressions or appreciate the swinging of her weighty breasts. But he could hear her breath coming in ragged bursts, feel the moans and guttural vocalizations deep in her belly as he kissed and mouthed.

She squirmed on top of him as he dug his fingers into the soft meat of her butt, the lewd, wet sounds of her organ trying to suck his fingers deeper making his erection strain against the fabric of his clothing. She let out a sharp cry as he delivered a finishing blow, grinding his fingers into the upper wall of her tunnel and applying suction to her clitoris, raking its shiny surface with his tongue.

He winced as the toned muscles of her pelvic floor contracted and squeezed around his digits, the waves of pleasure rippling through her body like electric shocks as her orgasm made her its twitching puppet. She convulsed, slipping off his face and burying her head in the pillows as she drenched the mattress with her emission, passing a hand between her soaking thighs to rub fiercely. She drew out her climax for as long as she could stand it, every glance of her padded fingers making her shiver. She bucked her hips, trying in vain to fuck the air as a low whine escaped her lips, muffled by one of the cushions.

Dennis wiped his hand on the bedsheets and tried to scrape her come off his face as it dripped down his chin in blobs. Borealans were messy lovers, it was no wonder that Xhe had been able to smell Ursi's scent on him even after he had bathed.

He looked back at Xhe as she rested with her butt in the air, the perfect, round cheeks dimpled with toned muscle. Her fingers still nursed her dripping mound, easing gently between her sore labia, a long rope of clear goo trailing down to the mattress below. Her stripey, orange tail drooped to one side, limp save for the occasional tremor that made it tense up.

As Dennis watched her rubbing and crooning softly, almost as if she were presenting herself to him, a new hunger rose in his belly. He wasn't done with her yet.

He fumbled with his belt, casting off his pants and pulling his shirt over his head, now stained with her fluids. His erection bounced loose, as hard as he had ever felt it, jumping in the air in anticipation. He was seeing red, a new, unfamiliar lust overcoming him as he crawled over the mattress towards Xhe on his knees. He gripped the base of her furry tail in his fist and pulled her butt down to crotch height, tugging roughly on the appendage. She yowled in pain and looked over her shoulder at him, surprise in her eyes. But there was something else too, her earlier aggression had been supplanted by a sultry look that he could only describe as conveying submission. Xhe opened her legs, lowering herself in compliance.

He pushed his throbbing shaft against her vulva, sliding it up and down as her juices glazed it in a slippery, shiny layer. She shuddered, still sensitive from the previous orgasm, but Dennis didn't care. He was tired of these aliens treating him however they liked, and as much as he had grown to enjoy their cruel attentions, payback was long overdue. He gave her tail another harsh yank, and a low, sultry growl escaped her pursed lips. He hadn't expected that reaction. Was the base of her tail an erogenous zone? He gripped it in his hand and used it as leverage to drag her backwards, impaling her on his cock. Her gooey, slippery tunnel engulfed his length all the way to the base, her pert cheeks slapping against his belly with an audible clap. Xhe jerked, arching her spine as he met resistance in her depths, his glans pressing into her deepest reaches as her sinewy muscles wrapped around him. Another rough tug on her tail saw her silken walls close around him like a fist as she shivered and wrapped one of the white pillows in her muscular arms, sinking her teeth into the fabric.

He began to move, slowly at first, rocking his hips into her butt and watching as her fat rippled with each impact. She began to move with him as he pumped faster, pushing back to meet his thrusts in rhythm, trying to drive him deeper inside her as her sticky juices leaked down her inner thighs. The textured lining of her tunnel dragged across his skin, its folds and wrinkles making him twitch and sending rolling shivers down his spine as they teased him. She was so wet, so slippery, their frenzied coupling was almost frictionless. Yet every time she contracted around his shaft, he felt the exquisite details and contours of her organ jump out at him, sending sparks of pleasure through his brain.

He delved his fingers into the meat of her ass, clawing at her flesh as they rutted. Her porcelain skin was so smooth and inviting, pulled taut over the layer of cushiony fat, droplets of her sweat making it glitter as they moved together. Her softness and feminine curves concealed firm, powerful muscle, flexing and tensing at his every touch. Her ass alone probably weighed as much as his torso. Xhe could rend him in half like so much tissue paper if she were so inclined, but the idea that he could overcome such an impressive creature through sheer force of will demonstrated the psychological aspect of the Borealan social system. It was one thing to be of strong body but quite another to be of strong mind, and with the threat of physical violence annulled, Dennis found himself on top. Both literally and figuratively.

Her smooth cheeks clapped against his belly as he admired the long dimple that ran down her spine, her back and shoulders detailed with subtle muscles that shifted beneath her damp skin. The orange fur of her tail extended a short distance up her lower back, ending perhaps a quarter of the way along. She rolled her hips in a circular motion, stimulating his aching member in new and unexpected ways. She pressed his hardness against her walls, grinding and scraping as if trying to scour her insides and he buckled somewhat, leaning forward and resting his weight on her massive butt. It was almost as wide as the span of his arms. His pleasure mounted as their vigorous dance continued, on some level he had wanted to do this from the moment that he had laid eyes on her in that gossamer, see-through dress.

Harder!” he heard Xhe moan, her comely voice muffled by the pillow that was clutched in her arms. He yanked her tail in response, hammering her with as much force as he could muster. She let out a kind of half-sigh, half-laugh, her body quivering as he held on to her tail and pushed ever deeper. He didn't have to worry about hurting her, humans were too frail to do any damage to the hardy aliens, but for a moment the image of what a Borealan male must look like during sex flashed before his eyes. He had heard that reproductive sex between Borealans usually followed a fight and was a short, brutal affair, with the victor taking full advantage of their power over the loser. It ensured that only the strongest genes were passed on and that the species as a whole was strengthened and bolstered. He would be mating with Xhe right now if they were the same species, and her body responded to him as if that were the case, milking his cock with its rhythmic contractions. Her head was buried in the pillows, and her ass was raised into the air so that his seed would flood her when he came. It was as submissive and receptive a position as a Borealan could be in. The idea drove him harder and faster, gripping her tail and thrusting into her sopping tunnel as Xhe chewed the pillow and her breasts deformed against the mattress.

Again her fingers crept between her thick thighs, and she rubbed her dripping mound as he pounded her from behind, getting herself off as her second climax drew closer. Her fingers moved in a blur, Dennis pulling her tail again as she convulsed in response, a low moan emanating from the far end of the bed.

Xhe hissed something in Borealan that sounded like an insult or a curse, and he felt her slick, velvet walls close on him like a trap. She shuddered and whined as a fresh orgasm wracked her tense body, her aching muscles contracting and bulging as she came on Dennis' cock, pushing out clear fluid around it that leaked down her legs. He clung to her as she bucked and shuddered, a white haze clouding his vision as he erupted into her eager, twitching hole. Every throbbing spasm of his muscles scratched that terrible itch deep within him, every new burst of thick, ropy ejaculate that he pumped inside her sending a tide of crippling pleasure washing over his body. He surfed on the rolling wave of euphoria as his cock jumped and pulsed inside her warm tunnel, pushing the mess that they had made together towards her womb with every thrust. Xhe rubbed herself gently, shivering and crooning as she felt the warm globs of his emission roll down into her belly, satisfying her most base and primal urges. She had ruined his pillow, tearing it with her sharp incisors until it was nothing more than a torn, damp mess.

He slid out of her, and she collapsed onto the mattress, lying on her belly as syrupy, cloudy clumps of his come leaked slowly from her swollen lips. Her breath came in ragged spurts, Xhe pressing her thighs together as she rode out the last of the aftershocks.

Dennis sat and closed his eyes, unable to do much more than simply experience the afterglow as it drowned his senses and ran its tingling fingers up and down his spine.

***

After a few minutes, Dennis' mind slowly clawed its way back to prominence. He sat up, looking around the room. The bed was demolished, their shared juices stained the mattress and the sheets, claw marks striping the fabric. The pillows were in tatters and spots of crimson blood stood out against the white linens. Who it belonged to he couldn't be sure. Xhe was fast asleep, sticky and still leaking their combined fluids. Dennis stepped gently off the bed and picked up the pieces of broken glass that were scattered on the floor, lest Xhe forget and step on them with her bare feet when she awoke. He retrieved her robe and lay it over her like a blanket, concerned that she might get too cold. He couldn't do much else for her in the state she was in, but as he watched her chest rise and fall and her ears twitch as she dreamed, an odd sense of satisfaction came over him. He had beaten her at her own game, and in doing so, he had satisfied the craving that had been tormenting her for all this time. Xhe might appreciate that more than any thanks that he could give her for her support and her patience up to this point.

He retreated to the bathroom and did his best to wash off the mess that they had made together. Fortunately, being in the embassy, he was able to find clean clothes. He got changed, then as he left the room, he paused to recover his spider-fur necktie. He exited via the marble hall, doing his best to close the door as quietly as possible, then set off down the paved road in the direction of Ursi's residence.

CHAPTER 9: LOVE 'EM AND LEAVE 'EM

Ursi could hardly contain herself as he relayed the story to her, sitting together before her roaring fire on the massive couch, the flames licking at the metal grate. She suppressed a chuckle as she sipped daintily from a wooden mug, her long legs crossed as Dennis finished telling her about his encounter with Xhe.

How embarrassing for your poor secretary, Dennis. You're just full of surprises, aren't you?” She handed him the mug, and he took a long draw, the sweet taste of raises the hair tickling his throat. “I'm surprised that the poor girl lasted as long as she did.” Ursi narrowed her eyes at him. “I hope you don't intend to try the same tricks on me, Ambassador.”

Dennis blushed a little and stammered a reply.

No, I...I like the way you make me feel.”

Is that so?” she crooned, leaning in on him and examining his expression as his face reddened. He changed the subject quickly as she smirked at him.

I sent a message to the UN, I should receive a reply by tomorrow.”

Good, good...”

They sat in silence for a minute or two, watching the orange fire dance in the hearth. Dennis felt a little awkward. Ursi always seemed to know what to say, she was always so eloquent and calculated, now she seemed almost worried. He was about to ask if something was wrong, but she interrupted his thought, placing her furry hand on his shoulder.

Dennis, if you succeed in the task I have assigned to you, and my people relocate to Earth, what will you do?”

He thought for a moment, not really understanding the question.

My work is here, I'm the Ambassador to Earth, I have at least another five months stationed in Elysia before I'd be forced to return to Earth.”

Well, I meant that we would be separated.”

Dennis' heart raced in his chest, what was she saying?

I don't...understand.”

She took the mug back from him and took a long draw, then placed it on a small table by the armrest of the couch. Her white fur took on an orange hue as she sat in the gloom and stared at the fireplace.

Perhaps I am not being clear. I have grown very fond of you Dennis. You are unique, both in the circumstances that brought you to Borealis, and your attitude towards the people who live here. There may only be a dozen humans alive who understand Borealans as well as you do now, and certainly fewer who have had as much...hands-on experience as you have.”

He watched her as she talked, her blue eyes reflected the firelight, betraying the emotion hiding under her veneer of formality.

While it may not be fair to tear you away from the people of Elysia, a Queen must consider the welfare of her own subjects above all others, and I am somewhat spoiled. I'm used to getting the things I want. I believe that you could provide a crucial service to my people, Dennis. If everything goes according to plan and your government accepts my plea for aide, I would have you stay by my side as my advisor. You would be an advocate for my people, a bridge between cultures, and perhaps...”

She trailed off as Dennis watched her expectantly, his heart thumping in his chest.

It is not a demand that even a Queen can make, nor a Regent. You are not one of my subjects, you are not under my employ, you are not part of my pack. But if it pleased you, we might...stay together?”

Dennis' head swam, and he felt butterflies in his belly as he tried to process what she was asking.

Y-You want me to come back to Earth with you, and live with you?”

I'm not familiar with human customs where such matters are concerned. Borealans are generally more direct, but human relationships are...odd. If you don't want to, that's-”

No, no! Of course I want to! Ursi, you-you're...” He struggled to find the words, desperate to express how he felt about her, but his vocabulary failed him. He gazed at her, and she peered back, a mixture of worry and expectation etched into her expression. Her cool, blue eyes met his and courage welled up inside him, warming him from within as if there were a fire in his belly. He hopped off the couch and stood at eye level with the seated Borealan. He reached out and took her oversized hand in his, her white fur tickling his palm.

Ursi, I've only been with you for a couple of days, but I've never felt closer to anyone. Nobody has ever made me feel the way I do when I'm with you. You said that you could make me love you, and...you succeeded.”

Ursi beamed, and pulled him towards her by the hand, wrapping her arms around him and hugging him to her furry bosom. Her familiar scent filled his nose, and her warmth permeated his body.

You make me glad, Ambassador.”

They lay together on the leather couch, the fire warming them as they enjoyed the silence together, interrupted only by the crackling of the flames in the hearth. After a few minutes of contemplation, Ursi ran her fingers through his hair, making him shiver happily and press his face into her welcoming coat.

The day has been long, what say we go to bed? The last day of the eclipse is tomorrow.”

He nodded, excitement rising in his chest as she stood up to lead him away by the hand. He followed her down the hall, her wide hips rolling as she walked. She was scantily clad in a light, almost transparent fabric that did little to cover her impressive figure. They walked down one of the long corridors lined with carved, wooden busts and tapestries that joined the isolated segments of her dwelling, then turned off to a doorway that led to an expansive bedroom. Her bed was immense, you could have parked a shuttle on it. The mattress was layered with finely embroidered sheets and soft pillows, more like a nest than anything resembling a human bed. The floor was carpeted with soft, bushy material, some kind of animal fur perhaps. There were more odd Borealan decorations on the walls of this room too. Silken curtains concealed nothing in particular, tapestries depicted snowy landscapes and glaciers, and potted plants sported colorful flowers that bloomed on their stalks.

No guards this time, just us,” Ursi said. She released his hand and walking over to the bed, leaving him by the door. Keeping her back to him, she raised a hand to her shoulder to slip off the strap of the light fabric gown that she was wearing. She did the same on the other side, and the garment floated to the floor gently to fall in a pile around her feet. It didn't reveal anything that Dennis couldn't see already, but as she took an elegant step out of the pile of clothes and towards the bed, Dennis felt his renewed erection straining against his underwear.

Ursi climbed onto the bed on her hands and knees, presenting herself to him, then lay down in her nest of pillows. She turned to face him, her weighty breasts hanging attractively, now free of their supports. She patted the empty space next to her expectantly, then chuckled as he tried to pull off his clothes and walk towards her at the same time, discarding his shirt then getting tangled in his pants and almost tripping. Finally free of his clothing and sporting a conspicuous erection, he climbed up onto the bed and crawled over into her embrace.

Her soft fur tickled the skin all over his body as she held him close, squashing him against her massive breasts and her paunchy belly. He sunk his fingers into her coat, grabbing handfuls of the pliant fat beneath. She laughed and wriggled as he groped.

What are you doing, Dennis? Come here.”

She grasped his face between her fluffy hands and angled it towards her waiting lips. She slipped him a sedating kiss, slow and passionate, her warm tongue teasing him with its deft and calculated motions. She hooked a hand behind his head and lowered him to the bed as he felt his muscles grow weak, her long, deep embrace sapping the energy from his body as if she were some kind of vampire.

She lay him flat, his legs useless and trembling, then broke off her kiss, leaving him gasping and wanting. It was such a stark contrast to what he had felt when he had overcome Xhe, the feeling of superiority and unbridled lust now replaced with a vulnerability and a fluttering in his chest that made him feel as if he might melt away into a puddle where he lay.

Ursi lay next to him on her side, stroking his mast with her soft hand, the weight of her breasts pressing them together as she gazed down at him.

You've never really just...made love in the time you've been here. Have you?” she asked. Dennis shook his head, trying to stay alert as she gently stroked him up and down. “We could make love, would you like that? Just the two of us?”

She leaned in and planted a gentle kiss on his neck, her warm, meaty lips pressing wetly against his skin. His member pulsed in her hand and she squeezed it, making his back arch off the mattress. She chuckled and resumed her slow stroking, gripping his shaft in her fluffy palm and tugging up and down, her fine hairs tickling his skin. She closed her thumb and forefinger around his tender glans, compressing it gently as she moved, and he raised his arms to cover his face as the powerful stimulation overloaded his brain. Maybe it was her obvious skill, or maybe it was her overpowering charisma. Either way, when he was under Ursi's spell, he felt as if his heart might explode in his chest at every light touch and sultry glance. He gasped as he felt her rub the tip of his penis with the soft, spongy pad of her finger, lubricated by his leaking pre as she made circular motions.

She shifted position, rising to kneel over him so she could make use of her other hand. She continued to stroke him with the left, then slipped the right between his thighs, cradling his balls in her palm and gently squeezing them. He gritted his teeth as her downy fur tickled the sensitive skin, the gentle pressure that she applied sending a flood of warmth through his lower body.

She increased the pace and the pressure, Dennis bringing a finger to his mouth and biting it in an attempt to distract from her rhythmic pumping. His hips rose from the bed, pushing into the air, trying to thrust deeper into her warm hand of their own accord. Holding the shaft in her palm, Ursi rubbed the tip with her padded thumb, holding him like a joystick as his leaking juices matted her fur.

S-Slow down Ursi. I'll come,” he complained, and she grinned down at him.

You won't come until I tell you to, now lower your arms.”

He complied, revealing his burning face as she loomed over him, still squeezing softly and making his eyelids flutter.

I think you'll like this,” she crooned.

He jumped as he felt her long, fuzzy tail tickle his ear. It curled under his head, far stronger than it looked, and wrapped around him, covering his eyes. His world went dark, and he tugged at the sinewy appendage with his hands.

What are you doing Ursi?”

Relax, you'll enjoy it...”

He lowered his arms and waited, his heart thumping in his chest. He felt oddly vulnerable, he couldn't see what she was doing. He flinched and quickly stifled a cry as Ursi teased him with her furry hands. She ran her soft fur over his balls, the strands of hair tickling him, and added a twisting motion to her handjob. The pleasure was somehow amplified a hundred times with the presence of the blindfold. Dennis' whole body became sensitive, expectant. He was unsure of how and where she would touch him, unable to know until the sensation coursed through his nervous system like an electric shock. The anticipation might drive him crazy.

She traced her claws lightly down his chest, making him groan as the unexpected sensation burned through his brain, tickling and stinging. He clamped his legs together reflexively, but her other hand was already there, stroking and squeezing his inner thigh as he squirmed and bucked in her grip. One of her hands returned to his shaft, milking him more vigorously now, kneading his shaft as if trying to squeeze his essence out of him by force. Her other hand roamed over his body, pricking him with her claws or running them lightly across his skin in unexpected places. She tickled him with her silky fur, like being teased with a feather. A nipple, his neck, his thigh. He never knew where she would strike next. He couldn't stand it, his whole body was electrified, under constant assault by his unseen lover.

Suddenly she stopped, taking her hands off him. He waited, breathing heavily, his member bouncing in time with his beating heart. The anticipation of her deft hands returning was almost too much to bear. It went on and he became impatient, his aching erection twitching in the cool air.

What gives?” he complained.

He froze, biting his lip as he felt Ursi's hot breath tickle the sensitive head of his cock. She blew warm air on him, and he shuddered, rubbing his thighs together and trying not to lose the thread of his sanity. He couldn't see what she was doing, but if he had to guess, her soft lips were poised barely an inch above his glans, curled into a cruel grin as she watched him struggle to keep it together.

He yelped as she kissed the tip of his penis, her smooth, pursed lips glancing his tender flesh, lingering for just a moment, then withdrawing with a wet pop. Dennis clawed at his red cheeks with his fingers, unable to endure any longer.

Damn it Ursi, I can't stand it!”

He heard her laugh at him, then her slippery, puffy lips enclosed his glans and sucked it into her hot mouth. Dennis let slip the same vocalization that he had made the time he had broken his toe against a metal table in his apartment. He clenched his fists, his fingernails digging into his palms as her textured, agile tongue curled around him. She painted him with her saliva, cradling his glans in her warm, slimy embrace.

Ursi's mouth felt divine. The dexterous, skilled tongue that she had used so many times to kiss him until he felt as though his brain would boil out of his skull was now wrapped around his member. Jolts of pleasure ran up his spine with her every lick, almost painful in their intensity. He struggled to keep his hips still so as not to drive his shaft into her throat too quickly and choke her. She slowly slid her wet lips down his pulsing shaft, her rough, textured tongue coiling around him as she went. She applied just enough pressure to make him squirm and gasp as the bumps and papillae raked his tender flesh. It didn't hurt, not quite.

Her lips reached the base, and she kissed his belly as her long tongue slid down the underside of his cock, leaving her mouth to lick his balls. Her powerful throat contracted around the head, massaging him as she swallowed her pooling saliva. The delicate, slick inner lining of her cheeks rubbed against the length of his organ and her heat radiated through it. Dennis was delirious, he felt as if his spirit had left his body and was floating above them. He rolled his hips methodically as she held him down with a heavy hand, primal instincts taking the load off his beleaguered mind as he faded in and out of awareness.

She slid her mouth back up his shaft, pausing to lash the sensitive tip with her tongue, then slowly pressed down on him again. She repeated the maddening process once more as he jerked and groaned, his only experience of the world now velvet darkness and the cruel pleasure of Ursi's practiced mouth. She pushed his member deep into her warm throat, holding it as her muscles spasmed, suppressing her gag reflex. When she finally withdrew, strings of her saliva joined her lips to his damp skin.

She crawled her lips down his cock, pausing to suck and lick the sensitive spot just below his glans, making him shiver and tremble. She increased her speed, fucking him with her mouth now as his lower body went numb and all he could do was try to suppress his mounting orgasm. Every time the head of his member hit the back of her warm throat, an unbecoming moan escaped his lips, as if she were playing him like some kind of human instrument. The wet, sucking pressure overcame him, and he felt his climax well deep inside him.

Argh! Ursi I'm gonna-”

She gripped the base of his cock firmly in her hand, cutting off his orgasm painfully as he bucked and cursed. She uncoiled her tail from his eyes, and he glared at her as she came back into focus, a smug smirk on her face. Dennis rose to a sitting position, but before he could say anything, she took his burning face in her hands. Her furry palms were wet and matted with her saliva, warm against his cheeks, and she pushed her tongue past his lips. She met him with a slow, soothing kiss, the kind that she knew would satiate him. As her powerful tongue filled his head, he sank obediently into her soft fur. She drained the resistance from his muscles, the copper sting of her agile organ playing over his taste buds as it coiled around his tongue, slippery and warm.

She released him and he relaxed into her ample cleavage, his face coming to rest in her downy hair, her insulating fat cushioning his head as he breathed in her scent. He sunk his hands into her pliant flesh, deforming the massive globes under his fingers and probing for the firm breast tissue beneath. Ursi twisted her spine, her breathing becoming heavy as he trapped an engorged nipple in his fingers, tweaking and tugging it as he roved. He caught the second in his lips, pinching it between his teeth and his tongue as he sucked it into his mouth. Ursi gasped, her chubby thighs closing around him and her tail wrapping around his torso. She hugged him close, running her fingers through his hair as he sucked and chewed. He rubbed his face in her silken coat, nuzzling and biting as Ursi began to lean back, her eyes low and sultry. She lowered them down until he was lying on top of her and she was on her back, gravity fighting Dennis for possession of her heavy breasts.

She pushed the top of his head and eased him lower, Dennis sliding down her long torso, groping her enticing flesh and mouthing her plump body as he went. The Polar variety of Borealan did not seem to shed their hair, and no stray strands stuck to his lips or irritated his tongue. He moved over her paunchy belly then down to her hips, where her weight was beautifully distributed to give her a heavy ass and thick thighs. Knowing what she expected, he pushed his face between them and the heat of her moist loins radiated up to meet him. Her familiar aroma set his mouth watering as he lowered his head, spreading her puffy, pink lips with his fingers. A trail of clear nectar leaked free, and in revenge for her earlier treatment, he breathed warm air on her exposed flesh. She shuddered, her thighs quaking to either side of his head.

She delved her fingers into his hair, gripping a handful and forcing him down into her groin, his nose pressing into the silky fur of her mound. His cock jumped, hard again as he realized with a creeping embarrassment that he had come to associate the feeling of having his hair pulled with sex. The damn cats did it so often. His face flushing again, he pushed his tongue between her fleshy labia and dragged it up her vulva, pausing beneath the clitoral hood to tease her firm nub. It was engorged with her excitement, already firm and wanting. Her metallic, salty flavor flooded his mouth as she writhed, tugging at his hair as he mouthed and licked. He heard her whisper something in her native language that sounded like a curse.

You're getting too good at this, Ambassador. It's becoming a problem.”

He chuckled into her loins, then circled her opening with the tip of his tongue. She jumped and gazed down at him over the fluffy mounds of her bosom, her eyes unfocused as she waited for him to enter her. He pushed a finger into her tight hole, sliding it up to the knuckle, almost frictionless despite the way that her velvet walls clung to him. She rocked her head back, a low growl rumbling through her body, her grip on his hair tightening and her muscles contracting around his digit. He returned to her hard protrusion, dragging the smooth surface of his tongue over the nub and drawing shapes on it with the tip. He moved his finger slowly, torturously, ensuring that it glanced her weak spot on the way in and out as her viscous juices leaked around his hand. She squeezed his head between her legs, trying to push him deeper, and he inserted a second finger. She groaned and rolled her hips, forcing him against the textured, fleshy walls of her passage. He sucked her clitoris between his lips, trapping it and raking his tongue over its smooth surface. Ursi pulled him up by the hair, his face dripping with her stringy excitement. She sat up, panting and wiping a stray strand of saliva from the corner of her mouth, leering at him hungrily with her sapphire eyes.

Enough teasing, fuck me.”

She released his hair from her grasp, and he climbed up her body to position his throbbing member over her leaking, glistening vulva. Even at arm's length, her massive frame tickled his chest with its downy fur as he leaned over her and his face came to rest level with her chest. She gripped his butt in her huge hand, her dull claws pricking his skin, and pulled him inside her.

He collapsed onto her, his limbs turning to jelly as she wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him against her chubby, furry body. He broke through the entrance of her slick tunnel, her spasming walls drawing him deeper, impossibly tight as her steely muscles clenched around him. She exhaled warm air into his hair in a drawn-out sigh, ruffling it as he moaned into her fur. The folds and bumps of her vagina scoured his sensitive skin, drowning his cock in her thick, gooey syrup as he thrust.

He felt as if he were melting, the heat and pressure from her inflamed loins were unbearable, maddening. She ran her hands over his naked back and down to his ass, stroking with her furry palms and teasing his skin with her claws. His own hands quested through her soft coat, searching out the irresistible fat beneath. He grabbed handfuls off her butt and hips, sinking his fingers into her flesh, tugging at her love handles and her meaty belly. Ursi had marveled at the suitability of the human tongue for pleasuring Borealans, but the true marvel here was her body. Warm and inviting, shapely, soft and firm in all the right places. It was a playground for humans, an overload of tactile sensation.

You're all over me, it tickles,” she chuckled. Her laughter petered out into a moan as his stiff member pushed deep inside her, scraping the reaches of her tunnel.

Urgh, I need it deeper," she growled. Holding him to her body with one arm like a mother monkey clinging to its baby, she used the other to flip over on top of him. Dennis found himself on his back, looking up at Ursi as she loomed over him, her huge breasts hanging low and almost obscuring his vision. Her strong thighs clenched around his hips, and her hands came to rest to either side of his head. She looked down at him, her face about a foot further up the bed than his. Her immense weight crushed his pelvis, squashing him deeper into the soft mattress, driving his throbbing manhood deeper inside her.

Ursi's eyes rolled back into her head, and she let out a satisfied grunt.

That's more like it. Tell me if I'm hurting you, okay?”

Dennis nodded, and she began to move her hips slowly, pressing down on him gently and driving his shaft deep into her tunnel. She was so heavy, large enough to crush the wind out of his lungs as she began to bounce on top of him, her massive, wide hips making him sink into the mattress with every downward thrust. The damned bed springs must be made out of military grade hull material, two Borealans of her size going at it in earnest would probably trash the entire room. Ursi knew her strength though, and by Borealan standards, she was a gentle and considerate lover. She ensured that the majority of her weight was placed on her knees and arms, but let just enough fall on him to show him who was in control.

She added a spin to her movement, rolling and twisting her hips on top of him, her pace ever faster and more violent. He couldn't do much besides gasp and writhe under her bulk as she forced him deeper than he could have imagined was possible. His cock was bumping against the limits of her vaginal canal, but it didn't seem to hurt her as it would a human woman. Her anatomy must be slightly different, her uterus perhaps placed differently. The deeper he went, the more she reacted, seemingly desperate to grind his member against her deepest and most intimate reaches. She rose to a sitting position, her long, slate-grey hair falling over her face in a mess of tangled strands and her excessive bust bounced as she moved on top of him. He wanted to raise his head, to see his shaft plunging into her, but he was worried that he might catch a breast on a downward thrust and get a concussion. The last thing he needed was neck snapped by giant boob inscribed on his death certificate.

She pounded ever faster, bouncing on top of him now, rebounding off the bed springs only to slam down even harder on the return. She took a break for a moment, grinding her pelvis forwards and backwards, driving his sore member into her velutinous walls. Her large fingers pushed through the silky fur of her pubic mound, pulling open her sopping lips so as to expose her sensitive clitoris and more easily stimulate the tender button of flesh.

The lining of her tunnel clung to Dennis, almost as if her sticky juices were gluing him to her walls. Her muscles rippled and spasmed, running up and down the length of his shaft like a thousand tiny fingers, each striving to massage him. He felt warm globs of her lubricant leak out of her, sliding down his shaft, her excitement was palpable. Bathing thoroughly before returning to the embassy would be a kindness to Xhe.

Her short break was apparently over, Ursi beginning to bounce again as she bit her lower lip. Dennis' hips were sore and numb, but his member was throbbing and aching, longing for the climax she had denied him earlier. With one hand rubbing her mound and another resting on Dennis's chest, she raised her heavy frame and dropped it back down in a merciless rhythm, every crushing thrust accompanied by a cry from Dennis and a low growl from Ursi. Her claws dug into his chest as she rested a little more of her weight on him, not quite hard enough to injure, but enough for the burning sting to mingle with the ruthless sex in a way that confused and excited him.

Ursi snarled, baring her sharp fangs as she increased the pace of their lovemaking, rising towards a fever pitch. Dennis felt her shudder as an orgasm rippled through her body, tearing through her as her passage flexed and shuddered around him. With one last, desperate thrust she drove him as deep as he could reach, the final surge of raw pleasure enough to push him over the edge. He took fistfuls of her velvet fur as she sent him into a convulsive climax, holding him against her body to keep him buried in her reaches as he bucked and writhed.

He erupted inside her, flooding her with a torrent of his emission, Ursi loosing an almost inaudible whine as she felt the heat of it spread through her. His thick ejaculate splashed against her velvet walls in viscous ropes, forced into the depths of her trembling loins as his member flexed and jumped. Her pace slowed to a crawl as they basked in their ecstasy together, every throb of his shaft and each contraction of her cushiony tunnel making them gasp in unison.

They remained joined for what felt like an age, until finally, Ursi leaned down. Her long, tangled hair fell about his face as she bent double in order to press her lips against his and graced him with a contented kiss. Her embrace was gentle now, provoking a few residual aftershocks as they shared an exhausted, happy embrace. Dennis had never felt so satisfied before, so thoroughly worn out.

She rolled off him into the pile of cushions and Dennis joined her eagerly, wrapping an arm around her waist and pushing his face into her cleavage as her eyes fluttered and a couple of lingering tremors teased her tired muscles.

Can we sleep here?” he murmured, burying his face in her furry breasts and looking up at her from within their fluffy confines. She grabbed one of the many blankets that littered the mattress, pulling it up and over them, cuddling closer to him as their trapped body heat warmed the space.

Consider it done.”

***

The ice was beginning to thaw, causing puddles to collect between the slabs of stone that lined the streets of Elysia. The icicles that had formed were dripping, and any snow that had fallen was now relegated to small patches of slush, hiding in the shadows between buildings. The secondary had almost completely passed the primary now, and the crescent of harsh, white light was almost full. The Borealans had begun to stir from their short-lived hibernation, every so often Dennis would pass by a groggy cat who would pause to stare at him as he made his way back towards the embassy.

He was a little apprehensive, he had spent the night with Ursi, and so he hadn't seen Xhe since their heated encounter a short while prior. Dennis hoped she wasn't still mad at him.

As he reached the heavy wooden door of the embassy, he pushed it open with a creak. He glanced through the crack to make sure that Xhe wasn't waiting on the other side, poised to pounce on him. The marble hallway was clear, and so he stepped through, closing the polished door behind him. His shoes squeaked on the smooth marble, wet with melting snow and ice, leaving damp footprints behind him. As he made his way towards his room and his computer console, Xhe stepped out from her bedroom.

Dennis stopped, wary of her. She was wearing her fleecy robe, tied around her waist with a strap. She looked at him sleepily as she rubbed her eyes, her round ears twitching as they tracked him.

Ambassador...welcome back.” She lowered her head as if she were greeting a superior.

He hesitated, had she somehow forgotten what had happened? Did she assume it had been some kind of dream? No, that was impossible, the evidence of their exploits had been all over the room when he had crept out.

Hello Xhe, how are you?” he asked stiffly.

I am fine, did you need anything?” She sounded eager, even excited. Her attitude seemed different, somehow deferential. The strain in her voice was gone, and the almost snarky tone that she used when she berated him for his incompetence or his failure to follow her instructions was now absent. He wasn't sure if he should bring up what had happened, should he apologize for it? Demand an apology from her? Was this all a natural aspect of the Borealan social hierarchy?

No, thank you. I just came back to check my computer console.”

Oh? I could make you some smoked fish if you'd like that. It's early, you can't have eaten yet.”

She was so insistent, almost giddy at the prospect of feeding him, and he would feel guilty if he denied her the opportunity.

V-Very well,” he replied.

She beamed and turned away to walk towards the kitchen. When she had disappeared behind the door, Dennis continued on towards his bedroom. He mounted the chair in front of the console and turned it on, hearing the cooling fans spin up as the machine booted and diagnostic data played across the glowing screens. When it had finished, a single flickering icon was displayed, a new message received. His heart caught in his chest as he selected the icon and clicked.

To:CarlisleDennisSR106478237

From:UNBorealisCommission

Subject:RE-Borealis Mission Update

-BREAK-

Have received message. Continue dialogue with Patriarch, will contact UNN on subject of political schisms, get opinion of Admiralty.

-BREAK-

Request for asylum denied by UN, require more data on status of protected group and political situation as it relates to Elysia before decision can be made. No precedent for providing asylum for alien population on Earth.

-MESSAGE ENDS-

Dennis leaned back in the chair, dumbstruck, his heart sinking in his chest.

So that was it then? Request denied. All of his plans and aspirations had been dashed overnight in the form of a fucking memo. It sounded as if they were more concerned about their military alliance with Elysia than helping the Polars, and the Patriarch seemed to enjoy having the Regents under his thumb. If they were to ask his opinion, he would certainly not be in favor of letting them leave. How could he break this news to Ursi? That her people would remain trapped here. That Dennis, in whom she had placed so much confidence and trust, had failed in the only task she had given him?

He stared vacantly at the monitor, the whir of the fans somehow distant, as if heard at the end of a long tunnel. What use was he if he couldn't accomplish this? His delusions of greater purpose now lost, Dennis hit the back key, returning to the home screen and mousing over to the shutdown command. As he began to rise out of the chair, he noticed that the new message icon was still flashing.

Curious, he selected it, and a second message was displayed. Who could have sent it?

To:CarlisleDennisSR106478237

From:RusFed

Subject:AsylumReq

-BREAK-

Heard from UN that Borealan population in need of transplant. Informed that UN denied request, regrettable.

-BREAK-

Russian Federation willing to enter negotiations with rep of asylum seekers. Suggest founding autonomous republic in Siberia. Kremlin excited at prospect, eager to set precedent.

-BREAK-

Await your reply.

-MESSAGE ENDS-

Dennis ran his fingers through his hair as his eyes lingered on the message, rereading it over and over to make sure he wasn't hallucinating, his elation threatening to explode from his body in the form of a victory cry. His previous low point all but forgotten, he leapt from his chair and fled the room, wanting to get back to Ursi's residence and tell her the good news as quickly as his feet would carry him. As he swung open the door to his room, Xhe lurched back, narrowly avoiding dropping the tray of fish that she was carrying.

Ambassador! Where are you going?”

He turned to wave to her as he ran down the hall towards the entrance.

Keep it warm Xhe, I'll be back soon!”

He hopped over the threshold and into the street, skidding on the melting ice as he turned in the direction of Ursi's house, and jogged off into the gloom.

***

Ursi opened the door to a sweating, panting Dennis. He pushed past her, leaning on a table that supported an elaborately carved, wooden bust of some long dead Borealan historical figure that decorated her foyer. She watched him curiously as he caught his breath.

Ursi...we...I....”

Slow down,” she chided. “Breathe, then tell me what happened.”

Dennis took a minute to compose himself, his joints aching with the impact of running under such high gravity. He turned to her, wiping cooling sweat from his brow.

Ursi they accepted! A territory on Earth wants to take you in, they're willing to start negotiations immediately! They want you to found a republic in Siberia. It's perfect, hundreds of miles of uninhabited land. You'd have lakes, forests, mountains. We couldn't have asked for better!”

She didn't react immediately, she clutched her fuzzy hands to her chest and turned to look through the open door, up at the passing eclipse. The cool breeze ruffled her fur as she was silhouetted against the glow, her tall frame blocking the burgeoning starlight.

Do you believe in fate, Dennis? An inexorable force that brings people together in order to accomplish great things?”

This is almost enough to make me,” he laughed. “The UN refused, I was about ready to go throw myself into the lake, but then I noticed a second message. One of the territories decided to take you in of their own accord. Sounds like they heard about your situation and didn't approve of the way that the UN handled it.”

Ursi turned back around to face him, tears glistening in her reflective, blue eyes as she stood in the threshold.

You've freed us, Dennis. You've freed me.”

She lunged towards him, clutching him against her furry body and burying his head in her bosom. She held him for a long while, and as her downy fur tickled his face, he felt one or two fat droplets fall into his hair. Ursi recovered from the brief surge of emotion and wiped her eyes with the back of her fluffy hands, a new determination emanating from her confident posture. She was a monarch again, a leader and protector of her people, standing tall and proud as she considered the next course of action.

Very well, Ambassador. Let us begin these negotiations.”

Dennis grinned and led her out into the street by the hand.

***

The next few days were a blur of activity. Ursi tasked Dennis with relaying her messages through the console, the negotiations with Russia were going smoothly, and she seemed satisfied with the answers that she received from them. Dennis had sent his resignation to the UN, stating simply that he had found new employment opportunities elsewhere. The paper pushers would have to send someone new to take his place, but that wasn't his problem anymore. It felt incredibly liberating to be able to just leave his job without his superiors being able to do anything about it, being that they were seventy-five light years away.

Xhe was able to smooth things over with the Patriarch, who while initially confused and angry that his prized ambassador was cutting his stay short, soon perked up when he was told that he would be getting a new one. It seemed as though he didn't care who staffed the embassy as long as he had his alien diplomat to parade in front of the Regents as proof of his influence and power. He was not especially happy when he heard the news that Ursi and her people were preparing to relocate to Earth, but being a small regional power with little influence, the loss of the Polar territory ultimately mattered little to him. He was assured that weapons and ships from Earth would continue to flow as long as Elysia honored its commitment to the Coalition, in other words as long as the Borealan troops kept fighting on the front.

The Russians have a jump-capable ship a few days out,” Dennis said as he turned in his seat to look at Ursi. She was peering over his shoulder, unable to read the English text on the screen. “It was surveying planets in a nearby system, looking for potential colony sites. They say they'll get in contact with it and have it divert to Borealis in order to take us to Earth, so that we can continue negotiations in person. They don't have the capacity to take many of your people back, but we could take a contingent of a couple of dozen and the supplies to feed them.”

Will I be able to tour the settlement site while I'm there?” Ursi asked.

I would guess so, yeah. They're pretty excited about this, it's never been done before. Relocating an entire alien population to Earth. There may be some medical complications associated with the lower gravity, but I wouldn't worry about that. Humans have lived on Mars for generations, and we have a pretty good handle on preventative treatments.”

If you say it's safe, I'll trust you,” Ursi replied as she placed a furry hand on his shoulder.

Xhe hovered nearby nervously, seemingly still intimidated by Ursi's presence.

Ambassador, my Regent, the Patriarch has granted you permission to use his shuttle in order to meet the human ship in space when it arrives. We lack the facilities for planetfall.”

Good, thank you Xhe,” Dennis replied. She nodded and left the room, seemingly pleased. She had been chipper lately. After he had asserted himself over her, she had fully accepted his leadership and his status as her superior. Whatever mental conflicts that had so tormented her were now banished, and she had fallen back into what for her was a natural and comfortable role.

Dennis recalled the moment that he had torn down the flier that had been posted on the cork board in the company break room, advertising the position of ambassador to Earth on an alien planet. It felt like an eternity ago now. How his eyes had lit up at the prospect of adventure and freedom from his boring office work. He didn't even feel like the same person now, as if those were someone else's memories that he was remembering. Who among his former colleagues would believe him today if he told them that he had hunted terrifying monsters in a tangled jungle, tamed wild aliens and romanced a beautiful Queen? He had even obtained the position he had dreamed of, a politician who mattered to the people he advocated for. Someone who did good in the world, someone who helped people, not just a suit filing motions and trying to climb the political ladder for his own gain.

It won't take me long to select the passengers and supplies that I want to bring,” Ursi commented, her arms crossed over her ample chest as she looked down at Dennis. “How about you? I don't suppose you brought much?”

Just my clothes really, the console is UN property so I'll have to leave it here. It's a lot more expensive than it looks.”

I don't know if you really appreciate what you've done for me Dennis, what you've done for my people. I was right to put my hopes in you.” She leaned down, her warm breath tickling his ear as Dennis began to blush. “I'll just have to show you my gratitude in person...” She tugged his ear with her teeth and Dennis shivered, sinking into his chair. Ursi turned to leave the room, her wide hips rolling attractively as she walked, then stopped at the door to look back over her shoulder at him. “Oh, and Dennis. I hope you're ready for a long, boring journey. We'll likely be confined to our quarters for much of the trip. I expect we'll have to find ways to entertain each other.”

He swallowed hard as she left the room, closing the door behind her. Boring wasn't the way he would have described it. The prospect of being confined to a ship's quarters with Ursi and a dozen of her consorts set his heart fluttering in his chest. He remembered his mother's words as he had left for law school at age twenty, dragging a suitcase with a broken wheel as he waited for the bus that would take him to his campus.

Thank God you're not joining the Navy like your brother, Dennis. Cavorting around the Galaxy, putting yourself in danger. You're a sensible boy.

Nothing that he had done in the last week had been sensible. He suppressed a laugh as he rose from his seat, smelling Xhe's smoked fish wafting in from the kitchen.

-THE END-

 
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